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Raw and Gritty Poetry at its Best.

By revfitz, author of Existential Terror and Breakfast

May 15, 2018: Full disclosure: this review is part of a review swap with the author. There may be some pre-existing bias.

 . . . and with that out of the way: This is seriously my favorite thing to read right now.

A year ago I did a mini-review on my first impressions of this serial. There was only a single chapter then but of the 31 serials I reviewed that month this one had one of the biggest impressions in my mind. The website was clean and INCREDIBLY genre savvy and I immediately fell in love with the disjointed and raw style of storytelling. Cyber Punk is a personal favorite of mine and this serial was hitting all of the right marks. I immediately signed up for updates and waited patiently . . . It would be half a year before I got a new chapter, but it was worth the wait.

Chosen Shackles is the only serial I have read that has an essay on the counter culture and genre it is based in. The author has a real passion for Cyber Punk and it shows in every corner of the website. The immersion here is complete. The amount of love and detail that has gone into this platform is a beautiful sight. It won my heart over before I began reading. I cannot say that of many stories.

The prose itself is disjointed, raw, gonzo and gritty. It is more art than story at times and the author has a knack for turning grime into poetry. You feel the protagonist’s sleep deprivation and anxiety in every "page". This is by far my favorite thing about Chosen Shackles. Honestly, I LIVE for this kind of gonzo insanity, and Chosen Shackles delivers that with abandon.

It is not all perfect, however. Chosen Shackles spends too much time in the first act, which might be intentional to give the reader a sense of alienation in the world that the author has crafted, but this was delivered plenty in the first and second chapters. If I am honest, I really did not know what the plot of the story was until I was WELL into it. If the lyrical and highly experimental prose had not won me over I likely would have abandoned this serial. Beyond that, the author can fall into present tense a lot which was confusing and broke my reader flow. If it were not for these things, I would have rated Chosen Shackles a full five-star rating. These complaints on any other serial would be near death knells for me, but the prose and the passion were strong enough to leave a highly positive impression on me overall.

If you are looking for something straightforward and light to read, turn away. If you do not get why spicy noodles are as important to Cyber Punk as murderous androids, Chosen Shackles may not be for you. If, however, you crave madness in your stories and love a gritty sci-fi, Chosen Shackles IS A MUST.

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Loading//: SpicyNoodle_Cyberpunk.exe

By SovereignofAshes, author of The Vorrgistadt Saga

May 6, 2018: Disclaimer: This review was done as part of a review swap.

First Impressions: Imagine yourself crawling through the streets of Shinjuku City at three in the morning. It’s raining cats and dogs, you’ve been cooped up in a coffin apartment for two days watching the likes of Blade Runner, Mute, Altered Carbon, Johnny Mnemonic, and Dark City. You have your music player blaring a selection of vaporwave and retrosynth as you emerge bleary-eyed and hungry into the shining neon lights of a city that never sleeps. Your brain is rattled, there might be some kind of designer drug still in your system, and all you want more than anything is a bowl filled with spicy ramen. Welcome to the surrealist cyberpunk world of Chosen Shackles.

The first thing you’ll notice about this fiction is the care and style that the author has built with their site. You’ll feel like you just loaded yourself into some neo-80’s darkweb site that may or may not be trying to devour your soul while selling you a bag of super-flavored, energy-upping NERPS. Stylish ‘easter eggs’ are hidden around, yet not entirely obtuse. The atmosphere that is built fits perfectly with the atmosphere of the story. You’ll find yourself wonderfully lost on this site for hours reading the story, checking out the artwork, and wanting more of this world. Just don’t try to debug the errors. You might find yourself on the other end of the Red Door.

Content: Prepare to be booted up into the consciousness of a man named Frode. He’s not a forgiving host, but he’ll grow on you like a self-replicating bio-augment. You’ll be plunged headlong into his life seeing what he sees, feeling what he feels, and getting to know this expertly crafted world the author has conjured up. You’ll get to meet other characters and learn some dark secrets along your journey.

The story is written exclusively in the first-person immediate. The narrative runs fast and clean, with chapters of normal length. You’ll find yourself being pulled into the scenes happening to the protagonist and wanting more. The chapter titles pull you in and reveal nothing as you hurriedly click them to find out what fresh horrors Frode will have to face. The whole story is entirely binge-able within an evening (at least up to the current release).

Particulars: This is an experimental work of art as much as an ongoing web serial. The atmosphere is heavy and the author’s passion bleeds through their writing. The story is surrealist like many of Shaeor’s other works and is a spiritual successor to their previous Dirge story. For some this can be just what they’re looking for, but for others who enjoy a lighter or more casual read, this might not be your bowl of noodles.

The website is dark with light text making it easy on the eyes and great for night-time reading. The text is easy to read; the website is clean and stream-lined. The author updates twice a week and has a fair amount of chapters up thus far. The chapters are great for quick reading if you’re out-and-about, but also work well with a long binge-read at home in the dark if you have the time.

The spelling is top-notch like all of Shaeor’s work. Some of the grammar can be fiddly at times given it is set in a first-person narrative with events happening immediately to the character. The author catches any errors and fixes them quite quickly. Newer uploads may have a rough edge at times, but will get fixed soon after. The character of Frode can seem a bit detached at the beginning of the story, but you’ll get used to his perspective very quickly. The dialogue between characters fits the atmosphere and the characters in the story quite well, but it could be different than what some might expect if they read a lot of high-action yarns or sultry romance tales.

The story is dark in theme and in atmosphere. The protagonist won’t hold your hand in the story and you’ll need to read further to get access to more information from the world and situations you’ll find yourself in as a reader. For many, this is a godsend, and for those wanting a more light-hearted read, this might turn you off. The story grows as you read the chapters and things that might have felt alien become familiar, while whole new vistas of weirdness open up to you.

Conclusion: I have to admit that I’m a huge fan of atmospheric fictions set in well-formed worlds. This kind of story is exactly one I’ve been waiting to read for quite some time; a dark, surrealist, deep, stylish, cyberpunk/vaporpunk mash-up. This story fills a very interesting niche between science-fiction and fantasy that will appeal to anyone who has gotten caught up in the neo-80’s synth-revival that is happening lately. It’s one part Dark City, one part Blade Runner, and one part Stranger Things. Shaeor has won me over once again and I’ll be watching this fiction until its finished.

If you haven’t yet, you need to check this one out. It pushes the web serial artform to new heights and plunges you into nightmare darkness at the same time.

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Distinctive, Experimental Madness

By Rhodeworks, author of Not All Heroes

Apr 27, 2018: (Review of up to 20)

Chosen Shackles was a strange read. I feel this might be one of the first fictions on WFG where I may have to acknowledge that I’m not the intended audience and that I just don’t ‘get it’.

Let’s start with the things I adored. One, the webpage is just amazing. It’s distinct and memorable and it made me sit up and take notice immediately. More serials should strive to have such a distinctive identity.

Similarly, the initial synopsis on the home page was neat, too. Like the general look, it was a good way of evoking a distinct feel if not exact clarity (which could be the overall criticism of Shackles, really).

There are a lot of lines I like in Shackles, such as the tagline (‘ . . . running static, face your shadow.’) There’s a certain degree of dark technological poetry under this writing, like glimpsing a suffocating nightmare. All in all, I really like that Shaeor is trying things with language and has sequences that aren’t the usual workmanship prose of serial writing. Compared with Dirge, Shaeor’s previous work, Chosen Shackles is obviously more experimental.

It just doesn’t always work. I feel that sometimes the attempts to be especially evocative or poetic erode the meaning and, in some cases, readability. There were a few parts where I’d read a sentence, nod that I could see what Shaeor was going for, but felt that the meaning was off, just a touch too purple to be appropriate. Here, I’d point to an early sentence beginning with ‘I breathlessly laughed . . . ‘ as an example. Similarly, there were a few paragraphs where the various sentences felt disconnected from each other.

But honestly, if you’re not a particularly close reader like me, it might not be too obvious to you. But I feel that my type of mind resists the ‘feel over precision’ style that Shaeor is going for.

Chapters are of a nice, prompt length and I like that. The overall pacing felt a little rough to me, however, and I didn’t really feel ‘grabbed’ until the story hit a sequence where Frode was trying to hunt down a stray cat—and I loved that part. There were some chapters that I felt ended before they could really begin and breathe, however.

Spelling and grammar is fine enough. Nothing stuck out to me beyond a few minor errors (such as gauge being where gouge should’ve).

One of the weaker points of Chosen Shackles, in my opinion, is that of Frode (the protagonist) himself, and dialogue in general. But I get the feeling Shaeor is aping a pair of genres I’m not familiar with, so, perhaps it might be intentionally odd.

Frode feels like he exemplifies my general criticism of Shackles—he, and it, feel a bit murky. But, like the above, it was such a consistent note that it’s obviously a deliberate choice.

While this review may sound critical, I feel a lot of my issues are lessened in the later chapters . . . but not vanished entirely. Had Shackles been posted when I first gathered my notes, I think it would have been lower.

Speaking of the score, my numerical score has bounced around a lot and makes me wish for more granularity in the rating system. I feel 3.75 is what I want to award. So, I’ve rounded up.

Chosen Shackles is absolutely worth a look, even if just for the great production values. This is one of those stories where I feel any perspective on it is hampered by it being incomplete. Like a lot of my reviews, this is one I’ll revisit.

I feel if the story works for you, there’s something great here. There’s absolutely a unique rhythm to it all, this murky, rainy world that Frode inhabits. But it’s hard for me to tell if Chosen Shackles’s nightmare-rhythm is a neon slick evocation of that genre and its themes, or Shaeor not quite reaching what he’s grasping for. But that’s hardly the worst criticism, that a story might be a touch too ambitious, a touch too experimental.

Check it out. Doubly so if you follow cyberpunk, vaporwave, and so on. You might just be better equipped to ride along with Frode than I am.

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