Review of Reboot: An Epic LitRPG (Afterlife Online Book One)
Reboot (Afterlife Online: Book 1) by Domino Finn. Whenever possible, I will try to keep this post free of spoilers. If you’re wondering why I do that, you can find out more by reading my complete Review Policy.
Recap & Brief Synopsis
Tad Lonnerman is a developer for a small-time studio that gets acquired by the soulless mega-corporation Kablammy Games. After a couple of years of steady career progress, he has a major setback that changes the course of his life. He dies in a car accident.
Expecting to wake up in a hospital on high doses of painkillers, he instead finds himself a resident of a newly created MMORPG (appropriately named Haven). As Tad slowly adjusts to his new reality, questions about what he left in life behind keep nagging him.
His teenage brother will be forced to fend for himself. Projects he was working on will be scrapped. There was never any time to find that special someone. All-in-all, Tad didn’t do much with his life… and now that he has a second chance, he doesn’t want to spend it on a game.
Not everything in the afterlife is paradise. Themed as it is, Haven is packed with angels, demons, saints, and sinners. When Tad meets the devil himself, he’ll have to make a choice… should he risk his new digital reality for a chance to reclaim his old life?
Premise & Concept
This story reminded me of a particular episode of Black Mirror. I can’t say which, but you’ll know exactly what I mean when you read it. Being able to upload your consciousness into a machine has been the fodder of science fiction for decades.
What separates this story from the pack are the layers of plot that Finn slowly peels back throughout the narrative. There are no intentional red herrings. Just well-placed reveals that keep your attention centered on Tad and his struggle.
Among all the stat increases and questlines is a Redemption story mixed with a more conventional Hero’s Journey. Like most great stories, there’s also a romantic subplot and plenty of comedic hijinks to go around.
This book is noteworthy because the author artfully twists each of the expected tropes into something deeper and more meaningful by the end. Everything that you take for granted as cliche becomes infinitely deeper as you progress.
Themes & Motifs
If you’re going to write about the afterlife, you can’t get by without including (at least) a callout to the elements of western religion. Heaven and hell, good and evil, judgment and forgiveness. Along with all that, Finn throws in some Temptation and a little Identity Crisis.
What might catch you off-guard are the Idealistic Capitalism themes sprinkled throughout. As with many of the conventions in this book, the author comes through in the end by not following the traditional paint-by-numbers template. No spoilers. Read and find out.
Fair warning, if you’re the type of person that may be offended by labels… the author did choose to call the less-developed races “pagans.” If you can overlook that small bit of political incorrectness, there are no other overtly discriminatory remarks in the rest of the book.
I only mention it because I believe it was unintentional and will hopefully get revised in a future update. Even if I’m dead wrong, there’s something to be said about artistic license. In my opinion, it’s a distraction at best. Certainly not a dealbreaker.
Structure & Plot
This book has strong action/adventure pacing. You feel the familiar rise and fall of the try-fail cycles and each chapter transitions well into the next. There’s no use of cliffhangers or other gimmicks to keep you turning pages. Reboot doesn’t need it.
Reboot brings you along for a ride that feels thoroughly crafted. Nothing like the rickety wooden rollercoaster at the local fairgrounds. This book has a theme-park polish to it. Finn understands how to build an entertaining story that works.
If I had to pin this on the spectrum of “entry-level” to “hardcore fandom,” I’d say it favors the newcomer. Gaming terminology is present, but only after repeated explanations about how a mechanic works, and most of the group or party functions only happen beyond the first act.
LitRPG as a genre has a natural progression, and the author uses that to its full advantage when introducing the world of Haven. Even the all-white loading room (a staple of the genre) takes on an entirely new light when you consider that the book opens with Tad’s death.
Character & Dialogue
In typical indie fashion, the narrative is in first-person, past tense. There’s something to be said for an author that understands what the audience is thinking and builds a character that accurately represents their interests.
That’s precisely what Finn has done with Talon (aka Tad Lonnerman). Every time you imagine what he might do next, you find yourself reading about him trying exactly that. The feeling compounds if you’re a developer because so is Tad. He thinks like an engineer.
Much like Survival Quest [internal link], everyone in Haven has a backstory that you’re interested in learning about. You’re curious about how the players in the game ended up there. How they died and what the circumstances were that led to their upload.
Nothing is exactly what it seems, and the clues about why are scattered in character build, avatar names, and play style. It’s almost a metagame that Finn has artfully woven into the fabric of the story itself. One that you can truly appreciate if you’re a gamer at heart.
Setting & Worldbuilding
Repetition in stories is a feature, not a bug. Checkov’s Gun is the most famous example of a technique where you show the audience a piece of the set… and then use it to drive the story later on. Everything you see in Reboot is integral to the story at some point.
Most readers will understand that to be true, which is why I don’t mind including it in a spoiler-free review. It’s like saying “pay close attention” during a magic show. Everyone is doing it anyway. Only a trained eye will spot the tricks through the misdirection.
I think the most important aspect of Reboot’s worldbuilding is the fact that it isn’t perfect. You could easily imagine a place called “Haven” being free of flaws and inconsistencies. When Tad starts to find the loose ends, they become the threads that unravel the rest of his reality.
To keep things manageable, you only explore one of the nine cities in the game world. I can easily imagine a series that takes the main character to each of the major hubs of civilization. You can always tell an epic-in-the-making with a map at the front of the book.
Market Fit & Positioning
Here’s a bit of cleverness that took me a few chapters to realize. Finn uses the names of video games as chapter headings. Another detail that could easily be overlooked by the casual observer and caters directly to the geekdom. Well played, sir.
Despite the heavy thematic elements, this book is a fun and easy read. It’s not overburdened with deep meaning or spiritual posturing. It’s a look at what happens when you take things in your life for granted. Kinda like Jennifer Connelly in Labyrinth. (Dance, magic dance?)
When someone makes something look easy, you know they’re a real expert. Domino Finn has proven himself as a storyteller with this book. The author put in the work to make his product feel seamless and polished. Reboot is an indie title sets itself apart.
There are a lot of ways this book could have gone off the rails. Instead, it coasts smoothly into a home in the top hundred LitRPG titles on the market right now. As of this review, the book earned an “orange flag” which represents a bestseller in its category on Amazon. Congratulations.
Recommendations & Invitation for Feedback
There will be no more wire ratings! No ratings of any kind. That’s not how I operate. I’m not a critic. I’m a fan. That means I believe in being inclusive of anything that helps brings more readers into the community. Someone else can enforce the rules.
This book gets a Meta +7, Quirk +2, and Luck +4. Reboot is an easy-to-pick-up title that’s enrolled in Kindle Unlimited. I went cover-to-cover in a weekend. Speaking of covers, the design is top notch. You would struggle to find better, even among traditional titles.
If you like Edge of Tomorrow, Black Mirror, or Grim Fandango, then Reboot is for you. Recommended as a weekend read for the avid LitRPG fan or a good break-in title for someone just getting started. Reboot belongs on the same shelf as Ready Player One.
Ok people, over to you. I realize this book is new and your TBR list is long. Skip over a few and let’s talk about this. Would you upload your consciousness into an afterlife server? Do you think that the residents are still technically alive? Would you play with pain filters? Comment below.