Travis Bagwell Returns in Strength
Though it might have been his first published novel, Awaken Online: Catharsis was a true work of art that garnered loads of attention in the literary community, and as a result all eyes were turned on him to see what he could produce in his second outing. Thankfully he disappointed nobody with the second novel in the series, Awaken Online: Catharsis, and some would argue that he even managed to out-do the original tour-de-force that the first book was.
It takes little to no time for things to pick up again as continue right where we ended last time, with Jason reluctant to re-enter the game after his victory against his rival Alexion. However, after some debates with Alfred and personal deliberations, Jason decides that he should go back in… after all, he has been appointed the Regent of the Twilight Throne and is even the ruler of an undead city. Thus he finds it’s his duty to return and rule over his people, which leads him on his first quest in this new position: to investigate the dark keep looming over the marketplace. He doesn’t know it yet, but it’s only the beginning of a long chain of events that will ultimately bear a tremendous impact on the fate of his city. While all of that is happening Alexion has re-entered the game and, with nothing to lose, faces some very tough decisions as to how he wants to find his way back to the top.
Darker Tones and Heavy Thoughts
One area in which this novel certainly doesn’t lack is weight (or heft, if you prefer). It is darker in its nature than the first one with the plot touching on some rather heavy and uncomfortable subjects, but they’re the kind that need to be discussed and can’t simply be ignored. Additionally, the level of gore and violence seems to have been ramped up a tiny bit, though I should add that it’s never gratuitous or deprived of meaningful context. If it’s something that bothers you, there is always the option of skipping it. These moments certainly don’t dominate the book by any stretch of the imagination; their appearances are strategic and carefully-timed, making them much more bearable in my opinion.
In addition to that, Bagwell does a marvelous job once again at discussing interesting philosophical concepts and depicting the complicated layers of emotions hiding beneath the characters’ surfaces. Amongst many things he discusses the endless battle of good against evil, whether the idea that sacrificing the few for the needs of the many is acceptable, if the end always justifies the means, what it means to be in a position power, the powerful drive that is retribution, and that’s just for starters. There is a whole mountain of food for thought, one that will probably take multiple reads to properly digest.
With those factors taken into consideration, I think it’s safe to say that this second book was intended for a mature audience, for the kind of people that don’t mind exercising their grey cells when reading a story. If that’s not your thing and you’re just in it for the plot, then rest assured that Bagwell doesn’t spiral down into self-indulgence. Most of the focus is still placed on the advancement of the story.
Speaking of which, the story is the only part with which I have a grudge, and only for one reason: the gut-wrenching cliffhanger. It certainly sets the stage for the next book, but it comes at such a critical moment that it almost feels like a grand betrayal. I can only hope the next book makes up for this cruel and unusual suffering inflicted upon the readers.
Life in the Game World
Dungeon running, as some of you will know, as an essential part of any RPG game, and Bagwell knows that about as well as anyone. The dungeon run is a great highlight of this book and we get a good taste for it and the challenging dungeons that are no doubt to come. We are also given a closer look at some of the mechanisms which govern the game world, such as the political connections, systems of power and control, as well as the various problems which plague that world. For instance, in this novel one of the main issues is the lack of births amongst the undead (we can only imagine why) and it’s a true pleasure to see how they plan on solving this kind of paradoxical conundrum.
There isn’t much attention placed on the real world, nor are there many contrasts between it and the virtual game domain as there were in the first book. Instead, this time Bagwell dedicates his ink to what he knows the readers want: the story taking place inside the fantastically-believable virtual world he conceived.
The Ultimate Verdict
Despite finishing on a frustrating cliffhanger, Awaken Online: Precipice remains an extremely strong and enjoyable novel, one that manages to live up to its predecessor’s perfect quality. The series is definitely becoming the most prominent entry into the LitRPG genre, having a solid cast of characters, engaging storylines rich with surprising twists, and some very interesting philosophical meditations that will give you more than enough to think about for the weeks to come. If you’ve enjoyed the first book then you’ll unquestionably have a real blast with this one.
Travis Bagwell is an American writer and attorney from Austin, Texas who has always been impassioned by the “LitRPG” genre and, after running out of reading materials, decided to add some of his own efforts to the genre. His first works turned out to be a series, Awaken Online, and both of the novels in it, Catharsis and Precipice, have received a considerable amount of appreciation and paint a good picture of what to expect in the future.