The End is Coming.
An extinction-level asteroid is cannonballing toward Earth. In humanity’s final hours, a lucky few earn a one-way ticket to the brand-new, ultra-immersive, fantasy-based VRMMORPG, Viridian Gate Online. Making that leap of faith might mean survival, but it comes with a steep price tag: “Travelers” will forever be stranded as digital avatars inside a fantastical world filled with vicious monsters, all-powerful AIs, and cutthroat players. Let the games begin …
Six amazing authors. Six incredible new tales. All set in the best-selling Viridian Gate Online Universe. Side Quests is an anthology for fans, by the fans!
My Opinion: 257 pages, $4.99, Available on Kindle Unlimited
In an anthology like this each story is written by a different person and some will appeal to a reader, while others won’t. I try to judge each separately.
“A Gentleman’s Work” by James A. Hunter
When an Imperial Inquisitor captures a Thieves Guild Operative, Cutter must undertake a deadly rescue mission while using every grift in the book to stay one step ahead of a Headsman’s Blade. And the prize for this extraordinary quest? Nothing short of the keys to the Rowanheath Thieves Guild. Deception, subterfuge, and heavy drinking—all in a day’s work for a Gentleman …
The longest of the short stories in the collection, it comes in at about 33% of the total page count. This one is written by the author of the Viridian Gate Online series and is unsurprisingly the one most fans came for. It focuses on Cutter, the NPC companion of main character in VGO, and if you like that character or just like a good break in story, you’ll enjoy this. While it was nice to get some background on Cutter, he is not my favorite character and it didn’t quite hit the spot for me. Good writing, good action-heist thing, but couldn’t get into it.
Score: 6.9 out of 10
“The Funeral Parlor” by Raymond Johnson
A young spiderling is stranded in an alien land, surrounded by hostile creatures. Forced to fight for her life in a bid to find her way home, she must transform into the predator she is destined to become or die alone and forgotten, trapped in a dark world know as the Shadowverse.
Really nice, simple, and short story. It comes in at about 8% of the total word count. The story is told from the monsters point of view, and while I would have liked to have seen more RPG evolutions, it was a good story with action and accurate arachnid anatomy.
Score: 7.3 out of 10
“The Raiding of Rowanheath” by J.D. Astra
The Crimson Alliance has breached the walls of Rowanheath, inciting Aleixo Carrera’s rage. Now Abby and her rag-tag invasion crew must reach the keep’s Command Center before the defending troops mobilize and shut down the takeover, else they’ll lose the battle and the war for Eldgard’s freedom.
Even though it makes up 11% of the total word count, it felt longer. This is one of those stories that tells the events of something you’ve already read about, only from some other point of view. The writing isn’t bad, I just got bored with it since it takes place during an event I’ve read about before.
Score: 5 out of 10
“The Ballad of Jaro Edgewalker” by N.H. Paxton
Jaro is an assassin, and he’s good at it. But when he finds a foe that is insurmountable by normal means and uncovers a plot to destroy everything he loves, Jaro has to balance his morality with his love for his friends and make an incredibly difficult decision.
One of my favorite short stories in the anthology, it comes in at 14% of the total page count. This one is definitely one of the best planned of these short stories. It has good original characters with a solid well told ending that still ties to VGO universe.
Score: 7.6 out of 10
“Buried Alive” by Nicholas Reid
Carlos Vega thinks he’s escaping certain death by entering the virtual world of V.G.O., but instead he’s swallowed alive by the deadly Barren Sands. He’ll have to overcome the riddles and horrors of a long-forgotten temple in order to escape, but can he do it before the evil sealed there centuries ago finds him?
This is an ok short story, that feels distanced from the VGO universe. It sort of feels like VGO - Ancient Egyptian edition. It’s 15% of the total page count.
Score: 6 out of 10
“A Final Kindness” by D.J. Bodden
Alan Campbell was a talker, not a fighter, until someone murdered his girl. He’d almost given up on finding the killers; now he’s got a fresh lead, a trio of mercenaries who outclass him in every way but his wits. He’ll cheat, bluff, and steal to get his revenge, and as one of V.G.O.’s immortal travelers, he’s willing to die trying.
This is without a doubt, my favorite short story in the anthology. It’s the 2nd longest at 19% of the total page count, but it goes by quickly because of the great pacing, mysteriously unraveled plot, and well done character development. The story is the most removed from the VGO universe and has the least game mechanics of any of the short stories. But, it has the most heart and the cut always gave great backstory for the characters.
Score: 7.8 out of 10
Overall, I think the anthology does a good job of highlighting all the different types of stories that can be created within the same universe. While I didn’t love every story, I had a good time reading most.
Score: 7 out of 10