Death is a real nuisance. You can’t move, you can’t see, you can’t – well, let’s be honest here, you can’t do much at all. The best you can manage is a bit of basic decomposition, but it’s not really something to brag about (not that you can talk anyway). On the plus side though, you do get some well-deserved shuteye. That is, unless you’re awakened by a rogue necromancer who runs monthly entertainment nights for his undead minions.
This is Mogworld, the debut novel by Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw, most famous for his scathing online video game reviews and opinion pieces for The Escapist. Regular viewers will be able to pick up on his style of humour very quickly, though those unfamiliar with the Australian-based British-born game reviewer may need to take a chapter or two to adjust.
Mogworld has been described as what Terry Pratchett would have written had he been addicted to video games in his youth. In his book Yahtzee takes the magical fantasy genre and tips it on its head, blending fantasy elements with his knowledge and passion for gaming. Not to spoil too much, but the world the characters inhabit isn’t quite all that it seems. Maybe you can work it out if I tell you that the “Mog” of Mogworld is actually an acronym for something else…
The choice to write from a first person perspective was a wise decision. Yahtzee is able to transpose both his thoughts and his feelings into the protagonist Jim, an undead low-level mage, resulting in a character that’s more like Victor Meldrew than Frodo Baggins. Jim is an unheroic and irritable character driven only by a strong desire to be dead again, constantly irked by his companions; his mundane thoughts are at constant odds with the fantastical world he is forced to inhabit and the reality shifts he has to face during the story’s progression.
“Mogworld has been described as what Terry Pratchett would have written had he been addicted to video games”
And yet he still remains a lovable character. Despite his flaws you can sympathise with his plight, the only sane man in a world full of blood-crazed suicidal barbarians, corrupt guild officials and terminally depressed citizens. He’s the straight man, one you can sympathise with despite his terminal undead status. He hasn’t got superpowers, he’s not special, and he’s as flawed as the next man (or zombie, if you’d prefer); yet by the end of the book you find yourself rooting for him to succeed in his desire to finally “requiescat in pace”.
Juxtaposing Jim is a range of colourful characters that serve to work up his (congealed) blood pressure, including Slippery John the inept thief and Barry the Vicar. By the end of the story most of the supporting characters’ paths have intertwined but at no point does it ever feel forced – they interact with one another seamlessly, despite how utterly ridiculous everything gets towards the closing chapters. One word of advice before picking up Mogworld: if you can’t tell me what an MMO is, or what WoW is all about, you may want to think twice before reading. Yahtzee has done an excellent job of balancing general humour against video game humour, but ultimately many of the subtler jokes will be missed, and the overall story, whilst far from complex, will be better appreciated by those readers who know how to tell their FPSs apart from their RTSs.
All in all, Mogworld remains one of my favourite books, funny and somewhat fresh despite some minor repetition of jokes I’ve already heard from his online review series. A fun, immersive read all round.