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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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I've been following this story since sometime last year (2019) and it's honestly pretty good. There's hardly any grammatical errors or typos the plot is entertaining and the world building is fairly consistent.
Despite all that, something has been eating at me the entire time I was reading this story. Nearly all the interactions between the characters feel one dimensional and monotonous.
I think this is because whenever any characters are having a conversation, all I ever read about is the words they say to each other but I find it hard to envision anything else about their interaction because almost nothing is mentioned about their facial expressions, body language and tones. Even on the rare occasion that anything like that is explored, so little is mentioned that it's almost pointless.
It makes conversations feel like it's just one guy talking to himself.
Conversations also sometimes feel like infodumps even when that might not be the author's intention, and it can get so bad that even parts that might've been meant to be entertaining start to drag.
All this also makes the characters hard to relate to because they are not fleshed out properly in my head. I'm not saying that there's not any attempts to flesh out the characters because I always read descriptions of what they look like and what they wear and what the other characters think of them, but I can't help but want to see what they see as they're talking to each other.
Conversation has many more dimensions than just the words spoken but almost all of them are missing.
If the author could deal with that issue, then this story would be a masterpiece.
I can easily say this is one of my favorite stories ever, as it touches on a number of things I consider important.
The characters all feel very real, rather than just placeholders with a single defining character trait, each their own person, without falling into any trite cliches.
Speaking of cliches, this story does a great job of examining several common tropes of portal fantasy, tabletop rpgs and the like, deconstructing, reconstructing, subverting and sometimes playing them straight when you least expect.
The grammar and overall spelling is excellent, with the author consistently correcting any slips that are pointed out.
But more than anything, what truly gets me in this story is the world building. The breadth and depth of the world is truly fantastic. The hundreds of species, the dozens of magic systems, the way societies have organized themselves around the existence of magical items, everything the author reveals, just keeps showing more and more of how immense the world of Aerb truly is. If I have only one complaint is that there is no way this story will ever be long enough for us to see the full scope of what the author has created.
[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.
Currently at the end of the published story, chapter 221, Targets of Opportunity.
I had read Alexander Wales' stories before. None of this caliber. As he's very obviously in the "capital R" Rationality circle, I think he'll understand when I say: I would be honored to meet the man who is able to contain at the same time (apart from many others) the likes of Bethel, Amarillis and Juniper. Never after HPMOR had I found such protagonists, so full of life, reflection, sensitivity and sheer intellectual power, while still being human in the fullest possible sense of the world. And that's just on the character front, which I understand to be the lowest part (I give 4,5 stars for it), mostly because of LoadsAndLoadsOfCharacters making FourLinesAllWaiting (I really missed some characters that are absent for long). Sorry I can't make the TvTropes link work, but you know where to search.
On the story front, I again have never encountered such a detailed worldbuilding. Mentioning Tolkien is mandatory here, but just to say Tolkien is diminished. I could only say, Alexander Wales spends time on staging / worldbuilding in the way that JRR Tolkien spends on fictional languages. But loose threads are few and far between. It's narratvely very satisfactory for arcs to have a beginning and an end, and as much as the author plays with expectations and post-everything, he sticks to the adequate formulas at the adequate times. Meaning, he's just a very, very good writer and narrator, on the level of Scott Alexander. I've spend quite a few sleepless nights reading obsessively this fiction, not being able to unglue myself from the screen. And now that I'm "finished", I just crave for more.
I'm not sure what RoyalRoad means with "Style", but supposing it means "ellegant, decorative", what can I say? It's both the best riff I've ever read on fantasy themes and narratives (and drinking from the most sources, probably), and the best written. A real-world editor wouldn't have let anyone except an acclaimed writer (say, George R.R. Martin) to run this long. But the fiction needs it, and Wales does it better than Martin.
On grammar and language, because this is an advanced review, I can only say: I'm spanish/english bilingual, with deep culture. I don't need a dictionary to read most general or technical works, just very specific old terms when reading Shakespeare, let's say. Alexander Wales forces me to check a word about every few chapters, which is frankly ridiculous for me. Best of class, much better than both standard curated bestsellers AND academic works.
There are good things about this fiction namely the setting and its variety of magical systems. If you want an elaboration on those elements then go read one of the many glowing reviews.
Your reception of this story will depend upon how much you’ve read and what you’re looking for in a protagonist. At first the story comes across as dynamic and fresh but as things proceed the plot becomes bogged down in a repetitive cycle of tedious debates, forced exposition, emotional diarrhea and unresolved relationship issues. This pattern repeats ad nauseam and as a result the reading can become quite tedious at times.
Apart from that the main character “Joon” is the embodiment of the standard beta male. His only accomplishment in life was the creation of a detailed series of tabletop campaigns which he played with his friends. Conveniently the story revolves near exclusively around this detail and rewards him for it excessively with riches, companionship, super powers and good looks. But this is never enough to stop him from being an emotionally damaged doormat which contrasts starkly with his unearned prowess in battle. In fact, outside of combat, I would say that the typical gender norms are swapped between him and Amaryllis, which becomes more obvious as the story progresses.
Joon has a distinct lack of self-respect and conviction, except for when it comes to social justice and game mechanics, and you’ll frequently find him apologizing during the many bouts of pseudo psychoanalysis that litter the story. (Imagine a character who constantly whips himself while trying to play counselor, especially whenever he talks to one of the women who surround him.) While this attitude may be fitting for the character as he was, at the start of the story, it becomes exhausting 100+ chapters in when you realize that he seems incapable of developing any sense of self worth and independence as a man.
This weakness and subordination to those around him is novel in a genre littered with lone super humans who generally do as they please but in this case the author went too far in the opposite direction. In fact you will rarely find him apart from his “companions” for more than a few pages before they’re reunited and the status quo of constant interrogation, debate, relationship/sexual tension and apology is restored.
Things didn’t improve with the introduction of the “DM” who’s literally controlling the game world so that Joon can advance through his “campaign”. This further compounds the difficulty of taking the characters and their world seriously when coupled with their endless and tiresome social issues.
This one was hard for me... For the most part of this story I could not make up my mind if this was good or bad it was sitting on the middle of it. In the end it is not really good it starts strong but get convoluted and stuff happens just because... One part it makes sense story wise but the other part is that it does not give the reader breathing room. But the biggest flaw in this story are they chars and at the top it is our male lead Joon. The problem with Joon is that he thinks of himself as the center of the universe and does not treat other people in this story as real people. I liked at the start the romance with Fen but that was handled so poorly in the end with the MC acting like he was the best and did not need to learn anything... It felt wrong how it was handled. It also does not feel that our MC grows trough the story because the story makes a point to make the MC right in one way or another. Tbh would like to say a lot of my frustrations with this novel but would take me too long.
Give it a shot if you want but can't really recommend it.
Since almsot everyone already elaborate how good this fiction is, i will write the flaw that i see in this story from my own perspective. You may not agreed to this but this is what i saw.
1. Info dumping
This is quite critical aspect for story to make sure that the reader felt compelled to know more about the world, character and lore of the sory instead of felt being forced with info. This is where this fiction failed quite few times. I would said sometimes the info is being well written into the story while sometimes i felt being forced to read. This make the story is quite boring to read at that times.
2. Phycological aspect of MC
Now, as I read along, I can see that the MC done a lot of thinking, questioning everything in this world like a mature adult. So when it comes to death of his friend, suddenly he became a edgy, selfish and spoiled teenager that think the world is revolved around him. It really, really hard to sympathize with teenager losing his best friend when you know out there, some one there is losing his family and has bleak future becaused his country is in war. Not to mentioned, the jaring feeling between this two personality.
3. Magic system
SO MANY praised the magic system when i felt this ones is the aspect that failed the most. The magic system is a mess and all over the place. The reason is the law governing the magic is not well explained. There is the sentence where the princess said the magic is already demystiquefing. If this is the case, why there is so many unexplained law of the magic. Does you can do magic with oly the will? Warder done it with the ritual, while skin magic done magic with art? Gem magic need to be understood that it is operate using light? if understanding the principle can help MC learn the magic, why he cannot learn about elemental magic since surely the TEENAGER who knows so many thing would know about the principal of element. Why there is no resurrection if you can create soul. What does define death? Why can't you catch soul and put back on the body? There is so many thing can be explored about magic and the MC is busy thinking about the stat. The magic system is so flawed, dude.
4. D&D system is confusing
This is where many will not agreed with me but i am saying this as someone that never played D&D game. The way he explained D&D sytem making me think D&D game is one hell boring and confusing. This is fiction, not complex mathematic question. I always skip the D&D thing since it is confusing and bland at the same times.
So yeah, i do think other reviewer is over exaggarated this story. It is good flawed fiction, that's all.
Worth the Candle is good.
Worth the Candle perhaps caters to me.
Worth the Candle is awful. It can make one feel awful things.
Sometimes reading it makes you want to hug somebody who matters, because in some primal instinct adjacent sense, being physically proximal to someone makes you think that you will be mentally adjacent. The current mindstate is so, not quite good, but worthy of having, that you want to share it. It wouldn't work, but you want to hug anyways.
Sometimes reading it makes you want to hug somebody who matters, because in some primal instinct adjacent sense, being physically proximal to someone makes you think that you are loved, included, and the resources of the hugee are partially at your disposal to ward off the ills of the world, physical or otherwise. This nearly works.
Worth the Candle is packed with action, worldbuilding, and all sorts of random fantasy things that people like. That it delivers to your forebrain, to be enjoyably dissected and appreciated.
The characters share moments of conversation that are perhaps superhumanly introspective. That is delivered like a punch to your hippocampus, making you wretched and joyous in turn.
More than anything, Worth the Candle prompts. Its characters are intelligent and have internal worlds that gently brushes up against the internal worlds of the reader. They are all intelligible. Their world views, foibles, and fears could be yours, but for circumstances. One day, I can read the whole thing again as a kind of therapy; each moment of emotional investment and introspective pondering spawning a short essay.
This story is actually really good. I read dozens of chapters and had little complaints about the story itself. The grammar is superb. The writing style is great. The characters seem to move and make decisions that seem reasonable.
But there is just something about it that made it start to drift away from me. The pacing was fantastic at first, but there seemed to be no progression, even though they did lots of things. Very little seemed to change.
Battle, battle, battle, yet the MC didn't appear to get stronger. Yet at the same time, he did. It's a confusing paradox as I'm reading it and typing this out, but I can't help but feel that as much as he battled and had painful things done that the more things changed, the more they stayed the same.
But I have to say, the reason I give the story a 3.5 stars for style is the author for some reason puts so many paranthesis all over almost every single chapter. This massively detracts from the story and distracts me. If it wasn't important enough for the author to put it in the story, then why is it thrust into our faces as we try to read? The author would have multiple paragraphs of unecessary thoughts in the middle of an important conversation. There are even paranthesis within paranthesis! I truly do not understand the authors obsession with them. If the story desperately needs them, then write them into the story. The author is more than capable. Just unwilling.
Overall, it's a great story. It just lost the spark for me. Great world-building and everything else. Just those damn paranthesis and nothing changing while everything changes.