For over thirty years, Dominion of Blades has been the hottest online role-playing game in the world. Any gamer with an immersion rig can enter the world of sword and sorcery, of goblins and dragons, and they can hack and slash their way to glory. But the game is too real for some, and after an epidemic of real-life fatalities, public use of the immersion technology has been banned, causing the game to be shut down.
Jonah wakes to find himself in-game, level one, with no memory of how he arrived and no way to eject. With only two companions, trapped in a world that once hosted millions, Jonah must battle his way across a treacherous landscape, fighting virtual monsters, all-too-real pain, and a very human enemy in a desperate bid to survive.
My Opinion: 438 pages, $2.99, Available on Kindle Unlimited
Full disclosure, the author sent me an advanced copy of the book to review. I’ve purchased the story once it became available on Amazon.
Dominion of Blades takes the trapped in a game premise and gives it a twist. Three NPCs suddenly wake up one day to find that they’re actually players trapped in a full immersion VR game. Unfortunately, these players can’t remember much about their past and have all been reset to level one.
I enjoyed reading this story but there are some things that just kept it from being great to me.
The way the main character’s backstory is gradually revealed through a series of dreams is interesting and creates genuinely surprising revelations.
I really liked the character Poper, a guy trapped in a little girl's body. He’s irreverent and very memorable. The visual description of a grown man being trapped in the body of a cute little girl wielding deadly weapons while riding a hippopotamus with a unicorn horn still makes me chuckle.
The action scenes in the story are well written. There are no two fight scenes that are identical and the types of tactics used to win are varied. I particularly like the use of unusual weapons, abilities, and mounts. I mean who wouldn’t like a talking hippo with the horn of a unicorn named Alice?
My favorite part of the story was the beginning, the first 26%. Three NPCs suddenly wake up from their repetitive life and realize they’re actually players. Only they don’t have any of their memories. They accidently accept a quest to help the town they’ve been stuck in from a gnome attack. While they deal with that seemingly straightforward quest, they accidently trigger a game event that poses an even greater danger to the town they’re in. This part of the story feels the most natural. Characters don’t know the best courses of action to take and bad decisions have unforeseen consequences.
I really liked the game mechanics in the story. It’s a skill based system. Players can raise skills through practice or training though it becomes more difficult to raise the higher it gets. As the skills get better they give randomized abilities and spells. Making each character unique even someone else has the same skills. Levels are gained and give increases to health and mystic points. Leveling also gives tokens that can be used to increase skills, learn spells, or increase an attribute.
One of the most interesting parts of the story are some of the larger themes is deals with. Without getting too spoilery, there are questions raised about: How innovations in technology have allowed people to be who they truly are who they want to be without fear of dominant cultural structures restricting them. Can someone find truth in a world where everything is fake?
One of the wonderful things about gaming and online MMOs, in particular, is the freedom it allows. I can be a halfling hero, or a dragon rogue, or a villain, or a female chainsaw wielding cheerleader, and people don’t get to judge me for it. Hell, it’s acceptable and even applauded in some circles. In these digital domains gamer’s get to be whoever they want to be or truly are.
The characters are a bit overpowered. Even though their levels have been reset, several of their skills are at high levels conferring special abilities and weapon masters they never earned.
About 33% into the story it takes a weird turn. **Spoiler** One of the players is scratched by a feral NPC and finds himself cursed with the Devouring Soul curse. It lasts for 666 days, causes all undead in an increasing radius to attack you, and if you die you go to hell for however many hours your level is and are tortured. All done by one of the only other eleven players on the server. It feels so...staged. Like the author had to find some villain for the players to struggle against. It doesn’t quite make sense and the curse is not only overpowered, it’s only supposed to be found in this high-level dungeon as a part of a legendary contest set up by the developers.
Gretchen, the main female lead is only mildly interesting.
The plot feels forced. Outside the very first scene when the three main characters wake up, most of the story events feel forced and exist to herd the characters down a specific path for the right conclusion.
Some of the game mechanics feel like they were created only to further the plot. They feel like they were created specifically to herd the characters in a particular direction. Specifically, the curse thing and the lack of shrines for the characters to respawn to.
A Magic plot wand is waved sometimes! Inconsistencies are waved away as events that happened in the game that they missed or the results of actions of other players with unexplained powers.
The writing in the story is solid. There are some interesting and fun characters.The 1st game event in the story is cool and there are some interesting explorations about technology allowing people to be who they want or they truly are. Unfortunately, much of the story felt ‘on rails’. The characters felt like they were being herded towards very specific places and events. Still, it I had a good time reading it.
Score: 6 out of 10.