Wednesday, June 24, 2020
The Bookwyrm's Review of Leap of Faith by J.S. Grulke
Author: J.S. Grulke
Length: 359 Pages
Release Date: December 18, 2019
Series: Anura Rising: Book One
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
I have been getting more into LitRPG of late, and when offered a chance to review Leap of Faith, I jumped, so to speak. It just had the look of a light bit of fun, and while it was, it turned out to be a bit deeper, which really worked.
Henry Thomas is a high school kid dealing with a series of life tragedies. After a life altering bad decision, Henry decides to end his life by parking on a train bridge. When he meets his end, he is surprised to come to at all. Awakening on the world Anura, he meets a man named Verlos, who tells Henry he's being given a second chance; a chance that, if he accomplishes certain tasks, will result in him being reunited with his family. There's only one catch: He will have to do it in his new body, that of a man sized humanoid frog in what amounts to a role playing game universe.
Accepting the deal, Henry starts to move through the area he got left in, a swampy area. He runs into some other frog men, who don't take kindly to him being in their territory. Deciding to fight them, he manages to beat a couple, but when the fight starts turning against him, he tries to escape and is captured. Returning with Henry to their village, Henry discover's they are called Bruggs, one of several different tribes of frog men. The village just had a bunch of villagers stolen by gnolls, who plan on sacrificing them in dark ceremonies. Henry is given a chance to earn the Brugg's trust if he agrees to a quest to rescue the villagers. Realizing he has nothing to lose, he agrees, and goes to find them. He has to bring the tribes shaman with him, a kobold named Ott, who can hopefully use his magic to help the mission.
This quest is the start of a much larger dangerous adventure for Henry, because the Gnolls are the least of his problems. It turns out they are working for Nergal, a powerfully evil being who is looking to destroy Anura and it's inhabitants, using a magical poison gas cloud he produces to do it. Barely escaping Nergal and the gnolls, Henry returns to the village, only to have it be attacked by monsters, forcing the survivors to flee. This leaves Henry in charge of the villagers, his life literally tied to their survival, although he gains buffs by their being attached to his leadership, which disturbs Henry, being a loner and not wanting to lead anyone.
Escaping the area, Henry and Ott discover a hidden area that would make a perfect site for a new village. Unfortunately, the current inhabitants are willing to kill anyone who enters to keep secret the reason the area remains hidden. After a crazy series of events, Henry must finally do what he hates, trust others to help him, if he is to have a chance to defeat Nergal. The way that battle occurs is completely unexpected, and the results will have unforeseen repercussions for Henry's group and the wider world.
CHARACTERS AND WORLD BUILDING
Deep characterization is not something a lot of people would associate with LitRPG, and in a lot of cases, that's accurate, since the stories tend to be lighter and more comedic. Leap of Faith, however, is a bit different in that regard, especially with the main character. Henry starts the book as a selfish, shallow loner who doesn't see the value in other people, because they will let him down. As the story progresses, though, you realize this is a defense mechanism to deal with a traumatic upbringing, with tragedy and abuse mixed throughout, until Henry's final acts in the real world leading to his rebirth in Anura. Throughout the story you can see Henry refusing responsibility, making mistakes and paying the price again and again, as he slowly grows to realize the world is larger than his immediate concerns, and he must step up and accept he can't remain a loner all his life, and must give of himself. In short, actual character growth. I have to admit, the physical character growth was amusing, too. Having a buff where you have a 10% chance of decapitating someone with your tongue was a funny bit of character creation.
The secondary characters are fleshed out as well, with Ott and the hunter Kai getting the most attention, but even the minor characters get a look into their lives and motivations. Nergal makes a good villain for the story, being powerful and truly evil, but his motivations remained a mystery, even if it was just watch the world burn, which seemed a bit of a missed opportunity to expand the character to me. That's a minor point, though, and didn't affect my enjoyment of the story.
The world building for Anura is creative, seeking to keep it from being a two dimensional typical game universe. There are a variety of fantasy races as well as ones the author created specifically for the book, and they work well within the setting. The world itself has a wide variety of settings, from swampy marshes to river valleys and forests. The magic is intrinsic to the world, and the gods of the world are actual beings, which can effect the world around them. The nature god Kana is a huge surprise, quite literally. You'll understand when you read the book.
While Leap of Faith may look like a goofy, lighthearted fluff LitRPG, it was written with care and skill for plot, characters and world building. It has actual organic character growth, with a flawed protagonist that you grow to understand more as his story is revealed. I would definitely recommend this one to fans of the genre, as well as more traditional fantasy fans. I understand that Soundbooth Theater is working on the audio version, and when that one comes out, I'll update this review to cover that version as well. Definitely give this book a try.