LitRPG Audiobook Podcast 031 - Neverfall, The Renegades: Bard from Barliona, Zombie Slayer!!, Flank Hawk
LitRPG Audiobook Podcast 031 - Neverfall, The Renegades: Bard from Barliona, Zombie Slayer!!, Flank Hawk
“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: ”
Score: 7.0 out of 10
Score: 6.5 out of 10
Score: 6 out of 10
What Else Have They Done?
Flank Hawk (44:55)
By: Terry W. Ervin II
Neverfall: Mark of the Hero:A Gamelit Lit RPG Series
By: C. Wintertide
Narrated by: Tim McKiernan
Length: 11 hrs and 57 mins
Neverfall isn’t a bad book. It is a fair bit predictable, and it definitely has fairy tale moments. On the upside, this is one of the better books to get a younger listener into the genre. It isn’t overly gorey, filled with sex, of a lot of swearing (well, ok, I honestly don’t remember there being any F-bombs, S-grenades, B-mines) but don’t hold me to that. Still, I think it’s fine for kids.
One of my biggest complaints about the book is that it takes a long time to actually get in the game. The book is almost 12 hours long, and it takes about 4 hours for the characters to actually play Neverfall. That is about half the length of most LITRPG books in most cases. For example, James Hunter’s Rogue Dungeon is 7 hrs and 41 mins long. I say this all the time, set up is fine, but it should only take 1 or 2 chapters at most to get the characters into the game. No more. I really don’t care that a relative is dying, the family is going broke, or any other typical trope that is in this genre. All of that can be said and done in one chapter. If you really want to dole out all that info do it as a flashback every other chapter or so, but don’t drag your feet making it happen. Get to the game/world/action as soon as possible. For hours is crazy.
The upside is that you really get to know the characters, their motivations, and have justification for their comradery with one another. Everyone is fleshed out, albeit a bit one-dimensionally, and while their motivations might be weird (as in a pacifist who won’t kill monsters), but you know who they are. Just think Angry dwarf, pacifist, soldier, and loot hog. I think the only misstep was that there is another team that goes into the game with the main party and they are not really given much screen time before they enter the game. I know what you are about to say, you just complained that it took 4 hours to get into the game and now you want Wintertide to let you get to know more characters? Pick a side dude. Frankly, after four hours, another four pages wouldn’t have made much of a difference, and it would have helped.
So here’s the rundown, a kid whose mother is dying ends up going into a video game to help her among other things (I don’t want to spoil anything, but honestly, if you don’t know half the mysteries then you aren’t paying attention because it is all very predictable). He goes in to help save a rich businessman who is like Bill Gates or Elon Musk, full of money and creative. They were supposed to go in at the highest levels with the best gear and start off in the final boss battle, but predictably that, well . . . spoilers, but you get the idea. From there it is a struggle to survive and face the final overlord.
Tim McKiernan does a pretty decent job on the story. He does the voices, both male and female, pretty well and really goes out of his way to make the Dark Lord sound like Darth Vader if he were a heavy drinker. The only thing I took umbrage with was his Dark Lord voice and Dragon voice were pretty much the same. I enjoyed him a great deal and look forward to hearing more from him in the future. I think he’s a good fit for Litrpg.
One thing that really ground my gears was the Trinity Matrix moment, and you will recognize it if you listen. You know my stance on death in books. Death should matter, and people should die. If you have a game where the characters can die permadeath then make all deaths PERMANENT. Don’t wuss out.
Final score 7.0 because the book is predictable and really had no surprises, and the really long getting to know you stage before getting into the game took far too long. Seriously, I’ve had relationships that didn’t last two hours. In spite of the cons, I still think that this would be a good book to introduce YA readers to the genre, but if the predictability of the series continues I don’t think I’ll be following along. I’ll give it one more shot, and hopefully things will improve.
The Renegades: Bard from Barliona,
By: Vasily Mahanenko, Eugenia Dmitrieva, Boris Smirnov - translator
Narrated by: Andrea Emmes
Length: 11 hrs and 2 mins
Awright, I’ve had this book for a while now and have been kinda of struggling to get through it. This is one of those cases where the narrator grated on me so badly that I had to get back and away from the story, to a point where I could not enjoy the tale at all. It was to a point that I really felt like Andrea Emmes just laid there and let the story do all the work. There was very clearly no love in this project for her, and there were points that I felt that this was just another assignment for her to get through. I honestly beat myself up over how I perceived this, because it felt sexist for me to think it was like a prostitute taking money and then just walking away when it was all over, but then I thought that I would have felt the same way if it had been a guy. I would have just compared his to Richard Gere in American Gigolo. Ok, maybe more like Duece Bigalow, but you get the idea. There was absolutely no sense of fun from her at all, and because of that it made the story feel like it was actually work for me. No, it didn’t feel like it. It was. I had to force myself to come back to this book, and I seriously did not want to finish it. So, enough beating her up, because I just realized that I have yet another book of hers to listen to, Conquest by RM Mulder, and I am praying that it works out better for her there.
The story itself is pretty simple, a rock band gets into a game. The leader of the band, and the MC, becomes a race called the Biota which is basically a playable plant. She’s a bard, and another character is her deadly fighter type helper. Now here’s the thing. I have an affinity for Bards, bard stories, bardic songs, etc. Love them. The idea that a rocker being a bard in a video game is pretty fun but this story was completely dominated by the narration. So that most of the story was flat to me. For example, there were a lot of attempts at humor, but I couldn’t tell what would have worked and what would have fell flat because of the reading.
One thing I can say is that the game mechanics explanations are pretty thin, but I am guessing that this is because the book is set in the same place as Way of the Shaman. I haven’t read any of those yet, so a more detailed idea of how things worked would have been a nice touch. It wasn’t that I couldn’t follow along, it was just that I would have liked more info. Another thing, and again, I kept stepping away from the book periodically so I might be off on this is that the MC had a very by the books approach to how she did things. Then, at the end all of her strategy was kind of tossed out the window, and I didn’t understand why. I did think the twist wasn’t too bad, though. It might be that I forgot something due to my taking breaks from the book, and only listening an hour or less at a time. I really cannot say. The rest of the book seemed to just be a slice of life event with no real purpose
I honestly feel bad doing this review because I really don’t think that the story had much of a chance in competition with the narration. You want me to be really honest? I can’t recall a single name of any character in the book. I couldn’t tell you the band name, or even much of what happened, and I hate to judge a book like that. I even restarted the book and just stopped. I had gotten into it, but was not going to resubject myself to another round. I think that sometimes authors make deals with publishers, and then sacrifice all of their control just to get an audiobook made. Sometimes it is a hit, since I know that Markum caught Iggy Toma for Succubus completely by chance, this is the other end of the spectrum as I don’t believe that Mahanenko would have made this decision. I could be wrong, but I would certainly be looking for more options when it came to my ability to choose a narrator.
Final score. 6.5 stars. The written word may translate far better than it has here.
Zombie Slayer!!: A LitRPG Apocalypse
By: Cameron Milan
Narrated by: Steve McCutcheon
Length: 7 hrs and 52 mins
Cameron Milan wrote the Desire books, which I reviewed a little while ago. I hadn’t realized that at the time, I just grab LITRPG novels as they come out, and I only tend to notice the author or narrator if it is a name that I am dedicated to, so, for example Jeff Hays, SBT, Dave Willmarth, Andrea Parsenau, Luke Daniels, James Hunter, Charles Dean, those are some of the names I notice when I go grabbing books. There are a few authors and narrators that I actively avoid and so I really focus on their names, but for the most part I do blind grabs. As an example, I just reviewed Advent, and had no idea Luke Daniels was the narrator on it until I heard him speak. Everyone else flies under my radar, and even though I’ve read several of his books I don’t go out of my way to look for him. It’s kind of like a baloney sandwich. I’ll eat one if someone hands it to me, but I don’t go to the store intending to make a bologna sammich.
I recognized his style about two chapters in, and recognized him. His style of writing is pretty much story over substance. He gets an idea and it is an interesting idea, but then his characters, and I mean all of his characters, are one or two dimensional. They don’t seem to have any distinct personalities and that goes for the MC right down to the faceless NPC who gets chomped by a zombie. They are interchangeable in their actions. Honestly, there were two characters who were friends at the start of the book, and unless the MC was off on his own interacting with a hot vampire or stalking zombies at night I couldn’t remember which was which.
So here’s a rundown of the book. The Earth passes through a strange interstellar cloud that places it and its inhabitants into a video game styled event, they are given a zombie apocalypse to contend with, and all I can say is that the rate of attrition at the fortified location is so huge that humanity would pretty much be roadkill within six months. In one aspect this book reminded me of an old zombie novel called Skeletons by Al Sarrantonio, in which the Earth passes through an interstellar cloud the dead rise as intelligent skeletons and start killing everybody.
You know I like it when characters die, but deaths need to serve some sort of purpose, some can be used to show how dangerous the situation is, some should be emotional, some to drive a character in another direction, or to jar the reader. Every death needs to serve something in the long run. Here the characters were just picking numbers, and lining up to become zombie chow.
My issues were that the storyline didn’t keep my attention over the weak characterizations. Every character in the book had a blank face to me. Here’s an example, the MC lives at home with an ailing grandmother, his mother, and some siblings. Once he gets them to a safe area they only pop up periodically, and he never even considers then while his fortification is being overrun. They are after thoughts. The book pretty much just focuses on him, the MC, ERIC, his name is Eric. Going out night after night trying to get stronger. This neverending quest for power is also how every character in the Desire books behave. So, he’s consistent. This is just a character grinding for 80% of the book until he faces off against a big bad at the end.
What really hurts the book is the narration by Steve McCutcheon. His narration is stilted and utterly lifeless. You know, lately I’ve been saying a lot of people were middle of the pack narrators. This fellow doesn’t make it that far. There were parts of the book that repeated (short lines) and his reading is as good as my son in high school when he reads to his brothers, and that aint stellar. The kids cry and ask that we play heavy metal to put them to sleep rather than have my son read to them anymore. That’s not true, they asked for death metal, and I told them that they live in a funeral home, so all metal played here is death metal. So, yeah, not a fan of his. Like Johnny Dangerously said, Ya Bore me.
What is my final score? 6 stars. Sorry, but weak characters and muddled narration made this pretty unfun. I have to say that I did enjoy this book far more than I did Desire. I’m pretty much done with that series.
Here is my what else have they done segment. Today, I’m going to focus on Terry Ervin, II who writes one of my favorite gamelit series, Monsters, Maces and Magic.
By: Terry W. Ervin II
Narrated by: Michael A. Slusser
Length: 13 hrs and 25 mins
Terry Ervin is just crushing it for me. I started out in a Litrpg story of his called Outpost, and adored the book. I loved it. Then I read his novel, Relic Hunter and was amazed at just how flexible his story telling chops really were, and now he hits me with a fantasy novel that deals with undead and nazi planes and tanks. Wha-huh? Who the heck thinks this stuff up? I must say his imagination is fueled by Tolkien's sweat, Willy Wonka's blood, and Clint Eastwood's attitude. A cray mix to be certain, but a combination that makes for amazing possibilities.
Flank Hawk is an everyman. He's not a hulking hero or deadly warrior. He's just a guy swept up in circumstances that sweep him away from the life that he would prefer. Still, he makes due with his lot and manages to actually become someone of consequence. In this case, history isn't repeating itself so much as reinventing itself. Fantasy and Science begin to gel together, leaving the world a far different place than it had been. Flank Hawk has the honor of being the one has to bear the responsibility of stopping the war.
One little issue I did have was with the character of Lily. FH is there to help and protect her, and there is literally no sexual tension between them at all. I would have liked to have seen some interest, some spark, because if you consider that FH has been celibate for a while it is more than likely that he might do some initiating of something with her. You might argue that he has a Gomer Pyle attitude, but I never really got that feel from him. Even if he was pious and holy he would still be moved when she undressed. Aside from that the action alone makes this book worth it, but then you do have the characterization and the whole concept of fighting orcs, zombies, and panzers all at the same time. Good stuff.
Michael A. Slusser does the narration, and I'm glad to see that Ervin rotates his readers out for various series. This give each series its own tone, its own voice, and keeps it distinct from the other works he has done. Slusser comes in as a favorite of mine. I hadn't heard him prior, but I really enjoyed his work, voice, and the emotion he provided each character. I never noticed any sound issues, and felt that I could happily listen to him for another few novels.
This looks to be a solid and entertaining series. PLEASE DON"T MISS OUT ON IT.
Thanks oh so very much for watching everyone, I do appreciate you taking to the time to watch or listen to the show. If you want to support us, you can like the LitRPG Podcast facebook page or the YouTube Page, or just share and like the video. I’m going to ask for more suggestions for the Is it LIT segment, I’ve got a good one for next time, but will always need ideas. Please leave comments or suggestions in the comments below, and feel free to tell me whatever you like. I enjoy the feedback.
For LitRPG Audiobook Podcast, I’m Ray. Keep listening!!!
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