Realm of the Nine Circles: A LitRPG Book

In the MMORPG Realm of the Nine Circles, things are not as they should be. NPC behavior is a little too realistic, and the game's ultimate bad guy, Lord Mylos, is acting weird and killing heaps of players just for fun.

Dante is an entry-level game developer for Plexcorp, the company that owns and runs the game. He knows the secret to the strangeness lies near. Will the answers be in the cavernous depths of the Plexcorp building, owned by the man who created the game? Or is the answer deep within the Nine Circles itself? One thing is certain: asking questions might get him killed.

To figure it all out, Dante must lead a band of adventurers into a virtual reality world where he has to play the game to save not only his own life but the entire Realm itself.

My Opinion: 309 pages, $4.99, available on Kindle Unlimited.

Written by Amy Hopkins, author of the Urban Fantasy series Talented, and P. Joseph Cherubino, who’s written a number of sci-fi stories. This is their first LitRPG novel.

In the real world Gideon Thistlethwaite is the genius creator of the MMO Realm of the Nine Circles and super rich CEO of the company that runs it. In the game world he plays Mylos, the monster lord.  A terrifying bullheaded, tentacled, magic flinging creature most players think is a high level NPC.

When his employees create technology for the world's first full immersion rig, Gideon starts to change the game to make the NPCs artificially intelligent. When his employees discover the secret behind this amazing leap in A.I. they oppose him both in the real world and in the game with a little ‘inside help’ and the new immersion technology.

I’ll begin by saying that I liked this novel. The story is an interesting mix of fantasy and speculative sci-fi about what a madman would be willing to do to push the boundaries of A.I. tech in his game world. The characters feel very fleshed out and I cared about them almost immediately. The fantasy game world of Realm of the Nine Circles is well described. I could picture the creepy Blood forest with its deadly murderous trees vividly. There are some rather good action scenes later on in the novel. The science behind the game immersion tech is believable. You can tell that the authors have lots of experience writing fantasy and sci-fi. However, when it comes to describing the game mechanics of Realm of the Nine Circles, there’s a lot left to be desired.

From brief exchange I had with one of the authors it seems like they made the decision to very very gradually introduce LitRPG elements into their story so that they wouldn’t alienate their existing fan bases who would read the story. Unfortunately, this decision also makes it less likely that LitRPG fanatics will give the novel a full read.

While you get some well described glimpses into the game world, alot of the early parts of the story take place in the real world.

At about the 40% into the story the characters jump into the game world full time and there are a lot more battles and game notifications. Weapon damage%, healing %, spell damage %, etc. Many LitRPG readers just won’t stick with the story that long without getting more of what they came for, the LitRPG stuff.

Even when the story gets more game centric, the game mechanics that are mentioned are not explained and the terms used feel superficial because the reader never got context to understand them. Even after finishing the whole book, I don’t understand how the game world works. Is it a class based game? What are the skill trees? What do the character stats like strength or intelligence relate to? How does the magic system work?

Some game mechanics are described by percentages and others by numbers. Then they’ll switch. For example, armor. On the character sheet you’ll get armor at 100% but no actual numbers sometimes, then other times you’ll get an armor rating with a number like 315 attached. Which is great but I don’t have context to understand if that’s good or bad.

The player characters level but it doesn’t seem to mean anything. At least the authors haven’t explained what it means. I don’t know if leveling increases health, mana, and endurance. Or if they get stat points and skill points every level. It felt like something they just got after a good fight then ignored.

There’s a lot more things I could point out (I had long list) but I think you get the idea.

As video game fiction or a sci-fi/fantasy novel it would get a 7 out of 10. As LitRPG, it get’s 6 out of 10.

Realm of the Nine Circles