WinnieSallow

WinnieSallow

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Reviews
The Ghost's Girl

Ghost's Girl is a slow paced, atmospheric story that feels magical. The narrative moves between flashbacks and real time. At first, these switches are disorienting, but that back and forth motion starts to work around chapter 5. It's the kind of story that you need to just let carry you along. 

The plot moves at a very measured pace. Mystery has center stage, and while action will probably play a role later, it isn't really present within the first chapters. Honestly, readers probably won't miss the action. The atmosphere is great, and the settings are easy to visualize. The world feels like something from the 1800s, and the magic system is subtle, which gives the whole story an almost historical tinge.

Most of the characters are also very likeable. Avelin, who goes by the name Avery, is many things. She's an apprentice lawmaker, a wood worker, and a mage. She's very level-headed, which at times gives a sort of detached impression from the events going on around her. It makes sense as she is unmoored from society, but it did take me a while to identify with her. As the story progressed, I felt that she was more invested.

The other characters are interesting and have genuine motives of their own. The cast grows slowly, and some of the new characters are meant to be liked. Some are meant to be hated.

The style is first person, and the prose is formal. It has an old feel, kind of like something I would read from the era of Sherlock holmes. I think it suits the story and works well, especially when characters discuss their deductions concerning crimes. However, it does mean this is the kind of story best read in quiet. The first person style helps the mystery, but it also ensures that you can't really solve anything on your own. The reader exists firmly in the head of Avery, so you'll know what she knows, when she's ready to share it.

The grammar is good. There were a couple of slip ups that I tripped over, but I also wasn't compelled to correct them. Most readers probably won't notice.

While the story is wonderful, readers might feel wayward at the beginning. I strongly suggest reading through chapter five before deciding whether or not to continue. Also, study the blurb. Make sure you know the details. If, like me, you miss one or two, you will also miss some of the earlier plotting. I felt like I had a good handle on everything, but that wayward feeling returned around chapter 14. This is a turning point for the story, and the story pivots again in chapter 17. 

The chapters are on the longer side for Royal Road, perhaps in general, so it's not a quick read between activities, more of a dedicated read. Just a heads up.

My final criticism is that the ghost girl - Avery isn't being used to much effect. She's in the background, which is fine by me (more on that later), but other readers might want to see her have some agency. She gets more screen time as the story moves forward, but she still lacks any kind of agency. I'm also not quite sure how her existence works. Right now, she's a mirror for her living sister. Her importance to the story is secondary.

Now, I personally don't mind if Avery ever evolves. I find Avery's presence a bit unsettling, and I seem to be at odds with the main character, who finds the ghost a comfort. Just the concept of having your dead twin follow you around is scary to me. I have some experience with the whole matter, not the dead part, the twin part. I definitely don't like Avery.

Overall, this is a great story. Treat it like a river, let it pull you along, and read till chapter 5 before you decide whether or not it's for you. 


Children of Nemeah: Evolution of a warrior (epic progression fantasy)

Children of Nemeah begins with your typical crop of heroes training to protect other citizens from transformed individals. On the surface, it seems like a straightforward battle between good and evil, but the story evolves into something more complex rather quickly. It has action, character conflicts, and even a touch of politics.

At the core of this story are action and strong male characters. First, let's start with the action. There isn't a true in media res start. We aren't thrown into the middle of a battle, but instead get a look at combat training and the characters that will carry the narrative. I think it's a good beginning as the conflicts between characters play more important roles as the story goes on. These conflicts would have little impact if we didn't first see an earlier stage of their relationships. So, it's a not an in-your-face start, but it fulfills its purpose well.

Speaking of characters, there isn't just one mc. A lot of characters receive passages told from their headspace, Rick and Siegfried especially. Rick is the new guy of the group. He's eager to make himself useful and form bonds with the team, especially certain members. Siegfried is more of an epic hero, the likes of which you would see in old sagas, like the Song of the Nibelungs. His morals are on the straight and narrow, and he also embodies the physical package. It makes sense as he shares his name with one of the heroes of the aforementioned story. 

Overall, the characters' thoughts, actions, and dialogue make sense and flow naturally. The male characterization is quite a bit stronger, but there are female members of the team. They just haven't been rounded out yet. For the most part, the characters are pretty likeable, but it's inevitable that readers will develop their favorites, given that the characters don't always agree on the best course of action.

The style is like a cross between fantasy tales of the 80s/90s and more mature anime. Characters' emotions and the action are dialed up. Now, there are several sections where the characters do some explaining, and things slow down. Those parts are necessary, but if there wasn't some body horror going on, I might be a bit bored. In my opinion, the body horror is what keeps the pace up. Quite a bit of that in this story. 

The grammar is clear. While not perfect, it gets the job done, and there are no major mistakes or issues of clarity. Once in a while, I notice inconsistencies in dialogue tags. For example, commas after an action tag or periods after a "said" tag. If you aren't reading with a mind to correct grammar, you likely won't notice. 

This story makes use of the sexual content tag - as noted in the currently absent chapter 10 (during writathon 2021). You can find that chapter in the old version of the story, or if enough time has passed, it's back in place. I read the old version, and I definitely see an improvement between the current and old versions. The sexual content is quite a bit like explicit 1970s romance novels, very descriptive, although in this case it's shown from the man's point of view. Like all of those types of sex scenes, it does have it's cheesy moments, but I'm not dinging any points for that. It's hard to write a sex scene, and hundreds of readers have enjoyed sex scenes that are pretty similar. Just know that the sexual content warning applies and hits early.

After chapter 6, the story really begins to shine. That's where the first surprises pop up, and those surprises should be enough to keep a lot of readers reading. The story moves into a new, more complicated space and remains there. Around chapter 13, there is another turn that reorganizes the characters and sets up the main conflict. So, my advice is to read until chapter 6 to get a feel if the story is for you and hold out till chapter 13 for the action to start rising.

Overall, I was entertained reading this one, and I expect it will have more surprises in store.


The Programmer's Dungeon [Old]

The Programmer's Dungeon doesn't have as strong a start as some Isekai, litrpgs. Vincent is pulled into the other world, without too much fanfare. At first it seemed random, but when I went back and reread the section, it follows directly from his intention to celebrate with his friends. What are they celebrating? Getting some good feedback on the early stages of their game. So, it's a subtle beginning.

The beginning might not be that strong, but the story does build up at a good pace. The world Vincent enters is a typical fantasy world, with a medievalish setting. While most of the elements are common in other stories, the idea of a calling is executed with some uniqueness. Vincent's calling is atypical, in fact, completely unknown in this new world. I can see a lot of potential for him to use his calling in interesting ways.

As far as characters go, Vincent is the only one that has a fair amount of depth, which I think is appropriate for this stage of the story. He's level-headed and pretty laid-back, as shown by his calm reaction to the new world. The first thing he does is a bit of research. It's a a touch too convenient that he has a handy information source so readily available but also amusing.

In fact, the story doesn't put too many obstacles in the way of Vincent. Most of the side characters are friendly and willing to help. Honestly, friendly isn't bad. It fits with the tone of the story - friendly on the surface with something darker lurking beneath. It does affect the excitement level early on in the story, but by chapter 8, things are picking up. That's soon enough for me.

Grammar isn't perfect, but it really isn't that distracting either. The style is clear and concise, not too descriptive or atmospheric. It does the job.

Overall, I think The Programmer's Dungeon is going interesting places. It's the kind of story that builds rather than hits you in the face with shock factor.


The Sun's Remnant

The Sun's Remnant is a pretty great story, and I'm really surprised to see its stats so low. The plotline is solid; the world is grimdark, with beasts to fight and average people to save. And, the world's heroes aren't the perfect type, though they might seem to be in early chapters. There's also some really cool problems with the sun. I can't make spoilers, but the title is very apt.

First off, the story follows two Isekai'd people, the first person takes the first eight chapters to get settled in. That's main character one, and her name is Valerie. Valerie is well written and complicated. She's probably not that relateable to the average Royal Road reader because she's older, among other things. Character two serves that purpose, but since he appears so late in the story (chapter 9), I won't go into too much detail about him. Back to Valerie. Even if she isn't relateable to the average reader, she's a very real character. Her backstory is well crafted and revealed in bits and pieces. 

Main character number two is also well written, so readers can expect the same treatment for him. His backstory might not be as dark, but it's familiar.

The grammar is pretty perfect in this story. I don't think I spotted a single mistake, and the style is just as good. It's natural and balanced. The dialogue flows. The action is clear and concise. 

Overall, it's a great, dark story. I would almost suggest that the author starts with character two to draw readers in, but Valerie's initial arc serves as a great introduction to the world. I hope this story gets more of the attention it deserves.


Dungeon Item Shop

Dungeon Item Shop is both litrpg and isekai. It beings with a subtle death, and a strange transition from one world to the next. Fresh, our main character, has to build a new life as an adventurer / shopkeepr with her only party member, Jubilee. The plotline is a bit dark, but it's also wacky and fun. 

The pace of the story is slow, yet it's a fast read. While it takes a while to get going, there is plenty of drama, a touch of action, and some good character interactions. It feels like you're flying through, and I think the slow pace adds a touch of realism. Realistically, how fast could someone go from crummy stats to great stats? Not very. Do we need realism in litrpg and isekai? Maybe not, but I appreciate it. It makes any advancements feel very earned.

So far, there are really only two characters in this story. Fresh is the main character. She's got her low stats, and it shows. She's weak. She's dim, but she's honest and kind. She's got room to grow. Jubilee is the opposite of Fresh. Jubilee is blunt, capable, quick-witted, and sometimes cruel. Well, maybe often, cruel. Readers might relate to one more than the other, but I found myself going back and forth between the two. It's an odd balance that works. The characters also have some pretty great dialogue. It feels natural.

Grammar is pretty solid here. I didn't see anything that broke the rules of our Modern English.

The style is straightforward. It doesn't lean too hard into description, dialogue, or action. It's just very balanced. The story is told in present tense but sticks to it. I know that's a bit outside the norm for fiction, but after a few paragraphs, you won't really notice. The third person narration is pretty standard. 

Overall, I had a fun reading and reviewing this. There are some great funny parts, some clever lines, and a couple of heart wrenching moments. My spoiler button has ceased to work since I updated my computer, so I'll just say one word: Mushrooms. If you want to know why I'm sad about mushrooms, read the story.

Edit: I read through to chapter 20 when I reviewed, but forgot I did most of it on my phone (never logged in there). So, I'm just making the system correct where I am in the overall story. Sorry about that!


Epoch of A.K. (DROPPED BUT BEING REVISED)

The Epoch of A.K. is not your average Isekai. A.K.'s world (our Earth) is visited by an alien voice that speaks to the entire population at once. It personally tells A.K. that he's to be taken from Earth and reborn somewhere else. A.K. has one day to say good-bye to his family and prepare for somewhere new. It's a premise with a darker take on Isekai, and I think that's refreshing. After all, being taken from the place and people you know would be pretty horrifying.  

In the new world, A.K. gets a new mom and a new dad, and he has to start from square one in a baby's body, with the exception that his memories from his time on Earth remain intact.

World: A.K.'s new home is a highly political place. Bloodlines and relationships between families take center stage. As a plus, there's magic in this world and peoples aside from humans. A.K. finds those elements a comfort. He is born a magi human, and with that status, comes faster growth and more potential than the average person. 

The world is very detailed and different. There are the typical fantasy races present. There are gods, and there is magic. All of that is presented in a unique way. However, the humans are of more interest here. They truly feel different from Earthlings. In fact, they feel more alien than most aliens in works of fiction. That is quite the feat to pull off, so I'm impressed.

Characters: Characterization is slow but steady. We start with A.K. (aka Aegeus Kan). He's a friendly, curious person, and also pretty logical. 

In the new world, he interacts most with his mother Keala. She serves as teacher and guardian to him, and she gets some good characterization herself. 

Since A.K. meets most of the other characters later in the story, I can't say too much more, without spoiling things. I appreciate the slower introduction to characters, and it makes perfect sense because babies don't really socialize all that much.

I will say that when the characters are children, they don't really act like children. That makes sense for A.K., but it almost seems like magi humans skip over a real childhood. They go straight to study and work. It could be a plus or not, depending on your point of view. I find it a bit unsettling because A.K. never gets much chance to play.

Plotline: The plot is the strongest element in this story. There aren't any holes, and it moves along at a measured pace. Of course, things start a bit slow, but I never ding a story for a slow start. There's a lot of worldbuilding that needs to happen in this story, and that gets taken care of in the first seven chapters. Chapter 8 is where the action really begins, and the start is well executed. I knew something was coming A.K.'s way, but I was surprised at exactly what happened.

Style: The style leans towards telling rather than showing, especially before chapter 8. While I understand the challegne of conveying a new world, I think we could do with a better balance here. I would have appreciated more conversations between A.K. and his mom, Keala. It would have been cool to see more of her training, even if it has to be told in vingettes as he grows up. So, overall, the beginning could use more scenes and dialogue. 

Grammar: The grammar isn't perfect here. There are a few tense changes, and some typos. They're the kind of things that could be caught while reading aloud, so they really aren't that bad. But, I do notice them. 

So, the style and grammar could use some revisions, but the rest is pretty solid. Overall, this is a unique work, and it has a lot of potential.


Deathlord Eugene

Be Thankful for Your Normal Toilet

Deathlord Eugene is a fun, fast-paced litrpg crossed with an Isekai. In this case, the portal to the game world happens to be in his toilet. If you, like me, enjoy toilet humor, this is a good place to get some.

Story: The plotline isn't really new, but it's well done here. Eugene enters the portal through his bathroom and actually travels back and forth, which is a bit unusual for an Isekai. He's not trapped in the alternate world by any means. On the other hand, his job is a different story. Eugene goes on all his adventures while also keeping up with a full time job and handling some of his coworker's duties. So, while the storyline isn't exactly unique, the presence of both settings is fresh. The story goes back and forth between those two settings, and I think both are equally interesting. 

Style: The style is simple, clean, and straightforward. The sentences are short and snappy. It's a good fit for the plot and characters. I would make only one suggestion. Sometimes, two characters talk in the same paragraph. If the author started a new paragraph each time someone spoke that would help make a cleaner back and forth. That being said, there aren't long paragraphs in this work. It's all quick: a very speedy read.

The grammar is good. Not perfect but good. There are some typos here and there, but those types of things are forgiveable as nothing upsets the flow of reading.

Character: The characters so far are Eugene and his AI Eva / Eve. Eugene feels real. He's relateable and has both good and bad qualities. He's a complainer, but he's also a decent strategist and a shrewd bargainer.

Eva is also well fleshed out. She serves as interface and companion, and her favorite hobby, so far, seems to be teasing Eugene. She has some good lines and a sarcastic personality. 

The other characters are slowly gaining more depth in both the game world and the work world. I appreciate the slow buildup. It's a balanced approached to character building.

Overall: This story accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do. It's funny, and the MC grows slowly and believably. Definitely worth a read.


Valkyria Heart: A modern fantasy

The story begins with Ragna and her ambitions to be a valkyrie. Her hopes don't last long because first she fails a simulated test, and second she gets framed for a crime.

The full premise gets set up within the first six chapters. Before that, readers get introductions to the characters and the world, and as the story goes on those bits get deeper. A lot deeper.
 
World building here is pretty great. The characters inhabit a country called Midgard. Their enemies - the Vaix - are their tentatively peaceful neighbors. The politics are set up nicely, through Ragna's (rather prejudiced) thoughts and opinions. The world also contains both magic and technology. All of these elements have strong roots in Norse mythology, but the world still manages to be something different. Aes is a pretty unique place. 

Other places where this story shines are characters. There are some odd reactions here and there, but for the most part, readers have a good sense of Ragna and Altera's personalities. Ragna is ambitious, a bit hot-headed, but also a straightforward and caring person, towards specific people. Altera is a bit of a perfectionist. She's very reserved but also a good, logical thinker. As far as their characterization goes, I have no complaints, and they're likeable characters too. So, that's a plus.

In fact, all characterization is pretty solid. I can easily visualize, name, and describe almost all of the characters. My favorite is Sven.

Those are the best elements of the story, and honestly, I think the most important.

When it comes to grammar and style, there are a few things I think lack effectiveness. Grammar is alright. Not perfect, but still very readable. Other than the odd typo or tense change, the writing flows.

Style, however, could be more straightforward. The actual words and sentences are fine, but the author does like to build the mystery by hiding some information from readers. I don't think that strategy to confuse is the best choice for a mystery. I noted this type of thing a lot in the earlier chapters, but it lessened in later chapters. The author has also made a good effort to work on the confusion, but I did deduct some stars because I don't like to be confused, especially during cool fight scenes. 

Also, while I appreciated the glossary items at the end of chapters, I felt they shouldn't be needed as much as they were. Those types of world building details - tv shows, game consoles, locations, myths, etc. - really help make the world feel real. However, they can fall a bit flat. The reader reads past them, and the concept goes over said readers head, until the reader scrolls to the footnotes. Then, the little references become fun. It would be more fun if every reference could be understood within the text. The best references were those that included some hint as to what they were in the dialogue or thoughts of characters. If all of the references worked like that, I would think they were pretty genius. Right now, they could use some touchups. 

Overall, it's a detailed world, and with such detailed worlds comes the challenge of conveying all the little pieces. I can understand why the author might struggle to get everything to fall into their perfect places. That being said. The characters and plotline are great, which, I think, makes some of the confusion forgiveable. 


Desolada

Philosophy and Winter

Story: Desolada begins with a bit of action, which serves to reveal Leones' time traveling power. He uses it to escape danger but fails to save his father. From there, the story slows down. Travel and study take center stage, and readers receive a measured introduction to the world and characters. 

Leones uses his power quite a bit, for often mundane things (to learn new skills and redo conversations). I find that incredibly amusing, and it never feels stale. It's a bit too early to say how the action will play out, but although the start is slow, I can see that the story will grow. For the beginning, however, readers have a chance to enjoy the atmosphere and characters.

Style: The style is first person, which keeps you grounded in Leones' head. It helps keep characters straight because the reader gets to use all Leones' shortcuts and cues for remembering them (who likes him, who doesn't, etc.). This is also classic fantasy, descriptive and detailed. 

Grammar: The grammar is pretty perfect, so nothing to comment on here.

Character: Leones is a determined, methodical, and logical character. Good traits for a philospher. At first, he's a bit out of his depth, which helps to make him more relatable. But, he quickly becomes more at ease in his studies. It might affect a reader's ability to connect with him a bit, but his amusing use of his power makes up for it. The other characters have a little less depth, but they're all distinct and feel real. 

Philosophy, though not a character in the traditional sense, could be classed as a character in this story. I would not be surprised if the author had studied philosophy.

If you're looking for some classic fantasy, with a wintery atmosphere, this is a story you should check out.


Lady of Beasts

Story: The premise goes something like this...Maria, a young woman, newly graduated from high school, thinks her crush Elizabeth wants to spend some time with her. Instead, Maria gets stuffed into a car and nearly killed. A demon woman rescues her, and she goes by the name of Sin. 

So far, the premise is a good one. Maria has to gather a group of beasts or servants to fulfill her goals. It kind of gives me Fushigi Yuugi vibes (yeah, I know that story is pretty old now, but the comparison is apt) Instead of pretty young men, Maria gathers attractive women, who also take the form of grotesque beasts. They are devoted servants and weapons, and certainly shower Maria in adoration.

The story also contains heroes, which are set up as the enemy. There isn't much to say about the heroes right now, except that Maria hates them. Rightly so? I'm not sure.

Style: The style is third person, with a glimpse into the heads of several characters. The language is descriptive, and that description especially shines in the introduction to the beasts.

Grammar: Other than the odd typo, the work flows pretty well. The only thing I would suggest is for the author to start a new paragraph each time a new character speaks. The writing is clear enough that it isn't too confusing, but it's standard protocol. Might as well do it. Speaking of characters...

Characters: Maria the main character certainly gives off a young and impressionable vibe. She's angry at the world and desires to be special. It's believable that she would fall prey to dark desires, and I think her story is going to be one of moral descent, rather than ascent. Meanwhile, her skillset should go in the opposite direction, as she slowly learns magic. 

The creatures are characters in their own rights. Sin is a capable fighter and house keeper. She's bloodthirsty, twists the truth, but longs for closeness and affection from Maria. She's bad, but not evil. 

The other beasts appear a bit deeper in the story and discussing them is probably a bit of a spoiler. So, I'll just say that there are more beasts, and the second is particularly interesting. 

Overall, I think the story will shape up pretty well. The villains need some fleshing, but the love interests and beasts are all on the right track.