Rogue Dungeon by: James Hunter & Eden Hudson
Review by: Steve Caldwell
While LitRPG and Portal Fantasy have a history, with books like Joel Rosenberg’s Guardians of the Flame series, Rogue Dungeon takes it to a whole new level. Taking place in both a real world setting, it portals into an undeniable LitRPG setting, with all the trappings, such as stat building, hit point management and character customization, that somehow takes the best of both and just works.
Roark von Graf, dispossessed minor noble, has the chance to kill the usurper Tyrant King when he is staying for the night in Roark’s former family castle. Sneaking in, things don’t go as planned, and Roark ends up having to run. Summoning a portal, dangerous magic in his world, since if you get the spell wrong, you can end up anywhere. Grabbing the Tyrant King’s pendant before he escaped through the portal, Roark ends up not where he expected, but in a strange new world resembling nothing he could have expected.
Roark finds himself spawned in a new body which is small, frail and weak. Its a Troll body, basically a weak NPC that has 3 potential growth paths: an enforcer class, an assassin class and the final, harder tor reach, leader class, the Jotuns, Coming to confused, he sees adventurers invade the keep/dungeon he has awoken in. He also sees the other low level mobs either running to attack the adventurers and being slaughtered, or not responding at all and getting killed. After being killed himself, he respawns to find himself back at the same point in the world he started at.
Deciding this is a state of affairs he can’t stand with, Roark decides to unify his level of the dungeon and level up, putting the adventurers in their place. Gaining a follower, Roark starts turning the newb level of the dungeon into a trap filled crucible, allowing him to kill adventurers and do something no other NPC does, which is loot their bodies. Starting his leveling up, he gains potential allies along the way, while also making some enemies, both with the adventurers and within the Dungeon itself. Running through a series of adventures in the dungeon, as well as surviving several assassination attempts, Roark still hopes to return to his own world, when his own world suddenly catches up with him in the form of one of his enemies showing up in the game world, trying to retrieve the stolen pendent. Now, all Roark has to do is survive enemies without and within, all while trying to rise high enough in level to try and wrest control of the dungeon away from the much more powerful dungeon lord, who is definitely not a fan of the upstart Roark.
I have made no secret that I am a huge fan of James Hunter’s writing, and now can add Eden Hudson to that fandom as well. This is such a seamless combination of LitRPG and portal fantasy. The characters are excellent, which is a James Hunter Trademark. Roark has such a great character arc, really transcending the fish out of water narrative trop he could have been stuck in. Poking some gentle fun of gaming tropes, such as goofy gamer names and play styles is also a treat for anyone who has ever played an MMORPG. The secondary characters are also well rounded, going through growth arcs of their own, and the villains, while not getting a huge amount of time yet, provide just the hint of menace you expect from a well written antagonist.
The narration is ably handled by the talented Nick Podehl. This is huge for me, since Nick is in my top ten narrators, and actually narrates my favorite Fantasy series. He does an outstanding job of giving each character a life of their own, all while keeping the narrative flowing with excellent pacing and voice control. Easily in my top 10 audio book performances of the last 12 months.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It has something that should appeal for fans of fantasy and LitRPG, and the audiobook version is particularly good. I can’t wait to check out the second book in the series, Civil War, which is currently available in book form. This is definitely in my top five all time LitRPG titles, thats how much I enjoyed it.