“Ring of Promise” is a literary Role-Playing Game (LitRPG) novel with a bit of a twist on the genre. It is the first book in the “Elements of Wrath Online” series, and be aware the book does end with a few open story lines. So, you will need to continue the series to complete the story. It is co-authored by J.B. Garner and J.A. Cipriano, who write many other books like this one. The Audio is masterfully narrated by Joe Hempel. If you are a fan of video games or your typical role-playing game such as Dungeons and Dragons, I think you will find this book quite interesting. Unlike many of the other LitRPG book I have listened too, this one felt less storytelling and more like you were watching the events play out on a screen; more like a Twitch stream; which is not a negative thing, only different. If this is of interest to you, I would recommend you pick up a copy and give it a listen. It was quite engaging and entertaining.
The story quickly made me think of watching someone playing Diablo or other action RPG game rather than a deep and complex story. There were gems which could be placed in various sockets allowing characters to augment their weapons and armor. Various gems had different powers and stacking abilities, so one wanted to make sure adding or removing one would not diminish the items power too much. The story contained enough action to keep things moving, however the author also included aspects of the main character’s backstory. This includes his family upbringing along with a handicap he has lived with in the real world keeping him house-bound. Because of his disability, there is a continuous drive to earn real money from the activities and quests completed while in game. One’s universal basic income (UBI) only goes so far, and people are required to augment it to survive. Most of the game’s characters and monsters are recognizable to people familiar with the genre. You have warriors, thieves, magic users, etc. Although the majority of character types seemed similar to other stories, the book contains a number of fairly unique and magical items or components not found elsewhere. I do like how the author works in the book’s title into the story, it is a nice touch.
Even though I enjoyed the book, I felt that it was lacking the depth and complexity I have come to enjoy in other books in its category. We are given some details on the main character’s backstory, but I would have liked to have had more. I understand the reasons requiring the main character to earn money, but I did not feel it was as heavy a weight on his shoulder as it should have been. Most of all, I felt the book lacked that feeling of a character leveling up, which is a key part of any LitRPG story. Sure, we see the character get stronger, but I did not feel the tension or decisions one often faces when leveling up their characters. The responses or conversations made me feel like the book was targeted at the Young Adult (YA) reader, but there were other parts that seemed to be more adult focused. When I sat back and thought about the book prior to my reviewing it, at a high level the book is really a “light vs. dark”, or “good vs. evil” storyline.
Joe Hempel is a great narrator of nearly any genre you give him. I have a few of his other narrated science fiction and fantasy books, and I have never been disappointed by any of his work. This book is no exception. The audio was professionally done and I do not recall any issues during my listening. The volume was consistent and the pacing of the book was spot on for me. If I had one criticism, I would say that I did not prefer the voice he used for the computer. I know this is very subjective and only say it here because I have listened to other narrators that seem to find a good balance of both human to computer tone.
For parents or younger readers, this book contains a few scenes which may not be appropriate for very young audiences. The violence is what one would expect from an online fantasy role-playing game. The online game in this story contains an obscenity or vulgar word converter that at times is quite funny when a few of the characters desire to express themselves using such words. So, even though there is no vulgar language used in the book, it is implied when the receiving party sees what would be a swear word replaced with a cute and cuddly one. I would say this book is suited for young adult reader and older.
In summary, even with a few warts or bumps along the way, the story was enjoyable. There were times when the outcome was a bit predictable; including the ending. However, this did not lesson my interest in any way. If you are a fan of LitRPG books and are looking for a bit of a change, this may be a good book to pick up. There is enough here to keep you absorbed that you will want to pick up the other books when they are released in audio format.
Disclaimer: I was voluntarily provided this review copy audiobook at no charge by the author, publisher and/or narrator.