An exciting new entry into the emerging GameLit genre, Joshua Mason's Steam Whistle Alley is a thrilling tale which explores what is possible in augmented reality. Everyone on the street that day saw a lunatic wearing strange brass goggles, swinging an invisible sword on the sidewalks of downtown Seattle. But Jacob recognizes what the man is really doing—playing a game in augmented reality. When the game’s creator offers him his own goggles, Jacob enters a city he thinks he knows. But towering monuments of Victorian architecture have replaced the skyscrapers. Airships float between the buildings. Fearsome enemies, from steam-powered rabbits to clockwork werewolves lurk in every shadow.
But with the game comes a quest, and to the victors go the deed to Steam Whistle Alley, the social and financial heart of the game. Jacob, his biosynthetic monkey Banjo, and the rest of the team must face off against foes who want the alley for themselves. Some of his adversaries, however, aren’t playing games. They don’t want the alley. They want the company, and the death they bring is not the kind Jacob can respawn from.
My Opinion: 488 pages, $3.99, Available on Kindle Unlimited
If you like Steampunk, you’ll love this LitRPG story. It combines that genre with an augmented reality system that transforms Seattle, Washington into a steampunk paradise. The author goes deeply into details about all the steampunkified things. Victorian clothing, steam powered machines, magic, and Seattle landmarks with steampunk looks. There’s even a talking monkey with a fancy vest and a monocle.
Unfortunately for me, I don’t like Steampunk. So, while I appreciated the use of augmented reality (which overlays the game over real things in the world) instead of virtual reality (which creates a whole new independent world), the theme just wasn’t my cup of tea. Also, on the whole the augmented reality aspect, while original, didn’t really add anything for me. Just made things overly complicated.
The Story is a bit slow in the first 20% with lots of exposition and setup but improves once you get to the first action scene at the 30% mark. There are good characters, good character development, but the story is definitely more adventure than action. There’s also a little bit of romance, and a nice bit of mystery and puzzle solving for the game contest.
A few issues I had with the story: The author breaks a few established world rules for the sake of an interesting character or to move the plot forward. The end is pretty wand wavy and the big problem isn't resolved by the MC. There is also a bit of a cliffhanger ending. Relatively minor things but they did lessen my enjoyment of the story a little.
Game Mechanic wise, the story doesn’t have particularly deep game mechanics.The RPG game mechanics exists in the story but they’re minimized intentionally. You have a fairly standard stat system, automatic stat point distribution, but the characters have the option to specialize some abilities with skill points. Crafting is also not that detailed, though I did like some of the original designs and creations. Things like quest announcements, level ups, etc mostly come from statements from the MC’s pet monkey. I think the author’s philosophy on the subject comes through in early dialogue from the MC: “It was the experience that was my whole reason for gaming, the escape - not the stats.”
Overall, the Steampunk theme of the story just wasn’t my thing. Because much of the first third of the story is just descriptions about how amazingly steampunk the game made Seattle, it was a bit boring for me. This absolutely changes with the first fight, as the story becomes smaller and more focused on the core group and their adventures. But the end, which felt very wand wavy, lost me again. On the whole, the novel just misses being good for me. By no means is it a bad story, it’s neither boring or poorly written. Steampunk just isn’t my thing. If you like Steampunk and litRPG, you’ll love this story.
But for me, it gets a 6 out of 10.