Web Fiction Review: Once More

The Unbound, beings corrupted by a mana imbalance are making the world inhospitable. Humans, angels and a myriad of other intelligent species struggle against  wave after wave of increasingly powerful, seemingly inexhaustible horrors. Containment lines are drawn further and further back by the year. The steady retreat of livable space takes with it any hope for a brighter tomorrow.

Who, in this time of desperation, is the most qualified to beat an emergent extinction event back into the depths of myth and nightmare? Who has the knowledge, station, and raw talent to save the lives of literally everyone?

An extremely unmotivated Demon Lord who seems to only care for the contagion’s ability to disturb her sleep. Sinkingship’s world of Once More appears to be thoroughly shafted, for Alexandria wishes to plop back down on her throne with as little effort as possible expended, even if it means prolonging the suffering of the more short-lived races.

Once more image.jpg
(The cover art, depicting our Immortal Liege in all of her unimpressed glory)

Rich in humor, both dark and character driven, this adventure fantasy nonetheless manages to touch on themes such as the effects of power, divergent cultures, and hearts scarred by a history of constant disappointment and emotional trauma.

At once, the text reveals an elevated, some would say heavy, form of prose that lends itself well to the story’s descriptive and introspective nature. The thing doesn’t look like a flower when you turn your reading device sideways, though. The style may alienate readers used to club-against-the-brain writing where a bare minimum is given without much exposition existing in the same room as action and dialogue. The pacing does “suffer” a bit for it, but the trade off is a well-established tone of devil-may-care levity and in some cases, forlornness that keeps readers thinking for a long time.

There are, however, instances where stylistic choices get in the way. Take the interludes, for example. Some of them rehash events, in whole or in part, already displayed from the perspective of another character. While very good at showing internal motivations and differences in worldviews, it feels unnecessary, especially when these aspects are already shown by interactions between Alexandria and the character in question. This is a pet peeve of mine because it feels handholdy (it’s a word if I say it’s a word, Microsoft!) when done to death. Imagine a parent never transitioning from the baby talk phase with their 1st grader, and you get a close enough approximation of the frustration it can generate. Some pieces of exposition are also redoubled unnecessarily close to each other, but these small cases are far less jarring.

Grammatically, Once More is pretty solid. The readers have been ever helpful in pointing out the little issues that keep the text from being as airtight as possible, but a few things like homophone or contraction misuse remains (“humanities” rather than “humanity’s” in one instance, iirc). RRL, being an online publishing platform, doesn’t quite care to place black marks on good stories for the occasional minor gaff, though. There are much, much, worse samples out there. The story in all of it’s strokes is there. And through the eyes of the primary protagonist: very well delivered.

You’ll find that Alexandria holds different perspectives on morality than the average viewer, you’ll also find that she is consistent and logical in these perspectives, something often neglected in works that feature blue and orange morality and things close to it. The most representative instances involve moments where Alexandria takes action not due to sentimentality, (which she does seem to possess, yet pushes it aside as a tertiary consideration at most) but a slight against her image or a grudging acceptance of work that can’t be efficiently delegated to another party. All because she wants to, initially at least, return to a peaceful sleep absent of any real responsibilities.

Oftentimes, her boredom and laziness can come across as an instance of the protagonist holding the idoit ball; the dichotomy of outright benevolent actions towards a select few interposed with disregard for subordinates as tools or pets at best is a source of some dissonance that is sure to turn the wonderfully crafted experience sour for people who can’t sympathize with or tolerate her attitude. A close human equivalent would be the humble college student who recognizes the deadline for their term paper looming over them, but wants nothing more than to do anything else with their time. It’s not due till a week from now, so why worry about it until then? Not a particularly apt analogy In terms of both scale and implication, sure, but the feeling is likely much the same from her eyes. Or even less trivial; she compares other sapient beings to insects, do you go out of your way to protect ant colonies?

Strange social mores and actions that may have readers scratch their heads in one part, only to grin when they discover long foreshadowed or well justified reasoning later are quite common. Sinkingship doesn’t seem content to simply put a hat and strange physical description on secondary characters and call it a day, this alone, would make the story well recommendable when held up against its contemporaries.

Plotwise, the story maintains a basic level that allows room to fully explore the burdens and motivations of the characters. And for characters as fleshed out and colorful as the fiercely loyal succubus, Pink, and the beleaguered yet well intentioned Duke Clearwater, the simplicity works exceptionally well.

Do read Once More if your village isn’t too Unbound infested to receive a stable internet connection, it’s a top class distraction sure to please those fond of high fantasy tales and their parodies.

I love to read fiction of every genre, if you have a piece that you’d like a review for, please, don’t hesitate to contact me or drop a comment. 

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