Secrets of the Old Ones by Blaise Corvin.
…I’d have to rate this one a 3. If it hadn’t involved a setting related to the Cthulhu Mythos, I think I would have dropped it after the first 20 pages. I read it through hoping for some interesting twists on the Mythos, but… not really.
The book does have interesting gameworld features, including one spectacular use of maps near the beginning to gain elemental magic. That was one of the best-written parts of the book; the main character honestly seemed worried that what he was risking might not be worth it, and his relief when the gamble pays off seems plain.
Unfortunately, that is one of the best-written parts of the book when it comes to characterization.
The characters just don’t seem to have any depth to them. Vale is “badass explorer gamer”, who apparently will spend weeks on figuring out a quest, barely a few minutes poking possibilities for the nifty elemental magic he has, and not one minute wondering about the motives of people around him. Everyone else is worse. It – well, it reads a lot like someone transcribing chat logs of a game. And yet this is supposed to be Full Dive, full-immersion environments, which at times are lovingly described. If the author put that much work into character motivations, instead of just “those two are having sex off-screen”, it’d be a very rich story.
What’s worse is the treatment of the real-world the story’s supposedly set in. It’s as if the writer didn’t think about the real world besides “someplace for the characters to keep their stuff and sometimes get shot at.” Which I find particularly egregious since one of the game features is that if you know how to do it in real life, it’s easier in the game. If so, you’d expect to see some of the characters practicing their real-life skills do they can play the game better. There’s more than one point where the main character (Trent IRL, Vale in-game) notes that none of his party have any practice sneaking around. So… why didn’t they spend some off-line time getting some?
So – eh. It’s not the worst thing I’ve read – mostly because there’s no gratuitous sex or betrayals in it. Just… the cover art is a lot more promise than the book delivers.