Bogwood Press, $4.99
Randy Nargi’s The Iron Veil is described as a “cyber thriller/LitRPG hybrid”, which is a hoity-toity way of saying that it is a story that involves the main characters doing their thing inside a video game. Think Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle or Ready Player One.
Stories like this, naturally, have people playing a game only to discover that things are far more dangerous than it seems. Hence, Justin Boone, our hero, has to bring together a crew of stereotypical MMORPG archetypes to make sure that they survive OmniWorld, despite a rogue AI getting all bent on making sure that it comes out on top no matter what.
I wish I can say more, to rave about how amazing the world building is, or how myself as a gamer can’t stop squealing in delight at the Easter eggs present here. Unfortunately, my reaction to this story is more of a yawn and wondering whether I should just go play a video game instead.
Here’s the thing: for a LitRPG story, this story offers world building that is surprisingly light. Whatever is present feels like some mishmash of stereotypical and even dated MMORPG tropes, so OmniWorld ends up like the most generic virtual sandbox ever. It’s hard to get excited about a story when the setting is bland, and only minimal effort is made to flesh out the gameplay, rules, and other details that would have made OmniWorld a far more distinct and unique place.
And then there are the main characters. Most of them resemble badly-drawn characters created by first-time tabletop gamers, while Justin is easily one of the most passive lead characters ever. He seems to exist only to be an unnecessary narrator of the things that are happening around him – he can be taken out from pivotal scenes with minimal changes needed to those scenes, because he’s really that useless. And then there is the female lead Pali, Pari, Pawi, or something (that’s how bland these characters all are) who comes off as grating and annoying when I’m sure the author intended her to be some kick-ass lead all along. Who are all these people? They are all so bland, I don’t care enough to find out. In the end, I’m like Justin – I just let things happen around me while I just stand there with a blank look on my face.
Additionally, there are annoying scenes where the characters will allude to something sinister or terrible. Everyone seems to know what this something is, but I am never clued in so oh my goodness, it’s like having to sit through The Matrix Revolutions all over again and having the annoying people in that movie telling me that they know what they know but ha, ha, ha, I don’t so I have to sit in that corner and watch the cool kids talk.
Oh, and for kids that are supposed to be on the older side – Justin is 25, I believe – they all speak and cry like they are actually kids at least ten years younger.
I close this one without any care whatsoever about what I have read, and without any interest to read the next book in the series. Bland setting, bland characters, bland everything stuck into a plot that seems to be a composite of all the clichés one can think of unimaginatively cobbled together – The Iron Veil leaves me cold indeed.