REVIEW: Dungeon Bringer 1

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Dungeon Bringer 1 is a work of fiction written by Nick Harrow. It is available for purchase in digital edition and readable as part of the Kindle Unlimited service. At the time of this writing, it is not available in physical form.

Synopsis: Clay Knight is the computer hacker of a not-so-distant fantasy future that seedy cooperations hire when things are not going well for them. One day he wakes up to a gun to his head and an ultimatum given by an orc thug: a cartel’s business servers are being attacked. Stop the assault and earn a paycheck of a billion dollars. Fail, and die. He’s given 30 minutes. What appears to be a pretty standard (to this world’s) cyber attack is quickly marred when gunfire erupts in the physical world and a voice from the machine speaks to Clay from another world. This leads to Clay booting up an executable… that transports his soul into the body of an Ancient Egyptian Dungeon Lord. Now he must use his skills to grow his dungeon, keep his catgirl followers safe, and understand this new world he finds himself in all while dealing with raiders looking to steal his Dungeon Core for themselves.

What I liked: This book was such a guilty pleasure. At it’s core it’s a very standard Dungeon Core novel with an Ancient Egyptian theme. Clay, as the role of Lord Rathokhetra, does something in-world that is considered atypical of Dungeon Lords – he is aggressive and not passive, choosing to bring his dungeon to threats as opposed to waiting for threats to come to him. This ultimately has some advantages in how he gets stronger and how he learns to use his powers, and it catches his enemies off guard.

This is also a harem novel. By the end of the novel, Clay gains the affections of a catgirl priest, a scorpion queen, and a former enemy. There are a few sex scenes, but most are literally a paragraph of glossing over things. This leaves a bit to the imagination, which works for me.

This is a book that plays with its Egyptian theme and plays them well. It also sets up a series of adventures well. I look forward to reading the second book in the series.

What I disliked: The opening sure is heavy handed, abuses similes like airplanes abused the Twin Towers, and asks some questions that are never again addressed in the book. While I would encourage readers to push through it to get to the meat of the story, the setup was definitively my least enjoyable part of the book.

Trying to have an idea of what the dungeon looks like is difficult as the story goes on because it changes so radically, as the way the main character uses his powers essentially causes the dungeon itself to move and extend its reach. It’s also worth noting that this book is equal parts Dungeon Core novel and Harem, and the way the third member of the harem is added and utilized stretched my suspension of belief further than was probably necessary.

What I hated: Seriously. Honest to God. 2% of the way in: “You do this, you get a billion dollars. You fuck it up, or you lay there in bed like a slug for a few more minutes, and I’ll introduce you to one of Mr. Shooty’s bullet friends.” This opening set up is just… it’s harsh.

Also, there’s a part in the book where the main character is lashing out verbally against one of the antagonist: “You broke into my house and tried to kill my people, then you broke into my house again and tried to steal my core,” I said. “If we want to talk about someone being an asshole…” I’m a drow,” she said. “We are evil. That’s what we’re supposed to do.” Kind of sums up this book at it’s worst.

Overall Score: Those who like Dungeon Core stories and fantasy harems are encouraged to give this one a spin. Maybe take a few shots of a preferred alcoholic beverage to get through that opening setup though. On the contrary, those who are looking for a well built story outside of a dungeon or whom are harem adverse should look elsewhere.

REVIEW: Crafting of Chess

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The Crafting of Chess is a work of fiction written by Kit Falbo, and is available in digital edition, via the Kindle Unlimited subscription service, or via paperback copy.

Synopsis: In the real world, Nate is a hardworking teenager with a gift for the hustle, especially with betting on rounds of online shooters or playing chess at the park for money. He is cautious but optimistic, a product of having lost both his parents at a young age and being raised by his conartist grandfather. Nate has his eyes set on a new hustle: the virtual MMO Fair Quest. Players can raise an NPC companion to do their bidding, with the chance of winning 2 million dollars if their companion succeeds in being crowned king. Nate’s plan isn’t to chase this quest however. He plans to craft high level items to sell on the auction house, which will allow him to cash out some of his profits for hard currency.

What I liked:This story works because Nate, or Chess as he is known in-game, is a relatable character. His caution in dealing with other players and NPCs is understandable, his struggles to become skilled at crafting makes sense in the game world and outside of it, and the sense of progression as he is forced to adventure for various reasons to keep crafting are believable. This book is, genuinely, a fun read. There is also a real investment in how crafting is handled that will remind most readers of crafting systems found in classic role playing games, something I would like to see more of.

The LitRPG subgenre tends to be littered with useless stats and statblocks; this book by comparison handles its stats with a fair and even hand. The stats have weight to them as explained and as used. Also, the mechanic of having a focus on an NPC in order to win the tournament proper is an interesting hook to get the player, and by proxy the reader, interested in the game world.

What I disliked:Editing and grammar mistakes show a copy that clearly was edited, yet not edited enough. In fairness, this is par for the course for a lot of books available on Kindle Unlimited, but it was at times a real distraction. There is also a sense that the ending was rushed. This leads to a conclusion that feels surprising, but in a predictable and flat way.

The world of Fair Quest, the game that Nate plays, takes some handwaving to get used to. This, too, is notable towards the end.

What I hated: There’s no sequel. Yet. But the author is active in several LitRPG communities so maybe if he is pinged enough he’ll write the second, third, or even fourth!

Overall score: Read it. I don’t know if this book is quite up there as “everything a book in its genre should be” but it is definitely an example of a book in the genre done right.