I sacrificed everything for my family. It wasn’t enough. I lost my mother, and now I’m about to lose my brother.
I’ve got only one thing left to gamble: my life. Which is why I’m willing to play Euphoria Online in Death March mode.
If I survive six months in-game against a lethal array of wyverns, ogres, necromancers, and more, I’ll earn my brother a pardon.
If I lose?
Well. I’m done with losing.
When the chance came to read an ARC of Death March, I jumped at it.
This is a LitRPG novel which has been generating a tonne of buzz lately. Not only is it written by Phil Tucker — SPFBO 2016 runner-up, and knocker-outter of Senlin Ascends — but it is the first book in a trilogy soon to be narrated by the fantastic Vikas Adam.
On top of that, the ongoing kickstarter campaign to fund the hardcover editions of this trilogy was recently the most backed fiction project in the world.*
To me, it all just seemed like the perfect storm. We have one of the most “bingeable” writers I’ve ever had the pleasure to read, and he’s writing in a genre which is itself known for being bingeable and… well… fun.
And holy shit this book is fun.
We follow a protagonist called Chris, a gamer/schoolteacher who has found himself in a fantasy video-game world on the hardest difficulty there is: Death March mode.
Put simply, this means that if Chris dies in the video-game, he will also die in real life.
Why, then, would he choose this difficulty? Well… If Chris can survive six months in Euphoria Online then he can ask a boon of the AI that currently runs the planet. Chris plans to use this boon to save his little brother from death row.
Chris himself is a likeable fellow. He’s kind, intelligent, thoughtful, competent… all of those words that you’d usually find on the protagonist checklist. He’s played a lot of video-games before (though not Eurphoria Online specifically) and it’s really cool to read his thought processes as he ponders which skills and spells to purchase with his XP.
The setting, though, is where this book really shines.
The world of Euphoria Online is very vivid. From the castles and villages, to the ogres and wyverns, to the experience and levels system… it all just feels very engaging and intuitive. The world is alive, it’s breathing, it’s almost a character in its own right. You want to explore it almost as much as Chris does.
It’s common in LitRPGs for the setting to overshadow the characters and the plot. It’s the nature of the genre. There’s only so many reasons for a character to spend the majority of a novel in a video-game, and many authors put so much effort into building their world that the characters themselves fall flat.
Luckily, Death March doesn’t have those problems. The characterisation maybe isn’t on a Hobb or a Guy Gavriel Kay level, but you care for the people in these pages. Where other novels are more convoluted, the plot here is simple: survive.
That old-fashioned simplicity is refreshing. It allows for you to relate to the story from the beginning, and then become more engaged as the complexity of the plot organically grows. There are hints of something bigger, things that will maybe come into play later in the trilogy, but that primal need to survive is powerful and relatable enough to drive the story in the meantime.
I loved this book.
It was engaging. It was addictive. It was fun.
Death March is one of the best page-turners I’ve read this year. It’s an action-packed story with enough emotion to make you care, characters to root for, and a plot you can relate to.
My only real complaint is that I now have to wait for the sequel.
The Kickstarter campaign for Death March is currently live, and has already surpassed its $5500 goal ahead of the May 22nd deadline. This campaign will fund the production of hardcover editions of Death March, as well as interior art for all physical editions of the Euphoria Online trilogy.