Travis Bagwell's "Catharsis (Awaken Online #1)"
For those that have been keeping up with my reading habits, I think it’s pretty clear that my foray into the LitRPG genre hasn’t been anything to write home about (apart from Mr. Wright’s Hell’s Glitch Series). I found the few LitRPGs other than that series to be underwhelming, and was worried that the rest of the Lit RPGs on my tbr would be more of the same. Thankfully, that thinking changed when I happened upon a book deal, completely by chance, and this random buy was, you guessed it, a LitRPG book. So, ladies and gents, Travis Bagwell’s Awaken Online: Catharsis.
Evil. What is evil? Favoritism, blackmail, murder? Doing whatever it takes in your quest to achieve your goals, no matter how ruthless the decisions? Or is it merely just going against the grain that is the norm? What makes a person evil is one of the central questions/themes of AO, and the way Bagwell tackles this is nothing less than stellar.
We follow the bullied, beaten and underappreciated Jason, a young man who has to deal with pompous rich kids and just as well off school faculty that look down on him because he isn’t as financially secure as them (he’s not poor, but he’s nowhere near rich either). Having to deal with bullying from peers as well as faculty, Jason seeks an escape, and he finds it in the new VR game, Awaken Online.
We are carried along for the ride as he learns the rules of the game world, while simultaneously trying to deal with the problems in his personal life, some that bleed over into the game world. What I enjoyed about this is that Jason is…human. I don’t mean that his game character is human, though it is; I mean that Jason is one of the more relatable mcs in a LitRPG that I’ve read; flaws make a person believable, and inexperience helps the reader empathize. Jason has both of these, but he doesn’t allow either to hold him back. He pushes forward during times many would cave and give up, and watching as he grows from a fledgling player to the force he becomes down the line, well it is a treat!
There are fewer things I enjoy more than complex, well-developed characters, and we have that in Jason. Watching the trials he goes through, both in real life and in-game, it allows you to learn just what type of person he is, be that good or bad, won’t disclose. However, I will say that Jason is unlike most protagonists I’ve read thus far, and not just in LitRPGs. His character, as well as Onyx, and the other side characters are realized in a way that has the reader wanting to know more about them, wanting to spend more time with them, if not just to see what they’ll do next, and that’s why I’m looking forward to starting the sequel in the very near future.
Awaken Online: Catharsis is a gem in the LitRPG genre, and an entertaining read all the way through. With an easy to grasp game system, complex characters, and thematic elements that leave you thinking about the book long after you’ve finished it, you can’t go wrong with Awaken Online.