The year is 1329. The Huntress' War has entered its tenth year, inflaming competing nationalisms and pitting the Confederacy of Caldrein against one of the continent's superpowers, the Tenereian Union. Desperately outnumbered, the Confederacy has relied on the prowess of its famed Caldran mercenaries, with highly-trained and experienced warbands returning from foreign conflicts to the defense of their homeland, and it is on their backs that Caldrein has successfully mounted a valiant defense for a decade. But they are losing, and day by day, with all the grace of a sledgehammer, the vast Tenereian armies take one more bit of Caldran territory, one footstep at a time.
Sixteen-year-old Neianne from the village of Caelon has submitted herself to Faulkren Academy, one of the centuries-old institutions established to train the next generation of Caldrein's elite soldiers of fortune, to learn the ways of wars for three years before embarking upon the defense of her country. Her dryad family once hailed from reclusive woodland communes isolated from Caldrein's complicated mainstream society, and her upbringing leaves the shy village girl unprepared to suddenly train alongside other apprentices from backgrounds as low as the dirty slums of Caldrein's cities and as high as the halls of aristocratic power.
Yet the war is eroding the norms and traditions that the Caldran people have long considered part of their national mythos, and the tensions within the confederacy that have long simmered under the surface - race, class, community, identity - are slowly but surely dividing its people, and Neianne must grow and discover who she really is, even as the war that she is steadfastly training for comes to its inexorable end...
On the Road to Elspar is a fantasy quest - a work of interactive fiction wherein readers get to vote on what happens next at critical junctures - that is the first entry in a story that follows Neianne of Caelon, which first began on July 20, 2016. Originally a three-part in medias res prologue to a larger story titled On the Elsparian Road, it was eventually decided that this section - which covers Neianne's three years at Faulkren Academy - become its own independent story due to length, structural, and accessibility reasons.
Despite this being a reader interactive work of fiction, due to logistical and verification concerns, voting will only be counted on its thread on the forum Sufficient Velocity, where this story originally began. As such, the content here on Royal Road serves as a story-only archive. You are, of course, entirely welcome to enjoy On the Road to Elspar as a conventional work of fiction, just as you are welcome to comment, discuss, and provide critique. But if you would like to participate in the voting, then I would be honored to welcome you on Sufficient Velocity.
To facilitate accessibility and to ensure the best reading experience, this story-only version of On the Road to Elspar will be updated at a periodic pace, even though further content exists, so as to not overwhelm new readers on Royal Road. If you enjoy this story, wish to binge it, and/or want to participate in voting immediately, you may of course read all additional content via the link provided above. This paragraph will be removed once the content on Royal Road catches up with what has already been posted in its original thread.
Cover artwork by DreamSyndd.
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The story is slow paced but well made. I had doubts reading this as it said in the tags reader interactive (which to me often means isekai with lots of fanservice) however after reading I am happy to say that the readers who make choices aren't like that at all.
The style is not for everyone as it is in first person. I personally enjoy third person more but even then I find that I don't dislike or hate the first person view. Let's just say if you stick around it grows on you.
Grammar is well done. (Probably better than my review ) Above the standard quality of royalroad.
Characters are not 1 side of a coin (Meaning they aren't one dimensional.) which is good. The characters also don't spill all their secrets the moment you meet them. A bit of a problem for me was that sometimes it's a bit hard to remember all the names. A glossary would be nice.
All in all. Very enjoyable read if you can get by the first person view.
Though at first glance this story might appear to be a fairly standard character of the commoner joining a mercenary organisation and learning to fight, the rich characterisation and worldbuilding make this a thoroughly enjoyable read with nothing feeling stale or overdone.
Though I rate all parts of the story highly, I particularly recommend it for the reader that enjoys a slow paced story with an emphasis on original, refreshing character interaction where everyone has their own desires and motivations - not a singular character feels two dimensional.
The elevator pitch for this sounds like a fairly standard fantasy adventure story, but the execution is much slower paced and contemplative than you'd expect. I would say the focus of the story is on its worldbuilding and characters, in a way such that the two are interwoven very nicely.
The worldbuilding isn't just dry exposition, it nearly always comes from the perspective of a person in the story. So, you don't just learn about the world, you learn about that character, how they see the world, what they believe in. And that too feeds back into the worldbuilding, because it's not just some sterile bunch of proper nouns and points on a timeline, it's people and groups and how they shaped those events and how those events shaped them. And it's not some objective narration of what happened, it's someone's perspective on what happened, with the biases and incomplete information and unique insights that can carry, in a way that feels real and gets you to think about the setting a lot more than omniscient narration would.
Any character that's gotten a good amount of screentime feels real, even the more exaggerated ones. As I mentioned earlier, the worldbuilding gives you a lot of context for them, how all sorts of factors shape them and affect them, but they're also not just a bunch of sociopolitical factors, they are all individuals with their own personalities and wants and flaws. Characters run a pretty broad spectrum of drama from mysterious pasts and sociopaths, to people grappling with their flaws and insecurities and trying to overcome them, to just not actually having some major source of conflict going on with them. So, there is a variety with the characters, their conflicts, and their interactions. There's characters I wanna find out more about what their deal is, and there's characters whose personal struggles I find really relatable. And while a lot of this review has talked a lot about like "oh, it's so deep, history, politics, conflict, gravitas, etc." there's also a lot of character stuff that's just fun to read. There's plenty of good humor and banter and shenanigans. There's some good friendships and characters who are just fun whenever they're in a scene.
The main thing I would see turning people away is the slow pace. The story is almost slice of life in a way, it's just that the slice of life happens to be students at a mercenary academy. Most of the writing is the characters just talking during training or after classes or on days off, or the like. It's not a story where going to the academy ends up being a springboard for grand adventures, they mostly just study and train. There is some action, and it's good, and the way it's sparingly used makes it more exciting, sometimes even shocking when it does happen, but if you come to this story for action adventure you're probably not gonna find enough to sate ya. The character stuff is still pretty slow even by the standards of character stuff. It's not slow without purpose; the way it's hard to change is kinda a big part of the story, both on the personal level and the national level. And I would note that there's having a slow pace, and there's spinning your wheels, and this story isn't spinning its wheels. You are consistently learning new things about the characters or the world, or seeing some degree of change or growth, it's just slowly. It feels pretty true to how growing as a person happens in real life. Still, I can imagine a version of this story where the pacing is a bit faster without losing any of that.
Anyway yeah, as you can see from the rating I gave I really like this story. It's fun, it's smart, it's moving. Give it a read.