Alpha: Book One in the Jaro Trilogy

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A group of friends are hired to test a new game linked to a powerful corporation. They soon find out that they are not just testing the game, but helping to create it.

Outside the game, the past of one catches up to him, which has consequences for all of them.

Which will affect them the most, real life or the game?

*Warning: Cussing, guns, explosions and sarcasm found within

 

My Opinion: 366 pages, $2.99, Not Available on Kindle Unlimited

This is the author’s first novel and the novel blurb doesn’t begin to hint at some of the cool aspects of the story.

The novel has a slow start, and there are issues with character descriptions in the beginning. However, once you get to the game (about the 12% mark), it gets better and from that point on there is regular action in-game and out.

Storywise, this is as advertised. It’s about Jim, a kind of paranoid former military man, and his tabletop gaming friends getting a chance to test out the most advanced VR game ever made. It’s so advanced, that not only do they feel like they are there, but that with some time skips, they actually influence the history and culture of the people they’re tasked with leading.  Additionally, IRL, Jim’s made some enemies that come after him and have their own interesting story arcs.

The game mechanics in the story are a mixed bag. Because the game is in Alpha development, some of the mechanics change with every task and are gradually revealed. Sometimes the characters roll their stats, other times their assigned based on their real life capabilities. Sometimes there are health and stamina bars, other times not. It’s an evolving system that changes based on player feedback in the story. But there is always RPG progression with a consistent skills system.

 

Things I liked:

Real life story was as interesting, if not more interesting sometimes, as the game stuff.

The action scenes in the story are well written and exciting. Though the real life ones had more intensity.

It’s not set in another fantasy world. Instead, there’s a series of tasks given to the players to influence how the game’s history plays out. If they fail their tasks, the people they’re assigned may die out in the tribal phase. If they use brutal methods, that country may become war like as they progress to city building. It’s an interesting mechanic with an almost alternate history story vibe.

The main character (MC) has a great personality and I almost immediately cared about him and I rooted for him to succeed the entire story.

There is a really great action scene in the middle of the novel. Like surprisingly good, high-octane, action.


 

A few issues in the story:

No character descriptions early in the story. Neither the main character (MC) or his group of friends gets a physical description. I know some authors go for a minimalists approach to physical descriptions, preferring to let readers fill in an image. But not having any for these characters, for me at least, meant that it was hard for me to create any kind of mental image of the MC or his friends. Additionally, though there’s lots of personality traits revealed about the friends in the story, because I didn’t have an image of anyone in my mind none of those characteristics had anything to anchor to. Thus, all the friends became kind of interchangeable. Only the MC’s personality stuck as and that’s just because we spend so much time with him.

Cutaways. There are fairly regular scenes in the story where it’s following the main character and his friends in the game and then there’s a break and the scene cuts away to the game AI talking to another employee or some bad guy talking, then another break and then the story returns to the MC and his friends. I don’t mind the information, but the cut away almost always broke the flow of that scene.

There’s a huge amazing fight scene in the middle of the story that is so good, it makes the rest of the fights in the story feel less exciting by comparison. I know, it’s  weird thing to think is off, but it almost felt like that big action scene should have been the end of the novel and not the middle. It was so good, it felt like the climax of the story. It’s kind of a pacing issue.

The end of the story feels a little out of place. It’s a well written and has lots of action, which is good. But, without getting spoilery, things happen that just feel out of place with the rest of the story. It sort of feels like the novel dips into another genre at the end.

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Overall, I enjoyed the story. Though it has issues, the original game design concepts and action were engaging enough to keep me reading.

Score: 7.4 out of 10

Alpha: Book One in the Jaro Trilogy

https://amzn.to/2MhfQCX