RADIOACTIVE EVOLUTION is a novel combining tropes from role-playing games (RPG), classic fantasy, and post-apocalyptic science fiction. Like most efforts to blend multiple genres, the mix can get a little messy. In this case, the RPG and fantasy elements dominate the recipe, muddling the plot somewhat.
Players of traditional Dungeons and Dragons will certainly be intrigued by the concept behind RADIOACTIVE EVOLUTION. The main character “levels up” by defeating enemies and can choose attributes and powers to assign to himself and to his developing dragon consort. Hard core gamers will inevitably be disappointed because, as integral to story as the gaming system is, it isn’t terribly robust. This is a double-edged sword, because more casual gamers will find it easy enough to understand and the overall narrative doesn’t get bogged down in tedious detail.
The fantasy element, along with the hard science fiction attempts, are less successful. The story behind the dragons is rudimentary at best. Although the dragon companion is a delightful character and the bond between it and the main protagonist is well developed, the very existence of dragons and their world and history feels woefully inadequate. Likewise, the post-apocalyptic landscape isn’t very deep and the societies and people in it are barely explored.
As the plot jumps from one conflict to another, readers soon feel that the events are happening in game levels, rather than book chapters. The result is that although the fight scenes are well-written, the stakes feel diminished—if the protagonist doesn’t defeat the boss-level monster this time, well, just restart the level! This lack of stakes is made obvious in the nearly resolution-free ending of the book. It is obviously set for a sequel, but feels as if this book was unfinished.
Despite the problems with merging so many divergent story types, RADIOACTIVE EVOLUTION is mostly a lot of fun. Readers who like the game-console types of RPGs will probably enjoy the book very much. The likeable characters and frequent action serve to readers distracted from the lack of development that would make the book a more complete success.
Although RADIOACTIVE EVOLUTION–an ambitious melding of gaming, fantasy, and science fiction–is a big book, the author’s lively pacing and straightforward prose make it an easy and fun read.
~J.V. Bolkan for IndieReader