Evil is rising. The world is rent by strife. The gods have turned away from us. In times past, heroes of sword and sorcery have always risen to turn back the tide of darkness… But what will become of us all, now that swords are obsolete, sorcery is industrialized, and heroism itself is considered a relic of the past?
The times are changing…
To be honest, when I first started reading this webserial, I thought it was terribly similar to Tales of MU by Alexandra Erin. A student goes to a University run by a elf, meets a group of diverse friends which includes a dryad, a pirate princess, a half-demon… and the similarities end there, because The Gods are Bastards is much, much better. Take note, there are spoilers present in this review.
It’s not really marketed as such, but in addition to its fantasy western genre, it is also satirizes adventure-themed MMORPG games and tourist economies. Adventure itself is an economic driving force. The setting is such that where fightable and loot-able monsters can be found, genre-savvy locals are there capitalizing on wannabe adventurers by setting up taverns with adventuring paraphernalia and deliberately cultivating monster populations. Despite the fact that at the time the story begins the golden age of adventures is skidding to a halt due to increasing intolerance from the Empire for trouble-seeking adventurers, adventuring fiction is a hugely popular among the masses; frontier folks and even wannabe adventurers themselves read such books and style their behavior in remarkably self-aware (and occasionally pretentious) ways. Professor Tellwryn herself even used to be an infamous high-level adventurer.
The prose is marvelously descriptive, and while there are a few typos, it doesn’t detract away from my overall enjoyment. Aside from the viewpoint of the students – which mostly involves them getting into trouble at the University and the ups and downs of their ‘field trips’ – the story also follows a bishop from the Universal Church with loyalties to four different factions and who is also heavily involved in the happenings of the capital city, who opens a window to a deeper understanding of the current political climate in the Tiraas Empire.
The magic system itself is also intensive and thoughtful; I love how Webb manages to integrate and classify the different types of magic, each with varying degrees of effectiveness against the others, which justifies the need for assorted characters to work together in order to resolve a situation.
However, the author is meticulous in crafting a world in which pure magical strength and variety may not be enough to save the day. Even though the University students are a magically badass crew, they are young and prone to acting in marvelously brainless ways. One of the best things about the characterizations is how the protagonists actions are so justifiable to themselves that it also seems reasonable to the readers; we don’t have that ‘why did you do something so stupid!’ moment at the characters, because we realize only later in hindsight that they may have behaved dumbly.
One of the best things is how morality is not just black-and-white. A divine paladin who is committed to the protection of the people can also be overzealous in judging the demonbloods, and the demonbloods themselves may be misunderstood but still bring trouble down onto their own heads by acting provocatively. The Queen of Demons herself may be widely be thought of as evil, but then we learn that her ill reputation is due to thousands of years of the other gods spreading propaganda against her.
What can I say, I love The Gods are Bastards. Give it a try, I’m sure you would too!