Some quick reviews and updates for series I’ve been following. At a glance: Delvers 3: 5 stars. Viridian Gates 4: 4.5 stars, Ascend Online 3/2(?) 4.5 stars. I’d heartily recommend getting the books and their predecessors, they’re all fantastic.
These are all quick reviews since I’ve already done the main reviews of these books before, and an in-depth review would tread most of the same ground covered in the first reviews.
Minor spoilers ahead.
Delvers LLC, Adventure Capital is the best in a great series. There’s a lot of reveals, the overall plot takes shape regarding Dolos big plan, the characters gain lots of great new powers, and we see more crafting. Characters that would normally be throwaways get their own power and narrative arcs.
The problems are minor. One of them is the useless modifiers like “The Asian Man”. Unless the scene calls for it, the ethnicity of the speaker doesn’t convey any useful information, as opposed to what Blaise probably wanted, more along the lines of “the ebullient man”. Even then, it’s still a bit clunky. It’s minor, but I have to point it out.
The big one storywise is that this series revolves around Henry and Jason. When they’re not together, the book drags down a bit. This is particularly true in the scenes with Jason and Henry’s wife Mareen. Jason is a far more passive protagonist than Henry and doesn’t seem to know what to do with her.
The poorly named monsters should be changed, maybe have Aodh’s role become the official scribe of the series that renames monsters so Delvers can resell their adventuring stories.
I get the joke that Blaise is going for. Many martial arts moves have Japanese names that sound cool when you speak English, but if you translate them, they are lame. Three books in though and we’re done with that joke.
Still, the gripes here never bothered me enough to dock it. I almost did for Mareen until Blaise finished out the plot thread. Five stars.
Viridian Gate, Imperial Legion. James Hunter develops his series further, pitting a gigantic future battle between the forces of Osmark and the forces of Jack.
Osmark is a wily adversary, and he’s used his powers to gain a gigantic advantage over every other player. Osmark is OP as hell, a point made both in the battle against Jack one on one and when Jack and Osmark have to team up to fight a common enemy.
James seems to want to develop Osmark more, so he’s making Osmark both a major feature of this book and a future ally of Jack, even though neither likes the other. The story and characters are fantastic. The push towards incorporating Osmark into the story seems to be James realizing that Osmark is simply a more interesting character, Jack as the everyman character isn’t that exciting.
One part that really needs to be pointed out as an exemplar is James use of the thief Cutter. Cutter hates hard work. He’s a thief. He’ll do pretty much anything to avoid hard work, and anything to get extra time to lounge around, drink, gamble, and be a rogue. We’ll discuss Cutter again when we get to Ascend Online. Osmark and Cutter are the two highlights of this book and I would definitely read a standalone story where the two of them had to work together.
Any problems? Two minor ones. The first one is the interruption by the Gods in the game. If Gods are going to be part of a story, there needs to be some strict limitations on what they can do. In Awaken Online, the game God can only interrupt for short periods because it shows abnormal activity on the feeds. In John Van Stry’s Portals of Infinity, the power of a God is directly tied to their worshippers and granted through their champion. In Caulborn, the hero is a god, but his powers are actually the powers of the worshippers he has and the abilities they possess, and how often they praise him.
In short, all of these other series put severe limitations on the gods. But I don’t know what the limitations of the gods are in Viridian Gates. They can stop time, grant buffs, special weapons, etc. What are rules that govern this? How good a weapon can they give Jack and Osmark? Can they rebuff them every day? Things like that need to be addressed.
The other problem is that there’s a lot of coincidences that happen back to back. They’re not plot coupons, as everything that happens has been explained before and they don’t appear ex nihilo, but I felt a bit like I was playing Dead Space 3, where the protagonist survives ten potential deaths in the first five minutes. It’s a tension killer when too many coincidences manage to save the protagonist.
Still, the excellent characters, World-building, and story keep it at a 4.5 stars overall.
Ascend Online continues to keep the doomsday clock ticking, with a mana vein that’s starting to deteriorate threaten the region with both incessant battles and a potential time bomb.
On the pluses, the story, constant struggles of the characters, and the amazing World building make this book stand out. Luke has really thought out several of the problems that most other stories glaze over, such as players going in like it’s GTA V and acting like fools. Luke has a solution to that. Outside from Domino Finn who always deserves a hat tip for his work there, he’s the first writer to really think how game devs would respond to the events inside the game.
On the downside, the large ensemble cast is still a problem. Lazarus gets brought in from book 1.5/2 but doesn’t have much to do. There’s also an issue where the lead character keeps going at it alone even when he has this huge group of people behind him. In some cases, they even tell him he’s working too hard without offering to actually help him with any of the tasks. They do eventually do some minor delegation at the very end of the book, but it feels too late to try correcting that story arc by the time it comes around.
Is the main character trying to be the only one earning skills in crafting? This doesn’t make any sense when he’s unable to advance his crafting skills any further.
He should have made up a rule at this point that his main guild members should have a secondary profession and are required to help out around the town. This would also help individuate each of the different cast members more.
Viridian Gate can get away with this “All the responsibility is on my shoulders” trope because his main friend is Cutter, and Cutter doesn’t want to work, whether it’s building things or managing a town and infrastructure. But in Ascend Online, it makes the MC look like he’s either a terrible leader because he can’t delegate, or that he’s trying to horde all the skills to himself, or that the other players are kind of scummy. None of those are the intentions of the story.
This is what I always say in discussions, execution matters. The same trope can work in one instance and not in another because the execution can completely change how the trope works.
Focusing on one character inside of an ensemble cast is going to necessitate that most people become background noise.
The large cast also drags down some of the book portions, where the characters are talking but don’t really have anything to say to each other. With only one character in charge of any decisions, the other ones aren’t in conflict with his overall designs or goals.
Luke should really look to individuate his characters outside of combat by their role in society, conflicts with what the MC wants, and beliefs about the future of their town and the surrounding areas or start pairing them off into their own parties if he wants to keep so many people in the game.
Overall, 4.5 stars. The care and craft put into the book shine through.