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Born to die and be born again, Gell the Jellyfae must discover her strange connection to the horrible monsters called humans, that speak with words she understands, but seem to want nothing but her death. Driven by a desire for safety and freedom, she ventures forth to Tread the Sky and finds more worlds than one.
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- G. P. Brown
This was a superb LitRPG story and just one of the best YA fantasy stories I've read in years in general. I can see why stories like Artificial Jelly are probably viewed as a little too niche in appeal by mainstream publishers/audiences but books like this are the very reason I'm still so willing to take a chance on self-published stories. Every now and then I stumble across a real 5 star gem like Artificial Jelly!
The premise of the story was weird and fun. It was a LitRPG tale but non-standard by the fact that our lead POV character was not a human but rather a low level "monster" character coming to sentience/awareness unnoticed inside a futuristic VR world. Gell, the Jellyfae, knows she is not like the other monsters in her dungeon. They are all slaves to the rules while she has the ability to break them. Her calm and dull existence is interrupted when groups of horrible humanoid creatures start to invade her dungeon home. Gel is drawn to the humans, even if her instincts tell her to attack and kill them, because they, like her, can talk and break the rules. The problem is all the invaders seem interested in is killing Gel and her fellow dungeon dwellers over and over again!
The tale sounds weird and a like it does not have much potential for depth or emotional engagement but that could not be further from the truth as this was a tale with tons of emotional depth and Gel was a surprisingly easy character to get invested in and root for as she sought to find her place in this strange world.
The story was a good mix of LitRPG and old school coming of age fantasy tale. Dustin Graham had an engaging writing style and the pacing of the story was absolutely perfect. The tone was YA and often had light and humorous moments but those were undercut by some really dark moments and the slightly melancholic feel the story maintained. All that blended together to make a story with real emotional depth and one that had me hooked on Gels adventures from start to finish.
All in all this was one of the most engaging books I've picked up in ages and I hope Gel returns for more adventures in the future as her continued growth and development is sure to be as captivating to follow as her early growth was!
Rating: 5 stars. An easy rating as I got through this 12 hour audio in under 2 days and was disappointed there was not more to consume.
Audio Note: Traci Odom did a good job with the audio. It took me a little bit of time to warm to her in the early stages but as the story progressed I felt she really nailed the tone and was excellent at conveying the emotions felt by our young naive Jellyfae!
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