I received an advanced reading copy from the authors in exchange for an honest review.
“Bastion was supposed to mean safety.”
It seemed, however, that Rachel Aaron and Travis Bach decided that safety will be a bit boring for the fictional characters and the readers. Hence, they gave us a heart-pounding, fast-paced, action-packed and dangerously addictive MMORPG-style adventure in the world of Forever Fantasy Online with a great cast of characters.
The story picked up immediately from the ending of the first book. Our main characters, James and Tina, arrived at the city of Bastion to seek refuge and find some answers after the world of FFO was suddenly released from the Nightmare. A term used by the NPCs who are supposedly real people to describe their entrapment in the game environmen, the Nightmare is so named for the dreadful never-ending cycle ofreliving the quests the players undertake, oftentimes dying a painful death over and over again. What greeted the player characters, however, was a city on fire and laden with corpses. Not exactly their idea of a safe haven from the constant danger and fighting they’ve encountered in the past few days.
Plot-wise, this is a pretty simple and straightforward narrative with an underlying commentary on how violence begets violence in a vicious cycle that will only destroy the people on either side of a conflict. Regardless, it is testament to Aaron and Bach’s ability to spin a story that was so engrossing that I was barely able to put it down. Last Bastion is not a short book by any standards, but I finished it in under 2 days as it was super addictive. I have always found Aaron’s books, from Eli Monpress to Heartstrikers to her latest DFZ series, to have that engaging quality which made it hard for me to leave them aside for long. Co-authored with Travis Bach, her husband, FFO is no exception. In fact, I think engaging is too mild a word to describe how I feel when I read these books, which have reached what I deemed as a Sanderson-esque level of addictiveness. This is one of the highest praises I can heap upon any book as Brandon Sanderson is my favourite author of all-time, and I can never read anything else when I pick up one of his books.
What made Last Bastion so enthralling? I can boil it down to three elements; the worldbuilding, the action and most importantly, the characterisation. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve not been gaming for a long time and I’ve definitely not been exposed to MMORPG. Regardless, it was not difficult to understand all the gaming jargons. After some heart-pounding and exhilarating action scenes, it became quite easy to put all these different player levels and roles (such as tanks, damage-dealers and healers) into context. Being a world of MMORPG, FFO’s worldbuilding is a geek fest with awesome-sounding magical artifacts to boost speed, strength and power, and high leveled raid bosses. It’s lore and history were also explored further in this sequel, with hints that the Once King’s invasion might have some historical basis which hopefully will be revealed in the finale.
Excellent characters have always been the hallmark of Rachel Aaron’s books, and I’m delighted to see that it remains as such in this co-authored trilogy. There is just something about the way the characters are written (both main and supporting), from the way that they interact with one another, to their behaviour and emotions, that feels so relatable and authentic. These characters genuinely feel like real people.
The story is focussed around the POVs of two siblings, James and Tina, and their relationship played a significant role in the narrative as they took opposing views on handling what they encountered in Bastion. Between the two, I find that I enjoy James’ character growth way more than Tina’s. To be fair, his character arc has a lot more room for progression as the older brother who dropped out of college and landed his family with a large debt, while Tina had to bear the brunt of his irresponsible behaviour in real life.
On the other hand, Tina is pretty much stubborn, determined, quick to anger (especially by her brother) and almost too eager to stomp her way to get what she thinks is best instead of listening or empathising. She does have her qualities as a leader who is very protective of her own, but there were so many instances when I was just infuriated with her way of thinking. There are valid reasons to the way she treats and thinks of her brother, but while I do sympathise with her sometimes, I still have not warmed up to her. Fortunately, her storyline is filled with likeable and fascinating supporting characters and loads of action.
As much as I appreciate beautiful and artful prose, there is a certain charm in unembellished storytelling that goes right into the heart of things. The writing is effortlessly enjoyable to read. And to cap it all off, the pacing was almost perfection. I say ‘almost’ not because I found myself being bored. On the contrary, there were instances where the action was so unrelenting that I felt as if I needed a break from all the fighting.
Empathetic and kickass characters, geek lore and humour, fantastic fighting scenes, Last Bastion has it all in a compulsive page-turner. Highly recommended for all fantasy fans, and especially if you’re also a fan of RPG and/or LitRPG.
Last Bastion will be released in ebook and audiobook formats on 30th April.
You can pre-order a copy of this book from Amazon US.