Changing Faces by Sarah Lin

LitRPG is an exciting new genre. And to be completely honest, it’s not a genre in which I’m particularly well-read. I’ve only read a few of the prominent series. That said, Changing Faces feels different. It’s self-aware in a genre that’s already aware of the tropes inherent in video game inspired fiction.

So what makes this book unique? Though the world is fairly standard for a LitRPG story, the characters are a breath of fresh air. Bloodwraith, the main character and former undead necromancer, finds himself suddenly forced into the role of a new adventurer with the ability to choose his “class.” Whatever that is.

In an attempt to fool everyone into thinking he’s a heroic adventurer, Bloodwraith (accidentally) chooses to be a barbarian warrior. And then—to his constant and hilarious confusion—he has to figure out how to grind for experience through his initial levels. This wouldn’t normally be an issue, but Bloodwarith quickly becomes suspicious of how repetitive his conquest of easily-defeated wolves turns out to be.

And this is where Changing Faces excels. Take a stereotypical LitRPG world, and swap the stereotypical NPC villain with the heroic player character. Suddenly, everything changes. When an evil necromancer is forced to pretend to be a virtuous adventurer (despite having to deal with the pesky “box gods” that insist on telling him his detailed statistics), hilarity is the only possible outcome.

That said, this is not a simple comedy. Tropes are twisted on their head and examined through a critical lens. That busty NPC character that exists only to give you your stating quest? Yeah, there’s a lot more to her than completing your initial quest or satisfying your horny desires to indulge in a virtual world. If you treat her like, I don’t know, an actual person, she might be able to help you cheat the system and turn her programmed “rules” into an advantage.

And that’s the charm of this series. Casual acts of cruelty that could be excused as a human indulging in the harmless vices of virtual reality are considered evil—or at the very least, tactically unsound—by an evil necromancer bent on world domination.

The stereotypical tropes of LitRPG are frequently turned on their head here. Instead of gathering a harem of followers, Bloodwraith has to win the affection of three-dimensional women who aren’t afraid to call him out on his shitty behavior. If grinding through the initial levels of an RPG seems needlessly boring, well, Bloodwraith is inclined to agree. And if leveling up seems pointlessly formulaic, Bloodwraith is happy to take full advantage of that to maximize his power.

All in all, Changing Faces manages to be both a subversion of LitRPG tropes and a shining example of how fun the genre can be. I picked up the first book on a whim, and immediately decided to buy the sequels. Sarah Lin is an author to look out for, and I look forward to seeing what she writes in the future.

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