There comes a time when the critic must create. Eventually a reviewer simply cannot take it anymore and, from some blend of inspiration and frustration, zealotry and disgust, he or she is determined to produce something of his or her own. This, I'm assuming, is roughly what happened in the mind of Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw, longtime video game reviewer in The Escapist's video review series “Zero Punctuation.”
Once a week for the last five years, Croshaw has produced scathing, critical, hilarious video game reviews. Somewhere along the way, he felt compelled to add something of his own to the mix: not a video game (although he apparently makes those too), but rather a novel. A novel that perfectly parodies fantasy adventure, and especially video games of fantasy adventure; a novel with fewer expletives than his video reviews, but still just as cynical; a novel that is really, really funny.
Mogworld is a darkly delightful twist on the traditional action-fantasy setup: Jim is a zombie who journeys, not for survival or conquest, but to find a way to die permanently. Constantly surrounded by inept adventurers, power-crazy wizards, and murderous warriors, he tries desperately to uncover the reason why everyone in the kingdom keeps coming back to life, and why strange angels called “Deleters” are wreaking havoc across the land. As he bounces from one disaster to the next, he's drawn closer to the source of the surreal fantasy video game realm that is Mogworld.
The novel's feel is cynical, comical, and fantastical from the get-go. Imagine if Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett took their gloves off, revised The Truman Show, and dipped the whole thing in a cocktail of morbid acidic humor … and added Sarcastic Sprinkles before serving. It's hard to overstate the book's bite — it's apparent on every page, which I personally enjoy seeing in novels. If we're going to go sarcastic, let's go all the way!
To his credit, Croshaw does actually provide some nice balance to his characters. For all Jim's moribund sourness, he does have brief moments of conscience. These reflections don't stop him from flippant sarcasm and outrageous cowardice, but they do round out his character. So, too, do his occasional memories of the good old days. Not “the good old days” when he was still alive (those, apparently, were maddeningly dull), but “the good old days” when he was a zombie for the local necromancer, a craven magician who happened to be a really nice boss, offering Jim a comfortable gig before adventurers came and wrecked it all.
Equally encouraging is the supporting cast, whether they're Jim's fellow undead buddies, the ridiculous rogue Slippery John, or any one of the many outlandish minor characters that populate this romp of a novel. One action-packed scene crashes into the next, sending characters sprinting around wildly, and causing general upheaval chapter after chapter. It gets a little nuts at time, but certainly in an enjoyable, well-paced way — no room for boredom here.
Mogworld is not without its rougher edges: it is the man's first novel, after all. There are some repeated word choices that make narrative flow clunky, and a few bits of syntax that could have been smoothed out before the final draft. These moments are noticeable, but to my mind they're very forgivable given the sheer amount of biting humor and witty commentary that can be found in every paragraph. Though it shows a debut novel's odd flaw, it shines tenfold with a debut novel's imagination and enthusiasm. Which is ironic, given the main character's death wish, but what can you do.
Am I glad that I read Mogworld? You'd better believe it. Does one need to be a gamer or fantasy fan to enjoy it? Nope — you just need to dig dark comedy. Will I continue to enjoy Yahtzee's beloved Zero Punctuation videos? Big yes there. Am I looking forward to his new apocalyptic novel coming out in October? I sure am!