I really wanted to review Luke Chmilenko’s Ascend Online since I loved the book, but I read a Reddit thread on Harmon Cooper’s new book and decided to review it instead, since the book is shorter and easier to give a quick review on.
I’ve reviewed both of Harmon’s other series:
So my very short review of the Last Warrior of Unigaea is that it’s his best book to date that I’ve read in some regards. (I left out that caveat in my initial post). In my criticisms of Harmon’s previous books, (I rate them as 4 and 4.5 stars, so these aren’t exactly burning problems), I give the following criticisms:
1.) Overreliance on humor when the logic sags.
2.) An outside World that conflicts with the main World.
3.) Bad guy with questionable logic and/or motivation.
Tl;dr: This book suffers from none of that. The outside World barely exists to the main character, who went semi-perma mode and hasn’t logged out of the game in nearly a year. It does have its own unique problems, but four stars out of five, for those who like arbitrary rating systems.
A frequent complaint I have with LitRPGs is that they have lots of stats, but the stats rarely actually do anything for the story. Here, it makes a huge difference, and it had to be hard for Harmon to restrain himself.
The book is fast-paced, and it’s an action-oriented LitRPG. The timeline is similar to Hyperborea, in that the adventures of Quantum Hughes are legendary events in game history. Unlike Hyperborea, this one is really a solo adventure until the end, the story of a boy and his dog.
The lead, (Oric Rune), chooses the PK’er class because it’s the strongest class in the game, minus a huge disadvantage that everyone instantly hates a player killer. That’s because in this game, when you die, that’s it. You have to restart as a fresh character.
The action, humor, and gameplay elements move along fairly well. The downside is that this book uses the “In another Life” scenario that I generally don’t like. That’s when the main character’s motivation is “In another life, I was the greatest player in game (X), now I seek revenge for things you, the audience, never see.”
Here, Oric Rune was a bureaucrat in another life, entrusted with building a great city. He did so until a group of Pk’ers came in and killed everyone in his town. His character committed suicide rather than logging off. (The game will not let you leave if you are critically injured). His motivation for choosing a hated class is that it gives a unique perk: Each five players killed grants one stat attribute.
The problem with the motivation is we never see the character as a bureaucrat, so we never feel any loss. It still commits the sin he made in Fantasy Online Hyperborea. In Hyperborea, the main character is set up against his brother, a Yakuza boss. However, in one of the key scenes, one of the underlings tortures a NPC and the main character has no problem with it. It makes the MC weak. Why should we sympathize with someone who is willing to do the same things as the antagonist?
On making stats real, the main character has very low mind attribute, so he can’t handle money well and he names his wolf… Wolf. There’s a definitive change at the midpoint of the book when he levels up his mind attribute so he can actually communicate more intelligently, but this causes a problem.
Since he has low mind attribute and is hated pretty much everywhere, we never really see him bond with any other characters until the very end of the book. Because we’ve never seen him interact with his past life, we don’t feel any loss. This is a huge problem because he’s mad at a group of player killers who killed him, and now he’s running around as a player killer… killing other people. You need something to really tie in that story, and you really need a good morality system to justify it.
I.e. Dexter is a serial killer, but he gains sympathy because he only goes after other killers. If Dexter killed regular housewives, he wouldn’t be a character viewers could invest in. Oric never gains sympathy, particularly because his first actions are killing a group of merchants. His most bonding moment is when he saves his dog from a sea dragon, and that’s the point where the novel turns.
An even better example of a story that does this is Lone Wolf And Cub. In this story, the main character is the top Samurai for the Emperor. However, he’s framed for plotting murder against the Shogun. His wife is killed and he has a choice. He can either commit seppuku or he can seek revenge. Seeking revenge means he will have to become a ronin, a masterless samurai, something he despises.
He chooses to seek revenge and he offers his infant son a choice. The boy can either be killed and sent to the afterlife with his Mom, or he can stay with the Dad and watch him seek revenge. He places two objects down, a toy ball and a sword. If the baby chooses the ball, he will kill his son and send him to the afterlife. If he chooses the sword, the baby will accompany his father in his quest for revenge.
The baby chooses the sword. The father becomes an assassin for hire until he can find the people who framed him and exact his revenge. He encounters plenty of other Ronin who do not have his moral code, and he kills them in brutal fashion.
Suggestions on improving The Last Warrior of Unagaea?
- Show Oric choosing different classes and never being strong enough to kill the Drachma PKers. He chooses the PK class because it’s the only one strong enough to do it.
- Even though it’s a tad cliche, he should have been married as leader of the town, and when the town was ransacked, she left the game completely. Since he never leaves the game, he’d be devastated by her loss. Unfortunately, he points out that Oric is a virtual virgin, so his only motivation is that he really liked his previous city, but we never experience it as readers. Loss of a town as motivation, eh. Loss of important person is much more relatable.
That can’t happen now obviously, but even if in his flashback he had a girl he wanted to marry or something else, this will flesh him out as a character. Right now, his motivations are basically that a bully kicked over his best sandcastle.
- Second book will need to focus more on his motivations beyond revenge for something the readers can’t see.
- Reliance on a plot convenience for dealing with the most powerful character in the game at the end was really disappointing. If we were going for cliches, I would have made her the wife of him in the previous life, who came back into the game to become the most powerful avatar, meaning that she came back into the game for the same reason he’s seeking revenge. She’d realize that as they talked when he explained his back story.It’s still a plot convenience, but at least the final turn would have made more sense than “We both hate people”.
- Morality based player killing system. Now that he has his new mind attributes and side characters, make him choose to kill people based on their actions. He could even become a PK bounty-hunter, going to places along his path and deliberately hunting down the worst people. This would also work from his ending as a hero at the end of the first book, embracing his new role as a hunter of the worst.
If main character motivations are really important to you, get the audiobook. Jeff puts a lot of focus on the characters and conveying emotions, so the main character will feel more fleshed out than the novel version. Also, Jeff has a cameo role, though not the most flattering one. 🙂
Overall: Good action and humor, interesting side characters, unique World building and rule sets, but weak main character and motivations.