He Who Fights With Monsters
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Now available on Kindle, Kindle Unlimited, Audible and in paperback here.
All chapters following book 2 are available here, but due to Kindle Unlimited requirements, the chapters from books 1 & 2, except for the first story arc, can no longer be hosted here.
Jason wakes up in a mysterious world of magic and monsters. He’ll face off against cannibals, cultists, wizards, monsters, and that’s just the first day. He’s going to need courage, he’s going to need wit and he’s going to need some magic powers of his own. But first, he’s going to need pants.
Follow Jason as he makes a place for himself in a world that is strange, yet sometimes strangely familiar. He’ll meet crime lords and aristocrats, gods and monsters on his path from would-be victim to heroic adventurer. At least, he tries to be heroic. It’s hard to be good when all your powers are evil.
Release schedule is 5 chapters per week, Monday-Friday USA time.
Please note: I am Australian and this story is written in Australian English, so there will be less of the letter Z and more of the letter U.
This web novel is also available at scribblehub.com
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Read the story up to 350 chapters and dropped it for few reasons. But let me preface that story managed to keep my attention up to this point so it did some things well.
So lets start few "issues":
1. Dialogues - they are either snarky/witty or some kind of serious discussion about meaning of life or some other inconsequential thing. You will not see every day dialogue or any kind of dialogue normal humans might have. Which brings me to second issue.
2. Everyone is Jason - and if they are not you will not remember them. Honestly it weirds me out, Jason was supposed to be unique kind of character but he "infects" people with his personality just after few interactions. One of the side characters (Emyr) suddenly become more powerful copy of Jason with no prior indication that might be the case. And you will probably find difficult to describe any character that is not Jason or Jason-like, they either do not have enough screen time and/or their personalities are not distinctive enough.
3. Jason himself - I loved his character during first arc, he was perfect example why the Isekai genre exist. The utter confusion and choas when faced with utterly alien world meshed so well with his character. It gave a reason for his character of behaving nonsensically when faced with nonsense world. But then it kept going, Jason actually never changed even though story keeps "stating" that he did. Every event that he faced and the way he reasoned about them screamed kind of teen angst even though it was supposed to be a serious and adult. It was further diminished because no 10 chapters would pass without Jason pondering about his ego.
4. Apathy - I could not find myself to care about characters or events. Story failed to establish a bond between a reader and the characters.
5. Lack of catharsis - simple, for the whole 350 chapters we have not seen any kind of major payoff, not a happy one, not a depressing one. Events that were supposed to be that payoff were undermined by the reasons above.
6. Show not tell - this one is probably my most subjective point. I always felt that story told to how are you supposed to feel and from time to time spewed exposition.
I'm sick of the main character's inner turmoil subplot. It's been going on for 371 chapters and with all the "progress" and "Finding himself" it still goes right back to normal after a couple chapters. Normal being a constant drone of questioning himself and angsting over who he's becoming.
I can't tell even a little bit what he got from his most recent walkabout to rediscover himself, and I'm half convinced that's because the author immediately followed it up by events that don't let him show his new inner stability. He does the utter opposite of that in fact; Putting the mc in a situation that tears him all the way back down. It's what always happens, so he might as well not have inner stability at all is what I'm saying. You told us he was getting it, but it's nowhere to be seen when it matters and when it doesn't it's only the appearence of stability. You've told us something that's never shown.
There's a lot to be said about a story that doesn't ignore the human elements of a character, but at the end of the day he's a character in a story and his angst just isn't interesting anymore. It's been done to death and I really want it to end. It doesn't serve its purpose anymore, not to a degree where it's worth still seeing it brought up every other chapter. Literally every other chapter.
Just stop it. After 371 chapters it's well past the point where he should've "Found himself" and chilled tf out. Basically, please for the love of god just write him as a basic power fantasy mc! You've gone so far with it in the other direction and I'm so DONE seeing it brought up that's what the story needs to happen now. Just end the constant drone of moral angst... Please...
I will start off by saying there are definitely great elements in this story. It was the story Iooked forward to the most for some periods of time. I especially live the way it portrayed group fighting and the strategy of facing the wide variety of monsters as an adventurer.
But I just can't do it. The everyone is Jason problem is real. You can end up reading multiple chapters in a row of Jason "snark" dialogue, and that gets draining when you are up to date and you feel like you wasted a whole update reading that. Second, the storyline, despite the attempts to give an overarching scope, is boring. The moments when this story shines are when Jason is discovering new and wonderous things about the new world around Greenstone, when he is learning about the essence system, and when he is learning the tools of the trade as an adventurer. Shirtaloons ability to envision complex builds for his characters, wacky items, and creative monster encounters is top-notch.
Unfortunately, most of the story is instead spent on drawn out political encounters with egomaniac villains, a mind controlling-esque cult, and a corrupt church. These plotlines completely deviate for the sense of discovery and growth and get bogged down in dumb conflict and poor ethical monologues.
And this problem scales to a 10 when he goes back to Earth.
Anyways, I love the world, but I think I am done with this now.
It's becoming harder and harder as time goes on to keep dealing with that glaring, ultimate, MEGA flaw. At the beggining, ehh, yeah, you could kinda ignore it. And then no, its just Jason, it's like one man's soul is the entire cast. And its mind boggingly awful. It never stops man, I'm on chapter 357. It doesn't stop. Even the children are jason. That's not a joke, a child is talking about political law and systems of oppression and more.
It's so bad, you can't understand how bad it is and I'm left shocked on why. The author, has done something, that I feel immense, and I mean immense, sadness for. It's rare, but, he's gotten worse at writing as he's written more.
Go back to the beggining, sure, rufus was philisophical and so was henry and everyone seemed to have a bit of a wisdom chip on their shoulder but it wasn't so blatant or over done. They were all teachers and jason was brainless. Sophie, jory, belinda, thadwick, clide, they all felt like seperate enities. I have to come up with a new term just for how awful this has become:
Slowly everyone is just a melodramatic theater actor copy, without the emotional connection of it all, jason. That guy that won't shut up about how he's sinned and gets emotional over killing and suddenly presses people down with aura when he gets angry and then waxes on and on and on about philisophy. On how hard it is for him to kill and see all the dead. Mix theater nerd, with edgy character, mixed with classic "killing is wrong" MC. That is a fine personality, nothing wrong with it...on 1 person. But there's no normal people left and all of them are like this. ALL OF THEM. It's like listening to an insane man talk to himself. All I want from the story I've invested patreon money and nearly 400 chapters of my time in, is for jason to stop interacting with himself. Please, just, no more pointless melo-drama from every character.
Normally, I'd be upset at the amazon and taking down chapters thing. This time, no, buy book 1 on amazon and ignore the rest of this story. Do not invest your time. You will only be disappointed.
Others have talked at length about the shortcomings of this story, so mine will be merely a ranty update of sorts.
I slogged through this story's Greenstone arc and the ensuing Reaper Trial because I thought there was a silver lining. Surely enough, the fight against the Builder gave this story an overarching narrative and measurable progression. Some of the side characters also seemed to finally stop being muppets. That's when the break came [Spoiler Alert] and Jason reached Earth, which basically reset this story.
'Fair enough' I thought. Maybe shirtaloon will now put to use the experience and feedback he has gathered. Fat chance. What has ensued is essentially Greenstone 2.0, where Jason again engages factions vastly beyond his power and they either start bending over backwards or become stereotypical villains, who will be dispatched without tension. The family side plot also becomes boring real quick and usually involves either 2-4 people snarking at each other or Jason mouthing off about his emotional butthurt and being an indignant prick. If anything he became even more immature and obnoxious, which is, on the few occasions this story shows self-awareness, explained away by the magic words 'psychological trauma'. It's ok if he's an ass because he has a trauma. It's ok if he lashes out at neutral parties, because trauma. I detest how that term is used for justification inside the story, as well as a meta tool to explain character stagnation (or even degenaration).
For me, shirtaloon once again has squandered a wonderful opportunity to evolve this story and it's protagonist and I'm tired of waiting for pay-off. I regret not heeding the early signs.
My main issue is with the characters and the way they behave. Jasons niece Emi is 12 years old but she has formulated opinions on politics, speaks like an adult and has the intelligence far beyond what a normal teenager has let alone a 12 year old. I mean theres magic in this story but it needs some realism.
The story builds up to a point where farah dies and is impactful. Jason goes back to earth and all of a sudden shes alive again negating the impact it had on the reader.
I have a hard time believing that Jason the man who imploded his life over the fact that his ex girlfriend cheated on him with his brother would so easily allow them back into his life let alone into the world of life changing magic that he is involved in. I have two brothers and we have fought many times but we have never said we are no longer brothers as that is something you can never come back from. Jason doesn't consider Kaito his brother anymore which pretty much should mean that he is dead to Jason but he just goes ahead and gives them magical powers that are priceless and would be coveted by people around the world. He tells Amy she will never see the wonders of the world that he has experienced but then gives her the option between boring powers or cool lighting and fire powers. Jason just straight up contradicts himself. For someone that should hate his brother and wife he sure is generous towards them. I mean he could've simply ignored them or shown minimal interest in them like a mature adult would.
Jason went backed to earth and magiced up his whole family and now theres talk of them following him back to the other planet. I mean this story is about Jason and his adventures with bis adventurer friends. Not Jason constantly watching out for his family who tag along and reap the benfits of his endeavours. I mean he's given them all that they need to thrive from a secure compund to resources. Once Jason reaches diamond rank he will be able to travel between planets and visit them whenever he wants.
Sophie gets rescued and given more essences by Jason. All of a sudden she's on the same level as Jason in terms of power and can beat him in a fight. Then to show how grateful she is she abuses him physically.
Jason is just a flaky MC who can't decide on anything I mean he still contemplates if he should kill or not when by any standard he is a seasoned killer. He says one thing then does another.
I keep reading in the hope that the characters will become more 3D and not seem like cardboard cutouts that just banter with each other but actually have ideologies and stick to them.
Edit: I haven't had the time to update this review so it is still as of Ch. 222. Editing as I forgot to give spoiler warnings and spoiled other RR stories. My bad.
For Shirtaloon, this story started incredibly and has managed to garner and maintain a lot of attention becuase it can be so incredible at times. I write this both as a review, and because it's difficult to step back and look at your own work objectively so I'd like to point out some easy areas to improve.
Overall this is a very fun story. It has been on the front page of Popular This Week for months now for good reason. That said, there are a few things keeping it from being a great story or, at times, good. Those things are, in order: the lack of character development, the lack of a believable villain/ plot, and the static nature of the main character. Many reviews get caught up in the minutia of these failings and fail to reinforce the fact that this story is still worth a read especially if the author shores them up.
The MC's character development will be covered last. Here, I want to focus on the side characters. In few words, the side characters are not developed.
The beating heart of every story is its characters. Gintama is a comedy with the barest hint of a plot for hundreds of chapters and it's listed as the greatest comedic manga because its characters are full of such life, depth, and diversity. The first Pirates of the Carribean was such a hit not because of its rather cliche love story, but because Jack Sparrow was such a compelling supporting character. Also note later installments in that series were worse because Jack became the main character and the driving force of the series was lost.
Readers invest themselves into the lives of the supporting cast in order to be dragged along with the author's script. The emotional investment in stories - on Royal Road especially - come from our investment in characters that are actually at risk. The MC in most stories is protected by plot armor so it's the plights of the side characters that tend to draw us in.
Now that we know why it's important, what do the people in this story want? Elspeth Arella wants the power to leave Greenstone, but why? What are her goals? Why is leaving Greenstone going to facilitate those goals? Rufus wants to be a powerful and successful adventurer and has been traveling with his buds the lion man and the flame witch to do so. WHY? Just because his family are good adventurers? What's the end game? Why did Gary and Farah get with Rufus to begin with? Why are the two staying together after Farah's death? What motivates these people? What are their long term goals? Hell everyone but MC is supposed to be religious but we never see any of them pray, we never see tender moments of them alone. All we see is vengeance and when they talk about MC.
How do I FIX this?
Easy. Just ask youself what the characters want and then make them talk about it, or act with THAT GOAL in mind. Have a scene with Rufus talking with his parents about why they're still in Greenstone so long after Farah's funeral and about what his future plans are. MC is too weak to fill the spot in his team at the moment so have him discuss going back home and rebuilding his team with some new characters that MC can join later at an opportune time. Have Arella do something that doesn't involve the MC. Have Gary discuss with Rufus whether they should remain a team and WHY. If there's some hidden backstory component then hint at it. (oh Rufus you know I CANT go since youre secretly a prince and Im your roAYAL retainer) He had a life before now, it should be calling him back by this point.
Lack of a Villain/ Plot
If main and side characters are the heart of a story, the villain is the lungs. The villain is the one who breathes life into the little interactions between characters and creates the urgency that drives a story forward. It can't be something as intangible as monsters or the big evil cult because those aren't problems that can be directly addressed by the MC.
Immediate - The villain creates urgency by doing something that needs to be addressed NOW. The cult is going to the end the world, but it's a big world and we have time for a few rooftop barbies before then.
Close to Home - If a villain isn't somewhere that the MC can challenge directly, then he's the villain of someone else's story. The big bad is, suffice to say, difficult to reach.
Just as good as the MC - This is the kicker. The villain needs to win. If the villain never wins there's no sense of risk, of danger. Even if it's something small, a villain has to prove themselves by triumphing over the MC in some way. Cyclostomata and Chad never do.
A good example is the Joker from the Dark Knight Rises. He is immediate: from placing timed bombs next to loved ones or running to ferrys filled with explosives at each other, he isn't a problem that can be solved later without massive consequences. He is close to home: Batman can reach him with his two orphan fists. He is better than the Batman: Batman loses to him. When the Joker creates Two-Face Batman loses to the Joker so completely that he needed to do something completely outside of the Joker's expectations to win. He had to sacrifice his own image of a hero to be a hero.
THAT is a villain. A character that can challenge and inspire the MC. Every hero needs his demon lord.
Luckily, adding one also fixes the other half of this issue, plot. What are the MC's goals right now? Get stronger? Who is he trying to beat? Oh he's trying to protect? Do some pushups every morning. No I want to know what he's working towards. I see a lot of rising action but not even the foggy outline of a climax. What will be the apex of this story arc? He gets so strong he can endure the monster flood? Why should we care? The plot so far hasn't been imporant because the MC has been in the 'adjusting to a new reality' phase. But he's almost bronze rank, it's time for Thanos to come knocking at the door.
How to fix?
Make a villain. I wish I could offer more actionable advice, but the flavor of the villain is heavily tied to how you want your story to develop, so it's all on you. Have some fun with it!
The Main Character
I saved the best for last because it is the easiest to fix. A lot of your readers have been getting frustrated (based on the other hundred reviews here) by the fact that your MC has stagnated. Let me explain, and this has two sides to it. Your MC started as a snarky, quippish guy who was just adjusting to his circumstances and it was done beautifully. I probably got past the first page of his character before recommending this novel to everyone I know. The issue now is that he hasn't changed. As I mentioned earlier, he has passed the adjusting phase of his tenure in this world and he still acts like the snarky, quippish guy who was using confusion and witticism as a defense mechanism. The other side of this, and likely the one everyone has issue with, is that your side characters don't react to this realistically. All of them are either awed by his gibberish, or don't react at all.
Gods are a prime example of both of these. On the MC's side, being a little flippant as he usually is, perhaps with a snarky comment under his breath or some such is what I would expect. That, or being actually speechless. 'Jason hit his knees, the absolute presence of the being in front of him pressing down on his body with more force than he could handle. He gaped, shocked by the sheer force one entity could possess.' I liken it to a waterfall, or loud thunder. No matter how ironclad your morals, or stiff, your spine, when you hear thunder loud enough to shake your bones and vibrate deep in your chest you pause for a second just to admire the force of it. Waterfalls the world over are a tourist attraction because they allow you to feel that raw energy at proximty and when you're there you stop for a moment and admire. Snarky charaters still pipe up with that 'man that would clean my dishes way better than my wife' kind of vapid nonsense but they still pause for that all-important moment where they're human before they're snark.
On the other side, Gods shouldn't care about Jason. I'm sorry but nothing he has done should have earned him more than a passing glance by now. Greenstone is a backwater with nothing going on. Divine presence there at all borders on the improbable. Imagine being an entity strong enough to be tasked with overseeing a philisophical portion of sentient beings' reality and you have cosmic beings even stronger than you trying to blow your house up. So basically you're a dude and someone started burning your house down. Well in your living room you have a bunch of cats fighting the - let's say - rats that work for the cosmic being. These are you gold and silver rankers in big cities. And in your backyard you see one sickly rat with a couple ants on it, and one of those ants is standing on its hind legs while the rest don't. 'Neat' you think, obviously too busy defending reality to really care about one ant. Do you go over to that ant and thank it personally for all the hard work it did fighting a rat that looked like it was already dead? No, your damn house is on fire who has that kind of free time? That ant was Jason. Gods dont care.
Lastly, you don't need to tell us that something is having an effect on Jason. We've read enough of his character to be able to see it when it happens. So rather than "Jason was, for once, silent. He had no words to say and Sophie was shocked when a bit of that mask fell away." you can just describe what happens like "Jason stood, quietly, admiring the simple beauty of the fireworks. Sophie spared him a quick glance, her worried frown giving way to a small smile as she saw rare sight of his unblinking eyes and open mouth."
How to fix?
This is the easiest one. A villain is a foil to the MC and will change him naturally as you write them both. Honestly exactly like your title implies. Hell, name your villain Abyss, that'd be fun. Also as you grow your sidecharacters you'll naturally flesh out your MC too so this one will literally fix itself once you address the other two.
FINALLY, AS THIS IS A REVIEW
Many stories aren't well written enough to have their issues wrapped up in a neat little bun with three little bullet points. Not many stories truly are cultured enough to include an appropriate Nietzsche quote. It is a rare story that has both of these and updates practically daily. Just know, prospective reader, that if you pick this one up, the story does suffer from the little issues that any story would if its author was required to output material as quickly as this one, pending edits. I say it is worth it. And, if you're an elitist that only touches stories from out of golden geese and dusted with diamonds, read the beginning.
UPDATE: My BOY the LION MAN has been given motivation, goals, and depth. Im so happy
Normally I don't review stories, but this is the case of a story that a loved, which degenerated into something I loathe... So...
Story started out great and plot even after return to Earth is very interesting. The thing that kills story is MC... Prior to return back home to Earth everything was still ok, there were some hints of future story killer, but it was not a problem, but in Earth... Ohhh boy, author forgot moderation, almost everything is about Politics, though shall not kill, more politics, lots of whining, our MC having existencial crisis almost every chapter... Plot wise I can't wait to return to world he was summoned (can't remember name), but while being at chapter 438 in patreon, i drop the story, because at this point MC that loved, slowly become into something that is cancer for story and I feel no positive feelings while reading chapters. Just annoyance.
I mean I get his personal problems, but after all the shit he's been through you'd think he'd see how small other matters were. Well, no. Dude is still immature, just wished there were less of it.
It's not that he's unlikable and it diminishes the story, it's that I'm an adult and had been over the shit he went through, not the physically bad ones, but then again he's not crying about that which is JUST WEIRD.
And I'm not saying that since I'm over my issues this dude should be over his, it's more like, there's so much of it. Over and over and over and over. So yeah, it's not pleasant. And again, it's strange that more importance is given to his mundane issues, heartache and family problems and such, over all the shit he went through in the other world. WTF?! If his physical issues are somewhat average then I can understand how things closer to his heart will hit . . . closer to his heart. But good god, this should logically be an exception.
between getting tortured and your brother fucking your girlfriend, like holy shit. Yeah your brother and ex sucks, literally too, but god fucking christ you were kidnapped and tortured but so much of the story is devoted to the mc's cheating brother and now sister in law. Holy crap just don't talk to them, like a proper adult. You're rich, just hire someone to take care of contact with them. Dude's got the fortitude of a hundred year old veteran and a 13 year old butthurt teen. Which is it?
Well, MC will do as he pleases even if it goes against commonsense.
This story is better than a lot here on RR, so that's definitely something.
Keeping in mind this whole site is stuffed full of fan-fiction tier word salad:
1 star - Trash. Unless you orgasm from certain genres or the MC is literally you but in a power fantasy stay away.
3 stars - Junk food. Nothing to brag about, but not fingernails on chalkboard bad. B movie with some nice popcorn.
5 stars - Good enough to recommend even if it's not in your genre wheelhouse. Not many of these even in the "Best Rated". lmao
Grading grammar and spelling is dumb unless it's so bad as to be unreadable.
I've read up to 357 and I can confidently say that I'm done. Though this has been a long time coming, I kept returning, hoping that the author would salvage this thing with every new arc.
I originally wrote a number of paragraphs waffling on about my problems with specific pieces of the story or specific character interactions but realised part way through I'd be writing pages of it and that seemed like a waste of time and a chore to read. Instead I'll summarise as best I can.
-The MC is bad. He is a compulsive talker. Cute for the first 40-50 chapters but he just never stops. First he is an easy going guy out of his depth, then he is a charming conversationalist, then he is a tortured soul struggling to find a salve to his emotional turmoil, then he is a master social manipulator. THEN he alternates between these and a few other minor character "traits" as required by the scene. If the MC was a sociopath it might be an interesting thing to explore but a "social chameleon" (as it is claimed he is) is difficult to write without it coming off as simply disjointed characterisation.
-Every other character really only gets dialogue in relation to the MC. How they don't like him. How he is strange. What is he doing right now. How Particular Behaviour A is actually a totally amazing feint for Objective B. Bleh. Its pointless to talk about side character depth or characterisation because they only exist relative to the MC.
-LitRPG. As with almost every "system" story it ruins itself. The whole point of a stats and ranking system is to quantify relative power. Except it's not like a standardised ranking score in the real world because it is part of the foundation of reality. No tricks or bulldroppings or fudging grades. What happens in every "system" story? Magical mystical tales of how WUN TROO HIROW overcame the odds by overcoming the system. Yikes. Protip: If you're going to bother setting up rules of magic and a grading system, don't throw them out the window whenever you need the MC to do something. If you're going to use the same nomenclature for two distinct groups (in this case adventures and monsters) having the grades mean different things in different contexts and having no parity in grading makes it all pointless tedium.
-Religion/politics. Even when I agreed with the core points being made most of Jason's political monologues read like social media posts on the subjects. The interactions with the deities was a clusterfrig. It is unclear to me what the author was attempting to accomplish with them. The dichotomy between Jason's experience with real world religion (faith in the absence of proof) and the alt world (devotion based on power disparity and contractual obligation) was just handwaved away by Jason's oh so brilliant "I don't like it". Wow. I am glad this was part of the story.
I think if I were to only grade it up to the adventurers assesment a solid 3 stars would be appropriate, but it didn't hold together. I could go on for longer but this is already too much.
1 Star. A downhill experience focused far too much on a protagonist who becomes less likeable the further the story goes.
EDIT Removed swears. Seems a bit silly but w/e, gotta follow the rules.