DEATH MARCH by Phil Tucker (Book Review)
A jaded teacher residing in Florida, Chris goes through the motions of everyday life in order to remain close to his brother, who has found himself being charged with a crime he didn’t commit. Several weeks after their breakup, Chris receives an invitation from his ex-girlfriend to play Euphoria Online, a fully immersive VR world where players are neurally linked to the environment. With the expensive price tag of one play session, Chris is wary of the offer, but decides to accept in an attempt to save his brother’s life. You see, surviving for six months in Euphoria on Death March mode will grant the player any favor from Albertus Magnus, the world’s AI overlord, including pardons for convicted criminals. The only problem: if you die in Euphoria Online while playing Death March, you also die in the real world. Throwing caution to the wind, Chris quickly embarks on the journey, only to be dumped into a decimated stronghold filled with dangers he has no hope of surviving.
Death March is my initiation into the LitRPG genre, and what an introduction it has been! After briefly establishing the who and the why, we’re quickly transported into an immersive world, where the tension is unceasing, and action gets progressively more intense. Without knowing what to really expect, this book has been a real treat for me, a gamer at heart. The battles are carefully crafted, the tactical planning intelligent, the leveling and strategizing feel realistic – as realistic as it can get while delving into a world literally filled to the brim with magic. There’s an air of mystery as to what has happened to the Cruel Winter stronghold, now battered, broken, and filled with undead. Where a lively and influential player mage once resided, the Dread Lord, a highly intelligent and powerful entity, now rules over the area, but its intentions remain unclear.
Euphoria is a medieval-based world, filled with magic and all manner of monsters and mayhem. Feldgrau, the Winter Castle (and its grounds), as well as the surrounding meadows and forests are handsomely described in such a vivid way; whether painting the mysteriously beautiful landscape, shattered abodes, or soaring towers, you’re completely absorbed into the world Tucker has created. The setting itself is littered with all sorts of interesting arcane happenings and traps, not to mention some high level, terrifying enemies. Throughout the chapters, readers are rewarded with beautiful illustrations that bring the world to life even more, showcasing some of the baddies Chris, Lotharia, and Falkon face. I can’t reiterate this enough…these are gorgeous! I also found it really interesting how the world genuinely reacts to how the players conduct themselves. Witnessing the benefits and drawbacks of diplomacy versus fighting kept the story compelling, and downright hilarious at times! Lookin’ at you, Barfo!
The characters are interesting with subtle cues that there is always more than meets the eye. The scheming and execution of plans are both curious and engaging. The danger feels undeniably authentic. The final battle is epic, leaving you on the edge of your seat, keeping the pages practically flying by. We’re left at one hell of a cliffhanger, but luckily the whole trilogy is published and readily available. I’m really excited to jump into book two, Nightmare Keep, to continue my quest through Euphoria with Chris and the gang. Whether you’re a seasoned reader of the genre or just looking to finally dip your toes in like me, Death March will surely leave you happily wanting more. I highly recommend.
This review originally appeared on Whispers and Wonder.