Death March (Euphoria Online #1) by Phil Tucker

Death MarchI just recently finished Death March by Phil Tucker and even though I know less about RPGs than you could fit on a pinhead I had a blast with this book.  It was really good.  I found myself liking the characters, it’s a great way of coming up with a convoluted plot and lots of cunning solutions but more than that, now I’ve finished reading I find myself missing the story very much.

So, as you may be able to gather this is a book that falls into the LitRPG genre.  Now, if that has got you feeling like I did initially, that you don’t know much about RPG and therefore this isn’t for you – let me disabuse you of that notion straight away.  I wanted to read this because of the author but deep down I had misgivings, I’m not a gamer – the odd one out in my family apparently – but, the way this is written I really don’t think it’s necessary for you to be clued in.  It’s reader friendly.  Easy to pick up and impressively immersive.

As the book starts we make the acquaintance of Chris.  He’s a school teacher who seems to have had a string of bad luck family wise.  His brother is currently in prison and possibly facing execution (not, I hasten to add, because his crime was heinous but more to make an example of him).  Chris is determined to help and so when his ex-girlfriend offers him a free pass to play in the world’s most exclusive gaming experience, Euphoria, in spite of his nagging doubts about her motives he snatches the offer.  If he survives 6 months in game mode (the equivalent of a long weekend in real life) he can ask for his brother’s freedom as a boon.  You may be thinking ‘hell yes’ to that – but, in order to gain this special reward the gamer must be in ‘death march’ mode so if Chris dies in game – he dies in real life too.  Not an option to be taken lightly but Christ is out of other ideas and he refuses to lose his brother.

Now, the seriousness of death march mode put to one side, you also have to wonder why exactly Chris’s ex-girlfriend has offered him this exclusive pass?  Is something nagging at the back of your mind about ‘hell having no fury like a woman scorned’?

Anyway, Chris is a gamer on a serious level, or at least he was.  However, that means squat when he enters the world of Euphoria.  His stat sheet is the lowest of the low, he could barely run away from a hedgehog without losing strength and so if he runs across any enemies he’s going to have to think fast, a single swipe from a cave troll could kill him outright.  And so begins ‘the grind’.  Gamers will know all about that – a term I’m only familiar with because of the rest of the family.  Basically, Chris needs to put in effort to raise his basic stats, gain points and buy other skills, cantrips, weapons, etc.

Okay, now to the good stuff – sorry if I’ve made it all sound a bit dry with the explanation, I can assure you it’s anything but.  There is of course a little bit of build up and some description of the character mode that Chris chooses and what it all means.  But, rest assured once Chris enters game mode the action kicks off pretty much immediately.

It’s funny but I never imagined myself being able to love a world based on a game world (although Ready Player One) but now I realise how silly that was – the world here is brilliant and more so because being a game, I think, actually frees up so many restrictions or inhibitions that must feel like they bog down the creation of a fantasy world outside of a gaming situation.  It really does feel like anything goes here and with that comes this sense of liberation – you really can go with the flow and accept whatever may be thrown your way.  As it is this feels like a faux mediaeval world to me with a small village and crumbling castle overrun with critters – clearly though this is only one tiny part of the game.

The characters are a whole bunch of likeable too.  Chris is such a good guy that you can’t help but be in his corner and it’s easy to see that eventually he will make friends because of his kindness, sense of humour and compassion.  No surprise that he pretty soon finds himself with a couple of other gamers and the three of them come up with a mission of sorts.  He also makes some other great friends who I must admit have been making me laugh out loud but that I won’t go into detail about here as it will definitely spoil the surprise along the way.

In terms of the plot.  I’d say the first instalment is about setting the scene.  We’re in game mode.  Chris has faced some pretty hairy situations that have required some quick creative thinking where his previous gaming experience has definitely helped and with the aid of his fellow gamers they’ve come up with a way to boost their stats so they can move on.  What could possible go wrong?

On top of this there is the suggestion of something underlying the fun and games – Chris might be in here for one reason but discussion about the AI running the show has definitely got the cogs in my brain whirring and on top of that there’s the added dilemma of what Chris’s ex is really up to.

The writing here is really good which isn’t exactly a surprise as I’ve read this author a couple of times before and like his style.  This is easy to get along with and there’s just the right amount of humour to make it really engaging without being a try hard.

Criticisms, well, there is a little bit of set up – but not much so don’t let that put you off.  And, a cliffhanger – yes, this very much ends on an unresolved note however it simply leaves me gagging for the next instalment. I may have mentioned that I’m missing this now it’s finished and if I had less commitments I would undoubtedly read it again.

I would definitely recommend this – it’s has good pacing, characters that you will become attached to, the world is great and it feels like there are so many possibilities yet to be explored.

Thank you to the author for providing a copy.  The above is my own opinion.

Now check out the cover – I’ve posted it twice just in case you didn’t really check it out at the start – here it is again for your delight:

Death March

 

 

 

 

 

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#SPFBO Review : The Empire of the Dead (The Godsblood Trilogy #1) by Phil Tucker

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empireThe Empire of the Dead is one of my remaining four books for the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off.  I will be choosing a winner on Saturday but will first review each of my final books.

Phil Tucker is not a new author to me.  I read and enjoyed The Path of Flames, from his The Chronicles of the Black Gate series.  It was great and in fact I bought the next two books on the strength of it.

Anyway, The Empire of the Dead is completely different from The Path of Flames.  It’s just as well written and its still fantasy but this time its a heist story.  Doesn’t everyone love a heist story?

As we start the story we meet up with Acharsis, demigod and son of the fallen god Ekillos.  Acharsis has fallen on hard times, he’s feeling his age, he’s tired of being a merchant, he’s feeling guilt over his past actions and on top of that he has his very own demon that seems to appear out of nowhere right before bad things happen.  Acharsis has decided to return to his homeland to apologise to his past love Annara and to seek forgiveness from his former friend Jarek (also a demi God).  Of course, having received a recent visitation from his demonic menace perhaps Acharsis should have turned around!  Unfortunately, he ignored the visit and ploughed on and surely enough everything went to hell in a handcart swiftly on the heels of his appearance.  I feel like I’m always saying this and it does make me feel guilty but I’m not going to give away the rest of the plot because it’s best discovered through the read itself.  Although what I can say without giving too much away is that Acharsis and Annara agree to forget their differences and team up to try and make things right.  Along the way they visit Jarek to attempt to enlist his help and after that, and the odds being greatly stacked against them, they also seek further help as best they can.

Given that I’m not going to give anything more away about the plot let’s move swiftly on to world building and characters.  The world here is pretty grim.  Necromancy is abundant with the dead walking among the living and forming an army of very difficult to kill critters. People live miserable lives of poverty and starvation and the whole feel of the world is bleak and oppressive.  The city of Rekkidu, is the destination of our protagonists,  At it’s centre is a huge ziggurat, now the ruling home to an undead lord, brother of Jarek –  Akkodaisis.  This won’t be a happy family reunion.  Akkodaisis, being undead, has a penchant for sacrifice, he has schemes to become more powerful and his brother Jarek (former ruler of Rekkidu) could hold the key to his success.

To the characters: Jarek and Acharsis are something of a double act.  Jarek plays the no nonsense, dry humour, huge-hammer wielding type to Acharsis’ more funny guy, full of one liners, brains of the piece.  Annara, well, to be honest I didn’t really get a good feel for her other than she’s persuasive and stubborn.  Then we have two other characters, also children of former gods, Sisu and Kish – a bit like brother and sister these two enjoy a good spat,   I’m just going to confess straight off that Jarek and Kish were my out and out favourites.  Kish is a great kick ass female and I couldn’t help really liking her.  She has this wonderful, honest, simplicity to her where basically she’s not afraid to say and do as she pleases.  And Jarek, he has a past that has scarred him, he’s a bit of a deep thinker but there’s something about him that you can’t help liking, perhaps his quiet, calming influence.

I do enjoy the way Phil Tucker writes and on top of that I really appreciate the way in which he brings humour to the story to off set some of the darker elements.  He clearly understands the need to break the tension a little and achieves it in what appears an almost effortless way through the snarky dialogue that his characters share.

In terms of criticisms.  Nothing too major to be honest.  I thought the first half of the book took a little time to warm up – the second half of course more than makes up for that and the first half is establishing the groundwork so it’s understandable but just be aware that it takes a little time to really take off and be patient.

Overall, I had a great time reading this.  It’s well written, creative and entertaining and it ends with the perfect set up for the next book, which I will definitely be picking up.

 

The Path of Flames by Phil Tucker #SPFBO

pathofMy most recent book for the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off was Phil Tucker’s Path of Flames.  To be honest, I expected to like this one before I started.  The glowing review of the blogger who submitted this book to Stage 2 was so convincing that I actually went and bought book No.2 simply with the expectation that I would be in love and would want to continue on.  Thankfully that very much proved to be the case.  This was both compelling and fast paced.  To be honest I was captivated by the characters and found myself driven to keep on reading even into the early hours of the morning making this a speedy read indeed.

The book gets off to a great start, literally bursting out of the gates with a dramatic battle sequence.  From there we quickly build up a picture of the world and it’s inhabitants as the author weaves together a rich story with protagonists that I really cared for and great world building that really helps to set the scene.

I don’t want to really elaborate on the plot as I think that way lies the path of spoilers.  It’s probably easier to expand on the story simply by discussing the world building and characters.

Obviously when you read quite a few fantasy novels it’s easy to start to make comparisons and this book is no exception.  For me this had elements of Tolkien, Martin Feist and Sanderson thrown into the mix.  Not that the story was the same just that there were elements that put me in mind of certain books – but in a way that made me smile and that brought out my inner youngster – the one who first feel in love with fantasy after reading Lord of the Rings.  This is well done and has a definite 80s type feel, there is strong world building and the author sets the scene well.

The story is told through a number of POVs.

We start with Asho.  Squire to Lord Kyferin he may be but it isn’t a position that brings him any joy.  All his peers despise him and his Lord and master, having raised him from the life of a slave on a whim, would like nothing more than to see him fail.  Asho is stubborn though and although he’s set up to fail he’s determined to succeed.  Asho is from Bythian – which, in a world where the religion is based on caste, placed him at the very bottom of the ladder.  His life should have been one of slavery and therefore his elevation in life is greatly begrudged by many.

Lady Iskra.  *Slight spoiler ahead*.  Finds out fairly early on in the story that her husband has died in battle thereby releasing her from a very unhappy marriage.  To say Lord Kyferin was not overly popular with most people is something of an understatement although among his knights he seemed to be well liked.  I liked Lady Iskra, or more to the point I felt terrible for her – or just terribly annoyed on her behalf.  she lives in a world where women are chattels and although she is quite a steely character she finds herself being mistreated and betrayed in a way that leaves her virtually stranded, in a dangerous world, with few belongings and a scant few friends to aid her.

Kethe – daughter of Lord and Lady Kyferin.  Longs to be a knight!  She spends all her free time, training in secret and when the time finally comes to prove herself she enters and is given permission to take part by her mother, a tournament.  I confess that I loved this section of the story.  Up until this point I think Kethe came across a little spoiled – yes, she wanted to break the mould but if she didn’t have such a privileged upbringing she would hardly have had the opportunity to scarper off to the forest to practice swordsplay at every opportunity now would she – a fact that she seems blissfully unaware of.  But, her participation in the tournament was so well done.  She doesn’t just rush onto the field and kick everyone’s butt – which is the one thing I was scared of, in fact she finds herself unceremoniously knocked to the ground.

Audsley is the bookish character of the piece.  He’s a magister and his one aim in life is to be well read.  He carries along a bag of tools of his trade and is followed by his faithful and fiery firecat.  He’s not the most courageous of the book, at the start anyway, but he pretty soon finds himself pulled into the adventure, probably against his own better advice, and soon becomes rather fundamental to the survival of the group.

Ser Tirón is the dark character of the piece.  Well, he has good right to be so.  For the last few years he has spent his time imprisoned for trying to kill Lord Kyferin’s wife and daughter.  Of course he didn’t simply wake up one morning with that notion.  Rather it was brought out of him as a need to avenge himself for the death of his own wife, at the hand of Kyferin – a murder that was carried out simply as a result of petty jealousy.  Tiron is released from prison by Lady Iskra because she basically needs all the help she can muster.  Whether she can trust him remains to be seen but he is an interesting character.

The final character who we follow is Tharok.  Tharok is some kind of Orc (I think).  His is an interesting story that sees him, after a long pursuit and a fight to survive, discover a sword and headband that seem to imbue him with strength and power of thought.  From here we see Tharok as his plans and ambitions start to take shape.  I must admit that I was puzzled about his involvement until much later in his story when he buys, and then frees a human slave – a woman with a connection to one of our other POV characters.  It will be really interesting to see how the two stories come together.

I really did have fun with Path of Flames.  Admittedly, it’s not particularly ground breaking but even so it is very entertaining and kept me quite riveted. Gates that are used to travel between different realms, battles, tournaments, dark magic, and all sorts of critters.

I certainly recommend Path of Flames without hesitation and I shall be moving onto book No.2 shortly.

 

 

Friday Firsts: The Path of Flames by Phil Tucker

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Friday Firsts
 is a new meme that runs every Friday over on Tenacious Reader. The idea is to feature the first few sentences/paragraph of your current book and try and outline your first impressions as a result. This is a quick and easy way to share a snippet of information about your current read and to perhaps tempt others.  Stop on by and link up with Tenacious Reader.    This Friday I’m reading : Path of Flames by Phil Tucker.

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The wind plucked at Lord Kyferin’s war banner, causing the black wolf emblazoned on the field of white to snap fitfully as if impatient with the delay.  Asho shivered at the sight despite the quilted undercoat that he wore beneath his chainmail, and sat up straighter in Crook’s saddle.  For years he had only seen the war banner hanging above his Lord’s high chair in the great hall, limp and still, but now it rippled and surged as if awakened and thirsting for blood.  It was his first time riding into war with the Black Wolves.  Even though he was at the back of the company with the other squires, he felt as vividly alive and terrified as if he were positioned in the vanguard.

Asho raised his chin.  He’d die before he let the others see his fear.

“Asho!” Lord Kyferin’s bellow carried over the cacophony of the great army arrayed around them.  “Where are you hiding?  Get up here, now!”

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Alardus and Cuncz smirk, could feel the cold stares from Cune and Tyzce.  A squire he might be, but the others saw only his white hair and pale skin, the tell-tale signs of a Bythian.  That he was free and rode by their side was an outrage they would never forgive.

My First Impressions

I think this gets off to a very good start – and having read further on I confess that my first impression in that respect was spot on.  Clearly, peace has reigned for a few years by the sound of it.  What changed?  And Asho, I’m very curious about him and the way he is treated.

What you reading this Friday??  What are your first impressions??

*The above excerpt was taken from an advanced reader copy and it is possible that the final version may have further changes.

My 7th book: Final Stage: #SPFBO 16

FullSizeRender-10November 1st saw the start of the second stage of the SPFBO – the Self Published Fantasy Blog off organised by Mark Lawrence.  All the details can be found here.

Today I’m highlighting the seventh book that I will be reading for the SPFBO.  All the books have been drawn randomly. Book No 1: Shadow Soul by Caitlyn Davis, review here.  Second book Paternus by Dyrk Ashton (review here).  My third book was the The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French.  The fourth book was Larcourt K A Krantz ( Fire Born, Blood Blessed #1) My review is here.  The fifth book was Defence of Ráth Bládhma (Fionn mac Cumhaill #1) by Brian O’Sullivan, review here.  My sixth book out of the hat was The Music Box Girl by K.A. Stewart and my review for that will follow shortly.  My seventh book is The Path of Flames by Phil Tucker.  Check it out:

pathofA war fueled by the dark powers of forbidden sorcery is about to engulf the Ascendant Empire. Agerastian heretics, armed with black fire and fueled by bitter hatred, seek to sever the ancient portals that unite the empire – and in so doing destroy it.

Asho–a squire with a reviled past–sees his liege, the Lady Kyferin, and her meager forces banished to an infamous ruin. Beset by tragedy and betrayal, demons and an approaching army, the fate of the Kyferins hangs by the slenderest of threads. Asho realizes that their sole hope of survival may lie hidden within the depths of his scarred soul–a secret that could reverse their fortunes and reveal the truth behind the war that wracks their empire.

Unpredictable, fast paced, and packed with unforgettable characters, The Path of Flames is the first installment in a gripping new epic fantasy series.