Another entry in my review series of LitRPGs, stories that take place partially or entirely within massively multiplayer, virtual reality games. PLEASE BE WARNED: This novel includes descriptions of rape and other forms of sexual violence.
Publisher’s Description: Taereun: Battleground of the Damned was never really a game. It was a testing ground to find minds and souls for the The Nameless God to use, and for tens of thousands of players, the game became reality, when they were put in the bodies of their characters. The Nameless God told them that he would return them to their real lives, if they fought through the Labyrinth of Yggr and freed his body from beneath the city of Haven. After searching for over 11 years, they found the Gate leading to Haven.
After being murdered right before the gate to Haven was opened, Mark McGuinness wakes up in a hospital in his original body. As a child, he was in an automobile accident. A freak whose body rejects most medical treatments, he was left scarred and disfigured. Angry, bitter and disgusted with the world, he had used Taereun: Battleground of the Damned to take out his frustration and anger, so he would not lose control and hurt or kill someone in real life. The closest he had ever come to being happy was living as Talon, during the eleven year search for Haven.
Having learned about the Power called ki, Mark McGuinness discovers that his human body is capable of channeling and using it. Once again armed with Power, he finds a way to travel from Earth to Taereun. He has questions he wants answered and people he owes. Whether mortal or divine, he will let no one and nothing stand in his way.
WARNING: For Mature Audiences Only. This story contains profanity and rather graphic descriptions of violence, gore, sex and sexual violence.
Possible spoilers beyond this point.
You know when the description of a novel contains a warning about physical and sexual violence, gore, and other adult themes, you have to make a decision. Are you willing to explore these themes, or are you more comfortable simply moving on? There is no right answer to this question. Not only do each of us respond differently to these types of warnings, but we approach our handling of them in a variety of ways depending on where we’re at in our lives.
Ultimatum of the Nameless God was in the List of 119 LitRPG Books on Goodreads. The title caught my eye. The warning raised an eyebrow, and I decided to see how deep down a novel in this new genre would go. I’m glad I did, but I’m conflicted sharing my review.
I want to be clear right now that in no way do I encourage or condone unwanted sexual violence. This story includes rape, straight and homosexual. It includes torture and violence, both sexual and physical. They are not the focal point of the story, but they happen. With that said, these themes have existed throughout human history and I am not one to ignore them simply because it makes our society uncomfortable. So it was that I purchased Ultimatum of the Nameless God – and in the end, despite the above, I’m glad I did.
The Good: It’s no secret among those who know me that I favor sociopath characters. I relate to them on some level, and they intrigue me. I find them far and few between as protagonists. This is one reason I’m drawn to stories about assassins, vengeance, revenge. The main character, Mark McGuinness, fits this mold. There is a great balance in the exploration of what has led him to walk the line between being a sociopath and a psychopath—and he arguably does cross that line at times, but I find myself on his side when he does.
The story and events are gritty and uncompromising. While it’s given away in the book’s description, the character comes to realize the “game” he’s been playing all this time is actually another world, and the people there, real. The danger to them, the joys and horrors they experience become all the more palpable. The journey Mark takes from his character of Talon, to his physical being of Mark, to the new Brand he becomes once back in Taerun kept my interest from beginning to end.
Brand leaves behind the scarred, weak Mark of his past. He wants revenge for the death of Talon, his alter ego when he thought it was all a game. He wants vengeance for the wrongs that have been thrust upon him. He wants to remove all sense of powerlessness and won’t allow another to hinder that quest. I find an almost atavistic empathy with these motivations and they continue to intrigue me.
The Bad: Brian’s writing style is straightforward. It doesn’t read as an author writing for the masses, it reads as a good friend across the country relaying an epic story to me. This is detrimental to the experience for some readers. For me, the events of the story itself made up for it and after a time I hardly noticed, but I feel it important to share for those who may be bothered by it.
I think the strengths of the story could have benefited from more exploration of the other characters. At the same time, doing so could have created conflict with any empathy the reader has managed to build and share with Mark McGuinness. I’m not sure in the end what I would prefer, but as result the side characters sometimes become background characters instead.
The adult themes may be a serious turn-off for some. I equate it to watching a movie with depictions of the subject matter. They are rarely the central point of a scene, but the author doesn’t shy away from drawing your attention to them, much the way the camera may pan over the scene and the audio revel in the screams.
It ends on a cliffhanger—be prepared if this kind of thing drives you nuts. I immediately moved on to book two, and thus was not affected by this fact.
The Conclusion: I wrestled for a few weeks before writing this review, about how I would rate Ultimatum of the Nameless God, and how I would present the review on the site. It’s a great story. It has straightforward, if not impressive, writing. It explores concepts that make an awful lot of people uncomfortable but which shouldn’t necessarily be shied away from if we’re going to become better as a people. It held my attention throughout, and provides a fresh alternative protagonist to the LitRPG Genre. In the end, it’s a Great story. I recommend reading it if the warning doesn’t immediately turn you away. If it does, then the warning has served its purpose perfectly, because it is warranted.