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WORTH THE CANDLE

A LitRPG Matrushka

By theredsheep, author of Pyrebound

May 23, 2020: I’m not going to bother with an elaborate intro here, because everybody knows this story. I’ll just say that WtC is a LitRPG. I have never played a tabletop RPG in my life, have no interest in it, have yet to actually unabashedly like a LitRPG . . . and I went through all million-plus words of WtC in a week. Because WtC is much more than a LitRPG.

So much more, in fact, that it’s hard to pin down what it is, because it’s so many different things at once. First, it’s a hardcore litRPG full of statistic wonkery and munchkinry. Then, it’s a deconstruction of role-playing tropes. Then it’s a loving tribute to the culture and experience of tabletop gaming. Then it’s a psychological drama, exploring one man’s efforts to overcome his personal demons. Then it’s a romance. Then it’s a series of well-executed action scenes. Then it’s a work on moral philosophy. Then it does something else. And it shifts more or less seamlessly between all these modes without losing control of its overall tone or pacing, which is frankly a remarkable accomplishment.

With so much wrapped up in it, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find something you love. That’s the good news. I especially enjoyed a particular epic duel somewhere around the million word mark (if you’ve read it, you know the one I’m talking about). Other high points: ingenious problem solving, intricately developed fantasy conceits, generally good pacing, and the odd burst of sick but still funny humor. At one point there’s a madman slaughtering hundreds of innocent people, and it’s being played for comedy, and . . . it works. He pulls it off.

But by the same token, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find something you really, really don’t love. For me it was the mechanics-heavy sections, plus everything related to [a certain school of magic which shall remain nameless]. The romance parts also don’t do a lot for me because, while I want Joon to find some happiness in this crapsack world, the foreshadowing on his love life is a bit heavy and the resolution so long in coming that it feels a bit like watching a man hammer a nail at 2 fps. Your mileage may vary, of course. Keep on moving, you’re bound to find something you love further on.

Final observation, neither criticism nor praise: every work reflects its author’s mindset. Your characters can’t help being reflections of you. I was struck by the essential optimism of Wales’s work; it reminds me of Neal Stephenson, another proud Midwesterner. It feels like there’s a general assumption that everyone in this very grim fantasy world has agency and is capable of self-improvement, even if they don’t take advantage of that opportunity, and that only ignorance and disorganization stand in the way. That I don’t personally view the world this way only makes it more enjoyable.

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MOTHER OF LEARNING

No title

By Minichirops, member

Dec 30, 2019: Fanfiction is a guilty pleasure of mine, so I’ve often run into writers whose tenses change mid-sentence, and I’ve almost always immediately stopped reading. Adittedly, I may have been missing out this whole time, but this is the first time I’ve read something, looked past the occasional tense change, and enjoyed something for what it is.

Good dialog, distinct characters, world-building without info-dumping.

It’s worth reading. Doubtless further editing will make it a priceless addition to the pool of web serial talent currently gracing the internet.

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THE WANDERING INN

Infuriating and Deceptive

By Thedude3445, author of Rainbow Destructor

Dec 10, 2019: I actually made my very first digital return on Amazon this week thanks to the audiobook of The Wandering Inn, Volume 1.

I was about 15 hours in, longer than most other audiobooks I have ever listened to but less than halfway through the FIRST VOLUME of this behemoth. And, for a large part of my experience, it was a quite fun time. The world is nicely built and feels lived-in; the protagonists have really nice voices, and the prose is far better than you’d find in a typical isekai fantasy story. However, the story, advertised loudly as a fun slice-of-life fantasy romp, is anything but.

In the beginning, our protagonist Erin is faced with constant hurdles and barriers, incessant setbacks and stupid mistakes. She accidentally finds monsters, accidentally pays too much for food, accidentally breaks her fly traps, and more shenanigans. It’s fun! Until, suddenly, it turns into a complete mess!

Everything to do with goblins in this story is despicable. It’s tonally jarring to the rest, eliminating all humor sometimes in the span of a single chapter. It’s filled with vivid depictions of gore and grieving and PTSD. And the way goblins are portrayed is morally reprehensible, trying to balance making them mindless creatures and sentient beings at once. It comes off so badly that if you swapped goblins for a human ethnic group, it’d be more blatantly offensive than a 50s cowboy movie.

It’d be fine if the goblins only popped up once or twice, maybe. Maybe. But they don’t. They keep appearing over and over, each time completely removing itself to become some edgy violence storm, I guess to better appeal to the teenage readers or something? It’s all completely unnecessary. Honestly it enraged me like no other fiction has recently. All of the goodwill the story had given me was sapped up completely.

Honestly, Erin as a protagonist was starting to annoy me, too; the way she was so "moral high ground" barging into a city filled with non-humans came off as generally very rude, and it was clear that the author does not have experiences of being an outsider in a culture apart from her own. The way she dealt with the constant trauma was kind of weird to me, too, usually disappearing pretty soon after the edgy scenes were over. The fact that I was getting tired of her this early in the story was a sign that I did not need to be continuing.

There was still one promising avenue left in the story before I decided to return it— I really liked the Ryoka scenes, a completely disconnected second protagonist that would have been aggravating except that her story was much more interesting. However, it wasn’t interesting enough for me to trudge through the rest to get it.

The Wandering Inn is, what, millions of words long by now? I’m kind of glad the story was so bad in the beginning that I didn’t get invested, because that’d have been a mega timesink.

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