“Epic” was my first foray into the LitRPG genre as a child, although I doubt the term applied back then, and I remember the story very fondly. I recently took the opportunity to reacquaint myself with “Epic” through the audiobook, and have thus compiled this little review for my own amusement – as well as, hopefully, yours.
Summary – no spoilers
Epic is the story of Eric and his friends from the Hope-district, living in a world where all violence has been denounced ever since the colony was founded by human pacifists leaving a war-torn Earth behind. Instead of violence, this society relies on the RPG known as “Epic,” which is also their monetary system and the ruler by which talent and societal class is measured.
As a farmer, Eric and his parent lives hard but fulfilling lives, however, they existence is constantly threatened by the whims of the ruling committee of their world, the so-called ‘Central Allocations’ (CA). When the farm’s solar panel breaks down due to pure misfortune, Eric and his family is threatened with ‘re-allocation’ to the mines, which would also result in them being taken away from one another.
In their fight against this injustice, Eric comes to learn some of the dark history between his parents and CA, and has to take up the fight against the system within the confines of the game of Epic in order to keep his family together.
To this effect, Eric breaks all conventions when he builds his newest character, which is not only female but has all her points put into the ‘beauty-stat’, which is considered useless by everyone else. This marks Eric’s first act of non-conformity, and it soon turns out there is more to Epic than simply fighting kobolds for coppers.
Thinking outside the box, Eric will exploit the game’s own logic to overcome the odds, taking unheard of risks in order to attain his goal, and make decisions which will have ramifications for his entire world, as well as for Epic.
Analysis – no spoilers
Epic is written in the third version, and often shifts perspectives between Eric, the protagonist, and supporting characters and especially the antagonists. The story spends a lot of time among the Central Allocations Committee and its members, either through the sympathetic, but ultimately self-serving, Svein Redbeard, or the cruel and unusual Ragnok Strongarm.
The jumps in perspective are often employed to tell of events that the previous perspective was leading up to, but which were not explored, such as Eric’s graduation tournament.
Eric himself is often described as a good player by others; someone with a genuine love for the game and its challenges, but in fact, we see very little of Eric’s acumen within Epic until the latter half of the story, and even then it is seldom Eric who has the most important role in the events.
Eric’s most defining feature is his ideas, which are often strategically or tactically sound, coupled with his gentle and humble demeanor. In interaction with his friends, Eric appears genuine and solid in his friendship, although his habit of thinking outside the box often grates on his closest friend, Bjorn.
Assessment – minor spoilers
The points I have touched upon in my analysis are the areas in which I see the greatest flaw in the story of Epic. The first half is almost entirely spent within the ‘real’ world, and we see almost nothing of what happens in the game, which is the story’s namesake, after all. We are told the skills of Eric’s character and learn of how he interacts with the surroundings in a way that is different from his fellow gamers, but we are not given any insights into his capabilities in battle, which is also a major part of the story, until very late in the game. We are told that Eric is good, but we never get to experience it.
Instead, we are treated to these jumps in perspective, and a lot of unnecessary road-blocks, like how Eric is taken to the hospital to get his appendix removed. In this arc, there’s a whole thing about how he’s not going to make it to the graduation tournament, and his friends electing not to participate in the group tournament without him, and then he – by miracles of miracles – gets to participate through some very old equipment. All of this tension, and questioning, and emotion, and in the end, the perspective simply shifts to the CA Committee, where it is announced that Eric and his friends have miraculously passed to the next round, due especially to Eric’s strange character. This happens again and again, and it is frustrating to read.
Despite these shortcomings, I did enjoy the story once more, however, it has lost some of the glamour with which I read it some 15 years ago. It is an early attempt at bringing the budding genre of RPG’s into the realm of literature, and it shows. I suspect there may be earlier attempts than “Epic” (2004), but I do not know of them, as of yet. Seeing how the genre has grown over the past decade, I do consider the story worth the time it took to get through it.
I was actually surprised to learn that there are follow-up books to this first one, since “Epic” very neatly ties itself up at the end, without any hint of a sequel. I think I’ll give the second book “Saga” a chance, hoping to see some improvement to an, otherwise, very interesting world.
On a side note – I used the audiobook this time, and that may also have colored my opinion disfavorably. The style of the voice actor was hoarse and whispery, and he seldom attempted to distinguish between different characters with different tones of voice. I did not appreciate this style.