LitRPG Audiobook Podcast 014

LitRPG Audiobook Podcast 014 -  Shards of Reality, Freehaven Online Dragonsbane, Viridian Gate Online: Cataclysm

“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:”

Shards of Reality: Enter the Realm, Book 1 (00:25)

Score: 8 out of 10

Freehaven Online Dragonsbane: A LitRPG Adventure (08:25)

Score: 7.3 out of 10

Viridian Gate Online: Cataclysm (The Viridian Gate Archives Book 1) (22:51)

Score: 8.3 out of 10

Shards of Reality:  Enter the Realm

By: Timothy W. Long

Narrated by: Todd Menesses

Length: 10 hrs and 51 mins

Shards of Reality, Enter the Realm, Book 1 is a fun LITRPG novel.  It follows your basic premise in which protagonists find themselves in a virtual reality, usually as players in the game, but sometimes there at their own request, sometimes not.  For example, Viridian Gate Online has a player enter the game world to escape an asteroid that is going to destroy all life on earth. Reboot, has a player die, and his mind uploaded into the game.  Here, the protagonist, Walt, wakes up in a popular MMORPG that he has played numerous times, but with no memory of how he got there. He is utterly clueless as to what has caused his current situation.  Worse yet, he is in a newbie character, and not the one that he spent voluminous amounts of time leveling & building up. As time passes Walt manages to find a few other people who are in the same predicament as him, players, who also have no recollection of how they got there.  The scary thing is they might not be able to leave. So this is a bit like a trapped in the game trope, but with the added event of amnesia. Honestly, Thaman’s Respawn tried to go for this feel, but didn’t quite his this mark. If you liked Respawn you will love this book.

I have to warn you that the book does start out a little slowly, but it does so only so that you are able to take in everything at the same pace as the characters.  One aspect that I liked is that this book is not bogged down by tons of stats like most LITRPG books. Yes, they grind, and level, and improve but their stats do not run by every five minutes like they do in some books.  Let me tell you, that incessant listing of stats can be annoying. I enjoyed how they didn’t overwhelm the listener.

Another nice touch is that the characters all earn, and I have to emphasize this point, they earn their skills and levels, there is no OP characters to be found here.  Additionally, the characters are portrayed as regular people. Oz, for example, does whine and cry like most of us would at the exertion and pain he goes through to level.  Walt can come across like a jerk sometimes, and I can see him being off putting to some listeners. All I can say is that either you will get him, and his sense of humor or you will not, and if you don’t you won’t like him very much.  That can be hard on a listener when you aren’t fond of the protagonist. I however, did enjoy the man quite a bit. Another item that I should address is that some readers might take umbrage that the book ends on a cliffhanger. I know readers who absolutely flip out when they have that happen to them, but it is no big deal to me.  I can handle a cliffhanger so long as I know there is more coming. I just put this out there because I know how readers can get.

The writing is smooth, the dialogue is snappy, and the plot really picks up once they hit their main quest.  That is important to note, once the set up is done the story does take off. The characters do play out like real people, and are not one dimensional cut outs.  If you cut them they will bleed, and then they will yell at you about cutting them or run away crying, it’s a toss up. The narration is clean and crisp, and fun to listen to.  Todd Menesses really pulls out all the stops, sets off some fireworks, and blows up the bells and whistles in the kitchen sink. He really helps to bring the story to life, and you will find no faults with his work.

The book is fun, and enjoys nice pace once things are explained and the characters get rolling on their big quest.  Like I say, I don’t mind a slow burn as long as there is pay off, and we get pay off, and an excellent set up for the next book.  Don’t miss out.

I’m giving this 8 stars, it is solid but it takes a little time to build before the real momentum kicks in.


Freehaven Online Dragonsbane: A LitRPG Adventure

By: Jun Prince

Narrated by: Amy Landon

Length: 12 hrs and 14 mins


I think that as a funeral director I see this book in a light that few others will.  I look at it as an introspection of a character going through the grieving process. Jun really looks at loss in a couple of ways, and how it affects our lives, and I really appreciated that aspect because I had never seen it done in LITRPG before.  Justine’s brother died, and she sort of steals his account, and finds herself entering the game as him just to get a feel for who he was, and what he was like. The best part of it is that she has to come to conclusions on her own because no one magically shows up and tells her how great her brother was, or what a D-bag he was to other players.  She has to figure these things out all on her own. The book also deals with loss in a few other ways, the players become trapped in the game (not a spoiler it’s in the description) and have to deal with the possibility of never going home again. Also, some players learn that there is a way to permanently join the game, but die in the process. This leads to some complications, and Prince does not make it easy, as grieving never is just a simple emotional process.

Another aspect that I enjoyed was the concept of two MMORPG’s merging into a totally new game. Let’s be honest, not every game can end up like World of Warcraft and exist in perpetuity.  So, how could games stay alive? By merging with another game that is also losing traction. Can you imagine if City of Heroes merged with Everquest? How cool would that be? Great idea!

The story has some innovative battles, cool quests, dragons, and interesting NPCs, but it isn’t without its own issues.  First, the whole trapped in the game thing kind of comes out of left field. Personally, I think it would have worked better if it had happened early in the book.  As it was it was a little jarring even if you had read the book’s description. A lot of possible ramifications were overlooked, such as what if a single parent had gotten online just before the attack happened.  Young kids would be left to fend for themselves, even if the parent was kept alive by the VR tech. It could be days before they were found. What if a person trapped had to have medication, and lived alone? I would have loved to have seen some other players voicing these concerns.  We do have one dad who wants to get back to his kids.

The biggest issue I had, and only because I could see it being confusing was that the MC, a well as the other players, could all switch between their alts at any time.  One it made it really hard for me to connect with Justine’s character side, as I enjoyed Scootie Wootums, but the dwarf got bounced as the party needs dictated. I was fully expecting a merging of her brother’s character and her own.  I think a melding would have played better, so that all the alts merged into one unique class. That would have really amped the story up, if everyone was struggling to suss out what their capabilities were after the merge. As it was it was just a choice of picking your COH superhero or the Everquest Druid whenever you wanted for example.  Also, I don’t really recall a lot of the other players swapping their characters all that often. I did appreciate that Justine’s squad was basically a playground group, you know you wander around the playground and ask kids if they wanted to play. This was a pack of LFG people, you know “Looking for a group!” That isn’t something that you see very often in Litrpg books either, while it should be the norm.  Most times you enter a game with maybe one other person you know playing, and get to know others by shouting out Tank LFG or Rogue LFG. The story was good and well written, but I did have an issue connecting to the characters as much as I would have liked, but I loved the underlying theme that grief and loss played throughout the book.

The narration by Landon was fair.  There were times that I just did not connect with her at all, she was very clear when she spoke but her non dialogue bits lacked any emotion at all.  Go back and listen to the book’s audio clip. She almost says each sentence separately, and without any kind of inflection. Her dialogue isn’t bad, and she does some decent accents, but I could not connect with her reading style much at all.  It was very distant and seemed cold. She’s not bad, but really needs to add some energy into the reading of non-dialogue portions of the novel. This had a major impact on me, as I found it a little harder to connect with the characters and their actions, especially during fight scenes.

So, just on the basis that I enjoyed the narration, but was not enamored of it, and a few other factors such as having a hard time identifying with the MC’s rotating character class, and the wonky delivery of the game trap I have to give this a 7.3 stars.  I enjoyed it, but felt that some issues could have been better addressed and it really needed one class for me to latch onto as a reader/listener.

Final Score: 7.3 stars


Viridian Gate Online: Cataclysm

The Viridian Gate Archives Series

By: J. A. Hunter

Narrated by: Armen Taylor

Length: 8 hrs and 44 mins


Don't wanna burn and die

Don't wanna asteroid fall on me

So, Imma gonna enter Viridian, Abby  

Cause I know the asteroid won’t miss a thing

'Cause even when I even virtual reality

That VR realm would never do

I'd still miss you, baby

And I don't wanna miss a thing

I swear to God, prop guy, if you hit me in the head with a rock!

Awright, Awright, Awright.  So you’ve seen those books where something goes horribly wrong and people end up trapped in a digital world as players.  Maybe there’s a zombie apocalypse, maybe resources are so low that people can’t feed themselves, or maybe it’s an form of afterlife for people to have a second chance.  Well, James Hunter decided that none of that stuff was big enough to make him go into a MMORPG permanently. Nope, he figured the only way that he would do something like that would be if the whole world got taken out.  So he sent a massive asteroid to destroy his world, one without Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck to save it. I have to say that this approach was a smashing success. (Cricket sounds here) OK. OK. But you have to admit it works.  I appreciated how it didn’t take three chapters to get into the game world VGO is an interesting take on the RPGlit/Gamelit genre. It has some familiar twists and turns, but done in brilliant ways. Hunter has a nice flowing writing style; he knows how to open and close a chapter, and his ability to do dialogue is fantastic. I would put this book up among Delvers, LLC, Awaken Online, and Ascend Online.

One thing the book really has going for it is the characters.  That isn’t to say that the game world isn’t fascinating, or that the plot isn’t impactful, but the vibrancy and realism of the characters is what makes this book shine.  Grimjack is complex, he is both a thinker and a doer. Usually MC’s are one or the other, but Grimjack’s actions manage to make sense because of his nature. I especially enjoyed the way in which the character used his head, rather than his hammer, to defeat his foes. It really came into play during the big "Godzilla vs Mothra" fight at the end.  For an example early on in the game, however, he is given a choice; abandon an old woman to die alone or help her. If he helps he increases his risk of capture and or death but he decides to help against the advice of his newfound companion. That companion is a whole different kind of beast. Cutter, Grimjack's sidekick/partner in crime is a complete jerk, a ne’er-do-well, and a very reluctant hero who is clearly more mercenary than he is merciful, but he is loyal to the core.  Abby, Grimjack’s love interest, is a strong independent woman who is responsible for getting the team the hope that they have in stopping the Devs from creating a permanent feudal society where the rich remain on top.

One thing I liked was that the book did not focus on having to level up or power level in such as hurry; it happened as it happened.  Leveling was gradual and a natural process, and was not the main focus of the characters. No, they had more important matters to attend to, such as stopping a rather evil gentleman of getting his hands on an item of power, rebuilding a keep, and trying to stay out of the view of the people in power long enough to achieve their goals.  Just imagine how you would feel if after you are in, you find that the game has been rigged to heavily favor of some members of the upper 1%; that you are essentially fated to be an eternal servant? That would take precedence over power leveling for its own sake. Basically, you come for the asteroid, and stay for the characters and the tribulations that they face.

Armen Taylor was a palpable force while narrating. He played out the entire cast of characters in different voices, and each of their personalities shined through. He was a one man troupe in a play of dozens. Taylor makes him sound like a young Mick Jagger, all cocky and vitriolic, to a point I thought he had to have practiced that voice for hours.  One of my favorite things about Taylor is how he voices yelling. He doesn’t raise his voice or actually yell, he does it like a kid who is messing about with his action figures but doesn’t want to be loud. He sort of whisper yells, instead. Total fun. He does a great job, and this was my first introduction to him as a narrator. I’ve since grown to love listening to him.

So, I’ve stated repeatedly that this is one of my favorite series, and this is the book that started the ball rolling and I can’t help but want to share the love.  I’m actually going to trim this score back, because I am such a fan, I can’t help but feel that my enthusiasm is too powerful. I’m going to say 8.3 stars, but it has a lot more going on for it.  This is a brilliant character study that just happens to have a lot of fighting, monsters, and adventure happening around it. Oh, and book 6 comes out on the 16th, with an audible release about two months after that, So I’ll be listening to it then.  Cheers.


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

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