Shadeslinger is a LitRPG novel, and the first book I’ve read in this genre (although I’ve read a couple of fics by Terrycloth that are LitRPG-adjacent, if not squarely in the genre.) The vast majority of Shadeslinger takes place inside Earth Bound Online, a VR MMO in a future where virtual reality is fully immersive, and gamers use pods that provide full life support, so they never have to log out.
I decided to read Shadeslinger based on this review on “All the Spoilers”. The blurb for the book makes it sound like it’s about PVP, but there’s no actual PVP in it; I expect subsequent books will be centered on PVP, however.
I found the story and the characters engaging, especially the AI characters. The AI “guide” to the game, a talking axe named Frank, has the strongest character arc in the book. Because the story takes place entirely inside an MMO, the worst possible outcome is always along the lines of “the protagonist might lose his in-game progress and perhaps become so dispirited with the game that he quits playing.” The author does a great job of selling these stakes as meaningful, and that suffering major in-game setbacks would be harrowing. In fact, for me, he did too good a job of selling it. I began the book on April 6, read the first third in a few days, but didn’t finish it until last night, April 23. Much of that slowdown was “the story went from ‘fun romp’ to ‘nerve-wracking because of the obstacles in place.’”
This is an observation about my reading habits, not a criticism of the book. I have a few actual quibbles with the book -- a few times where the protagonist took so long to figure something out that I wanted to shake him, and one case where there was a glaringly obvious “why don’t you do [thing]” and no one even mentions the possibility of [thing] and I was just like “if you are not going to use this Chekov’s gun to shoot anyone would you AT LEAST tell people you have no bullets or something???”
But overall, it’s a great book. Lots of learning a new game and figuring out how to best apply one’s abilities in it, and with interesting combat setups where the AI has unexpected tricks to use and the players need to improvise counters to them on the fly. Plus the joy of finding phat lewt and watching one’s powers advance. I tended to skim over the character-sheet dumps and other stat blocks, but it didn’t hamper my enjoyment and it’s there for the people who like it. Also, while this is prominently marketed as "BOOK ONE", it ends on a satisfying note, with a solid climax and some significant plot points resolved. There's plenty of room for sequels, but it doesn't feel like a cliffhanger ending. If you like the LitRPG genre, or are interested in trying it, I’d recommend this book.
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