Review: Light Unto Another World

Publisher Description:

Soldiers are trained to improvise, to prepare for the unexpected.

However, there are some things you just cannot prepare yourself for.

Such as getting pulled through a portal and into another world.

Uriel Makkis, a young soldier in the Israel Defense Forces, was on his way to base for just another week in his tank when something very unexpected happened.

A portal opened, pulling him into an unfamiliar world, with no one to be found.

Never one to succumb to panic, Uriel does the only thing he can do: push forward to figure out just what has happened to him.

Almost before he knows it, he finds himself entangled in an entirely new conflict, one that runs far deeper than he realizes.

With no way home, all Uriel can do is trust in God to point him on the right path, and fight to secure not just his own survival, but that of those he has quickly come to rely on and care about.

With the help of his new friends, he sets out to make his place in the new world, where, finally, he can make a difference.

The new world will never be the same.

And in this exciting, new isekai light novel series, you can’t simply leave the old world behind.

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Review: Light Unto Another World: Volume 1 by Yakov Merkin

Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed Light Unto Another World: Volume 1. I encourage you to check it out!

Disclaimer: We received a copy of this book from the author for the purpose of review. This in no way influences our opinions. (You can request a review here.)

This review contains minor spoilers.

Light Unto Another World: Volume 1 is a fresh take on the popular isekai genre light novel, featuring a compelling lead with a detailed background, a true fantasy setting, and plenty of action. Wonderfully illustrated by Philip San Gaspar. This first volume of the Light Unto Another World series takes you to a place you won’t want to leave!

“Ordinary Person”

An isekai story features an ordinary lead, usually male, who is transported from the modern world to a fantasy world (influenced by RPGs) where he often becomes a heroic figure, although there are many variations.

Unfortunately, the genre is flooded with flat, stale main characters who have no individuality and are vastly overpowered. The interpretation of “ordinary” seems to be “generically pleasant and competent while romantically oblivious (but attractive) and lacking all passions beyond friendship.”

Light Unto Another World does something different.

Sympathetic, Not a Surrogate

Uriel Makkis is not a reader surrogate. Blank-slate main characters are designed to appeal as a reader stand-in for as many people as possible, to allow a large audience the thrill of wish-fulfillment–fully immersing themselves in the world, much like a video game.

Uriel is not the smartest, most popular, most talented, most attractive person in existence, though. Neither is his backstory one that is shared by most people. Afterall, “soldier in the Israel Defense Forces” is highly specific and comes with its own unique mindset.

However, Uriel is easily relatable and a sympathetic character. He exhibits genuine humility and care for others, and his serious outlook presents an appealing contrast to the more typical laissez faire attitude. A principled person who carries his convictions with him makes for a much more appealing character.

Furthermore, the interest generated by Uriel’s unique background adds to reader engagement. It is far more thought-provoking to pose the question, “What would this specific person (a soldier and a religious Jew) do in this situation?” verses a generic wish-fulfillment via a bland nobody.

Heroism Reintroduced

The character’s resulting impact on the plot is to make it more meaningful. The usual slow growth and practice of skills, particularly magic are more intriguing with Uriel’s confidence that there is a greater purpose behind his presence in that world and the type of magic he wields.

The stakes in battle are higher when the hero has responsibilities at stake and is willing to fight for what he believes is right, rather than fighting out of some “nice guy” syndrome.

The action itself is exciting and strikes a good balance between detail and momentum, per Merkin’s usual skill.

Lighthearted Fantasy

Light Unto Another World takes place in a stereotypical fantasy setting characteristic of isekai fiction, but it sets a particularly pleasing contrast to current trends in western fantasy stories. The world possesses all of the potential for danger and adventure one could wish for, without being bogged down by dark and gritty realism.

The towns, for example, are clean and aesthetically superior to modern equivalents that Uriel is familiar with. Even though they lack running water, Merkin does not force his readers to live the experience of using an outhouse. This enables the setting to maintain an allure, a desire to visit such a place and an affection for its people.

It also develops the town as something worth protecting, something that could be threatened later in the series, perhaps.

Responsibility

One of the unique themes this isekai presents relates to responsibility. Instead of seeing his transportation as an opportunity for license, Uriel instead ponders the question, “What are my responsibilities, even when removed from my usual obligations?”

The answer for Uriel includes the importance of proclaiming God, fulfilling commitments, and doing the right thing. The last means keeping religious obligations, fighting to protect others, and abstaining from indulging in the romantic interests cast his way.

The question itself was thought-provoking, prompting self-reflection. The genre usually focuses entirely on the new world, to the point that reincarnation has become more common than transition. Having a well-developed main character with deep roots at home is more easily relatable, and easily turns the thematic question onto the reader.

If I was removed from my environment and community completely, what responsibilities would I still have? Am I disciplined enough that I could perform them?

Check It Out!

Light Unto Another World: Volume 1 puts a more complex spin on the isekai expectations in both character and theme, while delivering the action and setting enjoyed by lovers of the genre. This series is certainly a must-read!

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Review: Ghostblade

Publisher Description:

Giant monsters roam the land. 

Civilization is frozen in a savage age. For one young hunter named Alden, power and survival are one and the same. The ancient evil that once ravaged his village and murdered his ancestors has returned. At the same time, politics hurls Alden into gladiator pit battles for control of the throne.

When Alden takes possession of a cursed sword promising untold power, the hunter is determined to save his people by slaying every giant monster standing between him and the throne. But the angry ghost trapped inside the blade has other ideas.

The first entry in a thrilling LitRPG light novel series!

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Review: Ghostblade by Adam Lane Smith

Here on the Periapsis Project, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed Ghostblade. I encourage you to check it out!

Ghostblade is an adventure-packed light novel in the shōnen vein that delivers a unique and entertaining spin on some of the best elements of that genre: tenacious characters, dynamic action sequences, and thematic elements of diligence and community. Beautifully illustrated by Ashion. This compelling first installment of Adam Lane Smith’s The Savage Hunters series has certainly whetted my appetite for more!

This review contains minor spoilers.

Earnest Protagonist

Alden is a virtuous main character with a desire for self-improvement, grounded in a strong sense of community. While this is a common character trope in the genre, Smith’s execution, particularly in tying Alden’s character development to a stronger thematic message about what it means to be a man, lends Alden a more mature tone than is typical among shōnen leads.

I found myself rapidly gaining a respect for the young hero. He aspires to become a better hunter in order to protect his village, and it is clear that the needed growth is in experience and not in repentance or common sense. This avoids some of the cringy scenes typical of young protagonists. Alden might make poor decisions, but they were always from a pure motivation that I sympathized with, never from internal flaws or faults inflated for cheap character improvement down the line.

As a result, Alden comes across as a lifelike character, and it is easy to believe that his peers respect and trust him in a leadership position.

Vivid Action

This light novel is chalk full of captivating action sequences. Each conflict is vividly described, with all the involved characters taking active roles against the monsters that they face. Even in the gladiator-style tournament, the battles did not run together monotonously. They were all fresh, through different beasts, tactics, and characters.

Alden’s fights, in particular are always multi-faceted. They incorporate conflict on multiple levels, from the basic struggle for survival in the arena, to the political competition for the throne, to the over-arching clash of order and chaos.

Unfortunately, the complex nature of these conflicts can make the handful of scenes starring other teams and their battles a bit tedious. Although this, too, is a common element of shōnen-style tournaments, I have always found them to drag on a bit too long. Smith successfully hooked me into his story; I was invested in Alden’s team and their objectives. That made it hard for me to find interest in the battles of the other characters. Take that with a grain of salt, however, because I am not a sports fan in real life, either: I never could see the appeal in March Madness, for example.

Gameplay-based System

I enjoyed Smith’s choice to incorporate an RPG-based levels system into his world. I thought the LitRPG concept was well executed and worked beyond the simplistic “give the reader a quick understanding of everyone’s relative power.”

Not only did the clear levels give a sense of objectivity to the character’s abilities, but they also emphasized their need to improve if they wanted to be able to protect their community. In this way, they raised the stakes from the very beginning. Balanced against the character development as they were– particularly Alden’s diligence and desire for self-improvement – meant that, even though the hunters’ levels were not high, I believed they had the moxie to succeed.

Furthermore, the skill trees inserted an additional sense of hope, particularly to the over-arching conflict against the ancient threat, by offering the characters opportunities of growth tailored to combat it. They might not be ready for that just yet, but it offers a tantalizing promise of more epic action to come!

Setting Put to Work

Ghostblade has a very polished feel to the whole work, with a clear attention to detail from plot and character to grammar and word-flow. The setting is no exception here.

Often a story’s setting, particularly in fantasy genres, is more a consequence of plot or an exercise in artistic description than a functional aspect. While I can’t claim to know if Smith intended to put his setting to work in the service of storytelling, it certainly came out that way.

The story has three major settings: the village, the corrupted forest, and the city.

The Village – Order and Vigilance

The early descriptions of the village and surrounding terrain convey nobility in simplicity and hard work. Here is the first glimpse we are given of Alden’s home:

“The front door made of dense, woven wool opened onto a dirt floor and a large rectangular hall.”

This seems relatively straight-forward, and yet it is representative of a consistent picture Smith creates of this setting. Handicraft permeates the scene, from the woven front door to the bone structure of the house itself. Things may be simple, from the dirt floor to the open space, but there is a strong connection between the people who live there, even though none are present in that first scene. Someone made the door, someone – ancestors no longer even living – built the house. A strong sense of heritage exists – a legacy of hard work manifested in every item in Alden’s home.

This generates a sense of belonging, further emphasized by the oversized dinner table and the meal set aside for Alden, and contributes to a feeling of security. This village is a safe place, with a strong wall and competent hunters standing watch. So safe, in fact, that none of the buildings have actual doors.

Not only does this accentuate Alden’s character as we are first introduced to him, but it also sets up the major conflict of the series: the return of the Scourge that nearly drove the village to extinction. The community’s safe and connected lifestyle contrasts sharply with the corrosive and invasive nature of the enemy.

The Forest – Chaos

“Looming skeletal trees seemed to reach for the band from the corner of Alden’s eye. Every so often, the abrupt cawing of a raven would tear through the forest, and the hunters would jerk in their saddles.”

The second setting further emphasizes the dichotomy between order and chaos. Where the village represented the safety, security, and happiness possible within order (particularly demonstrated by the wedding), the forest embodies the constant strife, fear, and loss of self that is perpetuated by chaos.

Alden and his friends must be constantly on guard because the Scourge is not only physically corrosive and viscerally repugnant, but also threatens them on a spiritual level: “The Scourge already burned in Jincra’s flesh and spirit to a degree which terrified Alden.” While it is yet unclear exactly how this spiritual aspect might manifest (assuming the physical corrosion was halted), it is easy to imagine how it could jeopardize the relational security within the community.

Note: I think it is fair to categorize this conflict as order vs chaos, at least in this first installment in the series, rather than the typical good vs evil. Although the characters interpret the corruption as having a malicious intent towards them, I do not see it depicted in this story as having a particular direction to its consumption. It seems more like an invasive sickness that must be driven out before it reaches a vital organ, as it eventually would if left to its own devices.

The City – Laxity

The third setting, Ceralahn City, stands in contrast to the village in a different way. While the village was a safe and secure place, it was not so by chance. The community was constantly vigilant, posting lookouts against outside threats and intentionally working to pass on their traditions and beliefs to the next generation – safeguarding against a different kind of chaos.

However, the city, on the other hand, is not a place characterized by simplicity and a tight-knit community. Smith never faults the city for this, necessarily. There is no a commentary on rural vs metropolitan. Rather, the city seems to represent a society distracted by various affairs. Its people reject the threat of an outside evil, preferring instead to believe their own events, such as the political tournament, are the driving force of all motivations. The people are divided into their own tribes and factions; therefore, the city lacks any sense of unity, even in something as simple as clothing, which is always richly described. Furthermore, the ending (without going into detail) reveals that they are blind to the chaos unfolding within their own walls.

Even Alden and his team must constantly remind one another that their true purpose is not necessarily to win glory and political power through the tournament, but to gain allies against the true threat that they face.

Smith’s skillful composition of setting puts it to work for the story in both plot and thematic avenues. I know I’ve spent a lot of words here, but it was a treat for me to discover such a uniquely integrated setting!

Check it Out!

Ghostblade is a brilliantly entertaining adventure, with compelling characters, vivid action, and subtle setting all in service to an engaging story. Accessible whether you are familiar with light novels or not.

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