Review: Soulstone – Awakening by J.A. Cipriano

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Looks like a pretty fun game, actually.

Nerd alert! If you weren’t aware, I’m a bit of a gamer… Okay, more than a bit, lol. I met my husband on World of Warcraft, FFS. >.> So, I’m okay with a books about video games. The whole LitRPG genre is very popular in Japan, Korea, and Russia and it seems to be sort of taking off here too as of late, especially in audiobooks (at least, that’s what I’ve noticed). So, while I have tried one or two with varying levels of liking them, this one looked really interesting to me (and it was narrated by a newer favorite narrator of mine. How could I resist?)

Also, FYI, I was voluntarily given a copy of this one for free from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Aaron Hope plays video games, like a lot, just not professionally. When he entered the EpiX! Games! PVP World Championship on a lark, this college senior never expected to make it to the final round, nor to get drugged and shoved into the alpha test for World of Ruul.

The premise for this virtual reality MMO is simple. Find all eight treasures scattered throughout the world before the maelstrom’s forces devour everything in sight. The only catch? You can’t log off, and if you die… well, let’s just say what happens in the game doesn’t stay in the game.

Crash was a great player, and while I’d been a bit worried about facing him in the tournament before, he’d developed Titan Gate. If this world was as similar as it seemed to be, he’d likely know tons of secrets that could help us. Having him here would be like having Harry Dresden’s talking skull!

That skull has a name, and it is Bob. Sheesh 😛

So, as I’ve said, I don’t have a toooon of experience within this genre, but what I have read is very similar in some way to either Sword Art Online, .hack, The Matrix, or Ready Player One. This one isn’t too different from those in the basics either. Hell, it even uses RPO as a reference at one point. It knows what it is, and I liked that about it.

In this story, a college senior is drafted into saving the world from a nearly-sentient virus by being very good at a video game that was expressly made to mirror the game that the virus itself has created. So, it’s got some common tropes in this genre, which is not necessarily a bad thing. There’s only so far you can go to make ‘this is a virtual-reality MMORPG except that it’s actually real on some level so don’t die or you’ll really die’ seem different, you know? For me, first and foremost, how entertaining a novel (of any genre) is to me is always the most important factor. I appreciate good writing when I find it, and super-original ideas, but if a story is compelling and told in a compelling way, I’ll enjoy it all the same. Even if it uses tropes that are very familiar to me. If it has characters that I like and that I root for, chances are that I’m going to not hate it.

Anyone who reads my reviews regularly (and I can’t imagine that anyone actually does >.>) will know that I love it when books reference my favorite things in enjoyable ways. So, this book pretty much wins on that front right from the beginning. In chapter one we get a character that is cosplaying Tifa Lockhart, red gloves and all, so I did a little ‘heheeee!’ because FFVII is absolutely among my favorite games of all time. Plus, it’s from my generation, and so there’s something specifically for someone who grew up or lived through my generation to relate to….

<gets in my old lady duds and shakes my cane> Kids these days don’t appreciate FFVII for how amazing it is, because it’s graphically inferior to the games they know. You’re missing out, kids. You’re missing out. </cane> That’s okay though, because they’re remaking it… probably. And, I sort of understand where they’re coming from. I had a hard time getting into old B&W movies for the same exact reason.

Anyways, I mostly enjoyed my time with this book. Aaron was an enjoyable character and I quite liked his adventures in leveling. He is absolutely foul-mouthed (like me!). He references a lot of real life things that I also like (Diablo, Penny Arcade, Star Wars, Skyrim, etc, etc, etc.) so my inner (and outer) nerd nearly always had an opportunity to have a little smile of recognition. These sorts of things make parts of the story you would think are boring (like level-grinding) not actually as boring as actual level grinding is. George the Bunny was also a pretty good character, though there were times that I thought he was a bit over-the-top. Ok, a few times… but I still appreciate a bunny who swears that much.

This was a pretty easy listen, because it was quick, and I never found it to be overly plodding, even during the level grind, but it was an easy listen because Nik Magill nails the narration. I liked Nik’s narration of one of my favorite books ever, and so seeing his name on this one made me very excited to have a listen. He did a real great job with this one and I enjoyed my 8 or so hours with it. I will definitely put ‘listening to books Nik Magill narrates’ on my to-do list. As I said in my review of the last book I listened to him narrate, his voice is mesmerizing. This sounds a bit like I’m fangirling (and I guess I am in a way?), but I actually mean this as in his voice hits a note, or a timbre or a tone or whatever it’s actually called that just sounds…. nice. I like some narrators because I love the accents they can do, or I love the accents they have. I like this one because I just like the sound of his voice. *shrug*

My one criticism that I can think of is that Dora, the merchant (and one of only 3 women that Aaron ever meets throughout the book) was fucking ridiculous. She’s a merchant, FFS. Her job is to buy fucking trash items and sell some potions. So, my eyes rolled as far as they could go when the first thing out of her mouth was something along the lines of ‘Hey there big boy… how can I heeeeellllp you?’ *touchy touchy* (paraphrasing, but you get the idea). I’d have ignored it, but then she did the same thing to Player Two as soon as she met him. Having her just buy some trash instead of the more or less ‘oh sure, I’ll buy your goblin swords, but first can I have a go at your +69 Staff of Penetration?’ out of nowhere for no reason would have gone over better.

Thankfully, other than Dora the Cocksplorer, this book has 2 other capable women (that’s actually a lot for a LitRPG in my experience), Darkheart, who is a Paladin and the leader of the ‘We need to beat the Maelstrom!’ initiative, and Jo, a pink-haired sassy blacksmith. I actually really liked Jo, but she was only introduced within the last 20 minutes or so. So, we’ll see what happens with her in the future perhaps.

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My sandwich would not be as delicious. I do not roll twenties.

All told, with the exception of Dora, I quite enjoyed my time with this audiobook (which is probably why it only took me a day to listen to it). I’ll give the story a solid 4 stars, and the narration a nice big 5 stars.

You can get a copy of this book here: US | UK | CA | IN | AU and on Audible: US | UK

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