Split the Party is a very fun book. I want to lead with this because if you get nothing else from this review, please walk away with this overall gist.
Drew Hayes started out the Spells, Swords, and Stealth series with NPCs, reviewed on WordSteel here. NPCs was a fun read as well, but Split the Party kicked up the plotting, writing, and fun by at least a few degrees all around. Split the Party was the type of enjoyable read I needed after suffering through several less enjoyable books recently like The Aeronaut’s Windlass.
This story is very well plotted, and the author shows a great deal of skill. To give an example of how pleasantly surprised I was, there was both a plot hole and a contrived character/coincidence that I noticed in the story that was actually addressed in the last chapter and created a new mystery. By the last page, I had no complaints. The storytelling was just… well done. In fact, in some ways I was reminded of my read through of some of the more popular series I’ve read in my life; there was a satisfying conclusion at the end of the book, but I also still had some unanswered questions.
Split the Party adds some new characters to the original party of reluctant adventurers formed in NPCs and develops a plot point from the first book that was kind of clunky(people in the real world playing as characters in the story’s fantasy world through avatars), making it interesting. By the end of the story, I was legitimately interested in this background, meta story’s mystery. Most of the characters from the real world storyline are kind of silly and very shallow, but I think that was the author’s intent (if for brevity than nothing else). It’s fairly obvious that the author was using the gaming group members in the Spells, Swords, and Stealth series to give all of us RPG gamers a sly wink. Luckily, the one character in the real world setting who matters gets a decent amount of navel gazing and I definitely cared about him by the end of the story.
I general I enjoyed all the story’s character building. The characters aren’t deep, but they do have depth and they all have interesting backgrounds. In fact, the Spells, Swords, and Stealth series actually reminds me a bit of a Japanese light novel. I don’t know if this effect was created on purpose or not by the author, but I mean the comparison as a compliment. The story’s plot moves fast, the actions is well paced, and the characters get just enough enough exploration for us to care about them. The female party member (any more specifics and I would be giving away spoilers from the first book) has an especially interesting character arc and power up. I really enjoy how her character has been handled and how the author has been able to successfully suspend my disbelief in her growth as a powerful adventurer.
What’s more, Split the Party has a decent bit of humor and fantasy satire mixed in that is actually snappy, well written, and more importantly, funny. I think Drew Hayes knocked it out the park with this one. I give Split the Party 4.05 out of 5 stars. I can’t wait for the next book in the series to come out.