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).

Book Reviews – The Target Practice Mysteries by Nikki Haverstock

Books: Death at the Summit

Death at the Trade Show

Death Indoors

Death in the Casino

Death from Abroad

Author: Nikki Haverstock

Genre: Mystery

Series: Target Practice Mysteries

So I enjoyed Death on the Range so much, I pretty much burned through the rest of the Target Practice Mysteries in like two days…ok maybe one. Just like Death on the Range, these books are all pretty easy reads. Nothing took more than a few hours to get through, so it is great for traveling or a lazy afternoon.

Di is back at it as murders continue to follow her at a wet notable event that she goes to. And just what is a woman to do when that happens? Why grab her best friend Mary and her Great Dane Moo and find the killer of course.

Each of these books focus on a single murder at some large event. I’m not going to lie, it did start to seem a little incredible after book 3. All six books take place within a year of each other. Six books and six murders, four of which happen in the middle of nowhere Wyoming within a year. Thankfully, the author, Nikki Haverstock, is self aware as well as her characters. They do know that life is not supposed to work like this.

The murder investigations were still fun as Di, Mary, and Moo look for the killers. The first few books are hard to call a mystery. Perhaps I read them too fast, but there were not many clues to help solve the case, and the killer just kind of outs themselves in the last chapter due to a misunderstanding. By Death Indoors, Nikki definitely hit her writing stride, though. Clues were planted, motivations were there, and killers were caught instead of blurting out they did it.

Honestly, I don’t know of the first three books were written that way by design or not. Di stumbles through the first few investigations as someone with no experience would. The more she learns, the better her investigations get. This lets me give the author the benefit of the doubt.

Ultimately, though, these books should be read for the characters. They are fun and entertaining, and they carry the stories. Fair warning, the romances are the weakest character moments as one feels rushed, out of nowhere, and full of convienance. Minor spoiler but not really: Of course Di, the main character, would fall for the son of the CEO.

That may play into one of the major casting choices for this series, however. All of the main characters, except for love interests, are women. The bosses are all women. Women run this story. So is it possible that Di’s love for the CEO’s son is a reflection of the male fantasy of falling for the king’s daughter? Maybe, maybe not. I kind of doubt that much thought went into the decision, but if you choose to read it that way, great.

All in all, this series is great. The characters are entertaining, the stories are fun, and the pages just keep turning. As before, if you have Kindle Unlimited, you have no excuse not to read these books. I give the series as a whole the rating of Iron Stash (4/5).

Book Reviews – Death on the Range by Nikki Haverstock

Book: Death on the Range

Part of a series: Yes, book 1

Genre: Mystery

Amazon Author’s Page

I just finished up Death on the Range by Nikki Haverstock today. Ladies and gents, that is a fun book.

The story follows Di, a 30 something woman who moves from her tech job in Cali to help at an archery training facility in Wyoming. The center is getting ready to open to the public and are hosting a coaches training class when the unthinkable happens. One of the class members is killed. Now Di and her roommate have to figure out who did the deed with the help of their giant mutt Moo.

Like I said, this is a fun little story. It is not a complicated read, the mystery is confined to a single location, and there are few characters. The characters feel pretty real though. The simplicity of the story doesn’t take away from the humor and a few surprising moments of real emotionality.

Fair warning, the ending is slightly disappointing and there were one or two moments that needed a little reworking. Don’t let that stop you though. Everything else is good.

If you are looking for a light, fun read, check this book out. I finished it in a few hours, so it is a good travel book or whenever you want to spend a lazy afternoon with fun women. I give it an iron stash rating (4/5) and look forward to reading more of her works.

Flash Fiction Friday 017 – Let There Be Light

Tom was huddled in his office. On every free surface, candles burned brightly. Their flickering lights danced over his face, giving him a manic appearance that matched his mood

Outside, night hung over the city. Gas lamps burned dimly; winds fluttered across the moon. Hooves clattered on cobblestone; the womp of beaten air grew steadily louder. Shutters and windows closed for the night; screams erupted from the streets.

It was the same every night. The mouth people came with the fading light and took their sacrifices. They didn’t care who the people were as long as they were alive.

The only thing these moth people feared was the light. Candles were barely bright enough to be of any good, and fires required constant attention. That was why Tom kept himself locked in his office under the mad gleam of desperation.

The door to his office burst open, amid he spun towards it in terror and shock. “Damn it, Edison. How much longer?” Tom breathed a sigh of relief as the mayor’s aide walked in. “You’ve tried nearly a thousand different things by now.”

Edison nodded, a sense of calm coming over him like it always did when he was explaining something. “Yes, and I have found a thousand ways it wouldn’t work. Tell the mayor I’m close. We’ll soon be safe.”

A shot rang out from behind Tom’s door. It was followed by a scream that quickly died away in a wet gurgle. The aide paled and backed further into Edison’s office. “T…tomorrow morning will be fine.” With a bracing breath, he rounded on Tom. “But this light bulb thing had better be what you promise.”

Edison smiled to himself as he turned back to his work. “Trust me Steve. It’ll change the world.”

If you liked this, please drop me a comment or share with your friends. Don’t forget to follow us here, or on Facebook or Twitter so you don’t miss the weekly fantasies I destroy my sanity to build for you. If you want, make sure you sign up for our newsletter and as a special thanks, you’ll receive a short story for free. And as always, I mustache y’all to stay fantastical.

Flash Fiction Friday 016 – The Burbonville Sermon

The entire town of Burbonville, Kentucky had come out for the announcement. The United States had entered the Great War. There was a mixture of tears and crying from the members of the small village. As for Tim…well he wasn’t quite sure what to think.

Gerry kept attacking US ships. At least that’s what the papers had said, and Pa always maintained that if someone punches you in the face…Well sometimes you just have to punch them back. The Army also sounded like a good idea to Tim. Couldn’t be any worse than sharecropping.

On the other hand, he didn’t really want to go half way ‘cross the world. He and his girl were getting on well. If he left, there was no telling when he would see her again…or if. That was a very chilling thought. Tim had never really had a reason to question his mortality before, and yet here he was, standing alone in a crowd of people as he wondered if he would make it back.

He was pulled from his thoughts by a sudden hush in the crowd. Some old drifter had wandered into the middle of the townsfolk and started talking. Tim had missed the first part of what the drifter was saying, but it soon became clear that this man was some form of preacher. The little bit Tim could hear from the back included a lot of “sinners” and “hellfire” and “damnation.”

Curious, Tim pushed closer to the front. The preacher man was getting right firey with his words, lifting his bible high above his head before swopping his arm down to shake it at the ground. As the man spoke, clouds began to gather overhead. The sudden appearance of dark clouds was quite odd for what had been a mild spring day.

“And the Lord speaks to us! Calling out to us! Urging us to do our sacred duty before darkness over takes us.” Shadows fell on the ground at the preachers words.

“The Kaiser and his minions. They serve the old ways. They have no interest in the new covenants as they blow away their friends and enemies.” A cold wind swept across the crowd, cutting through the sundresses and light shirts.

“It is an old enemy that rises up, rearing his horned head once again! He seeks the blood and destruction of all peoples and systems and he uses the Kaiser to do it! And what will you do?” The preacher jabbed a finger at the crowd. “Will you sit here and do nothing? Content in your false peace? Lord as my witness, the true believer must fight!”

Thunder crashed with his final word and lightning lit the sky. The preacher stood there a moment, panting, before making a final prayer and walking off. As he left, the storm quickly dissipated and the town was left in sunlight once again.

There were murmurs from the townsfolk at the strange preacher, but he was soon forgotten. The one person who didn’t forget was Tim. The crash of thunder shook his soul while the word “GO” echoed in his mind. He knew what the message was and he knew what he had to do. He couldn’t stay in Burbonville. It was time for him to go over there.

This week’s story was a rashomon. Be sure to check out D.L. Spartan or #flashomon on Twitter to find more points of view from the Burbonville Sermon.

If you liked this, please drop me a comment or share with your friends. Don’t forget to follow us here, or on Facebook or Twitter so you don’t miss the weekly fantasies I destroy my sanity to build for you. If you want, make sure you sign up for our newsletter and as a special thanks, you’ll receive a short story for free. And as always, I mustache y’all to stay fantastical.