Vainqueur the Dragon

LitRPG is a genre ripe for the kind of slapstick humour that Vainqueur embodies (both as a webfiction and as a dragon) so it's surprising that there isn't more of it (there's lots of humour in LitRPG, but not so much wacky farce).

Anyway, this is a rare thing: a long-form LitRPG with an actual sense of plot arcs and story that builds to a tense and satisfying conclusion.  It's unpretentious fiction that I suspect was as much fun for the author to write as it is for us to read it.


Void Herald's style is confident and professional but unfussy.  It makes reading easy and unchallenging and it lends itself well to the humour of the piece.  Great literature it ain't, but that's not what Void Herald is aiming for, I suspect.


Nothing wrong with it.  Spelling, grammar, word-choice are all absolutely fine.  Nothing radical or experimental.


Void Herald knows story.  Not just Vainqueur, but their other works make it clear that this is an author who understands the pacing and the idea of weaving compelling narrative arcs together into an overall whole, greater than the sum of its parts.  I can definitely learn a thing or two from reading this.


The characters aren't one-dimensional and they definitely have development arcs but, if the story falls down anywhere, it's that the characters are clearly characters participating in a humorous fantasy tale, without much in the way of emotional depth.  Void Herald can clearly do emotional depth (and is doing it very well with Quicksave in The Perfect Run) and it could be argued that this story doesn't need it (and that the absence of it is, in some cases, part of the story's charm).  All the same, this isn't a story that's going to teach you much about constructing a deep character.


This is an engaging, funny, lively piece of fantasy LitRPG lampoon that deserves its place in annals of RR legend.  Great literature, it ain't.  But it also isn't a waste of anyone's time to read it.

Beware Of Chicken

Good-hearted & entertaining but needs a plot

I love to see this story updated because I know every chapter makes me smile.  It's a good-hearted narrative, deconstructing (and affectionately lampooning) WuXia and rooted in a love for nature and for animals.  If only it had something resembling a plot.


The style is excellent.  The author's ability to shift between perspectives and really capture the POV character is truly deft and a good portion of the fun of the story.


There is very little in terms of a sense of narrative arc, here.  We get a brief section with an actual plot when the rat tribe turns up, but it ends too soon.  There are hints of a plot to come, but the pace is slow.  Nevertheless, the narrative is still charming.


The author has an excellent grasp of language, shifting their use of grammar, vocabulary and tone to express the different POV characters.


Who is the protagonist?  Jin Rou?  Or Bi Dr?  The fact that it isn't entirely clear is part of the story's charm.  Bi De has a more interesting character arc so far, but the ensemble cast has enormous potential and great appeal.


A delightful way to spend some time, but a little short on actual drama.

There is occasionally a faint whiff of Western chauvinism which, I'm certain, isn't the intent of the author who is clearly knowledgeable about both China and the WuXia genre and shows great affection for them both.  But overall I think this is more than compensated for by the overall tone of gentleness and peace the story embraces.

The Last Human

The Last Human is an imaginative tour de force.  It strikes a perfect balance between exploring a deep and engaging new world, excavating the enigmatic history of that world and doggerly pursuing a plot.  I rate it comfortably among the best works currently on Royal Road.

It should come as no surprise that the author makes his living teaching people like you and I how to make a living doing this.

Style Score

The novel is tightly composed with barely a wasted word, but enough detail to give the reader a strong sense of place and environment.  The only thing I could think to ding this whole thing from a perfect score (other than the fact it's not finished yet) is that, maybe, there could afford to be a little bit more detail to paint in the picture of the world.  Individual scenes are beautifully composed, but the gestalt is still a little blurry at the edges.  Some of that, of course, is deliberate, because part of the joy in the story is the unfolding discovery, but... Just a smidgen more detail would be great.

Grammar Score

Unsurprisingly the author isn't merely - as far as I can tell - perfect in his use of vocabulary, spelling and grammar, but imaginative and innovative.  I have wee, tiny twitch at the word "Veneratian" but I think it's more a "I'd love to discuss his word choice over a beer" than a "that's a terrible neologism".

Story Score

Zero complaints.  None.  The author sets up the components of the plot quite beautifully.  Because of the title of the novel, we know what's in the box and the author doesn't waste time playing coy, instead setting up the motivations of the characters - sometimes with throwaway lines the significance of which won't become apparent until later.  It's a voyage of discovery for every major character and the reader as well.  It really makes you feel like part of the narrative.

Character Score

Eolh is our protagonist and his motivations are well mapped out.  Every now and then I catch myself wondering if his motivations and actions are aligned in a given scene, and every time it's like the author has anticipated my doubting as there's something there to reinforce why Eolh makes the decisions he does.

I think Ryke is my favourite character, though, because of the personal sacrifices she made which make her deeply sympathetic.

Poire is a bit of a whiny kid.  But the author is at pains to make his whininess both understandable and sympathetic, and even though his loss and confusion are overwhelming, the author is careful to give him both the intelligence and agency to illustrate his potential.


Obviously, I really like this story.  It's a follow.  It's a fave.  If you're just here for harem LitRPG, you'll hate it.  But if you are interested in not only a great adventure/mystery but also a masterclass in how to write popular speculative fiction, you'll love it.

Wander West, in Shadow

Masterful Fantasy Horror (needs a little work)

This is quality fantasy horror that evokes a fully-realized piece of complex world-building in a few linked short stories.  If say it was as if John Brunner had written Warhammer Fantasy.  And I mean that as highest praise.  If you like your magic to feel like it's a dangerous enterprise, undertaken by incautious fools, and your fantasy worlds to feel as if they are occupied by dark and forbidding horrors, then The Glimmerling will be time well spent.

That said, there are a few passages - particularly towards the start - that could benefit from a re-visiting as they sit somewhat at odds with the flow of the rest of the narrative.


This is confident, competent prose with a deft hand for evoking a spine chilling and creepy setting.

The characterization is sightly inconsistent, and the logic occasionally wobbly.  But you'll barely notice.


I love the approach of telling a much larger, more expansive tale through a series of self-contained short stories.  Few writers do this well, but it's well-fitted to the narrative of The Glimmering and executed with expertise.

A second pass to sort out the handful of logical inconsistencies (imo) would rate this a five.


The author has clearly got an expert grasp of grammar.  However, the text does have a light dusting of spelling and grammar errors - just what one would expect from a first draft and which will all be swept up in a second pass, I'm certain.


Martin and Elyse are an appealing pair of heroes with well imagined histories and adequate motivations, but there are some consistency issues.  They both seem to waver between sightly contradictory versions of themselves.  I think it may take until the whole fiction is finished before this can be cleared up and the author can determine what the definite truth of each of them.


I am definitely following this fiction.  I've not seen anything else quite like it on RR and it's a welcome break from yet another LitRPG (says the person writing a LitRPG).  I could definitely see The Glimmering finding a future in mainstream publication through someone like Tor Books or Angry Robot.

Dead Tired

Dead Tired isn't really a story so much as an extended thought experiment mashing LitRPG and Cultivation WuXia together.  Great literature this ain't, but Harold, Alex and the Limpet are entertaining to read and fun to follow.  Easy, brain-free fun.


RavensDagger isn't stretching themself in the style so much as indulging themself.  It's easy to read but not especially evocative or sophisticated.


There is, arguably, no story to speak of or, if there is one, it's very light.  This doesn't really matter as the fun lies in Harold's encounters with a new reality and his lugubrious reaction to it.


RavensDagger is a very competent writer making no errors or any note.


There's little actual character development in the story, but the main characters are amusing, congenial company and a pleasure to follow.


I'm happy to recommend Dead Tired as an entertaining piece of webfic.  I suspect later volumes may actually involve character development and a story in the conventional sense, because I think RavensDagger is too good a writer to be able to resist growing the tale into something more compelling.  But the fiction, as is, is a fun exercise that's almost meditative in the lack of demands it places upon the reader.

Selena's Reign: The Golden Gryphon

The choice of cover art is apt.  This work is a luscious literary envisioning of the grandest of pseudohistorical fantasies with stylistic nods to manga inspirations dotted within the more explicit debts to the classic works of the eighteenth century.

Whether the plot can stand up to the stylistic flourishes of the author, of course, remains to be seen.  At 13 chapters in, the plot so far is relatively simplistic.  But the characters and setting are drawn with enough bravura that one could almost not notice.


The author's style owes little to anything written in the last two hundred years.  His inspirations are, I would judge, Dumas, Dickens, Thackeray and their ilk.  Although his imagery draws on modern genres, the style is pure classical.  It's extraordinarily rare to find an author with the confidence - and vocabulary! - to pull this off, these days.  The only one that comes to mind is Umberto Eco.  Stylistically, this is the finest work I've read on RR to date.


Essential to the the style is the author's use of grammar and vocabulary which are exceptionally good.  I rarely rate an RR work at 5* for grammar as most authors (myself included) don't make much of an effort to use grammar in a creative form, rather seeing it as a framework for a story.  If it's correct, we're happy enough.  Elliot has made grammar his bitch.


If the work so far has a principle weakness, it is in the story.  I'm absolutely certain that there's a plot here that will unfold and, if it's half the density and intricacy of his command of language, it will be a doozy.  But, so far, the plot is largely non-existent and what there is is linear and predictable.


The cast is well-drawn with sympathy.  But I think here is where the Japanese influence is most closely felt - particularly as there seems to be a strong link between outer appearance and inner qualities.  The sumptuousness of the world contrasts strongly with the sparsity of the characterisations.

It's worth saying though, that the same characters in a different piece of writing might well come across rounded and believable, and it's possible that it is just the contrast that leaves them feeling flaccid.


This fiction is hard work.  Another comparison I could draw is with Tolstoy, I think.  If you enjoy something like Anna Karenina or War & Peace you'll have no trouble with the Golden Gryphon.  If, however, you prefer your fiction on the lighter side you will, most likely, give up on this work within the first six chapters.

It is, however, also beautifully crafted.  Some of the descriptive passages are... self-indulgent.  In a different context I might be suggesting that there were some darlings, here, that urgently need putting down.  But I can also see an argument that the richness of the descriptive passages is part of the style and appeal of this fiction.

As a final note, in the encounter between the MC and his deity, I am very impressed by Elliot's ability to capture a sense of the divine far more completely and effectively than most other fantasy authors in related genres.  The result is quite... Catholic.  And it's hard not to see some thematic nods towards Thomas Aquinas and other early Christian apologists, which put me on alert for allegory.  But this feeling eased off as the narrative progressed.

Diaries of a Fighter

A good plot in need of more craft

BitNanox has a good plot here.  I can sense some familiarity with the material, so I would guess the author has spent time in Japan and knows their way around some martial arts, or at the very least has done some reasonable research.

My main point of criticism is that the story moves far too quickly, glossing over important points of character and motivation that leave the plot feeling disconnected from the people involved in it.


The style is sparse to a fault.  There's little in the way of sensory description or of the internal life of the MC and the author seems keen to move as rapidly as possible from one plot point to the next.


It's fine, but unimaginative.  I would tentatively guess that BitNanox isn't writing in their native language.


The strong point of this fiction is a compelling plot with an interesting arc.  A gaijin finding his way into an elite mixed martial arts tournament via working in a high-end butler cafe is... well, it's original.


The weakest point is the disconnection between the reader and the MC's motivations and perceptions.  The first few chapters rush through Nik's rise and fall and brush over his near-suicide with barely a sentence of self-reflection.  And before we know it, he's flexing for giggling Japanese students.  Opportunities to address how his damaged ego is deconstructed by the experience of trying to survive in an alien culture are ignored, as is the re-building of the ego through the unconventional context of the butler cafe.  Even at the very start of the story, his build up to his first pro fight is glossed over.


A terrific and original idea for a narrative arc is let down by an author rushing through important character development and the establishment of an underpinning appreciation for motivation.  But if BitNanox were to use the fiction (when finished) as the framework for a longer, more considered piece of writing, I think this has enormous potential.

Mother of Learning

Deserves its place at the top

It took me a few goes to get started with MOL, but I persevered because it was the most popular piece on RR so I figured there must be something there that was worth pursuing.

And there definitely is.  The plotting of a narrative over one month, repeated hundreds of times, blows my mind.  Early on, there was the occasional sense that the author was ever so slightly making things up as they went along but, soon enough, you began to see the opposite: that the apparent dead ends and throwaways were (mostly) relevant and important.  The density of the cast is handled incredibly well, with distinct personas each contributing a definable archetype without falling into stereotyping (at least, more than the fantasy genre accommodates already).

I also appreciated that the MC wasn't really the hero of his own story for much of the narrative, with a touch subversion of traditional Chosen Ones tales.  The story also draws upon themes from both isekai and LitRPG without being either, which I think is one reason it is so popular on RR.

If I were forced to be critical, I'd say that Zorian's lack of sexual or romantic encounters over the course of his years of entrapment seems at odds with my impression of his developing adulthood.  The issue of an adult mind being trapped in an adolescent body is entirely ignored.  I admire the author's restraint in staying firmly away from this topic but, at times, it felt forced given that the MC is explicitly not aromantic (although he could be asexual).

That, though, is a minor gripe.  Early in the narrative I wondered how on earth the author could sustain the basic conceit of the plot over more than a hundred chapters.  But the fact is that they do so brilliantly, compellingly and with every chapter contributing meaningfully to the story.


The style is deft and professional, but distinct.  The story is a pleasure to read.  There's a little growth still to be had in the mastery, but one senses it is well within the author's grasp.


The strongest part of this tale is the quality and depth of the plotting, which staggers me.


Grammar and spelling are near-perfect.  I struggle to recall any problems.  I reserve 5 stars for writing that makes creative or imaginative use of grammar as a tool, which this story doesn't.


I think the weakest part of the story is in the development of the MC (and Zach).  That's not to say that this is bad or non-existent.  But there is a degree to which the author equates "grows more powerful and knowledgeable" with character development, which is a bit of a shame.  It is odd, to me, that Zorian develops his relationships with his parents and two of his siblings but basically ignores his third sibling.  I sense that he was one of the very small number of forgotten or abandoned threads.


MOL deserves its place at the top of the chart. nobody103 is certainly somebody to watch.

Stray Cat Strut ⁠— A Young Lady's Journey to Becoming a Pop-Up Samurai

This is a review of the first volume of Stray Cat Strut.

RavensDagger has created a compelling and interesting future world that straddles hard scifi and science fantasy.  Cat, her orphan friends and the other samurai are all well-drawn and interesting.  The first volume is let down by a lack of real peril or a coherent antagonist, but I have high hopes for the development of this story and will definitely keep reading.


The author's voice is clear and strong, which is to be expected from an experienced writer.  However, the pace rushes occasionally, with quite short chapters and choppy action transitions.  There is room, however, to polish this within the short chapters, adding more of the sensory detail that's missing and providing some welcome respite in the relentless pace of the action.


Barring a few minor typos, there are no mistakes or errors of grammar or spelling worth pointing out.  But, at the same time, RavensDagger doesn't make much, if any, imaginative use of grammar or sentence structure in a way that would earn a full five stars.  That's not really a criticism, though.  It's still 4.5 stars for grammar.


The first volume is a pretty linear plot.  There's little sense that anyone Cat cares about is every truly in danger (arguably, other than herself - but she's the title character and, hence, unlikely to die).  But, to be fair to RavensDagger, this first volume is really just laying the groundwork of introducing Cat, her world, the samurai and the invaders.  Although I think more work could have been done to make the story more compelling, with more conflict and tension, there's no denying that the journey through Cat's world is captivating and horrifying in equal measures.  If nothing else, it's an easy read.


This is where the story shines.  Cat is a convincing young punk, golden-hearted under her crusty exterior.  As such, her ascension to samurai feels both just and logical.  A hero who's an orphan could come across as an easy reach for someone with no obligations or responsibilities.  But it's quickly and persuasively shown that Cat has endless obligations and responsibilities and, for all her flaws, handles them as well as she possibly could.  It also meshes well with her ascension that her priority will be using her new opportunities to make life as good as it can be for her charges - but also that she's already got a bit of a hero complex, so she's not going to shy away from doing the job of a proper junior samurai.

For all that this may feel like a critical review, the pleasure of the narrative lies with the compelling journey of its protagonist and, although I think that journey could have nicer scenery, that doesn't make it not worth your time.

Stray Cat Strut is, at time of writing, the story on RR that I most look forward to seeing update and I'll still be here to write a review of the second volume when it's done.

RE: Trailer Trash

I really enjoyed reading through the first twelve chapters and will certainly come back for more.

I like that what starts out as wish-fulfilment for an old woman given a second chance at being the girl she might have been, turns rapidly darker.  She displays signs of borderline anorexia and narcissism that feel both natural to the character and save her from being a Mary Sue.

The insight of the author into what a cosmetic change won't affect - High School politics! - feels profound without being overdone.  And the cast of supporting characters, from Grandma Laurie to EE-leh-na is well-drawn and convincing.

As a first draft, this is great work that feels very publishable, despite the hackneyed re-do premise.  The only thing I would encourage the author to add are more immediately obstacles.  I'm assuming, here, that the narrative arc won't take Tabby all the way back to being 67 (except, perhaps, in an Epilogue back in the MRI in 2045).  Up to chapter twelve, we're practicall getting a day-by-day account of her first year in high school, so my assumption is we're not going to get any further in this arc than her sophomore year at most.  Maybe the author plans a Harry Potter-style "academic year by academic year" series?

Regardless, by chapter 12 we have resolved the only major obstacle - the death of the police officer - and it wasn't one that directly affected Tabby the first time around, so doesn't feel climactic.

To really pull it together, then, my sense is that we need two more significant obstacles: one thing that happened, first time around, and Tabby doesn't want it to *not* happen (but the butterfly effect puts its happening in jeopardy); and one thing that happened that she doesn't want to happen (like the shooting, but more directly-affecting, such as the death of someone close to her).

She may then have to draw in allies to help her address these and come to terms with the consequences of her success or otherwise.

Still, loving the story and following along all the same.