Reviewed by Aidan Wilson
What happens when you ask Reddit for recommendations on an indie author to review? You get recommended LitRPG authors.
Now, quite a lot of you might be scratching your head at just what LitRPG may be. I certainly was, and initially I thought that it was a semi “choose your own adventure” book. Not the sort of book that we wanted as the initial Book Review for Etherea Magazine (please note the capitalisation on Book Review, and the implied nose in the air attitude).
I was well off the mark. LitRPG stands for Literary Role Playing Game, meaning that the novel contains many of the components of computer games (think World of Warcraft and Diablo). This means there are sections dedicated to player statistics, hit points, skill trees, and all the associated data required to play an RPG. This may sound tedious and distracting, and I admit that was my concern when deciding on reviewing Crematoria Online, but I was (mainly) wrong.
“Are you ready to enter Crematoria Online” the voice asked.
I thought in the affirmative.
The screen in front of me went blank.
Thus ends chapter one, where we have been introduced Lucas Hutchins, a successful if unscrupulous app developer. Lucas is a long time lover of all things computerised, and has invested in the latest and greatest in immersive gaming experience, Crematoria Online. Crematoria Online is more than virtual reality, it self-bills as alternate reality. The player gets strapped into what can only be described as a coffin, and through some technological jiggery pokery, their consciousness gets transferred to the Crematoria Online Servers.
You can tell from the get go that there is more than meets the eye with Crematoria Online – Lucas himself balks for a moment at the start up warning about extended usage, and problems with dissociative states. But where would literature be if main characters were cautious, and Lucas jumps feet first into Crematoria Online.
This is where we start hitting real LitRPG territory. Lucas experiences a long character selection, and a players tutorial which actually does a great job of introducing us to the setting of Crematoria Online. Punching through the tutorial, and an obviously ominous agreement to terms and conditions (why doesn’t anyone read them I cry, as I accept that the flashlight app on my phone really does need access to my messages and location).
Finally, for both the book and the review, we have entered Crematoria. Crematoria itself, and the city of Eldin, are written fantastically. Through Lucas’ wide eyed amazement at the city, I really felt that we had been transported to some steampunk fantasy world. The characters we meet, the descriptions of the streets, all felt genuine and well written. We quickly meet the books other protagonist, Eleanor (Ellie to her friends), and more action.
I found myself quite enjoying Lucas’ character as the book wears on, which was pleasantly surprising. I was concerned that he was being set up to be an ass in the first chapter, but I found him intriguing and charming. I also liked the interplay that he had with Ellie. Obviously in awe of her physical prowess, their relationship feels genuine, and unforced.
The world of Crematoria Online is well rounded and full of interesting characters. There are the usual NPCs (Non Playable Characters) who carry that pattern of speaking that is immediately obvious to RPG fans (a certain combat skills trainer comes to mind). But I found it worked. I enjoyed the fact that little popups gave quest updates that felt so familiar, and that there was the always included dungeon crawling.
I did find that I generally overlooked the status updates when they popped up. I never really paid attention to what fortitude Lucas was sitting on, or whether he was a touch more charismatic. The updates were regular, but not really distracting. I mostly found myself noticing the character cheerfully exclaiming that they had levelled up, which was enough for me.
I found the story in Crematoria Online engaging, and a very well-developed world full of depth and Lore (note the capital). Lucas is a great protagonist, and I actually found myself really enjoying the gamification of the setting (stat blocks notwithstanding).
I don’t really enjoy rating books on a scale, so I won’t. I will however, flat out say that I do recommend Crematoria Online, particularly if you are a fan of RPGs. Even if you aren’t, I found that there was more than enough story to grab me.
Title: Crematoria Online: Rise of the Crimson Order
Author: Matthew J. Barbeler
Reviewed by Aidan Wilson