by Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Mogworld / 978-1-59582-529-2
I've been a fan of Yahtzee's humorous and scathing trademark review style ever since I saw my first "Zero Punctuation" video on The Escapist. When "Mogworld" was announced, I kept my enthusiasm in check with the remembrance that sometimes humorists don't transfer well to new genres, and there's a fairly vast difference of format between 5-minute first-person video game reviews and a 400-page third person fantasy novel, however I shouldn't have been worried - the sharp satire and sardonic wit of "Mogworld" put all my concerns to rest, and I absolutely loved this novel from start to finish.
Mogworld's decidedly unheroic (and undead) protagonist Jim is so delightfully fresh that it's impossible not to love him from the get-go. Jim doesn't take charge in a crowd, preferring to hang back and go along with whatever the majority decides, and there's something terribly refreshing and realistic about such a sensible attitude. Perfectly blending cheerful gallows humor and glum existential uncertainty, Jim is happy enough to go about his daily job as a dungeon rat-pit manager, with the occasional nightly fling off the nearest convenient tower in dogged suicide attempts.
A protagonist like Jim is inherently difficult to write, since the author will be forced to impel the character forward with the plot, as any such movement will only be undertaken by Jim against his better judgment and personal inclinations. Versatility and a surprisingly delicate touch are employed to great effect here - Jim's 'uncharacteristic' spurts of self-preservation are satisfactorily motivated by fear, annoyance, irritation, and pure animal instinct. Of course, it helps that Jim is burdened with an entourage of support characters who all have their own strong motivations for manipulating Jim's actions - and even the smallest ancillary support characters are thoroughly characterized with deep and hilarious dialogue and motivations - including the absolutely delightful inhabitants of Applewheat who look forward with anticipation to their weekly pillaging at the hands of the nearest undead horde.
It's difficult to say what I like most about "Mogworld". I truly enjoyed seeing Yahtzee's trademark style on full display; fans who are familiar with his speaking style will sink into his sarcastic and complex writing style like a warm blanket. Indeed, much of the writing reminds me of my favorite parts of Douglas Adams' novels, particularly what I can only describe as a preference for "antonymic" descriptions (*Is* there a word for the exact opposite of a mugging??). Readers will also appreciate the seamless joining of a "fantasy" plot with a "gaming" premise - the addition of the programmers is handled so cleverly that it's hard not to look forward to the next excerpts of communication from the outside world. And then there are the little touches of humor - running jokes that serve an actual plot purpose, like the adorable magic bunnies that want nothing more than to be cuddled. Perhaps most of all, I admire "Mogworld" for being brave enough to break the two cardinal rules of new authorship - firstly by eschewing the forced romantic relationships and mandatory line-dancing competitions that are so endemic in modern media today, and secondly by managing to find closure at the end instead of ending on a cliffhanger in a transparent grasp for a sequel.
I honestly can't say if everyone will love "Mogworld", but there's definitely a broad appeal here. The humor on display is imaginative and funny (and in several places delightfully dark), and the fantasy and gaming elements are handled perfectly. The dialogue and characters are wonderfully fresh, and while the most prudish may object to some of the innuendo-laden dialogue, I honestly think this is a novel that will appeal to all ages. As an American, I can't truly say whether all that makes "Mogworld" literary "Branston Pickle", but I loved reading it, and I imagine most others will too. I can't help but lament that it would have been more funny if I'd hated the novel and spent the review picking it apart, but I'll leave the satirical reviews to the Three Wolf Moon Shirt guys.
~ Ana Mardoll
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