Now this is what I'm talking about.
I've seen Iron Prince, by Bryce O'Connor and Luke Chmilenko, called "Cradle meets Ender's Game."
Yep. That's what it is.
Imagine, if you will, Lindon going through the space combat training in Ender's Game using the level-up system from Solo Leveling. That's the pitch, okay? That's an accurate general vibe.
But that's just what gets you in the door.
This is a sci-fi setting, and what a setting. The authors had to have put in a truly staggering amount of work into making this world feel lived-in and complete.
This whole story is about a guy named Rei learning to cyborg fight using a super-advanced semi-magical weapon that bonds with him and gives him superhuman upgrades that he has to gradually unlock.
How does he unlock them, you ask? By working himself to death...and fighting.
There's combat, tons of combat, so much combat that you might be like "But Will, isn't that too much combat?" After I put up one finger to silence your beautiful mouth, I would whisper "No. And how dare you."
Because it really isn't. Each fight is tactical and crunchy, not to mention visually spectacular, but almost all the battles also teach you something about the combat system and the world, have high emotional stakes for the main character, and advance the plot in some way.
You know how some stories, including some stories written by me, have fights that are just there to BE fights and don't really seem necessary to the plot or the emotions of the characters?
That is almost entirely absent here. The authors go to great lengths to make sure that the stakes of each battle are clearly laid out.
Now, I did say almost entirely absent. I'll get to that. But you can afford one or two fights that aren't strictly necessary when you have so...much...page space.
Oh, did I not mention it's eleven hundred pages long?
This is a thicc one, ladies and gentlemen.
For being the size of the first three books of Cradle, it also has progression appropriate for that length. Rei starts buried beneath the bottom of the barrel and desperately claws his way to the top.
Only, of course, for you to realize that the "top" is really just the beginning.
Whenever I recommend a book, I try to be fair enough to share its weaknesses as well. I want you to hear my passion for the story, but I don't want you to think I'm saying it's perfect. No story is, so I'll get into the drawbacks in just a second.
Right after I reiterate that these were but tiny ticks on the back of a majestic tiger. Okay? None of these problems remotely held me back from giving this book my coveted golden W sticker of approval.
1.) While most of the fights are necessary, some aren't.
There are a few fights we watch that are just fights for the sake of fights. As a rule of thumb, when nobody whose name you already know is competing, it's safe to skim the fight.
2.) The technical fight descriptions can sometimes be too detailed.
Is this just a sub-heading of the first one? Maybe it should be 1a.
Anyway, even the great fights are described blow-by-blow. Which is for the most part to the book's overwhelming benefit, but some contests go on a lot longer than they perhaps should because we see every single blow.
3.) A handful of minor dialogue issues.
Now, I think the dialogue as a whole in this book is actually pretty strong. Characters come across as relatable but professional, motivated and educated, and convey their emotions clearly and believably.
But there are some times when a line falls flat here and there, some characters who sound a little too much like one another, frequent uses of lines like "dummy" and "jerk" to tease friends, etc.
Just enough that, collectively, I thought I'd mention them as a nitpick. Nothing that puts a fly in my soup or an angry wolverine in my hat.
4.) One particular romantic sub-plot between major characters.
I don't want to get to any spoiler territory here, but this was the only part of the book that I would actually call a problem, rather than something that could perhaps be tweaked.
Essentially, one of the main character's friends starts pursuing a relationship with the antagonist even after the guy has repeatedly assaulted the main character.
This would be like if Malfoy pulled a gun on Harry in front of the whole class, and the next day Hermione asked Malfoy out. Really soured me on that character for the rest of the book.
Those are the worst complaints I could come up with.
Were any of them deal-breakers? No. Not by a long margin. If I'm nitpicking about a romantic sub-plot that didn't even involve the main character, then my biggest complaint is but a gnat landing on the radiant mustache of God.
Incidentally, I enjoyed the main character's romance sub-plot. Mainly because his love interest is a cool person, I believe their chemistry together, and she does awesome things in this book with the promise of more to come in the future.
Here's my Pros list.
1.) Book good. Read book.
This is the sort of deep analytical insight you only learn after extensive education and a long writing career.
For real, everybody, this is a good one.
People keep asking me for series that are "like Cradle" and I'm like "Eeeehhhh...a lot of the stuff I enjoy isn't really like Cradle, and the books that are like Cradle I often don't enjoy very much."
Here it is. This is my new answer: Iron Prince is like Cradle, and it's really good, and you should read it if the premise sounds at all appealing to you.
Personal Bias Disclaimer: I shared this book when it came out a month ago on Facebook, because I thought the cover looked cool and I trusted Bryce and Luke enough to know that the book would at least be good. At that point, I hadn't read it.
Now I've read it. It's way better than I thought it was going to be.
I've met Bryce and Luke in real life a couple of times, and they're both stellar human beings with eyes of diamond and hearts of granite, so I do know them a bit and I do consider them my friends.
But uh...being my friend is not a guarantee that I'll like or review your book. It may be the opposite, honestly. I give pretty brutal feedback to my loved ones.
Asking me for my opinion is like dangling your bloody hand over a shark. I have way closer friends whose books I didn't recommend here because I didn't like their story enough.
If I don't love the book, I don't recommend it.
I love this book, so I recommend it.
That's Will Wight's patented one-step review test. "Did you love the book? If yes, recommend."
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