Tag Archives: fantasy

Dragon Seed (Archemi Online #1)

Title: Dragon Seed

Author: James Baldwin

Series: Archemi Online #1

Hector is dying of an artificial virus, but he’s determined not to go out quietly. When he receives a message from his estranged brother, he returns home to find an unexpected opportunity to extend his life via the first full virtual reality game. The only problem is that the game’s still in progress. Still, Hector decides it’s worth the chance, and plunges into a fantastic world with the goal of becoming a dragon rider . . .

This has amazing characterization. From the very beginning, Hector’s reckless personality shines bright, and the various humans and NPCs he runs into are equally compelling. (I’m not totally ditching the “this is actually another world” plot twist, but for now they do appear to be actual NPCs).

Hector’s start in the game is plagued by some disturbing glitches. He’s dumped straight into a nightmare-grade quest, the safety measures that the devs assured him were in place don’t seem to be working for him, and he somehow caught the interest of one of the local gods (which really wasn’t supposed to happen given the game’s background lore).

Of course, my absolute favorite character is Cutthroat, the dinosaur-like mount used to haze the newbies, which of course ends up as his gifted steed. Cutthroat has all the tricks of a bad horse and then some, and her antics frequently had me laughing out loud.

Given where this ends, the next book is going to be really entertaining.

The litRPG element is fairly light, with most of the game elements confined to the character creation scene. Most of the rest of the book plays out like a more typical fantasy adventure, just with a few skills to use during battles.

Overall this was a very fun book, and I’m eager to see where the series goes from here. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

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Record of Wortenia War (Web Novel)

Title: Record of Wortenia War

Author: Ryota Hori

Ryouma is a high school student who was summoned to another world. Unfortunately for his summoner, he’s also someone with a well-deserved reputation for terrifying retaliation. After killing his summoner and escaping the castle, Ryouma sets off to make his own life in this new world.

I saw this is coming out officially and got curious enough to check out the web novel. So this review is based on a version of the story that may differ from the official books (which I am planning to get as soon as they’re released).

In general the story is aware enough of the genre tropes to not get too bogged down in them. Ryouma’s reaction to being summoned is a classic example: he takes only a few seconds to orient himself, decide whoever did this is not someone he wants to negotiate with, and kills them all.

On the other hand, this still doesn’t save the story from introducing a pair of sisters who were slaves, who of course immediately swear undying loyalty (and further slavery) to Ryouma. They’re the worst characters by far, with the most forgettable personalities, and the only saving grace is that they have a minor role after their initial introduction.

The heart of the story is Ryouma as he works his way up from a relatively powerless adventurer to a leader. I really liked the deep look at leadership. This mostly happens through examining other existing leaders and Ryouma’s analysis of their decisions.

Lupis, for example, is presented as fundamentally a good person yet a terrible leader. Her propensity to value loyalty the most means she ends up surrounded by people who can only agree with her and can’t see the problems in her strategies. Or even if they can see, dare not say anything, because to disagree is to be a traitor. I loved watching Ryouma initially support her, try to help her develop, and eventually conclude that he can’t help someone who won’t take honest criticism.

Ryouma, in contrast, is all about practicalities. He doesn’t fall into the trap of “the ends justify the means,” but he’s willing to use dirtier means if that’s what the situation calls for. Like using rumors to exaggerate his devilish reputation to reduce causalities, or hiring known bandit groups to raid enemy villages so they’ll pull back some troops. Ryouma’s style of leadership looks more at what motivates people and how he can tap into that to get them moving in the direction he wants. He’d rather enable his subordinates than try to do everything himself, and he’s capable of working with all kinds of people.

There’s also a group of summoned people working nefarious schemes in the background, but so far that’s been a very slow burning plot.

Overall, although there are places where the story stumbles, it’s been a lot of fun to follow. The first book doesn’t give the best idea of what the series will be like going forward, but once he gets dragged into the civil war in the second book, the story really gets going. I rate this book Recommended.

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime #5 (Light Novel)

Title: That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime #5

Author: Fuse

Format: Light Novel

Rimuru is off on his tour of the surrounding nations, so Benimaru and the other residents of Tempest are doing their best to run everything like normal. Only there are various plots afoot, and without Rimuru, Tempest is poorly equipped to manage them . . .

It’s really hard to summarize this without spoiling some of the best twists. This book covers some of my favorite material in the overall story.

The prologue alone sets out the more ambitious scope of this book: the Beast Kingdom allied with Tempest is under attack . . . by Milim? But explanations will have to wait for much later.

Mjurren, a magicborn working to carry out some of those plans, gets a lot of focus. I actually like the love triangle that unfolds around her because it’s so silly—one of her would-be suitors is determined to win by waiting for the other one to age to death. For her part, she views Yohm and his comrades more like a babysitting job, where she’s the only adult in the room.

And I love watching Rimuru break down and go more than a little crazy when he finds out what happened when he was gone. It’s all the little things he does that betrays his raging heart. And then he decides he’s putting his foot down. No more pretending the world is full of nothing but people with good intentions.

Raphael is another favorite. “It’s just your imagination.” The snarky little quips go almost entirely over Rimuru’s head. I love how Raphael is developing as a character, and the conflict between emotions and logic as sentience grows where no personality should even exist.

Overall this is a very solid continuation for the series, as it provides a lot of character development for everyone around Rimuru, introduces interesting new characters (and brings back one welcome old friend), and paves the way for a rather unexpected journey. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime (Anime)

Title: That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime
Episodes: 1-25

Mikami Satoru was an ordinary man, until the day a mugger ends his life and sends his spirit to another world. Reincarnated as a slime monster named Rimuru Tempest, he fumbles his way through meetings with dragons, goblins, ogres, and more in this brand-new world.

So now that the first season is completely over, I thought I’d throw a few thoughts out there.

The first two major arcs are definitely the strongest. The initial exploration of this new world, culminating in meeting Shizu, and the Orc Lord arc were both a lot of fun whether it was anime, manga, or light novel portraying them.

The last two arcs, unfortunately, are a step down in several respects. I never liked the Milim arc much, and cutting down the number of episodes adapting it doesn’t help an already weak plot with Charbydis. The major characters here basically show up, fail to pose a credible threat, and resolve much too fast.

Similarly, the last big arc with Rimuru turning teacher doesn’t have enough focus on the kids who are supposed to be at the center of it all. In both cases, the weaknesses were present in the light novels, but not as strongly because of other interesting content to balance it out. I still hope Rimuru’s journey to the capital gets animated as an OVA, as that had several amusing encounters that the anime completely cut out.

The last two episodes are special episodes. One is a standalone episode about Shizu and a particular demon who will later meet Rimuru, and the last is a recap of the series with Veldora and Ifrit voicing some of the scenes from Veldora’s diary (the short stories at the end of every manga volume). I liked Shizu’s episode better, as it at least provides some new material. Veldora’s diary was a recap coming right on the heels of another episode with a lot of recap (plus they skipped some of the funnier bits of his diary anyway, like how he found manga through Rimuru’s memories and took it as sacred texts).

Overall I still enjoyed my time each week with the show, but I think after the Orc Lord arc the quality does go down a lot. That said, I’m looking forward to season 2, which has already been announced, as it will cover some of my favorite moments in the web novel. (The light novels covering those arcs haven’t come out yet in English.) I rate this series Recommended.

Campfire Cooking in Another World with My Absurd Skill

Title: Campfire Cooking in Another World with My Absurd Skill
JP Title: Tondemo Skill de Isekai Hourou Meshi

Not linking because this is getting published. Amazon has a good-sized sample. I read chapters 1-129.

Mukouda was a regular office worker who got caught accidentally in the hero summoning of three teenagers. Excusing himself from the situation, he goes off to find a job somewhere more peaceful than his arrival point, but his journey out is interrupted by a fenrir who insists on joining him for his cooking. Now he’s stuck trying to fill up his eternally-hungry companions, but at least he’s got an ability to buy things from an online supermarket.

I read the web novel version, so I’m not sure how much this changes from the novel version. The set up alone is amusing. Mukouda can see what’s coming as far as “heros” are concerned: war. Since he’d rather just be left alone to live a peaceful life, he asks for an allowance and high-tails it out of there. It’s a pity a legendary beast smells his cooking and gets addicted to being fed.

But Fer turns into an amusing ally, even if Mukouda has to work not to be bullied. Pretty much nothing can stand against the fenrir, who is willing to kill anything he deems tasty. So Mukouda does get a more-or-less peaceful life. He keeps gaining allies, as well, both in other people and more familiars. Ironically, they think of him as a legendary Tamer, and the few glimpses we get of the teenage heros confirms Mukouda has gotten far, far stronger than they have, despite all their Hero bonuses.

This is much more of a slice-of-life novel, with a great deal of attention devoted to the various meals Mukouda is preparing. Because of that, the pacing can feel really slow at times. I enjoyed the various bits of humor, but I do wish the story had included recipes, because it doesn’t get in depth enough to follow along.

Overall, this isn’t going to be a story for everyone. But for those who enjoy a quieter travel story about a boy and his (completely oversized and ridiculously overpowered) dog, this would be a good one to check out. Recommended.

Dragon Maken War

Title: Dragon Maken War

Translator: NaughtyOtter

Chapters: 220 (Ongoing)

https://www.wuxiaworld.com/novel/dragon-maken-war

For seventeen years, humanity fought the Dragon Demons over the right to choose their own future. Azell ended that war by killing their king, but was cursed in return. In an effort to defeat the curse, or at least buy time for his friends to discover a cure, Azell chose to go into a dragon’s hibernation. But he woke much later than expected. 220 years later. Now he’s adrift in a world he barely recognizes, but the Dragon Demon King’s followers are stirring once again . . .

This was AMAZING.

For as long as it is, the story is very tightly woven. Nothing feels wasted. We begin with Azell choosing to hibernate, and when he wakes his complete disorientation to the world at large makes an excellent starting point to exploring the wider world.

I really like the sense of history in this story. The story bounces back and forth, from Azell’s original lifetime to the present, to the great figures that were only legends in Azell’s day, if they were known at all, to the consequences of the war that worked out through over 200 years. Azell might have been a hero, but that just meant his mysterious disappearance had severe consequences for the lands he was supposed to govern.

One more amusing consequence of the time gap is that Azell can’t find anyone who will believe him when he tentatively floats the idea that he’s actually THE Azell known for killing the Dragon Demon King. He has to pose as his own descendant.

The characters are very good. Azell’s struggles go much farther than his need to rebuild his body into something approaching what he had back in the day. In what was to him no more than a moment, everyone he knew was relegated to the pages of history. Some of the longer-lived races actually did survive long enough to meet him again, which is its own kind of awkward, especially when that two-century gap brought major changes in personality. But he never gets bogged down in that contemplation. Character moments are there in spades, and noted, but the focus is first and foremost on the action/adventure.

The friends and comrades Azell picks up are also well-drawn. From the arrogant princess Arietta whose attempted abduction drives much of the early plot to curiosities like Yuren, a human who betrayed the organization that tried to brainwash him and turned terrorist against them in response, everyone has their own struggles and history that drive them. Even people like Carlos, Azell’s friend from the original war, still has a significant role even though most of that is Azell’s memories, or the traces he left behind.

It also delves quite deeply into the villain side. Atein is a wonderful villain. He’s complex, having been revered as a hero before his role in the war—someone so old his ideas of morality are quite questionable by anyone else’s standards. I love his reasoning, and how Azell correctly spots that he’s turned into just the sort of being he used to suppress for being “too dangerous.” Which is Azell’s accurate evaluation of Atein. Powerful, immortal, and trying to bring about a perfect world by various means . . . and his only gaping blind spot is the fact that humanity is not perfect, or perfectable. Any problems must mean the experiment was flawed and something different will need to be tried, because this time it might work and people will live happily and peacefully.

But Atein being off screen for much of the plot means we get plenty of time with the members of the organization he left behind. Old Dragon Demons that Azell remembered, and the newer recruits from children or grandchildren or even humans enlisted to the cause. But every character brings something meaningful to the story, so that contributes to the plot feeling focused despite the length.

Another highlight is the fight scenes. As might be expected, Azell is in conflict from nearly the moment he wakes up (which, honestly, isn’t that much different from before he went to sleep). I love that Azell relies heavily on technique, tricks, and skill over power, because even when he regains much of his power he’s still barely even with many of his enemies. And these techniques work at a level I rarely see described in fiction. Azell’s fighting is heavily biased towards senses—using his own to their fullest and confusing or blocking his enemy’s. Even more intriguing to me, a battle between top-level magicians looks like basically nothing from the outside, because both of them are working on cutting off the other’s spells before they can even start. Actually needing to defend against the spell means that mage has already lost ground.

So the fights are tense, thrilling, and frequent, but rarely repetitive. It’s not unusual for things to turn completely on their head during a battle, with a massive reversal sabotaging a previously predictable or close fight. Honestly this is one of the best books I’ve read period for fight scenes. It’s also good at imbuing a lot of heart into those fights. Some fight for the love of fighting, some for petty status squabbles, some for ideals, and some of the best for the hope and trust they put in another while making the ultimate sacrifice.

Overall this is a very good book I would encourage anyone to read. The translation can be a bit rough in the beginning, but it soon smooths out, and the story is compelling from the first chapter. First thing I’m doing after finishing it is going back to read it again, because WOW. The only downside is that it isn’t finished yet, but at the rate the plot has been going, I’m optimistic that the author has already planned everything out and it’s just a matter of getting there. Highly, highly recommended.

Changing World: How It All Began

Title: Changing World: How It All Began

Author: Sergei Katz

Dave is a stock analyst with a disability. When he’s offered the chance to beta test a newly developed full-immersion virtual reality game, he’s all in. But a few early mistakes puts him at a disadvantage starting out, and it will take luck and cleverness to ensure his character isn’t eliminated early on.

I probably should’ve stopped reading when the first chapter was pumping the main character up as a super-awesome stock analyst with an unbelievable ability to make money. It would have been a more engaging story if it had focused more on his disability and how going into the game world changed that.

It was also a very odd choice for a disability–the inability to see colors doesn’t seem to be as compelling a reason to abandon your everyday life for three years as perhaps some others might have been. And Dave doesn’t seem like much of a gamer otherwise. His main draw for playing is supposed to be getting around this disability.

And that all ignores the fact that after the very beginning, his life and personality outside the game has no relevance.

The actual game begins the litRPG aspect. Unfortunately, the story has a tendency to play up whatever the main character is finding or doing as awesome, without giving a good sense of the strengths or weaknesses of others. This makes the story as a whole less interesting because the stakes are either not there or poorly defined.

The fights, for example, tend to describe what’s going on by what’s happening with HP bars, rather than focusing on specific skills or strategies by both sides (and when it does try to show what both sides are doing, it tends to give a tiny bit of detail and then go back to talking about HP bars). So the fights are no fun to read because of their vagueness and lack of detail in the important parts, and excessive detail on the unimportant parts.

Both of his pets bother me. The bird in no way acts like a bird, which could be partially explained by this being a game, except nothing really indicates this is pet behavior specifically.

Overall, this has the bones of an interesting story, but the execution falls flat in a number of areas. I rate this book Neutral.