#SPFBO | Ascend Online – Luke Chmilenko

About the Book

Diving into a revolutionary new video game, Marcus and his friends escape a stagnant society, entering into a world that defies their wildest imaginations. But from the moment that he logs in, Marcus finds himself separated from his friends and thrown into remote village under attack by a horde of goblins.

Forced into battle, Marcus rallies the beleaguered villagers and with their help, manages to drive off the invading creatures. With the village in ruins and their supplies spoiled, the survivors desperately turn to Marcus for help in rebuilding the village.

Realizing that this game is nothing like he’s ever played before, Marcus is swept up into a whirlwind of adventure as he struggles to defend his new home, quickly finding that marauding goblins are the least of his problems.

Published on October 3, 2016
Author’s webpage
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This is a round finalist for the SPFBO.

Ascend Online is one of those books that I went into expecting to hate. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again. I am not a gamer. I do not play games. I do not like games. I do not care about games. I don’t understand the LitRPG fascination (sorry, I don’t). However, my husband is a gamer. He beta tests games. He has every gaming system known to man. He livestreams the gaming conventions. Hell, we made a special trip to Las Vegas one year so he could go to the very first Playstation convention (It wasn’t really a special trip. My family lives down there, so it worked.)

So, while I am not a gamer, my husband is. I may not understand the thrill, but I get the passion. His passion for gaming is equal to my passion for reading and writing. That being said, I go into books like this, and Ready Player One with the knowledge that I don’t understand the thrill, but I sure as hell respect it. There’s an art to this stuff, and a depth to it that usually pleasantly surprises me.

Ascend Online looks like it’s quite a hit. On Goodreads it has 1,374 ratings. It has 2,948 ratings on Audible, clocking in at an average 4.7 out of five stars. That’s damn impressive for a self-published book. Hell, that’s damn impressive for a book that isn’t self-published. That’s just damn impressive. Period. Part of the draw on audible is Luke Daniels narrating. Now, I have yet to listen to this audiobook, but Luke Daniels is one of my absolute favorite narrators, and there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that his narration takes this book and brings it to another level.

But I haven’t listened to it. (Yet. I plan on changing that eventually because Luke Daniels is my jam.) I’ve read it, so all I can really do is talk about the reading of it and leave Luke Daniels and his vocal magics to another time and place.

Ascend Online is a LitRPG, as I’ve already established. Set in a near-future world, a lot of the technology is pretty believably advanced. The gaming industry is still around and thriving. A game comes out, and a group of friends decides to play. It’s full immersion, and things get interesting.

Now, some reviews I’ve read quibble about the level-based gaming system and how gaming should have advanced along with technology. Others mention things like bosses and stuff like that. Folks, I am not a gamer, so I’m not going to weigh in on any of those details. I have no opinion about the finer points of full immersion gaming. Sorry.

I will say that I loved the characters. They can be crass and swear a lot, but that’s never bothered me (it might bother someone else, though, so I’ll mention it). I loved some characters more than others. Essentially this is Marcus’s story. He has a group of people he plays with, but they are very much back-burner characters. Marcus was a good character to follow. He’s your average guy, with an above average knack for gaming. For those of us who might be n00bs with this kind of thing (ehem…) he was not only a personable character that made the book interesting, but one who sort of took these situations, and boiled them down to a level I could understand.

If I have one complaint, it was that the book felt almost too full of characters. There were a lot of people coming and going, names to keep track of, casts and all this stuff. I’m not sure if maybe I had a harder time with it due to my n00bishness, or if there were genuinely just a whole lot of characters in this book, but there it is. Now, I can see where a lot of these characters, introduced here and sort of fading out after a time, can come back further in the series. The author could easily use this book as foundational blocks for a lot of these people/creatures/things.

Along with that, occasionally I felt like there was almost too much going on at times, too much action packed into scenes that weren’t long enough to handle them all. This kind of made my head spin. It’s easy enough to keep track of what is going on where, but it did feel a little log jammed at times, and then things would ease up, and the plot/pacing/action would even out again.

The world building is wonderful. Chmilenko paid attention to detail and really crafted a game that is (probably) realistic to gamers, but also easy for me to understand, visualize and appreciate. I also loved how this (essentially) secondary fantasy world and all of its fantasy creatures were juxtaposed with this near-future advanced technology world that is first introduced to readers. I thought both sides of Chmilenko’s world building were fantastically well done, and really hats off to him for that.

I appreciate this book, and I really enjoyed it, but I do think that it is audience specific. Readers who are a bit less tolerant of gaming than I am might be a bit put off by it.

Well, this review has dragged on long enough. The TL:DR version of this is, this book really surprised me. It’s a whole lot of fun. Fantastic world building, characters that are easy to love, and plenty of action to keep you going. The plot does get bogged down at times, and there are a lot of characters to follow, but those are small potatoes in the face of how much fun this book ended up being.


4/5 stars


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