“Dungeon Born” is the first book in the “Divine Dungeon Series”, which I believe is the first published work by author Dakota Krout. The audiobook is decently narrated by Vikas Adam and published by Tantor Audio. Blend parts of a Literary Role-Playing Game (LitRPG) with elements of Dungeon Keeper (a PC game released in 1997) and you will have a good idea of the book’s overall premise. I like the concept of the book as it provided me a very different view of dungeon crawling, but I found myself confused who the intended audience was. Because the book’s writing was not on par with many other authors I have read, I would best rate this at best an average fantasy book; with the reasons pointed out in the rest of this review. I do not believe I will continue with the series unless some major changes and story direction are addressed. Based on the many reviews this book has received along with it have the backing of a well-known publisher, I understand this review will be in the minority of those giving the work such high-praise. Being it is the author’s first published work, I am interested in seeing where and how he matures with his witting skills going forward. I liked the world, the setup, and even many of the monsters. But, I found other parts of the book unclear, fractured, or not very deep.
A tragic event leads to one of the characters waking up to his new role as master of a newly formed dungeon. You heard me right, in this series, the dungeons themselves are divine and fully sentient. The remainder of the book follows the life and growth of this mysterious divine dungeon and its inhabitants. A newly formed dungeon is similar to a level one character in a role-playing game. It takes time, resources, and knowledge to level up and expand one’s dungeon, often this is accomplished by trial and error. As much as I wanted to like the main character, he came across as a spoiled five or six-year-old child and not someone more mature. This may have been intentional on the author’s part, but other times in the book he appears to be much old based on his actions; or inaction to given events. Early on, as the story unfolds, our main character befriends a female wisp. Their friendship grows and they leverage one another’s strengths and weaknesses quite well as they strive to grow and survive the many attacks leveraged upon them. Fairly early we are also introduced to the human town and its inhabitants who are bent on tackling this newly formed dungeon by throwing nearly everything at it for the prize of defeating the end boss. The remainder of the book switched back and forth between these two groups of adventures and the dungeon watching how each tries to attack and defend against the other. Note this is only the first book in a series, so all of the story lines do not end when the book ends, there will be more and if you want to know what happens, you need to grab the second book; which is not yet available in audiobook format (at the time of this review); but has been released in other formats.
So, you may be saying to yourself, that all sounds really well thought out and it is going to be a wonderful book seen and told from the perspective of the dungeon. Things like how is loot distributed, created, along with rare and magical weapons. Much of this is only covered at a cursory level. That is what I expected coming into the book, but the it failed to deliver on my desires. Let me start with some of the writing. As stated above, I found myself confused by the author’s intended audience due to the varied childish words like turd, butt, and fricking. There were also times the humor was childish and crude that would be funny to a younger age. Based on this, I would suspect the book to be targeted at younger readers, but this is also not the case. The book includes vulgar language, discussions involving prostitution, along with additional mature or adult focused topics. I found the books introduction to be confusing as I tried to follow the events occurring and what they all meant. It took multiple pages to get into the flow and better understand the events occurring. I found some of the humor to be more slapstick but often lacked being witty or humorous. I did like a few of the pokes at other dungeon mining games or fantasy tropes, but these were few and far between. The characters were likeable but rather flat and I did not feel drawn towards either the humans or the dungeon to succeed. I did not feel emotionally attached to either side of the war which seems odd in a book full of battles. I felt the story was more “campy” or exaggerated requiring me to suspend belief many times to get past some of the scenes, and at times I had to roll my eyes at various clichés. For me, the writing seemed rather choppy and the flow of the book was not as smooth as I would have liked. All of the above issues could have been addressed through an editor, and as the author hones his writing skills I would suspect the second book to be better than the first.
Let me move to the book’s audio narration performed by Vikas Adam. As a audiobook narrator, Mr. Adam is a veteran to the profession with over one hundred and sixty books on Audible at the time of this review. Based on his other books along with their reviews, I feel this book’s narration was more an issue with the content he was given then anything to do with his ability to narrate. The book is professionally produced and I cannot recall any issues with inconstancy around volume or other noticeable audio artifacts. At times, I did not like some of the parts where inflection was utilized, but again I believe this was more due to the content he was provided and not his narrating abilities. I especially found the female wisp voice difficult to listen too, and I understand how hard it can be for a male to voice a main female character well without all sounding like the four-year-old child. At points, it felt like listening to nails being pulled across a chalkboard, but it was tolerable.
For parents and younger readers, note the book contains mature subject matter, some intense graphic scenes of violence, and vulgar language. I would recommend it not be read by younger audiences even though the writing comprehension level is geared towards younger readers.
In summary, I found the book’s overarching premise an excellent idea that felt new and unique from other books in the genre. However, for me the book contained too many flaws to be fully enjoyable and recommendable. The scattered writing, confusion of the intended audience, and cardboard character made this a difficult one for me to finish. And, when I had, the book’s main storyline is never wrapped up in this book so you will need to pick up book two when available if you want to learn what happens next.
Disclaimer: I was voluntarily provided this review copy audiobook at no charge by the author, publisher and/or narrator.