Let me open this review by saying up front that it will be in the minority compared to other reviewers of the book. Of the over fourteen-hundred reviews (at the time of this review), seventy-eight percent are rated five stars. I’m in the four percent of the reviewers who feel the book is average; a three-star rating. I will describe why in more detail throughout the rest of the review. Based on my personal experience listening to over one hundred hours of Literary Role-Playing Game (LitRPG) books, I felt “Ascend Online” could only be described as average at best. The book is authored by Luke Chmilenko and the audiobook edition is quite well narrated by Luke Daniels; who is a very prolific audiobook narrator and it shows in this book’s narration. If you enjoy mediocre story-telling, ordinary and rather flat characters, you may find that you enjoy this book. Note, the book is the first in a series and it does come in at over four hundred and fifty pages or just shy of eighteen hours of audio. It is a rather long journey compared to other LitRPG books on the market. For me, I almost disbanded from the traveling party half-way though due to the issues covered discussed.
The book had a decent setup with a rather suspenseful opening. It also had many of the things one comes to expect from a book in this genre including a good use of character statistics and an inventory system. Unlike many other LitRPG books, this one had a likable familiar, some unique characters and even a few different character classes. This is not saying that everything was new or interesting as the book also included many of the standard stereotypes found in this category of book such as spiders, goblins, elves, etc. In a rather crowded genre, it can be difficult to invent a new and interesting world; good job. I enjoyed a few of the quests having a time limit to complete. This gave the feeling of tension and forced the characters to often choose between like quests when they could only finish one or the other. I liked that the author mostly closed out the open story lines at the book’s completion allowing one to read this book and not feel pressured to continue the series if they so choose. There were no cliffhangers requiring you to purchase the second book. I like when authors give you this flexibility as newer books in the series are used to immerse people into the world again and not used to profit by selling more books.
I found the flow of the book at times disjointed and difficult to follow. I also felt it was overly complicated and much of it could have been told in a more condensed and concise manner. Most of the action or fighting scenes did not feel majestic or imposing. Instead they were mostly slower and less descriptive than other LitRPG books I have listened too. The characters were rather two-dimensional having few emotional aspects or any compelling backstories making them feel life-like and likable. I understand that the first book in a series often uses a large portion to define the characters, but this story never seemed to get there. The writing style was geared more towards young adult (YA), but the strong use of vulgar language places this book in the mature category.
The book’s overall premise was something that I thought was going to flourish into a wonderful and exciting story. However, it quickly exposed itself as a rather weakly written tale where crude, sexual and vulgar language flowed from every character in nearly every sentence spoken. It started off being infrequently used, but as the book progressed it became over-the-top and unnecessary. It was not that vulgar language was used during times of extreme stress or to be expressive, not at all. This band of fantasy characters would make sailors and truckers even blush at times; no offense to either of these professions. I like the quote that states, “vulgarity is no substitute for wit” and to me it seemed the author had no other means of writing humor so they devolved into the use of vulgar language instead. There was no desire to make the party of characters feel a part of an actual fantasy setting because of the heavy use of vulgar language. Not only language, but the author also used many sexual references or innuendos throughout the book’s progression. I know the book is not directed at younger audiences, however the cover for the Kindle edition could easily be seen appealing to younger readers. Be warned, this book is only intended for mature audiences, even when much of its humor would be considered immature.
Let me turn to the book’s narration by Luke Daniels. For those not new to Audible, I’m sure you have one or more books in your library narrated by this individual; I have nearly twenty myself. The audiobook’s narration was professionally done and there were no issues with the audio I can recall while listening. Being experienced with some of his other works, I know the issues I had with this book were not due to narration but instead were because of the writing itself. It is hard to hit a home-run when you are limited by the words you are given. I would have enjoyed more inflection or uniqueness in the character’s voices, but even doing this would not have overly enhanced the book.
In summary, if you are one who enjoys unnecessary and frequent use of vulgar language along with childish dialogue and characters having no depth, you may want to pick up this book and have a listen. I know I’m in the minority of reviewers, but with a congested genre, there are plenty of other books one can choose from that will scratch the RPG itch. I do not think I will be picking up the second book in the series.