CLEAVER’S EDGE by Actus (BOOK REVIEW)
“An orc who has seen more than his fair amount of fighting, Arek wants nothing more than to spend the rest of his days cooking and away from the chaos of combat.
However, when Ming and her group of adventurers hire him as their full-time chef, his plans of avoiding violence crumble. He longs to leave his blood-soaked mistakes in his past, but old friends and foes have different ideas.”
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Cleaver’s Edge – subtitled “A LitRPG Fantasy Cooking Adventure” – but I was intrigued enough by that description to give it a shot, and I’m very glad I did so. While Actus, the author, has and continues to write serials on the popular website Royal Road, Cleaver’s Edge is his publishing debut. It’s a fun fantasy adventure mixed with the vicarious thrills of watching a reality cooking show.
Cleaver’s Edge stars a small but charming cast of roaming adventurers who travel the world delving dungeons, defeating fearsome monsters, and, in Arek’s case, challenging other chefs to cooking contests. Guests eat the results and choose the winner based on who cooks the most delicious dish.
Arek, the titular Morcster Chef, is initially introduced as a bundle of contradictions. He’s obviously a powerful orc who can handle himself in battle, yet he wants nothing more than to peacefully cook food and share his cooking with others. He’s a loner by necessity, since most every human in the world will attack orcs on sight, yet still longs for company and, most importantly, someone to enjoy his cooking.
Fortunately for Arek, Ming—the eccentric mage who comes across Arek in the wild after following the smell of an absolutely delicious meal—immediately treats him no different than a human. Moreover, after sampling one of his delicious recipes, Ming hires Arek on the spot as the traveling cook for her and the other two members of her small adventuring group: Malissa, a free-spirited and nimble close-range fighter, and Belmont, an armored healer who remains convinced everyone is out to kill him.
For those who have watched popular anime like Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? (otherwise known as The Familia Myth) this book’s setting will be familiar. In the realm in which Arek, Ming, Malissa, and Belmont reside, monsters breed endlessly in huge, indestructible dungeons. If left unchecked these monsters will grow too powerful, spill out into the world, and cause chaos.
To keep the monsters in check, organized adventurers in both small and large guilds constantly raid these dungeons, both to cull the dangerous monsters inside them and to grow in power and wealth. Dungeon runs are similar to those in any popular multiplayer game, with a group of adventurers testing themselves against both weak monsters and powerful bosses in an underground lair.
The power levels gained by each adventurer while running dungeons is where the LitRPG elements of the book fit in. Like characters in any popular video game or MMORPG, adventurers grow in power and skill with each monster they slay. While Ming and her group are relatively low on the power scale when the book opens, they work together well and soon accept Arek into their group.
Ming, whose use of magical firepower makes her ravenously hungry, accepts Arek immediately simply based on his cooking skills. Malissa and Belmont take a bit longer to warm up to him, but the most charming aspect of the book (for me) was watching the relationship between Arek and these three close friends mature. Arek begins as an outsider, but everyone soon learns to trust and support each other.
Also, did I mention there are also cooking contests? Several pivotal scenes in the book have nothing to do with defeating monsters. Instead, Arek faces professional chefs from across the world who laugh at the idea of an orc who considers himself a chef. This leads to intense cooking contests that will please anyone who has enjoyed any reality cooking show, along with many mouth-watering food descriptions.
Finally, all the recipes cooked in the book are meals Actus, the author, has cooked himself, and each recipe is provided after the meal appears. That means that if you enjoy cooking, you can cook these recipes yourself and eat right along with the characters. Fair warning: this book will make you hungry.
By the end of Cleaver’s Edge (which is the first book in a series, with more books coming soon) I was truly attached to the four main characters and eager to read their next adventure. While there’s nothing wrong with depressing or grimdark stories, Cleaver’s Edge stands apart from those as a story about good people doing good things. It’s light and fun to read, with interactions that tugged at my heartstrings.
If you like upbeat fantasy adventures, cooking reality shows, stories about a small group of friends supporting each other, and the slow introduction of larger mysteries, Cleaver’s Edge is a book I believe you’ll very much enjoy. I look forward to Book 2 and to reading the rest of the series.
Cleaver’s Edge is available on Amazon now