David Musk

David Musk

7
Follows
7
Favorites
10
Reviews
3
Fictions
Reviews
RE: Trailer Trash
Just caught up with this story last night. After 200k words, my first thought was, "I wish I had 200k more right now!" Minor spoilers ahead.
 
I'm not sure what I expected when I first started this.I've read a few time loops now, and I usually enjoy the genre (Mother of Learning is my favorite, and Re:Monarch is a close second.) A part of me was skeptical that a "realistic time loop" would grab my attention. After all, what exciting time loop things can you do in the real world? Get rich via the stock market? Do well in school? Sure, that's not a bad premise, but I didn't expect this to compete with the likes of MoL.
 
But I was wrong. In many ways, I did enjoy this just as much as my other favorite time loop stories. Not because it's anything like MoL or Re:Monarch, but because of how different it is.
 
Plot
 
Tabitha's goal isn't to get rich or famous. She's not trying to master difficult subjects or save the world. She's just trying to make the best of her life. Now, I know what you're thinking: "200k words of that?" But hear me out. Tabitha didn't have a good time before. She suffered from obesity, depression, and low self-confidence for most of her life. She barely had any friends, much less a serious romantic relationship. Her relationship with her family wasn't great, either. They all had their own problems, but she wasn't in a position to help them.
 
You might expect Tabitha to begin this story with most of her character arc finished. That's often the case with an "older" protagonist—the character has already learned the lessons she needed to learn. Now she just needs to show everyone how cool she is.
 
But that's not the case here either. Tabitha's life was lacking in substance before, and so was her emotional development. As a result, she starts this story as a highly flawed character with a lot to learn. That's not to say she's petty or immature. On the contrary, there's a clear dissonance between her younger body and older personality—something that's often glossed over in other portal fantasies.
 
And that's not the only trope this improves upon. In most traditional power fantasy, the other characters acknowledge the MC's improvements as a positive thing, showering her with praise and respect. However, most stories aren’t accurate to real life. Usually, when a person tries to change herself for the better (losing weight, quitting smoking, eating healthier, etc.) people react with confusion or hostility. It forces them to look at their own lives and ask why they aren't making those same choices
 
This is exactly what happens to Tabitha. Her sudden changes make a lot of characters angry, and this is a great source of conflict. Sure, this is a slice-of-life story without an epic, overarching story, but every beat of these smaller plots is laced with emotions and I was always compelled to keep reading.
 
Style
 
For the most part, I’d call the prose style invisible, like a windowpane that’s easy to see through. This is definitely a compliment by RR’s standards. This site has its share of nicely written stories, but most of them are laden with long and awkward sentences. Either that or things are too simple and under-described. Re:TT is a nice balance. There's enough descriptions to help me imagine all the characters and their surroundings, but the descriptions aren't so fancy that they feel full of themselves.
 
With that said, the author has a few habits that bothered me. The first was his use of question marks for things that weren't really questions? Almost like he wants the characters to sound unsure of themselves? In some ways, I get it. Many of the main characters are teenage girls and this is how teenage girls talk. I think the technique was overdone though, especially when it appeared 10+ times in the same conversation, or when it appeared outside of dialog. I've seen other authors do this too, but I'd argue that types of question marks should be treated like exclamation points. Using one every once in a while is fine, but they're easy to overuse.
 
I'd also argue that the author overuses CAPS and italics to emphasize certain words. Honestly, I've had this same issue with my own writing before, and I completely understand. You hear the dialog or character thoughts a certain way in your head, and you want the readers to hear it that way too. But people are going to hear things in different ways, and interpreting character voice is one of the joys of reading. It lets readers participate in the creation process in a way they can't with movies or TV. All these emphasized WORDS get in the way of that. (See what I mean? You meant not have emphasized "words" there when you read that last sentence, so it's awkward to see me to it.)
 
But I will say this: the story has some amazing trippy dream sequences, and the caps and italics make them feel even trippier. I wouldn't change a thing there, but I would definitely tone it down for the rest of the book.
 
Overall though, the reading experience was a smooth ride!
 
Grammar
 
No real complaints here. I vaguely remember a few typos but nothing distracting.
 
Character
 
This is where the story really shines. In fact, I'd say these characters are hands-down the best written on all of Royal Road. Why? Because they act like real people.
 
I mentioned Tabitha's relationship with her mother before. When she first gets back into her thirteen-year-old body, the two clash like crazy. This is understandable because they're both (mentally) two adult women living under the same roof with no mutual respect. However, this doesn't mean the mother is the story's antagonist. She's simply her own person with her own flaws, just like Tabitha. And because the story isn't so plot-driven, these flaws allow the conflict to manifest and resolve organically.
 
Another good example is Tabitha's two best friends. It would have been easy to make them "sidekicks," but they each have very clear goals of their own. And sometimes, those goals are in direct conflict with what Tabitha might want. Elements of their personalities will often change based on their surroundings too. Elena might act nice to her friends only to become straight-up nasty to someone she doesn't like. Again, that felt true to life when it comes to high school students, and I thought the bullying arc was far more authentic than your typical YA story.
 
Finally, there's Tabitha, the protagonist. She realizes something early on that sets her apart from most would-be MCs in her situation. She and her family weren't "trailer trash" because they were poor. It was because of the way they lived their life. More money wouldn't have solved their problems.
 
The author shows us this theme many times throughout the story. At first, Tabitha tries to fix her life by tidying up her house, exercising, and eating healthier. These are all good things, of course. Few would deny that. Still, they come from a selfish place, and the results don't immediately make her happy.
 
So what does make her happy? Becoming close with her grandmother and younger cousins—people she mostly ignored in the last timeline. Coming out of her shell and befriending someone at school. Studying hard to help a cop who got shot and bled to death in the previous timeline Working through her issues with her mother after spending her whole previous life believing a lie.
 
Seeing her make friends felt far more rewarding than witnessing academic success, wealth, or all the usual "power fantasy" tropes. The emotional payoffs here were great, especially knowing they were decades in the making. I never thought I could feel so happy for a character who finally made friends, or feel so devastated when she almost loses them (I'm looking at you, beginning of Book 2.)
 
Judging by the comments, I can tell some readers disagree. They would have rather seen our MC become rich and famous. Or they couldn't believe how little attention she paid to the stock market before. But this felt realistic to me. RR is full of smart and tech-savy readers who pay attention to things like that, but old Tabitha was more like Bilbo Baggins—she just wanted to find somewhere quiet to finish her book.
 
But she knew just enough self-determination theory to realize that money wouldn't make her happy. Instead, she focuses on things like mastery (finishing her book series) and belonging (getting closer to her friends and family.) And it works! She gets to experience many of the things she never did before.
 
So no, this isn't another power fantasy. This is better. This is a story that I never asked for, but I'm glad I found.
 

Beware Of Chicken

Cultivation + Stardew Valley

Sulo already made the Stardew Valley comparison in his review, but that’s honestly the best way to describe this story. The main character leaves the rat race of his cultivation sect for a peaceful life in the country. Here, he builds a highly successful farm, meets friends, and improves the lives of everyone he meets.
 
The story manages to poke fun at xianxia and progression fantasy tropes while still being a progression fantasy itself. But instead of getting revenge, using people as stepping stones, and suffering through his training, the MC actually manages to treat people well and enjoy life. In some ways, it seems like he accidentally became successful, but not really. The MC works extremely hard. The difference is, he’s actually doing work he enjoys.
 
I can see why this story (briefly) passed Mother of Learning for the #1 spot. It’s the same reason Stardew Valley took the #1 place on Steam. Sometimes, we all need a break from the action and drama in favor of something light-hearted and relaxing.

Hands Held in the Snow

I should start by saying that I don’t ordinarily read romance or slice of life stories, but I’ve been meaning to branch out so that I can become a better romance writer myself. Still, I realize I might not be the target audience so I’ll make an effort to be as objective as possible!

Style

Overall, the style is solid. Slightly humorous, with lots of personality. I was able to clearly visualize every scene and I was rarely ever confused. The amount of metaphors and evocative imagery here is far above average for a webnovel, which was a plus for me.

The descriptions are great, too. I think a lot of authors on this site take for granted that we know what certain things look like. For example, a city street. The problem is, there are a thousand different kinds of cities and time periods. Here’s a snippet from this book that really narrows down what sort of city we're in:

"No house was identical to the next; each had the creative flair of the architect who designed it. The houses had gates, had yards of grass and cobblestone walkways. Their roofs were pointed high, the larger among them giving off the look of miniature castles, of barracks for an army of luxury. Several of Emi’s neighbors even had tiny ponds in their yards, with fountains in the center keeping the water fresh and flowing."

This immediately feels European, but far more modern than medieval. Horses and carriages are also mentioned in another paragraph so we know that we don’t quite have cars yet.

Like I said, the descriptions are great. Even some of my favorite novels on here are too light in this department. Readers will still imagine something either way, but if we’re not on the same page as the author, that can lead to surprises later on. I know lots of poetic language and descriptions aren’t always popular in the webnovel world, but all it takes is a few sentences to make a world of difference.

The story starts out in a first-person omniscient style, like a storybook or a framed narrative (think: Princes Bride) where it’s clear we have one character (the grandmother) telling this story to her grandchildren.

My only issue here is that it’s not always consistent. There are some points in the story where the narrator injects her first-person comments or speaks directly to the reader. There are other times where we’re deep in one of the two POV character’s heads, experiencing the world exclusively through her eyes in a third-person limited perspective. Sometimes, a comment is made about the world. When that happens, I wonder who’s making the comment, the narrator from the beginning, or the POV character? I can usually figure it out, but that process isn't as effortless as it could be. 

I’m not against this omniscient style but I think it could benefit from some more structure. For example, if it were confined to the prologue or interludes. It seemed like the author intended for the first chapter to be the most omniscient—which makes sense to me—however, it’s not 100% consistent.

Grammar

As usual, things are good here. No obvious problems aside from the occasional typo, which you’ll find in any story that isn’t professionally edited. There were also a few minor errors such as mixing up the words "laid" and "lay", but nothing that distracted from the overall story. 

Character

As with style, character is where I found a lot of the book's biggest strengths and weaknesses.

The two main characters feel quirky and realistic, with a lot of their personalities woven into the story’s narrative voice. I especially liked their individual reaction scenes after they meet the second time. These scenes felt especially authentic. 

I only have one complaint about the two main characters, and that’s that they seem too similar at times. Sure, they’re very different on paper. Beatrice comes from a modest family, she's studious, tidy, and she’s training to become a priestess. Meanwhile, Emi comes from a rich family with more aloof parents. She has a messy room and she enjoys sneaking out of the house.

Middle-class vs. rich. Studious vs. rebellious. Neat vs. tidy. It seems like a case of opposites attract. But like I said, the differences here are on paper. They’re things that we’re told, but not necessarily shown in the way they act. 

While Emi is rich and upper-class, she’s extremely down to earth and somewhat street-smart (paying the neighbor kids to create a distraction while she sneaks back into her room.) While she can be slightly rebellious, she studies Economics in the library on her own, so she doesn't seem like a genuinely bad student.  While Beatrice says she wants to spread joy to everyone, she's also easily annoyed with her fellow students. In other words, their most extreme qualities are easily balanced, making them feel more alike.

The POV switches between the characters every other chapter and their narrative voices often feel very similar as well. From the moment they meet, they’re both infatuated with each other. When they meet the second time, they’re both eager to spend time together, but neither one wants to make the first move. 

They’re both quirky, nerdy, easily embarrassed, feminine, and seemingly introverted.

I bring this up because there was one point where I started reading from one character’s POV, and I couldn’t tell which one it was until I got some hint from the environment. (It had been a few days since I'd read the last chapter, and I'd forgotten their names.) So to the author, ask yourself this: if you were to write a chapter with one of the characters walking down the street (without using her name) how long would it take the readers to figure out which character it is?

As a writer, I know how hard it is to make each POV character unique. It’s hard enough when the characters are different genders or ages. Even harder in this case, when they’re both teenage girls. That’s why I think it’s all the more important to show the contrast between them. This contrast won't just make the characters feel more unique, it will open the door for more conflict later on.

Aside from the two mains, most of the other characters seem more one-dimensional so far. Beatrice even refers to her father as a stereotypical scholar. Emi’s friend, Tia, also feels like a stereotype at this point. Now, we’re still in the setup stages of the story (Chapter 10, as of this review) so there’s still time for these characters to surprise us and break free form their molds. Setting up characters who seem stereotypical and then surprising readers later is a viable strategy, so I won't be too harsh here.

Plot

There isn’t much to the plot so far besides the romance aspect. It’s clear that this is a slice of life rather than an epic fantasy, so I can’t fault the author for this. Aside from that, it’s always hard to give a decent plot review when a story is still in the setup stages.

I do see the hints of conflict here with Emi being engaged to a stranger and Beatrice becoming a priest (I’m assuming priests aren’t allowed to marry in this world?) We also get hints of a broader conflict with their city under occupation. Again, we're still in the setup stages. I don't know how long of a story the author is planning, but I would guess we're still in the first 10% right now based on the pacing. Hopefully the continues to develop these conflicts later on!

World Building

One tricky thing about world building is making the readers curious—getting them to ask questions. That way, when it’s time for answers, you have their full attention. The author pulls this off exceptionally well, giving us just enough information about the world to make us curious. 

For example, this world seems to be fairly well developed technologically, yet they have no contact with the outside world (other continents, as they put it.) This immediately makes me curious what the reasons are. Is it magical in nature? Political? We hear hints about a long distance between continents, but that seems like a minor issue for a world with at least 1800's level technology.

This world also has same-sex arranged marriages, which is something I’ve never seen in any fantasy book, ever. Bonus points for trying something original. My first question about this was whether Emi's parents took her preferences into consideration when they arranged the marriage, or whether this was a coincidence. (I found the answer by reading the comments, but I hope it’s also explained in the story.) This added a layer of nuance to Emi's relationship with her parents. They took some of her preferences into consideration (she would prefer to marry a woman) but not necessarily others (she would prefer it not be a stranger)

Historically, many Western arranged marriages gave no regard to the children's’ preferences. It’s essentially a “do your job” sort of thing. Western arranged marriages in our world also tend to be focused on producing an heir and furthering bloodlines. I would assume this world has different priorities from heirs/bloodlines, and I’m curious to see what they are.

Overall
 
The story sets out to do exactly what it promises: it’s a slice of life fantasy romance set in a near-modern world. The writing quality is high, the main characters feel real and authentic, and we’ve seen the first hints of some interesting conflicts and world-building. As for the minor issues mentioned above, I think most of them could be resolved with time as the story develops further.
 
Edit 2/15/21:
 
Well, I actually came back and finished this story now that it’s done. (Mostly because it's winter and I wanted to read something more lighthearted, and this story scratches that itch.) After re-reading my review from the first twelve chapters, I can still stand by most of what I said before. 
 
The style and world-building are still two of the strong suits here. In fact, there’s a strong enough foundation that the author could easily get an editor and self-publish. 
 
The biggest complaint for me was still the mix of third-person limited and omniscient perspectives. Sometimes we’re deep in a character’s head. Other times, we’re hearing from the omniscient narrator. Now that I’ve finished the story, I can see what the author was doing with this. Still, this back and forth between character voice and narrator voice was a slight immersion breaker for me.
 
It looks like I complained about the characters being too similar before. I’m happy to say that issue resolved itself with time. As I got deeper into the story, they definitely felt like two distinct people. For example, Emi has a tendency to omit certain information, and Beatrice hates surprises. This was a perfect addition because it created conflict between them, and exactly the sort of thing I was hoping to see during my original read.
 
Speaking of conflict, things definitely escalate, which was a pleasant surprise after how smoothly they kicked things off. The strongest part of the entire story was definitely each MC’s inner-conflict between relationship and life duties. There were several points where I wasn’t sure how things would end. Apart of me expected things to go a certain way, and another part wasn’t sure if the author would go through with it. Either way, it kept me engaged! 
 
So yeah, big improvement as far as the main characters go! Some of the secondary characters felt well developed. (Emi’s housekeeper and Beatrice’s parents, for example) But others like Runa, Tia, and Pip, and Emi’s classmate (drawing a blank on his name) felt like they had a lot of page time, but they didn’t actually contribute much to the plot. You could probably combine those four characters into two and that would make the plot tighter with no real loss.
 
But overall, I enjoyed the rest of the story and I’d say it fulfills its early promises of being a lighthearted/bittersweet slice-of-life story with interesting world-building!

Burning Stars, Falling Skies

As the title implies, this is one of the freshest stories I've come across here on Royal Road.

Minor spoilers ahead!

Earth has been conquered by a race of hostile aliens, and humanity's last ship just crash-landed on a strange new world. But this story isn't about the humans. Not in the way you might expect, anyway. There were no survivors, but the protagonist, Threedak, has a racial ability that allows her to absorb memories. Until now, Threedak's race has been primitive and tribal, but now she's armed with the thoughts and memories of a dozen thinkers and scientists. 

You can guess what happens next. To say she turns her life around is an understatement. She's turning the whole plant around and reaching for the stars.

Style and Grammar

I usually write a lot about style when I review a story (it's a personal interest of mine) but there's really not a lot to criticize say here. For the most part, the story is written quite well and sentences flow nicely with none of the usual errors.

Sure, there's a lot of exposition early on, but the author also trusts us to figure things out for ourselves. For example, the protagonist is clearly a reptile, but the world "reptile" is never used. And why would it be? The world "mammal" rarely comes up in a story about humans. Instead, we're shown details such as the fact that she has scales, a tail, and lays eggs.

I think the early exposition also stems from the fact that Threedak is alone for the first 5-6 chapters. In fact, I don't recall a single line of dialog uttered before that point.

And the grammar is solid too. No obvious errors that stood out to me.

Is the style my absolute favorite? No, but it feels like it has some classic sci-fi inspirations, and I'm more partial to fantasy myself. I won't hold the story up to different standards. it definitely accomplishes what it sets out to do.

Plot

Like I mentioned above, Threedak was born as part of a primitive race so she starts with next-to-nothing but the scientific knowledge she inherits. 

At first, it feels almost like Minecraft where she has to create every brick and tool by hand. Things speed up dramatically though as she births her own army to help her out. From there, it's incredibly satisfying to see her the MC go from the stone age, to the iron age, to the industrial age, and so on.

For me, one complaint about the plot would have to be the way information is presented and revealed. For example, when the MC first inherits humanity's memories, I would expect this to feel like a sudden, dramatic turn. Instead, things are explained and revealed at a leisurely pace. And because the tension and drama in this scene were so low, I didn't actually realize the significance of the moment until several scenes later.

Character

Character is probably the main area where things are lacking. The problem with having a race who inherits other people's memories is that the characters don't necessarily have unique personalities of their own. At least not in the way human characters do. The MC also didn't have much personality before the story begins (she describes her past-self as being closer to an animal) As a result, we don't see much inner-conflict between her former-self and her new-self.

This also means there isn't as much conflict between members of Threedak's race. It made me ask, what if the story started with more than one character inheriting the human's memories? How would they experience the memories differently? What sort of conflicts would develop if they had different plans and ideas for their plane? 

This isn't to say the story doesn't have conflict. There are many external obstacles that prevent the protagonist from achieving her goals. But the story does lack internal conflict—the sort of conflict that arises from character flaws and different backstories.

Like I said, I normally read fantasy as opposed to sci-fi, and I know that sci-fi is more "concept focused" is opposed to fantasy which focuses more on plot and characters. If that's the case, it wouldn't be fair for me to hold this up to a fantasy standard in terms of character development. So while I do see this lack of internal conflict as a flaw, I also realize it's not the main focus in this genre.

The story is still very written. If you're a fan of empire building and/or classic sci-fi, there's a good chance you'll enjoy it!

 


Sources and Sorcery

Studio Ghibli meets Harry Potter

A previous review by Anjin mentioned how this story feels like a Studio Ghibli movie, and I think that's a great way to describe it. We have a young female protagonist who leaves her ordinary world and enters a world that's far more magical. Other parts of the writing reminded me of J.K. Rowling, from the charming style to the sense of wonder the world and magic evokes.

Minor spoilers ahead!

Style and Grammar

The tone and descriptions in this story are downright mesmerizing. In fact, the descriptions are among some of the best on this site. The author has a knack for the small things. Whether it's a missing swing on a swing set, a bit of rust on a handrail, or the sparks of magic from a wand. These details make the scenes come alive, giving the readers those rare moments where they forget they're reading a book. 

Style is one of the author's strengths, but I'll still spend the most time critiquing here since it's also a personal interest of mine.

So far, my biggest complaint is how much we're told about Anna's emotions and opinions as opposed to experiencing the world directly through her eyes. 

Phrases like, "Anna liked", "Anna wanted", "Anna hated" are prevalent throughout.These put distance between the reader and the protagonist. What's more, the descriptions in this book are usually strong enough to imply the protagonist's inner-thoughts on their own, resulting in a lot of redundancies. Anna does have a strong narrative voice at times. I especially liked how she used creative metaphors and verbs to describe the people who aren't fond of. We need to see more of this, and less info-dumping.

In the same vein, we get a lot of unnecessary words and redundancies around the dialog. Here's one particularly notable example:

"But I thought you said people couldn't pass magic to someone else?" Anna said, remembering what Broderick had said earlier.

We already know that Anna is remembering what he said—she's saying so in the dialog. This is why I think a lot of the dialog could be improved by cutting out the adverbs and explanations and filling the space with simple verbs and/or action beats. It's much easier to build tension through subtext this way. Make the reader wonder as opposed to spelling things out!

These flaws are what prevent the story from being the best it can be. With that said, the story is still far above average for a Royal Road story. It sounds like I'm being harsh, so I'll repeat what I said above: the descriptions in this story are great, and most sentences do flow quite nicely. With a little polish, it could be even better!

Grammar is good overall. The author called this story "rough" in his notes, but it definitely feels like a story that's been combed over with a fine-tooth comb. Sure, I found a few typos (which I pointed out, and the author fixed) but that's the case with every story here.

Characters and Plot

As far as characters go, I thought Anna was likable from the beginning. That was surprising, considering she starts the story stealing cakes, lying, and behaving somewhat irrationally from time to time. Still, she works out well as the main character. Maybe I empathized with her situation, or maybe her antics were just entertaining. Either way, it worked for me. 

The same can be said for the secondary characters like Broderick and Misaada. They feel unique, and their interactions are entertaining.

Now, as for the antagonists, they did feel more one-dimensional to me. Basically, they're pure evil with no redeeming qualities that we've seen. Ms. Whitney is one example of a villain who could have stepped right out of a fairy tale, but Alexis is the one that stood out the most to me.

Alexis is the daughter of one of the richest men in town. She's described as classicly beautiful, and she struts around with a pair of minions harassing anyone who isn't as perfect as her. Anna practically describes her as a walking, talking cliche. This doesn't automatically make her a badly-written character, though. When a character only appears once or twice in a story, it would be silly to expect a detailed backstory explaining all her motivations. 

But what stood out to me was the fact that many of the villains exist solely to make Anna's life more miserable. I mean, what does a pretty 17-year-old have to gain by bullying Anna—a 14-year-old girl who looks like she's homeless? It's as if these antagonists know that Anna is the main character, and they know they exist to provide conflict. Beyond that, they have few goals of their own. 

The plot moves along well though. I especially liked the opening scene. That did a great job introducing the main character while she's working to achieve a goal (stealing cakes from a store). This way, the readers get to see her in action, solving problems. And after that confrontation in the ally, I fully expected the whole story to be just as fast-paced as the beginning. I'll admit, I was slightly disappointed when she woke up in her bed to a supposedly normal morning afterward. The scenes that followed weren't bad by any means, it just felt awkward to see the story's catalyst, but then not see the consequences of it until several long scenes later. 

You could probably fix this by adding some additional strangeness to these early scenes to keep the tension high. My curiosity wasn't quite piqued enough by the time she met Broderick. I think, with some more tension and mystery, I could have been itching for answers by that point.

Again, this is all nitpicky stuff, and the plot picks up more later on.

Overall

The writing is immersive and charming, and the magic evokes a sense of wonder. Sure, there were some flaws, but it's nothing another draft couldn't fix. It's still a great experience all around!


Somnium

Disclaimer: The author is looking to improve as a writer and specifically asked for critical feedback. If I come across as harsh, I’m only trying to help. :P

Grammar:
 
It definitely needs some work in this area. The biggest culprits were missing and extra apostrophes (I counted 7+ in Chapter 1 alone.) Mostly, these were instances of mixing up its/it’s or your/you're.
 
There were also some interesting sentence structure choices such as mixing up the order of nouns and verbs.  There's a lack of commas in some areas, and many sentences flow far too quickly with no room to breathe. There were also cases where full stand-alone sentences were separated by commas rather than periods.
 
Style:
 
I’ll start with the good here: the author makes frequent use of similes and metaphors, which is always a plus for me. 
 
Many of the sentences have the potential to flow well, but they’re not quite there yet. I can see the author getting inspiration from works with more poetic/lyrical prose, but this sort of style takes practice to develop an intuitive feel for the rhythm and word order. Not to mention the grammar issues I listed above. Many sentences are also too wordy and could benefit from trimming the fat.
 
My advice: keep reading well-written works that inspire you, take notes about what works, and apply those techniques to your own writing accordingly. I do appreciate seeing a more descriptive style in a litRPG, but this sort of thing just takes practice. 
 
We also see a lot of phrases like this, which create a disconnect between the reader and the character: 
 
“Rhia saw, Ria heard, Ria felt, etc…” 
 
Phrases like these can make the readers feel like they’re being told about the character rather than experiencing the story through her eyes.
 
In contrast to this, we get a lot of the character’s thoughts in italics. Sometimes, up to four or five paragraphs in a row as she mentally works through the litRPG system in Chapter 5. At this point, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the story would have worked better in first-person (although this is complicated by the fact that this story has multiple POVs.) This choice is ultimately up to the author of course. But as a reader, too many italic thoughts can be jarring. It’s a technique that works well for dramatic effect. When overused, however, it can feel like we’re jumping back and forth from third person to first.
 
Finally, I felt the author relied too much on drawwwwn out words, CAPS, and exclamation points to convey character emotion. All caps words and exclamation points have their place in fiction, but I think they should be reserved for the most dramatic moments.
 
Character and Plot:
 
The plot actually does have an interesting premise. Game worlds aren’t my personal preference, but I’ve read some before. When I do, I definitely prefer some sort of twist, and the idea of a “broken” game world has potential. 
 
As it stands, it’s been hard to get to know the character so far. I think the main reason for this is the lack of a goal. For the first few chapters, her main motivation is survival as she’s thrown into this dangerous wilderness. 
 
This makes sense, giving her circumstances. Survival would be anyone’s primary goal here. The problem is, this is a reactive goal rather than a proactive one. It can never be achieved. Best case scenario, she doesn't die. It’s also the same goal that an animal would have in the same environment.
 
If we want to get to know a character, we need to see her making hard decisions, preferably moral decisions that she needs to wrestle with. We need to see her personal desires conflicting with her needs as a character. When her only goal is survival, we can’t see that.
 
The character does make choices regarding her survival, which gives her some level of plot agency. However, I’m not yet convinced those choices are big enough to carry a story.
 
Now, I realize that most of the complaints I had can be applied to something like The Wandering Inn as well, and few would doubt the characterization in that book. Because of this, I’ll give the author the benefit of the doubt and assume more is coming later on.
 
Overall:
 
If you enjoy survival stories, then Somnium might appeal to you. There were some issues regarding style and grammar, but all of these can be fixed with time. Keep practicing! :)

Mother of Learning
Well, I’ve been enjoying this story over the past couple months, and now—at Chapter at 106—I can finally write a review. Minor spoilers ahead. 
 
Mother of Learning starts with a concept that feels fresh to the fantasy genre: a world trapped in a time loop. The mystery aspect of this story is compelling, and every revelation feels like a genuine step toward real answers. This is a tough thing to accomplish when the mystery is so essential to the plot. Not every writer can pull it off (I’m looking at you Lost and Game of Thrones.) 
 
The main character (Zorian) is interesting too. Like most protagonists, he starts out flawed and grows along the way. But unlike many stories, this growth isn’t shown through his understanding of the book’s central theme, but rather through his interactions with the world and the people in it. By experiencing the same events in a loop, he comes to see the world differently. He sees his friends and family in new a light, and he emphasizes with people he barely noticed before. This is a bit different, but the traditional story frameworks (the Hero’s Journey and the three-act structure) are only meant to be guidelines. The author manages to pull off a great story without them.
 
Style
 
Overall, I would describe the style as simple and straight-forward. You’re not going to find a lot of lyrical prose or poetic language here, but that’s okay. The nature of the time-loop (and by extension, the plot) means that a lot of things need to be summarized in a concise way. Does this mean there’s a less showing and a more telling? Yes. But the book as a whole doesn’t suffer for that. The writing-style does what it sets out to do, so I won’t hold it to a different standard.
 
With that said, the book’s style is still its biggest weakness. The descriptions are minimal early on, so it was tricky to get a solid sense of the world and what a comparable time period would be. We’re immediately shown trains, which implies either a modern or semi-modern setting. We also get words like ‘cafeteria’ as opposed to mess hall, which implies a more modern setting as well. 
 
Later on (I want to say past the 10% mark) we’re told that firearms are a fairly new invention so we know we’re not dealing with an entirely modern period. We also get more world-building later on such as airships, newspapers, watches, snow globes, ice boxes, and bank checks. By the end, I definitely had a good feel for the setting.
 
If I could change something though, I would make the setting clearer in the first few chapters. For example, what sort of lighting do the characters use to see? That can go a long way toward establishing setting in any story. I always imagined some sort of light bulb (either electrical or mana powered) but this is never explicitly stated. The world could just as easily use candles or oil lamps, which would evoke a very different atmosphere. 
 
There were also a few info dumps that went on for 500+ words. These were the only parts of the book where I honestly felt the urge to skim, mostly because they dealt with ancient history or far-off cultures. I can see how this information became important. The problem is, most readers won’t remember all the details when they actually become relevant.
 
On a more positive side, I loved the parts where Zorian gets sarcastic in the narrative and the reader has to figure out what actually happened. In particular, I’m thinking of the part where a character trips and it’s described as "an accident. Or when Zorian gets into an argument that was described as “calm and civilized" in hindsight. Scenes like this were clever and they always made me chuckle. This humor gets also much stronger toward the second half of the book when he starts forming more long-term relationships with other characters.
 
Overall, I believe that most of the style issues will be resolved in a later draft. I’m confident about this because the descriptions were noticeably better in the second half. It’s just a matter of the author taking what he learned and re-applying it.
 
Grammar 
 
I won’t say much here. 99.9% of the book is flawless as far I can tell. Sure, there are a few mistakes. Usually, they involve the narrative switching from present tense and back to past. It’s subtle though—something a non-writer would barely notice. And as with the style, this is all stuff that can be fixed with editing. It doesn’t distract from the story.
 
Characters
 
So, the nature of the timeloop is both a strength and a weakness here when it comes to character development.
 
For one, the fact that time resets every thirty days means that any non-timelooping character loses all of his/her memories. Naturally, this means that no one one else gets a real character arc. As a result, we miss a lot of those epic moments where minor characters overcome their flaws. The kind of scenes we see and expect from authors like Brandon Sanderson or Will Wight.
 
On the other hand, the time-loop allows all sorts of ways for secondary characters to keep coming back in different ways. Sometimes, a character might feel like a background character in Chapter 7, only to become important in Chapter 70. Sometimes, a character will go on a date with Zorian because a particular instance of the time-loop resulted in just the right circumstances. Othertimes, Zorian will have a heart-to-heart conversation with someone just because he happened to ask the right questions or observe the right things. This aspect of the time loop feels satisfying because we’re seeing the current pieces being played with in new and interesting ways.
 
World Building
 
If you enjoy a detailed world, this is the book for you. Despite the lighter descriptions, everything in this world feels alive. Like everytime you pick up the book, you’re transported to this world. There are different continents, factions, cultures, histories, and technologies, and a detailed magic system. Everything you could hope for in a fantasy story.
 
Conclusion
 
Overall, I recommended this story to anyone interested in fantasy. I think it will be especially appealing to anyone who enjoys magic school settings or progression fantasy. As a fan of both sub-genres, it scratches all the right itches for me.
 
It terms of magic schools, this has it all. A library with a restricted section. Interesting teachers. A variety of subjects. And with the time loop, it’s incredibly satisfying to see the main character approach the same situations in different ways. It doesn’t take long for Zorian to pass his classmates. After that, he’s rivaling even the teachers.
 
In terms of progression fantasy, things aren’t as clean-cut in terms of advancement levels. Not in the way you might expect from other authors like Will Wight or Andrew Rowe, and definitely not like a litRPG. Even so, the magic system has clear-cut rules, and you can always get a sense of Zorian’s strength, knowledge, and skill relative to the other characters.

Soulless (Apparently)

Soulless brings a unique combination of ideas the webnovel world: a cyberpunk murder mystery on a robot-inhabited planet.

At first glance, the world has a bit of a dark atmosphere, but other aspects feel familiar and almost nostalgic. There were times while reading where I felt like I was playing a 90's game, like the futuristic sections of Chrono Trigger. Subtle aspects of the world also evoked the 90's feel such as the CRT monitors and payphones.

Style

I'll start out with the good: each POV character has a unique narrative voice, and they're not afraid to let their personality shine through. Narrative voice is something that a lot of webnovelists forget about, and I was happy to see it here. It lends humor and entertainment value to ordinary descriptions, making even the most mundane scenes feel more enjoyable.

With that said. a lot of the prose gets too wordy at times for my taste. There are a lot of redundancies, adverbs, and instances where the author uses more words than necessary.

Here's an example from Chapter 4:

"There was no denying that there was something different about Shock's decor, and it was a bit unsettling in some strange way."

That's a lot of words to convey a few simple ideas: Shock's decor is strange and unsettling. You could probably cut half of the words without losing any meaning or value. With some editing, I think the story could convey the same information while flowing more smoothly.

 The dialog is realistic, but not always in a positive way. Characters say a lot of 'um's, 'like's, and 'uh's. ... the sort of words we all say in real life, but that we rarely hear in fiction.

I should note that I normally read and write fantasy which lends itself to more formal dialog, and It would be unfair of me to hold a sci-fi book up to those same standards. The parenthetical in the book's title also hints that we're in for a more casual style.

Still, I've always been taught that dialog in fiction should be a form of idealized realism, meaning that we dispense with a lot of the filler words from real life. I would consider saving these filer words for the moments when you want to draw extra attention to a character's anxiety, or when you want to show a contrast between a nervous character and a composed character. That might have been the author's intention, but this technique loses its effectiveness when it's overused in every dialog exchange.

Grammar

No complaints here. Most stories on Royal Road have the occasional typo, but I didn't notice any of those. Everything was flawless. Either the author has beta readers, or she's extremely meticulous about her editing. Either way, well done!

Characters

The characters are probably the book's strong point so far. From what I can tell, there are two leads: Shock System and Aural Automation. Shock is a no-nonsense medical machnic, and Aural is a musician who frequents nightclubs. Aural is anxious and energetic feel while Shock feels more calm and rational. Between the two, I definitely related with Shock more, mostly because Aural was far too trusting and impulsive.

The contrast between worked well because it adds another layer of tension to the story. And like I mentioned above in regards to style, it's good that their narrative voices feel unique.

And even though they're robots, their personalities are extremely human to the point where there's no major difference between a robot character and a character of any other species. Even when their programing "tells" them to do something, it seems like more of a suggestion. It doesn't get it the way of their free will. This worked because it was consistent throughout the story. Apparently, whoever programmed these robots programmed didn't want them to feel soulless!

Story / Worldbuilding

We definitely start out with conflict, which is good. Too many webnovels begin with characters going through their morning routines with no tension or goals, and the authors would have been better off starting the story a few chapters later.

By contrast, things seem good pacing early on here—not too fast or too slow.

Overall, the world feels interesting and fun. Several positive things that stood out to me were the overall skill ranking system between robots and the corruption system. I've only gotten hints of each so far, but it would be interesting to see how those develop further.

I did notice some inconsistencies in the world too. Early on, we're told that the planet has little crime, but we're shown the opposite. The main character, Aural, is constantly fearing for her life, and for good reason. She almost gets into a fistfight just by rubbing shoulders with a stranger who dropped his laptop.

And even after several chapters in, I'm not 100% clear on these robot's anatomy. We're told they have metal casing—basically the sort of thing you would expect from a Star Wars-esque droid. On the other hand, they're capable of extremely subtle body movements. They can laugh, make subtle facial expressions, shrug. and even stiffen when they're uncomfortable.

Some robots have screens where they can project facial expressions, while others seem to have the equivalent of muscles in their faces that allow for the previously mentioned facial expressions. 

For the record, this comes from someone whose entire sci-fi exposure consists of Ender's Game, Star Wars, and Mass Effect. Maybe there are special rules and genre conventions that I'm unaware of. In any case, it was confusing to me as someone who normally reads fantasy. I was never quite sure how organic or flexible I was supposed to imagine them.

Overall

I know I had a few nitpicky complaints, but that's mostly a result of me reviewing with my writer hat on. As a reader, most of the issues weren't a distraction from the story.

I'd recommend Soulless to anyone who's a fan of robot settings or murder mysteries!


Conscientia

Trapped in an adventure game-like world?

Style
 
I’ll focus mostly on the style here because that’s what the author asked for feedback on. 
 
There are a few things to note upfront.
 
First of all, this is written in the present tense. This is a rare sight for a fantasy novel, and even rarer for a webnovel. I’ll be honest and say that present tense isn't my favorite, but I think that’s more to do with the fact that I’m not used to seeing it. Aside from the occasional YA book like The Hunger Games or Ember in the Ashes, I almost never come across it. If I do, it’s usually just for the occasional scene as a means of showing emphasis. 
 
As a stylistic choice, I don’t believe present sense is inherently flawed so it won’t affect my rating. Just an interesting choice, and it definitely comes down to personal preference.
 
The book also seems to be written in an omniscient viewpoint. This isn’t immediately obvious as we seem to start off in the main character’s head. But then we’re soon given phrases such as, "Eidos, ignorant of what awaits her…” or "In her excitement she seems to have forgotten…” 
 
Basicly, we're getting information that the character lacks. Instead of witnessing everything through her eyes, there's some distance between us. Omniscient POV is something I associate with older novels rather than contemporary fantasy. We see it in books like The Hobbit where an older character is recounting his younger days. It’s also common in Victorian Era novels where the narrator is almost a separate character, and he or she is focused more on society as a whole rather than a specific protagonist. I’m not 100% sure what the purpose of the omniscient viewpoint is here. It might have something to do with the fact that this book was also written as an interactive RPG/adventure game? At least, that’s what I’m seeing in the author’s notes. It’s like the focus is on the hidden player (reader) rather than the main character. It’s interesting, but I’m not sure what it brings to the table. The story might be stronger in first-person or third-person limited. We're in a strange world here, and I think it would help to be as close to the MC as possible.
 
Otherwise, the descriptions are solid. The sentences flow nicely, and there’s plenty of evocative language and metaphors.
 
Plot
 
Here’s an interesting quote from the book’s summary:
 
"But this is not her story, for try as she may, she has no control over the events happening to her nor her reaction to them.”
 
It’s like the MC is inside of a game, but she’s not in control over herself. Rather, there’s an invisible player controlling her actions and dialog. The story even recognizes this fact. The MC finds it distressing, and rightfully so.
 
It’s an interesting idea, but it prevents her from having any sort of agency in the plot. Most stories are about how the plot changes a character, for better or worse. But how can a character change without decisions of her own? Maybe she eventually breaks free, but as the book goes on, we focus on this "invisible hand" less and less. If I were her, I'd probably be even more alarmed about this whole thing. 
 
Again, my guess is that the author created a "choose your own adventure game first" and then wrote down the game in prose format. Almost like a novelization. I could be completely wrong here (maybe the prose format came first) but that’s just the impression I got.
 
Other than those early observations, I can’t judge too much about the plot since it’s only the first five chapters. At this point, it could still go in many different ways.
 
Grammar
 
No complaints here. As far as I can tell, things are spelled and punctuated properly.
 
Characters
 
All the characters Eidos meets have distinct voices and personalities. The words used in their dialog are distinct from that in the ordinary prose, so that’s definitely a plus. In fact, I might call the dialog the book’s strong suit so far. This makes sense because dialog carries over well between formats (game and novel) so this aspect needed less tweaking than other aspects of the story.
 
As for the main character, aside from the agency issue I mentioned earlier, she does have quite a bit of sarcastic personality which she interjects via italic thoughts. I only wish we could get a sense of what a “normal day” is like for her before she ended up in this surreal world. Where did she work? What did she do for fun? Maybe this lack of information is intentional—going back to the idea that someone is controlling her in a game—but as a reader, I look for a character I can ground myself in and empathize with. The fact that we’re in such a strange world makes that doubly important.
 
So if I had to change something about the characters, I might start the story earlier, before Eidos is reborn in this world. That probably goes against most traditional writing advice which says to start in medias res, but I think the plot and characters could both benefit from a beginning that’s more grounded in reality.
 
Overall
 
Some interesting ideas. The writing shines in the dialog and the descriptions. The characters have personality, and there’s clearly a lot of work done in regards to world-building  The author has a solid grasp of the language and knows how to craft a nice-sounding sentence. 
 
If it were up to me, I would make some tweaks to the style and plot to make this more like a book rather than a game. Unlike a game, we need to know more about the MC because readers are less likely to fill in the gaps than gamers are. Then again, I may not be the target market for this story since I’m not a GameLit reader in the first place. Good luck!

Ashes of Eternity
With only four chapters in, I can’t say too much about the overall plot yet. The world building is interesting though. My first impression is that we’re seeing a collapsed galactic civilization, possibly with some Roman Empire inspirations. 
 
While Safira’s early chapters are strong, The omniscient viewpoint in Chapter 1 went on for far too long, in my opinion. I can appreciate the work that went into the world building here, but readers care about characters first and foremost. We only start caring about the world later on. I would rather enter it through the eyes of the first POV character rather than starting off with paragraphs upon paragraphs of information.
 
After the first couple chapters though, things improved dramatically. From that point on, the info dumps were much rarer and all the descriptions felt relevant to the character’s current situation.
 
No complaints as far as grammar goes. Words are spelled correctly, sentences use proper structure, and I didn’t notice any typos.
 
The style was pretty good too. Like I said above, the writing is clear and everything makes sense. The dialog and action scenes were the strong points, and I would have liked to see more focus on those and less focus on the big picture/world building. For example, in the beginning of Chapter 2, we have a chase scene where one of the two POV characters (Safira) is escaping some gang members. One minute we’re in the scene with her, the next minute, the metaphorical camera is zooming out to describe the layout of the city, followed by a paragraph or two about the character’s back story. I would rather see the relevant details of the chase itself, and learn the rest as it becomes relevant. The chapters after these felt much stronger.
 
To be fair though, these problems are mostly present in the very beginning of the story and could be easily refined. And when the descriptions are good, they’re good. Overall, I got a very good sense of Safira’s world and I was able to visualize things easily. 
 
One final style complaint is the amount of "to-be" verbs. I counted the word “was” six times in the opening paragraph alone.  Replacing these with some stronger verbs would result in stronger writing overall. (You also also want your opening paragraphs to be as strong as possible since many readers will judge the story by these words alone.)
 
Overall, great start though. Safira seems likable as a character so far, and it will be interesting to see how she develops and stands out from the usual "street rat” tropes.