Warlords of Llantatis review

I was puzzled to receive an offer of a review copy of Warlords of Llantatis as I'm not a fan of swords and sorcery fantasy, but I was reassured that it was in reality science fiction - which it is, despite being virtually a fantasy.

The keyword here is 'virtually'. The majority of the book is set in the (fictional) total immersion fantasy adventure game that the book is named after. Like Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, what we get is a mix of the main characters' experiences in the real world and in the game, which is far more detailed than is currently possible - so this genuinely is science fiction. In parts this works brilliantly, in parts there are issues.

The book starts with page after page of fictional non-fiction, describing the writing of the virtual world system and the setting up of Warlords. This background is quite interesting (especially if, like me, you have an IT background) but not as engaging as fiction should be, making it a risky opening. Then, however, Warlords segues into an intriguing story, though you have to cope with the main characters starting off as unpleasant slobs before becoming good guys.

At the centre of the plot is a mysterious nameless younger character who appears in the game - although his identity is obvious to the reader after a page or two, the central quest to find out who he is and where he is located in the real world before he dies in the virtual world is very clever and genuinely engaging. In fact, the writing generally works well, but the verbal interchanges are far too long and can get tedious - at least a quarter of the book could probably be trimmed.

Part of the problem here is that this is a humorous thriller - and the humour, sometimes ladled on very thickly, reuses the basics weaknesses of derivative adventure gaming over and over. Oddly, the game in the book doesn't make much of the Welsh name and associations (which extends to Dylan Thomas classics like the place name Llareggub). Instead, it relies more on intentionally heavy-handed cod-Tolkien combined with various other fantasy clich├ęs (Amazonian female warriors, and a sparkly magical kingdom with dubious evil furry creatures, for instance). There are some great humorous lines - for example, I loved 'As your company's legal representative I advise against fun.' But a lot of the humour is decidedly basic and reliant on (mostly female) bodily parts.

The other issue is that Dominic Green, a Hugo-nominated SF author for his short story Clockwork Atom Bomb, piles in far too many plot lines. We have two sets of main characters who are thrown together, plus the differing intentions and special interests of the game's writers, the company that runs the game, a gang of rogue moderators, a North Korean despot, a Chinese company that sells in-game gold, Singaporean criminals, a police force, the FBI... just as the book is too long, there are too many threads for sanity and it's easy to get lost or to lose interest occasionally.

This is a shame, as the central storyline about finding the mysterious character is excellent, as is the trickster AI character Kayoki, who really comes into his own towards the end of the book. With some strong editing this could become a top-notch piece of science fiction. As it stands, you either have to be tolerant, or to be prepared to skip through some of the more excessive parts. The best of it was good enough that I've given it four stars - but without that edit, it only really deserved three.

Warlords of Llantatis is available from amazon.co.uk and amazon.com (only on Kindle).