Tl;dr: 2 stars.
The book focuses on how dungeons are “made” by rpg rules and how they evolve. There’s been a lot of thought put into it and the process of leveling it up and the mechanics involved.
Unfortunately, Dakota has no idea how to actually explain the mechanics without resulting to the worst way for any author to world build, by using narration and exposition. We get to see the mechanics in action for maybe three or four pages before we are inundated by another twenty pages of narration/exposition.
This is compounded by the fact that Dakota can’t write dialogue. At all. Part of this is a lack of skill, and partly because he doesn’t use action to show characterization, he uses dialogue to show characterization. Random example:
“What? What’s the matter? Why aren’t you in the dungeon?” Frank growled at a clerk as she dropped a stack of paperwork on his desk. “That’s what we’re here about, Frank. Dungeon closed. There is a big ‘ol slab of rock in the entryway, and it has some kinda energy moving in it I can’t decipher.” Craig dropped into an unfamiliar cant of dialogue as he talked to Frank. This got Frank’s attention, as Craig was a well-known expert of all things Essence.
Krout, Dakota (2016-10-08). Dungeon Born (The Divine Dungeon Book 1) (Kindle Locations 2367-2371). Dakota Krout. Kindle Edition.
Since he hasn’t set up the fact that Craig is an expert in essence, he has to tell us through narration/exposition that this is his role in the scene. He does this everywhere, a joke sometimes called the “Burly Detective Syndrome”.
This means none of the dialogue happens naturally or has any flow to it, people just speak random lines. It reminds me of watching school children put on a play that they’ve written.
For comparison, I’d like to juxtapose this with Dildo Cay:
“Father, I want to talk with you!’
Adrian had been watching his father walk the dike unsteadily, and suddenly he had seen himself at the age of sixty walking the dike unsteadily, and on top of his restlessness it was too much for him.
‘How strong do you think that pickle is?’ his father asked, ignoring the tone of Adrian’s voice.
Like many bad LitRPGs I’ve read, there is no plot. There are no characters. There is no goal or drama or internal conflicts or anything. There are just game mechanics and rules. Rules are meant to create boundaries for conflict. I.e. soccer has rules, but those rules are meant to showcase who has the most skill. They still have to actually play a game.
Likewise, creating a system is just creating the boundaries for where conflict, character growth, and all the other elements of a story are supposed to take place. Those things are all supposed to still happen. And in most of these stories, nothing happens.
Roughly, someone played Dungeon Keepers and wrote a book based on it. Good job.
Plot: 3 stars. There is no plot, there are only game mechanics. If mechanics alone make you cream over a novel, then this is your book. If you expect anything else, you will be disappointed.
Characters: 1 star. There are no characters. There are paper-thin stereotypes that fade in and out of existence long enough to serve their role in pushing the plot forward.
Emotions: 1 star. I don’t care about anyone in this novel, so what happens to them is utterly boring.
Long Review, spoilers, obviously
Dungeon born begins in medias res, the action already starting as soon as we get into the novel. I concur with this decision, many novels spend too much time giving irrelevant backstory to characters I don’t care about yet. Unfortunately, the book goes down that path. The hero of the story was sucked into a soulstone by a group of necromancers, who are then killed by a team of adventurers. So the soulstone is created, but not put to any use.
We get a stream of consciousness that goes on too long. Think of the difference between the opening of Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. Fallout 3 starts you off as a baby, then you go to class, then you go to a birthday party, and then you escape the vault. It takes almost a full 45 minutes before you get out of the vault. Fallout NV starts you off in a town and you can either complete the first tutorial or head off in another direction entirely. The most commonly downloaded Fallout 3 mod is “Skip Beginning”.
The beginning features very boring dialogue and stream of consciousness between a willow-wisp and the newly born dungeon. The mechanics are pulled from old school crpgs and if that will make you cream your pants, then you are looking at the right book. If not, the exposition is clunky.
Wait a sec, what is a desert…? Meh. What was I thinking about? I forget. There is food to be eaten, hopefully I could get more!
Krout, Dakota (2016-10-08). Dungeon Born (The Divine Dungeon Book 1) (Kindle Locations 142-143). Dakota Krout. Kindle Edition.
None of this is moving the book forward at all and please let me know if you find this interesting. So it’s just padding the book out. A god appears and tells the newly born dungeon to bond with a willow-wisp.
< Well, I mean, I could eat. > I declared nonchalantly, licking my mental lips. “Not what I mean, you glutton.” She laughed, “I mean, we just joined, you should be low on power for weeks! If you are already full, that just means good things for the both of us in the future.
Krout, Dakota (2016-10-08). Dungeon Born (The Divine Dungeon Book 1) (Kindle Locations 308-310). Dakota Krout. Kindle Edition.
This is a long, long, long and boring exposition on the game mechanics.
“We’ll get to that, but first try to recreate the Mob. And before you attack my verbiage, my choice of words that is, a ‘Mob’ is a short way to say ‘dungeon monster’.”
Krout, Dakota (2016-10-08). Dungeon Born (The Divine Dungeon Book 1) (Kindle Locations 563-565). Dakota Krout. Kindle Edition.
Do you get it? Because games call them mobs…. it makes acronyms to call them mobs! Hurray!
By the way, the title ‘Dire’ is applied to a really strong version of a creature, I didn’t come up with that.
Krout, Dakota (2016-10-08). Dungeon Born (The Divine Dungeon Book 1) (Kindle Location 780). Dakota Krout. Kindle Edition.
Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink. Just like my review for Soulstone, if you keep jumping me out of the novel, you didn’t write a good novel.
The book is dialogue heavy, which is a shame. Because Dakota can’t write dialogue. Stephen King once remarked that movie screenwriters had to be the worst dialogue writers in English. He should have waited until the indie market came around.
“I think it is late, and we grow hungry.” The swarthy man appeased the bulky form that was Tim. “Let’s set up camp and return to our search in the morning. The sun will soon set as it is.” “Fine,” Tim grumbled, “Why not just give someone else the treasure while you are at it?” Throwing down his bag, he pulled out a bedroll and lay on the ground while the others set up camp. The swarthy man eyed Tim, “Since you decided to rest while we worked, you can have the ‘pleasure’ of taking first shift this evening.” “Eat shit.”
Krout, Dakota (2016-10-08). Dungeon Born (The Divine Dungeon Book 1) (Kindle Locations 816-822). Dakota Krout. Kindle Edition.
“It is late and we grow hungry.” Do you know anyone who talks like this? Can you ever imagine hearing this sentence in a conversation with someone? Try, “It’s getting late and we’re hungry.”
Then the next sentence is “Why not just give someone else the treasure while you are at it?”Where does that come from? The previous sentences have nothing to do with it. The answer is that we need to know that they have treasure, so it gets shoehorned into the dialogue in the clunkiest fashion possible. This is how all the dialogue works, the author wants us to know something, and he gives to us via dialogue. The problem is that this makes the dialogue completely unnatural.
They lit a torch and held it over the opening in time to see and smell their friend void his bowels in his death throes.
Krout, Dakota (2016-10-08). Dungeon Born (The Divine Dungeon Book 1) (Kindle Locations 871-872). Dakota Krout. Kindle Edition.
Captain Picard hates you for your lack of basic physics knowledge
Let’s take a quick look. At 7 meters, you will survive a fall, but probably have broken limbs. 7 – 12 meters, it’s a tossup. Anything over that, if you land on a hard surface (people have survived from far higher up by not landing on hard surfaces), it will kill you. If his friends had time to run up to the hole, get out a torch, and light it, then that fall would have been about 10 seconds, generously. This is because when you’re thinking of lighting a torch, you’re thinking about using a lighter. Using sparks or another mechanism is more difficult.
Anyway, in 10s he would have fallen roughly 100 meters, or the size of a football field. His friends wouldn’t be able to smell anything at that height. They also wouldn’t have been able to see anything other than a body lying hitting the ground at that height.
So was this an attempt to be edgy or was this an attempt at dark humor? It fails at both, and it moves the writing from bad to offensively bad.
Tim moved carefully, testing the floor with each step, hand against the wall for balance.
Krout, Dakota (2016-10-08). Dungeon Born (The Divine Dungeon Book 1) (Kindle Locations 880-881). Dakota Krout. Kindle Edition.
You would think, them being highlanders and all, they would have just used a walking stick to put pressure on. Like highlanders in modern and ancient times. Or anyone who used a hiking stick while walking up a mountain. See Shandifying a novel.
Made from stag antlers.
The young man looked back to check on the swarthy man just as his head fell onto a light yellow mushroom and a spike suddenly protruded from the back of his head with an organic tearing sound.
Krout, Dakota (2016-10-08). Dungeon Born (The Divine Dungeon Book 1) (Kindle Locations 903-904). Dakota Krout. Kindle Edition.
He’s spent so little time developing the characters that he doesn’t even have names for them, just “swarthy man” and “young man”. Everyone dies except for the last one out, who tells us his name is Dale. It then switches back to Cal, the dungeon, for his input. This is the “hook” of the story, that it switches points of view between the dungeon and the adventurers. Unfortunately, it doesn’t know how to do it.
When they lit a torch, somehow they missed seeing the reflective spikes in their haste to find a way to save the man.
Krout, Dakota (2016-10-08). Dungeon Born (The Divine Dungeon Book 1) (Kindle Locations 921-922). Dakota Krout. Kindle Edition.
Question: How does Cal know what they did/did not see? Also, they clearly didn’t try to save the man, since he was already dead. If you’re switching points of view, then characters can’t know things they wouldn’t in the story.
Like most beginner writers, we get lots of passive voice narration and exposition. Any of the scenes between Dani (the willow-wisp) and Cal (the dungeon) are painful.
The only survivor of the first group, Dale, buys the rights to the land and sends off for the Adventurer’s Guild to come scout the place out. They initially think it may be infernal, but spot a Silverwood sapling, and one of the elves, who just so happened to be traveling with the group of four adventurers, says that the Sapling is sacred to elves and they must now protect the dungeon instead of destroy it.
That leads us back to Cal/Dani exposition/narration scenes.
< Oh nothing, just thinking. These are going to look really good Dani, thank you for getting them. They are going to be really colorful by the way, I figured out how to mix a few attributes of the seeds together. > “I knew you would like them!” She beamed, then whispered, “Narcissist.” I gasped at the unexpected attack, < I am not! > “Well you do spend all day every day looking at yourself soooo…” She teased me. I played along, < It is as far as I can see, rude-oh! > The friendly banter continued for a bit,
Krout, Dakota (2016-10-08). Dungeon Born (The Divine Dungeon Book 1) (Kindle Locations 1291-1297). Dakota Krout. Kindle Edition.
I responded tartly, < I am not a farm, thank you very much. I just don’t want to have bad body odor. > “Dead body odor.” She quipped, looking over for a reaction. < Well, yeah, what did you think I meant? > I questioned confusedly. Dani acted like I was intentionally not understanding her pun.
Krout, Dakota (2016-10-08). Dungeon Born (The Divine Dungeon Book 1) (Kindle Locations 1305-1308). Dakota Krout. Kindle Edition.
One, that’s not a pun. Two, it’s still awful. Three, Dakota still has no idea how people actually talk. None of these sentences flow from one into the other, they just appear randomly.
We then cut to the adventurer’s group and get more narration/exposition. The elves and a random human kingdom want to lay claim to the area, but the guild master (Frank) doesn’t want to let go of the area. He sends out an adventurer’s group there to work with Dale to get rights to the land and turn Dale into an adventurer. This is presumably so Dale will side with the adventurer’s guild in any trade dispute.
They saddle Dale up with a bunch of armor and lectures so we can get more exposition/narration. They go into the dungeon and the guild squares off against Cal, who tries to kill them, while they avoid getting killed. They all manage to survive and we get our next round of exposition/narration.
Cal learns that this group is going to come in first each day. Dani and he decide that if they only kill off one group a week, they can absorb their essences and the other groups going into the dungeon won’t notice.
A group of low-level adventurers come in and Cal kills one. This leads to another round of exposition/narration.
I watched the man cry in pain. < I think I broke his tibia and fibula. > I casually informed Dani. “Mmm. That sounds dirty! What do you mean?” Dani lecherously inquired. I breathed a snort at her odd sexual humor. < I broke his leg below the knee, there are two bones there, in a human they are called ‘tibia and fibula’. I don’t know if that would be the same for a different race. >
Krout, Dakota (2016-10-08). Dungeon Born (The Divine Dungeon Book 1) (Kindle Locations 1977-1981). Dakota Krout. Kindle Edition.
He cannot write dialogue. Also, one is a dungeon and the other is a willow-o-wisp. Do willow-o-wisps have sexual needs? Since the obvious answer should be “No”, why does she have what is generously being called “sexual humor”? This is a bad writing technique called “Squid in the Mouth”.
We get another set of narration/exposition, this time informing us that a priest wants the land to build a church on. The priest explains what having a Church on a land can do, and we get more clunky exposition:
Dale was impressed by this man’s knowledge of the world,
Krout, Dakota (2016-10-08). Dungeon Born (The Divine Dungeon Book 1) (Kindle Locations 2133-2134). Dakota Krout. Kindle Edition.
The priest says nothing that shows any worldly knowledge, he just lists off a bunch of things having a Church on a land can do.
While not as painful as many novels I’ve read in this genre, I could finish this if I really wanted to, I have no desire to keep going. I’ve seen everything that’s going to happen. I don’t care about any of these characters, so I don’t care what happens next.