The Wandering Inn is a web serial and literary version of a role-playing game, which really ought to say all you need to know–except it is also literary crack. Like a game, it’s almost impossible to stop once you start.
The story begins with a young woman, Erin Solstice, running for her life from a band of goblins. She finds safety of sorts at an abandoned inn and comes to make it her own. The first few chapters are rough by most readers’ evaluation, but as the world comes into focus, it rapidly gets more interesting. Like a role-playing game, people in this world ‘level’ in skills, with their ability to do something successfully impacted by skill level. Some people possess unique [skill]s. Erin levels quickly in [Innkeeping] as she works to make the inn habitable. She’s a kind and generous soul, despite the landscape and local denziens attempting to eat and/or poison her. Two beings stop by her inn one night, a lizard-like drake named Relc, and the insectoid Antinium, Klbkch. Both beings are ranking members of the local City Watch, and end up befriending and orienting Erin, tempting her to go to the city for supplies.
There’s a rough overarching plot in this book, but not in a way that feels like each chapter advances solidly towards an ultimate goal. In this, it reminds me most of the RPG genre; there may be an end reward or an ultimate boss one is supposed to find and conquer, but it is very easy to be distracted with side quests, explorations, and plain old leveling. To be sure, many of the side stops are interesting, and if they aren’t, a new chapter will likely bring another direction.
The writing is a bit rough in the beginning but rapidly improves. By the end, I was getting all the detail I could have wished and more, with very full fight scenes, both physical and in chess. This is where an editor would have proved very useful, but instead, Pirateaba says, “it’s free, just read.” I skimmed quite a bit at times, not because it was necessarily bad, but because it was too detailed, or it was headed somewhere I didn’t especially want to go (not everyone wants to do the same quests, you know). Still, it was riveting by the end, and kept me on the exercise bike an extra 30 minutes. Hurrah!
The characterization is curious. I wouldn’t say the characters are flat, a complaint often leveled at the genre. In fact, Erin’s moderately irritating, with a surprising lack of curiosity about how the world around her. She often reacts with a, “that’s not right,” rather than seeking to understand. It’s a peculiar kind of mindset that doesn’t belong in a traveler, and for the experienced reader, it can grow tiresome. Another main character, Ryoka Griffin appears in an Interlude and can be equally difficult, although in different ways. Although she thinks about this world, she has a similar tendency to react emotionally.
Will it work for you? Hard to say, but Pirateaba–presumably, a pseudonym–has graciously made it all available for free on the interwebs. Best place to read is here, so you can sample it for yourself.
What I’ve discovered from reading serials, based on Ilona Andrews’ Innkeeper books, and this book, is that I probably prefer the finished version. I don’t really enjoy the installment structure (I lose the immersion ability and have memory issues from week to week), and I prefer the polish that the editing process brings. That said, both Andrews and Pirateba have writing ability, and there’s something that keeps me engaged despite occasionally feeling like there’s too much filler. In fact, I’ll say The Wandering Inn series has the edge over the Andrews latest Innkeeper, which is heavily romance-focused.
Pirateaba is up to Volume Five in the series, and puts out installments biweekly. They have a Patreon account, which pays well by all accounts, allowing Pirateaba to do this as a full-time job. Patreons get early access and bonus material, but otherwise it’s free, and Pirateaba makes a point of saying so on the Kindle purchasing page. I find this non-marketing intriguing; I can’t tell if it is generous or arrogant. I’d much, much rather have a e-book than try to read a story on my computer. I spend too much time with my computer as it is, between work, internet, goodreads and gaming, and it isn’t exactly ergonomical or portable. And if I’d pay to become a Patreon, why not pay for a book? The Kindle edition is listed at 1158 pages; definitely not computer-reading-friendly. Anyway, that’s my own reaction on the platform. Volume One is available for Kindle purchase–I did–but suspect my interest in following volumes will be limited due to format. I did, of course, start the next to see where it would end. It isn’t long before Pirateaba pulls some surprises out of the hat and starts to weave together a few earlier dangling threads. Unfortunately, that means that it’s not the sort of story that one jumps in in the middle–everyone’s got to start at the starting zone.