Book Review – Raze by Dakota Krout

Book: Raze

Author: Dakota Krout

Genre: Fantasy, LitRPG

Part of a Series: Yes, The Completionist

Summery:

Raze is the third? Fourth? Book in the Completionist series. (Technically, the third book, Rexus, follows Jaxon, one of the supporting characters.) Joe has successfully revived the king of Ardania following the Wolfman War and is continuing his quest to unlock the mysteries of the ritual class.

Unfortunately, back in the real world, monsters start to appear and attack people. President Musk orders everyone to transfer their minds to a data core and be transported to the world of Eternia. This mass influx of new people leads to many problems, the most pressing being the supply of basic necessities such as food and housing.

Aten, guild leader of the Wanderers, asks Joe to figure out a way to feed the town that the guild is trying to raise. This quest takes Joe to the other side of Ardania as he seeks a solution in the form of a magical greenhouse. The surviving members of the Wolfman race have fled to that side of the kingdom and are in possession of the blueprints for just what Joe needs, but they ask him to clear out a nearby temple before offering him the plans. Unfortunately, the temple is controlled by a powerful player whose mind was trapped by a mage during Joe’s time in the city dungeon in Regicide.

While all of this is going on, the guild is trying to increase their rank by improving their town with more than just a greenhouse. Their building efforts, however, draw the attention of members of the kingdom, and plots are put in place to end the Wanderers growth.

In addition to all of this, Joe finds himself the target of more assassins, this time from the city Zoo who are holding a grudge from way back in Ritualist when Joe sold a unique bunny to a pet store. This threat to their entertainment cannot go unanswered. Failure to find the zoo a rare animal will result in continued attempts on Joe’s life. Success, however, will grant Joe access to the Zoo’s main income, the black market of unique items from its Bloodsport Arena.

Luckily, Joe is not alone anymore in his ritual study. With the help of a new team member, Jess, Joe is able to recruit several members of the guild to become ritualists as well. With a ticking clock, though, will this new coven and Joe’s team be able to solve all of the issues facing the guild and Joe personally?

Review (Spoilers!):

Raze is another solid addition to the Completionist series. Joe continues to be a fun and engaging character who seems to constantly draw the short end of the stick when it comes to getting along with people.

The threat to Earth in the real world is a little whatever. The one effect that it does have is that it means no one is able to log out from the game. This is their new reality. Of course, this was never an issue for Joe as he sacrificed his body back in book 1. Heck, it hardly matters to the rest of the team as well. Alexis was drawing in debt in the real world, Bard fell hard for Alexis so being “stuck” in game was no issue for him, and Jaxon was an old man who found a new body. The only member really affected was Poppy who ended up leaving his three-year-old daughter back in the real world. Luckily, the game communications to the outside world still work and he was able to have his parents get her and themselves into the game.

The biggest “threat” that the sudden influx of people poses is the issues of supply. Food scarcities become a danger, prompting Joe’s determination to find the magical greenhouse. His motivations to try and continue to help everyone are the biggest reason he agrees.

The city building quest that the guild starts does offer some nice tension. While the guild is intent on growing as quickly as possible, they use Joe’s ability to make better buildings faster. Luckily, some laws on the use of magic were changed following Joe’s actions with the Mage College in Ritualist, circumventing previous laws that enforced a monopoly of the Architect’s Guild. This helps because it offers a counter to Joe’s protection as being considered “extended family” to the royals. There is still a way for the NPCs of the world to get back at the players.

The Zoo storyline was the only real meh part of the main story. Finding the black market and discovering that it was being run in an arena that artificially elevated rare loot drops was a neat addition. The ultimate conclusion of it, though, just felt a little rushed. There was plenty of other things going on in this story to really not need that one aspect. The major effect of this side quest was a massive changing of laws at the end of the book that will likely have major repercussions later. Still, it was kind of a weak addition.

Despite all of that, Raze is a great book. It was fun, light, and never took itself too seriously. It didn’t slow itself down with building harems, including random sex scenes, or too many side quests. Dakota Krout continues to write tight storylines that are a real credit to the litRPG genre. All in all, I award Raze the Silver Stash.

What are your thoughts? Have you read it yet? Anything else that you think I should check out? Let me know in the comments and as always, I mustache y’all to stay fantastical.

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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.