I will start by talking just a bit about my experience with RPGs as this will provide some context for my review. While I had been quite a geek during my younger days, my RPG days (via books and PC) ended over two decades ago, and I did not have any exposure to multi-player online RPGs. Neither have I been in the anime scene to appreciate the inspiration of this trilogy, which is a hugely popular anime series called Sword Art Online.
Notwithstanding, I thoroughly enjoyed reading FFO as Aaron/Bach have crafted an engaging story with excellent character development. It is also a pretty fast-paced narrative which hit the ground running right from the very first chapter where our main protagonists, Tina and James, are already logged on to the virtual reality world of FFO when the environment suddenly became real. The story alternated between the two siblings' POVs as they both struggle with the brutal reality of survival with no inventory, no interface and hostile non-player characters who are no longer constrained by the rules of the game. On top of that, of course, they can feel pain, get hurt and have a high chance of dying for real.
With the MMORPG backdrop, one can expect a lot of action scenes which befit usual gameplay, and FFO does this very well. Tina aka Roxxy, a stonekin knight, is the leader of a group of players making up the roles of tanks, healers and damage dealers. The battle scenes are written so vividly that even for one with not much knowledge of MMORPG, it did not take long to understand the roles of the different character classes and how they fit into a raid fight against a boss. Don't worry though if you have even less knowledge of all these RPG terms and think that HP stands for Harry Potter or perhaps that brown sauce from the UK; the book also contains a glossary of terms to assist the uninitiated.
All that aside, great action scenes and nerdy stuff can only carry a story so far. It needs good characterisation. Rachel Aaron has demonstrated consistent proficiency in this area with her Eli Monpress and Heartstrikers series, both favourites of mine. Now it seems that the Aaron/Bach team has carried on with the tradition of putting forth likeable individuals with distinct personalities and personal demons into a roiling cauldron of almost impossible circumstances, thereby shaping character growth most compellingly. My personal favourite is James because his arc carries more emotional resonance as compared to Tina's. There are also loads of great supporting characters who helped framed our main protagonists' development throughout their respective storylines.
Aaron/Bach's writing style is efficient and unembellished. This is a quality which I have always appreciated as it does not distract; making it easy to get immersed in the story. In short, if you are looking for a riveting and fast-paced read that also has a good dose of geek humour to boot, I recommend picking this title up.
FFO will be released very soon on 1st June and you can already pre-order the Kindle edition. Furthermore, if you enjoyed this first instalment as much as I did, the second book of the trilogy, The Last Bastion, will be available this Fall 2018.