Updated: Jun 19
It might have been the humor and light, carefree atmosphere that kept us going. Those were certainly compelling elements. There was also the novelty of reading our first LitRPG novel (neither of us has any experience with LitRPG, although Haines has played a lot of D&D in his time).
But how does the book rate overall? Read on to find out!
Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off
SPFBO is a huge competition between three hundred indie fantasy books. Each of these books is assigned to one of ten fantasy book review blogs.
Unfortunately, TheShortStoryTeller is not one of the official review blogs. Regardless, we still wanted to provide these authors with some additional visibility (and accountability) with our detailed book reviews.
Just a quick reminder of the new SPFBO7 review format: In order to give each of them a more balanced review. I have recruited a friend, an avid reader who is new to the fantasy genre, and we are both offering responses to the books we read together! We aim to read at least 10% of each book to get a fair impression in four categories:
Background & Exposition (Check out our fantasy reading philosophy here.)
While I am approaching each book from the perspective of an author, and someone who can compare each book to a lifetime of fantasy reading, Nadine has a more fresh and forgiving perspective.
We hope that this will make these books appear more appealing to the average reader, who probably has a fantasy reading experience somewhere between us both.
However, we should confess that we both believe that Stranger Back Home is one of the top contenders in this contest. We highly encourage everyone to check that book out, if for no other reason than to see what these other books are competing against.
Background & Exposition
Fantasy fiction is unique for how it creates new, imaginative backgrounds, and truly great fantasy authors know how to deliver that background to readers.
ELHaines: I loved the opening premise of this book. The Questing Stones were quirky and mysterious, and I thought there was a lot of potential for how they could be used to drive the plot forward. Even an investigation into how, or why they work would be really interesting.
The exposition was done through game mechanics terms. Fortunately, I’m familiar with most of these mechanics, so it was easy for me to understand. I liked learning about the characters’ skills and powers this way, and Valentine revealed it without disturbing reader immersion, which was impressive.
NadineR: I thought the magic & fantasy stuff was well explained, especially considering that I’m not familiar with LitRPG (or even RPGs!). I imagine people who play these games would understand more, but as a newbie to the genre, the book made sense.
I like that Valentine didn’t over-explain anything/overwhelm readers with info. Everything seemed understandable and also interesting.
ELH: The protagonist, Eve, was a great character. Witty, innovative, clever, and compassionate; she’s the kind of character that you want to follow. Her relationship with her mother creates the briefest, yet most poignant scene in the entire book.
Unfortunately, her only character development comes from leveling up. I’d like to sit down with the author and tell him that personality development, philosophical development, and motivational development are much more important in storytelling.
Wes is a decent character, and the third character, Alexandria (Alex), is the only one who gets any real character arc. She starts off with a tragic backstory, and learns to trust her companions and make friends again. She was definitely the most multi-dimensional character in the story.
I had problems with the final character, Preston (and not because he is gay, or trans, or whatever he is). My problem was that he embodied several socially dangerous cliches. I don’t think that this was the author’s intent; I think the author sincerely meant to be inclusive with this character. But let’s break it down:
Preston (an apparent male) is indentured into the role of a Priestess.
The other priestesses sexually molest him on a daily basis, which he tolerates for free room and board.
His friends torment him with gender-based jokes.
Whereas Wes and Eve develop legitimate emotional chemistry, Wes and Preston only show physical attachment, through frequent flirtatious physical contact.
Immediately after he becomes Wes’s girlfriend, he gets kidnapped, so the gay guy gets to be the damsel-in-distress for this book. Wes transforms into a one-dimensional, revengey pyromaniac until he rescues Preston.
None of this detracted much from the story, because it was subtle and rarely took center-stage. Nevertheless, I would like to see diverse characters taking more healthy roles in the next story.
Alex apparently also has a crush on Wes, according to Preston (although there is no evidence of this chemistry anywhere in the story), and there’s a potential set-up for romantic tension… which is ultimately unfulfilled. Missed opportunity there, I guess.
NR: Characters were likable and funny, but didn’t have too much depth in my opinion other than Alex. But I guess we’ll get to know them more in sequels.
Preston seemed to change a little bit after we discover he’s together with Wes, but that might be the author just showing him opening up and trusting the others more.
ELH: What plot? There is no plot. At the start of the book, I thought that the inciting incident was giving Eve a quest to pick up a loaf of bread. But since everyone pretty much forgot about this by the midpoint of the story, I feel that it was more of a hook than an inciting incident.
Speaking of the midpoint, that’s usually where the protagonist and antagonist face off for the first time, foreshadowing the ultimate conflict. In this book, that’s where we meet the mysterious ‘Man of the Mists.’ That could have been exciting… except that it was never paid off, and the Man never showed up again in this story.
This book was nothing more than a series of short RPG adventures, because there’s no real continuity between the plot points and no real forward motion for the characters. It’s just about levelling up.
I hope that’s not indicative of the entire LitRPG genre.
NR: Keeping in mind that this is the first of a series, I thought the plot was okay. It set up the group of adventurers for future adventures and exploits and whatnot. It read like following an actual game, which I thought was interesting since I’d never read anything like this before.
ELH: Honestly, Valentine has some decent writing skill. In the first few chapters, I really enjoyed the humor; toward the end, the puns started to get tiresome. But the dialogue remained pretty fresh (aside from the puns), the action was pretty clear, and I never broke immersion.
The LitRPG genre is pretty new to me, and luckily I have the D&D experience to understand the game mechanics that were described in the story. In any other genre, I would have complained about the use of healing potions, but I understood their inclusion in this LitRPG book, and maybe even grew to appreciate this genre a little.
NR: Writing style was good. Valentine does well at writing dialogue that reads realistically, which isn’t easy.
Conclusion: Strong Contender
The fact that we had to finish this book indicates that This Quest Is Bullshit is a Strong Contender. We think that the combination of humor with the intriguing and unique LitRPG environment will set this book up for the semi-finals.
However, we really think that the author could do so much better by actually including a plot in his books, and character arcs, instead of just scribing his random, unconnected RPG adventures.
And of course, check out our own contender, Stranger Back Home!