LitRPG Audiobook Podcast 037 - The City and the Dungeon, The Trapped Mind Project, The Greystone Chronicles: Book 1, Pickpocket Frankie
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“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: 7.9 out of 10
Score: 8.2 out of 10
Score: 8.4 out of 10
What Else Have They Done?
The City and the Dungeon
And Those Who Dwell and Delve Within
By: Matthew Schmidt
Narrated by: Doug Tisdale Jr.
Length: 9 hrs and 46 mins
I don't get to say this very often about a LITRPG book, but this one really stands out. It pretty much avoids a lot of the repetitive things that occur in other books of this genre. I like that. It tells a story, but doesn't slavishly follow conventions set forth by others in this genre. Plus, the characters, even the background ones, are all interesting and the story is compelling, which leads us into a fantastic tale that you are lucky enough to be able to read.
The main character, Alex Kenderman, decides to start out as a dungeon diver, and the whole system is sort of based on different crystals. The crystals follow the color wheel, red, orange, yellow, blue, etc. Players all have auras that grow stronger and change colors as they level up, and in order to survive they need to eat one crystal per day. Bit of a warning, the book does start just a wince slow, it does need to build up some steam, but once that boiler pops you will be going full bore down the rails without any brakes. Seriously, it picks up and never looks back. I think it helps that you aren't bogged down by the characters having to farm XP, as Schmidt smartly kinda skips that part of the storyline. A wise choice. Another issue is that the sheer number of characters can be a bit overwhelming, but unlike some books you will know the players as they start to standout. That is the crux of it, the story is more character driven than anything else. The plot is good, and the gaming stuff is there, but it is the characters that hold your attention and keep you listening.
So, what is so different? For one thing, the protagonist is not overpowered or have special abilities that no one else has or can get. He is just a regular joe; leveling as he goes along. Oh, and no Uber-powerleveling either. I also liked that you weren't over whelmed by game mechanics, stat screens, damage reports, etc. It doesn't hurt that the characters are all likable and hold your interest. Additionally, I think that the game system itself is well thought out that allows for some cool class building. This story has a feel like WOW insofar as the characters try to get gaming gear and go on raids. One benefit, and I talk about this a lots is that there are not as many stats thrown at you as the book moves on. The story rolls and you aren’t being smacked in the face by numerous reports of status changes every fifteen or so pages. So you might say that it looks less at stats than it does world building. Another thing that is usually problematic is the fact that there are huge jumps in time throughout the book, during which new classes might have suddenly been added or other things. Normally, this would bug me, and to a slight extent it did, so I have to chop off some points for that, but the fact is that it worked in the story. The story still flowed nicely and you just sort of roll along with it. Finally, one odd aspect is that there is often a lot of build up about bosses or monsters and then when the fight comes it is practically over before it starts. I’m talking a few paragraphs rather than pages.
Doug Tisdale Jr. does a great job narrating and living the story out for you. He took me a few minutes to get used to, but once I settled in I was impressed at his skill and versatility. I know him best from the Days of Future Past series by John Van Stry where he did some incredible work. Like I say he has a lot of skill and versatility and he held my interests but there were points that he seemed rushed or was upping the pace unnecessarily. Also, he does a great job with voices, but could inject a little more emotion into the tale. I think he did better in the Days of Future Past series, which is odd because that is an earlier work. I’d say he did a 7 out of 10 on his part of the book.
Final score is a 7.9. I enjoyed it, but I think the fighting scenes could have been better fleshed out and that there is a weakfish ending that isn’t as strong as the rest of the story. Coupled with the slow start and I have to consider that while the book is fun and captivating it isn’t perfect.
The Trapped Mind Project
Emerilia, Book 1
By: Michael Chatfield
Narrated by: Tristan Morris
Length: 18 hrs and 19 mins
Boredom is a dangerous thing. They say that the hardest part of war is the boredom. I don’t believe that. Getting shot, stabbed, blown up, maimed, or killed has to be hard, not getting shot, stabbed, blown up, maimed, or killed has to be even harder, so being bored is really only dangerous when you’re not at war. So what happens when you don’t know you are at war, and are as bored as hell?
Well, that’s the question that Chatfield asks and answers in Book one of the trapped mind. I don’t want to spoil anything, but this series is fairly far along and I think I can give a little bit away. Emerilia is sort of like the Matrix on crack. The MC, Dave, is just bored and wants to change his life in any way he can, and so he turns to gaming to give him some pleasure. Turns out that the game is really fun, and is just what he’s been looking for . . . only it turns out that the game is the real world, and the life he’d been living had been a lie. It is a nice twist for the Lit genre, in which the game is reality, and life was the fantasy. It really works and carries a nice impact for the listener.
I generally try to purge anything negative from my system first, and then tackle the good stuff. I do have some nits to pick, but nothing overly bad. I listen to books in the car. I drive a lot, and my wife, if I am lucky, will listen along with me. Otherwise, I have to use headphones. She gets really annoyed when all the crunchy bits start flying. In other words, when stats or alert notices start flying and never end. It can be distracting, but she had to make me turn this off, as it overwhelmed her. So, on one hand if you like things crunchy, then his is perfect for you, otherwise it can be a bit off putting. It does bug me, but I look at it for when it was written. There was a time when stats and numbers meant the world to a story, nowadays you can get away with less. However I can see her point; damage reports, level alerts, and anything else that repeats is fine on a page, you can skim that. On audio it comes off like Dr. Strange meeting Dormammu. Thankfully, once we get into the meat of the story this sort of dies down.
Additionally, and this is only speculation, I have to wonder if Chatfield started writing his book twice, like from a point that he found interesting, and then at the begining because he does rehash some of his world building stuff several times. I don't know if this was two books that got folded into one, but it was a touch distracting to go over something we already knew.
Now the good stuff. This book not only fed my need for action, but it also sated my intellectual needs. There were great periods of character growth, story building, and some mind blowing concepts. Chatfield really flipped everything on its side and bounced it off a wall. Brilliant concept. The characters are interesting. The plot grips you. The unexpected truth will knock you down. There is good action here as well as the quiet moments. The story will grab you and take you for one heck of a ride. All that stuff I said at first was just minor crap. The real meat of this book is delicious, and the amount of fat and gristle is negligible. The story and characters progress in a realistic speed, they hold your attention, and make you want more.
Morris makes a great first impression on me as a narrator. I had never heard him before, but I can see why he has this gig. He's really good, and brings the story to life. He works hard to give each characters a distinctive and individualized voices. Some voices do blur a bit and it takes a tag like so and so said . . . in order for you to know who is speaking , but he still put out a lot of different voices. He’s done almost 100 audiobooks, and you can tell.
Final score is an 8.2 It’s a good beginning, but the middle slumped a little and it felt like two books that were combined. Still, it is a great start to an incredible series.
The Greystone Chronicles: Book One: Io Online
By: Dave Willmarth
Narrated by: Laurie Catherine Winkel, Jeff Hays
Length: 14 hrs and 43 mins
Shew! This was a fun book. It has a lot going for it, so let me get the easy stuff out of the way first. I am a huge fan of Soundbooth Theater. Jeff Hays is my favorite narrator. Those tow facts mean that I was going to get this book no matter what. Seriously, Hays is a Master of the Vocal Arts, and if anyone can make a good book amazing it is him, BUT lo and behold he didn't do all the heavy lifting. Nope, Laurie Catherine Winkel takes the lead narration slot, and is kind enough to let Hays do the voices for the male characters. I have to say that I am being continually blown away by the talent that SBT has under their banner. So, be aware that the sound quality and narration just blows your expectations into orbit. I have to say that it was refreshing to have LCW take the reins, which I think was her first time
Next, the writing! Well Doggies this too is top notch, grade A stuff. The characters are all fun, and I would have a hard time narrowing out a favorite. Alexander has a cool side story about his being healed via his immersion in the game, but that plot line isn't resolved by the end of the book; so I guess that will be looked at in another book! Yeah!! Another one!!!! The action is really great and the book speeds along. You know it is good when it is three AM and you don't want to stop listening even though you have to get up a six. Yeah, it pulls you in deep.
This is a book in which secondary characters absolutely add to the plot in golden ways, and sometimes even steal the show away from the main players. For example, if you ever hear the words Pew Pew in real life you will never not be able to think about a certain lil green guy named Fibble or a silly squirrel. In fact, there’s a real reason that Fibble is getting his own stand alone novel. He’s just that freaking cool. Novel, did I say novel? He’s also becoming a plush doll. So, yeah, there are points where the scenery gets chewed by someone other than the MC.
The party “chat” feels real, too. I’ve played, and my wife has played far more MMORPG’s and the dialogue feels like genuine interaction between players. I will say that the only real issue I took was the flagging of almost 100 people for a PVP infraction. That was a little over the top, but hey, game mechanics are what they are. The point is that this feels more like a game than most LITRPG novels. One thing I will say is that Willmarth and I have similar views on PKers. I hate them, and personally think that they only detract from gameplay. Dave obviously has a distaste for the SOB’s, and makes no qualms about it. Also, praise capitalism, as he does a fine job on discussing in game currency and real world conversion and such, which he actually manages to make interesting; and if you have ever watched my show you know that I hate the whole concept of the real world using gaming currency. I am not into cryptocoins at all, but what do I know? Not nearly as much as Dave Willmarth, obviously. Another bonus, for me is the town building. You know I love that stuff, and WIllmarth does it right. I have to admit, I like this book a lot, and am a huge fan of Willmarth’s. I have not heard a bad line come from his metaphorical pen/computer keyboard, and it seems like every book he writes just gets better as he goes. This is a fantastic first novel, and things only improve as we go along.
I can see some people complaining that the characters are too overpowered, and while that might actually be the case I have found it to be the norm for a book in this genre. Just look at the uberleveling in some other books and you will see my point. So, I do not hold that against the storyline at all Willmarth knows how to hold your attention and make things exciting.
Final score, 8.4. It is one hell of a first novel and it grabs you right in the tenders and squeezes, never letting up until the ending, which sort of only leaves you wanting more.
What else have they Done?
By: Roberto Scarlato
Narrated by: Roberto Scarlato
Length: 5 hrs and 53 mins
I’m going to be talking about one of my favorite narrators today, Roberto Scarlato, whom you may know from the Accidental Traveller series by Jamie and CJ Davis. I have actually listened to a lot of his narration outside of the LITRPG genre, and appreciate his narration style and skills. However, he is also an author of no small skills. Scarlato often writes weird stories, for example in Fall Where They May a detective has to solve a murder while cursed to shuffle a deck of cards with one hand, or in Reviled in which the leather jacket of a serial killer begins fusing with the flesh of it new owner making him want to do bad bad things. That’s the kind of stuff that appeals to me, weird, creepy, fun.
Pickpocket Frankie is just a delight. The book, in spite of being based on a tragedy that happens to Frankie, is light-hearted and humorous. Frankie is a likable guy, too. You feel for him, and he isn't a callous criminal. The book starts off with Frankie finding out that his life savings has gone missing. Things kinda go downhill from there. Frankie himself is interesting insofar as he’s been on his own since he was a snot nosed brat, and had to learn how to pickpocket in order to survive. Scarlato cleverly uses pop culture references throughout the book, but in a good way. Frankie is quick-witted and deservedly self-reliant. He can take care of himself. I think it was everyone else that needed to look out for him.
Scarlato pulls double duty, as both author and narrator. His writing is tip top, and narration is spot on, making me wonder why he isn't narrating more. Narrating, why isn’t he writing more? I guess all that writing gets in the way of the narration and vice versa. Regardless, you really feel like Scarlato is Frankie. I suppose as that comes from him having written the character, he knows every nuance and emotion of the man. That is a benefit of being both a writer and narrator of the book. I don't think there is a genre Scarlato can't write as he seems to cover different genres with ease from I have seen.
Listening to Frankie's plight is enjoyable; you will snicker, belly laugh, and even guffaw once or twice. Scarlato has comedic timing down to a science. I would really like to see this as a movie, it would be unstoppable, but I could also see this being a two hour Netflix film that transitions into several other two hour flicks. Frankie is just that interesting of a character. Like I said, I could have chosen a number of other books that he’d written, several with more of a fantasy flair that would have probably fit in a touch better on this show, but Frankie is a skillfully done piece of work that really stands out among a lot of other amazing stories. That in itself should say something about this work, as I really do prefer supernatural or straight up horror stories to real life styled stuff, but Frankie really stands out to me. I don’t know if it is the humor, the characterization, the craziness in the story itself (as in what he endures), or any other number of things. All I do know is that I loved the story and the character and I think that if you are looking for a break from Litrpg, but want to support the members of the community then this is a fantastic place to start. In all seriousness folks, check this book out it is fun, funny, and touching. Plus it is a rare chance to get a book that is written by an apt author and deftly narrated by the same person. Most people who narrate their own stuff can’t handle the voice work, and most narrators couldn’t put their stories to paper properly, so take a chance and listen to a man that can do both.
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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