Verdict: THE BLACK RIVER CHRONICLES LEVEL ONE is an entertaining fantasy novel that's no better nor worse than your average novelization set in the pre-existing RPG universe. It's hardly J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings or even The Hobbit, but it will keep you entertained on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Sometimes that's perfectly fine.
Sixteen year old Durren Flintrand enrolls in the Black River Academy for Swordcraft and Spellcraft hoping to become a heroic ranger. But all is not as it seems in this venerable institution and even Durren has secrets of his own.
Durren is assigned by the Academy’s tutors to a group of other wannabe-heroes. Areinelimus Ironheart Thundertree – Arein for short – is a dorky Dwarf wizard. There’s Hule Tremick, a slow-witted jock of a warrior. And then there’s mysterious yet alluring Elven thief Tia Locke. Together, these four protagonists of THE BLACK RIVER CHRONICLES LEVEL ONE – a fighter, a wizard, a rogue and a ranger – need to solve various dangerous quests to gain power measured in levels.
To the uninitiated reader, the way Academy students learn and advance in their craft may seem somewhat peculiar, if a bit like J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels. But to any player of role-playing games (RPGs), both of the computer ones such as World of Warcraft as well as the classic pen-and-paper ones like Dungeons & Dragons, this is a familiar territory. In THE BLACK RIVER CHRONICLES LEVEL ONE, Tallerman and Wills borrow the core mechanic of classes and levels from numerous RPGs and turn it into a literal part of their fantasy universe.
This mix of RPGs and high school tropes will make experienced RPG players chuckle a bit. Unfortunately, THE BLACK RIVER CHRONICLES LEVEL ONE just isn’t funny or exciting enough to sustain its sense of fun. The characterizations are rather thin and the plot quickly grows repetitive. Durren, Hule, Arein and Tia go from quest to quest, all the while learning to trust each other and work together as a team. Tallerman and Wils are aware of this, though. By the end of the novel, they try to develop each of four main characters to a varying degrees of success. This, and the novel’s introduction written by veteran RPG designer Ed Greenwood, make the story a bit more charming.
All in all, THE BLACK RIVER CHRONICLES LEVEL ONE is a somewhat entertaining fantasy novel that’s no better nor worse than your average novelization set in the pre-existing RPG universe. It’s hardly J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or even The Hobbit, but it will keep you entertained on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Sometimes that’s perfectly fine.
~Danijel Štriga for IndieReader