“The Skull Throne” is the first book in the “Kingdom of Heaven” series. It is a well-crafted story co-written by J.A. Cipriano and Conner Kressley. The audiobook edition is once again masterfully narrated by Jeff Hays and produced through Soundbooth Studios. The book is a blending of Literary Role-Playing Game (LitRPG) with a dark fantasy feel. The created world was rather unique and interesting, including the many creatures the main character faces while on his journey. The first book is a bit short being just shy of three-hundred pages while the audiobook is just under six hours in length. If you are a fan of the LitRPG genre and/or if you are a fan of Jeff Hays’ narrations, this book is one you will want to pick up and give it a listen. It should be noted that this is a book series where the story does not conclude the various open plot-lines. Instead, it ends with a cliffhanger which expect you to pick up the second book titled “Escape from Hell”; which is currently available on Audible.
The book follows our main character “Iron Jack” as he struggles with his desires to play online games to the determent of life events occurring around him. As with many books in this category, Jack comes from a broken family and uses gaming as a means of escaping the pains of reality. Things quickly change when he is mysteriously brought into a world much like the game he had been playing with his friends. Jack’s eyes are opened to the real meaning of the game world by a stranger he meets one night. After this encounter, his life and the world he is a part of are turned upside down and he goes from not caring to full survival mode. The story can be seen as a typical good vs. evil, yet at times it is hard to know which side is the right one. I found the means by which Jack learns of his new reality quite different from others I have read. The book quickly hooks you and brings you into the story, always a sign of good storytelling.
Although the world is quite unusual from other books in the genre, I found that its addition of somewhat familiar creature such as ogres, ghosts, and dragons with a blending of angles and demons to be helpful in my understanding of the world and its inhabitants. The book has rather interesting magic and weapon systems, however I found the life system to be a bit more complicated to follow then a simple hit counter. Iron Jack has always been a warrior class character in other games and he was very good a min/maxing his game characters requiring him to be dependent on others when in a battle. Yet, in this world, magic rules, and Jack needs to find a way of enhancing this part of his skill set if he has a hope of survival. I will say that the authors did a good job of giving the listener a feeling of the character’s leveling process as not only did he get stronger as he increased, the creatures he faced later in the book are more fierce and unforgiving as those found earlier.
For me, I found the wit a bit lighter and less funny as I would have hoped. That is not to say the book is not humorous, just that some of the one-liners did not have me laughing out loud. But, where the book lacks in humor, it more than makes up for it in its battles, intrigue, and suspense. The book includes some rather powerful and impactful emotional times where I could understand and feel the pain the character was experiencing. In a book that is filled with action and adventure, there is also a fair amount of love and tragedy. For a rather short book I found I was often on an emotional rollercoaster, and I think the authors did a good job of giving the characters depth and life.
It is no surprise that I’m a fan of LitRPG books and as I have said in many of my previous books, I feel Jeff Hays is the Boss Monster when it comes to narrating these types of books. He is so talented in his ability to voice the many characters differently and he gives them each a very unique personality and feel. The audio itself is what I have come to expect from Mr. Hays and Soundbooth Studios. It was professional, clean of any audio artifacts, and crisp. The audio quality is what one would expect from a much larger publishing house and it sets the standard by which I often compare other books.
For parents or younger readers, be aware that the book contains vulgar language along with sexual references and innuendos. There are a few scenes of graphic violence that may be inappropriate for younger readers. If these items are not something you enjoy or expect in a series, I would recommend you find a different series to listen too.
In summary, for people who like the LitRPG genre and more importantly Mr. Hays narration, this book is one I would recommend you pick up. Again, it is not intended for younger listeners, but more mature people will find the story compelling and the gaming system quite exclusive from others.
Disclaimer: I was voluntarily provided this review copy audiobook at no charge by the author, publisher and/or narrator.