Book Review – The Dark Citadel Omnibus

Book: The Dark Citadel Omnibus

Author: Michael Wallace

Genre: Fantasy, YA

Part of a Series: Yes, The Dark Citadel

Spoiler Warning.

Sorry if the books run together. I did read them back to back.

The Dark Citadel Omnibus is the collection of five novels about a fantasy war. They are The Dark Citadel, The Free Kingdoms, The Golden Griffin, The Warrior King, and War of Wizards.

It starts off with the main protagonist, Darik in his home in the khalifate of Balsalom. His house is raided and he and his sister are sold into slavery in order to pay off his father’s debts. Through luck, they are bought by a local baker at the request of two other slaves Markel and Whelan. Before long, Markel, Whelan, and Darik manage to escape their master and Darik learns that his two companions are spies from the Free Kingdoms, a neighboring country.

As they escape, the city comes under siege from the dark wizard Cragyn. The sultana, Kallia, is captured, forced to marry, and raped. Despite all of this, she bides her time until the majority of Cragyn’s forces move out to continue their conquest. At that point, she launches a counterattack and reclaims her city.

Darik and company, meanwhile, travel just ahead of the enemy army en route to the Free Kingdoms to warn Whelan’s brother, King Daniel. While traveling, they are forced to escape a mountain fortress on the backs of griffins where Darik meets the griffin rider Daria. She helps him soar through the air and delivers him safely to the other side of the mountains.

As Cragyn’s forces approach, Whelan must convince his ailing brother to gather the armies of the Free Kingdoms. Unfortunatly, he is being opposed by the wizard Chantmer, Markel’s superior in the wizarding order. Eventually, forces are gathered near the town of Sleepstock where an epic battle is fought between men and wizards, griffin riders and dragons. The people of the Free Kingdoms are betrayed, however, as Chantmer helps to summon a great magical beast to battle the dragons only to have it turn on the armies instead. The Free Kingdoms are forced to withdraw to the capital where they hold their final defense.

Good prevails in the battle and our heroes defeat Cragyn’s army. Chantmer is bested by his order and forced to flee as well. The Free Kingdoms ends with Daniel abdicating the throne in favor of Whelan, Markel finding himself at the head of the wizarding order, and Darik able to join the Knights Temperate, an elite group that offers him forgiveness for the crime of escaping slavery.

Flash forward a few months and The Golden Griffin sees our heroes attempting to clean up after the battle with Cragyn. The dragons are still a threat which Daria and her griffin riders are trying to fight. Darik rides with the Knights Temperate to clear out the remaining pockets of resistance who didn’t flee. While doing so, he discovers a new threat. Not only are the dead rising to fight against the living, but Cragyn was merely a host for the wizard Toth, a powerful dark wizard who nearly broke the world centuries ago.

When Whelan hears of this, he gathers his armies and marches towards the Dark Citadel in order to put an end to this threat once and for all. Markel, meanwhile, continues to chase down Chantmer with Darik’s help. Darik finds that he is able to use magic and spends the journey learning his new skills.

In Balsalom, Kallia is reorganizing her city for the war effort. She has married Whelan, both for love and politics…and as an attempt to hide the fact that she carries Toth’s child in her womb.

In her attempts to end the threat from the dragons, Daria is presented with an unlikely opportunity. While escaping from a horde of dragon wasps, baby dragons, she leads them into a pack of wild, golden griffins. One griffin is injured in the fight, and Daria takes the opportunity to try and tame the creature while helping it heal. When she does, she becomes the first of her people to ride the powerful golden griffins.

The Warrior King sees the armies of the Free Kingdoms and khalifates marching towards the Dark Citadel. As they fight through Toth’s armies, Markel and Darik close in on Chantmer. The betrayer is hiding in a rival khalifate, learning the khalifate style of magic while also planning a coup that will place the long-lived wizards in charge of society. Politics and intrigue abound in the khalifate as the Free Kingdoms attempt to negotiate a treaty while Chantmer prepares his move.

As Whelan approaches the Dark Citadel, he finds that his brother Roderick was killed and reanimated by Toth to lead the dark wizard’s forces. The two brothers are forced to fight, unfortunately for Whelan, his sword Soultrap, a magical blade that traps the souls of the people it kills, is struggling against him. The evil influence of the souls of Toth’s armies are trying to turn the will of the blade against Whelan. During the fight, Roderick is able to temporarily resist the commands of Toth and manages to sacrifice himself on Whelan’s sword. His soul, now trapt in the blade, tips the balance and allows Whelan to use it for good.

War of Wizards is the final fight against Toth. As he sits atop his Dark Citadel, Toth sacrifices the innocent people of his kingdom in order to fuel his dark ritual. This ritual raises an army of wights, tortured souls who seek to avoid the Harvester and kill the living.

Darik has returned to Balsalom and helps to manage the defenses of the city against the wights that are coming to claim Kallia’s child for Toth. With the aid of Chantmer, they manage to hold out against the undead army, hoping that Whelan can end the war on his front.

At the Dark Citadel, Whelan and Markel lay siege to Toth’s fortress. They manage to breach the walls just as the dragon reappears. Daria swoops in on her golden griffin with the rest of her griffin riders to battle the dragon while the armies burst into the city. Whelan and Markel climb the Dark Citadel where they meet Toth and kill him.

Unfortunately, that was part of Toth’s plan. His soul flees his body and travels to Balsalom where it tries to take root in the child Kallia just gave birth to. Through powerful magic, the Harvester is summoned to the room where the god of the dead is able to gather Toth’s soul and end the threat. In a moment of compassion for the living, the Harvester grants a new soul to the child so that it can grow and live a normal life. Darik leaves fighting behind him and travels north with Daria to find a new land for the griffin riders to settle.

So first off….the first two books in this series were pretty good. The last three kind of plodded along. All in all, it was fine, but it felt like Dark Citadel and Free Kingdoms ended the story only to have the author keep it going. It really didn’t pick back up until the second half of War of Wizards minus a few scenes throughout.

This series also felt like it could belong in the young adult category. It was a fairly simplistic writing style, the arcs were decent enough, but most of the struggle seemed to be about the boy Darik finding his place in the world and who he was. I don’t say this to be disparaging of it, just that it felt like it was being billed as more than what it was.

Of course, there are issues with the main focus being on Darik and his struggles. The biggest one is that Darik was a pretty passive protagonist. On the one hand, I kind of like the fact that he wasn’t the big hero, that he was secondary to the larger characters. That works well in some stories. It didn’t really fit with this one though.

The best example I can think of where the protagonist wasn’t the hero was The Ten Thousand by Michael Curtis Ford. With that book, the hero was Xenophon, while the protagonist was more of an aid. That book also stuck with one point of view. We saw the events solely through the protagonist’s eyes. The Dark Citadel follows multiple points of view. This makes Darik’s story weaker because we spend just as much time with the actual heroes, with actual power, that we don’t really need Darik’s experience. He is usually just along for the ride.

Of course, there is also the elephant in the room of Chantmer feeling like a Saruman rip off. Powerful wizard, turns evil, betrays his order. I mean, reading the book, my image of Chantmer was of Christopher Lee wandering around the desert.

Despite all of that, the books are fun. Yeah, they end up being a tad formulaic. Yeah, it follows a lot of the epic fantasy tropes of put everyone in the worst situation for a last-minute save, but it was still a fun journey. Ultimately, I recommend The Dark Citadel and the Free Kingdoms. The last three books you can read if you want.

I award The Dark Kingdom and The Free Kingdoms the Iron Stash (4/5) and The Golden Griffin, The Warrior King, and War of Wizards the Bronze Stash (3/5). I award the Dark Citadel Omnibus the Bronze Stash (3/5).

Let me know your thoughts. And remember that I mustache y’all to stay fantastical.

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D&D Story – The Beginning of Bob

Ever wonder how a wood elf becomes a cleric of a tempest god in a port city?

Spring came and Bobalietha celebrated his fifteenth year. It was a year of decision, of elfhood. As with all wood elves of the Shaythean Woods, it was time to choose his purpose in life. While it would still be decades before he would be allowed to sit before the council, his physical maturity was at the point where he would be able to start developing the skills he would give the community.

Life within the Shaythean Woods were uneventful, especially for a young elf full of vigor and energy. The spiritual practices felt empty and hollow to his mind, lacking in some aspect. There was something missing from them that Bobalietha could not place his finger on. As such, he could not imagine choosing a life inside the confines of the village.

When he was called before the council to announce his intent, there was little surprise when he volunteered to join the Southern Garrison. The outpost rested on the southern end of the woods, just north of the city of Waterdeep. It was an important post for the Shaythean Woodelves as a point of information and trade with the many cultures who frequented the port city.

Upon arrival, Thurodan, the garrison’s captain, assigned him various duties. The garrison was staff by volunteers, limiting its number to a mere twelve, and all members had to do their part. Bobalietha fletched arrows, ran messages, and helped with the maintenance of the barricades and palisades. Most of the buildings and the barracks rested within the trees on the edge of the woods, though a single, fortified building sat on the ground to conduct business and as a final defense.

Bobalietha admired Thurodan. The elf was pragmatic and fair. There was no duty that he did not help perform, a true example to the elves underneath him. Once, a group of goblins attempted to raid the garrison. Thurodan thrust himself into battle, felling three of the five himself with a mighty swing of his hammer. Since that raid, Bobalietha put down his spear and attempted to teach himself the warhammer.

After staffing the garrison for six months, one of the famous coastal storms swept past the wards of Waterdeep and drove towards the Southern Garrison. The elves scrambled from their treetop outposts towards the safety of the ground building in order to protect themselves from the winds and hail. Outside the building, the winds roared, tearing saplings from the ground and blowing away the defenses of the outpost.

The earth trembled in the storm and the building shook. The central crossbeam, a mighty oaken log, cracked and began to slide down. The walls leaned drunkenly inward and the roof sagged. Thurodan strode forward and placed himself under the massive beam, bracing it against his shoulders and holding it in place. Thunder crashed from outside, ringing in their ears. Hail drove through the weakened roof and struck the ground around them. Despite it all, Thurodan held that beam, seemingly immovable as the oaken support had been.

Alas, like the crossbeam, Thurodan began to waiver under the weight and ferocity of the storm. His knees trembled. Sweat streamed down his face. Bobalietha, in his youthful excitement, darted forward and reached out towards the beam in an attempt to help his captain. Within moments, his arms trembled violently. The weight was too great for him to manage, and he was unable to provide any meaningful help.

Suddenly, a bolt of lightning crashed through the roof and struck the ground at Thurodan’s feet. The world disappeared in a flash of white, the sound like so many metal objects striking the ground. When his vision cleared and his senses returned, Bobalietha found himself laying on the ground and staring up at a giant man.

His physique was near perfect. His biceps bulged like boulders on his arms. His back rippled with each movement. With seemingly no effort, he took the beam from Thurodan’s shoulders and held it in both hands, pressing it above his head.

He turned his head towards Thurodan and smiled. “Kord smiles upon you.” The divine accent was unlike any Bobalietha had heard, the very words sounding thick and muscular. “Your strength has called to him and saved your people Thurodan. Accept his call. Become his messenger to the people of Waterdeep.”

Thurodan said nothing, was unable to say anything, in the presence of this divine creature. All he could do was nod. The man reached out and placed his hand over Thurodan’s head. His giant grip engulfed the elf’s face. Energy crackled in the air and Bobalietha saw Thurodan’s body tense.

Pushing himself to his feet, he ran towards the creature. He had no idea what he would do, just that something had to be done. Pain ran through his shoulder as he felt like he crashed into a rock. The rock rumbled with laughter, looking down at the scrawny wood elf. “Easy boy. I would never harm a cleric of Kord and temple master.”

Thurodan’s body relaxed and he motioned for everyone to move outside. His eyes had become as gray as storm clouds, a flash of lightning playing over them. Before Bobalietha could follow, the divine man grasped his shoulder. “You have spirit boy, but you are too scrawny right now. Behold! The blessings of Kord!”

Electricity shot through his body and his felt it grow and expand. When the pain passed, he gasped and looked down. Before the storm, he was short for an elf, with a lanky frame. Now he stood at six feet, his shirt drawn tight against his arms and chest. Thighs and calves bulged within his leggings.

Even more impressive than his new physique was the feeling of electricity within him. He felt the rumble of thunder within his chest. His own heart pumped lightning, causing the hairs on his arm to rise. He laughed softly at the gifts, the laughter driving out the remaining pain.

“No gain, no pain bro,” the herald said. Bobalietha left the building and the herald disappeared. With the absence of anyone holding the beam, the building collapsed behind him. The storm still raged about them, though neither Bobalietha nor Thurodan had any fear of it. There was no reason to fear a display from their god.

“Bros,” Thurodan began. His voice was a deep boom, the touch of Kord changing its tone as well as his speech. “Kord saves those who lift! Join me bros, to spread the message. We will establish our gym temple within the city and teach the people the prayers of the bench, the squat, and the deadlift. They will pray with every curl. They will pray with every lunge. We shall guide them along the path of brodom. From brotoges to bros. From gym rats to brofessors.

“Brotoge Bobalietha.” Thurodan turned his stormy gaze on the boy. “You have been blessed with Kord’s gainz. Will you answer?”

“Master Brofessor,” he answered. “I will follow the path of the Iron Church…and call me Bob. It is a stronger name.”

“Very well Brotege Bob. Let us go spread the good news. A new gym is open.” With that, they led the way to the city of Waterdeep followed by the other ten wood elves. Over the years, the temple grew, a haven for wood elves seeking another path. Bob discovered the missing piece of his spirituality was action, movement, the ability to overcome what was impossible yesterday.

He rose from brotege to bro and guided others along the paths. He taught the ways of the Iron Church. He spotted them on the holy lifts and motivated them through the penitent’s path of cardio. He worked tirelessly in his devotion to be worthy of the gifts Kord bestowed upon him.

Then one night, he sat in front of the temple, deep in meditation, the smoke from his pipe curling about his face. His spirit called out to Kord, and a whisper answered him. Thunder rumbled in the distance and the wind changed directions. The signs pointed to a new path for him. Opening his eyes, he looked out into the darkness and saw a small group dragging the body of a dragonborn through the streets.

“Bros. Come closer. Let me help your friend…”

Content Creation, Timelines, and Rants

Its funny looking back. I ended up taking a long hiatus from everything meaningful when it comes to writing and stories.

Now I could justify it all. I moved across country. Hell, I just moved to a different country. I read a book that was just so far outside of what I liked, not only could I not finish it, but it took me months to get the desire to read anything.

The truth is, though, that this content creation wheel we have to ride is a giant pain in the ass. Tweet thres times a day. Post regular blogs. Get a newsletter and shoot that out monthly. Engage with both your audience and with other writers.

Screw that.

Don’t get me wrong. Everyone who does well with indie publishing does these things. But with Twitter? Well established authors just tweet whatever they want. Politics, retcons, rants. As for non-established? Well, they just post things to the writing community. They following are other writers.

Good for them. Really not trying to discourage. I’m not trying to write for other writers though. I don’t care what my MC would do if they were thrown into GoT or the Potterverse or at high tea with the high queen of such and such.

Its why I barely engage with the Facebook groups anymore too. Most the posts are things like that. The few posts that do ask questions and seek advice, most of the comments are “well my chars…”

Look, like I said, if these things help you, great. Some people love exploring what their chars would do in situations outside of the book. They like the mashups. Those questions are probably why they became writers in the first place.

For me…I had stories I wanted to tell. Of course the rub is that i spent so much time trying to create content to engage that I never had time to work on my stories.

So here is what I am going to do. I’m hoping off the regular timeline train. When I finish a book, I’ll post a review. When I get bored and write a flash fiction, I’ll throw it up. If I have random conversations with myself like this one, well I’ll toss that up as well.

My tweets will still be related to my worlds and stories (at least as much as 280 characters will allow). And probably sales and giveaways as well…at least when I add new short stories to Amazon. Or books. One day I’ll finish one of those.

As for now, I have this really weird idea in my head about witches and multiverses and magical detectives. So follow on here or Twitter, @steelstashwrit1, if you want mostly story driven things. Or don’t. And feel free to comment support or arguments. I’ve been wrong before.

But whatever you do, I need y’all to stay fantastical.

Book Review – Eisenhorn by Dan Abnett

Book: Eisenhorn

Author: Dan Abnett

Genre: Fantasy, Thriller, GrimDark, Warhammer 40k

Part of a Series: Yes, Eisenhorn

Spoiler Warning.

Eisenhorn is a trilogy by Dan Abnett that follows the life and career of Imperial Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn and set firmly within the Warhammer 40K universe. It begins with Xenos and the investigation of a mass murder on a remote planet in the Helican Sector. Using his position as Inquisitor to inspire fear and gather information, Eisenhorn tracks the clues of the murder back to the capital planet of Gudrun. There, he uncovers a plot by the ancient family  Glaw to resurrect one of their ancestors, Pontius, through dark rituals, and their efforts to make contact with an alien race in order to secure a copy of an ancient text of destruction. Along the way, Eisenhorn gathers a team of companions to aid him, fights a daemon from the warp, and eventually saves the day. The dangerous and heretical text is destroyed, the Glaw family is broken, and Pontius’ soul is still trapt in a mystic orb.

The second book, Malleus, sees Eisenhorn come under a charge of heresy. The daemon he fought with in Xenos returns to wreak havoc while dropping Eisenhorn’s name to another Inquisitor. Eisenhorn learns of this after surviving another mass murder and assault on Thraxcian Prime. In attempts to track down the perpetrators of that assault, he uncovers another daemon as well as the evidence of what was assumed to be long dead Inquisitor attempting to perform a grand act of heresy. With Eisenhorn also labeled heretic, he must track down this rogue Inquisitor alone. This forces him to turn to Pontius Glaw in order to learn the secrets of the daemons and their weaknesses in exchange for creating Pontius a robotic body. With the help of a friend from the Adeptus Mechanicus, Eishenhorn fashions a staff that will amplify his psychic powers. Armed with this new weapon, Eisenhorn obliterates the second daemon, severely weakens the first, and kills the rogue Inquisitor. He is found innocent of his heresy and reinstated as Inquisitor. The book ends with Eisenhorn in secret possession of a dark text for controlling daemons and creatures of the warp as well as the first daemon trapt in Eisenhorn’s bunker.

Hereticus is the final book in the trilogy. While presiding over a trial, Eisenhorn learns that the man who killed a friend of his was on the planet. Eisenhorn abandons the trial to track the man down only to find himself confronted with a battle titan. With very little time or good options, Eisenhorn summons the daemon he trapt to kill the titan. While recovering from the event in his home on Gudrun, his entire organization is attacked by mercenaries. He manages to escape with a handful of his people, flees the planet, and pieces together the fact that the attack was conducted by non-other than Pontius Glaw. Glaw seems to be searching for some hidden treasure of a daemon king and wants the dark text Eisenhorn saved while also eliminating all evidence of Glaw’s continued existence. Through much sacrifice and the loss of friends, Eisenhorn is able to defeat Glaw with the help of his daemon and disappears from Imperial record.

In addition to these three books, there are also two short stories of various adventures and investigations Eisenhorn had. They are fun and fine for what they are, but as a whole, they are not necessary. These stories merely explain some of the plot points of the following books. The explanations are not necessary for understanding, but including them in the main texts would have likely killed pacing and been non-important.

First things first. I know that there are going to be some Warhammer fans who are going to disagree with calling this book fantasy. Just because it is set in space doesn’t make it sci-fi. It has all the trappings of a fantasy story. Like Star Wars, it is fantasy in space. This is not to detract from the book, and at the end of the day, label the genre however you want.

That being said, I have always been fascinated with the lore of Warhammer. It is a dark world where millions can die in a cold, unforgiving universe. The works of The Black Library, Warhammer’s publishing house, are proof of the fact that when anything is an existential threat to society, any means are permitted to eliminate that threat.

This philosophy is exemplified in the Inquisitors. Agents of the Holy Emperor, they have near unlimited social power. Many of them are extremely strong psychics. Through the use of the law, fear, and psychic will, they impose the moral right and fight against the corruption and heresy that would destroy mankind in whatever way they see fit.

Eisenhorn is a great case study. He says he begins as a puritan, but in reality, he is more of a moderate. True, Eisenhorn destroys the first dark text in Xenos, but even other moderates within the Inquisition agreed with him on that. As he progresses through the stories,  Eisenhorn makes decisions that pull him more in line with the radicals and closer to a true heretic. The trilogy ends with the reader wondering if he is still the hero that they have followed or the threat that was shown in Malleus.

There are some thematic oddities to this trilogy, however. First, it is definitely a thriller. The mystery aspect does not feel like it is played well enough to warrant calling it that. Yeah, the surprises can be figured out, but they aren’t what provides the underlying drama. The tension and threats are. It also feels very strongly of a noir type story. A private detective in search of truth in the world of corruption.

The problem is that those stories work best when the detective is just outside the system. Everything Eisenhorn does is within the scope of his authority. Sure, he spends long parts of one book labeled a heretic, but that did not affect how the rest of society saw him. To the world outside the Inquisition, he was still an Inquisitor. With the sheer enormity of the universe presented, the ability to disappear and still maintain one’s lifestyle does little to impart the impact of the character’s decisions on his fate.

All in all, though, these books are a fun romp. They are tense, well-paced, and tell a continuous story. The details are interwoven well and despite the massive size, over 770 pages, nothing is really out of place or forgotten. Eisenhorn is great if you enjoy a good thriller or intrigue, as well as a non-threatening introduction into the world of Warhammer and its books. The generally depressing nature of so many people dying so unceremoniously does make it hard to give universal recommendation. And so, I award Eisenhorn with the Iron Stash (4/5)…(really a 4.5. Like I said, tough to give more when I can’t tell everyone to read it.)

Book Review – The Completionist Series 1-2 by Dakota Krout

Book: Ritualist, Regicide

Author: Dakota Krout

Genre: Fantasy, LitRPG

Part of a Series: Yes, The Completionist

The Completionist Series by Dakota Krout is an ongoing LitRPG series following Joe as he navigates the political intrigue and dangers of a new virtual RPG after he is paralyzed in an attack while deployed. Once in game, Joe completes a series of tests to unlock his “true potential” and is able to choose the rare class of Ritualist. With this class and a need to keep his nature hidden, Joe randomly completes various tasks for the non-player characters until he stumbles upon influential friendships and a guild appointment.

Joe quickly progresses through the early levels of the game and helps his new guild to achieve “noble” status. During the course of this adventure, he learns that he has attracted the attention of the AI running the game, gained the favor of the in-game “god” who he follows, and learned that the game is essentially a type of race battle. In the first level, only the humans or wolfmen can survive.

So the first thing that jumps out from this series is the completely pointless and unnecessary prologue. An oil drilling accident causes a midlevel employee to be fired. This employee renames himself, creates an online payment company, an electric car company, and a space company….plus other bad Elon Musk jokes. Skip it. It does nothing and doesn’t matter. The closest thing to importance in this prologue is the fact that a mysterious object is found that seems to have a mind of its own. This object is what powers the AI for the virtual world Joe lives in, but doesn’t make another appearance in any meaningful way.

The next chapter is just as bad, but for different reasons. It is Joe in the real world leading up to his injuries. The soldier interactions ignore rank and customs, a soldier claims another soldier used too many acronyms despite the fact that the Army uses acronyms for everything and no one cares, and is just bad. I still haven’t read a lot of LitRPG, but it seems to be a staple of the genre for anything set in the real world to be garbage.

Once the virtual adventure starts, the book gets so much better. The leveling feels fine, though the skill progression and skill assignment seems random as hell. It is still fun. It is definitely a good entry into the genre if you are curious about LitRPGs. Joe is a fun and relatable character. It doesn’t go super in-depth into the gaming aspect, so there is little worry about getting bogged down in the minutia of gaming.

The story is well paced if a little fast. Joe moves from situation to situation with a quickness, but it never feels so fast that you can’t catch your breath. The conflicts seem somewhat random at times, but they do get resolved.

All in all, the Completionist is a fun series and worth checking out if you are curious about the LitRPG genre. I award the series and both books the Iron Stash (4/5).

Book Review – The Land 1-7 by Aleron Kong

Book: The Land 1-7

Author: Aleron Kong

Genre: Fantasy, LitRPG

Part of a Series: Yes

The Land is a Literary Role Playing Game (LitRPG) series by Aleron Kong. There are currently seven books out with the eighth due at some point later this year.

The story follows Richter, a gamer from the Earth’s near future who is transported to a fantastical place called The Land. He is deposited in the River Peninsula with nothing more than his wits, a bow, and the ability to learn any skill without penalty. In a short amount of time, he gains a new friend, a sprite named Sion, his own village sitting atop a Place of Power, and an ever-evolving to grow stronger to protect his people and his new home.

So, full disclosure, this was my first look at the LitRPG series. I’ve seen several people talking about it on various writer forums, and it seemed like it would be interesting to me. Instead of following a traditional fantasy format, this genre borrows from the RPG genre to provide levels with set experience required in order to advance. On the one hand, this is nice. One of the hardest things about traditional fantasies is understanding the power of the magic. Despite the best efforts of authors to establish rules, how do you really describe something as alien as magic in real and tangible terms? The LitRPG genre has the advantage that spells are clearly ranked, have level requirements, and need so much mana. These are all concrete figures that the characters know about themselves.

Of course, the downside to the LitRPG genre is the downside to most RPGs…the side quests. There are so many side quests in these books. There are a bunch of main quests too. It’s a little crazy how much can be going on at any one time in this story. Dangers are constantly looming. Richter’s village is nestled in the middle of a forest, surrounded by mists, and he has an army of bear creatures on his doorstep, a lich king hiding around, a blood oath to avenge his village from the first attack otherwise he becomes cursed, and a goblin army that can at any time threaten what little peace he has between these other major events. There is a lot going on, even in seven books.

Despite all of this, the storyline is actually pretty good. The characters are fine if a little sophomoric. The main plot is pretty engaging. I do enjoy it.

There are some big issues, however. First off has to be a genre convention of LitRPG. The author spends so much time on status screens and character sheets. Richter is constantly checking his current stats. Worse, it is always a block table that shows every bit of information and is rarely formatted well for e-readers despite the fact that the books are in Kindle Unlimited. Tables are constantly cut off, forcing me to either adjust my font size or open the table in a separate view. It is so hard for me to care about the constant spell and character checking as I only cared about that stuff in gaming when I leveled up. Once I assigned my points, I moved on, only to check before a particularly hard looking fight. This constant checking means there are pages that can be skipped with no consequence.

Worse than that, though, is the exposition. In addition to tables that describe the spells, their costs, and their effects in detail, they are also explained in detail in the text as the spell is used. The explaining of new concepts and how the world works I understand and get and am fine with, even if it is done in the most boring way possible as a straight up lecture. The spells are recapped every time they are used, as well as their cost. Characters are given most of their backstory over and over again in the same book.

These books are also massive. Normally, I wouldn’t complain too much about that. After all, I do like Robert Jordan and he wrote tomes as well. But these books have so much in them that could be cut or explained more efficiently. I don’t know if it is a case of the author not paying for an editor or not listening to the editor because Amazon pays per page read and longer books make him more money, but the story could definitely be streamlined. This would have fixed the massive amounts of exposition, the duplicate exposition in the same story, and the random changes of character point of view that adds nothing to the story.

But the biggest sin this book makes are the pop culture references. You can’t even call them Easter eggs because there is no attempt at hiding anything. There is a carpenter named Rowan who is stoic with a large mustache and based completely on Ron Swanson from Parks and Rec. There is an escort named Inara from Firefly. Almost every other sentence out of Richter’s mouth is from Tarantino or Rick and Morty or some other thing that was popular. At least Ready Player One had a reason for people from the future being obsessed with the 80s. This just has constant references that would be dated today but spoken from a character 50 years in the future. I get it author, I too have seen movies, tv, and read books.

To top it all off, Richter could probably be called a Gary Stu without you using the term wrong. He is good at everything. He has the ability to learn or do anything. Granted, that has to do with a special ability that he was given and there is some reason for it given in the narrative, but you don’t find anything like that out until about halfway through book 7. He is liked by everyone, but that can be explained by the charisma stat that is fairly high for Richter. The sex is equally ridiculous as it is as often as not multiple people with Richter. Luckily, those scenes tend to be fade to black as I cannot imagine they would have been written in an interesting manner.

But between Richter’s stats and plot armor, everything goes his way. Even fights that should kill him have Richter come out victorious, though at least the miracles that happen were foreshadowed or had elements laid out beforehand. Of course, the random surprises that do happen during the fight have flashback thrown into them that distract from the battle they are in the middle of.

At the end of the day, these books have a fair number of issues with them. They were my intro into the LitRPG genre, and I think I like this genre, but they are really hard to recommend. Only a couple of the books are worth it. I will probably keep reading as there is enough enjoyment in the main story for me, but also because I am a special kind of broken.

Overall, I give The Land as a series the Bronze Stash (3/5).

Book 1: Founding – Bronze Stash

Book 2: Forging – Iron Stash (4/5)

Book 3: Alliances – Iron Stash

Book 4: Catacombs – Bronze Stash

Book 5: Swarm – Bronze Stash

Book 6: Raiders – Iron Stash

Book 7: Predators – …part of me wants to give this a Copper Stash (2/5) but I did enjoy enough of it to give it a Bronze Stash.

There are probably better LitRPG books out there. I’ll try to find some and share. The first few books aren’t bad, but there does seem to be a decreasing quality. Not much, but it is there. If you are looking for a book that will last you a few days and you aren’t worried about finishing a series, give it a shot. Ultimately, however, it is a hard series for me to recommend.

Book Review – Dragon Slayer 1-3 by Michael-Scott Earle

Book: Dragon Slayer books 1-3

Author: Michael-Scott Earle

Genre: Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery

Part of a Series: Yes

Finally, a fantasy series to review. Dragon Slayer is a pulp harem fantasy series following Chicago firefighter Ethan Dapaolo. While at the scene of a blaze, Ethan gets trapped in a burning building and is pulled into a magic land by a mysterious guardian. He has been tasked with killing 25 dragons who threaten the people of this world while freeing the dragons’ magic for the guardians return.

So slight spoilers from here on out. Every time Ethan defeats a dragon they turn into a beautiful woman. It takes way to long for the series to acknowledge this, well into book 2 actually. We, the audience, know all the dragons are women after the first transformation, because it is a harem fantasy after all, but after the 3rd dragon, people are still surprised they are women.

Speaking of harem fantasy… Despite the name, these books aren’t over burdened with sex scenes. That’s great as they tend to get boring after a while. It probably works better if you don’t binge read the books, as they are decently spaced out, but if you read these all in one go, you are going to find yourself skipping scenes. It’s fine as the sex doesn’t add anything to the story. No new developments or growth, just titillation. The obvious exception is that the first time Ethan sleeps with a dragon who has been changed, she decides being human is great.

As for the story, it’s fine. The world is interesting. The author does a good job at organically expanding the scope of the conflict and the size of the world. The characters are also fun, even if they are surrounded by plot armor. The magical guardian who brought Ethan to the world is obviously evil and Ethan will obviously be protecting the world from it when he is done with the dragons. It is not hard to guess how everything in this tale will ultimately turn out.

At the end of the day, Dragon Slayer is just a fun, maybe guilty pleasure, read. It is not overly complex and does a good job at recapping the reader on key points. It is not high fantasy, but it is not trying to be. Overall, I give these books the bronze stash (3/5).