Guild of Tokens by Jon Auerbach

7/10 If you enjoy urban fantasy and morally grey characters this is the one for you

Jon Auerbach treats us to a rousing litRPG-like adventure through Manhattan. Guild of Tokens is a unique blend of genres, one-part urban fantasy, one-part litRPG, and one-part mystery. There’s a lot to like in Auerbach’s first novel.

Guild of Tokens has one of the most unique and interesting concepts I’ve ever encountered. Our main character, Jen Jacobs, discovers what is essentially a Craigslist for weird quests in New York City. Of course, there is something deeper going on, and Jen discovers secrets about herself and the world and the way the world works that are absolutely mind boggling. I was immediately drawn into this world and while the ideas here are absolutely fantastical the entire concept also seems incredibly believable. That may be, at least partially, down to the relatable main character Auerbach gives us in Jen Jacobs. You care about her immediately, and find many of your own thoughts echoed in her viewpoint as she is discovering this hidden world. Her emotions as she uncovers mystery upon mystery also seem very authentic and real-to-life. Yet it’s not only the world that shines here, but Jen as a character. She’s hurting and broken in some ways, just trying to get by. As readers, we can empathize with her. She’s obviously trying to work through things. It’s very fun to read about, but there are also moments of pain because we see her making poor decisions, or at least decisions we know will end up bringing her more pain. The book, without being at all preachy, feels at times as if it’s a warning about the dangers of addiction. With both the MC and several of the side characters, Auerbach has given us textured, deep, morally grey characters that are excellent fun. It’s impressive to find characters that are so morally gray and yet feel so relatable.

One of the weaknesses for the book, from my perspective anyway, was a tendency to begin chapters by jumping forward in time from the end of the last chapter and then having a flashback to fill in the missing time. A few times, instead of a flashback, we simply have the character thinking about what happened. For me, this absolutely destroyed the tension inherent in the ending of some chapters. I wanted to know what happened next, and instead jumped forward several hours, days, or even weeks, and then had to have all the rest backfilled. It’s a method I’m never thrilled with and I don’t think it worked at all for the pacing of the novel. There are also a couple moments that strain credulity in terms of some of the characters and their ability to sort of just ignore friends, family, or jobs in order to give themselves fully to quests. Yes, I know, I’m willing to believe magic exists in a novel, but I’m picking on the believability of someone ignoring a job? It does seem a bit hypocritical, but for me some of that just didn’t seem to fit.

Guild of Tokens is a fun read that keeps you engaged. The sense of mystery and discovery is second to none and the main character is highly relatable. If you enjoy urban fantasy and morally grey characters this is the one for you.

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