Tower of Somnus
When humanity first encountered alien life, we were judged and found wanting.
The Galactic Consensus interviewed our leaders and subjected us to a battery of psychological tests to determine our progress as a society. They found us to be selfish, wasteful, impulsive, and boorish neighbors. Earth was blockaded and our collective encounter with our extrasolar neighbors rapidly faded from memory.
All they left behind was a hypercomm relay and a handful of subscriptions to a massively multiplayer game that participants played in their sleep. The Consensus said that it would let us interact with our neighbors in a controlled setting. That it would teach us to be better members of the galactic community.
The megacorporations that controlled Earth ignored the game until they learned that the powers earned from clearing dungeons were just as real when day broke. Magic, supernatural abilities and rumors exploded from nothing and a subscription to The Tower of Somnus became a status symbol.
Katherine ‘Kat’ Debs doesn’t have much, but it could be worse. Born in an arcology, she was assigned a job in the megacorporation that raised her almost as soon as she could work. Despite the stability of her corporate life, she wanted something more. A chance to claw her way up the rigid social and financial ladder to make something of herself.
A chance that wouldn’t come naturally to someone as familiar with dark alleyways and the glint of steel as she was with office work and corporate niceties.
Cover art by Faewild
Coloring/shading by KrazeKode
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Book One was a National Novel Writing Month/Writeathon entry. Book one has zero editing or proofreading.
As a warning, this WILL eventually go to Kindle Unlimited (meaning each book will come down shortly before I publish it).
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Tower of Somnus weaves together multiple satisfying elements to produce a beautiful and engaging story. It juxtaposes hopeful sci-fi with a grounded dysopia and provides a range of exciting scenes from heists and dungeon crawls to politics and family drama. It has a slow-paced LitRPG progression fantasy alongside a genuine coming of age story of a woman gaining confidence and experience in the path she's choosing in life.
It's my favorite book on this site and I highly recommend it!
I will preface this review by saying several things in order to clarify various aspects of it.
- The content I am reviewing is ahead of what is posted on RoyalRoad as I have, for reviewing purposes, been granted access to all written chapters, not just what is public.
- While I will do by best to offer an unbiased look at what this story, what it tries to be and how well it suceeds in that, it is impossible for me not to let some level of personal preference dicate how much I enjoyed the experience.
- I do not judge and rate compared to the very best of trad published fictions, since that is an unfair comparison to compare one auther to how polished and readable a team of professional editors could make a book, but by the standard of the average work hosted on RoyalRoad. Therefor, a 5-star rating does not mean "Best Fantasy Work Of All Time" but rather a top-level story for what is offered for free on RoyalRoad.
With that out of the way, lets jump right into the actual review.
An overview of an aspect that delights me within ToS:
Let us talk, for a moment, about settings. Not just for this serial, but in general. So many RoyalRoad authors treat setting as a backdrop, a backround that simply colours the actions their protagonists take, often being interchangeable with other settings if one simply switched descriptions and some occurances. A reskin if you would.
Not, in fact, an actual driving force of the plot and influence to the actions of its characters.
Tower of Somnus, is then, one of the most involved serials I have seen in regards to the setting, both in the time period and various locales and enviroments that it takes place in. This is not an aesthetic canvas, simply here to provide a few descriptions and sounds at the MC hurries past to chase the plot. This is not a single, but serveral fleshed out world and histories, interwoven and coming together, imfluencing the plot through the unique dynamics they provide and having a hand within the actions of the characters that exist within.
The dystopian influences of this future earth are clearly felt and seen, coming into the story through how they affect the actions of the characters, influence thought and life in a degree large enough that this story would be hard-pressed to work in another setting. It's reaches are clearly felt and seen in social and political ways, a harsh reality that is ever-present in the minds of the cast and guides their every waking move.
The contrast provided between the tower and Earth is stark, the moods they set and dangers they provide fleshing out each other and the galaxy at large. This is extremely well-crafted, meticulously planned and plotted, no small effort invested into these separate dimensions that drive each other forward.
This setting is one of the reasons that ToS stands out from the crowd. Not just the appeal of a dystopian world where the rich slip into another world entirely to gain strength and powers they are able to wield bsck home, but the constant pressure and stakes that a blunder in either world can bring. A dance on the razor's edge, and the long, harsh fall that an unlucky draw of the cards may bring.
This is a constant. Something I am fond of when an author achieves. A story that starts off strong and keeps feeding information through character actions, thoughts, dialogue and unobtrusive exposition. A journey with a defined goal for the MC and surprising/non-predictable ways of getting there. Plot threads hidden and woven alongside one another, keeping pace and never feeling left behind or abandoned.
Again, this is a major aspect of Somnus I approve of. The setting clearly influences not only character choices and goals, but the difficulty and struggle they face to reach those ambitions.
Earth and Somnus are not two different stories advancing as we read, but a singular plotline that smoothly dips from one to the other, with both being kept interesting, with high stakes, dangerous, character development, moments of humour and a constant edge of danger. Neither one feels lacking or lagging behind the other. Neither feels like a simple backdrop, or a truly seperate entity. Earth influences Somnus and vice versa. The story carries from one realm to the other moving between worlds in a way that never feels janky and jarring.
The entire story is well-crafted and thought out, and gave me proper emotional investment in the plot, keeping things not only exciting and satisfying, but non-standard and unique. This is where the writing was at its most brilliant, with a combination of locales, scenarios and unique dangers that never left me even somewhat disinterested and bored.
The plot moves at perfect pace, always continuing the main plot, setting up, advancing and concluding side threads and actions, always with something fresh to show me or another idea to ponder.
The action scenes are well-crafted, never feeling stale or repetitive, always carrying that edge of danger and forcing the cast to think on the fly and adapt to every new situation.
And through it all, Coco shows considerable expertise in writing this as a singular, joined experience that flows smoothly and refuses to take shortcuts. Which is doubly ironic since most of the first book was speed-written in just about a month for the Nanowrimo challenge. Take that into account, then compare it to the overall quality of the story, and this tells you that the author's writing skills are fairly frickin impressive.
Subtle exposition, clean flow and grammar, a proper understanding of structure and formula. This is what I see the author's style as. It is extremely readable, to the point where you blink and the chapter has whizzed by. While it took me a chapter or two to get truly interested, it did work it's charms on me and continued to do so right up until the end of my reading experience. All in all, high marks for all-around great performance in this section.
The dialogue is a middling point for me, being well enough to get the job done and even good, but sometimes, the way it's delivered is somewhat jarring to me and even lowers the experience in some chapters. But, again, this was speed-written and still of high quality.
For a story that was speed-written, the quality is fantastic. Some small mistakes, yes, but nothing worth bothering yourself over or that detracts from the overall experience. Prose is great, as is vocabulary and dialogue. The writing never feels lackluster with it's wordplay, but I wouldn't go far as to call it stellar either.
It is firmly highly-above average and both proud and content with that.
A story without good characters is akin to a truck without wheels. You might sit inside it, turn on the radio, admire the interior and how well it was built. Amuse yourself for a while. But you won't truly enjoy the full experience, nor will you go places.
The cast of ToS, is quite simply, great. Fleshed out, unique, thought-provoking and at times a harsh look at societal norms people ignore.
I want to address several things that seem to be common complaints from readers who might have difficulty reading between the lines or that can be common misconceptions when skimming through the story at high speed.
Mild spoilers ahead.
Kat is not a Mary Sue:
This one annoys me. Kat is blatantly an underdog at all times, fighting desperately against higher odds and stronger foes, never really having the upper hand against her foes, human or otherwise. She has never had it easy or laid out for her. She has had pyrrhic victories and lost people throughout the course of the series. She has bled, been physically injured and had to fight through that.
She has started from the bottom and had to navigate a razor's edge of power in a dystopian society where the wrong move has her family and herself vanish for good and no questions asked. She has not somehow managed to fix the entire world or magically make everything sunshine and rainbows.
Her actions have had consequences for her and others. She herself admits to several fights being won through sheer desperation and luck.
This is not, I think, Mary Sueing.
Dorrik is not wokeness being forced into the story:
I think Dorrik has unironically triggered people by merely existing. This is Coco's attempt at writing something truly alien and it succeeded pretty well. However, it seems the general acceptance was mixed.
A quick explanation: Dorrik is a character from an alien race called the Lokkels, a race who mature and grow into their genders instead of being born with them. This isn't an obvious, forced aspect but rather something simply told and moved past.
Instead of being called he/him, which will happen when Dorrik reaches maturity, the reference is instead they/them. Nothing sexual, nothing to rage about. But am I surprised? No. I've seen readers get triggered over a race of sentient dust inhabiting suits of armor being referred to as they/them.
With those two explanations out of my system, let's move on.
Remember how I talked earlier on how the setting impacts the story in deep and unique ways? The same goes for its influence on the cast.
This is where the dystopian setting and it's insidious influences on culture and people's wants and necessities truly comes to life. Life is cheap. Profits means everything. Family is replaceable. Position and Power above all else. These seem ridiculous right?
Not really. They're already prevalent in modern society, and only grown upon in the silver halls of the Arcology. Those with power rule and control every aspect of life. Those without it obey or vanish forever.
Every character we meet is influenced by this world. Everyone has their unique set of goals aligned with how they came through this harsh world and moral compass adjusted accordingly. Several characters are case studies in different moral paths, and how ruthless and manipulative one has to be to rise above the rest.
You will have to read it yourself to truly understand what I mean and how this future reflection of humanity is it's own worst enemy, but I doubt you'll walk away bored if you like the premise and are still reading this review.
Needless to say, full marks in this section. A job well done.
Not much to ramble on beyond this point, other than wish for more content and note this story had quite a good prologue that actually felt pretty good and set up the world quite well, which is somewhat surprising given that prologues tend to do terribly on RR in many cases.
Oh, and go make more words, Coco. Your corporate overlords demand it.
This novel hits all the right tropes for me. I I binged all the chapters in one setting. I never do that. I highly recommend checking the story out before the author sells to some lucky publisher.
Also representation matter. It was good to see a female character that wasn't just a plot device.
This story inhabits two settings, a dystopian future and a virtual world accessible through sleep. The world the MC lives in is generic cyberpunk. It's clear that the author has been heavily "inspired" by various Cyberpunk properties. The saying "good artists copy, great artists steal" is very apt here.
The prose is workmanlike, easy to read and simple. The grammar is generally good with minor errors cropping up here and there, but not enough to be annoying.
The characters are a real let down. One of them is EXTREMELY PETTY to the point of making me laugh haha.
The villains are cartoonish and mostly nonsensical. The MC is just a self insert type that is neither good or bad for the story. They are first-rate at fighting and killing, but it's never properly explained where they learned their super ninja martial arts. And no, being a stealthy "runner" is not enough to show why they are so good at fighting. I like OP characters, but at least give me a reason for their abilities.
There are many plot holes and other issues that require suspension of disbelief. A lot of it comes from what I would assume is lazy story telling. Why think things through properly when you can just throw in another fight scene. And there are plenty of those.
Overall it's a pretty dull and formulaic effort, but at least I got a laugh out of it. Even if it was unintentional :)
Overall a very fun read, if you ignore the continuity issues
(amazing how not one but two alien species share exactly the same sleep schedule as humans, isn't it?)
and the characters that tip-toe up to the dreaded Mary Sue line. Definitely above average compared to most of what I've read on this site, and even to quite a few popular works published by normie publishers.
What this work does extremely well is what all genre fiction should: namely leave the reader wondering what happens next. I, for one, am hooked.
I gave the work a grammar score of four solely based upon the fact that the bulk of this work was written during NaNoWriMo, and the author disclosed that line editing would be kept to a minimum to be able to meet the word count. Others might not be so forgiving.
As noted above, the weakest part of the book is the characters, but much as characters are the weakest part of an action movie it really did not detract from my enjoyment. The bad guys are really bad guys, the good guys obviously good
(barring the possible future exception of Simeon)
and...so what? The book delivers as advertised.
I don't normally do reviews for many reasons.
One of them is that the RR rating system is so horribly skewed that anything less than a 5 star is a detriment to the fic—I digress.
Whatever my gripes with the rating system, this story deserves the score I'm giving it, without a doubt.
This story is easily hands down one of the best stories I've read on the site—and in fact ever. It has everything I want in a story: A badass, relatable, jaded, but inherently good MC. She makes mistakes, learns from them and grows from them.
It's a glorious mix of high fantasy and cyperpunk with a dash of GameLit/LitRPG. It makes me nostalgic for my Shadowrun tabletop sessions. Coco has taken the great elements of all those genres and thrown them in a blender and made a damn fine smoothie of pure awesome.
Now that I've gushed—and swooned a bit—it's time to talk about the bad.
It's a rough draft—words which should fill anyone with fear on this site, but it doesn't. Despite the fact that Coco posts the rough drafts the mistakes he makes are relatively few and minor. Compared to many "polished" stories on this site, it has better grammar and flows easily.
That brings me to the next "bad" thing. Coco often uses small jumps forward in time. You might expect Kat who has just won a fight to go about looting, or securing information, just as the chapter ends. Naturally, you'd assume next chapter will start with that, but it doesn't. Instead, it's later, and you find yourself further down the river of time. Sometimes a few hours, other times a day or two later.
Now, this sounds bad and can be a little confusing in the beginning, but Coco has you covered, like a koala on a branch of the eucalyptus tree. Not once does he forget to circle back either through reminiscence or dialogue to the important parts that were "skipped".
It's a good tool for skipping repeating information. First, you show it happens, then the MC tells the other characters about it. Or maybe you show it and then you write "MC tells them what happens". It works great and really helps the narrative.
However, it also means that information is sometimes not given until a couple of chapters later.
The sudden shifts between "game" and "real" world and where they bleed together require the reader to pay attention. This is definitely a story that requires you to pay attention and read everything, not just skim through it. None of the information is repeated over and over again, nor is any of it superfluous.
To me, it seems that every little sentence is important, no padding of the word count.
Now to gushing some more: The Combat.
God, the combat is so good. Visceral and realistic (within the confines of the established universe). Coco writes a mean action scene, every one of them is gripping and impactful. It's one of the best things about the story. Everything in the story is good, combat and the world Coco has managed to create are just breathtaking.
Characters. What to say?
Some are loveable, some you just want to murder over and over again. Then go to hell and murder them once more. While some of them are stereotypes, they are used to great effect, enhancing the world even more.
I'll recommend that everyone gives this a shot, it has all the hallmarks of being the next big thing on RR, and the way Coco writes it, it truly deserves it.
The only truly bad thing about it is that there's not more of it :)
Aliens come to Earth; humanity is now in an RPG and has to do game-things (insert reasons). It's probably the most lazy and cliched premise on Royal Road, closely followed by dungeon core stories. Generally, such stories range in quality from merely bad to truly terrible, with a rare exception that manages to rise to mediocrity.
That's the basic premise of this story. What's truly remarkable is how much it doesn't suck. In fact, it's really good.
Let's start with the fundamentals -- this is a VR LitRPG story, meaning that humanity hasn't actually been inserted into a game by its inscrutable new alien overlords, instead the aliens just happen to be huge MMORPG nerds and really want humanity to play their awesome game. Generally, VR LitRPGs give the distinct impression that the author really wanted to write a story about people doing game-things, but thought that might seem unrealistic. In practice, I find the explanation in more conventional LitRPGs of "it's magic *shrug*" (e.g Azarinth Healer) rather more convincing. But the more important problem is that in addition to the people-doing-game-things the author actually wanted to write about, they're left with this "real world" they feel obligated to write about as well. Best case, the author pretty much ignores it entirely; worst case, a chapter of real-world tedium is guaranteed to insert itself whenever the story starts to develop anything resembling momentum.
There is, of course the Sword Art Online solution: players can't leave the game. This is quite ingenious in that it both gives the author a convenient excuse not to show the real world and manages to turn its non-appearance into an important plot point.
This story is having none of that. No, in this story, those humans fortunate enough to possess a subscription automatically connect to the telepathic MMORPG relay in Earth orbit when they go to sleep. So not only does the author have no convenient excuse to ignore the real world, but they're obligated to spend roughly equal time on it.
But that's okay. In fact, it's better than okay, because contrary to expectations, if anything the game-world is overshadowed by the real-world and the two are more than the sum of their parts.
The real-world setting is straight-up cyberpunk, though with less of an emphasis on the "punk" and more on crapsaccharine corporate dystopia. It does feature cybernetics, street samurai, infiltrators, hackers, and assassinations, so its cyberpunk credentials are well-established, but rather than megacorporations battling above an underworld of plucky rebels, it's more a case of petty corporate executives backstabbing each other as they jockey for positions while everyone else just tries to survive.
Also, whereas normally in such stories the aliens are assholes and insert humanity into their game for inscrutable assholish reasons, in this case most of the alien races are chill space-socialists, who just really wanted to be friends and share their neat interstellar MMORPG. Of course, then they met the corporate executives and concluded that all of humanity are massive assholes. Naturally, they embargoed the planet so that humanity doesn't contaminate the rest of the galaxy with their rampant dickery, but since they're really nice they also left the MMORPG relay in the hope that by playing the game with other species humanity will be cured of its assholishness through the power of friendship. Subscriptions are rare, valuable, and generally monopolized by corporate executives, so that plan's still very much a work in progress. If anything, the galaxy's collective opinion of humanity has gotten worse.
As a premise, it works astonishingly well. The whole humanity-are-assholes is a brilliant inversion of the far more common humanity-fuck-yeah which ties in wonderfully with the cyberpunk setting. What really makes it work is that players have limited access to their in-game powers in the real world. That's hand-waved away, along with the telepathic MMORPG relay, as alien magic bullshit *mumble* nanotechnology *mumble*, but granted that suspension of disbelief, it all hangs together fairly well. The alien federation once made the mistake of admitting another assholish species to the cool kids' table, and they've been regretting it ever since. But being able to throw fireballs is great for boardroom pissing contests, so corporate executives are motivated to play the game and if they want to get past low levels to the really cool powers, they're going to have to learn to play nice with others.
One problem with the premise is that if the aliens really wanted to upend human society, they'd have given everyone on the planet a subscription. It'd be far more difficult to maintain the status quo if corporate peons could also throw around fireballs. This isn't that big a problem, though -- there are a couple of reasons they might not have made that decision. Firstly, the aliens continue to be baffled by Earth's lack of such fundamental things as socialized healthcare and a functional justice system, and don't seem to have properly grasped how the subscriptions would be monopolized by corporations rather than being distributed according to meritocratic and/or egalitarian principles. Secondly, they concluded all humans are assholes, and while they didn't want to exclude humanity entirely, they weren't exactly eager to add them by the billions, either.
The actual game itself is pretty generic. It's a bit reminiscent of Sword-Art Onilne, with levels that are advanced through sequentially. We haven't seen much of it yet, but so far there's nothing particularly notable about its skill and magic system. There isn't, for example, the depth of Azarinth Healer's system. That, however, isn't a serious impediment to the story because the focus is less on the game itself than the interaction between the game and the real world. Even fairly generic supernatural abilities are a game-changer when translated into the real world. Also, while in-game death doesn't have any harmful effects on the player, aside from going through the very realistic experience of dying, it does mean that they need a new subscription and have to start with an entirely new character. This strikes a nice balance for in-game consequences: subscriptions are ridiculously valuable and near-impossible to obtain without the right connections, and losing the ability to throw around fireballs could range from a serious embarrassment and major setback to potentially life-threatening depending on one's life circumstances. Also, the game is intentionally very challenging, with a rapid ramp in difficulty. Risk-taking, however, can lead to commensurate rewards under the right circumstances. All together, in spite of the game system seeming a bit lacking, these factors mean that the game is Serious Business and has to be treated with just as much weight as real-world events.
Our main character, Kat, is plucky, intelligent and doomed to a life of corporate indebted servitude. On the side she's a runner, in the rough vein of Mirror's Edge, and aspires to a mid-level corporate position where she maybe has a miniscule possibility of maybe, eventually getting a corporate subscription where she will act as a support character to her corporate masters. Through sheer dumb luck she manages to get a subscription, and has the singular distinction of apparently being the very first non-asshole human the aliens have ever encountered.
It's still fairly early in the story, but though determination, skill, and the power of friendship, she has begun to progress in the game with her alien teammates. At the same time, she's accidentally made a powerful corporate enemy and has gotten increasing involved in the underworld as she helps fight an evil PMC and unravel a conspiracy at the highest levels of the corporate ladder. Also, while a complete noob in-game, by intelligently using her weak but flexible powers in the real world, she has managed to survive and triumph in some incredibly difficult circumstances.
From here, it's clear the story is only getting better. There is every hope that through the superpower of not being an asshole, Kat will rapidly advance through the game, competing with and even surpassing the most powerful of Earth's corporate overlords. At the same time the stakes in the real world are escalating rapidly and it's clear that if she is to survive, let alone thrive, the power she gains in the game will be critical. It's even possible she'll be able to obtain subscriptions from the game and distribute them to her real-world friends, building a core of non-asshole human players who may eventually be able to topple the dystopian status quo.
On the whole, the writing is fairly solid. The first few chapters are a bit exposition-heavy and sometimes strangely lacking in detail (it's a little bit strange that she refers to her corporate master as "the company"; that leads to the sneaking suspicion that the author couldn't be bothered to come up with a name). Characterization is a bit sloppy at times, and ham-fisted at others. But things pick up rapidly and the quality of the writing got somewhat better a few chapters in. While dialogue, description and characterization continue to be a little bit weak, the story is carried by the strength of the protagonist character and the developing plot.
This is a story of two worlds clashing with one preson inbetween.
One one side there is a world where you fight to death proving yourself and progressing, with everyone being a bundle of endless potential.
The other one is a place where everything possible is holding you back, and advancing cant be done even if you would face death itself.
And a person is stuck in both worlds, working herself up in one to rise in the other, while strugling to stay alife with her and her family intact.
With the world where there endless monsters seeming more welcoming than the entirety of human kind.
Plus with some realistic characters in the starting cast, and me adoring the lizard dudes this book imidiatly hooked me, I only hope it progresses forwards in qualety, and that the autor has a vision for the end game at least.
For now I am at chapter 29 and I enjoyed myself, that is all u have to take away honestly, worth a read you can at least quell your endless thirst for reading for half a day.
(Lets prey the author stays strong now this book became on the trending tab, and all the weird as motherfuckers start bullying the author becouse the story doesn't go their way, making the story either turn to shit, or the author quiting.
seen that happen to often, and rr is hella toxic lately......)
Updating as of Chapter 34 - the story only gets better. Go read it!
After Blessed Time, it should be no surprise that CocoP can pull off the LitRPG side of things masterfully. However, that could be said for a fair amount of stories on this site. Where Tower of Somnus really shines is the action in the real world.
This is in part because of the unique "magic system" in this world
where the abilities you get in the game transfer over to real life,
but it's also just because of how good of a writer CocoP is. As of chapter 19 (the nanowrimo mark!), the real world is even more fleshed out than the game, and I mean that in the absolute best way possible. Tower of Somnus could function entirely off of its cyberpunk corporate-owned society, but with the addition of the alien game that happens when you sleep, it goes from great to one of the absolute best.
There are plenty of action sequences that scratch that adrenaline itch we all have, but it doesn't come at the cost of character development. In fact, this story might have the best pacing I've seen on this site. Everything just strings you along. (And not in that "needlessly stretch the story for patreon bucks" way, either!)
The only 4.5 I'm giving to this story is in the grammar department, and I almost feel bad giving it because this story is 100% marketed as a nanowrimo project. Not only has CocoP written 50k words within the month of november, but they're actually on track to get double that by the end of the month. As such, what little mistakes there are (because there aren't even that many) get drowned out in a sea of quality writing.
In some ways going into an indepth analysis and review seems almost a bit pointless here. It's just good.
Characters all seem very believable and relatable, even the alien ones. They suffer and struggle, there's no plot armor so far.
Worldbuilding - absolutely fascinating. A mix of Cyperpunk, Sci-fi, dystopia and VR-Litrpg. And somehow it's a really convincing combination.
Story - Still feels in the "early" stages. Most of the events are (very believably) driven by the characters we interact with in the story, leading to a natural pace and series of events. Very curious to see if there is going to be a "grand-scale/overarching" plot, there have certainly been hints, but so far no "grand quest" to beat or anything. Definitely not a criticism of the novel, in fact stories that are driven primarily by in-world character actions tend to be the most convincing and enjoyable in my opinion.
Grammar - Some very few and sparse flaws in spelling and grammar, but this is a Nanowrimo, and as such is under very tight restrictions time wise. Considering that, it's incredibly readable.
Overall, I recommend dropping whatever you are currently reading and picking this up, you're in for a very enjoyable ride.