“I’m not a book reviewer,” I say every single time I write a book review. “This is the last one, and then I need to be done. I don’t want to make things weird with other writers when I eventually publish.”
And then The Mis-Adventurers: An (Almost) Epic Tale by author and YouTuber Steven Partridge happened. More specifically, the opportunity to receive a free advance copy of the book in exchange for an honest review happened, and I jumped on it. One, it seemed like my kind of thing, and two, I really want to read more indie authors, especially now that I’m working on becoming one myself.
It absolutely did turn out to be my kind of thing. I know I sound like a very blatant sales pitch, but it was one of the better books I’ve read this year. Part of it had to do with timing (which is to say that when I was reading this novel, I was doing a lot of things that made me anxious and needed something funny and optimistic to make me smile and put me at ease), but so much more of it had to do with Steven’s love for the genre and story he was telling, hard work, and awareness of characters.
Mis-Adventurers is the first in a new adult comedic fantasy series (and Steven’s debut as a published fiction author) about a group of underdog adventurers that don’t get along but are forced to complete a quest together. What happens along the way is the kind of comedy and drama that comes from a decent-sized cast of characters who are variously ill-equipped to deal with each other and the plot at large having to do exactly that. I know it’s kind of a big claim to make, but Terry Pratchett would be a pretty good comparison for the type of humor, tone, and pacing you’re getting with this novel. It struck what I thought was the right balance of being funny without shying away from more serious and emotional moments when the situation called for it.
The world tends more toward arcanepunk or dungeonpunk rather than a classic, Tolkien-esque fantasy environment, which suited the tone very well. Arcea as a location was built up organically almost the entire way through, with more explicit explanations happening in-character to more sheltered and less experienced party members. The plot was beautifully constructed as well: pay attention to everything, because it all comes together very neatly by the end while still leaving enough questions for the sequels.
A lot of Steven’s platform is tabletop RPG-related, but Mis-Adventurers does not require any knowledge of tabletop gaming to enjoy or understand. This isn’t a metafictional “D&D book” about people playing characters in a game, but there are Easter eggs for readers who play D&D and similar fantasy games. The most overt of these references (incidentally my least favorite scene, as it was the only one that really took me out of the story), involves a reference to an icosahedron used as a divination tool: the other shout-outs are more subdued, along the lines of the plot seeming to “railroad” the previously unconnected characters toward their quest in a self-aware way, some of the lore and worldbuilding feeling familiar to anyone that’s done a lot of playing in the classic D&D settings, and the specific talents and abilities of the characters roughly mapping to game mechanics.
At the same time, it’s the fingerprints of someone who plays and runs a lot of these games that makes the characters truly shine, and they’re what stands out about the book for me. The main party members are all funny and dramatic in their own ways and I didn’t really dislike any of them: they all feel like the hero of their own story, which is both hard to execute and crucial in an ensemble cast where the spotlight frequently shifts (but Henry is clearly the best, and it’s definitely not because I have a soft spot for paladins with self-confidence issues that need to grow into the role that’s been chosen for them). Even the antagonists aren’t mustache-twirling, cartoonish villains, but real people whose decisions are just as likely to be impulsive or misguided as the party’s rather than simply being the “evil” to their “good.” This is where Steven’s experience as a player and GM serves him the best, because while writers obviously don’t need gaming experience in order to create stories and characters, GMs do need to find very creative ways of bringing fully-realized characters (who are sometimes created in a vacuum) together, give them roughly equal attention in the narrative, and understand the motivations of everyone involved while keeping everything balanced, and this kind of thinking seemed to influence the writing a lot. There’s a lot about the book that I really liked and am looking forward to in the sequels, but the characters are this novel’s clear strength, and I can’t wait to see more of them.
I’m more than happy to recommend The Mis-Adventurers: An (Almost) Epic Tale to anyone that needs a well-constructed, lighthearted fantasy read that nevertheless has both personal and worldly stakes. I’m so grateful that Steven sent a free copy my way, because this was a good book and I loved reading it. The novel comes out on August 27th, 2019: at the time of posting, you can preorder it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble and add it to your shelves on Goodreads. If you’re interested in Steven’s other work, he talks about tabletop RPGs and writing on his YouTube channel and is a Nerdarchy contributor.