As is tradition, this is the table of contents post at the end of the Survival Quest readthrough/review.
Part 1: Sentenced to Video Games
Part 2: Scandanavian Subversives
Part 3: Capitalism, Ho!
Part 4: Still Pretty Good
Part 5: Waiting For The Other Foot to Fall
Part 6: Overpowered
Part 7: Bumper Episode
I picked up Survival Quest even though it’s slightly out of genre because after being somewhere between partially to completely spiteful towards the first three LitRPG books I’d reviewed, I felt like it was necessary to establish that I do actually like the genre. Survival Quest was recommended to me by Longes, the most active follower of the blog, and that seemed way more likely to give me an actually good book than just randomly picking whatever was popular off of the Amazon charts.
That panned out. Survival Quest is an actually good book (the abbreviated length of the table of contents above is mainly because I spent more time actually reading the book for several pages before realizing that I really need to stop and catch my readers up on what’s going on, rather than stopping to snark every three paragraphs just to keep myself entertained). It’s not completely flawless, but it manages to hit the most important points: It’s got a protagonist I actually care about and a story that actually made me nervous about whether or not things would go wrong.
The cast of characters is a little bit thin, but that’s hardly surprising considering the confined space the first book takes place in and the ones they have all work. I liked Danny’s entrepreneurial spirit and consistent cleverness in finding new ways to exploit the system around him. I disliked the villain Bat and I cheered when protagonist Danny got bloody revenge on him. The mine governor was neither entirely on Danny’s side nor entirely opposed to him, but was instead just faithfully executing the laws he was charged with upholding, whether that helped Danny or not, and likewise the dwarven proprietor of the mine’s shop was just a businessman who wanted cash, and was mostly indifferent to Danny (and easily irritated by him at that), but could be haggled with. Characters had motivations that I could understand and which didn’t revolve around liking or disliking the protagonist, which was the defining feature of almost everyone in Awaken Online, or which were caricatures of people the author either didn’t like to be used as villains or wanted the approval of to use as heroes, as in Succubus, or were fucking Zuula, like in Threadbare.
Talking about how Survival Quest just didn’t fuck up so bad as other books isn’t doing it justice, though. I briefly discussed Danny’s cleverness in optimizing the system, and that’s what really stood out about Survival Quest. Danny is ambitious and clever, haggling the dwarf into loaning him a mid-tier pick so that he can more rapidly get the money he needs for a high-tier pick even with interest, running a scheme to buy up all the spare ore in the mine so that he can turn them into stat-buffing rings, then turning around and selling them at a profit to the people he just paid for the ore, renting out his services as healer in a mine infested with deadly super rats to hit his quota with days to spare. Danny is constantly hustling, and that makes his eventual success feel, for the most part, earned.
Nothing is perfect, of course, and it is only for the most part that this feels earned. A lot of Danny’s success comes from the fact that he can make stat boosting rings, a profession that anyone could level but which no one else does. Without the crafting stat, it’s not nearly as helpful, and it’s completely unclear why Danny was able to get that stat when locked to a prison server when that ordinarily requires some kind of quest. It’s not so bad as a straightforwardly game-breaking mega-stat just landing on Danny, because he still has to get the ore to make use of it, which requires that ore-buying to ring-selling hustle I mentioned earlier, but it’s still true that none of the other prisoners could’ve done what Danny did even if they had the initiative and the smarts. There was also a sub-plot about a prison gang who had it in for Danny, which was resolved completely offpage by his buddy Kart, who built an entire gang (if “gang” is even the right term, since they are a group of prisoners hanging together for mutual protection, but they aren’t really doing anything illicit – although a one-off line did mention that Danny has thieves answering to him) around him and took care of the whole problem with no further effort required on his part. The book went out of its way to set up that these gangs were coming after Danny, and then a few chapters later Kart just says “oh, by the way, I took care of that whole ‘hostile gang’ problem, no worries,” and that’s the end of it. It’s not unrealistic, but it’s a waste of good drama.
These flaws aren’t decisive, though, and watching Danny’s intelligent, well-planned optimization of the world around him and steady increase in power are exactly the kinds of things I like to see in LitRPG, the reason why I like the genre. If I didn’t have a rule against reading two books of the same series in a row, I’d be picking up the sequel immediately after finishing the first one. As it is, we’re probably gonna read Dungeon Born next. See you there.