The Wandering Inn by pirateaba

Rating 8.0/10
[Binge-reading level 22!] [Procrastination +3!] [Sleep -5!]

Well.

What started as a curiosity quickly turned into an addiction. This is only volume 1 of a web serial, and I'd be lying if I didn't say I've already spent an hour copying and pasting and building my own ebook of volume 2.

This is Erin's story, a young white woman who finds herself in a foreign medieval fantasy land with no idea how or why. Her survival instincts and quite a bit of luck finds her taking over an abandoned inn in the wilderness. As she forages for food and supplies, she starts to discover new races, new monsters, and a new system of how intelligent life works through a leveling class and skill system. Erin is easy to like: she's caring and brave, innocent and flawed. She tries to do the right thing, bringing her Earth sensibilities with her, but it doesn't always translate easily to this new atmosphere.

This is also Ryoka's story, a half-Japanese woman who also finds herself in this new world. She's intelligent, fierce, and gifted at running. She has parlayed her physical prowess info a job as a courier, which takes her across the continent and lands her in front of various characters of interest. She also refuses to accept the hand that she's dealt, and her anger and strong will puts her in hot water more than it helps her out of it. We spend some time in Ryoka's head, as the narrative shifts into first-person for some passages, and the audience becomes privvy to her thought process. Good thing, too, as she rarely speaks more than one-word sentences to those she doesn't care for. Which is just about everyone.

This is also the story of the various races, cultures, mages, ant-people, hyena-people, drakes, and humans that populate the land at large. There are wars, there are adventurers, there are dangerous monsters and hidden agendas. There is love and there is loss. There's death. A LOT of death. Way, way more than I was prepared for by book's end. As the main cast continues to expand, we start to spend time with ancillary characters and learn more about the politics and economy of the world at large. 1300 pages into this story, and we're just scratching the surface at what this massive web serial epic has to offer.

Since this is a web serial that posts 10,000-word chapters twice a week (!!), we are reading what is essentially a first draft of this story. The author, publicly known only as pirateaba, has been a machine of consistency, as she is in the midst of her fifth volume -- about 6000 pages in total -- after only two years of writing. While there are a smattering of plot inconsistencies and grammatical issues, the sum of this story is greater than its parts: just when you think you're reading about a typical evening at the Wandering Inn, a casual game of chess morphs into a quiet moment of reflection and growth. Or finding the right ingredient for dinner feels much bigger than a small victory. Or an act of rebellion in the face of long odds makes you cheer and wince, unsure of what consequences will stem from it. Because there's nothing certain in this story: major events turn on a dime, people's fates are decided suddenly and violently, and mysteries hint at much larger things ahead.

This is one of those stories, like Wildbow's "Worm," where all of your other interests are put aside so you can tear into this story as quickly as possible. Because this is also OUR story. We are pulled through this portal just as much as Erin and Ryoka, and we experience all of their victories and losses, breakthroughs and tragedies, laughter and fear, together. Whether you only have time to spend a single chapter hanging out in Erin's common room, drinking blue juice and eating acid flies with the rest of her chess group, or if you're binging through a hundred-page exploration of undead ruins, there's always a reason to come back to the Inn. And I will be there for the long haul.

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