Title: Praise the Orc!
Author: Lee Jungmin / Translator: Rainbow Turtle
Status: 228 chapters (Complete) + 3 chapters extra story (incomplete)
Jung Ian runs his own cafe, content to earn enough money to support his younger sister and fund his own modest life. It’s a nice change from his previous position in the military. He’s not interested in the new virtual reality game, Elder Lord, which has exploded in popularity. At least, not until he overhears his sister complaining about how other players are harassing her. So Ian creates an orc character with the intention of protecting his sister, but the world of Elder Lord has many secrets . . .
I’m so glad I found this. I usually hate books about virtual reality games, but this one has several expected and unexpected twists, as well as solid writing that kept me blazing through chapter after chapter.
Right away, Ian stands out. He’s no slacker teenage gamer genius (although he MEETS a number of them). Instead, he’s a former member of an elite military division. An ACTUAL assassin. Someone who has killed before, and knows exactly what those kinds of battlefields entail. So when he faces the disturbing level of reality in Elder Lord, his previous combat experience gives him a leg up on many other players. He knows what it means for people to die. He knows what it means to be responsible for other lives. And that’s one reason he can’t leave bullies alone, especially when it’s players against natives.
The orcs are a simple, brutal race, but their philosophy suits Ian perfectly. Their traditions of honor and strength resonate deeply with him. I love how the constant refrain of an orc is “I’m alive.” It’s how they greet each other, how they say farewell, how they challenge their enemies. Ian slowly comes to appreciate exactly what an orc means about living, and why death isn’t the worst thing that could happen.
I love how the book is structured. All of the little acts of goodness Ian seeds grow into something far beyond what he could have imagined. The various lives he’s touched repay his trust tenfold. And the end is a brilliant declaration of hope against absolute despair, and celebrates the meaning of every single life even though those lives will eventually perish. It cracks open a window to something more.
The secondary characters are also a lot of fun. There’s an ongoing thread following Ian’s sister, who has no idea who he is in-game. I love the understated relationship between the two of them. She trusts Ian utterly, and he’s careful not to betray that trust. He takes care of her in place of their deceased parents, encouraging her. There’s another thread following a rich woman Ian knows, which gives a lot more insight into what Elder Lord is at a corporate level, and some behind-the-scenes looks at the things the players would never find out.
And then there’s the people Ian knows in Elder Lord. Anor was easily my favorite, even though he doesn’t grow into his potential as much as Tiyo. Anor was a shy, bullied half-breed until Crockta came into his life and challenged him to stand up for himself. But standing up for himself involved something like a psychotic break, and once his magic is unleashed so is his language. Anor went from quiet and polite to basically unable to talk without swearing at everything, and his responses to his own power range from terror to playing up his villainous side to the hilt. (I can’t even tell if he’s serious, psychotic, or just trying to roleplay himself into it. And I’m totally fine with not having a solid answer on that.)
Tiyo is another source of amusement. A muscled gnome who uses a magical gun, he’s overly sensitive about people looking down on him in any manner. He might be tiny but he’s got the biggest attitude of the whole cast.
The other users are well-drawn. Some simply want to play casually, and don’t really do much one way or another. Others see this as a chance to wreck havoc in a world that won’t punish them for rape, murder, or wanton destruction. A few, like Ian, have enough of a sense of justice to stand up for what’s right. The videos posted and snippets of forum threads commenting on game events perfectly capture the various types of reactions. (And who can forget the tabletop roleplayers who are generally pretty strong but have that one Really Embarrassing Friend who won’t shut up.)
Overall this was just a blast to read, and I desperately hope the rest of the Extra story (kind of an Afterward short story) gets translated. Not only was the ending perfect, but the followup was everything I could’ve asked for (AND I MUST KNOW HOW IT ENDS!). Highly, highly recommended.