The Pen Is Mightier
by J Pal
1770: 9 vessels destined for Australia disappear en route to their destination.
1775: Individuals with supernatural abilities and objects start appearing around Asia and Europe. Investigators suggest they're the crew and prisoners from the missing vessels.
1777: Flying leviathans rain monsters down all around the globe. They set up nests and destroy human settlements. Only the powered individuals can stand up to them.
1780: A fleet of warships lead by Lord William Anson find a mysterious tower growing out of the Indian Ocean. Leviathans fly around its peak, and the sea around it is unnaturally calm. They discover the structure, Gaia's Ark, is the source of monsters plaguing the world and the powers that challenge them.
1783: The East India Company and Her Majesty's Royal Army collaborate with European and Asian states to set up the city of New Calcutta. They aim not just to contain the monsters, but to harvest the unearthly resources within Gaia's Ark.
It's 1836 and Bunty, son of Swordmaster Utpal Sen, has finally started climbing the tower. He and his party—children and staff of his father's employer, the Boleyns—hope Gaia will bestow spirits upon them so they can start ascending. Not all spirits are made equal, though, and there is no telling what one might get. Bunty doesn't care. He'll settle for anything that'll let him climb. Gaia's Ark has taken someone dear to him, and he's desperate to find out the truth of their fate.
Bunty will soon learn it's not the just tower's monsters he needs to worry about. The nobility and darker factions of New Calcutta are an equally terrifying threat.
[Participating In The Royal Road Writathon]
This is a story dedicated to a Universe I've been putting together for three years. The tale isn't written as a web novel, but a traditional novel. As a result, the pacing is a lot slower than what's standard on RR. As suggested by the blurb, this story features an alternate history. The events in the Universe branch away from ours from around the discovery of the tower.
I've used the GameLit tag because the tale takes inspiration from the genre. I've used the dungeon and tower tropes but the story has no levels or stats. There are 'skills', 'spells' and 'summons' but function differently from what one would expect. My magic system is heavily inspired by the Chinese comic: Doulu Dalu. If you're a fan, the story might scratch your itch as it does mine.
I'm probably repeating myself but be warned: the tale focuses on the people and the plot a lot more than the system. The progression part of this progression fantasy will be slow and our protagonist will need to overcome several obstacles to get there.
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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.
The Pen Is Mightier (or TPIM as I will be referring to it throughout this review) is a happy medium. More than that, it is a work that combines many of the elements readers on RR want from their web serials with a deeper story and compelling narrative one finds in published fantasy books while stripping away what I dislike about either genres, such as the formulaic layout and plot of tradpublished fantasy and the lack of a well-constructed overarching plot in most web serials.
It is, in my opinion, a happy and smooth middle ground, with more than enough charm and poise to keep me reading and craving more throughout. It doesn't try to cram in as much content into a dense space ala tradbooks, or stretch out into a series of events like Roadserials. It deals with darker topics with the required grace and touch, exploring topics like deteriorating mental health in the face of constant danger and rigid social structures of times past, all while being a story focused on exploration and progression.
These narratives and well-weaved into the main plot, driving Bunty forward as he seeks to make the best of his circumstances and pursue his goals, giving me believeable and plausible reasons to become invested in his journey and experiences, not shallow ideals and reasons like: "I will be the strongest!" that have become less and less apealling to me as I grow older. There are emotional and potential character-changing stakes attatched to every risk-filled time he ventures into the bowel's of Gaia's Ark, and consequences for his actions.
This pleases me.
This is not a mindless jaunt to be stronger and richer for the sake of it, but a well-laid host of reasons that drives every risk Bunty takes and carries a sense of urgency with it. There is investment, and there is payoff.
The worldbuilding is slowly spread across the chapters, revealed through Bunty's thoughts, conversations and the world around him. I would also like to take a moment and talk about the setting. The city in which this tale takes place is rich, deep and showing ever more promise. Cultures come together, showing combinations and themes rarely explored in many other web serials. It is plain the author has done his research, and is inserting real-life experience to make this more believeable. It is in this focal point, this fusion and mass of cultures and ethnicities that TPIM unfolds.
As of current, this story offers enough content for me to become well and truly invested and looking forward to more, as well as to truly get the plot moving and bring up, then later answer questions while dangling more before the reader.
The setting and the tower are well put together, metiliciously thought out and planned, with a system that I didnt immediately write off as a plot tool to give the MC cool powers but rather grew more and more interested in as time progressed. The darker turn and harsh realities will no doubt frustrate those who want this to be a mindless power-fantasy, but this story has never claimed to be that. And as long as it doesn't turn into that, I will keep turning its pages.
I wont talk further, for fear of rambling on, but as of current, this has impressed me and left me wanting for more.
As I said above, Quill writes a happy medium. This is someone experiences, and it isnt his first rodeo. This is a style that stresses readability and the ability to keep your eyes moving, absorbing new content at just the right pace, feeding information and dialogue in a way that feels both guilty and oh so right.
Structure is there, subtly implemented, setting up events and plotlines that seem obvious in hindsight but hit with that satisfying twist. Nothing is ever truly determined or predictable ahead of time, yet never random and out of the blue. Everything makes sense. Everything keeps you reading, dangling the promise of payoff and plot advancement right in front of you, and most importantly, it delivers.
This is not a story where you have to keep reading and reading and reading, chasing after the smallest scraps of advancement while you slog through scenes of filler and chapters of excruitingly slow buildup. It also isnt rushed and forced, keeping everything moving and the plot advancing at just the right pace.
It somehow feels like both a highly polished novel with the unnessecary parta cut away, and a guilty pleasure read at the same time, and it appeals to me.
Not perfect. The prose, dialogue and structure are all great, and I have absolutely no complaints there, but there are mistakes that came from not propery editing pre-release, small errors that could be fixed with a few hours of re-reading. There is also some issue with repetition on the part of one word (bunty) but that is largely ignorable.
I dont usually care about grammar as long as it is not atrocious, but as I view TPIM as a high-quality story, I hold it to a higher standard than moat of my reads.
There are no true judgements from me here as of yet, as these characters are either just truly beginning and advancing through their character arcs and stories, but, what I have seen insofar has greatly satisfied me.
Proper depth and personality had been given to almost every character the story has met, as have reasons, goals and drives. These people are not interchangeable or flat, NPCs to be quickly forgotten as they fall offscreen. Their motivations and actions are both their own, and tied to the overall setting and social structures of that time period.
Some actions will no doubt outrage and foster dislike among readers, particuarly concerning a few important characters, but some knowledge of how the gender and family politics of that time operated makes things far clearer and easier to believe.
Bunty, as the main focus, is laregly likeable, rootable and has a lot going for him. He feels like a proper underdog while not tilting into needless scapegoat territory, and has reasons to sympathize with and that readers will want to see through, before and after the twist in the first act. Neer remains a constant shadow, and the small tidbits fed to the audience do an excellent job of painting a haunted picture, as does the world and consequences of his actions.
The main cast is fleshed out, each with their own direction and set of traits/rules. They are important to the story and Bunty's motivations, not names and tagalongs there to justify or explain different actions. This is important, as some of you will realize towards the end of public content.
Same for the side characters. Even one-off characters who's main purpose was to provide context and hints via conversation did not seem to be there solely for that purpose, but because they were people with reason to be in that exact spot at that exact time, pursuing their own goals.
More, I cant ask for.
I will be honest. It has been a long time since I have enjoyed a story as much and as deeply as The Pen Is Mightier. I have not been spurred to write a worthy review for a story this much since I started reading this work. It will no pleaee everyone (that is largely impossible) but it will please many of those interested by the sypnosis and first few chapters.
With that, I end this review.
Creatively this is quite good: Characterization, pacing, plot, and world-building are all solid. Technically this is a bit of a mess: It's in need of at least one more editing pass to clear up missing or mixed up words, awkward or incomplete sentences, and other such typos. If this wasn't as good as it is creatively, I'd likely have dropped it early on due to the technical problems.
English not my native, so sorry for the grammar. The story is a bit different than average on-site, I tried to start it 3 times, and the only last time was successful. You should give it credit for starting 6-7 chapters.
Atm I'm at 35 chapters and I should say that story lost a bit of depth in last 3-5 dots, but it still very different and if you look at books as food for the brain - here good one, very different and with nice taste
The story is consistent and i like the pacing. The "leveling system" reminds me of He Who Fights With Monsters, because of the cores defining the habilities acquired and such. I also like that the actions the characters take are justifiable enough.
Finally, Edgar is an arsehole. Finally, Edgar is an arsehole. Finally, Edgar is an arsehole. Finally, Edgar is an arsehole.
So far I really like the world it fascinating in a 'Made in Abyss- Duoluo Dalu- is it wrong to pick up girls in a dungeon' specifically the first two are enjoyable the third bit more for the game ish elements
in as far as the grammar nothing noticeable though I'm sure there's probably a typo somewhere the story is immersive enough that I've forgotten it by the time I get to the end of the chapter
the story so far does seem to have a bit of a grim taste to it which is definitely engaging no complaints there very enticing and much to look forward to
my one complaint is with the characters -or perhaps lack of - Bunty is all very well and good rather flushed out, likeable, driven, etc. But other than Bunty we only really have one character that gets any sort of development -and I get the sinking suspicion she's being built to be a love interest which ..... Is kinda disappointing? Boring? Annoying? Not quite but if the protagonist ends up just taking her as his lover -as I suspect- she's kinda going to loose value as an independent creature?
so I guess my suggestions would be this
your story and world are great love them 10/10 would read again
Bunty 10/10 would read again
literally everyone else 6/10 please dear author gain more characters that aren't flat -though I will note Gwyn has potential just seems like she's doomed to be love interest locked- and a bigger cast? Or maybe a chapter or two from Gwyns perspective so we can see different perspectives
What if Jules Verne wrote Hunter X Hunter?
My scoring card:
* Needs work
* * Still needs work
* * * Promising
* * * * Good
* * * * * The best RR has to offer
Style * * * * . 4.5
It has that adventurous feeling that Journey to the Center of the Earth has.
No major comments.
A very, very minor niggle is that paragraphs could be a bit more 'greedy' now and again. There's a little distraction due to certain LitRPG alike elements (which I typically don't like, but if they are your thing then you'll enjoy the story even more).
Story * * * * . 4.5
What I've seen thus far is promising. Note that I'm not a big fan of leveling-for-the-sake-of-it, and I'm not totally sold on the main character's motivations, but that does not affect the enjoyment of the story.
Otherwise, the world is an alternative take on our own, it just took a different path when someone decided to plunge a tower right into the middle of nowhere. Add monsters and magic and start climbing.
Grammar and Vocabulary * * * * * 5
Didn't spot anything.
Characters * * * * * 5
Match the story.
Overall score * * * * * 5
Definitely one of the better stories on RR!
There are some grammatical errors, with misused or miss spelled words, and the writing style needs some polish, but the core of the story has promise. With some proper editing this could be one of the best stories on the site.
The characters feel a little off at the start, but I like where the author has taken them. They feel more fleshed out and natural. Some character decisions are a bit... questionable, as they don't quite line up with past behavior. The author's desired plot seems to have forced characters to act in certain ways.
The overall story is pretty interesting and I look forward to seeing where it goes. Parts of the plot are rather predictable though. I find myself hoping that my expectations will be subverted, only to find them not. I hope there will be more exploration as the main character climbs the tower and builds a strong team to uncover every secret.
Anyway, the author needs to do some editing passes, but it'll be worth your time to read it as is.
Worldbuilding is very interesting, the power system is inventive and the characters are solid. This seems like its gonna get really popular, i have some minor nitpicks though.
Some of the side characters motivations and behaviour seem bit inconsistent, Victoria and Edgar especially; with Edgar going from cowardly incompentent to conniving schemer whenever the plot requires it and Victoria seeming to be more of standard love interest that just needs more characterisation. I would prefer Edgar to be at least some what compentent to be honest, i've never liked incompentent villains, at the very least let him be compentent in certain areas. He's currently very one dimensional, just standard incompentent spoiled rich nemesis.
Honestly i think the story could benefit from not having a love interest at the start or at least it being a minor point that develops more later on. Later on in the book when he's older and closer to his goal of finding out more about his brother it could become an interesting plot point, the clash of relationships and love with his drive for closure about his brother - especially if his love interest doesnt have powers.
Suffice to say i think there's potenial for a lot more in the characterisation area with a bit more compexity of motivation added to some of the side characters.
Anyway, really great writing and very hyped for more chapters.
I don't know how Bunty's spirit will develop but can we highlight how awesome the axe play is?Its refreshing to have a protagonist that isn't a murderhobo and uses his brain+other skills to succeed.
The pacing is pleasant. The plot progresses at a comfortable pace, focusing on story, character growth and relationships. The power progression is pretty slow though and that's not a bad thing. Bunty is plenty badass with his climbing skills and axeplay though.
The characters are amazing and relatable. Quill does a great job of portaying the cruelty of nobility but also provides a contrast of good and bad nobles. I can't wait to see more. For once I don't just want to see how the power progresses but the story too. There is so much good shit going on.
Grammar is decent but there are a few errors that have snuck in from using grammarly. A decent once over will go a long way.
Why do advanced reviews require 200 words? That's so much work.
My review is a little biased since I'm married to the author. He does good work yo.
Woof. woof. woof. woof. woof. woof. woof. Woof. woof. Woof. woof. Woof. woof.
The story reads really well for something rushed out for the writeathon, however there are some small grammatical errors that reduce readablilty. But my biggest gripe is with the inconsistency the author displays in terms of plot pacing. The synopsis claims the plot will be slow which it is for the most part, but mixed in are these giant forced plot points that don't belong in a slow paced novel. Without getting too spoilerly the main plot device for the entire story thus far feels so forced I almost dropped the story when I read it. It just doesn't make sense, all evidence counteracts the decision made that drives the plot.