If you are in the mood for a literary role-playing game (LitRPG) tale full of fantasy humor, snarky wit, and slapstick comedy, “Fantasy Online: Hyperborea” is the book you are looking for. This is another story authored by Harmon Cooper and the audiobook edition masterfully performed by Jeff Hays. It is the first book, in what appears will be a new series which takes place in the Proxmia universe. Because the book’s events occur in the same universe as “The Feedback Loop” series (which I highly recommend you read), a few of those characters make cameos in this story; such as Dirty Dave. I quite enjoyed the tie in and interaction having listened to the entire Feedback Loop series. As this is a separate series, one is not required to have any knowledge of the other series events, but it does make for some additional entertainment value. If you have listened to any of Harmon Cooper’s other works and enjoyed them, you will not be disappointed by picking up this one.
The book is a coming of age story centered around two battling brothers who are both a part of a crime lord’s family. This book contains a fair amount of action, adventure and fighting, both in the physical and virtual worlds. The opening scene is one that hooks you from the beginning and the story continues to unfold after that. Not only was this scene tense and action-packed, it was rather emotional and impactful. The author takes you on an emotional rollercoaster ride which seems to decrease in its intensity as you progress down the tracks. I can say without a doubt, I did not feel as close to the main characters than I did at this scene. There were a few scenes containing or alluding to slight romantic aspects, but nothing that felt deep and meaningful. I really liked the characters, but I wanted to see more of their flaws and need to survive as a group; apart from times of fighting monsters together.
Compared to his other works, this book is zanier and at times feels a little over the top with its continuous flow of pokes, zings, and disses happening between characters. I like when there is tension and banter within a traveling party, but this book seemed much more light-hearted then the others were. Although there was a great and compelling story underneath, I wished at times that humor was not spread so liberally where the core story aspects felt obscured or covered. Like when someone uses to much icing on an exceptionally made cake, it can seem overly sweet and hides the part taking so much work to make; the cake itself. This is not to say that the book was bad, just based on the opening scene, I wanted more of that emotional ride throughout the book and he expense of fewer flying insults.
I will say that the world the author created was fun, interesting, and at times quite unique. He would take many of the stereotypical fantasy tropes and change them up a bit. I laughed out loud when the characters ran into some “stinkerbells” which are a combination of a fairy blended with a common house fly; more pests than helpers. The main character also wielded a very nasty and at times scary sling. Often in a book of this genre, it is all swords, shields and armor, so a sling was fun. How many of you role-playing readers would choose a sling as their weapon of choice? I also enjoyed the pokes at modern society like when the characters ordered lemon peppered sustainable farm raised dragon wings as an appetizer. Or the multiple times macaroon cookies show up which have their own use and lore in this world; you have to read the book to find out.
Jeff Hays, as usual, skillfully narrated this book and I hope he continues to be the voice of the Proxima universe. Both he and the author combine together making the audiobook edition of the story that much more fun and entertaining. Jeff’s ability to voice the many human and non-human characters, use of inflection at proper times, not overdoing the use of sound effects, and ensuring the audio is clean and crisp of anything that would distract the listener is what those familiar with his works expect. And, once again he hit all these points and more. He continues to amaze with his skill and talent in narrating audiobooks.
For parents and younger readers, be warned, this book is really intended for more mature audiences for several reasons. There is heavy use of vulgar language, there are topics involving sex, sexual innuendos, and alcohol use. The humor at times can be quite crass, often crude, or graphically intense which may not be suitable for younger readers. Even though the humor is more light-hearted and slapstick focused, much of it is geared towards adults. If the above offends you, I would not recommend this book.
In summary, if you do not mind overly used adult humor and you enjoy the LitRPG genre, I would say that you may be interested in Fantasy Online: Hyperborea. As stated earlier, there really is a fun and interesting story underneath the thick layer of humor on top. I enjoyed the story and the journey both the author and narrator took me on. However, I would have like to have had a few more deeper and developed plots pulling at my emotional side.
Disclaimer: I was voluntarily provided this review copy audiobook at no charge by the author, publisher and/or narrator.