I received audible codes from author Dawn Chapman for the first three books in the Puatera Online ‘series,’ Desert Runner, Desert Born, and Desert Storm. I’ve chosen to review them as one for reasons I believe will become clear below.
Follow NPC Maddie on her journey of self-discovery. Through the deadly desert plains to the inner programming that makes her who she is.
I don’t usually use star-ratings here on the blog. But sometimes it helps situate a book in my estimation. I’d give Puatera Online a 2.5, and then round up to 3.
The first thing I want to establish is that I would not call this a series. I would call it a serial. I know Goodreads/Amazon/etc doesn’t give authors and publishers an easy, clear way to make this distinction. But as a reader, it’s a big one for me, as serials don’t necessarily wrap up at the end of a ‘book.’ Think movie vs episode of a TV show.
That’s the case here with Puatera Online. Each book runs one into the other, with the breaks between being fairly random. Each book contains three or so quests and at the end of one the author breaks for the next. The next picking up with the remainder of the ongoing quests and adding new ones ad infinito. If this was not a serial, my comment would be that all three of these ~100 page volumes should have been one novel. No question in my mind.
Here’s the thing, I was annoyed to discover this is a serial, not a series (at least by my estimation). But I can’t really fault it for being what it is, instead of what I expected. So, my 2.5 rating isn’t based on that. I just thought it was important to let future readers know what to expect. Additionally, the cover image says “the complete trilogy,” but the story doesn’t wrap up at the end of book three and there are 8 books as of the time of me writing this review. So, don’t go in expecting something complete. Again, just worth noting. But no, my 2.5 star rating is based on the fact that it’s sloppy.
Let me pause and add that the book is entertaining and the two main characters are likable. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy several aspects of it. But that fact remains that there are editorial inconsistencies (like the sisters being mentioned before before their quest was actually introduced, someone being said by an entity that can see the code to be an NPC and then being a player (this may have been authorial misdirection, but it felt more like she changed her mind midway through writing)). There are too many characters introduced in too short a time, some of them basically being dropped again very shortly there after. Chapman never even attempts to define the limits of the game/world (or even tell readers what kind of game it is), which I think is 100% necessary in a LitRPG book. Not all role playing games are the same. The timeline is a mess and this is complicated by some of it being programing and not real. But apparently some of it is? See, I’m not even sure. Some things are said to have happened a 1000 years ago for vaguely non-NPC characters, some players have played for 10+ years, but the game is still in alpha testing, etc. I have no idea of the timeline. Chapman doesn’t even attempt to explain how characters cross from the digital to the real world and the human players have nowhere near enough reaction (practically none at all) when this happens. This story just kind of sprawls all over the place.
Honestly, I think Chapman has the bones of a good story here. It just feels too broken into pieces. The narrator did an excellent job with it though.