OstensibleMammal

OstensibleMammal

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Reviews
Cyber Dreams [LitRPG & Progression Cyberpunk]

If you came for some classic cyberpunk meets character progression action, you're in the right place. 

Style: Pretty fantastic overall. You won't get the full Gibson treatment here in terms of prose, but frankly that's not really a detriment. The author's style serves the story quite well and the flow works pretty good. The prose and the protrayal of the world and characters really draws you in. 

Grammar: Didn't encounter any glaring errors, and nothing impeded my enjoyment of the work.

Story: So, there are some parallels between this work and lot of cyberpunk pieces, but they're really, really good parallels. The development of the character, the litrpg elements, the progression all come together very neatly with the story in a way that is immensely satisfying to see unfold. The narrative and the way she's pulled into the conflict is very smooth as well, lacking any jarring "it had to happen" moments I often find in other stories.

Character: I really like the characters. Probably my favorite thing about the series. Juliet is a full person. She's not introduced like some figure from mythology, and is very much not larger than life. She greets the reader suffering human issues and worries--people in her life getting sick or running into mundane hardships, friends failing her in her time of need, considering the dangers of walking down darkened streets. That kind of stuff. However, when she gets pulled into the events of the story and starts to grow, she also faces issues as a full realized person would. You can really lose yourself in her conversations with other characters with how real they feel.

Overall, read this. Cyberpunk fan or not, there's a some character work here that's definitely worth your time.


The Dungeon Plague

The Dungeon Plague is a story that gets down to what it wants to do fair quickly: explore the paths and grant MC an expanding web of skills. Immediately, you get put into their shoes and made to understand their background. What follows quickly is the main events and encounters the character faces being set up.


This story does not waste time: by chapter two you should know if you will be interested or uninterested in its continuation.


Style: The biggest problem I have with the story. It has quite a bit of bloat in places where the words can be more economical and convey the same amount of information. Additionally, the prose has a bit of raw delivery, with some information outright stated as pure information rather than delivered through interactive processes. This, however, isn't a major issue for the author still keeps the process flowing. Things are always happening, chapter to chapter, moment to moment.


Grammar: Some editing might be required for minor mistakes and to smooth out the sentences, but overall, not so egregious. 


Story: The Dungeon Plague, in a sense, reminds you of a mysterious roguelike--you never know what you might get next. If you really like LITRPGs and characters developing new and branching powers instead of just grinding for a single power for a longer period of time. If dungeon-delving is your thing, give this a try.


Character: Thomas is not an overly complicated character, but he is an established one. There isn't a whole lot of life routine text setting up his day-to-day before he gets hit by a truck. He has, however, suffered things in his past and starts at a reasonably low point in terms of self-confidence before embarking on the story. From here, he serves as a reasonably good vehicle for readers to view the grander design of the Paths.


Overall, if you like roguelikes and exploring dungeons to claim power, try this out.


The Man Who Taught The Machine

Standard LITRPG from an internal perspective

Style: I'm overall fine with the style. The prose is workable and doesn't get you lost at all, but sometimes it comes in chunks and might feel like its offering you a bit more exposition than what is needed. Overall, acceptable, just not spectacular.

Grammar: Not so many issues. Didn't catch that many mispellings or grammatical issues at all.

Story: So, you can understand me calling this story "not that unique" in two ways. The first is that its boring--which it really isn't. The second is that you can expect many genre staples at play here, but they're also happening from the perspective of a character with a deeper knowledge and relationship with the system due to their focus and profession. The dialogue can definitely use some enhancements in places in my opinion, but frankly, it doesn't feel bad either. Just generic at times. 

Character: Shane is at once someone who's probably more geared to dive into a LITRPG environment but also more suspectible to it in certain ways. He knows the system due to his focus and being part of its development. His revivals and how he interacts with the world is kind of simplistic at times and could use more voice, but so far he hasn't done anything too strange or mind-boggling to accept. Not an overly complex character, but also not someone who's just supposed to be a vessel to gawk at the setting or exposition.


The Undying Emperor [Grand Conquest Fantasy]

What can I say, the prose and imagery drew me in at from the first moment. Expect something in the style of more classical fantasy here, of a character that really needs to rely on their techniques and wits rather than brute force. 

When you come to read The Undying Emperor, you need to understand that the story is just that: about a guy ascending to become emperor. There is some magic here of course, but don't expect massive god killing explosions every three fight scenes or for the character to engage in spur of the moment dungeon crawls, this is a very purposeful story with a very specific direction it is developing toward.

Style: The opening gave me a mix of old Conan novel vibes along with some First Law moments. This is a harsh world, thought not absurdly miserable. Life is hard and people are jocking for power. The expansion of the worldbuilding is done gradually and skillfully--by this I mean the exposition is not served to you raw. Enjoy it. Watch the narrative, character, and setting components walk step by step next to each other.

Just go in a look at the first lines written. It's good.

Grammar: The author does good work at keeping their words clean and prose sharp. Minimal mistakes most times.

Story: I don't want to reveal too much of the story, but let's just say I quite like ascension to rule stories and that the orchestration of certain individuals towards this end is quite satisfying. 

Character: Lucius makes for an interesting protagonist especially with what they do with him through the 0-xxx arc before even Act 1 begins, but my eye is primarily on the Wizard. That old craft git is up to something and every move he makes and step they makes me wonder what they're going to try to pull next.

Overall, read this. It is very well written and demonstrates a professional quality of work that is rarely seen. Now, if you'll excuse me I'm going to keep reading through this while music from the Hyborian Age plays.


An Oaths End

An Oaths End has elements of history and lore to it that are only just expanding. Don't go in expecting to understand everything right away as there are elements of mystery as well. Right now, the story is trying to deliver several expanding revelations while also balancing that with bouts of action.

Style: I'd like some more description or imagery to the author's design at times, but subjective preference aside, the story is served by its mystery and the confusion it instills in the characters. The worldbuilding is also expanding and developing at pace, so stay tuned.

Story: Right now, we're faced with the tip of the iceberg. The main character fundamentally is about as clueless as most of the readers, but they are drawn into history far greater than they realized and are basically running up against several factions and likely even more hidden players. I recommend this if you want some intrigue in your fantasy.

Grammar: Nothing too major. It won't affect your reading experience unless you look extremely deeply.

Characters: A bit more mixed for me. Right now, the characters have some depth that goes beyond the archetypical, but I would like to see a greater variety of choices being made. The main character's uncle is somewhat of a standout thus far.

Overall, keep an eye on this one. Still ongoing, but there's potential for it to blossom.


The Short Stories of Argras

More mythological at times than fantastical

If you've come here to read about people gritting their teeth and growing stronger or special individuals who are chosen, turn back. The contents here are closer to Black Company mixed with old mythological epics rather than standard genre or LITRPG fantasy design.

However, if you're interested in seeing something much more original from a perspective that is often neglected (a genuine grunt in the military), stick around.

Style: My biggest peeve with the story overall. The paragraphing is weird in places and how the narrative is structured is at times a bit disorienting due to jumps in details. However, even at its worst, the content is very, very interesting. Some of the dialogue is weird at times, but ultimately, the soldiers sound like soldiers instead of caricatures and stereotypes. It also doesn't hold your hand, so don't expect raw exposition to guide you through.

Grammar: Not too bad. Some editing and cleaning up might be required but it shouldn't impede enjoyment.

Story: There are various short stories here. The bulk of what I went through has to do with the invasion and centers around Leind and other soldiers during the campaign. Interesting trials and tribulations face them as the narrative unfolds, but rarely does a single character hold all the attention. As stated, a lot of perspective characters are grunts and how they view things and what they grow through is much more varied than standard genre fare.

Characters: Read through the story. The interplay between characters is something the author is very good at. They're also colored by perception between characters, so the characters who are powerful feel even moreso from the eyes of someone who is subordinate.

Overall, I strongly recommend looking through these short stories as they are a rarity on this site and evoked similar feelings to Black Company mixed with the Odyssey at times. 


Nine Steps To Godhood - An Epic Progression Fantasy

Overall, the standard story of an underdog of some kind getting power and facing challenges is pretty common. There are aspects of that here with Jin, but so far, the characters are designed with more blended characteristics.

The driving factor that's interesting with him is the nature of his power is a good point of character, narrative, and setting conflict due to how his own interpersonal system works and who his patron is in comparison to how his peers function. Despite not liking some of the textual structure and noticing a few stylistic and language-related issues, the promise of the conflict being rooted in character development keeps me interested.

Style: A very mixed bag for me. Do not be confused, however: the author's prose is not abysmal. Not even close if we are to apply this across the spectrum. Indeed, some parts are quite evocative. There is high potential displayed here as well. Unfortunately, it is also mixed in with some weird formatting in certain places (larger issues in earlier chapters) and other editing-related errors. Their ability to channel dialogue through characters is good for some but very jarring for others. Overall, some parts still need tweaking and smoothing out, but the central core of each character isn't overly obfuscated by these problems.

Grammar: Some problems here. It could do with some more editing and cleaning mostly. There are awkward bits of language as well, but a far lesser issue, and their moments of flourish counter this quite well.

Story: What I find most interesting. Jin has any number of paths they can develop. This is tied with their patron, who is weaving a web of her own design, and also places them in conflict with some powers that be in the setting. It also helps to expand on some parts of the exposition through a more interesting technique: correcting mistaken assumptions about family and personal history. 
So far, the setting is being fleshed out chapter by chapter and as the narrative develops, it will be interesting to peer into the grander mechanisms of how everything came to be and what might be happening next.

Character: The other characters also provide counterplay and expansions to the narrative through their actions. They provide contrasts to Jin and even seem to hint at and offer him different perspectives on varying situations. 
So far, their design is not overly gritty but not so soft either. Don't come expecting anything too grimdark, but it's definitely not a slice of life either.

So far, I would recommend this piece despite the rough patches I've hit because of the sheer conflict potential layered over the character. The development of their abilities, personality, relationships, and future are all tied together with their patron in ways not yet fully realized...


I Slipped And Fell Into Hell! (A progression fantasy LITRPG)

Zeus is really kind of a git.

After an unfortuante transgression committed by a drunk, but ultimately well-meaning Ben, he finds himself trapped in what is essential a hellish domain where power rules and stats don't mean what he thinks it means.

Style: Out of everything, I like the style the least. Main issue is mostly with the formatting as without some differentiation, sometimes the skills, thoughts, and non-standard prose bleed over into each other. In terms of the prose itself, it's alright. The language is not overly verbose as to become a chore to read nor its a lyrical masterpiece. What it does do usually is present the details in a easily digestable way. There is a bit of raw exposition especially when it comes to the magic system and the setting behind hell, but I find that it's not that hard to get through since the chapters are not overly long. It also does decently to support the story.

Story: Pretty early on, but the concept is interesting: poor, decent guy ends up stabbing Zeus after catching the god attempting to commit degeneracy and ends up being sent to hell for it. The idea behind it is amusing but also does two very useful things: it gives the reader sympathy for Ben because he's undeserving of this; it gives Ben very clear motivation to try to develop and survive. Better than him being dropped somewhere and left directionless.

There are a great many directions the writer can expand Ben's story from here. It will be interesting to see how things go.

Grammar: Not too bad. Probably needs some cleaning up with an editor, but overall, it doesn't detract too much unless you really, really tear into the grammar (but in doing that, you'd likely be obliged to massacre a good deal of other written works). Can be improved but won't annoy you with incomprehension.

Character: Characters are a mixed bag mainly because we haven't had enough meat sample yet. Ben himself isn't a overly complex guy. A few things are clear though. He is decent. He's not a coward--though definitely not immune to being terrified, he will try to do the right thing even if there is a cost. What probably helps the reader attach to him is a mixture of fish-out-of-water vulnerability and Ben not being overly passive.

What is established for him is that there are certain things in his capacity to affect (his choices; trying to stop what he deems to be immoral; how her perceives this world.) and what is beyond it (the metaphysics of the setting; the power of other characters; his present weakness). The best way I can call him now is simple, well-meaning, brave, and vulnerable.

He really didn't ask for this.

There are a few other characters introduced but there's not much detail about them yet. There is a very expository character placed early on that I think could've been streamlined a bit. The most recently introduced characters are a mix as well, showing that not everyone trapped in this hell is the same. Some are there for a reason. Some aren't. Ben gets to deal with both kinds of people.

Overall, this isn't a complex and arduous read, but provides enough conflict, growth potential, and failure for Ben that there's some potential for development here. 


Battle Damsels Vol 2: When Damsels Fight Back [LITRPG][No Harem]

Style: Despite my rating, I don't think this will affect the reading of most readers. My main concern regarding style is main to regards to the key focus of each paragraph. There is a bit of bleedover between some lines and they could be better sorted. Additionally, the style of the prose is entirely workable and enjoyable. I personally don't enjoy it that much but that's mainly due to my diet of reading very stylistically heavy pieces of fiction. Overall, totally functional with room to improve.

Story: I have some mixed feelings about the story. There are aspects of this VRMMO that I very much enjoy. The character's profession and how they perceive things blend very well with the setting. The core focus is primarily the struggle between the powers that be and the main character as they navigate the realities of their new existence within the game. This in of itself is pretty fun at moments, but sometimes it deliberate avoids what could be moments of fun tension for the reader. That being said, I would not call this terrible in any fasion or even medicore as it fulfills many of the major critera of a functional story even early on (i.e. inciting incident, hook, situation, new difficulties, overarching danger to character, etc.). My primary gripes are that the elements and conflict not being wielded to the utmost potential in my opinion. But this might lead in to the flaws I find in some of the characters more than just raw story design itself.

 

Grammar: Not too bad overall. Some minor adjustments might be needed along with deep editing, but this isn't indicative of any severe quality issues. Overall, the reading experience was smooth and the issues encountered were not glaring in any capacity.

Character: Despite my score, I quite like the foundations of the main character. They have a good backstory relating to the setting, a job that fits the setting, and have very good assymetrical tension potential with the antagonists. What I mean by assymetrical is that, despite being quite powerful in-game, they are also kind of lost by the sheer chaos that has swept them along. Combine this with the corporation being able to affect them from various angles they have a hard time defending against, and we have the stage for a interesting situation where both sides have environments they can thrive in while facing each other. However, my main gripe here is with the antagonists as they could make matters a lot more personal with the main character early on. Ray is, from a point of view, far more valuable to them captured and used as market property. The villains, however, have more limited depth compared to him and do some pretty stock-corrupt or stock-evil decisions at times. It's not extreme enough to be story-breaking though. The villains have their own motivations, wants, and desires but in this there is also a unbalance of interest. Compare a character like Holt against Goldman one seems far more cartoonish than the other, causing a bit of tonal fray at times. There's also emergence of other characters that are primary there to help guide the MC. It's not a bad thing, but the MC does feel a little passive on initiative at times and the plot moves them a lot. That's probably more a subjective compliant for certain readers. For some others, it might seem more interesting.

Overall: Not too bad. The pace could be adjusted in parts along with the tension but so far its maintaining its course. There isn't anything overly egregious in my opinion (severe tonal disjointedness or incomprehensible plots and the such) and I think people who like reading VRMMOs can find some levity and laughter in the pages. Action lovers might not like it too much as its not very high on the combat tension. Ultimately, I'd recommend readers give it a try.