I received an advance reading copy of Battle Spire in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank Michael R Miller and Portal Books.
In the year 2053 our protagonist Jack Kross is an average geeky guy and the narrative starts whilst he is taking his genetic engineering examination at Xen Tech University. He is an avid gamer but when interactive role-playing games and MMO’s (massively multiplayer online) took over his thoughts, personality, and life his parents weren’t impressed as his grades were suffering drastically, and they were especially annoyed with the cost of the tuition fees! During some heated exchanges a compromise was fabricated. Jack promised not to play any games for 12-months, by when his qualification and studies would have been concluded. After this exam though, Jack decides he needs to jump back into a virtual world without his parents’ knowledge. The plan is to book two nights in a shoddy, rundown hotel in one of the worst parts of San Fransico and play the critically acclaimed and adored new VRMMO game Hundred Kingdoms.
LitRPG is a blooming scene in the fantasy world and as far as I am aware traditional publishers haven’t caught on to the craze yet. I’m not an expert and following on from Andrew Rowe and Phil Tucker, this is only the third LitRPG series that I’ve read but thus far I have not been disappointed by the scene at all.
When Jack enters the game world it starts off typically as a game of The Elder Scrolls would. Picking classes, races, perks, strengths etc… whilst also customising a player’s online avatar and vocals. Jack ignores the classes of mages, warriors, beserkers and the like, and decides to be a scavenger. A player who is laughably weak in battle but can loot beneficial and profitable items from bodies and craft weapons, armour, jewels amongst other creations which are well sought after if created to an impressive and striking standard. In-game funds can be transferred to real life wealth and the protagonist wishes to prove to his parents that gaming isn’t such a waste of time after all. Tired, after a long day of examinations and exploring this new environment, he decides to complete one final mission before expiring and sleeping for the night. He should have logged off then. He enters the titular battle spire almost at the exact time it is invaded by virtual reality but real life terrorists who have put the game on lockdown with the objective of blackmailing the government. They destroy all the NPC’s and our weak hero Jack remains the only player inside the pyramidal structure. Also, any one of the 3-million players who is logged in the game at this point, well, if they die here they also will meet one’s maker in real life too. Not a great time to be a level-3 scavenger, Jack.
Battle Spire is like Hard Boiled and Die Hard wrapped up in a grandiose and extravagant fantasy game. Instead of Chow Yun-Fat or Bruce Willis to save the day, we have Jack… He is facing a squad of approximately 50 villans under the instructions of level-50 capped undead Knight Azrael. There are other characters inside the spire as NPC’s respawn at certain intervals. These include individuals who may aid our ‘hero’ such as the creepily named torturer Kreeptic, Emperor Aurelius, and Jack’s (gaming name – Zoran’s) AI friend Ellie who is nothing more than a voice in his head.
Jack/Zoran spends his time constructing Home Alone-style traps, levelling up, fashioning new weapons that should far exceed his current class, and completing elite level missions on his first day of play. He does this using little more than his mind as if he were to get hit even once from a player who is level-40+ he would be done for. There is also time which he has to worry about. While he is playing, his real-life self is without water and nourishment so even if he stays alive in the game, his real-life self will breathe his last breath and perish soon enough.
I had a brilliant time reading Battle Spire. After the typical LitRPG introduction to the mechanics, magic systems, levelling up statistics, and the world – I loved every single page. Miller is a phenomenally good writer and I will be checking his other works very soon. The ending is pretty spectacular and there are a plethora of set-pieces and moments where Jack uses his wit and environment to succeed against all odds which will stay with me for a while. And I’ll smile remembering them. Battle Spire had me emotionally attached until the end. That’s when you know an author has succeeded. Bravo, Michael.
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