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A teenager struggling after the death of his best friend finds himself in a fantasy world - one which seems to be an amalgamation of every Dungeons and Dragons campaign they ever played together. Now he's stuck trying to find the answers to why he's there and what this world is trying to say. The most terrifying answer might be that this world is an expression of the person he was back on Earth.
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It's a really enjoyable story some of the time, the action, the character interactions, the overall plot, it is quite good when it is good.
However, there is just. So. Much. Talking. Meta discussions blah blah blah, narrative blah blah blah, game design blah blah blah, it's like taking all of the overthinking and over-analyzing that sometimes happens in our brain and dumping it onto thousands of pages.
This kind of thing is fun in certain doses but the book is really more about those meta-discussions and self-therapy than about anything else. It's like reading someone's extremely well written diary - intelligent, occasionally interesting and insightful but written for the sake of being written out of author's mind and soul to give him closure, not for the sake of readers who will get bored to tears trying to consume thousands of pages of a diary and self talk disguised as a fantasy novel.
One of the best I've read on RR so far.
Has an interesting/innovative premise for the setting and characters feel very well fleshed out. Some subtle character progression for side characters and more thorough/in depth progression so far for the main protagonist.
Action doesn't draw out unnecessarily long, overall having a good pace to it in my opinion. World building also feels ※right※ with not too much extrapolation or meandering fed to the reader like in some other novels. Basically, the story flows naturally where nearly everything introduced has context as for why it's being brought out to bare.
I would say that the writer probably has quite a fair amount of experience sitting in the GM chair and it shows. Flavor text is abundant throughout giving vivid imagry for what is going on and the game systems don't feel wonky at all (for me at least) as it's something of a conglomeration of pathfinder, d&d, and a hell of a lot of homebrew thrown in.
Story-wise, I also feel inclined to applaud the author. There's a fair amount of an undercurrent of intrigue and mystery thrown into the mix as the reader is left wondering along with the protagonist as to what exactly is going on as well as why/how and will he find what he's looking for or does he even want to?
(Read up to the end of "Book II" as of this review)
Having read ahead from Alexander's website (up to chapter 165), i would say that the experience starts to wane later on.
This comes from the introduction of certain relevations that start to cause nearly all the main characters to ponder upon the meta aspect of the story. It quickly snowballs in such a way that the pacing suffers quite a lot in my opinion. Said relevations also snuff the mystery/intrigue atmosphere much earlier than expected since the reveal was pretty much unnecessary to plot developments, serving only to paralyze the progression of the story at many junctures.
Characters meander to and fro at every crossroad before deciding to do what they were going to do anyway. The weight of all of the succeses that June and friends achieve is also rendered nigh meaningless in the face of what they and the audience know. Furthermore, I believe the story starts to suffer from the protagonist becoming increasingly introspective as time goes on. He noticeably thinks in circles, often repeating and rehatching old thoughts. While realistic, it can (and does in my case) begin to chip away at the audience's patience, distancing us from viewing June in a favorable light. It also serves to exacerbate the pacing problem.
I would say overall, despite these later setbacks this story is still a good read, just not as magical as in the beginning.
[update -- no spoilers: as of the official ending, I firmly recommend against reading this novel. The last couple dozen chapters did make up for a few of the issues with style, but the story kept going downhill like a car without brakes. Tons of loose ends, an unsatisfying ending that felt like it was there just for the sake of ending, and a rushed, "meta" last chapter that explained everything for the sake of explaining... I feel like I wasted a lot of time reading this novel, and I strongly believe there are better alternatives for people to spend their leisure time on.]
I want to start this by saying that I enjoyed reading it up to a certain point, though it's become a hurdle as of late. The references, and the humor, though? On point.
Grammar is great. Honestly, it is as good as it gets on this website. While there are a few hangups with punctuation, they are minor and can be overlooked in favor of the better state of overall grammatical structure. Another minor gripe is that the author tends to overuse latin words and convoluted expressions, and sometimes they're just outright wrong/misused. Again, that's a small complaint, doesn't really detract from the novel. This last one is just an observation: every character talks exactly the same, and the author absolutely LOVES to say "so far as I know". If you made a drinking game with that sentence, you wouldn't last a chapter. Party members say it, shopkeepers say it, the young and the elderly say it. I wouldn't be surprised if, on a quiet night, the wind whispered "so far as I know", in Joon's ears.
My real gripes are with character development, the story, and style.
Sometimes, when a character has a revelation, it feels like they will just take five steps back in the next few chapters. For some characters, there's no depth in which this can happen; for others, the depth just seems artificial, crafted... It is a rehashing and replaying, or at least winking at, of conversations that, sure, could be found in a therapy session, in real life, but that's not what I, and I'm only speaking for myself, want to see in a fiction. It takes the enjoyment out of it; it is just repetitive, and it adds nothing -- it feels like filler.
The story... It started out very strong, and I mean it. I enjoyed almost all of it. All that flashing back to his time on Earth, though? Hated it. It is nice to know what happened before Aerb, but it's mostly blurb. I started skipping them all after the fifth one, and I honestly don't feel like I missed on anything. As was mentioned in the paragraph above, everything is rehashed, and you can just skip those sections, because it's just some flavor that will be brought up again at a later date, if not in full, at least with the important-ish pieces.
Anyway.. After the fallout from the first big enemy, I started having doubts. After that useless entad business, I felt I was reading a story about retconning... And it hasn't really gotten better. Successes started seeming temporary -- every inch of progress has been met with a weird wall of filler, backpedaling and second-guessing that left a bad taste in the mouth. The last, I don't know, 30 chapters, as of Fel Seed Incident, I've just been skimming, mostly reading dialog, skipping paragraphs at a time. It's become a mix of stale and unnecessarily convoluted, and I don't really feel like spending time reading every line anymore.
Now, for style. There are two things that I will talk about. The first one is the narrator; the second is the abuse of something that shouldn't even be used in a novel: parentheses.
The narrator is Joon, our protagonist. Sometimes, there is a change in voice, and it is explained, with an astonishing misuse of parentheses, with something like "(((You might be wondering how I know this, but it's because she told me what happened)))". This is just one of the many examples of the narrator beaking the fourth wall for no reason. Sure, it would usually prompt a connection from the reader, and could be a boon, but in the many instances when it occurred in this novel, I only felt annoyance, because it felt like a forced pull, like it was trying to emulate a tv series narrator.
Now, for the parentheses. They're an important tool, when used in informative text, to interrupt what you're saying, and to bring extra, generally less useful information. The thing is, you want continuity in a work of fiction. You don't need, nor want, to interrupt yourself during dialog every other line, and you certainly don't need three paragraphs of text inside parentheses. If that information is needed, remove the parentheses; if it doesn't fit, work it out with commas or semicolons. If you're not sure about a sentence, Ctrl+X that sucker, read it again and see if it makes a difference. If it doesn't, take it out. If you want someone involved in your writing, don't break immersion every five minutes to bring trivial stuff. Seriously. I skipped 95% of the stuff put in parentheses (which must have amounted to the length chapter), and I missed nothing. And now try to imagine if I'd swapped the parentheses for commas. It works just like that.
It's not bad per se, I just hated the MC. I wouldn't like him as a real person, and liked him less as a character.
He didn't seem real. I know other people feel differently, but it seemed like more of a thought experiment by someone who hasn't actually experienced life, rather than actual emotion.
But I'm 50, so maybe I see things differently.
I don't really have words to effectively describe my chemical soup at this time. There is so much about this story that appeals directly or indirectly to myriad aspects of who I am, at such a deep level that I quite literally can't describe it. I guess that would explain the rating I've given.
This story is introspective and meta by nature. Read it if that's your interest.
So I'm reading this, I'm over half-way through it and the MC is still immensely entitled and whiny (plus a rape arc that wasn't handled well in my opinion where it feels like the author just has a checklist of things he wants to add to the things the characters must go through, it wasn't compelling, just hollow) so yes, I'm half-way through and the MC is still whining and I remember that it makes sense narratively because it's only been 5 or so months in the story so of course the MC will still not change that much. . . BUT, there's the disconnect. Because yes, with a narrative sense, it's reasonable. But physically, it's been thousands of pages and it's only been 5 months and not much growth.
So yeah, lots of great things about this novel. Definitely well written (for the most part) but you need to sorta temper your expectations that the MC will be whiny for a long time and that even tho it will make narrative sense, it will also grind you down because of the page count where he's still whiny and the page count dedicated to his whininess.
I really liked this story for the first 40 chapters or so. Then things started grating on me.
- The trope where his companions get random power ups in order to keep relevant.
- The increasing levels of obsession with trying to game the system and the endless discussions about narratives. (far too meta and immersion breaking)
- The MC becomes increasingly sociopathic in trying to manipulate higher levels of loyalty from his companions.
- Mary kept keeping things from the group for 'reasons'.
- The endless whining about his cheat level ability to gain aptitude in basically everything isn't fast enough or good enough.
- The crowning moment of "nope nope nope I'm outskies" is when he meets God and whines about evil and suffering. It's not so much that I mind objecting to suffering per se, since I'm whining about my suffering from reading this story. It's the hypocritical nature of it. He wishes to erase suffering from the world and clone his ex girlfriend while keeping his current one, while also complaining about his budding harem. I'm sorry but if you don't want to hook up with someone, all you have to do is say sorry not interested and move on with your life. Then there's the preoccupation with everything being a Clue or that his piloting skills should come into play and I just find myself thinking. "I don't actually care about any of these characters, I don't care where they end up, so I should just stop reading and put myself out of my misery. "
Spoiler alert, this story is apparently going to be at least 160 chapters and a million words.
In short, this is one of the best written, near perfectly edited stories with characters that will constantly talk about the nature of reality and narratives and will bicker endlessly. As of ch 79, I don't think the story or characters have progressed that far.
Now that it has been complete for a few months, I want to offer my full thoughts on WTC.
Overall, Worth The Candle is the best finished story of significant length I've read in my years on this site. It is also one of the most inconsistent good stories on this site. There were many aspects which I took extreme issue with, and I think entire sections of the book are average to below average in quality.
This is made up for entirely by not only some of the best technical writing on the website, but a unique and fascinating world, excellent use of themes as a guiding structure, and a beautifully crafted story which is at the same time often unpredictable yet entirely natural and logical. The first 100 and last 50 chapters are not just some of the best webnovel writing I've read, but some of the best writing in general.
That statement is perhaps inviting the question of my thoughts on the middle portion. It is certainly not universally bad, there are excellent moments and story threads that I found compelling. That being said, I quit this story four times in the space of 80 chapters, and there were reasons for it.
The pace slows down significantly around the third to halfway point, which is not a problem on its own. In keeping with the D&D theme, the party has stopped being railroaded so much and is sort of doing their own thing. The problem lies in the fact that this just does not jive with the rest of the novel and its themes. The most compelling part of the story is the overarching plot and the mysteries behind it, and the main characters are at their most interesting when directly interacting with that plot. The story meanders here for a long time, and much of the character development of Juniper and Grak, in particular, though the rest of the crew as well, takes a steep nosedive from its earlier quality.
The grammar is as close to perfect as you will get online. Any mistakes were minor and not repeated, and a majority of chapters had no mistakes at all that I noticed.
The story is the shining star of this novel. It is difficult to express my thoughts without spoilers, but the philosophical aspect and meta-narratives carried through and executed beautifully,
as well as the most satisfying ending in literary history,
make this plot stand out as untouchable. The overall story has twists, and is sometimes unpredictable, but it's so well designed that it doesn't actually matter if you guess what's going to happen, it doesn't detract from the experience in the slightest. This novel could have been a 6/10, one of the best technically written LitRPGSs with decent characters, but it is instead a 9.5/10 because of the masterclass in plot-centric writing that Wales provides.
I would be remiss if I did not mention some aspects of the book which might make people uncomfortable, which are not spelled out in the available tags. There is rape in this book, on multiple occasions,
both of and by the main character,
and while it is certainly treated with respect and weight, there are elements that give me pause. That the author, who is to the best of my understanding a man, leans on rape as a device for conflict and character development on three major occasions and I believe two minor ones, is somewhat disturbing.
This is compounded by the fact that early in the book it is easy to get the impression that the author is bad at writing female characters and leans heavily on tropes - this is not accurate, but the impression is deliberately created and that fact is not revealed for a significant chunk of the novel. I got squicky vibes for a long time, and while that's proof of excellent writing given its intentional nature, sensitive people or people with traumatic experiences might want to avoid it or at least come in prepared.
This book contains Hell. Not metaphorically, not abstractly, it's a tangible part of the world. It's scary. Those who have read UNSONG will have the general right idea, though not quite to that extreme. If you will have issues with graphic descriptions of torture and mass human suffering, do not read these sections.
Stylistically, the author is known as part of the rationalist fiction community and it shows at times. If you hate this style with a passion, the book is still readable, but parts will be annoying. If you like it, it's even more fun!
There were no distractingly common crutch words or phrases, sentence flow and dialogue were mostly natural, and physical descriptions were grounded and not too flowery, except at the times when it's weird on purpose.
The narration style is a bit odd, but you mostly get used to it. It's first person past tense, but sort of outside the context of Juniper, except in particularly emotional moments where the writing tends to withdraw into his head. This works within the context of the story, but it took some adjustment for me.
Started reading this on Ao3 a few years ago. Can't believe it is finally finished.
The conceit allows for a lot of interesting world building. Exclusions mean that the hero can't win the same way every time. Started off as a bit of LitRPG but dropped that when it no longer served it purpose. Very introspective.
Author uses the story as a sort of sounding board for moral reasoning and ethics and I am guessing to work through there issues depending on how far or how close the DM is supposed to be to the author. The ending was satisfying and well forshadowed and very META.
if you like info dumps and flash backs, this is the story for you.
40% flashbacks / info dump
30% meta talking (characters breaking the 4th wall and talking how to 'game the game')
10% slice of life / romance
I wish the meta talking was around 5% and there were no flashbacks at all. sometimes the characters will go in a circle for CHAPTERS
when the story makes you feel like you are wasting your time it means its time to drop it.
since the story has great reviews and lots of people suggested it to me, im assuming that im in the minority, so I suggest trying the story for yourself and judge it from your own perspective.