King Crow isn’t having a very good day. The Empire’s most famous athlete suddenly finds himself convicted of treason and sentenced to the Hunt, an annual event where the city’s most undesirable prisoners are sent into a dungeon filled with treasure, magic, and… bloodthirsty monsters. Crow didn’t commit the crime, so why is he in the dungeon? Who set him up? And why—for the love of god—is his only weapon a fast-talking, sapient, electromagnetically charged potato named Spud?
The Castle of 1,000 Doors is a fun, action packed adventure that instantly sucked me into the story and I couldn’t put down. It is a relatively short book and quick read that would work great as a palate cleanser between larger, denser fantasy novels.
I first want to say that I’m not quite sure what sub-genre this book fits in. The only progression fantasy series I have read is Cradle, and I have not yet read any litRPG, and while this book has elements of both I don’t think it is truly either. Someone with more experience with this type of sub-genre might be able to define it better than I but I think any fantasy reader could find a lot to enjoy with this novel. The author plays with litRPG/GameLit/Progression elements without committing hard into any of them which in my opinion gives it broader appeal to most fantasy reader rather than only hardcore fans of these sub-genres.
Sub-genre aside, there are a lot of great elements to this book. The character work was done very well for the relatively short length and fast pace of the novel. Our protagonist King Crow is well developed and has a surprising depth to his character. King Crow is the greatest athlete in the empire, having been the dominate lightball player for the last decade. But he started from humble origins, as an orphan forced in child labor that was rescued and adopted by a reformist politician. At the beginning of the novel Crow’s father is caught meeting with rebels and Crow is arrested out of spite and sentenced to the prison dungeon of Toroth-Gol. If he can make it through all 10 levels of the dungeon, he will earn his freedom. But no one has ever made it through before. As he works through the first level of the dungeon, he meets other prisoners and forms a small team. I would like to learn more about these characters in the next couple of books and see them get more development like Crow.
And of course I can’t leave out Spud, the sapient, electromagnetically charged potato that is King Crow’s only weapon. I will admit that going into this book I worried Spud would be too gimmicky and would annoy me, but I found it to be just the opposite. He was fun without being over-the-top and added some great humor to the story. I’m glad the author gave Spud more range to his personality, he is at times scared, sad, and angry just like any human and it made for some great moments between Spud and Crow that surprised me with their depth. Don’t get me wrong, Spud is mostly comic relief, but there are also moments that hint at there being more to him than that. I also enjoyed the brief time we got with an addition to Crow’s arsenal at the end, and I look forward to seeing more in the next books.
I thoroughly enjoyed the worldbuilding of the novel. From the cover I thought the book would be more sci-fi with fantasy elements, but I would say that it is actually the other way around. The larger world the novel takes place in leans sci-fi, since magic is illegal within the empire. However, the dungeon of Toroth-Gol is powered by magic, and most of the book takes place here. This is also where the GameLit/LitRPG elements come in. The prisoners have an eye replaced with an implant that basically gives them a video game HUD with a map, inventory, and info on what they are seeing in the maze. As they work through the dungeon, they also have opportunities for upgrades and more powerful weapons. I thought these elements were added very smoothly, they felt natural to the story and never felt overdone or forced.
I had a great time reading this book. I am very glad I read this book now, but I almost wish I hadn’t found it until the series was complete so I could binge the whole thing. This isn’t going to be a deep, emotionally poignant fantasy epic but that isn’t what it is trying to be. And what is does try to be it does extremely well. Regardless of your experience with GameLit or LitRPG books I would recommend fantasy readers give this one a try. It works great as a quick read and palate cleanser, and it sure to give you a wild ride.