The First Rule: The Blind Age – Book One by Steven William Hannah

5/5 Stars – One of the most enjoyable and thrilling dark fantasy stories I have ever read. EDIT – *The Most!

Wow – where to start? I mean I had no expectations. Just a hope really that this book by Indie author Steven William Hannah (SWH) would at least be fun. The premise of the story sounded intriguing but sometimes with a book the best work of fiction is the blurb (oops, did I write that out loud?). Not so here, I mean I was hooked from the first page until the last and boy was it a great read. Have you ever had a book that you so wanted to reach the end to find out what happens but at the same time, don’t want it to end? That is The First Rule. (Actually, that is not the First Rule, you’ll have to read the book to find that out).

The story centres around a newly minted priestess (of the Mind’s Eye – a god of knowledge and secrets) called Venalia who returns to her childhood home to conduct the funeral rites for her adoptive father and village priest, Marius. Venalia had hoped to talk to Marius about her future before his untimely death. To seek guidance on which path she should take. Now it is too late and she is unsure, the only thing she knows is that the village on the edge of the Steppes is not where she wants to be. For she does not belong in Lantry, it holds painful memories and the villagers don’t want her either. She is an outsider no matter if she grew up among them and some want her gone, something she is more than happy to oblige them with. But something has happened in the Darkwood, deep in the forest and beneath the earth, where a portal to the inverted world has been found and something sinister and malign lurks within, hungry for souls and now the way is open it has come out to find them.

That is just the start of a wonderfully written, deftly plotted tale that kept me up late turning the pages. It is full of dark mystery and intrigue and the way it is written was very engaging, almost artistic I felt at times. The story contains so much, certain death, redemption (who doesn’t like a redemption story?), hidden secrets, more than one mystery to uncover and oh did I mention certain death? The story is dark, the evil that is coming insidious, the world inhabited truly terrifying with Scarlings in the Darkwood and worse horrors in the Inverted World. The world-building is truly unique and subtle and full of depth.

Interestingly, for a dark fantasy with strong elements of horror to it, this book is in my view suitable for YA as well as adult readers. It is gruesome but not morbidly so, not gratuitously wanton for the sake of it but compelling and descriptive to convey what SWH must. In fact, there is a lot to like outside of those elements, growth, bonds of friendship, redemption, self-worth, broken characters, people learning not who they think they are but who they can be. It really is a smorgasbord of delight….and horror…..and certain death….but I mentioned that already…twice.  

This is book one in the Blind Age series but the story is fully self-contained, no cliffhanger waiting for the next book although I will without a doubt be picking up the next as soon as it is out. Now I have another wonderful new author to follow, what an end to 2022 and start to 2023. Some truly stunning creative talents I have stumbled upon. If this all sounds wonderful then honestly, you should give this book a read. SWH is a talent.

Pax Machina (Mechhaven Book 1) by Greg Sorber

3.5/ 5 Stars (YA & MG) Mechs and Humans abound in this Sci-Fi adventure

I found this a light read and at its heart quite fun. Whilst it can be enjoyed by all readers I felt it was more suited to an MG or YA audience, at least my fourteen-year-old self would have enjoyed it far more I think than adult me. The science is basic and mostly glossed over if it is explained at all but that is alright, it is not about the science, made-up or otherwise, but the story and setting. Besides, not everyone wants to have their mind blown by pages and pages of scientific explanation on ‘quantum pulse engines’.

It is set far in the future long after humankind has exploited earth’s resources, forcing them out into the big wide galaxy to explore new worlds to meet their ever-expanding needs. Our adventure starts long after space travel has been mastered and where for the most part humanity has devolved into four main groups, the Imperium based on the ancient Roman Empire, The Arcturan Monarchies founded on the ideals from the old Terran middle ages and the Renaissance, The Alliance of Independent Systems (AOIS) a confederation of governments bound together in Trade and Technology and finally, the TexaNova based on you guessed it Texan grit.

The story begins on Mechhaven, shortly after the ending of a galactic war, on an out-of-the-way backwater planetoid set up and established for retired war machines called Mechs. Mechs are sentient AI machines and by claiming asylum and declaring ‘Pax Machina’ they are allowed to live in peace on this rocky dustball, once they have had all their armaments removed,  so they can no longer be a threat. In charge of Mechhaven is Major Misty Durham, a human administrator and two other humans, Ajax and Dennis.

The Mechs are the stars of the show and are a diverse mix of machines each with distinctive personalities often guided by the specialisations they were constructed to perform. It makes it all quite interesting from protocol Mechs to artillery and counter-intelligence to flamers, the whole gambit of humanity’s imagination to rain death down on each other on display. Except they are disarmed and harmless. Mostly.

It was intriguing to see the interactions between them and the conflict it sometimes caused because of their past affiliations, affiliations not so easily forgotten or dismissed.

Into this world comes a new Mech, a super advanced Archangel class tagged Angel by Misty. Angel crashlands on Mechhaven and declares Pax Machina. He is pretty beat up and his memory matrix is damaged so he can’t remember what his mission was before he came to Mechhaven or what drove him here but he knows whatever it was it is important. And so it soon proves, because others are after the intel Angel is carrying and they will get it no matter what the cost.

Okay, so that is the basic premise of the story, I will not ruin the telling by giving spoilers but suffice it to say it is a watershed, moment of truth for all the Mechs on Mechhaven.

I did enjoy reading it. It was competently written with only a few grammatical mistakes. I found the story a little 2-dimensional and linear for my tastes and the premise was quite simple, and,  whilst I enjoyed the Mechs and their different personalities it was also a little weird. They were caricature human personalities which, considering they were programmed and designed by humans and built to serve them, could be argued was understandable. However, why humans would give them male and female gender types I am not so clear on but whatever the reason, it made them likeable and easy to read and empathise with, more so than the humans.

I also thought some of the battle scenes were a little clunky, and whilst extreme violence was done in battle the fact they were machines and not humans made it read not too graphically. Also, there were one or two loose ends that needed to be tidied up which I won’t go into because it would be a bit of a spoiler but it may be that these ‘ends’ will get tidied up in book 2.

As I mentioned in my introduction, I think my 14-year-old self would have lapped this up and enjoyed it immensely, but for me now it did not really do it. It was fun and a quick no-brainer read but not one that will stay with me long.

A D Green’s End of Year Review 2022

Hello everyone,

I hope you have all had a joyous and wonderful festive holiday where you have eaten too much, drunk just enough and most importantly spent time with the people you love. I hope you all got a book you wanted and a quiet space to read it.

I would also like to wish you a happy New Year. Let’s hope 2023 is better than 2022 which, let’s face it, was a bit of a stinker. Yes COVID restrictions all but ended, though it is still about and we still need to have it in our minds, and that saw a return to a new normal, one which has seen war in Europe again driving oil and gas prices up and triggering high inflation and rising costs of living at a time when we have barely had breath to get over the previous two years of hurt.

Okay – I admit that is not the cheeriest opening to a newsletter. Sorry for that but stick around it gets cheerier.

To Happier Things

As you may know (if you read my website news) I have finished the first draft of book three Darkness Resides and it is currently being edited. I hope to have it to my beta readers by spring and ready for release later in 2023. I would like to thank you all for the support I have received, the encouragement, reviews and feedback. It all means a lot to me ‘tips hat’.

There is still one slot open for a beta reader spot, so if you are interested in filling it and being part of this journey (I know so cliché but did it work?) please message me.

My Book Of The Year

This year I have read 20 books and reviewed most of them including epic fantasy, sci-fi,  paranormal romance, dystopian detective, alternate history, short story compilations and new for me LitRPG.

As ever, if any books mentioned below grab your interest and you want to read more – click on the book title in Blue and read my review then click the link in the review if you want to go to Amazon and I don’t know, maybe buy it? It’s your call.

This year has proven to be especially challenging in picking a book of the year, honestly, I could play around with several contenders and be happy with my choice but, in the words of the Kurgan in Highlander, ‘There Can Be Only One’.

So onwards, firstly to the winner of my book of the year followed afterwards by the contenders and honourable mentions….‘drum rooolllllll’ please.

The winner 2022 Book of the year is

The Song of the First Blade: The Bladeborn Saga by T. C. Edge

(5/5 Rated) (Adult) Epic Fantasy wonderfully told. A new favourite author to add to my list and he is right up there with some of the best and he’s an Indie! Awesome, if you like fantasy just get it.

Honourable Mentions in no particular order.

He Who Fights with Monsters Book One by Shirtaloon

(5/5 Rated) (YA, Adult) A LitRPG Novel. A decadent and supremely enjoyable read and it all starts with a naked Aussie in a hedge maze. What’s not to love!

Dungeon Lord – A LitRPG Books 1 -3 by Hugo Huesca

(5/5 Rated) (Adult) Okay I’m on a roll with LitRPG but I will be moving back to more traditional fantasy next. But… what a book to finish on. A really fun read bringing back my Dungeon Keeper vibe!

Dangerous To Know by K. T. Davies

(5/5 Rated) (Adult) Half-human, half-lizard, Breed is chased by a dragon, hunted by assassins, and bound to serve a demon. A First-person POV Grimdark tale.

Pieces of Eight (The Guardian Of Empire City) by Peter Hartog

(5/5 Rated) (Adult) Dystopian detective story with future tech, magic and a bit of paranormal(ish) activity.

Nature’s Wrath (A Prelude of Light Book 2) by Morten W Simonsen

(4.5/5 Rated) (Adult) Book Two. If you like your fantasy dirty, gritty and realistic then I recommend this series. Book One was great and Book Two is even better.

Fire’s Heart (book 3 of The FireNight Prophecies) by Darren Boeck

(4.5/5 Rated) (YA) Book Three. An Engrossing young adult fantasy in a unique and interesting world.

Everlong by R Raeta

(5/5 Rated) (YA & Adult) Paranormal Romance. A captivating and wondrously told story I almost didn’t read. This is not my usual genre but seriously, it was a journey I enjoyed very much.

Congratulations to T.C Edge I am still captivated midway through book three of his Bladeborn Saga and I recommend not just this series but all of the books mentioned above.

Finally, if you made it this far well done. I look forward to pinging more book news and reviews your way in 2023. Please feel free to get in touch any time if you have anything you want to ask me or give feedback or even if you have book recommendations of your own you would like to offer. I even post guest reviews occasionally if that interests you.

For now – all the best

Kindest Regards

A D Green

The Song of the First Blade: The Bladeborn Saga, Book One by T.C. Edge

5/5 Stars – A brilliantly crafted fantasy and a new favourite

I absolutely loved this epic fantasy from T.C. Edge. I read a lot of books from this genre and think, for me, this first volume was every bit as good and grand in scope and storytelling as Brent Weeks’ Night Angel, Miles Cameron’s Red Knight or Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series and I can’t wait to tuck into book two.

Now initially, reading the prologue I was not that smitten. It was okay but it just didn’t grip me. It was a scene between two of the most powerful demi-gods, Varin and Ilith and was set 3500 years before our tale unfolds but it did set the scene and let you know early on that gods and demi-gods were a thing rather than the invention of man and it is a central foundation block in which this world is set.

The story is a third-person narrative told from the point of view of three main protagonists. Elyon is a gifted Bladeborn and the second son of the First Blade Amron Daecar the most famed warrior and Overlord of the day. Saska is a mysterious servant girl with a past she is running from and a history untold because somehow she can hold godsteel. Finally, Jonik, a Shadow Knight from the Shadowfort wielding the infamous Shadowblade (A lot of shadows going on there I know) sent on a clandestine mission. However, as the story grows we get to meet many more characters along the way and without fail they are all richly imagined and unique in their own right. I really must applaud the degree of character building, it propels what would be a good tale into a truly great story.

The world-building too is well-imagined and vivid. The history and the detail were simply told yet vast. I never felt like I was getting a history lesson or reading through pages of exposition that detracted from the flow of the story. , the various lands and the people who inhabit them were a joy to read about.  

I don’t like giving any spoilers in my reviews so I won’t here but suffice it to say there is plenty of action but also intrigue and hidden agendas that start to layer up taking a simple premise of a warmonger king and giving machiavellian glimpses of a larger story at play. Really, it is quite magnificently done.

T.C. Edge is now firmly cemented in my favourite authors’ list. As you can tell from my review, I wholeheartedly recommend this book especially if you love reading fantasy.    

What? You’re still here? Why? There is nothing else to say…except go! Download this book, treat yourself.

Daisy’s Run: The Clockwork Chimera Book 1 by Scott Baron

4/5 Stars – Hints of Alien but without the Alien, then with the Alien…ah read on.

Ready for a SciFi read I picked up this number. The cover looked quirky and interesting and together with the blurb promised to be a light SciFi experience – nothing too technically onerous to wrap my head around.

I kind of got that I guess. It pretty much delivered what the blurb said it would, Daisy and the rest of her crew are awakened from cryo-sleep by their ship’s AI whilst en route to earth after the vessel is hit by dust or debris or something small that caused some big damage, we never really find out. Following protocol, the AI has nudged them from their slumber. I won’t go too much into the story but it was less light-hearted and more of a thriller than I was expecting which was great. A nice surprise.

Reading the story there are a lot of undercurrents. It is told mostly from Daisy’s point of view and to her, things do not quite stack up. She doesn’t know her crew, her memory or knowledge of them is fed to her in cryo-sleep along with low-level training routines for her ship technician’s role.  Think Neo and his ‘I know kungfu’ tagline in The Matrix, it is a bit like that but only on a 56k modem rather than ultra fibre-optic. It has to be slow you see for safety reasons, too much or too fast and it can scramble your mind so safety protocols are used to prevent that and it slows the whole thing down. There is more to it, I’m paraphrasing, but you get the gist and it is interestingly done. Even better that there is not a ten-page scientific disposition on how it works.

Daisy sees herself as a full human as is her friend Sarah, another tech, but the captain and the rest of the crew are all enhanced, modded to one degree or another, human but with cybernetic implants. It makes for an interesting perspective, at least for me, this undertone of purity and xenophobia means Daisy is quite discriminatory. It makes her otherwise ‘good’ character quite flawed which I found quite intriguing. A hero with tendencies that would be shouted down in this day and age. The question in my mind was was she right or just prejudiced?

Then, on top of everything, there was the ship’s AI and the cyborg helper Barry. Yes, Barry. Halfway through the read, I mused to myself that it felt at this point a tiny bit like Alien – but without the murderous alien rampaging and ripping people to bits part, an important detail that, but stick with me, it had the rest. A large sparsely populated spaceship, a sinister AI, and a cyborg that was stronger and smarter than the humans. Now you’re with me, right? Well, now throw in a disparate crew.

All in all, it was tapering nicely to a head. Then everything changes and well, look at the book title and draw your own conclusions, or better yet grab a copy and have a read yourself. Suffice it to say, I enjoyed the story. It was well told and whilst there were a few niggles that naggled, overall I found Daisy’s character to be fun. The story is the first of six books so there is more to come. This volume finishes in a suitable place. A pause before Daisy’s next adventure or plunge into peril but hey, they’re the same thing.

Dungeon Lord Books 1 – 3 : A LitRPG by Hugo Huesca

5/5 Stars – A 3 for 1 review. If you played Dungeon Keeper as a kid you should love these books.

My experience with LitRPG has been somewhat hit-and-miss recently. However, following my review a little while ago of Shirtaloons, He Who Fights with Monsters (which I unashamedly enjoyed and found surprising depth and nuance in),  I was recommended by a friend to try these books by Hugo Huesca.

Having read the first 3 books in this series I have to say that they did not disappoint. The fact I picked up the next book and then one afterwards is a testament to the writer. I think he is a real talent and I would love to see these made into a TV series. But I digress, to the books.

The main character was a likeable computer geek gamer and having played a few MMORPGs in my time one that resonated with me. It is the story of Edward Wright, who through wicked artifice by the dark god Murmur gets made an offer he can’t refuse. It is the title of the book so I give nothing away when I say it is to become a Dungeon Lord. Edward though is determined he will follow his own path rather than that of any god, let alone a dark one.

The story starts quite simply but soon expands like some form of mutated onion reverse layering itself so that the world we are introduced to becomes richer and more detailed the more time you spend in it. The cast of characters is eclectic and interesting and each is distinct and fully 3-dimensional. The world-building is well thought out, different and engaging.

There is so much that I liked about these books. I like that there are dark gods and light gods at play but that both are ambiguous. Neither is wholly evil or wholly good. The light indeed carries out as many atrocities in the name of good as the dark does. I really liked this blurring of lines and also that even when doing things his way, the ‘Wright’ way (please forgive my pun), Ed still somehow manages to promote Murmur’s interests and greater plan. It is deliciously bad (but in a good way or should that be the other way around?).

I like that even the little, insignificant creatures have a voice and can make a difference rather than just be throw-away characters.

I guess if I was being critical, it would be not in the storytelling or the writing quality, both are great, but more in an overarching way. It is a personal thing for me but I felt the Dungeon grew and progressed too quickly between books. I would like to have enjoyed a slower story or more detail and a few more ‘side’ adventures as Ed’s influence grows. But this is LitRPG not Lord of The Rings, it is fast-paced, always moving, the next trial or tribulation unfolding so that there is no time to stop and enjoy the scenery. As an old-school fantasy reader and writer, I like those pauses, that breath before the next ordeal or adventure. But, tis a small gripe if you can even call it that and as I said a personal one.

I am taking a break before book four only because I need to review some others on my list for review but I will be picking it up soon and I can hardly wait.

Are you tired? Is life tough at the moment? The job grinding you down? Worry taking over your every thought? Yes or no then I recommend this book. Why not escape for a bit in an easy reading, fast-actioned book with a great story and wonderful characters?

And Then We Vanish by D H Schleicher

3.5/5 Stars – Short story collection from a talented writer.

For someone who does not care much for short story collections, I have read three in the past year courtesy of the #indiebookclub book of the month selection. I have to say I have enjoyed them with mixed results and this offering by D H Schleicher sits neatly in the middle of the other two.

I feel conflicted about this book. First and foremost, I enjoyed the writing style. The author conveys his tales in an easy way, nuanced and effortless, by which I mean the stories are all very engaging in the telling which flowed and carried me right along with it. Until they didn’t.

Forest Gump’s mother said it best ‘Life is a box of chocolates’ and that for me is the issue with this book. I was never sure what I was going to get, I just knew that whatever it was I liked it only then it was over, done, finished, time to move on to the next story.

It was like I’d ordered a lovely steak and had taken a few mouthfuls when the waiter suddenly pops up and clears the table and hands me the dessert menu. Sorry, those that read my reviews know I like a good food analogy! I have no excuses this time having eaten at the time of writing.

So what do I mean? I mean that I loved a few of the stories, others not so much. The writing was great and I was invested, but all too often a tale just finished. They felt incomplete, a chapter out of chapters. I even read one twice in case I had missed something. But no. That was it. In more cases than not, I was left thinking to myself, ‘what that’s it? What was the point of it?’

It is a great pity that I felt this way, and I say that because hey, I was hooked. I was ready to read more. To find out what was going to happen next but it was like someone had torn a book in half, read the first part only to be disappointed there was no second part. That pretty much sums it up for me.

I wish I could say otherwise. I do think there are some gems in the book that could be expanded into a novella or even a novel and I would read them.  Special mention in this regard goes to ‘The Pumpkin Thief’ and ‘Night of the Spider’ the first and last.

As ever, reading is subjective and this is just my take on this book. The writing quality is there on display and in that regard, you are in safe hands. It’s just well what I said already.

Teslanauts by Mathew Donald

4/5 Stars, Fast-Paced, Alternate History with a Steam Punk Vibe

Disclaimer: I was given a free ARC (advanced readers copy) of this book pre-release in exchange for an honest review.

It seemed to me from the first chapter of this book that its target audience is MG/YA and I have reviewed it as such – although, to be honest, it has been a long time since I was either of those!

Without giving the story away I will paint you a picture (but with words obviously, I meant in your mind! ‘Shakes head ruefully’).

Our story is set a few years after the Great War, the war to end all wars, which was clearly mis-labelled since the 1st World War was neither of those things. It begins in New York with our 17-year-old protagonist Raymond Calvert an avid studier of all things electromagnetic in the hopes it will give him some clue into his father’s mysterious disappearance. You see, his father was a top-level scientist working on some sort of new technology and it is Raymond’s mission to find him. The blueprints and papers his father left behind are the only clues to follow.

Raymond soon finds himself caught up in a strange new world, a secret one of technology that exists right within the mundane everyday world of the masses. So begins a great adventure, where Raymond sees and experiences the wonders of electromagnetic technologies. Machines and automatons far in advance of anything the world is supposed to know but through it all, he never loses sight of his goal. Finding his father.

Although the story is set in an alternate history kind of way and with ‘electro-magnetism’ as its magic, it had a steampunk vibe to it. Great machines and dirigibles with outlandish weapons how could it not?

It all sounds very exciting and the story moves along at a breakneck speed that is dizzying at times. The action is frenetic and the technology is so advanced it feels like magic. Along the way, Raymond makes many new friends and enemies.

So, with my adult head on did I enjoy this story? Errmmm, not so much. I found it all rather too hyperactive and tumultuous for my taste, the technology wondrously outrageous and unbelievable. Things grated on me, the battle scenes played out as if everyone was miked up and they could all talk and hear each other, good guys and bad guys, even though massive automatons were clashing and bashing, or one character flying a plane and swooping down calling out and being heard clear as day by people on the ground.

There was a lot of contrivance in the story, some to create drama to add some kind of emotional depth that never really worked, others to affect miraculous rescues and heroic escapes that all felt a little artificial. Things happened that I found myself saying, no way! No way would that not be seen and known about. At one point a whole town is demolished and yet the world trundles on oblivious thanks to a ‘men in black’(esc) look into this light-type carry-on. That doesn’t work on infrastructure. I think for me that was one of my biggest bugbears.

However, this book was not written for me. I am not the demographic looked for, although that is not to say others of my ‘generation’ wouldn’t like a light-hearted escape. It is meant for a twelve-year-old me. At that age, I think I would have not asked so many questions just enjoyed the ride and on that front, whilst there is plenty of action and adventure, the book was not overtly graphic in its narrative. There is no swearing, no blood or gore. The viciousness and brutality of the fighting are peripheral at best.

I think if I am being brutally honest, adult me would probably not have finished this book if I was not doing an ARC review and I would rate it a 3/5, however, a 12-year-old me would have enjoyed it far more and rated it a 4/5.

Terminus Fringe Worlds #1 by Kevin Hardman

3.5/5 Stars – A Space Marine Adventure

So I was trawling for my next read and fancied a military Sci-fi and Terminus popped up on my feed. Was it fate, destiny calling? Errr no, it was Amazon analytics. Why not, I thought, it’s got an armoured cyborg man dual wielding assault rifles whilst the world burns on the cover. Yep, as shallow as that I picked it up. I wanted a Diehard esc action set in the future and this would do nicely.

I guess I got some of what I asked for. Arrogant Maker our protagonist is a disgraced former special-ops marine living a peaceful life on an out-of-the-way planet minding his own business with no one but an alien called Erlen for company, which is not his pet, though everyone seems to think it is.

Into his world steps a former commander a doctor and a politician (No this is not the start of a joke). It seems they need him for a mission and he is the only man for the job. This reminded me in a small way of Aliens. You know, that scene where Ripley tells them about the alien and the world they found it on and the powers that be ignored her warnings before dragging her ass in to fix it years later when it all went a bit scooby-do, that one.

I won’t give too much of the story away, suffice to say it gets a bit Dirty Dozen (although it is more half-dozen to be accurate). Maker of course gets tempted back in, he is a soldier at heart and this is his chance to step back into the ring, so to speak. He cobbles together a team of misfits like him who struggle to fit into the military machine and after the shortest of introductions they are off, time is of the essence you see.

There are lots of guns and action. An evil alien race, led by a sinister alien commander with high-tech weaponry. Things are not always what they seem, however, and it is quickly apparent that the only people Maker and his team can trust are themselves.

I thought the story was okay but it never gripped me as I wanted it to. The science was pretty loose (that is being generous) but I wasn’t reading it for that and it wasn’t the type of story to bog itself down in scientific jargon or exposition. The depiction of the military was also simplistic and the act spent at the military base felt a bit more like boarding school than it did an actual military camp. That said the writing itself was fine, the story moved along at a fast pace and the descriptive narrative flowed well and I was able to picture each scene easily. The opening scenes I was not a fan of though where Maker recounted the mission that got him booted out of the military to a couple of people he didn’t know. It was a clever way in some respects of providing perspective and a back story for our hero but it was, for me, a little cumbersome.

Overall, the story was a bit formulaic and predictable. Our marines felt more like a bunch of mercenaries than a military unit. Maker did his own thing and half the time so did the rest of his unit. The bad guy was a bit of a cardboard cut-out. I think a scene from his perspective doing something sinister and evil would have cemented his badassery more in my head and make me care about Maker bringing him down. There is more I could say but it would give spoilers. I think as an opening novel in a series of ‘space marine’ adventures it was okay. It is suitable for YA readers and may indeed be targeted more at that audience but it did not give me enough to want to read the next in the series.    

Primal Hunter by Zogarth

3.5/5 Stars, LitRPG Shenigans that had its moments.

Nice cover. Picked this up through Kindle Unlimited. It was highly reviewed which boded well since I have quite enjoyed my recent flirtations with LitRPG novels.

This story follows a pretty typical LitRPG format of an outsider-misfit, becoming a hero in an alternate dimension. In the case of Primal Hunter, Jake our loner hero, finds himself transported along with a thousand other random and luckless humans into a ‘vast’ multiverse. The story has the start-up and gaming elements of a massively multiplayer online RPG (MMORPG) where everyone gets to choose what sort of class they want to be, from sword & shield warriors, dual blade wielders, mages, healers, and hunters. For anyone that has played an MMORPG this will all seem very familiar. The classes each have different branches that a person can specialise in by levelling up and gaining experience and points, and professions can be learnt like alchemy and tailoring, leatherworking etc.

The story begins with Jake and a bunch of his work colleagues who are mysteriously transported to a magical fantasy world and find themselves in a start-up or beginner area. The penny drops pretty quickly after their first confrontation with the local wildlife, that surviving and getting better means killing anything that moves. Killing things earns experience which they need to level up and using weapons and abilities improves a person’s skill with them the more they are used.

So that is the general premise. Of course, humans being humans it all gets a bit ‘Lord of the Flies’ as some realise killing other humans pays big dividends in the experience stakes. Those most able and more morally questionable take advantage, bullying those less fortunate or capable, building tribes which then go head to head with other tribes.

Jake finds himself built for this world, all his inadequacies on earth mean nothing here but frustrated by his colleagues’ lack of gungho, daring-do, of trying to apply earth rules to this new world ends up with Jake heading out on his own after an altercation with another group goes badly.

I wanted to like this book but as much as the story is fast-paced, I found it also bogged itself down whenever Jake ‘levelled up’ or got new abilities to unlock. Pages and pages of exposition on every ability and why it was not the one for him. This only got worse as the story progressed and I found myself flicking through reams of abilities to get to the last one because invariably that was the one Jake would choose. Some readers may like this but for me, it was a frustration.

Jake did have a moral code of sorts running through him and was the stereotypical hero against all odds, on his own against the rest of the humans. Unfortunately, I did not find myself rooting for Jake. He was so OP (over-powered) and I found him a little hard to like. The story ‘within’ the tribes with the different antagonists all felt a little contrived and shallow. Like how thick are people not to see what was going on? The other component I found difficult to grasp was the escalation of powers. I mean this is a startup/training area but after a couple of days, it certainly didn’t feel like that. It felt like there was too much progression.

All that being said there were some highlights. I liked the undercurrent of hidden gods that played out. Loved the introduction of the Malefic Viper which lifted the story massively for me.

A lot of people have reviewed this book quite high and that is great, we all have different tastes and expectations but I’m afraid it didn’t quite cut it for me. Don’t let that put you off though. As ever if you like the sound of the premise above take a look inside. You’ll know pretty quickly if it is your cup of tea. For me, I find my interest in LitRPG waning, I need to take a break from the genre for a bit. I’m all levelled out.

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