Rule of Cool by Matthew Siege: Narrated by Felicia Day

From a literary standpoint, Rule of Cool is certainly not the best example of the LitRPG genre…but it is far from the worst. I don’t expect epic fantasy literary prowess from LitRPG novels–because I’m not a complete idiot–but there are plenty of books within the genre that successfully combine skilled storytelling, captivating characters, and ample humor. This one had a fair bit of humor, some slightly worthwhile characters, and a story that could have been assembled from a story-in-a-box plot development application.
Personally, I prefer the stories where there’s some explanation–even a flimsy one–as to why we (and the characters) are exposed to stats, rolls, and other such RPG-oriented elements. Otherwise, it seems like a poor attempt to simply pad and shoehorn a story–decent or not–into a niche genre hoping to ride the coattails of those who came before. Combine all of that with a healthy dose of the fan service and the almost desperate geek appeal of Ready Player One, and you’ll have a good feel for Rule of Cool.
A story focused on life within an RPG world from the perspective of a bitter, moody NPC has a lot of potential. Sadly, Matthew Siege couldn’t bring that potential to life the way the concept deserved. The world itself is nonsensical. Rule of Cool is centered on a starter town, Hallow, where prospective heroes begin their journey to obtain levels and make names for themselves. For some inexplicable reason, Hallow is filled with detritus from the real world for no apparent reason, except that it somehow slipped from our world into this fantasy realm through a rift that is never adequately explained nor explored. It struck me as a poorly conceived ploy to justify random pop culture references littering the narrative, much the same way that damaged electronics and toys from our world litter the realm where Hallow’s located.
It’s not all bad. Don’t get me wrong.
This is a fun, albeit generic zero-to-hero tale centered around a trio of gearblins (a hybrid of goblin and gremlin) struggling to take their home back from the heroes who have been grinding them into the muck for generations. There’s social commentary embedded in the plot that–while unsubtle–appeals to me in a Marxist workers’ revolt sense.
The best aspect of Rule of Cool was that I listened to the audiobook edition. Felicia Day’s narration is fantastic, sufficiently so that it drags the story–kicking and screaming the whole way–to a higher level of quality than it would have had if I’d simply been reading the book.
I can’t recommend reading this book, but I would recommend the audiobook because the superb narration makes other aspects of the story far more tolerable than they probably deserve to be.


God’s Eye: Awakening by Aleron Kong

God’s Eye: Awakening is what you might expect from Aleron Kong, but with higher stakes and with zero fucks given, much like our nascent god, Zero Fell. Until volumes seven and eight of The Land, we didn’t really see much by way of consequences for the protagonist or his closest allies. This is clearly not going to be the case with the Labyrinth World novels. As much as Zero Fell begins his journey on Telos with generous sponsors and an appearance of a potentially–charmed–new life, that illusion is thoroughly shattered by the end of this first volume in the series.
Where the story of The Land is firmly rooted in a basis of standard RPG fare, God’s Eye establishes just as much of a basis in RTS as in RPG gaming. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out as future volumes are released and Zero more firmly establishes himself as a god in this new world.
Aleron Kong infuses this story with the same irreverent wit, pop-culture homage, and character-building you’ll be familiar with if you’ve enjoyed his previous work…but with a lot more violence and with a faster pace than the slow build-up to a major conflict we experienced with The Land.
This book manages to be darker, coming off the heels of the eighth book of The Land (which was substantially darker than the earlier installments, though that darkness really started taking root near the latter half of volume seven)…so that should serve as a warning for anyone who’s just looking for a fun read with light-hearted fantasy excitement.
The audiobook is competently narrated by Luke Daniels and I look forward to hearing more narration from him as this series progresses.

The Land: Swarm: Chaos Seeds Book V by Aleron Kong

This installment is primarily focused on Richter deciding to be more actively involved in the day-to-day life of the mist village. This book is largely dedicated to self-improvement and the development of skills and abilities. There are some major events included, just the same, and the battle that concludes the story is intense and well-written.
As with all of the other books in the series, I’ve listened to this on Audible. The narration is terrific and it flows perfectly with the story being shared. The first three books have been my favorites in the series, but this book and the fourth are still well-worth listening to or reading.

The Land: Catacombs: Chaos Seeds Book IV by Aleron Kong

With a title of Catacombs, I suspected that we would be exploring deeper into the tunnels beyond the Great Seal. There are definitely tunnels and subterranean adventures, but not the ones I went into this anticipating. With the pace we’re addressing some of the things I expected to see explored further, it seems like we’ll never get there in four more volumes in the series.
There’s nothing disappointing about the book or the narration for the audiobook, but I’m starting to worry that we’ll never see some of the adventures I’ve been waiting to witness.
I’m currently listening to the fifth audiobook in the series and I will absolutely still be picking up the remaining three books of this series.

The Land: Alliances: Chaos Seeds Book III

The title seems a bit misleading, knowing that we were expecting Richter to develop an alliance with the dwarves (as had been discussed in the previous volume in this series)…beyond that, it’s an excellent addition to Richter’s adventure in The Land.
As with the previous book, this one begins with another hint of a deeper tale and huge things looming on the horizon before it picks up where we left off.
As with the other books, I’m listening to these as audiobooks. The writing and narration are such a perfect complement to one another and I find myself listening with greater frequency the further I get into the series.

The Land: Forging: Chaos Seeds Book 2 by Aleron Kong

If you are unfamiliar with the author, Aleron Kong, and his fantastic ongoing American LitRPG series (now two series) of novels, you are missing out. Not only are the stories entertaining and endlessly fascinating, but the community built up around love of these books is similarly amazing. I recommend checking these books out, the audiobook versions are my personal preference.

The second book in the series picks up right where the first left off, with a brief introduction that clearly sets the stage for something huge on the horizon.
These books are the first audiobooks I’ve bothered listening to, initially just when I was at the gym three days a week for an hour or so at a stretch…and now I find myself listening to this series while I’m sitting in my office, working on things that don’t interfere with my ability to concentrate on the story. The writing (the characters and the adventures themselves) and the narration are superb and captivating.
There is plenty of conflict, high-stakes action, and exploration…precisely as you’d hope to find.