Max Lake Enix
Reading The Partisan Chronicles as a writer is both joyous and humbling. It's joyous because as a book it is essentially perfect: every sentence is meticulously honed to within a micrometer of clarity; every character (and every characer's voice) is as rich and robust (sometimes even MORE rich and robust) than some actually IRL humans I know; every plot twist is both shocking and deserved; every aspect of its world-building so keenly thought out and expertly delivered that reading it is indistinguishable from being there. It's humbling for the same reasons, and because encountering talent, passion and commitment on this level is a reminder of what is possible and a call to strive to do better. This is all to say that The Partisan Chronicles is an inspiration that flexes at the modest Royal Road platform and could easily (I mean EASILY) sit happily on a shelf with the best contemporary fantasy in the traditional publishing market.
And that's not even the best of it. The story is sweeping and intimate at the same time, finding epicness and grandeur in the quiet, personal details of its characters. It doesn't need to wave its arms and shout about high stakes and big narrative arcs; rather, it displays these high stakes and illustrates these big narrative arcs through keen, delicate, and often outrageously funny moments as its characters deal with the psychological and emotional twists and turns that befall them. It is confident and commited to its approach. And the payoff is that you will feel the outcomes rather than simply read about them. It is sensory and experiential. The author will put you there.
STYLE: Stylistically, the story employs dual narrators in Rhian and Andrei, cutting back and forth between the two of them for (more or less) equal page time. Each has a clear, distinct voice and her and his own sets of preoccupations, idiosyncracies and myopias. What results is a fascinating interchange of perspective and engagement with "truth," since sometimes they will interpret facts differently than one another, or remember different facts outright. Without getting too much into literary theory, there is a fascinating side effect of these sparring narrators where, in the transition between them (clicking from one chapter to the next) a kind of third voice emerges that belongs to neither and yet both Rhian and Andrei, a voice that is silent yet teeming with the objective truth, the one that neither character is capable of perceiving. This third narrative voice is fascinating to me, and the further I read the more distinct it becomes. I do not think it is an accident.
STORY: At its heart, TPC is a mystery novel, though this is a bit reductionist and does not fully capture the sprawling nature of the tale. There is fantasy and legend and lore, elements of horror and romance, interpersonal intrigue and politcal conflict. It also has a great deal of clever wordplay and smart humor (particularly from Rhian, though Andrei has his moments, too.) It has everything you want in an epic novel, and by that I mean it has everything. It moves at a good clip, and even when it's taking its time, there isn't a moment of tedium because each sentence is so enthralling. There's also an abundance of cliffhangers, so make sure you grease your clicking finger.
GRAMMAR: It's just crazy. Not only is it perfectly grammatically sound (it reads as if its been professionally edited by a Big 5 staff editor) but it goes a step further and maintains consistency of voice in the grammar of each narrator character AS WELL as the supporting speaking cast of characters. And beyond all that, the language is just flabberghsatingly gorgeous. I have a list beside my computer of some of my favorite sentences. I don't know what I'm going to do with them, but it will probably involve taping them to my wall for motivation.
CHARACTERS: I covered this mostly above: see STYLE. Rhian is so engaging and her voice is so clever and sardonic and at the same time she conveys such a deep empathy despite her edge... She's one of my new favorite characters in fiction. Andrei's anxiety and anhedonia is not just well expressed but also deeply familiar; I think I see myself in him or want to, and the solidarity is conforting but also troubling. And then there are literally (or at least it feels like) HUNDREDS of other fleshed out, engaging, fully-formed characters inhabiting these pages, all with their own wants and needs and agendas and blind spots and strengths and weaknesses. I'm looking at you, Gus. The whole thing is such a feat.
Again: Joyous and humbling. If you want to experience the absolute highest quality writing and most engaging storytelling you will find on Royal Road, it's right here. But get it while it's good, because I have a sneaking suspicion that the book finds another home some day in the not too distant future, probably on a shelf.
I'm about to make a weird comp to this story.
Shaun of the Dead. You've probably heard of it. Maybe you've seen it. It's a horror/comedy satire film satirizing the very popular zombie genre. It pokes fun at the tropes that recur in those films by scrutinizing and exagerating them, deconstructing the cliches and resonstructing the format. But the thing about Shaun of the Dead is that its filmmakers were so deeply infatuated with zombie movies, and so unflinchingly commited to satirizing the movies they loved, that it ended up transcending its own satire and ultimately broke the very genre it was satirizing. It's now regarded as a standard of comedic story telling and a staple in the zombie genre.
That One Isekai is a love letter to the isekai genre whose satire transcends satire and ultimately becomes more. Its author displays a staggering understanding of isekai tropes, and inverts and deconstructs them (with humor at the forefront) in such an impressive way. Reading this story, for me, is like having someone open up the hood of a car I've been driving for years and point out to me what all the components do to make it work, leaving me not only with a fuller understanding of the vehicle, but also revealing additional features I didn't even know were there.
I've seen some other reviewers accuse (lovingly) the story of being a long shitpost. It is, in a sense. But the commitment to the story, and the attention to the small details of the world (even if they're poked fun at) clears the story of any laziness typically associated with shitposting. The author is working hard on this. He's working hard to be funny (it is funny), working hard to write well (grammar is great, didn't notice a typo), and working hard to tell a story that plays with and rearranges a genre he obviously cares about deeply. The hard work shows.
Not everyone's going to love the self awareness. People read to get lost, and That One Isekai resists that indulgence. It will remind you every step of the way that you're reading a story, and that you're reading in a particular genre with a lot of caked in tropes. It might even make you self-conscious as a reader for not recognizing those tropes sooner. But for those who love meta storytelling, post-post-modern self-awareness, satire, and, most of all, isekai, this story might well jump to the top of your list.
If you're reading the title of this story, looking at the cover art, and thinking to yourself: "I love anime and isekai and this sounds like a funny, entertaining story I might enjoy, but what if the rumors are true and it pivots into some kind of existential horror story after chapter 9?" then put your worries to rest. This story is exactly as advertised.
I understand what readers are saying about that, and I'm not sure if the author made structural changes before I read it, but for me, any narrative transition around chapter 10 is subtle at most and actually a welcome development at best. I never felt misled or baited and switched; the story has a natural progression and it is going in the direction it needs to go in.
Style: There are some redundancies (i.e.: "...pondered thoughtfully") and occassionally some information feels like it appears on the page in the wrong spot (should be part of an above or below paragraph), but the pacing is good and the formatting is delivered in little bites that allow for easy scrolling. There are images included in (almost) every chapter, and overall the experience is enjoyable.
Story: The story is that the MC wakes up as an Anime girl named Alice in an anime world with all the tropes and trappings that you would expect to find there. The author does a good job really pushing this line of thought to its extremes, leading to some genuinely funny moments. It's a great premise with a ton of possibility.
Grammar: The grammar is fine. Some sentences, while not grammatically "incorrect," could use a once over for clarity; there's a better and simpler way to say certain things.
Character: I took the most issue with the MC's development, or lack thereof. After the first few chapters, the novelty of the MC having woken up in an anime body wears off, and we're left wanting something else to fill up the character's internal conflicts. But nothing really manifests. There are external conflicts (with other characters--namely Lori--and with obstacles that arise) but not really any interior conflicts for Alice to work through. This leaves the character feeling somewhat two-dimensional, which, if I didn't know better, I might think is a deconstructionist commentary on the two-dimensionality of cartoon characters, but also which, if it is, there's not enough evidence of to be convincing.
Reviewed on Chapter 5 - Not That Easy
There are couple things about this story that bring it right up to the top for me. The first is characerization: Our protagonists are dynamic, smart, likeable, and most importantly, they have conflict brewing bewtween them that is both separate from and interrelated to the LitRPG elements of the story. The next excellent quality is the immersion. This is accomplished through sharp dialogue, detailed description, and silky smooth action sequences. It's a joy to read, and I found myself plummeting down the page and clicking NEXT before I even realized what I was doing. I stopped to write this review, but will continue reading immediately after.
Style: The only reason this isn't getting a full five stars is because blue boxes hurt my eyes. I'll take bold text or whatever any day of the week, but the blue is killer.
Story: So far the story is great. The first chapter sets up our characters nicely, planting a few seeds for future interpersonal conflict. There's excitement even before the system is introduced, but once it is, nothing about the prior excitement is dilluted. Rather it compounds. We get some truly harrowing action sequences early on, with the promise of more to come.
Grammar: Pretty much perfect. I'm so conditioned to encountering rough grammar on RR that when I find stories well-written, it's a delight.
Character: I pretty much said it al above. What's especially refreshing is that the character are smart. It's a simple plot device to write dumb characters who take forever to figure things out; this eases the expansion of conflict and makes it easier for the author to raise the stakes. But in this case, the author has taken no shortcuts. It's clear that our characters are going to make good decisions, which will, presumably, lead to more complex challenges. Also mentioned above, the subtle but present interpersonal conflict is brewing right from the get go, and I'm very curious to see how it all plays out.
Hope this story gets some more attention. It's definitely a stand-out.
I suspect this story is a perfect 5-stars across the board for the people for whom it's written. Those people are A) fans of erotic vampire fiction and B) fans of the 90s pop duo Savage Garden. For them, this is probably the best piece of writing that's ever been written.
I don't seek out a ton of vampire stories. I'm also old enough to have forgotten who Savage Garden are; I went to their Spotify page while reading this, listened to their big smash hit (which came out when I was 6), and was instantly transported back to the 90s. That song was part of the zeitgeist. But I had no relationship to them or their music, so a big part of the driving attraction of the story is lost on me. That's the story's major failure (not for the story itself, which, as I said, I suspect is perfect for the people who need it, but for me as a reader); if you don't care one way or the other about Savage Garden, then it's hard to get into.
That said, there's no questions it's a great piece of writing, written passionately about subjects the author is clearly invested in, and the story move along nicely.
Style: The style is somewhat baroque. I personally enjoy this, but I can imagine it might be off-putting to some readers. Chapter 1 starts with a bit of a lengthy verse, which, again, will turn some people away. Then it jumps into the 2nd person, which is a risky move that the author utimately handles well. On the sentence level, the style is good; the sentences flow nicely if not a bit theatrically, and the language is visual and rich.
Story: The story moves. At risk of sounding redundant, a lot of the story is concerned with parsing the imagined intricacies of the relationship between the two members of Svage Garden, so if you aren't particularly interested in that dynamic, it might drag. But in general, when story pulls away into action, it's fun.
Grammar: The grammar is essentially airtight. The author knows how to write.
Character: I've pretty much explained this already. A major expected investment in the characters is on an assumption of some previous relationship to the band. Without this, they feel a little flat. There might be a way to add certain more poignant qualities to the characters for the layman reader to invest in, so that people coming to the story without a preexisting commitment to them can find a foothold.
Overall it's a very well-written story with excellent, imaginative details and full-throated investment in its subjects. When the right people find this one, it's going to be a hit.