Review of Aleron Kong’s “The Land: Raiders”

Tl;dr 4.5 stars.

A well-paced novel is a novel that is comprised of two parts: Action and reaction.  “Reaction” is generally considered the story element.  A novel with all reaction and very little action is As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner.  The only action in the novel is the death of Addie Bundren, the matriarch of the family.  The entire novel’s story is a reaction to that singular event, told through multiple streams of consciousness and narrators.

On the flip side of that, most pulp action novels like Shotgun Opera feature a lot of action and very little reaction.  People move around and do things, but there’s little introspection or pauses to it.  To have the well-balanced novel, you need to pace your actions and reactions so that the book doesn’t seem like an endless sequence of events.

For a video game that fails at this, see Call of Duty: Black Ops.  For a game that does this well, think of Dying Light.  Dying Light picks up at night, where monsters are everywhere and can start hunting you at any moment.  You can pace yourself by going into a safe house or an area, giving a action/reaction sequence.  The new Resident Evil 7 does this as well with save areas to give a break from being chased around by monsters.

Aleron uses world/skill building for his pauses between action sequences.  There’s so much going on that it’s hard to believe six books in and under five months of game time have passed.

Another nice feature of his series is that he has a built-in conflict between the level of the main character and the environment.  In his World, Richter, (the main character), can choose to level himself up by completing quests around his main base of operations.  But each time he does that, he increases the magical force in the area, which attracts stronger monsters to the area.  Since he’s heavily dependent upon a cast of characters to help him, he cannot just power-level himself and forget about all of his comrades.

This helps tremendously in one area.  It’s the difference between Repairman Jack and Jack Reacher.  In Repairman Jack, he’s an underground criminal who does illegal jobs for various people.  Since he’s located in New York, people search him out and the action comes to him.  His job dictates that strange things are going to happen, only desperate people come to him for help.

Meanwhile, Jack Reacher just so happens to find problems all the time.  He steps out of a clothing shop and gets abducted by a militia.  He is on a subway train and discovers a Jihadist terror cell.  He is on a train and finds out that they are shooting snuff porn in a tiny town.  Basically, he does a lot of very ordinary actions that just so happen to create extraordinary circumstances.  Like 19 times.

Repairman Jack is a built-in quest generator.  Because of the nature of his job, it’s not implausible that he’ll get mixed up in serious trouble.  Meanwhile, Jack Reacher has to strain credulity for each scenario he finds himself in.

By centering the World around Richter’s home base Mist Village, Richter has a built-in quest generator without having to randomly walk around areas and receive prompts.  This prevents the aimless problem we see in many LitRPGs that I criticize as “Does Anyone Remember What I’m Doing?”

This book sets up the premise in the beginning, they’re going to rescue victims and assault a goblin stronghold.  The end of the book delivers.  Even in a Shandyfied story structure, the tight focus on setting up the initial plot and carrying it through to the end keeps this book from meandering even when there is an explosion of sub-quests and plots going on.

There are still “Aleronisms”, which a name I give for scenes that are so bad that they elicit groans and pain when I read them.  I can’t tell if he’s doing this to deliberately screw with the audience or if he thinks these are good.  Example.

It meant that the rope was not only two feet above his head, but it was five feet behind him. His name wasn’t Pythagoras, and he didn’t know the hypotenuse, but he did know he was f*cked!

Kong, Aleron (2017-01-28). The Land: Raiders: A LitRPG Saga (Chaos Seeds Book 6) (Kindle Locations 191-193). Kindle Edition.

This is my reaction when I read one of these scenes.

This book goes through Aleronisms left and right, there is a veritable tidal wave of Aleronisms.

Outside from the Aleronisms, there are some serious plot coupons that get redeemed throughout the book.

If you can forgive the Aleronisms, the core of the book is about Richter learning that he cannot do everything alone and that being a leader will require sacrifice.  And that’s where I dock its points because it doesn’t follow through with this when it redeems the plot coupons.

Plot: 4.5 stars.  It finishes up the last novel’s cliffhanger and doesn’t end with one this time around, but plot coupon redemption holds it down.

Characters: 4.5 stars.  The friendship scenes come across well, as do the side characters and their motivations.  The bad guys go into the puppy-kicking territory.

Emotions: 4.5 stars.  There are some tonal shifts that occur when the book gets to the rape scenes.  The book has a mostly action/buddy feel to it that shifts towards dystopic when the last scenes arrive.  It’s weird to go from 48 Hours to A Boy and His Dog.


Long Review.  Spoilers, obviously.

Plot

At the last battle, Richter is hit with a massive spell that has him fall into a chasm.  Yes, it’s a literal cliffhanger.  I don’t know whether to give points for that or take them away.

After saving himself, Richter finds out that the sprite they saved (Liddle) is from a new race called Hill Sprites.  In the previous series, it’s set up that there are numerous sprite races, some of which harbor deep animosity towards each other.  Liddle reports that there are at least a hundred goblins in the area he’s escaped from.

Richter wants to go investigate the area by himself, but his pet dragonling Alma vetoes him, saying that she’s far better at stealth than he is and can move faster.  Part of the internal conflict that Aleron is building in the series is that Richter cannot do everything by himself and has to start learning to delegate things to his companions, so this is a nice piece from that theme.

This sets up the action/reaction sequence of the novel.  Richter goes through the loot he’s just gained from the last battle and levels up his numerous stats, particularly his war leader skills.  Then a battle occurs.

One annoying thing that keeps happening is the novel switches from referring to him as “Richter” to “Chaos Seed”.  Unless the Chaos Seed plotline is going somewhere at the moment, these switches don’t add anything to the novel.

Richter battles a Lugash and three of his party members die.  He resolves to start equipping all the NPCs with better armor, part of the plot progression towards delegating more tasks.

His next tasks at the Mist Village are to begin the equipment process and prepare to assault the goblin kingdom while he waits for Alma to return with information on the setup.  One of the powers that he’s gained is the ability to access memories from certain NPCs that he kills using Alma’s Brain Drain skill.

He looks at the Goblin Witch Doctor’s memories and consorts with his NPC allies.  He learns that an artifact the goblins have, a bloodstone, is powered by ritual sacrifices.  In order to use its full potential, a blood mage is required, and only having lesser sorcerers around, the goblins have to perform a single sacrifice a day.  The bloodstone acts as a magical amplifier for any spell caster.  As such, the sooner they can destroy the goblins and the bloodstone, the better.

This, along with all the time-limited quests, adds a ticking time bomb element to the story.  Richter only has one day to prepare for the assault on the goblins.  As well, Aleron uses multiple open subplot threads to keep up dramatic tension.  It’s not clear when/if they are going to be resolved or if they’re going to wrap back into the main plot, but Richter racks up a number of them in this novel.

Richter built an alchemy workshop (Dragon Cauldron) that now has access to what are basically hand grenades or more akin to raw nitroglycerin, as well as beefed up armor and weapons for his excursion crew.

We get a plot coupon redemption as Richter is able to merge multiple sprite races into one from what basically amounts to a Rah-rah speech.  This comes about way too easily, merging thousands of years of enmity can be solved by saying, “Guys, quite fighting, join together, and kill some goblins.”  The reason it occurs right here is because he wants Richter’s best friend, Sion, to gain new leader abilities, but this should have been saved for the end of the book after they actually killed goblins as a united group, rather than when they’re standing around town doing nothing.

As well, he wanted to include a leveling-up with the leader of the Sprites, Hisako or Hearth Mother, who shows him that though he has a natural affinity for magic/mana usage, he never learned how to do it properly.  She realigns his mana for him, enabling him to super-power his bow and arrow attacks.

The expedition party heads out with Yoshi, the weapons master and second-in-command of the Sprites, leading out as the battle master, as he has a rank far exceeding Richter’s.  They battle winged Koolari on the way there, and we get a major plot coupon redemption that I won’t go into.

They arrive at the goblin encampment, and by utilizing the stealth skills and the combined power of Richter’s dragonling and the newly gained powers, they neutralize the advance goblin parties.  Their goal is to rescue the kidnap victims and lure the main goblin forces into a killzone that Richter rigged with traps he earned in a battle in one of the previous books.

The rest of the book is a prolonged battle, with power-ups and attention to leveling up to help in between to break up the constant battling.  The end of the book redeems the mother of all plot coupons, and disappointed that after setting up the moral quandary that leadership requires sacrifices, he’s able to instantly resurrect many of his downed teammates at the end.


Characters

Outside from the Aleronisms, the characters are all pretty well-developed.  It’s interesting to see if all of the quests that Richter has to perform are going to start leading off to interweaving plots and character development or whether Aleron is going to stick to Richter as the focus of the story.  The end of the book should just list out all the quests that are still lying around.


Emotions

There’s some heavy-handedness with the evil of the goblins, I’ve gone over it in numerous other reviews as well.  But a bad guy that’s evil because they’re evil is not very interesting, and it doesn’t present any real moral conflict.  See the section on Shandification called “Whence Comes the Villains?” about how real life villains are far more interesting than they’re usually portrayed.

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