Review – Swordsman of the Rift, Volumes 1 and 2

Bryan “The Invincible” Jenson is a former marine who finds himself stuck in a game world that’s all too real. He quickly finds himself teamed up with a daughter of the Queen of Hell an an Angel fallen from her home, aiming to break free from his imprisonment and ultimately breaking free from his past. Along the way he travels parts of hell, Valhalla, ancient tombs, mountain cave dungeons, a fight on an airship, and several misadventures in space.

If this sounds like the type of book you’d readily read, and you don’t mind stories with harem action, then Brandon Varnell’s Swordsman of the Rift franchise is for you.

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I’m going to cover both books that are currently out here, because I feel the second one does a lot to cover some of the shortcomings of the first, and I would really like to encourage the author to write a third book that ties everything together. It’s also worth noting that this book takes place in Jamie Hawke’s shared Rift Wars universe, which is a metaverse I’m particularly fond of and may even hope to contribute in some way. Author Varnell uses the source material to its fullest and expands upon it brilliantly.

The setup is standard for the genre: former Marine Jenson is recruited by a former teammate named Elric to join a couple of other mercenaries in playing a VRMMO, or Virtual Reality MermerMermerOh, in an attempt to take out “enemy forces.” The spin is that the avatars they create in this other world become real, and if the avatar dies the player dies. Well worth $50,000 american though, right?

In the first major fight, people die. So maybe not.

Anyways, the way this game is set up, there’s an almost unlimited list of races. Bryan, being the typical gamer, picks “human.” Then he is hit with a large group of classes. With no knowledge of the game or the world he is entering, he makes the best decision he can, choosing “Magic Swordsman.” As written, it’s something like a Mage Knight from other games, but as it plays out it becomes more like an acrobatic sword user with ties to the character’s chosen magic affinity. Bryan chooses “red” or fire because “Fire was, to me, a strong magic.” He spends some stat points evenly, surprised that he starts at level 50, sets his skills, and gets ready to explore the world.

The team enters the world, and from there finds themselves entering a large doorway. Surprise! It’s a trap. Imps attack the group, and an ogre appears. One of the team’s girls gets chopped in half, reminding readers that when one dies in the game they die in real life. Not long after the remaining team meets a midboss which turns out to be a high level succubi named Maliperum and ho boy that doesn’t go well for anyone. Bryan realizes he has to do something and buys the team some time to run the heck away, but that leads him to getting captures and tortured.

It’s here that the main character meets up with the two ladies that are going to help him save the day. There’s an angel named Michelle who tends to the wounded, essentially a slave to these fiends. There’s also the succubi Adina, who is going through the motions on behalf of her leader yet holds animosity because her mother, Lilith, was overthrown by Maliperum and co. Taking out Maliperum is just the start, however, and soon the three are working on escaping the clutches of these other demons and making their way back to the Rift Valley, so that Bryan can go home.

The first book’s scenery is not terribly impressive, but boy if the fights are. There’s a solid fight with a mimic, for example, and even some of the fights with “trash mobs” like imps are handled in interesting ways. Towards the end, the fight with the demon Naamah is well choreographed, and felt like it could have been found in a proper game.

Enjoy reading about Vyra, by the way, because she won’t be mentioned at all in the second book.

Towards the end, a viking/valkyrie woman who is initially introduced as “a woman (the main character) didn’t know with bright blonde hair, large tits, and dressed in Viking-like armor.” I nicknamed her Viking Tits. Her actual name is Christine Douval, and she ends up being the third person in Bryan’s harem. Bryan eventually makes his way back home, he enters a rift proper but with his real body. This starts him off at a proper low level, but allows him to be him. He decides to spend plenty of time with his newfound ladies and makes plan to learn how to save Adina’s mom and get Michelle back to Heaven.

The first book is solid and flows nicely, but it isn’t without its issues. The way the main character’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is handled is more pop than factual, and a running theme throughout both books is in some of the mistakes the author makes in how he refers to the Marine. There’s also a scene where the succubi Adina is like “You know how I can level up quicker? IF WE HAVE SEX!” and the scene itself works, but it comes off as kind of ridiculous, and also this method of leveling is not used again in the second book.

I would still recommend this book, as a standalone, in spite of these issues and in some instances with issues in mind. Name one other book that uses its leveling system as an excuse to have sex in the middle of a dungeon. I mean, they exist, but come on.

The second book takes place about a month after the first. Bryan is getting back up to the task of leveling up, and also his “leading ladies” have gained some skills as well. But things aren’t perfect – despite making a name for themselves in Valhalla, they’re not any closer to their goal of rescuing Adina’s mom or getting into Heaven. Viking Tits Christine Douval is made aware of an information broker on Station 13 that could lead them in the right direction, and the four begin their journey to space.

This story has some great adventure to it. The amount of imagination as the party finds themselves from ancient tomb to lakeside brawl to fighting on an airship to, yes, multiple fights on a large spaceship are staggeringly well done. The author has a solid grip on what fans are looking for here, and I am legitimately interested in seeing where the novel goes next. There’s a little bit of intrigue, especially in regards to the hilariously named Mercenary leader Randy Sexton, but these threads are left untied for now. The author chooses to have a character use his earth-world riches to essentially buy people to play the game with him as his henchmen and it’s surprisingly believable how well that works.

My largest hangup with this book is on the harem aspect of the book; namely, as written, Michelle clearly doesn’t actually want to be in one. From her tearing at her hair to her establishing very specific boundaries the main character sometimes breaks, we see a female love interest who desires to main character but at best only tolerates the fact he’s having threesome with two other ladies. To the writer’s credit, this is played rather straight and poked at a little, but it’s an unusual party dynamic that doesn’t work for me.

That said, the number of sex scenes in the book are increased dramatically. If you’re the sort of person to read these books for the adult action, this second installment delivers in spades. There’s a few one-on-one scenes, and a threesome with the viking and the succubi.

I’m also a little annoyed at how things played out in the end. One has an idea of how they are going to pan out, and they do, yet the twists and turns to get there make the journey worthwhile. In the middle of the final scenario, however, the fight between the two faction leaders is literally resolved in two paragraphs. Sure, there was a lot going around beyond this fight, but this was a bit anticlimactic.

Still… this book captures the imagination. It seems almost petty to call out some of these smaller issues, like going to an all-you-can-eat buffet and complaining that the salad is wilting when there’s 100 other things to serve yourself. I’m also concerned that we the readers may never get a third book (the second one, as of current, has not done well) – how will we know what is going on in Heaven, or the fate of the Queen of Hell? I’d like answers, please! But my desire to read more doesn’t change the fact the stories do have some missed steps. I’d argue that’s a testament of how good the books are, that they’d make the average reader want to pursue them even in the fact of these issues.

Both books can be purchased for electronically $4.99 on Amazon, or read for free as part of a Kindle Unlimited. The first book does have an Audible version for those who prefer audio books; there’s no word on if the second will get this treatment at this time.

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