Welcome everyone to Indie Celebration Month here on DrewHayesNovels.com! For the next four weeks, I’m going to be reviewing books that you, my wonderful readers, told me to check out and I ended up greatly enjoying. Now obviously there were more than four books I liked, you all suggested a ton, so I tried to give these spots to books with fewer reviews than some of the ones already tearing up the charts. Gotta spread the love where it’s needed most, so don’t worry if something you loved didn’t end up here, it might just be too big already.
I’m tackling this project chronologically in order that I read the books, so this week’s choice was one I found early on named Dungeon Born by Dakota Krout. I’ll skip the summary, mostly because there’s a link right there where you can read one in the author’s own words. All you need to know is that it’s about a man in a stone that turns into a dungeon, and it’s pretty damn fun.
Where It Shines
I really don’t know if this is LitRPG or not, people seem divided on what that term encompasses, but this particular fantasy is clearly meant to poke some fun at the Tabletop/Video Game worlds we often go exploring in. The world-building here is really great, as it justifies common aspects to dungeon crawls which had previously seemed nonsensical. Reappearing monsters, loot dropping from nowhere, shifting difficulty curves, all of it is addressed in a way that not only makes sense, but really contributes to the story as a whole. It’s fun, light-hearted stuff for the majority of the tale with sudden, often unexpected, turns into dark patches that highlight the inherent dangers this sort of world would encompass.
I’m also going to say that the characterization is strong in one piece of the story, that surrounding the owner of the dungeon’s land: Dale. Through the eyes of a relative rookie that begins ascending the ranks of adventurer, we see more of the world outside the dungeon and meet a cast of characters that, while sometimes blending together, shine well when they do stand out. We see a lot of classic fantasy stock-types, some played straight and others tweaked for surprise, and all in all the moments of the story that might have been a real detraction end up bringing some of the most interesting bits in the book.
Where it Could Improve
Weirdly, we’re going to start with characterization again. As much as I enjoyed the characters outside the dungeon, those inside it were significantly less fleshed out, which is no small detail since one is arguably the main character. There’s a lot of growth and discovery in the dungeon as the stone (Cal) learns more about what he can do with his abilities. Those bits are fun, too, don’t get me wrong. It’s part of the world-building and as I said already that area is strong. The issue is that we see very little personal growth in Cal through the story. Maybe it’s a commentary on the static nature of beings like Cal, but it still felt like there was room for more there.
A lot of the characterization trouble probably came from the other main issue in this book: exposition. Specifically, exposition in dialogue. Cal and his Wisp friend are the main occupants of the dungeon, and over the book we’re told that they’ve grown closer, but it’s an odd shift considering that nearly every chat they have is a massive dump of exposition regarding how to be a dungeon/how the world works. There is minimal effort made to get to see what lies beyond these characters’ business arrangement, and it makes some of the sentiment near the end come a bit out of nowhere. Maybe the author is trying to move character development slowly through the series, maybe he was just hamstrung by the tremendous amount of exposition that went into the world-building. Either way, I hope this area picks up a bit in the next entry.
Look, I’m not going to talk about any books in here that I don’t really enjoy, so this section won’t be some big shocker regarding whether or not the book is worth checking out. It definitely is, that’s why it’s getting a place in the celebration. The only reason I put in a “Where it Could Improve” section was so folks knew what they were stepping into. As I discussed in Literary Red Flags, there are just some things that every reader can’t stand, and it only feels fair to let you know what you’d be getting in a new read.
With all of that said, I really enjoyed Dungeon Born. It was fun, never took itself too seriously, and knew when to go for the laugh instead of the drama, and vice versa. It’s a solid work by a new author; one who I hope sees a lot of success in his works to come.
As far as a sequel, Dakota has confirmed that one is in the works. A pre-order page is expected to go live on January 15th with a release of February 15th. If you want to know more, Dakota’s site is https://dungeonborn.wordpress.com and he’s got a Facebook page for the series over at https://www.facebook.com/TheDivineDungeon/. I hope you all dig the book as much as I did. See you next week when we talk about Celebration Book #2!