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Beware the Purple

By Pyrocardiac, member

May 3, 2020: The Sebastio Artaxerxes saga, of which Mourners Etc. is part two, isn’t so much a story as an artifact, the enjoyment of which lies mainly in exploring its details and peculiarities. I’m tempted to judge it on its considerable merits as such, except that it clearly wants to be a story. And credit where it’s due, it improves on its predecessor The Simulacrum of Dread in this regard, with a more consistent plot, sustained tension and mystery, and characters whom I’ve at least spent enough time with to care what becomes of them and their noble mission.

This tale lives in the Thomas Generalized Recountings Library, whose unique flavor I tried to communicate in my Simulacrum review and won’t be expanding on here. Quick plot rundown: Sebastio, armed in the most literal sense with a godlike superweapon, has taken over the domain of Pennat Gate and established it as a kind of refugee asylum for the omniverse known as the Gem, a move which earned him some powerful political enemies. Thanks to shenanigans ex machina at the end of part one, a group of hitherto purely destructive Beasts from the chaotic interstitial realm of the Purple have become rational (and kind of adorable) and are making their first foray into the civilized world. Now Sebastio and crew have to deal with the consequences of integrating their monstrous new guests while fending off various conspiracies and power-hungry neighbors.

All the pieces are here for a cerebral and outlandish ethico-political drama, but too many of those pieces are stifled, truncated, or not quite strung together so as to create a greater whole. (I realized belatedly how many “buts” there are in this review. That’s the most frustrating part: there’s a lot to like in the TGRL and it all comes with caveats.)

Mourners sets up promising potential plot threads and conflicts only to either leave them by the wayside or resolve them with baffling abruptness. We’re convinced for all of two scenes that our overpowered hero’s existence might really be in danger and/or that he can’t protect his people from something. We’re reminded that the quirky cosmic beings who facilitated his rise to power have their own agenda for him, then left wondering ever after what it might be. We get a genuinely suspenseful battle that by all rights ought to be some kind of significant setup or turning point but turns out to be basically a self-contained episode. The many mysteries left unanswered serve their purpose of establishing that we’re only seeing a tiny slice of an infinitely bigger world. But the least readers deserve for persevering through labyrinthine wit, diplomatic doublespeak, and combat that only a programmer could write is a satisfying payoff to the mysteries we’ve been following within that tiny slice.

Much of the drama of speculative fiction lies in confronting the mind with possibilities beyond its ken, and yes, Mourners does this. It introduces big, fertile ideas: what if a society with effectively infinite resources still wasn’t willing to make room for everyone? What if some of the most fearsome creatures in existence miraculously gained sapience and just wanted to be friends? These ideas are fun for us readers to think about, but it’s hard to feel their impact on characters who already live in a world of impossibilities. This is a major reason why the Earth-born character Louis feels thoroughly squandered until too late, to say nothing of Sebastio’s relationship with Caladhbolg, his talking WMD of a passenger. It might also be why Seven, the viewpoint character for the uplifted Beasts, is my favorite of this installment.

The prose hasn’t changed since last time: still leagues more polished than most, still entertaining and evocative at its best, still weaving drunkenly down the line between clever and maddeningly prolix. If good writers strive for clarity, conciseness, and courtesy, the author’s style is discourteously self-indulgent. I can admire the nerve it takes to casually use calculus terms to tell me that an aircraft’s ascent is slowing, but I can’t enjoy it as literature.

For those who are just searching for something different, I still say the TGRL is worth a look. Whatever else one can say about it, it’s a labor of love, imagination, and talent on an internet full of mediocrity. I believe that with a little more labor and less elaboration for elaboration’s sake, a cult audience could love it almost as much as its creator does.

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No title

By Nova Girl93, author of RU in? Saga

Dec 15, 2019: I love the wild west/post apocalyptic feel of this. The characters are well fleshed out. You quickly come to care about them as you follow them along. There is plenty of adventure and intrigue. This one had me hooked from the beginning.

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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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