Andrew Rowe has pulled off something difficult: he’s written a parody filled with gentle humour and which also works as a story in its own right.
He takes us inside the kind of world you’ll be familiar with if you’ve ever played Japanese, quest-based, dungeon-raiding Role Playing Games like Dragon Quest or The Legend Of Zelda and shows it to us from the point of view of a bright young woman, who not only thinks outside the box but wonders why anyone put the stupid box there in the first place. She sees that the current Demon King will burn her world long before a Hero arises, in another seventy-seven years so she sets out to do something about it.
Parodies, especially novella-length parodies, are risky things. They can easily be a one-liner joke that’s over-extended itself or sink so deeply into ridicule that they become a rant rather than a story. Rowe avoids both of these traps by keeping the humour gently affectionate and by keeping us guessing as to how Yui, whose first set of skills is about shifting inventory and who has no Hero skills at all, will gain the levels and the skill needed to defeat a Demon King.
I enjoyed watching Yui puzzling over the things that gamers everywhere take for granted but which don’t stand up to much analysis. Why do skeletons attack the Hero one at a time rather than swarming him? Why does the wall that’s hiding the treasure always have a crack in it? And what is it with Heroes and explosives – do they just like to hear things go boom?
The characters (and they’re all characters, not people) are great fun. I loved Yui’s overly-serious Sword-Saint companion who accepts all of the rules of the game as sacred script and is initially scandalised by Yui’s disregard for tradition. My favourite character was Vex, the fairy, AKA The Fairy Who Failed. She’s all temper and tears, even though, as one of the other fairies reminds her, Vex is only an anthropomorphic construct designed to support the Hero.
Yui’s creativity, wit and refusal to march to the beat of any drum other than her own, kept me engaged right to the end. Her solutions didn’t just amplify the parody, they were clever enough and novel enough to keep the puzzles fresh.
I had much more fun listening to this novella for five and a half hours than I would have had trying to level up in Dragonquest.