If you are looking for a Literary Role Playing Game (LitRPG) that is not only immersive but also tells a great story, look no farther that “Hero of Thera”. The book is wonderfully written by Eric Nylund and narrated by none other than the expert voice of the genre; Jeff Hays. What events occur when a condemned man on death row is given the chance to engage in a game that is not your run of the mill, “I’m stuck in a virtual world story.” Not at all, this story is also not simply involving the life or death of a single person, but instead the outcome determines the fate of everyone because the makers of the game are actual demons, gods, and other nightmarish creatures. For almost any person faced with these events would be driven insane, can our main character survive and save all creation? If any of this sounds remotely interesting, I recommend you pick up a copy and have a listen.
The game our main character joins is not one where you simply die and come back to life at a specified location. This game is instead played in “Hard Core” mode, meaning that if you die in the game, you die physically. No pressure here. The story itself is quite weighty and involved, yet at the same time the author uses humor at appropriate times, and not excessively. Even on a plane while traveling I laughed out loud as the main character faced the dreaded End User License Agreement (EULA). Should you read all the terms and conditions fully before clicking “I Agree”, or do you simply click and get on with the game? After selecting that you agree to the terms, what choice did he have, and clicking on the “OK” button, our character is forced to watch the initial game title screen. Once again, this brings me back to my gaming days when it was nearly impossible to skip these opening sequences.
On the surface, the book seems like a standard LitRPG story. But, it goes much deeper and wider the more you dive into it. There is mystery and suspense that will raise your blood pressure along with some humorous wit. Sometimes it is the little subtle things that keep you laughing such as a few of the quest names or story events. There are many of the standard character types one would expect to find in a RPG story such as skeletons, ghosts, gnomes, and elves. However, you are also introduced to “Mr. Pinchy” one of the childhood pets of our main character. So, what about our main character? Who is he? He was raised a gypsy elf who was trained in the skill of martial arts from birth, but he still does not know how to fully utilize his powers. He struggles when he is drafted into the world of evil. What I enjoyed was the main character was not invincible and instead required assistance from many of the friends he picked up along the way. There are friendships, relationships, and a few shocking and unsuspected events along the journey. I found the story to be enjoyable and inspirational.
I would have liked to have had more time and action during the many battle scenes, because they seemed to start and finish rather quickly. The story appeared to lack some of the more intense or graphic aspects, but this may have been intentional to keep the book available to younger audiences. On that note, I do not remember any use of vulgar language, nor were there any sexual subject matter that I recall while listening.
Let me turn to the book’s audio narration by Jeff Hays. It is no surprise, and I would expect nothing less from one of his narrations, the audio is expertly and professionally done. Jeff continues to amaze me with his ability to voice multiple characters while giving them all unique personalities. I am able to quickly get a picture in my head of the character simply by listening to their accents. Jeff always includes that extra effort by adding some special audio effects to so of the characters and he never over uses them. It can often be a fine line, and Jeff knows when to quit. There were no noticeable audio artifacts such as swallows, page turns, or other distractions.
In summary, if you want to hear a high-elf speaking to the main character about the unified theory of the universe, or if you are in the mood for a town that serves bacon and eggs with cheddar cheese as one of their staples, or a cola beverage that not only allows you to see in the dark but comes with an interesting side-effect, I think you will not be disappointed by picking up and listening to “Hero of Thera”. You will laugh, you may cry, but you will have a load of fun along the way.