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In 2029, thirteen unearthly structures called Doorways appeared across the world. Any human that entered immediately disappeared. Thousands were never seen again, but every once in a while, someone would come back out after a few days, garbed in strange clothing and possessing superhuman powers. Despite the odds, many of the desperate, ambitious, and hopeful surged through the Doorways in search of personal power.
Eleven years have passed, and the world has undergone catastrophic changes as the result of superhuman conflict. Entire continents and civilizations have been lost, a supervillain epidemic threatens those societies that remain, and the world's greatest superhero team has just been destroyed. In the wake of this latest tragedy, a band of powerful superhuman bounty hunters comes together to track down the source of these disasters, and perhaps save what remains of the falling world.
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Graven, is, to undersell it's value down to bargain bin pricing, a good story. Now, when you usually think or hear just good, but not great, you think of things like 'readable' or 'meh but slightly entertaining'. That's not Graven. This story has, in record time, found itself on my favourites list. I obtained the full copy from the author for the purpose of this review, and I must say, I was both surprised and pleased throughout the journey.
Again, those seem to be underselling the effect of both those words. Graven started strong, very strong, in my standards, and only continued to mantain and raise that bar right to it's ending. It offered and new view of superpowers and caped antics, as well as fascinating lore and a new storyline.
Oh, it wasn't the perfect story by any means, but it never claimed to be. And yet, it proved to be insightful, well thought out, fast paced but never rushed, and wholely satisfying. It managed to get me to give a damn about it's characters, a feat that should be commended. While I'm uncertain if the author intends to publish them here on RoyalRoad, I urge other readers to check out the lore chapters.
They are both entertaining in their own right, being written from the P.O.V of a slightly biased female scientist, and provide fascinating information on powers.They can be skipped and the story fully enjoyed without them, but I still recommend them to even casual readers.
Graven is a gem, no two ways about it. From the very first chapter, it sets up and delivers one hell of a ride. Supervillians are appearing across America, random superhumans going nuts and attacking others. This alone is already something unique and interesting. What builds from there only gets better and better.
Sharker doesn't just build up and out with his story, expanding the narrative to larger and larger scales, but builds DEEP as well. He provides backstory, history, startling insights and that occasional sinking feeling. This is what helped sell Graven for me. Not only providing something new for us to consume, but to take the time to flesh it out and make it make sense. Questions that are prominent on the reader's mind are answered in satisfying and surprising ways. The way the Doorways and Powers were handled alone makes for a very good read.
The action flows smooth and FAST. Not 'blink and you miss it' fast, but Sharker doesn't screw around. He hits the right formula, keeping it tense and dangerous, all the while actually having explanations in the story itself. Fights are fast, brutal and often deadly. Like violence generally is. Gone is the common Super story trope of pounding away at each other until one collapses. Slugfests rarely happen, if ever. While not the glass cannons prevalent in series like Inheritors and others like it, the cast and their enemies aren't invulnerable punching bags either. I like that.
The backstory and lore are great here. As I said before, Sharker put a lot of thought and effort into that, and it clearly shows. While, again, not everything is explained right away, it is over time. And at a good pace too. Questions are neatly wrapped up by the end, with no loose threads left to frustrate the reader. The author seems to insist the ending was a little rushed, and yes, while it does seem a little like that, it's an ending. It actually has one, a clear, definitive, somewhat satisfying ending. No cliff hanger, no see you next book. An ending. That's a whole damn lot more than many other stories on RR.
So, just another reason to put this on your reading list; it'll never Hiatus or be dropped. The daily uploads right up to the end do a favor for the story that way.
..Good, actually. I seem to enjoy it. It's kept at a fast pace, and despite the POV rotating through the main cast, it never felt confusing or disorienting. Instead, it felt natural. The flow of the story is a bit faster than I usually like, but I'm not complaining here. It makes Graven feel like..hm, a condensed epic. A story that could easily be expanded upon, more content thrown in.
But Sharker didn't. Instead, i find that everything not PLOT has been carved away, leaving no filler to be found. Everything adavances the plot in one way or another. That keeps Graven's ball rolling, while simultaneously keeping the new content fresh and satisfying. And providing new insights on some older content as well.
One thing, though. Graven's pace can work against it at times. While, thanks to the fast pace, boredom is never an option, it also detracts the impact at times. For instance, because we never really see disasters happen ourselves here, we can't bring ourselves to really give a hoot about the innocent bystanders caught up in the crossfire or if someone fucks over an entire continent. We see those things, and know they're bad, but don't really get Dem feels.
I feel that the No Boredom thing does balance that out, however.
Again, good. Not excellent, or flawless, since the odd mistake pops up here and there, but still good. Aside from the occasional 'were' getting confused with 'we're', everything is solid. Quotation marks are in the right place, sentences don't drag on, and exclamation and questions marks aren't mixed up. Wording is also good, with nothing feeling awkward. Props to that.
From the very first chapter, I was in love with the cast. Forget your usual character archetypes, all of them. These people made impressions, big ones, and only continued to do so to the end. They aren't nice, they all have blood on their hands and they don't get along.
I loved that about the cast. Conflict was a major drive for most of them, and it showed. They didn't become best friends overnight, or at all. They were people.
Max, the very first character introduced, was everything I'd hoped from for a strong female lead. I'd been looking for a lead like her for years, and I finally found. Strong, sexually confident, and very much her own woman. Shoggoth, world weary and somewhat of a defeatist/passive person, balanced her out. Strider struck me as the least memorable by her personality alone, which is actually balanced out by her actual character and powers. James was kinda the same. He was a good character, but I'd seen him done before. Hitchhiker returned the cast to the unique and well done, and later additions kept on doing that.
The villians and other characters introduced along the way were more of the same quality, being extremely well thought and fleshed out. To a level I have rarely seen of antagonist characters, and in record time.
Again, this is where the story's pace works against it. The fast pace just doesn't give readers enough TIME to properly hate these antagonists. Yes, they do terrible and horrifying things, but they mostly occus off-screen, and while we see the aftermath, we rarely get to see it happening.
This is balanced out, as I said above, by the villian's themselves. They have their reasons and stories. All of them do. Cero for instance. Upon learning her story, the entire perspective of the story shifted. Humanity suddenly became the actual villians, and a character, a figure you rooted against for most of the series was suddenly the least bloodstained and most justified of the entire cast. That entire perspective was changed in a single chapter. Cero went from a tyrannical villian to a person getting revenge for unspeakable horrors, all believably done, in that one chapter.
The same with the final villian. Again, in a single chapter, so many questions were neatly answered, other questions were expanded upon, and we had an awesome fight. Something actually different, and actually VERY tense and dangerous. All in a single chapter.
If you can create a cast THIS good while writing at a fast pace, I wonder exactly what wonders you could make if you slowed down a little, put MORE character interactions in there. Put in MORE moments and dialogue. You could make em even better. Even better than the amazing, varied cast you have right now.
Shark, let me be honest. The biggest flaw in your writing...Is you, actually. You criminally undersell yourself. Graven was not the story you said it was, just another read. It was amazing. Enjoyable. Well though out. Fleshed out. Built high and built deep. It is nothing less than a respectable entry to the dark superhero genre. It's actually better than a few I've seen on TWF's Super list. I've judged this story, and found it NOT wanting.
It delivered quality. At a fast pace. Look at those two. They don't mix well. Fast paces usually mean rushed. They didn't, here. Here, they made it FIT. They made the narrative RIGHT. So, my final piece of advice?
Believe in yourself more. You're a DAMN good author, one who more than deserves his place on my favourites list. I've read Graven and loved it. I'll very likely be back if you ever decide to write another serial. If Graven is your starting block, your FIRST DAMN SERIAL, Lord only knows what you'll create after this.
(Review originally published on Web Fiction Guide)
Graven is nominally a superhero story, which I’ll admit was a turn-off for me at first. There are technically superheroes, and there is even a superhero team featured in the story. However, this is pretty much as far as you can get from superheroes and still be in the genre.
Really, it’s more of a post-apocalyptic sci-fi adventure, featuring a cast of broken, diverse characters forced to come together to fight a mysterious, world-ending threat. Graven is set in a world where superheroes come to Earth through mysterious portals. And, pretty much like expected . . . that basically ends society as we know it. In the present tense, that means our characters are essentially living in the end times, and they are well aware of it too.
The way the story blends low-level character drama, fast-pace superhero action, and chilling cosmic horror is very respectable. It comes together in a way that differentiates it very well from the endless horde of other superhero web novels out there. There’s some shocking twists and turns I seriously didn’t see coming at all, too.
And for what it’s worth, the actual superpowers featured in this story are really awesome. You get the typical super-speedster, the shapeshifter, the strong flying lady, but the sources of their powers are different. They operate mechanically differently in ways that completely change how they operate, and that leads to some really interesting elements.Then there’s characters like Strider, the terraporter, and Earth Mage, the . . . well, his name is pretty self-explanatory. They, among others, have powers that are really unique in a superhero story, and Graven makes very good use of all of them. No potential wasted in terms of crazy power usage.
Where the story falls flat for me is in two areas— One, is the fact that there is just so, so much exposition. The characters are constantly talking about their backstories or the backstories of worldbuilding elements or elements of other characters’ powers. It’s so much to take in that it can get annoying sometimes. And, because of all of that detail thrown in, the story actually feels a bit too small—near the end, we’re still getting exposition on certain settings, and it makes you wish the story were 150 chapters, rather than just 50. I very much enjoyed the brisk pace, but there was so much going on! I think the story’s expansive world would have translated better as a video game, or a movie.
The other issue I had was in narrator voices. Each chapter is in the first-person view of a different character, and we get seven or eight of these throughout the novel. However, the voices aren’t differentiated enough; everyone sounds pretty much the same. That actually caused some trouble for me in the middle, sometimes forgetting mid-chapter which character I was following. In fact, at the very beginning, I didn’t realize the POV switched at all, and I was halfway through Shoggoth’s introduction before I realized it wasn’t Max-Out anymore.
Still, even with some rough edges, Graven has a lot to offer to anyone who enjoys superhero fiction, and even to people that don’t. So if it interests you, take that first step through the doorway and take a look.
Writing is well above average:
- Few to no typos/grammatical errors
- Dialogue is realistic
- Exposition handled naturally
Characters are likeable
- Their self-images are believable
- Each characters percieves the others in different ways
- Motivations seem reasonable
The plot is gripping
- The investigation of the core mystery is compelling
- Details about the world foster cursiousity
- Seems to have clear direction
- Fast paced
Author releases chapters often consistent quality
Definiitely both a story and author to look out for
I read the entire story on the author's blog in one sitting. After finishing it, I was left with a feeling of deep satisfaction, that I formerly believed, only a long soak in a hot tub on the coldest day of winter could provide.
If nothing else, it taught me how to correctly use a teleporter in a fiction. Strider single-handedly shouldered the story and lugged it from one action setpiece to the next and all across the globe, giving the story a frenetic pace that reminded me of allnighters and caffeine overdoses.
I absolutely loved the pacing. No fillers... non-stop action. I felt like I was reading a movie transcript and I loved the feeling. Easily the best thing about the story was how the deaths of two main characters were so abrupt. It really ratcheted the tension high. No one was safe. Once again, I can't express how much I adored the speed at which we rushed through the narrative WHILE maintaining narrative integrity. Really amazing. It takes serious talent to pull it off.
A few things, though, hold the story back. The inordinate amount of luck [plot convenience] showered on the team at the cost of realism... A character who should have taken a hike [nudge nudge] remains behind in the cast for the sake of keeping the team united. The very first case they crack as a team exposes a clue that leads to the main villain. And so on...
Final verdict: It has it's flaws - sure - but overall, I would call the experience a really enjoyable one.
I don't have alot of reviews or series in my fav section and I've been on the site for years so please believe me when I say this story is a gem and should be read.
Great story and captivating read. If you are into gritty superhero stories this is for you!
I've been meaning to leave a review on Graven for a while - better late than never!
I absolutely loved this story. In Graven, the appearance of superheroes in the world isn't glamourised or brushed aside - rather, it does precisely what you'd expect, which is to say 'wreaks absolute havoc on global society in just about every way imaginable'. Straightaway we're dumped into a society which resembles modern America on the surface but quickly becomes apparent is disrupted by villain attacks, brutal coups and takeovers, and is basically struggling to cope.
The plot is fast-paced and straight to the point, stripping out the dross to get to the good stuff - and oh, is there a lot of it. From the intricacies of each character's powers and backstory, to the clever world-building and story hooks rushing in one after the other, to well thought out concepts and consequences behind each event, Graven is just crammed full of satisfying details asking (and answering) a variety of fascinating questions.
For someone like me whose favourite aspect of speculative fiction is the 'what-if' scenario, it's an absolute treasure trove. Even more impressively, it's so easy to read. Lore is dispensed only when relevant to the plot and characters, is relayed with the perfect amount of detail, and is well-fleshed out and logical. You can tell a great deal of thought has gone into this - not only into the individual pieces, but how it all fits together as a whole. It's very difficult to fit this much well-described, well-paced lore into such a concise story and still keep the pace roaring along. In fact, I can't think of a story that does it better. Bravo.
The plot is unique, raising original scenarios with extremely satisfying conclusions, each arc's resolution tying into the next in a web of cleverly-interconnected threads. And it just builds. My sole criticism is that the final third feels a little rushed compared to the rest, the pace outweighing the scope of events just slightly. But this didn't make me enjoy it any less.
Moving onto characters, this is another area which impressed me. Characters are treated with the same level of detail as the plot, which is to say excellent. Each character is memorable and believable, with diverse backstories, distinct personalities and unique quirks. I didn't find every character in Graven likeable, but I didn't need to. They felt like real people with real flaws - including the villains - as did the dynamics in their interactions with each other. Again, despite the rapid pace and relatively short length of the story, it felt like I had a good chance to get to know every major character, with each member of the ensemble being allowed their time in the sun.
Not only is this the best superhero story I've read on Royal Road, it's also up there with my all-time favourites for plot quality and those beautiful 'what-if' conceptual moments, which this story is simply crammed with from start to finish. If this sounds like your cup of tea, then you should absolutely not give Graven a miss.
The only reason I'm not giving this an advanced review is that I read it before I made a Royal Road account and can't remember the specific nitpicking details enough to give a proper advanced review.
That said- it is my favorite superhero novel on this site. There are hints of grimdark/dark mystery throughout the entire story but they're done so deftly that even though it is ultimately a dark tale, it doesn't even feel like it. The characters are well written and fun and the super powers/their interactions are fun and innovated. The world is dark but fleshed out in a way that makes it feel like a logical but depressing outgrowth of our own.
I don't really know what else to say. Read this.
It's a tripping read with a cool premise then it feels like it's gon to far then raps up good. Read it in one sitting.
warning tags are there for a reason
spoiler it is a tragedy hiding behind a superhero story. While I found som of the crass humor slightly over the top it delivers a narrative that is rather good.
a warning you will feel a bit lost a first with all the disconnected storylines but they join into one cohesive narrative early on.
There is no such thing as a perfect story in this world, for a cavalcade of reasons. Unfortunately, some tales have to compete in a market suffering genre saturation, and Graven - being an outwardly superhero-centered tale - has a lot of at least nominal competition. However, it rises into notability as a very focused work which wants to tell a story about self-evolution, and which seems to lie on the very edge of “precisely enough to tell a tale and no more.” There have been perhaps better stories told in history, but this one ought to be read by virtually anybody hoping to take up writing themselves. It’s a curious yarn: dashes of mystery, a tone and subject between a heist film and a war story, a fantasy tilt, a tremendous amount of violence, some fairly interpretive gender-political discussion, and a take on the apocalypse that doesn’t boil down to zombies or EMPs or EMP zombies, and it’s well worth examining.
As far as flaws go, Graven’s literary status is imperfect but very clearly refined and intentional. Typographic errors, yes, but these are times when the scalpel slips, not when the hand behind it is misguided - occasional omissions of punctuation and other minor issues primarily, but an infrequent homophone substitution or two as well (a la “their” or “there” and so forth). In addition, there are both moments which feel like the author is brushing over one or two things for expedience and which feel slightly disappointing for not going into greater depth... but we’ll come back to that momentarily. Just note that this is a story you’ll more probably dislike for what it does than how it does it, because its flaws are not much more than sometimes distracting marks of its creator’s humanity.
Now, Graven is ABOUT characters, and specifically the common theme of man-versus-self. It asks the fairly standard-in-superhero-works question, “How are you going to change the world?” It asks this question in a whole slew of ways. For example, the conceit of Graven’s story is the appearance of numerous ethereal architectural features all over the world, and when you walk into one, either you return after some apparently arbitrary amount of time - armed with variably utilizable superpowers - or you never emerge. Will you take the risk of becoming a statistic? Will you be able to be content if you come back with the ability to, say take a few extra punches and drink unlimited quantities of liquid? On the other hand, supposing that you look back on the many sins of times past, would your inclination be to see betterment of everyone else, or just yourself? Would you even want to see that opportunity extended? And supposing that you have a new and improved lease on life: what weights would you give the valuation of others’ lives versus the improvement of quality-of-life? Graven runs the spectrum of these more-frequently encountered, and many less-frequently encountered, versions of such questions. Agency and opportunity are the twin cores of this work and it rocks them to all sorts of angles for a better view. It’s all about implementing changes for its cast, to the extent that of the superhuman members of that cast, only a tiny portion are even addressed by their birth names; the past itself becomes less of a tether and more a measuring stick.
Now, this is also a work whose presentation eschews nearly anything remotely considered extra. This in fact was, for me, both a wonderful example of supreme focus and a bit of a downer at times. It is quite rare to find a single word whose omission wouldn’t lessen the strength of its respective sentence, or a chapter that would remain just as functionally serviceable with any of its sentences removed. No; if you want to see a machine working with what it needs and no more, Graven is a textbook-worthy paragon. A great deal is concerned with the immediately occurring events of each respective cast member, and there’s little enough time to worry about unnecessary verbiage when the characters are regularly fighting for their lives. This has the added effect of tossing a great deal into the realm of material that the reader must mentally supply, by dint (for example) of not telling them much of anything about the dietary habits of extremely hardy superhumans, or leaving most of the new age’s utilitarian infrastructure an unstated and unexplored wilderness. The eloquent minimalism works to keep things hyper-focused, and reflects a dedication to cutting out the chaff which will invariably improve the successor to this work. However, this is a world which I on multiple occasions thought would be improved by more expansive exposition. It would have been nice to see things like debates among various governments about whether and how to draw up new articles of human rights for the superpowered. Instead, we get a very tightly concentrated journey that focuses on a band of misfits, and very little extraneous time spent idling.
In short, Graven is a cape-wearing motor vehicle stripped down to the bare essentials of what its storytelling actually requires. This is good in most ways, a little overly frugal in others. At its heart is the principle of characters changing their lives toward the ideals each possesses of “betterment.” Two of the maypoles of good storytelling united in one unassuming package. If there is ever to be a class on writing web fiction and the stalwart icons embodying how to do it right, then despite a few blemishes I’d say this one needs to be considered, and considered long and hard. Is it formulaic? Perhaps a bit, but in the same sense that making silver nitrate is supposed to be formulaic - if you try something differently from this example, it might still work, but it might also produce compounds you want nowhere near your face.