Drew is a college student who is very into the online game Heroes of Legend. After being unhappy with his current guild, Drew has found a new group to play with. He likes this new group much better, in particular a girl named Solace who is the team healer. Drew finds himself spending lots of time interacting online with Solace outside of the larger group raids and he is definitely interested in her. But when Drew learns that the gamer behind Solace is actually a guy not a girl, he is very thrown. Drew has never been attracted to guys before and has no idea what do. But he definitely likes Solace and decides to give things a shot and try meeting up outside the game.
It turns out that things with Kit (aka Solace) go much smoother than Drew expected. Dating a guy isn’t nearly as strange as Drew feared it might be and the two hit it off in real life just as well as they do within the game. Things seem to be going great until the guys run into some stumbles finding some balance between their lives inside and outside the game. Kit has his strongest friendships with other people in their guild and wants to spend most of his free time there playing. But Drew worries Kit is too involved in Heroes of Legend and wants him to hang out more with Drew and his friends. Now Drew has to decide if he can accept Kit as he is, or whether he is going to let his ideas about how Kit should be behaving ruin what they are starting to build between them.
Looking for Group called to me right away. I mean look at that cover, right? So gorgeous. And I would definitely say I have many interests that fall pretty solidly in the “geeky” spectrum, so I was really interested to read this story set in that world. The problem I had here with this one is that the story is SO focused on the gaming world, almost to the exclusion of everything else, that I found myself pretty overwhelmed.
So on the positive end, I loved what Hall did here with the gender/sexual identity side of things. Drew is attracted to what he thinks is a woman, only to learn that Solace is really played by a man. This throws him for sure and I liked how this conflict isn’t glossed over. He talks to his friends, some of whom give him good advice and others who don’t, but Drew gives some real thought to whether the fact alone that Kit is a guy is enough to change the feelings he has already developed for him. I think this angle was really interesting and well explored. I found the geeky references and humor in the story to be fun and was able to follow along with most of them. I liked the easy friendships Drew had with his gang and the way they supported him, even while often infuriating him as well. And I think the storyline fit well with the new adult ages of the characters.
Where things didn’t work so well for me was the video game angle. I came into this fully prepared for a story about gaming. But I was not prepared for the sheer volume of focus on the game. Almost the entire story takes place within the world of the video game. There are a small number of “real life” scenes with Drew and his friends, a few with Drew and Kit, and that is about it. Everything else is a recounting of what is happening in the game as they are playing. Toward the end of the book we spend more time in real life, but even when Drew and Kit are on a date, they are often playing video games. There is virtually no relationship development that takes place out of that context, or even any real story outside of that either. The conflict these guys face in their relationship is even about the game in terms of how much is too much time spent playing.
Obviously I didn’t count pages or anything, but I would venture about 85% of the story here takes place in the world of the game as they are playing. We are basically reading transcripts of the dialog as the players talk to each other through the game, alternated with narrative describing what is going on in the game. I would liken it to reading a transcript of play-by-play commentary on a sporting event you haven’t watched. And this is for pages and pages (and pages) on end. Here is an example from the first chapter:
Drew’s health ticked away. Ten percent. Five percent. His vampiric aura was giving him a slow trickle of healing, but it was nowhere near enough. The golem was dying too, but not quite as quickly.
And, at last, Orcarella collapsed to the floor and the golem, a last sliver of red clinging mockingly to the bottom of its health bar, turned to Solace.
Drew hated this bit. Not his fault but, damn, it felt like it.[Group][Orcarella]: Sorry guys
[Group][Burnzurfais]: fucking noobs
Solace was kiting for all she was worth, but she had no health and no mana and she probably wouldn’t last another five seconds. The golem slammed its fist down. Then there was a rush of purple light and Solace was standing over the machine’s broken body.[Group][Solace]: omg i cant believe that worked
[Group][Ialdir]: GJ guys
[Group][Orcarella]: wtf was that
[Group][Solace]: Dark elf racial. [Lifesteal]. Hee. I’ve never used it before.
[Group][Ialdir]: That used to be really OP back in the day.
[Group][Solace]: Back when all this was grass
[Group][Solace]: When you had to farm for mats uphill both ways in the snow
[Group][Ialdir]: And you had to respect your elders
[Group][Solace]: Sec, need to mana up. Just sipping on my [Fermented Cave Mould]. Mmmm.
[Group][Ialdir]: Better than the [Brackish Sump Water] you were drinking in the last expansion.
[Group][Solace]: Game developers hate spellcasters.
Part of the problem I had at first was following the dialog given the way it is formatted with the dialog tags, though I got used to that. And part of it was that I didn’t understand a lot of what was going on. I did find that there is a glossary at the end of the book, but I didn’t stumble onto that until I was most of the way through the story. So that would have helped with some of the terms. But the biggest issue is that we get endless, extensive passages of detailed recounting of the game they are playing. At first I assumed there was some larger meaning to glean from the action, some symbolism or something to justify the incredibly detailed and lengthy passages of narration. And at times, we do see conversations between Drew and Kit that illuminate their relationship, or learn a little more about Drew as he reflects on the game. But mostly it is just a narrative describing a game they are playing and I couldn’t for the life of me find more to it than that. And at almost 300 pages of story, I just couldn’t handle having the vast majority of it be essentially a summary of them playing a game.
Here is another example of a raid the guild is participating in. We get pages and pages of narrative telling us what they are doing, who they are fighting, what spells they are using, etc. I just am not sure what all this adds to the book. A few passages would be great to give flavor and a sense of what this thing is that is so much of a passion for Drew and Kit. But this just seemed like overkill. Here are just a few more examples:
“So like all good boss fights, Lady Bloodrose is in three phases. In the first phase, she will hover over the pit and send her briars to tear the raid to pieces. The briars come in four kinds, Thorned, Barbed, Entrancing, and Entangling. Thorned Briars are large and hit heavily in melee, so they need to be tanked or killed by ranged. Barbed are smaller and faster, but stack Heartsblood on you. Various things in this fight will hit you with Heartsblood, and if it reaches a hundred stacks, you become some kind of slave zombie thing under the control of Lady Bloodrose. If you let this happen, you are a noob and a scrub, and you will need to feel very bad about yourself.”
Bjorn sounded like he was really enjoying himself. He reminded Drew a lot of Anni in some ways, but in other ways he really, really didn’t. It was like he used all the same words, but they didn’t mean the same things.
“The Barbed Briars should be prio-ed by ranged, always. Entrancing Briars will have little white flowers on them, and they will randomly mind-control people. You will stay MCed until the briar is killed. Melee can attack Entrancing Briars safely. Please do so. Finally, Entangling Briars will wander around and grab people. When somebody gets grabbed, DPS them out of it. Also spawning in phase one are the Veiled Attendants. These are the spooky cultist people who come out of the doors in the northeast, northwest, southeast, and southwest of the chamber. They will make a beeline for the nearest pillar, where they will activate its special power.”I
I just am not sure what this added to the book or why I needed to know how you kill Lady Bloodrose. Later in that same raid:
[Lady Bloodrose] says: Enough of this. Fall before the legions of the Netherworld.
“Well, crap,” sighed Morag. “Next time, less DoTs.”
“I’m on it. Slow DPS on the adds please.” Drew picked up the first attendant and sprinted back across the chamber towards the Pillar of Death, where the second one was channelling a beam of purple energy that would give every enemy in the room a massive damage boost.
“Portal team in. Rest of you, on the attendants.”
“Shit shit shit.” That sounded like Bjorn.
They managed to burn the two attendants down fairly quickly, but while Drew was maintaining aggro, Netherworld Minions were swarming out of the still-open portal.
“Adds in the ranged.”
Ella scuttled backwards round the pit, throwing a taunt at the armour-plated insect demon thing that was presently chewing on Small Mangy Owl.
“Pet tanking for the win,” said Ialdir, as Drew began whaling on the monster with his axes.
[Lady Bloodrose] says: Blood of my blood.
That was bad.
“Pillar of blood up,” called Bjorn. “All deeps on the boss. Watch your stacks, and get in the light if you need it.”
Drew was doing okay for Heartsblood, and he didn’t want to a drag a pile of enemies over to where the raid was stacking to rid itself of the fallen elf’s malicious influence.
For most of phase two they were playing catch-up, and Drew was beginning to feel the pressure. Because of the attendants, they’d been slow on the portals, and because they were slow on the portals, there were lots of adds to control, and Bloodrose was looking healthier than she should have at this stage in the fight. The RNG Gods had also decided to screw them, and she kept drifting towards the Pillar of Blood, which was the least dealable-with of the debuffs.
After a while I was just having trouble focusing on it, the sheer volume overwhelmed me. And again, I am just not sure what all these detailed transcripts really added to the story, at least in this volume.
So I found this one kind of a struggle. In some areas, I really liked the story. I enjoyed the parts where Drew and Kit interact and we see Drew with his friends. And I like the sexual identity issues that Drew deals with. But that all takes up such a small portion of the story and definitely takes a backseat to the lengthy focus on the intricacies of the video game. I really enjoy Hall’s writing and overall I liked this one. I just feel like the story balance was way out of whack and there isn’t nearly enough time focused on the relationship between these guys. I wouldn’t have minded so much gaming in the book if it was more focused on showcasing our characters and what they were dealing with throughout the book, but unfortunately too much of it was just a recounting of the game as they played it.
I think if you are a fan of Alexis Hall’s writing, this may work for you. And for fans of gaming, this is likely to be right in your wheelhouse. But overall I left with mixed feelings on this story.