Friday, November 1, 2019

The Bookwyrm's Review of The Barrow King by C.M. Carney

Author: C.M. Carney

Length: 533 Pages/ 13 hours, 30 minutes (Audio)

Release Date: February 28, 2018/ August 15, 2018

Publisher: Book Room Press

Narrator: Armen Taylor

Genre: LitRPG/Portal Fantasy

Series: The Realms (Book 1)

Rating: 4.75/5

As a lifelong reader and gamer, who has read some of the formative books in the genre that eventually became LitRPG and GameLit, I will be honest that I find the genre really hit or miss. I'd seen Barrow King for a while but hadn't gotten around to reading it. I was offered the chance to review it, so decided to give it a go. Great decision on my part. This was definitely on the hit side of the equation.


Finn Caldwell is in hiding from a past that has lethal consequences if he's found. When his sister, an executive at the worlds biggest game company, sends him a clandestine message that her life is in danger, and instructions how to save her by going full immersion into the video game her company has developed, Finn decides to go through with it, both to save his sister and get further off the grid.

Entering the game, he discovers the conspiracy his sister warned him of is very real, when his sister's boss, now playing as the head god in the game that may just be real in more ways than could be imagined, tries to kill him. Finn, taking on the name Gryff, escapes through a portal, but is separated from his AI companion, which has all the details needed to play through the game and uncover the conspiracy. Gryff finds himself in a barrow dungeon, which is filled  monsters and enemies Gryff is only partially equipped to deal with. The main threat to Gryff in the barrow is the Barrow King himself, an ancient necromancer turned Lich, who gains power sucking the life energy out of beings in the barrow. 

As he proceeds through the dungeon, Gryff discovers he has attributes of a game character, such as being able to improve his abilities through stat building. He also slots a godhead stone into his attributes, which allows for phenomenal power if he can figure out how to build on it. Progressing though the barrow, Gryff meets others along the way, such as a pair of gnome adventurers trapped when their party was wiped out exploring the barrow, as well as a warrior monk, who helps Gryff proceed in a way that will maximize his growth potential. Fighting through hordes of monsters and even the Barrow King himself possessing bodies along the way, Gryff has to confront the Barrow King in person, as well dealing with the even greater threat the gods play in his life. 


The world building in the Barrow King is not the typical LitRPG game world seen in so many books and games. You are immersed in it, feeling as though you are right there moving through the corridors, discovering various locations that feel more real than they should for just a simulations. You get the idea that things are not what they seem at surface level, and that reality may be closer to the surface than you'd think. 

The characters are rock solid, with Finn/Gryff and his nemesis, the Barrow King, really standing out. They each get such attention regarding their back stories and motivations, and they are realistic and flawed, acting in ways a real person could see themselves doing. The secondary characters, from the gnomes to the various monsters throughout the Barrow are also given attention, raising them up above the level of the usual cardboard cutout NPCs. Gryff's mission is front and center, but the other characters motivations are also laid out, and the character's progress toward accomplishing their own goals along with Gryff's, making for a much more well rounded story. If there's any weakness to the book, its that the second story plotline involving Gryff's AI isn't really explored a lot yet, and it just felt like a loose end I'm sure will be rectified in book two. 


Narration is handled by the talented Armen Taylor. He was an excellent choice to record this book. He has a really pleasing narrative voice, and has outstanding pacing when he narrates. His use of tone and inflections, as well as accents, really helps individualize the various characters, and he has a real knack for finding just the right voice for each character. I can't wait to hear him narrate further books in the series.


I have to be honest, this is definitely in my top ten, maybe even top five, LitRPG books of all time. I don't want to compare it to other books in the genre, but I do think fans of the genre should find something to enjoy in this book, and have a positive reaction to it. I enthusiastically recommend this book to LitRPG and epic fantasy fans alike. 

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