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Ryou, a relentlessly repressed accountant, accidentally slips between dimensions, right into the middle of a fight between a stranger and a couple of outlandish creatures. Since he's not a complete idiot, Ryou quickly retraces his steps and flees backs to the normal world , but he brings the stranger along with him. Now his life is going to take a sharp turn away from "repressed" to very strange places indeed: into a warped image of the past and into a very uncertain future, through war and violence to the very edges of reality and beyond.
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This work reminded me strongly of the Chronicles of Amber, which is indeed a very good thing since the world Zelazny builds is one of my favorite. What is more, I really enjoyed the budding romance in this story, even though I am not the most die-hard fan of LGBTQ romance. But there was a certain... fluff that made me chuckle and want to see more.
Now to dive into the strange and thrilling world of Outlands.
The story might be tagged as an isekai but it is in no way generic (no truck-kun here). And this is exactly what I liked. The character that gets transported to the traitorous Outlands does so on his own volition, which is a nice change compared to the rest of the genre. Furthermore, the concept of the Onion-verse is what gave me the Zelazny-feel and I believe that it adds so many possibilities for world-building. The only reason that I gave the story a .5 less than full 5 stars is due to some minor inconsistencies that the author is about to polish in the near future.
I have nothing much to say about grammar. It was nothing but good (I don't dare call it excellent since I'm not a native speaker, but it still gets full marks).
The one thing that made it a bit difficult for me as I was going through the story was the style. If one is a non-native speaker, it might be a little bit hard to follow the narration since at times the sentences tend to get rather long and complex. There are also some non-common words or expressions popping here and there but I personally liked that part since it helped me learn new things. I believe that the only place where the style is truly a hindrance is the fight scenes - at times, but not always, the long-winded sentences slow down the pace and suck away the tension. But this is something that can be fixed and I trust that the author has the intention to do so.
And finally - the characters. Until chapter 16 we are more or less stuck entirely with Ryou and his mysterious stranger. Despite that, it is never boring. I like the interactions between them so much! Especially the tall, dark mystery-man with a snarky sense of humor is my favorite. Ryou is a bit too much an uptight salary-man as of now, but there are some occasions that show the reader that we might be dealing with a wolf in a sheep's skin here. The dynamic between the two is enjoyable and the budding romance is... gosh, I was reading it with sparkling eyes.
All in all, this work has a lot of potential, and I hope that it continues strong in the future. But don't simply trust me. Go on, read it and see for yourself!
EDIT: Mysterious Outworlder became much more interesting in the last few chapters. Everything else still stands.
Original review at chapter 21:
The start of the novel reminded me of a good Stephen King novel, where the lengthy exposition that starts with a very normal, very everyday situation, and slowly builds up into something very not normal. Think of Pet Sematary, where the bits and pieces of the Unknown are gradually added to the mix to totally replace normality and sanity in the end.
Ouatlands runs a very similar route in the first few chapters, the uneventful and gray life or Ryou is slowly replaced with action, adventure and a bit of insanity
Impeccable, the author writes very fluently and competently. She has a great vocabulary and uses very polished sentences. I especially liked Ryou's introspections in the beginning during the exposition.
After a somewhat slow exposition we are thrown into the fray. It's not a generic isekai in the sense that the mode of travelling between the different planes of existence remains mysterious. Also, while higher powers presumably exist, we only get an occasional glimpse of the eldritch horrors. As of now, we only suspect they are out there to get us.
On the surface level the story till now was about the pursuing the goal of Ryou's Outlands-dweller friend, and the budding friendship and maybe love between the two. I am not a fan of gay romance, but till now it was done in a delicate and believable way, so, no badly written cringey sex scenes.
There are some minor mistakes, but the author tends to correct them if they are pointed out.
I have the feeling that the author wants Mysterious Outworlder to be on par with Ryou, but for me at least, that isn't working. While the man gets a lot of screentime, and he has many secrets that were hinted at, he is nowhere near as interesting as Ryou.
Ryou is in some ways a general isekai protagonist. He is persistent, tough, has a presence of mind and enormous but untapped mystical powers. But these are all very believable traits which the author builds up organically.
On the other hand Ryou is definitely not a self-insert. He has many failings, and there is no chuuni shit like wanting to save the world. In fact we don't even know if the world is in danger (my money is on the "no"). Ryou's motivation is just that he is curious and craves adventure. And possibly he wants to get laid, but till now he was actually rather conflicted about that.
All in all he is already a very memorable and relatable character, and I look forward what will become of him later.
Unlike Ryou, who had to concentrate on the onion concept, I could transfer myself to the Inlands with just a couple chapters of this novel. I should be more talented than Ryou.
Rather than going through each category of the score, I'm just going to ramble on the things I found fascinating, and whatever little subjects I could discuss. Partly because my own experience with fictional novels, especially of this type, is lacking. Partly because there's hardly much to constructively criticise on this novel until we get more content to follow up on.
So with that as my excuse, let me begin telling you my thoughts. Major spoilers below.
Outlands is a world that existed to experience you, not the other way round. What it offers are limited to how much you can infer from the hints and implications. The more effort you put in to read it, the more you will gain. Whilst other novels would use 10 words to describe a facial expression, Outlands do so with a single "impassive" and expect the reader to imagine what it would be like. It's hard to pull that off, but because it happens so often, the reader automatically create a version of the character in their heads.
The Protagonist is an Ice Prince, someone who disliked the cliche but actually proud of the identity. You are given that, and you can gain an insight into the protagonist by how he fixates onto the out-of-place chuckle, the glaring aritificial light, the formal tone to his family, his punctuality, and most importantly - habits. Consistent habits that occur throughout the novel, and actually actively plays a role into the story. All of this, within a few paragraphs of the first chapter.
Going beyond that - lines like "He had to make time to go see an ophthalmologist. A different one who would not tell him to sit less in front of a screen..." hinted at his brother's occupation. Though it isn't stated until later on, you'd get the gist that the President is actually a close family member of Ryou's. So on, so forth.
This story is a puzzle, and it's rather fun.
And the level of detail - from the manner of speech, to the actual action of speaking. The protagonist understood the words of these 'foreigners', despite the fact that they spoke an unknown language, and vice versa. There's a comment mentioning how MC had to be aware of his lips movement as he spoke, or else risk alerting others into the strangeness where his mouth, and the sound that comes out, don't match.
I don't think I have enough experience as a writer, or as a reader, to fully dive into the story in a critical review. I'm not even going to touch on the grammar, as it's done well and I have no confidence I'm able to do better.
Praise aside, lets talk about nitpicking - my specialty.
I have been involved in an car accident, and I can tell you it's no fun. The reason why "time slows down" is a cliche at life-threatening moments like that is because... well, it's realistic. The adrenaline rush you get is indescribable. I was on the motorway, at 70 miles an hour (and I shan't say more, officer), when another car came in from the side, crossed 3 lanes and right into mine. My car spun, and even at that speed, I saw every tree, I saw the patterns of the curtain that car had at the backseat windows, I saw the glasses the driver had on...
If you truly wanted a hyper-realistic car crash, details like that would be gratifying to read. You don't chase away disorientation after the crash, but you work with it. You are disorientated because of the surge of information that gets inside your brain. Sure, you may be in shock, and your body might not listen to you, but you will be aware of so much that you'd feel dizzy.
The reason why I'm bringing this up is that - His glasses would've flown off from the impact onto the airbag. He'd have whiplash, but more importantly, he would have noticed the moon, the disappearing buildings, the snow... all of it, as he was about to crash, not afterwards. He'd also suffer pain in his neck in particular, so looking up at the moon would probably hurt.
If he suffered a concussion strong enough to cause his vision to tremble and darken (unless I understood that wrongly, and his vision was affected by what he saw, not by what he experienced in the crash), then he would't be able to fight with the door. Because the car hit the curb, you'd have to worry more about your wheels and your ABS rather than the door anyways. Mounting the curb at speed will cause your entire car to flip, so a frontal crash isn't exactly realistic. Imagine the scenario - the car had enough momentum to: lock wheels, jump a curb, side-swipe a mailbox AND hit the wall with "crunch of crumped metal". That's a lot of power and speed. The injuries Ryou suffered paled in comparison to what was being described.
There are moments in the novel that felt not as smooth as the rest. For example, "It looked like a robot; the kind he'd seen on TV when he'd visited his friends' houses when he was younger, before they'd grown up and life had gotten complicated."
The narration was describing the robot, but suddenly jumped into details about the Ryou's past. If it was just a comparison to a robot mini-Ryou have seen, then that'd be fine, but the added on detail about life getting complicated and growing up felt out of place.
Now: Let me tell you one of my greviences when I studied music dissertation. Professors of niche, but useful subjects do not respond to emails quickly.
"I couldn't make heads or tails of it either, so I passed the recordings to a language and encryption expert at the NPA Research center. At first he thought it was very, very bad Latin." Kimura took a sip of his tea. "But when I sent him more samples, he said it more closely resembled antique Persian of all things. He sent it to one of his university acquaintances who studies dead languages.The professor listened to it and sent me an email demanding to know what kind of joke this was."
Passing the recordings from a case isn't as simple as sending an email with an attachment. The patients involved had serious wounds that clearly showed physical violence and/or weaponry use. Police would've taken that case as an immediate physical assault, possible gang-related violence, and begin investigation. To pass evidence around would require paperwork and time. I'm not too sure of the time discrepency as it's not specifically stated, but knowing the Kimura had a chance to question Ryou before Chapter 2 began, I will assume it's either the very next day, or the day after. During that time, confidential evidence (it's a voice recording of a suspect) had to travel to the NPA expert, who took time to analyse and then received further examples, eventually referring to an acquaintance that would need further time to analyse (it's a investigation request, so you'd be expected to treat the evidence seriously). It just felt unbelievably quick. Also, I chuckled when you used the term "dead languages". Poor niche studies :(
"God knows what he'd have told the police if they'd decided to search his things. It hadn't been very wise..."
And onwards to my point - the police definitely should have searched his items. They have full grounds to do so. They'll declare their names and police station, their legal rights to search you, what they suspect they'll find (drugs, stolen property or a weapon, considering their injuries). They'll confiscate your possessions as you are admitted and offer you a record of the search. Ryou was under reasonable grounds for the police to suspect that serious violence could, or have had taken place.
I think that's enough nit picking...
Edit: I forgot to talk about relationships. This novel is, well, open-minded. You can feel the LGBT vibes from the interactions between same-sex characters and in other ways. It doesn't shy away from more adult themes, and it doesn't feel forced. I'll be honest to say it's not my thing, but I don't think it conflicts with any other aspect of the story. It's there for those who enjoys it (and it's still early on yet), but it won't forcefully shove LGBT morals down the reader's throat. It has to do with the way the actions are described, from how the Protagonist removed the armour of the stranger, to the scene with Darius later on. I understood it as the way the Protagonist viewed things, but not necessarily the way I needed to. It acted more as a characteristic trait than a theme, which gives a nice room to those who aren't interested in LGBT to read this book.
Too often, a book with such a... i hesitate to say controversial... how about heatedly-debated topic such as sexuality would either half-ass the theme, or focus so much onto it that you'd think it's an attempt to write a textbook. This felt different, it felt natural. It's something the reader can accept, whatever your view on LGBT is.
Conclusion: Honestly, I enjoyed it, and I plan to keep enjoying it. I'll be eagerly waiting the next few chapters, and I urge anyone looking for a webnovel that isn't a junk food version of a crappy fiction, give this a try. If you are a reader that enjoys literature, this will be relaxing to read. If you are someone looking for bland exposition and ex-machina power fantasy... you'll be asleep within the first paragraph.
Read it. Do it, before the border crossers catch you unaware!