I have to admit that I almost didn’t finish this book. In fact, I almost didn’t start it… and that would have been a shame.
For some reason, I had a tough time getting past the first chapter or two. After that I actually put NPCs down for a few weeks where it sat in my Kindle Paperwhite, patiently waiting. I only returned to it about a week ago when I’d run out of new titles to read and I actually ended up enjoying the book quite a bit. I guess for all the author’s strengths, Drew Hayes is just not consistent with introducing characters. For me, the introduction to the story just didn’t hook me. I’m really glad I pushed through to the beginning of our main characters’ journey.
NPCs is a bit formulaic, the “twists” are never a surprise and the action isn’t very well written, but I still had a very good time. In fact, I’ve already pre-ordered the next title, Split the Party in the series (Spells, Swords, & Stealth).
As the blurb for the book states, the plot revolves around NPCs. To be more clear, the story takes place in a world that is the real-world analogue to a table top RPG module. Basically, people in our world control “heroes” in this world. It’s an interesting idea that has a few holes so I chose not to think too hard about it while I was reading. I’m assuming that the next book in the series will address the world building in greater detail since it was kind of skimmed over in NPCs.
There are two things that Drew Hayes does extremely well in NPCs. The first is that each character gets his or her time to shine and despite the fact none of them have really tremendously engaging character arcs, they’re all likable in their own way. I was rooting for all four of them at various times in the story. The second thing the author absolutely nails is how to bring the audience along with the characters as they learn how to be adventurers and score loot. The satisfaction of this process is similar to actually playing a table top RPG. Other titles have been capitalizing on this story telling method and subgenre for a while too, especially Japanese light novels and manga. The “stuck in the game” style of story is becoming much more common lately and several stories out of Japan have been wildly popular, like Sword Art Online and Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? (yes, that is an actual series title).
NPCs isn’t doing anything particularly new, but it plays to its strengths and gives readers like me the type of story we are looking for. In fact, it has just enough meta going on in the background to make the separation between our world and the game world interesting too. I give this story a solid 3.8 out of 5 stars. This one is definitely worth reading if you’re into the RPG scene in specific or the fantasy genre in general. In fact, if you like the sound of several honorable, would-be heroes saving innocent folks from demons and putting themselves in harms way for the life of a child, this story might be for you too.
My only cautionary warning might be for people who are not into fantasy or gaming genres at all, in which case many of the inside jokes and tropes in NPCs might be missed. But then again, the type of person that would probably be reading this review on WordSteel is going to feel right at home in NPCs, so I’m not too worried about it. 🙂