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They Who Rule

Ambitious, but intro may prove a hurdle

Warning: I will try to make this review as spoiler-free as possible, but I may drop some information here and there. 

Story:

A modern fantasy focusing on Pacific islander culture that revolves around a mysterious combat tournament, where fantasy counterparts of some faiths, and some more mysterious opponents, compete. 

I will say, I think the beginning of this story is a challenge for readers. It's definitely a unique setting, but it feels like we are dropped into it very quickly - even from the very opening of the very first chapter. When I first began reading this story, I actually checked to see if I hadn't accidentally clicked on the second chapter by accident instead of the first, just because the opening to the first chapter seemed so abrupt. And what adds to the difficulty is that many characters are introduced early on, very quickly, as well. 

Eventually, no matter how unusual a setting may be, you want to get to a point where you can discuss the concepts and characters in it with ease, knowing that the readers will be able to follow along. However, the more unique the setting is, the more you have to buid up to that point, by slowly detailing new characters and concepts in their introduction. Here, the beginning of the story often felt as if I was reading the middle of a fantasy novel, where these concepts had already been introduced and the author was assuming that readers were somewhat familiar with them. The glossary helps, but it's not enough to substitute for the slower introduction I think this story really needs. 

Style:

As far as writing style goes, the author dedicates plenty of time to describing the envrionments and the fantastical actions going on, but I still found myself having trouble picturing what exactly was going on sometimes. I think it's part of the general rule that the more fantastic, weird or unusual something is, the more time you have to spend describing it in order to draw the reader in. I think this is possibly exarcerbated by the large number of characters we switch between, as well. But for the most part, the author does a good job of describing action: description of environments and people could sometimes feel a little sparse. 

Grammar: No mistakes noticed here.

Character: 

It takes a while to warm up to individual characters, just because there are so many of them that we switch back and forth between. They're characterized well, it's just that with 'screentime' split between so many of them, we don't get to see that much of each individual one for the amount of words written so far. I just recently began warming up to Enkolu and Wha in the later chapters, as they got some more focus that showed the more playful side of their personalities. 

Overall:

What the author is trying to do here is very ambitious - a fantasy in a unique, unfamiliar setting with a very large cast of characters. I think if you can get through the overwhelming introduction, you can start to catch on and enjoy the story - but it takes a big investment on the part of readers who might be scared away by the introduction. If I had any advice, I'd say maybe start out by focusing more on fewer characters, making them likable to the readers, and then more slowly expanding the cast as the story goes on. 

If you can get past the hurdle of the overwhelming introduction to the setting and the characters - and I do think it's a hurdle that may scare away readers - the story begins to show its charm and appeal; weird creatures, a somewhat mysterious tournament, and mischievous, bickering, demigod-like characters. I'd say that maybe what it needs most - although I don't know if this is what the author wants - is a set of characters whose eyes this story is PRIMARILY told through. Not to say that you can't switch to different perspectives, but a consistent set that we return to more often might help readers settle into the world you've created. 


Laus Deo

Appealing story but plot is a bit rushed

Warning: I will try to make this as spoiler free as possible, but I will probably drop some info here and there. 

Another reviewer said the intro was weak; I actually disagree entirely with them. I think the first chapter is a good glimpse into the psychological lives of these characters, with a hint of the supernatural. I think where the fiction runs into a bit of a problem is when it begins introducing more and more fantastical elements. The somewhat terse writing style works fine in the first chapter, where most of what is being described is just simple modern life. But it stumbles when it comes to describing the more fantastical elements that are eventually added to the story - in particular, the demon/nephilim (kinda) fight scene with some magic and grotesque demons in the later chapters feels underdescribed.

The two main characters, as well, adjust (IMO) a bit too quickly to the presence of an angel in their life; an angel who on their first meeting threatened one of their lives and forced the other to drink blood. There is some protest, and a lack of trust, in the story, yeah, it's not completely glossed over. But they still seem a bit too quick to accept that they just happen to be working for this angel now. 

It reminds me a bit of the movie Dogma, with more emphasis on the magical/fantasy elements of heaven and hell. The author seems eager to leap into these elements, but I think they could benefit from slowing down and stretching out the introduction of them a bit. In fantasy stories that go from "totally normal modern life" to "Modern life with loads of fantasy elements", there usually comes a point where the (at least partially) normal human characters become more or less adjusted to the introduction of new fantastical elements, each new fantasy element evoking less of a reaction from them. Here, it feels like that point comes a bit too quickly - especially given their very rough introduction during their first meeting with the angel. 

The parts of the story that focus on emotional trauma and more or less normal human interactions seem to be footed on much more solid ground, and I'm interested to see how they're bought into the larger, overall fantastical plot.

Overall, I'd say the fast pace this story sets weakens it a bit. More description for scenes that rely heavily on magical/fantastical elements, and a bit more of a paced out introduction to these elements, would help a lot. But the main duo's psychological trauma acts as a nice hook, and the bit of mystery surrounding the current state of heaven and hell is a nice hook on the fantasy side of things. The main duo come across as very human (when they aren't too readily accepting of new fantastical elements). If I was rating this as a professional work, I'd say this would be a somewhat skeletal draft of a story I could see as an interesting book were it fleshed out. In terms of RR it's definitely more appealing than lots of stories I've seen. 


The White Horde (Revised)

An intriguing world, but we need to linger

Warning: I will try to make this review as spoiler-free as possible, but I might drop some information here and there.

The world the story takes place in is an interesting one, with many cultures inspired by real-world counterparts but mixed in with some brutal magical systems and gods. It reminds me a bit of the Conan setting. And it's clear they have put a lot of thought into each of these cultures, down to details as fine as hand gestures. 

However - it's a lot to absorb all at once. New magical concepts, empires and their history - they are all introduced at a rapid pace, which left me feeling a bit lost, especially in the first few chapters. Same goes for characters - there are a lot of them, and many times many of them interacting at once, which can make conversations feel confusing. The characters that we spend more time with, that we linger on, are well-characterized, though.

I think the author has very strong, well-defined ideas about the world they're writing about, the magic that exists in it, the characters in the story, and the political intrigue at the center of the plot. And it's all interesting - and I wouldn't say it's complicated - but it is all very much set deep within this well-defined setting. There's a hurdle the author needs to overcome, which is introducing us to this very detailed world - that needs to be taken at a slower pace.

If you can get past that initial hurdle as a reader, though, you'll get a world of brutal political plotting, strange magic, and well-defined characters - though as I said before, sometimes so many are interacting at once that have not had much time dedicated to them that conversations can become confusing. 

Overall, I'd say: This could be a very strong story if the author spent some more time lingering on the introduction to the world, physical descriptions of locations, and the secondary characters - giving the reader some more time to savor and settle in to the world they created. As it is, currently, I think it's mostly on the reader to overcome that hurdle themselves, though there's definitely an interesting setting, story and characters waiting for them if they're willing to do so. 


The Treasure King

Rough around the edges, some interesting potential

Others have said the MC is dumb; he kind of is, but I think that's part of the point, He's simple and unsophisticated, uncultured, brash. I have only read up to chapter 20 but given that it's a "start from nothing and work your way up" kind of story, I would think at some point he's going to have some emotional or personality growth, too. The love interest comes across as arrogant, ungrateful and a bit rude as well - though that's not a criticism in itself. I actually like stories where people with brash personalities end up showing their softer sides. Just letting you know what you're in for. 

There are some problems witht he style. Action is described clearly - if very simply, without embellishment - but the descriptions of physical locations and characters are often sparse, making it difficult to picture what is going on - particularly during battle scenes, where a lot of fantastical elements are intoduced. 

Story-wise, it takes a while to build him up from the very bottom - but then seems to accelerate suddenly when it comes to the magical cultivation system. I was a bit surprised that his initial training with Sun wasn't lingered on a bit more - Cultivation was introduced, and then he learned the basic concepts very quickly. I think the author could have lingered on and expanded upon his initial training somewhat. 

There are some grammar mistakes here and there; nothing ridiculously huge or so consistent it becomes distracting.

I can see potential in the story. A brash, simplistic peasant with a touch of avarice works his way up from the bottom, meets a somewhat spoiled princess with fantastic magical powers, and their personalities clash. However, I'd say what the author needs to do is slow down at some points - describe environments more clearly, people's characteristics more clearly, linger a while more on his training, etc, give the MC and the love interest room for more conversation and "getting to know each other" time. I like the idea of the MC growing and maybe having a bit of an unhealthily greedy side, and I think probably the biggest hook for me is wondering how romance might work between these two with obviously very strong, clashing personalities.


The Courting of Life and Death

A dark fairytale from the POV of the upper-crust

Note: I read up to chapter 2.6 for this review - it might say I went further, but 2.6 is what I've read in total. I will try to keep the review spoiler free, but I might spill some information here or there. 

Style: 

A very enchanted, but dark, courtly romance. Lots of dialogue and view into the inner thoughts of characters. The author seems to have a very well thought-out magic system that really impacts the cultures of the kingdoms we get a view into. One shortcoming, I thought, was that sometimes too little attention is paid to environmental descriptions - more words could be dedicated to describing a character, or a room, or the physical attributes of a scene - but that may be my own bias. 

Story:

So far, a lot of ink is spilled giving an idea of how magic works here (in a very natural way, never forced). Much of the plot focuses on the development of the romance between a pair of nobility, political interactions between related nobility, and a little dash of political or magical intrigue at times. But it's all very courtly - it definitely doesn't contain much of what you  might consider 'action' in a typical fantasy sense (much of the beginning has vital characters bedridden with illness, in fact). That's not a criticism, I really like the atmosphere personally - just letting you know what you're in for. 

Grammar: No notes here; never noticed a mistake. 

Characters:

It has taken me a while to get attached to the characters; to be honest, by this point I'm still much more intrigued by the setting than the characters in it. Not that they aren't well-characterized, or that they're poorly written, it's just that - and this was probably inevitable in a story about proper nobility - they come across as stuffy to me. (I'd probably enjoy reading about the fairy nobility much more, from what we've seen of them so far.) Elizabeth has grown on me a bit because underneath it all it seems she has a bit of a tricky, wild side to her, Pierre, not so much. But it's all well-written and well-characterized.

Overall:

-Well thought-out, unique magical system with lots of well-explored lore (that is explored naturally, and not through lore dumps for the most part)

-A very well-written courtly atmosphere, with lots of attention paid to titles and customs

-Definitely not your typical fantasy novel

Definitely one of the better novels on RR, I absolutely recommend it - I can't guarantee it will be your cup of tea, but the author has a well-crafted, darkly enchanting vision that they express very well. 


Soldier First

A tightly-written science-fiction mystery

Some pre-review notes: I really do not understand why this fiction currently has 14 ratings, but an average of 2 stars. To me this is very well-crafted fiction; I can only assume some people have review-bombed it?

I'll also try to make this as spoiler-free as possible, but beware I might drop some information here and there.

Style score:

Extremely well-written and well-paced. My only reservations come from my own lack of knowledge; the author goes into a lot of detail about subjects ranging from british military operations to boxing, things I have little experience with myself - so I can't tell if he's doing a good job with them. But at least to the untrained eye, he writes confidently enough that it sure seems he has first-hand experience with the subject matter, or he's done a lot of research. 

Story score:

A science-fiction mystery that reminds me at times of Crichton's work, though with more of a focus on the mystery and investigation than on the science-fiction ramifications of the new technology, at least for now. In my own personal preferences, the way the investigation procedes is paced out very well, with a little bit of new information learned each chapter - though again that's personal preference, maybe RR readers might think it's going too slow? It's still early in the story as far as I can tell, but there's a lot of mystery - about what exactly happened to the MC that led him here, to what exactly his target is up to, to who exactly he's working for, to what the ramifications of the new technology will be, that really helps to hook a reader in and keep him wondering what the long-term answers will be - even if new hints about some of these questions come very rarely.

Grammar score:

Perfect, as far as I can tell, though be warned my own eyes tend to gloss over some grammar mistakes. 

Character score: 

We really get most of our characterization about the MC; thus far all the other characters have taken part in maybe one or two conversations, and while they're handled well and we can make some inferences about their personality based on the description of them and what we've seen, I hope that sometime soon we start to see more characters playing a larger recurring role in the story so we can see a bit more of what drives them. The MC himself for the most part is stoic, smart, and professional, and with some hints early on of internal conflict and dissatisfaction with his life - but right now IMO his characterization kind of fades into the background of the more intriguing story. I think we'll probably get around to seeing more of his deeper emotional motivations at some point. But he doesn't jump out to me as more than a well-written, competent, hard-boiled investigator with a bit of a good guy streak so far. Perfectly good for the story, but I sort of hope at some point he gets someone to interact with on a more long-term basis that can reveal a bit more of his personality.

Overall:

In terms of RR fiction I've read this is very very good. I understand new updates come out every friday, which might seem a "slow" update schedule here (though that seems insane to me personally). Admittedly I'm not very familiar with the LitRPG genre (and to be perfectly honest, I don't think I'd normally like it very much) but it seems well-integrated into the actual story here - what particularly helps is that the MC openly wonders just how nonsense all these 'stats' are and whether the system is lying to him. Even if you prefer faster updates - it's worth bookmarking this fiction so you can remind yourself in a month or so when a bigger chunk of updates are out.

 

Some notes for the author about things that popped out at me a bit, especially during the early chapters:

Chapter 1:

-It was a little confusing when you switched from referring to the monitors as G11 and V41, to the MEN in the monitors as G11 and V41. 

-I think the first introduction when Shakespeare handed Butcher off to Ball could have used some more detail. 

Chapter 2:

-Maybe this is just a writing difference between the UK and the US, I don't know - but underlining a word to emphasize it, as opposed to italicizing it, seems less professional, and the writing here is clear and well-paced enough that it actually stood out when I saw it - I wouldn't have noted it if I didn't think "professional" was something you were aiming for. 

Chapter 3:

-I know this is a small thing, but it just popped out at me - describing someone as looking anywhere from "55 to 85" just gave me a "really?" moment. At least in my experience, in their 80s, people really start to deteriorate, even if they're healthy. 55 to 75, I could buy. Again just a small thing, but this is just stuff that popped out to me as I was reading. 

 


This Strange New Life

Unique perspective in a magitech setting

Note: Reviewed at Chapter 10. (I don't know what chapter this review will SAY it was reviewed at, because I opened up a separate window to make notes as I read, but that's what I read up to for this review.)

Also, review contains SPOILERS!

Story:

It's definitely an interesting idea, a war vet and some powerful mage-tech combo who grows up in a new body, and actually focusing on how they grow and experience the new body. I will say though, at the beginning, I felt kind of lost - there seemed to be a lot of references to the enemy of the previous war, and general state of the technology/magic of the world, that it kind of left me feeling like I was reading a sequel; a sequel to a book that I really should have read before this one. I think maybe a better approach would have been to have the MC's memories more dim/fuzzy at the beginning, so you could more slowly introduce the background concepts of the world? I think I get that you're aiming more at a slice of life mixed with dramatic elements/high fantasy, but the slice of life is much easier to absorb than the high fantasy/high tech elements you introduce - so maybe they could be introduced a bit slower, especially right at the beginning.

Though one thing that really drew me in, especially in the beginning, was the description of the biological modifications being made to the mother's body, which made me wonder whether the author themselves is some sort of biologist. I think everyone is familiar with the idea of transhumanism, but for me at least what makes it really interesting is when people get into the details of specific improvements or changes they would make, and how exactly (or, you know, not exactly, but to *some* level of detail) they would be done.

So it's difficult; I like the high fantasy/high tech stuff when it's talked about, but in the first few chapters in particular many times it felt jarring or confusing the way they were introduced.  

Style:

It said in the summary that it was very dialogue-heavy, and it is. However, I think maybe this hurts it a bit. It would have been interesting to get an idea of how  what is, basically, an adult mind, perceives the world through an infant's body. I also found myself, especially during the earlier chapters, getting confused sometimes about who was talking - extended periods of dialogue, with multiple characters speaking, and no indication as to who was speaking other than different text styles for different characters tripped me up a bit. 

The author occasionally - not all the time but occasionally - seems to have the characters speaking as if they're in a manga/anime, or using emoticons in text, which personally isn't my thing, but I didn't deduct points for that. 

Grammar: Some mixups here and there - particularly when transitioning from speech to descriptive text - but nothing crazy for something being written for fun, nothing that hampered my understanding of what I was reading. 

Character:

The MC seems to be a reincarnation of some kind of extremely powerful magitech engineer, with a domineering, kind of hedonistic personality and an assistant AI (I'm still a little unclear on exactly how the AI is communicating with her, is it running inside her own brain? Communicating by satellite? Is it incorporeal? Maybe I missed it, or forgot it as I was reading) that they treat a bit like their own child. 

To be honest, I was often distracted from the MC's characterization, just because, well truthfully, I don't find her all that likable, at least so far. Well, that's not quite true. Let me put it this way. I'm in engineering, and the MC reminds me a lot of the attitude of a lot of my friends - kind of jerks, arrogant, dismissive of limitations, perhaps a bit overconfident of what they can achieve - and I think this intentional, and these can even be good characters - HOWEVER, I don't know how well it works for a character we're having inner monologues about that's supposed to be having fuzzy feelings for their family. I think I'd like seeing her more in her previous setting - in the middle of some high magitech war - than I like seeing her in this one. 

Also, I realize this is hard for an AI assistant, but I think they could stand to b e fleshed out a bit more - they are one of the more important characters, but so far they seem a bit flat other than considering Elayna their mom and being a bit more cautious. I say it's hard because to flesh them out I think they'd need to be able to interact with other people BESIDES Elayna, but that seems, at least by the rules of the story, impossible. 

Overall: The author goes out of their way to emphasize the slice-of-life elements of their story. However, I actually think this is one of the weaker parts of the story - far more interesting is their ability at giving details about the specifics of high tech/high magic spells, and the world system of magic they build, and the mystery of how exactly the world came to be as it is. In a way, you could consider it a post-apocalyptic high fantasy/high magic setting where the big story is exactly what happened to the world - but told through a very unique perspective and with heavy transhumanist elements. If you can get past a bit of a confusing beginning I think it's worth the read.