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The Moonsteel Crown

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Member Reviews

The Moonsteel Crown is one of the best team-based fantasy books to come out in years. It's a fresh take on the comradery staple that proves that lowering the mechanical bar for entry doesn’t have to come at the cost of deep tactical world building. Its story campaign is what really makes it stand out, with interesting classic-style missions for our characters interspersed with humor and fantastic writing.
Full review to come on my YouTube channel: Holly Hearts Books
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Stephen Deas’ The Moonsteel Crown does a great job of dropping the reader immediately into a world full of action and intrigue. Without much heavy handed exposition, the reader likely will struggle a little to pick up what is happening but that struggle is rewarded as the plot unfolds. I found myself more and more excited to learn about the universe Deas had created, with both fascinating magical systems and well thought out political devices abounding. While not a novel I would recommend to a novice to fantasy The Moonsteel Crown is one that any avid reader should devour.
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WOW, just WOW! because it's a great start for a new fantasy series and I loved every moment of it.
Character development and world building are excellent, the storytelling is great and the plot kept me turning pages.
I loved the unusual group of characters, commoners that play in a bigger games.
Can't wait to read the next books in this series, highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine
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The Moonsteel Crown was also on my most-anticipated releases in Feb 2021, from the stables of Angry Robot books. Stephen Deas' memories of flame series was an absolute fun romp - with dragons, backstabbing empires and all around ashes and ruins. In this series opener, Stephen employs all his strengths sprinkling in sprightly dark humor, crackling action and an intriguing plot full of mystery and twists to make The Moonsteel Crown a flat-out fun read. 

The city of Varr comes across as a typical medieval city full of gangs that control and run different parts of a crowded market (Gangs are named Spicers, The Unrulys, the Weavers etc) and this is where our three protagonists, Seth Fings and Myla have eked out their living. Seth is smart but has been bullied all his life for being a scrawny coward. He always wanted to be a priest and trains hard as an acolyte within the Temple once he gets this coveted opportunity but he gets thrown out for reasons, he doesn't quite comprehend fully. Fings is a simpleton, a master-thief whose life revolves around his family. As one who has grown on the streets, he knows every nook, cranny and tunnels that wind under the City. Myla is the outsider - from the neighbouring city of Deephaven, she has trained to be a 'sword-monk' and sticks out like a sore thumb within Varr, because of her twin shiny sunsteel swords. Now all three of them are allies, having joined up this gang called the Unrulys run by a ruthless ganglord named as Blackhand. 

As far as plots go, with this set up you know things are going to explode in your face - with some pivotal event ticking off and derailing the life-paths of all three of our POVs. And it does, when they agree to this new job hatched by another gang-member Sulfane. Sulfane, lovingly referred to as the Murdering Bastard by Fings brings all of them together to pull off a daring heist, only with the condition that they shouldn't open up the package once the job is done and are to dutifully hand-over the same to Sulfane. Of course, they are free to help themselves to the silver. Three crates full. 

Naturally Fings couldn't resist 'looking' - and then life goes to hell. For all involved in the job, including the unlucky Seth who just happens to be good friends with Fings and of course, Myla who was the "muscle" hire for the job. 

On the surface, the story reads like a standard epic fantasy fare, with three good-for-nothing low-lives who are struggling to make ends meet in this brutal wintry city and then destiny pulls them into this hot mess, where conspiracies being hatched end up in murder and plots are being carried out, to exact revenge and justice. But hell no, Deas' takes a refreshing POV on this whole subject or a well known fantasy trope, if you will. A view from down south, the usual backbenchers of typical fantasy plots - an ordinary thief, a swordswoman on the run from her past and a priest disgraced from his community. The series of extraordinary events that transpire are all about the three trying to desperately hold onto their miserable lives. While the Kings, Emperors and Prince, princesses are plotting big in the background, the story of The Moonsteel Crown rolls along, ambles along actually, outside the periphery of all these royal conspiracies. 

Deas' excels in drawing up sympathetic characters and with the reader dropped right into the middle of this story at the beginning of a cruel winter, we are given a ringside view of the life in the gutters. Character arcs deftly drawn up by a master, Deas expertly draws us into the story. Fings and Myla are the characters who still retain a bit of 'good' in them. Myla is guilty about her 'job' as a mercenary for hire and her past sins have caught up with her that doesn't give her much leeway to wallow in self--pity as she is busy dodging sell-swords and trying to stay alive. Fings, the accomplished thief, wins us over with his honest guileless approach towards life, guided only by the philosophy that he wants to provide well enough for his Ma Fings and sisters. Seth on the other hand, is a complex nuanced and a little bit of a 'grey' character. Selfish, flawed to the core and a coward to boot. Certainly not likable but honestly, this was a tough character to write up am sure and Deas does a great job in getting us readers to connect to his hapless past and how he has become like this, today. 

With tons of action and relentless tongue-in-cheek humor, this is epic fantasy told from the view-point of that side-character whom you usually tend to overlook and miss. Deas brings verve and color to this intriguing plot by making his narrators unreliable and thus catching the readers unaware time and again. An absolutely cracking read, a story arch that spirals downward into a glorious mess and is a compelling dark screwball comedy-action-horror piece. A piece that sticks the dagger into you right from the beginning and just twists it in further as we go. Recommended!
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An enjoyable read, quite slow to start but I would recommend perseverance as you will be rewarded with a really good fantasy read. It’s a well written story, full of wit and humour, great characters and action

Thanks to netgalley and the publisher for a free copy for an honest opinion
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3.5 of 5 stars
The Moonsteel Crown is a book that has definitely drawn me into its tangled web and I am curious to see what happens next and it is definitely a book with some curious characters but, it has left me feeling slightly puzzled.

As the story begins we meet our three central characters within fairly short order.  Seth, down on his luck, cast out of the church where he was a novice for displaying too much curiosity, now a very lowly member of a gang barely surviving.  Fings, long time friend of Seth and light fingered pickpocket.  Fings is also a member of the Unruly gang, a lowly member doing all he can to look after his family.  Finally, Myla, trained to be a sword-monk she is running from her past, her training incomplete.  She likes to drown her memories in the bottom of a bottle and is also currently running with the Unruly street gang.

Now, as it happens the Unruly gang are about to be handed a lucrative, can’t possibly go wrong opportunity and surprisingly, the job actually goes well, right up until the point that it doesn’t that is.  The gang have stolen something a lot more important than trinkets and baubles and everyone is on their case, now follows a strange tale of cat and mouse as everyone runs round in circles trying to outsmart each other.

So, on the face of it this has quite a lot going for it.  It’s well written, it has an epic feel but also has this lowlife, grimey almost urban fantasy feel.  The story revolves around three misfits, each so far down the ladder that things can’t really get much worse for them which gives them a singularly selfish outlook and brings something slightly different to the story in that you don’t really know who to trust.  These characters aren’t bothered about the ‘bigger’ picture – they’re concerned with staying alive and staying one step ahead of the next possible threat.  This gives the story a much smaller scale somehow because we move in their orbit but at the same time I liked the intimacy that it brings.

Now, on top of the gang business, and the heated rivalry between the Unruly and Spicer gangs there’s also strange goings on.  The Emperor dead, the succession in question, possible outside interference from other sources and another thread that suggests something hidden under the city, something creepy and perhaps more dangerous than anything else.

The first half of the book took a little while to get into to be honest, the second half certainly made up for that with much more action but I still have one real issue and it’s difficult to put my finger on other than an overall state of perplexity.  I think the crux of the matter is that I’m not entirely certain what’s really going on here and that’s not necessarily a bad thing in itself.  It’s just that I can’t help feeling as though the story was a little lost in places or at least the focus was meandering somewhat.  Anyway, that’s quite possibly more to do with me than anything else.

On the whole I would like to continue with the series.  There were some very interesting developments, the writing style was easy to get along with and I think there could be some surprises in store in book 2.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.
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The Moonsteel Crown is one of those stories where the reader gets dropped into the middle of what is obviously going to be a long and convoluted story. Or at least this reader sure felt like she was dropped into the middle of a story that had already begun.

Although this story, particularly from the introduction in the blurb, sounds like an epic fantasy – and the series that this opens looks like it really will BE and epic fantasy – that’s not the way that things seem as the story opens. And we only get hints of the overall epic scope even as the story closes.

What it feels like we’re introduced to is an urban fantasy in an epic fantasy setting, in the way that the Chronicles of Elantra start out by using a very junior member of the city watch to introduce readers to a world that gets bigger and bigger as it goes along.

The difference here is that Kaylin’s world in the Chronicles of Elantra (start with either Cast in Moonlight or Cast in Shadow) feels functional. There are forces attacking from the outside, and there is PLENTY of political skullduggery on all sides but for the most part the city works.

The city where we begin the story in The Moonsteel Crown doesn’t feel functional. It feels like one of those urban fantasies where the criminals aren’t merely everywhere but are taking over, like Simon R. Green’s Nightside or Hawk and Fisher. It’s the Discworld‘s Ankh-Morpork without Vetinari to keep the city running effectively.

And our heroes aren’t even competent enough to be anti-heroes. They are all failures in one way or another – or a lot of ways. Myla is kind of a failed paladin. Not exactly, but close enough. She knows what she’s doing with her swords, but she’s lost her purpose and she’s drowning in drink and regret. Fingers is actually a pretty good thief, he’s just so superstitious that nobody takes him seriously and his superstitions get in his own way entirely too often.

And then there’s Seth. Seth is a failed cleric. Like an old friend of mine in the real world, Seth didn’t have any problem with the vows of either poverty or chastity, but he absolutely could not hack the obedience. Religious orders do not like people who question – and Seth had and continues to have WAY too many of those. To the point where he got drummed out of the best life he’ll ever have only to find himself washed up in the same tavern and the same gang as Myla and Fingers.

Because Seth and Fingers go way back. Way, way, way back. All the way back to their childhood and all the way down to the lowest rung of the socioeconomic ladder where they barely managed to keep themselves and each other alive.

Although that’s still true.

So this isn’t a story about a band of heroes or even a band of brothers. It’s about a band of misfits who can barely keep themselves or each other together most of the time. A motley crew who seem to be sinking further and faster into the underbelly of the city.

At least until Seth discovers that he isn’t so much a failure at being a cleric as he is a possible success at being a destroyer of worlds. Unless, of course, most probably, he manages to fail at that, too, just like he’s failed at everything else in his life.

Escape Rating B: This is not a happy book. I’m glad I wasn’t reading it during one of the recent weeks where it felt like the real world was getting darker just before it turned completely black – because that’s certainly what’s happening in this story.

I’ve read other stories, particularly in fantasy, where the protagonists are a band of misfits as they are here, but never a group quite this sad or quite this downtrodden. At first I was thinking that they reminded me of the ragtag bunch in The Emperor’s Edge, but in the end that band of misfits is quite competent. They’re a group that are misfits separately but manage to gel into a competent whole at least some of the time.

Myla, Fingers and Seth never gel, and one of them – at least – is always worse off than they initially appear.

And then there’s the way that Seth’s story arc trends downward, not into incompetence but into something far worse and a place much, much darker. Seth turns out to be one of those characters, like Kihrin in The Ruin of Kings and Serapio in Black Sun, where by the end of the story no one is certain, least of all the characters themselves, whether their purpose is to save or destroy, and whether that destruction will result in a descent into darkest evil or a cleansing fire.

Or possibly both.

This was an easy book to get sucked into but a hard book to love. It is very dark as quite probably any view of any place as seen from the absolute bottom of the ladder would be dark. No one’s motives are remotely pure, and even worse, they’re being lied to by someone with the worst of intentions, which spins their personal stories even darker.

I know this all probably sounds a bit terrible and you may even be wondering why I finished it or why it gets a B rating. But it does suck the reader in. The way that all of their stories spiral even further downward is compelling. And the reader does wish they could grab either Myla or Fingers and shake them until a little bit of sense comes out.

Because we feel for both of them. They did not get into the positions they are in out of their own choice, and survival from day to day is the best they can do. They’re both trying to find a bit of light, and it seems like Myla finally does.

Seth, on the other hand, seems to be searching for the dark assiduously and with determination, but even that could turn out to be the light at the end.

This is a story of a group of little people who are doing their best and worst to get through the day – and survive the night – in spite of themselves and their circumstances. They are characters with few choices but upon whom the fate of an empire might reside.

Even if they haven’t remotely figured that out yet. And it’s that “yet” that I’m very interested in seeing in future books in this series.
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The Moonsteel Crown is the first book in a new epic quest SF series with an ensemble cast of exquisitely rendered (but admittedly trope-y) characters by veteran speculative fiction author Stephen Deas. Released 9th Feb 2021 by Angry Robot, it's 384 pages and is available in paperback and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats.

I've been on a bad-luck run with my speculative fiction choices lately, so it was doubly refreshing to find a well written, engaging, epic group-quest introduction to a promising new series. It could be slightly benefiting by comparison to my recent dearth of good SF/fantasy reads, but I don't think so. It's a strong read, well plotted and put together, set in a realistically built up city-state with mages, thieves, battles, epic quests, powerful magical talismans, and a trio of heroes (badass female sword-monk, thief, and defrocked cleric straight to order). 

I enjoyed watching the realistic interplay of the three main characters set against the overwhelming odds arrayed against them. The dialogue is well done and never clunky. There is a lot of snark, but I never found that it shaded over into irritating. There are some genuinely warm and humorous interactions and I found myself smiling throughout much of the book. 

There is an average amount of strong language and some graphic violence. One place the author really shines is in his sleek battle and combat descriptions. No 34 page overwhelming massive battles full of strategic minutiae necessary (I'm looking at you, GRRM). 

Four stars. Highly recommended for fans of the genre looking for new series to follow.  

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.
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The Moonsteel Crown is the first book in Stephen Deas’s new fantasy trilogy, Dominion. It’s set in the town of Varr in the empire of Aria that is struggling with a succession crisis and a bitterly cold winter. Of the two, only the latter has some meaning to the main characters.

The book description made me expect a fairly standard fantasy plot where the lowest of the earth end up becoming kingmakers. And while it sort of turns out that way in the end, that’s not what the book is about at all.

A group of thieves steal the emperor’s crown; accidentally, it seems at first. But instead of putting it back where they found it, they hide it. Naturally there are people who want it back and they know exactly who to come after. Why is that? Does someone in their group know more than they’ve let on? The thieves’ boss has started a war with a rivalling gang, but is that random either, or is the other group after the crown too? Meanwhile, the thieves themselves disagree on the best course of action, until the only way to save their lives is to give the crown back. But nothing is as straightforward as that.

The book has three main characters with their own point of view chapters. Seth is a former novice priest expelled from his church for blasphemy—or sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong. He’s bitter and adrift, and he makes poor choices because of it. And then he gets his hands into texts that push him on a path of forbidden death magic. But is he in control of the magic, or does it control him? The book ends before we get the answer, but we’ll likely follow that story in the upcoming books.

Myla is a warrior monk who has also been expelled from her order. She’s excellent with her swords and quite deadly—and on the run. But her past is catching up with her, and it threatens the lives of the thieves with whom she has found a new home. So will she fight for them, or return home and face her past?

And then there is Fings, the greatest thief in Varr. He’s the one who does the actual stealing, and he isn’t exactly happy with being manoeuvred to doing it, especially when it puts his mother and sisters in peril. But as the forces who want the crown back press on them, he agrees with Myla that the crown must be returned—only he has an ace in his sleeve. He was my favourite of the three with his cunning plans and superstitious beliefs.

This book took a long time to get going. The characters were vague and difficult to get a hang of. A lot of space was devoted to the myths and history of Aria that didn’t really have anything to do with the plot. The reasons for Seth’s and Myla’s downfalls with their respective orders were hoarded like gold, but they turned out to be so mundane that the revelations were disappointing. It wasn’t until after the half point that I began to see what the book was about, and where it was going—and then it didn’t go there. At all. The latter half was as exciting and interesting as the first was dull, and it saved the book. The end was satisfying and complete, but it left enough questions open to lure the reader into continuing with the series.
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The Moonsteel Crown follows three perpetually down on their luck miscreants - Seth, Fings and Myla - as they become tangled up in intrigue, plots and grudges in the wake of a job they’ve pulled. Working on behalf of their vicious employer, Blackhand, and under the command of the colourfully nicknamed “Murdering Bastard,” a simple bit of burglary turns out to have potentially far-reaching ramifications for the trio, who have more than their fair share of secrets and traumas as it is. With rival gang members, sell-swords and mages all tracking them through the twisting, snow-covered streets of Varr, it will take cunning, guile, and more than a little luck if the three are to get away clean.

Myla, Seth and Fings all get a reasonable share of the spotlight here, with Myla and Seth in particular having plenty in the way of backstory too. To be honest, it’s probably a bit too much backstory, as - particularly later on - it becomes increasingly difficult to follow who is on who’s side, and what everyone’s motivations are. Things get rather complex, with flashbacks and references to prior events weaving around the main storyline - the fallout caused by what the gang have stolen - which itself has a multiple viewpoint narrative that occasionally skips back and forth. The characters often have somewhat protracted internal monologues in which they circle round possible outcomes and debate plans of action too, which can also make things difficult to follow. All in all, it’s quite a lot to keep track of.

Thankfully, The Moonsteel Crown is generally a fairly breezy read, so you won’t be having to keep track of things for too long. The dialogue crackles often, with the characters sparking off each other well, particularly old friends Seth and Fings. Action scenes are also very crunchy and well written, and easily the highlight of the book. Myla, a disgraced former sword-priest, is responsible for much of these more visceral scenes, snapping bones and separating heads from their owners with style. It’s revealed very early on that she’s running from someone, doing jobs for Blackhand and his Unrulys in an attempt to lie low. It’s unfortunate that we don’t see more of her pursuers earlier on though, as the eventual reveal behind the reason for her flight is slightly underwhelming after all its build-up.

The more comedic moments often come courtesy of Fings, a light-fingered master thief with a superstitious streak a mile wide. His willingness to spend his frequently ill-gotten gains on trinkets and knick-knacks to ward off potential witnesses to his crimes and protect against mages is a running gag throughout, making him easily the most charming of the three. His comic relief does seem slightly at odds with some of the darker elements of the story though, be it the surprisingly graphic torture and the cold-blooded murders, or the darker aspects of Seth’s arc. Tonally, things can be a little uneven - some more comic banter really wouldn’t go amiss, as the dialogue and the action are the big selling points here. Those bleaker acts of violence feel more awkward than shocking, their moral ambivalence coming across as a slightly unsubtle way to add gritty darkness to a story that doesn’t particularly benefit from it.

Things sometimes fall a little flat between the entertaining fights, with quite a lot of exposition and some slightly patchy lore which doesn’t enlighten as much as one might hope. There’s talk of three different gods, royal intrigue, unholy secrets and more besides, but the deliberate move to make the main characters largely apathetic to the motivations of the ruling class means much of the detail regarding the central plot isn’t delivered terribly organically. It’s a shame, as the world building here is interesting enough (if a little safe), but struggles to prove its relevance. The pacing also suffers thanks to frequent backtracking and gap filling, both of which are only necessary because of the strangely convoluted order Deas has chosen to tell this story in. The interluding chapters for example - mainly flashbacks detailing Seth’s life in the priesthood before his fall from grace - feel like they would have been better served as a prologue or a part one.  There are plenty of nice individual pieces to this puzzle; they just aren’t always fitted together in the most satisfying fashion.

Happily, The Moonsteel Crown has a strong finish, with the pace picking up again and the biggest fights saved until last, as well as plenty of groundwork being laid for future books. Fantasy fans are likely to find plenty to enjoy here, in what is ultimately a reasonably diverting and fun read despite some pacing issues and odd storytelling choices.
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‘The Moonsteel Crown’ is the first in a series of novels and is set in a glorious fantasy world.

Myla, an ex-sword fighting monk, and the rest of the gang are stuck committing crimes on the streets of Varr. When what seems like a normal everyday job to them goes wrong, they soon realise is that there is a lot more going on around them that they don’t know and that there’s a conspiracy against the crown.  The gang soon find themselves fighting for their lives and now it’s upto them to save the crown.

‘The Moonsteel Crown’ is a beautifully written story that is full of action and great character development.  There are also lots of funny and witty moments throughout the story. 

The author has created an amazing world which I can not wait to delve into some more.

If you like your characters sword-wielding and kick-ass then I’d highly recommend ‘The Moonsteel Crown’!

Out February 9th!
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I'm dying to know what happens next. At first, I found the story quite slow, but boy does it pick up the pace towards the end. The voices in the novel are so defined and distinguishable which really helps the reader to connect with the characters and become invested in their arcs. ⁠
Also, I'm a little obsessed with how beautiful the cover is! 💙⁠
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I don't read a lot of fantasy, but enjoyed this, which has well crafted characters, a mostly engaging plot, told in a style that worked for me. Deas is pretty prolific, so it's not surprising that this is well structured and satisfying. I'll have to circle back to some of his other work.

Thanks very much for the ARC for review!!
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It was cool. A refreshing change to see everyday characters caught up in bigger events. Myla, a former sword-monk in training; Seth, a former novice driven out of the priesthood; Fings, Seth's friend, land amid political intrigue. After being invited to join a heist by a man they call the Murderous Bastard, they find themselves fighting for their lives. Instead of a reward, they discover a conspiracy involving the recent assassination of the emperor and somehow get the Moonsteel Crown into their hands. The thing is all contenders to the throne want the crown. Some will do lethal things to get it. 

While the pacing could be better, I liked the characters enough to get through slower parts of the book for them. A fun read.
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The Moonsteel Crown by Stephen Deas

#TheMoonsteelCrown #NetGalley #angryrobot

The Moonsteel Crown is a highly enjoyable read – I usually switch between several fiction books at a time, but I had Stephen Deas’ latest novel in high enough rotation that I finished it in 3 days. What seems like a plot that has been done to death (low lives recruited to commit a crime, nothing goes as planned, everyone wants them dead, etc. in a medieval-ish setting) is a wonderful read with fully developed protagonists and an extremely dense plot. The three slum-dwelling protagonists: a novice priest kicked out of his order, a sword-monk who deserted her training, and a superstitious thief, are very sympathetic characters, and the story does not set aside any of their plot lines for so long that the reader risks forgetting what is going on. The plot is complicated by the politics of the empire, which the protagonists have little interest in, and their backstories, which are their main concerns.

If I could improve anything in The Moonsteel Crown, it would be to include a map of the city and a map of the empire. I would also have liked a clearer indication of when the interludes set in the past occur relative to the main action; but neither of these things interfered with my enjoyment of the book.
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A fantasy novel of the traditional swords and sorcery type. The world-building is pushed early and often, making the plot seem secondary to all of the information readers need to take in at the very beginning to understand the novel's politics, factions, religions, industries, classes, and so on; it would have made for a better and less fraught read if this had been introduced more gradually and naturally. The plot is fine, I suppose, but neither it nor the characters are particularly compelling. Everyone's got secrets, everyone's hiding from someone, everyone's got great skills at something. It was more like reading about somebody's D&D campaign than a novel.
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