It’s been a while since I read a good LitRPG (though I’m pretty sure I’m about to have a few of them on my plate, lol), and so when this omnibus audiobook was offered to me, I gladly accepted. The sample sounded cool, and I don’t think I’ve ever read one that was from the point of view of an NPC, so off I went into the world of Puatera Online.
I received a free copy of this audiobook, which is the first three books in the series, from the author. And here is my honest review of it.
With her pain potions in short supply, Maddie accepts a deadly run, pick up a package in Trox City and cross the desert plains to Port Troli, the only issues – an unwanted passenger and Tromoal breeding season.
As I said, this is actually an omnibus of the first 3 books in this series (of which there are currently 4 – though I believe these are the only 3 currently that follow this character). This wasn’t a very long audiobook, especially for an omnibus, as these books individually aren’t very long. So it’s about 9 hours total for all 3 books. I kind of thought of this as one big story, with 3 smaller sort of ‘acts’ if you will, so I’ll make this one big review, but I will try not to spoil any of the huge plot points, because that would be no fun. 😀
Maddie is a Desert Runner, which is… actually pretty self-explanatory, lol. She takes deliveries and does other quests through the dangerous desert plains. In the world of Puatera Online… in which she is an NPC. This is not exactly unlike a host in Westworld, if you’re familiar. But, unlike the hosts, she knows that her thoughts and desires are programmed. She knows the nature of her world and the ‘visitors’ that pass through it. She’s one of the few NPCs that does realize that she is a character in a game.
This is actually really interestingly done, because Maddie is, in her world, for all intents and purposes, a real person – with real feelings, a real boyfriend, real hunger, a real sore hip, and a really slowly falling health bar. Potions are more or less like a drug to NPCs, and Maddie has a bit of an addiction after such a long time trying to treat her injuries. So, out of money and almost out of potions to bring that health bar back up, she takes on a really dangerous quest across the desert, especially dangerous at this time of year because the creatures in the desert, Tromoals (basically dragons), are breeding, and extra-extra dangerous. Turns out that it’s an escort quest. Kind of a reverse escort quest, wherein she, the NPC, has to escort a player to the other side of the desert. The visitor, Alex, is trying to get across the desert with a package quite urgently, and so off they go. Shenanigans abound as they journey, and we find out more about the Tromoal, and more about the nature of Puatera Online as we go, and as it turns out, Puatera Online is far, far more than it seems on the surface.
This story is something like Mad Max meets Sword Art Online meets the Matrix, and it was incredibly easy to get into it based on that. The narrator, Andrea Parsneau, did a really fantastic job bringing these characters to life. She told Maddie’s story very well, and gave her a great voice (as this story is told in the first person). She can do a bunch of accents capably, and though one or two seemed a bit forced at times, all the same they were still recognizable, so that was nice. The only thing that made this sort of weird, as an audiobook, was that Maddie and many of her friends are narrated as American, however, much of the vernacular these characters use is very definitely British, and so it seemed out of place. The thing is, if I had been reading the book in print this would have been no problem at all, as I would have read the book assuming British accents. But, having had it read to me, it was much more noticeable when words like ‘bonnet’ and ‘lift’ were thrown in. Not a dealbreaker by any stretch, but just something that sort of stuck out as odd.
Maddie and Alex, as… well, as I had guessed would happen, because of course it did, began the whole falling for each other thing as the story went, and as this is a fairly short trilogy, it happens at pretty much the speed of the Pursuit Special across a desert wasteland. Maddie’s NPC-ness actually explains (a bit) why this happens to her so quickly. Her programming is telling her to fall for the sexy visitor. This is assuming we believe that she’s listening to her programming, which she usually ignores the shit out of. Maybe it’s just really hammering the point home here this time. Alex has his own reasons for… kinda grabbing life by the horns as well. The romancey bits of the story weren’t terribly written, as romances go, and it’s not a whole huge chunk of the actual storyline, and Maddie and Alex were pretty cute at times, but there was a time or two in the very beginning that my eyes did a bit of a roll. It was fast. It was getting The L Word in play for a dude you’ve known for like 3 days and know next to nothing about fast. It was falling in love with a dude whose name you’re not sure is his actual real name fast. It was swearing to and actually somewhat attempting to give your life to save his life the next day fast. That’s NPC amore, I guess. I’ll give this instalove a bit of a break for being half-programmed. Just this once. >.>
There was a pretty good deal of action, as all kinds of shenanigans happened to Maddie and Alex and company. Shenanigans with dragons. Shenanigans with bandits. Shenanigans with pretty much everyone and everything they do. The main problem that the world is having, at least in the beginning, is that they need the Tromoals to continue to live and breed in order for the world to survive, but in this particular year, they don’t have enough food to feed their clutch, and if the clutch doesn’t hatch, then everything is going to go to shit.
And so, the mission, if they choose to accept it, is to find food for the dragons! MORE SHENANIGANS. Everything from crazy zombie cows, to secret underground dev bunkers, to vampires and dark lords, to aliens, portals to the real world, and everything in between. It got kind of bonkers in the last book, but I didn’t dislike it.
I quite enjoyed it, all told. This is not the end of the story, though it appears to be the end of Maddie’s books in this series for the moment. It left me with a few questions. Perhaps one day I’ll get to see those questions answered.
I’d rate all 3 books something like this:
Desert Runner: 3/5 stars.
Desert Born: 3.5/5 stars.
Desert Storm: 3.5/5 stars.
And the whole trilogy: 3.5/5 stars.
Thanks again to the author for the review copy of the audiobook. 🙂