Lars M. has entered the audiobook scene with his premiere work, “The Wayward Bard”. I will say up front that this is one of the better books I have listened too in the genre in quite some time. It is the first book in a number of stories expected in the “World of Chains” series. I can also say that the author has partnered with one of the best narration companies out there. They have made a name for themselves in the Literary Role-Playing Game (LitRPG) genre; Soundbooth Theater. The book includes voicing by Jeff Hays for a few of the book’s characters, he is one of my all-time favorite narrators out there. The book’s main narration is performed by two others from the Soundbooth production house, Justin Thomas James and Laurie Catherine Winkel. If you are looking for a new LitRPG series to start listening too, I would say you should have a serious look at this one. Many books in the genre feel like you are a third-person watching a Twitch stream of another playing the game. This book instead has all the items one expects from a book in the genre, yet it feels vaster and story-like similar to playing the video game Skyrim. A great job for a first book, I look forward to others in the series yet to come.
In all areas, one sees how gaming has influenced the author and he is able to transfer this experience (pun not intended) very well to the pages of the book. The story does not feel stiff or robotic in its telling like a few others I have listened too. Instead, this book feels vast, detailed, and full of life. Even from the opening few scenes where we are dropped into this new world, it felt right, and I wanted to learn so much more about it. The first book in this series mainly takes place as a remote rather quiet town, but that does not mean that the action was limited. Not at all. Our characters struggled as they were often on their own from the protection of a large city and the author did a great job of revealing details as one progresses thought the text. There are a number of directions this series could take, and I hope the author spends as much time on future works as this one.
I felt the author did a good job or creating a unique and different reason for entering the game. Most authors have a character enter for health issues or a way of escaping a dystopian world, but this one starts with a unique reason and purpose which only get better as the story progresses. For those familiar with role-playing games, one often starts with the worst armor and weapons. This book is no exception as the main character starts with nearly nothing for protection but a trusty and rusty knife, a poor bow with crooked arrows, and not much else. One thing I liked setting this story apart from other is that we often see warriors, fighters, or other more common character classes being played by the main character. However, in this story, as the title suggests, the main character plays a bard. Even with my experience of playing RPG games, I never really thought of being a Bard and I can say that I learned some new things about this class from the book. The joke is always that no one plays a bard, but in this story, it felt right and immersive.
During a battle with a rather large cat during one quest, I had to laugh out loud when the main character says, “Not today Garfield”. The author throws in the kitchen sink when it comes to emotions. There is action, romance, suspense, intrigue, and so much more. The book is not all about stats and equipment, but it does include these in infrequent updates to keep the traditional feel of a LitRPG book, but the lack of this is more than made up in the storytelling found in the book. As with a number of RPG type literature, things start off slowly, but ramp up quite quickly as our character is thrust into a quite large quest that takes the rest of the book to complete. There are a number of side quests keeping the book moving, and many were detailed and well thought out. I also liked how the main quests was slowly revealed in bits and pieces reminding the listener of the main purpose or driving force for the main character.
As I stated previously, I’m a big fan of Soundbooth Theatre productions, yet this book had a few issues that felt less professional then others I have listened too; a bit unusual for this team. I quite enjoyed the multiple narrators and an appearance from Jeff Hays. The use of inflection and emotion showed me that the narrators understood their material before recording. However, the final product felt a bit unfinished or unpolished. At times, the added sound effects or musical playing drowned out speaking parts. The start and finish of extra items such as sound effects felt unnatural or stiff the way they were inserted. Often with Soundbooth Theatre productions, these items are skillfully inserted to enhance and not take away from the story. The issues I raise above would not stop me from listening to this great book, but with the high standards this group has set for themselves, I simply expected more.
For parents and younger readers, be aware that this book contains some use of light vulgar language, graphic violence, along with some sexual over and undertones. There were also aspects of crude humor that may not be appropriate for younger listeners. Although it is a great story, I would recommend it only be listened too by more mature audiences.
In summary, the book is very well crafted, and I liked the more storytelling format from other LitRPGs I have listened too. You want to follow along with the main character as he not only learns about his new environment, but also many hidden things what begin to reveal how and why this town exists. I will be quite interested in the direction the author takes in future books. It is well worth an Audible credit.