If you are a fan of the Literary Role-Playing Game (LitRPG) genre, you will enjoy listening to “Dungeon Lord” which is the first book in what appears to be a future series of books taking place in this new and unique fantasy world. Hugo Huesca does an exceptional job in crafting a world full of fresh, different, believable and multi-dimensional elements; both characters and environments. Add in the amazing production quality and narration from both Jeff Hays and Annie Ellicott of Soundbooth Theater and you are given the best of both worlds. Jeff and Annie do not overpower the story, but instead both story and narration come together to form an amazing fantasy tale that keep me entertained and surprised along the way.
What happens when a group of people from the same office are a part of an online guild where one’s physical world boss takes out his gaming frustrations on the staff when they mess up? This is where one of our characters early on takes matters into his own hands and unbeknownst to him, he discovers he is given the option of working for the side of dark or potential long-term impressment. I do not want to spoil the story, so you will have to read of this sounds interesting. What complicates matters even more is that Ed (our main character) has always battled the dark and has been a hero of light in all his gaming. Once injected into this fantasy world, mimicking the game he was playing online, he need to make the right decisions as this is no longer simply a game, but truly a battle for both life and death. This new game Ed has been placed within only has the option of “perma death”, so there is no return when you make the wrong choice. Will he continue to fight for the side of evil or will his light side win over the day?
For me the book’s opening, world, and characters made it a listening pleasure. I’m not one for books that are focused solely on the darker side of fantasy (I always played the Paladin), yet the author includes a fair amount of humor, light-hearted antics, and even some romance to break up the mood when needed. The book itself did not feel overly dark nor gloomy, but there was always the pull between the two forces upon our main character; think Luke Skywalker from StarWars. I enjoyed a few of the characters that are often classified as being more on the side of evil such as witches, but we are also given a few that are not including a bard; yes, a bard. When Edward begins to build his new party, one is reminded more of the island of misfit toys than a band of heroes; which is not a bad thing for this journey. Each of the characters needs to depend on the other strengths and weaknesses for them to survive. The author did a great job of integrating the various characters along with their many quips into this band waning to save the land from a much more powerful and menacing creature; the mindbrood. I often found myself laughing out loud observing the actions and interactions between the drone creatures and the other characters.
There is a fine-line one needs to walk when they have the desire to be both a hero and a instruments of the dark. Early on when you are trying your hardest to make friends and alliances while always being challenged by others for the podium of evil, the struggle is real for Ed. In this book, not only is the mindbrood one of the big encounters, but also the many encounters with hordes of spiders (I do not like spiders) and a few other evil classed monsters. For me the book set up the situation quite well and at times felt predictable, yet in the end, the author did a good job of surprising me with the unexpected. I very much enjoyed the premise and the view we are given into the birth and difficulties of establishing a new and power dungeon that will be able to hold off the forces of future adventurers and heroes. There was always this feeling of gloom throughout the story but is did not feel oppressive. One gets a good sense of changes occurring in the world and with the main character as the dark weighs on his heart and soul. The question of will he succumb to the dark or be able to overcome its pull and follow the light? This and much more is answered in the past of this book.
If you are at all familiar with Jeff Hays and/or Soundbooth Theater productons, you know what to expect from one of their releases. The audio is some of the best available and the team ensure that they only give the best to their listening customers. I liked the inclusion of some of the sound effects which were not overdone and helped make the book pop. It is the little subtly things that make Soundbooth Theater one of my favorite audiobook publishers, they focus on what is important to listeners and make sure everything to they do is right. I did not notice any audio artifacts and both characters narrated their parts very well. If I had one suggestion, it would have been to have the spider queen’s voice a bit slower as it was more difficult to comprehend if you are one who listens to audiobook at more than their normal speed; like myself.
For parents and younger readers, this book includes a plethora of vulgar language. There are also scenes of sex and humor incorporating sexual innuendos. If you are easily offended by either of these, I would suggest you find a different series to listen too.
In summary, when I was done with this book, I wanted to jump right into the second one in the series to see where our main character would go next. However, at the time of this review, it does not yet exist in audiobook format. The book itself can be read as a standalone novel, yet at its end we are presented with many paths or directions the team could go in future releases. I look forward to more book in this series and highly recommend it to others who enjoy the LitRPG genre.
Disclaimer: I was voluntarily provided this review copy audiobook at no charge by the author, publisher and/or narrator.