LitRPG Audiobook Podcast 010

LitRPG Audiobook Podcast 010 - War God's Mantle: Descent, Barrow King, The Land of the Undying

“Hello everyone. Welcome to the LitRPG Audiobook Podcast. I’m Ray. I’ll be reviewing some recent and classic LitRPG Audiobooks for you. I’ll begin with:”

War God's Mantle: Descent: A litRPG Harem Adventure (The War God Saga, Book 2) (00:10)

Score: 8.25 out of 10

Barrow King: The Realms, Book 1 (11:44)

Score: 8.75 out of 10

The Land of the Undying - Dark Elf Chronicles, Book 1 (21:09)

Score: 8.75 out of 10


War God's Mantle: Descent: A litRPG Harem Adventure (The War God Saga, Book 2)

By: James Hunter, Aaron Crash

Narrated by: Armen Taylor

Length: 12 hrs and 8 mins


Alright, I’m going to have to keep from gushing, because this is a collaboration between two writers, one of whom is a favorite of mine.  Aaron Crash and James Hunter cooked up a crazy concept in which a regular old military man is given the power of the Greek god, Ares, and has to create a bunch of warrior Amazons to help him fight off the hordes of, and the god himself, Hades.  Hades it seems, is out to destroy the world, and Ares was all that stood between him and our utter destruction.

Now, if you know James Hunter, you know he is a master of utter destruction.  His series, Viridian Gate Online is about a world that is obliterated by an asteroid, and the one way left to survive was to upload your mind into a virtual world.  The entire series is amazing, and I rate it up there with Delvers, the Divine Dungeon, and War Aeternus. So, I knew that his next Litrpg venture was going to be a blast.  He and Crash work very well together, I honestly felt that this was a complete work in and of itself that had a singular voice, and did not feel stitched together in any way.   The writing was smooth and packed full of action, as well as some exciting and unexpected twists, the characterizations were probably my favorite thing about the book, which is an odd thing to say about a book that has necromancy, hordes of dinosaurs, and a ton of battles but it was the quiet times when Jacob, the protagonist, was intimate with his amazons.  There is a lot of intimate and emotional moments that stand out, and that makes the betrayal even more devastating. Sorry, that’s not much of a spoiler as they suss out that there is a spy in the camp for a good portion of the book. Either way, whether you like the interplay or the action the story never fails to deliver. Those personal moments were so special because each character is fully fleshed out, and stand out as individuals that you can’t help but love each and every one of them. When things weren’t so quiet and introspective I often fought to keep up with what was happening in the battles as there was just so much happening.  It was such a breakneck speed I almost slowed my narration speed down a little just so I could catch my breath. Let me clarify that this isn’t a bad thing, no no no, I enjoy as fast paced story.

The story picks up pretty close to where the last one left off, and opens on a battle.  I like that, let’s not dawdle about getting the new god of war into a fight seems to be the best way to start the book off.  Things escalate quickly, and I particularly like how who escalate the villains. The antagonist in book one was good, but the new antithesis of our hero has personal ties to him, which makes it all the more interesting.  I also enjoy how the villains do not drag on for several books. I really prefer the one and done kind of approach that the first book does, as it allows for growth and changes. That is my big problem with Awaken Online, the villain there is weak and uninteresting and is due for a swap out.  As much as I hate the new Star Wars films, they generally stick to one bad guy per film, and tend to kill him off when they are done. Overall, this is a really fun book, and it makes me realize I need to review VGO, book one soon. Maybe I’ll try to do that soon.

I have to say that the narration by Armen Taylor is outstanding.  I really like listening to him, even if some of his female voices do stray into a deep timbre at times.  He has a great cadence, and paces the story so well, like I said I almost had to slow my speed down because of everything he was spitting out.  I really think the sound quality was superb, and that he added a lot to the story. He is rapidly becoming a favorite narrator of mine. Hell bells, he is a favorite narrator.  After five VGO books I don’t see how he can’t be. I am always happy to hear his voice, and I enjoy his reading style.

As a series, I have to say that the story, characters, and plot are all fascinating, and will keep you on the hook waiting for what comes next.  I love that we get big confrontations, epic battles, and personal moments all in one chapter. There is elation and heartbreak, and that is a sign of good storytelling.  I eagerly await the next installation of the Wargod’s Mantle. 8.25 stars, with plenty of room to get bigger and better.


Barrow King: The Realms, Book 1

By: C.M. Carney

Narrated by: Armen Taylor

Length: 13 hrs and 30 mins


This is a book that does something mind blowing in its execution.  It sets up a quest for a man to save his sister by entering a Game World, and then spends the rest of the time with him on a dungeon crawl.  It is pure madness in how it appears, but is really flawless in its execution. In fact, the story is more interesting than most books that take place in an open world.  I give a real tip of the hat to Chris Carney for the conception and the implementation of this tale. I would never have done what he did, creating a whole world, and then confining the whole book to just one dungeon.  Even Dungeon stories have more outside interaction than this book. Not to confuse you, but there is no dungeon core involved in this story. Although, the villain, aka the Barrow King, pretty much runs the place like he was one.  I also appreciated how he avoided the trope of the smart mouthed AI that usually helps and hinders the MC as the story progresses. He does so in a pretty clever way that only adds to the story. So, the writing is clearly innovative and original.  I get shivers just thinking about how good it was.

The main character, Finn/Gryph learns that his sister is in danger, and has been trapped in a virtual world that is not so virtual for over 40 subjective years.  He has to go in and save in spite of the fact that he is not a gamer, nor does he have any real game knowledge or experience. What he does have is real world fighting experience, which he immediately puts to use in the game.  His instincts are spot on, and when he listens to them he tends to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. I like his fearlessness, but caution tempered attitude, and can respect a man who can stand up to a god.

The dungeon is full of dangers, and some almost familiar monsters if you are a fan of the Old D&D monster Manuals and Fiend Folio.  I think my favorite was the Arboleth encounter that was a stunningly fun battle, and made me long for my old Psionicist character. There are nods to several of the best underdark creatures and races sprinkled throughout the book.  It is easter eggs like that that I truly appreciate and respect. It was handled with a delicate hand, as it didn’t beat you over the head with it, but it also gave a nostalgic nod to days long gone. Another aspect of the book that I loved was the time compression that I touched upon a little earlier.  Time moves much faster in the game, so days or months here could equal actual years there, I’m not sure about the time dilution, but it certainly made the story more interesting. Speaking of time dilation, this book did not seem like it was thirteen hours long, not even remotely. It was incredibly edited and time managed so that I really never saw a low point, or felt like there was a lull in the story.  Once the book got going it was unrelenting, and for me the set up was the only thing that even slightly held the story up, but you have to have that background info, and even that was not some simple I’m entering a game and leveling up.

Armen Taylor really brings his A game to this book.  I know I just talked about him in War God’s Mantle, but I have to say he is even better here than he ever has before, and he never sounded bad previously.  There is just something in the way that he carries himself, and thereby the characters through the story. He is utterly gripping, and cements himself in the hallows of my heart as a preferred narrator.  He really knocks this book out of the park.

Finally, he ends the book on a note with Gryph that I am not sure that I would have, but then he has turned some many other things on their ear that I can trust him to handle the new revelation with complete class and a deft skill that few writers I know can do.  This book really hit every mark for me. I have to say that this is an 8.5 easily, but I’m going to go a little higher because of all the creativity employed here. 8.75 Stars, and a helping heap of I can’t wait for the next book.


The Land of the Undying

Dark Elf Chronicles, Book 1

By: Dave Willmarth

Narrated by: Justin Thomas James, Laurie Catherine Winkel, Jeff Hays

Length: 13 hrs and 52 mins


We were in a cave

Everybody there was a drow

Somebody went into shock

When he saw a  rock

It wasn't a rock

It was a rock spider

Rock Spider

Rock Spider

Rock Spider

Rock Spider

Holy crap, this book, I must say was the complete package.  I don’t know what I enjoyed more, the real life stuff that the MC had to endure or the game play itself, which was also fun.   And that was a real pleasure. Mace, the protagonist, lives in a world populated by zombies of every shape and size. It seems that those numbnuts at Cern goofed up, and collided the wrong leptons, muons, and preons together an accidentally created a zombie particle, an insidious sub atomic beast that infects biological material and turns it into nasty zombies that can infect with but a touch.  The real problem is that the particles attack ALL biological matter, thus plants and animals are also infected. Now, here is my one and only beef with this story. I said the exact same thing when Brian Keene wrote his zombie masterpiece The Rising. If insects became zombies, as well as higher animals, then nothing would exist in a matter of days. Insects and arachnids are everywhere, and touch everything.  Life on Earth would not have a calendar of weeks or months, it would be days. Make the grass deadly, too, and the timer speeds up. Now, in Wilmarth’s case, I completely understand that he could not say that the particle only affected humans, as there would be no discernable reason for that to happen, so it had to be anything biological, but it does really make me have to fight to suspend my disbelief. Thankfully, the tale that he crafts is so outstanding that I can let it all slide and just enjoy the story.

It turns out that Mace got lucky, and essentially found a bunker that he could hole up in, and joy of all joys, he is able to access the MMORPG that he loved to play before everything went to hell.  He hatches a plan, one in which he will upload his mind into the game itself, so that he won’t have to consider starvation or becoming a mindless monster. Still he has to venture out in order to get supplies and see if he can locate any survivors.  And it is in the daily struggles to stay sane, keep fed, and ever alert for the rampaging undead that Wilmarth really ups his game and makes this not just Litrpg, but also survival horror and I appreciate that he turns the concept on its head. Most Lit books would make it where the zombies were in the game, and not vice versa.  He has created some real depth in the land of the unliving, and it is so well (ahem) fleshed out . This feels like it could be a real world event, and is exactly how humanity would react to it occurring.

The gameplay was amazingly just as interesting and fun as the real life drama, and there were several battles in the Underdark that just caught my imagination.  I’m thinking of the Cthulhu-esque kaiju battle for one, but I can honestly say that for every moment spent in the real world I wondered about the game, and for every moment in the game I wondered about the real world.  Wilmarth also comes up with a rather likable love interest in Shari, who is fun and complex and can actually show Mace a thing or two when it comes to surviving. I like that Shari is no wilting flower, and has complete control of whatever situation she is in.  The two make up some of the best Character’s I have read/listened to in some time. The world, though bleak, is rich and vibrant in its descriptions, and the game is the kind of game I’d want to play in. Oh, and I have to comment on this, Mace plays a Drow, and in the game he is treated like a baby killing madman by most of the “people” that he meets.  Just the way a Drow should be treated, this has been a moment of reflection in memory of Archaic Venture and its Drow character. Take notes please. Mace struggles to overcome his dark legacy throughout the game, which only adds more to the realism and the overall wow factor because you can sympathize with his struggle as a good person who has to overcome his appearance.  

This is the part where I praise Justin Thomas James, and Laurie Catherine Winkel, two people who must be constantly in trouble because we keep using their full names when we talk to about them.  Justin Thomas James! What are you doing?!? Why creating a vocal masterpiece. His narration is full of emotion that ranges from angst to antici. . . . . . . pation. He fully embodies that character of Mace, and brings him to life in such a way that you really worry for the poor man whenever he goes outside his door, of get choked up when he talks to a brother and sister who are hanging out over at the fire department.  LCW, that’s Laurie Catherine Winkel to you and me (mumble) since the restraining order) is utterly vibrant as Shari. She makes you believe that this is a real girl who has had to endure a ton of crap since the moment things started going haywire, but is still able to cope and keep herself clear headed. Honestly, I am so happy to hear her get a nice juicy role like this, and I really want to hear her do a whole great big book unto herself at some point.  She has a wonderful voice, and I really want to hear more from her every time she is in a book narrating. JTJ, is the same, and I am an unabashed fan of Soundbooth theater. I know that whenever I see that name on a book I am in for an experience. Also, I deeply appreciated that only two narrators were used in the making of this Audio. As much as I realize Jeff Hays has a master vision of what the audible book experience can be I still cotton on the concept of having one or two narrators as most, and this made the book all the more enjoyable for me even though Jeff and Annie were deeply missed.

I really cannot convey how much I enjoyed this book, and I hated the fact that it ended.  Thirteen hours just wasn’t enough, I could have used a another thirteen, but probably still wouldn’t have been satisfied with the extra time allotted.  All I can say is that I eagerly await the next installment of this series, and that I am glad that Dave stepped aside from his main series to pen this critter.  This was a blast to listen to; I loved the characters, and really enjoyed both the real world as much as the game world. I can only see this series getting better and better.  This is a solid and seamless story of two worlds, and two characters; each of whom is as interesting and fascinating as the other. So, please, take a trip into the Land. . . .of the undying.   

My final score is 8.75, but no matter how high I rate it you will love this story.

This podcast is sponsored by Soundbooth Theater, makers of great audiobooks.

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