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Otherland #1

City of Golden Shadow

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Renie Sulaweyo, a teacher in the South Africa of tomorrow, realizes something is wrong on the network. Kids, including her brother Stephen, have logged into the net, and cannot escape. Clues point to a mysterious golden city called Otherland, but investigators all end up dead.

780 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published December 5, 1996

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About the author

Tad Williams

230 books6,426 followers
Tad Williams is a California-based fantasy superstar. His genre-creating (and genre-busting) books have sold tens of millions worldwide, in twenty-five languages. His considerable output of epic fantasy and science fiction book-series, stories of all kinds, urban fantasy novels, comics, scripts, etc., have strongly influenced a generation of writers: the ‘Otherland’ epic relaunches June 2018 as an MMO on steam.com. Tad is currently immersed in the creation of ‘The Last King of Osten Ard’, planned as a trilogy with two intermediary novels. He, his family and his animals live in the Santa Cruz mountains in a suitably strange and beautiful house. @tadwilliams @mrstad

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,011 reviews
Profile Image for Mario the lone bookwolf.
733 reviews3,392 followers
April 4, 2021
A very complex, unique series, mixing up different genres, never boring because of Williams´ talent and feeling for language, it describes one of the possible, awaiting futures, making dystopian cyberpunk seem empty in contrast to this rich, colorful, postcyberpunk worldbuilding. I have the suspicion that the inventors of the cyber and post cyber genre names just wanted to pimp, because there is not so much difference.

William's style reminded me a bit of Neil Gaiman, just expanded to the ultimate maximum possible. He is one of the possibly most unknown and underrated master fantasy authors, having created 2 series, this one and Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn that made him a living legend. He puts so many details, extra plotlines, secondary characters, and worldbuilding into his creations that he can be named in one line with Sanderson, Martin, Erikson, etc. and especially the ones who gave the fantasy sci-fi crossover genre a new hype such as Mievielle, Hamilton, etc.

Science Fantasy isn´t everyone´s favorite, this might be, besides the length and complexity of many plotlines, one of the reasons why this series hasn´t the same status as works of similar quality by Simmons, Martin, Erikson, and others. It would interest me if it would have been a bigger hit in a pure middle age fantasy setting, if conventions are really so mighty that they reduce the chance of success for experimentations.

And it has everything, predicting some already real and coming technological inventions, although other authors did the same before, a lack of net neutrality with corporations and rich tycoons controlling everything and fewer chances for normal people to participate at the same level, a teeny plotline, a digital second world, time travel, and many small stories executed in subplots like sidequests, make it a pearl for the ones who are a bit overeaten of and fed up with conventional, pure fantasy or sci-fi. And it stays so vivid, I´ve read it years ago and just by looking at the beautiful covers, I remember so many details, so many proofs of how ingenious he is at transporting lasting imaginations into the reader´s minds.

Although some might find it too big, wordy, and excessive, it´s also everything else than easy to enter, one has to invest the time it takes to read a shorter novel to get into the story because there is much exposition needed, but it´s so worth it and gets better with each part of the series. One should not forget that Williams is one of the before internet hype era bestselling authors, with 17 million copies sold, who seems to have been a bit forgotten, but this and Memory, sorrow, and thorn, also getting better with each part, should be on one's radar because it frees from searching new brain food for several weeks.

Tropes show how literature is conceptualized and created and which mixture of elements makes works and genres unique:
Profile Image for Chris.
341 reviews950 followers
March 12, 2008
Let me just start by saying this: the first time I finished this series, I immediately went back and started reading it again. I can't think of any other series that I've done that with.

This is one of Tad Williams' "economy-sized manuscripts," similar to his fantasy classic Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. Similar in size and scope, anyway - four giant tomes chock full of all things awesome. It's a series of grand scope, amazing scale and great imagination, well worthy of your time. Seriously, top-shelf stuff here, people.

It begins with the children in a near-future world. Renie Sulaweyo, a teacher in South Africa, has a brother in the hospital. He, like many other children around the world, has gone into an inexplicable coma, the causes of which defy medical science. The only clue she has is that the outbreaks of these comas coincide with the availability of access to the Net - a virtual reality internet that is what Second Life dreams of becoming. Here, depending on your equipment, you can live in a virtual world that is more vibrant and exciting than anything the real world can offer. And you can do it in full sense-surround 3D.

Renie's brother, Stephen, engaged in the usual mischief that any kid with access to his own virtual universe might do, and finally got caught. Something shut him down, and Renie was determined to find out. With the assistance of her student, a Bushman named !Xabbu, Renie uncovers an amazing virtual world, something that puts the best virtual reality to shame. It is the Otherland, a playground for the obscenely wealthy. And it may hold the secret to what has afflicted her brother.

That's the short version. There's a ton of other storylines going on in there as well. There's young Orlando Gardiner, who compensates for a crippling illness by being the baddest barbarian on the net. There's little Christabel Sorenson, upon whose earnest desire to help the funny-looking Mister Sellars the entire future of the Otherland rests. There's the aptly-named Dread, an assassin extraordinare whose strange "twist" gives him an edge in all things electronic. And, of course, there is Paul Jonas, a man trapped in an imaginary world, whose escape threatens the greatest dreams of the richest men the world has ever known.

All of this, as the series title suggests, centers on the Otherland project, a virtual reality of monumental proportions. It's a world that is more real than the real world is, a world of digitally-created, but very deadly, dangers. The slightest misstep could spell disaster.

And just FYI, Otherland predates The Matrix by three years and, kung-fu aside, is a much better story.

The really fun part is re-discovering things in this series. There are some things I remember very clearly, but other little details that pop up and make me think, "Oh yeah, I forgot all about that." There's just so much stuff crammed into this series that even after two back-to-back readings, I still let details slip away.

So, make a sandwich and find a comfortable place to sit. This'll take a while, but I guarantee - it'll be worth it.
Profile Image for Rachel (TheShadesofOrange).
1,959 reviews2,672 followers
January 19, 2023
3.5 Stars
This was a fascinating epic science fiction story that explored ideas of virtual reality in a fun, yet intellectual way. Published in 1996, some of the concepts felt a bit dated, while in other places, the author’s vision of the future was remarkably close to reality. Blending together genres, this book felt different than the science fiction I have read. 

As a piece of epic science fiction, this novel was quite long with several different character perspectives that eventually started to come together towards the end of the book. I loved the friendship between the Renie & !Xabbu as well as the inclusion of South African mythology. While there is a good amount of action in this novel, the characters were what really drew me into the story. 

This is the first book in a series and readers should be aware that this first book does not stand on its own. As the first of four volumes, this book felt incomplete since the series was intended to be read as a single work. Towards the end of this novel, I found myself a bit fatigued by the lengthy reading experience. However, I definitely want to continue with this series. I am actually quite tempted to re-read this volume first because I feel like I didn’t pick up all the threads of the story. I suspect this series could become a favourite as I spend more time in this future. I would recommend this one to anyone itching for an epic science fiction story filled with mystery and fantastical adventures. 
Profile Image for Michael.
274 reviews746 followers
June 11, 2010
Robert Jordan level wordulency,
plus SF internet idea outdated before its publication date,
minus appealing writing style,
divided by Michael Springer's mid-semester attention span,
times 90-bunjillion pages in four volumes,
equals "FUCK YOU, TAD WILLIAMS, YOU GO TO HELL! YOU GO TO HELL AND YOU DIE! YOU FUCKIN' DIE! WHAT THE FUCK!" *Throws book against the wall, then walks over and urinates on it*

(Okay, so I actually just took it back to Half Price Books. Whatever.)
Profile Image for Claudia.
942 reviews503 followers
July 8, 2021
” The world was all mud and wire. The war in the heavens was only a faint imitation of the horror men had learned to make.”

Tad Williams is one of the few who can write fantasy and science fiction with the same amazing skills. He’s a born storyteller, too bad he’s underrated. But it’s the readers’ loss.

I think City of Golden Shadow is the most complex story I have read so far. It’s a post-cyberpunk at the base, with the most intricate VR I have ever encountered in a book. It's not an easy read, but hell, it was all worth it!

Totally different worlds and genres are mingled together in a VR like no other: WWI meets Jack and the beanstalk, ancient Egypt with its Gods, chess pieces are brought to life, Mars is present too, there is even a snuff club, many other more locations and characters, and above them all an (presumably) AI at which we barely have a glimpse here. Steampunk, fantasy, historical fiction, horror - all have a part in it.

The journey starts from a little boy who enters in a coma after being online, and his sister, Renie, suspects that it has something to do with the VR. Trying to understand what happened, and with the help of a few others, she discovers something beyond any imagination.

Beside her storyline, there are several others’, and you, as the characters themselves, will not know for sure when and where they are: in the VR or RL. There are snippets at the beginning of each chapter with news from RL, apparently not related to the storyline, but toward the end the connection becomes obvious. I also think their role is not to lose yourself completely in the VR. The following one was very amusing to me – at least here we were able to host the event:

NETFEED/SPORTS: TMX Makes Olympic "Goodwill Gesture"

(visual: TMX/Olympic flag rippling over Athenaeum, Bucharest)

VO: Telemorphix, Inc. has made what it calls a "goodwill gesture" to resolve its dispute with the International Olympic Committee and the government of the Wallachian Republic. Instead of "The Telemorphix Bucharest Olympic Games," as the corporation had initially insisted the event be known, the official name will be "The Bucharest Olympic Games, Sponsored by Telemorphix."

I can’t put into words how complex and amazing it is; maybe for a veteran gamer it will not be that astonishing, but for me it was an incredible journey. Yes, it’s very long, and it doesn’t have closure, because it’s just the first part of the story; as the author told us, “it’s not really a series – it's one very, very long novel".

If you're not a fan of long stories, then skip it - for Tad Williams, the story is not about the destination, it's the journey that’s important. But if you love them, this is one of the most amazing stories, with an incredible worldbuilding and a bunch of odd characters (both real and virtual) that will grow on you – you'll either love those worthy of it and hate the villains, but none of them will leave you indifferent.

One more thing: as these days is the European Football Championship, below fragment made me laugh so hard, it’s was so fitting, because all I hear from my colleagues in the morning are talks about the matches:

”Renie had heard a colleague say that men were like dogs; if so, it was never more apparent than when they watched the movement of a ball.”
Profile Image for Nnedi.
Author 154 books14.7k followers
December 13, 2009
I love this series. I read it years ago, picking it up only because of the cool cover. It's not the type of book I usually read. I'm not a fan of cyberpunk lit. But then again, Otherland is far from typical. Heck the main characters are black South Africans (unlike in District 9, Tad's rendering is realistic and free of prejudice).

*Smile*, little did I know that years later, my novel would be bought by the very editor who worked on this awesome series.

I'm on page 268 and I'm enjoying it in the same way that I enjoyed it back in the late 90s. I LOVE !Xabbu. Back in when I first read it, I was totally in love with his character. Like he seemed like The perfect guy. He still does. I totally relate to Renee on many levels. Long Joseph is a great character. When Tad is with Christabel, Mr. Sellars and Orlando, I'm happy.

But whenever Tad's with the Grail Brotherhood or Dread or Paul, I'm totally bored- that's when I start skimming. Paul never interested me because he was always confused and in the dark (often literally) and his plot felt too traditionally fantasy (which bores me). The Grail Brotherhood...ugh, wholly uninteresting- all the Egyptian persona and such seem silly. Dread...he's just a bad guy, ya know? Heh.

Also, I've always had a hard time with novels that jump from point of view to point of view too often. I get frustrated because I get really into one story and then we're off to another story and I have to work to get interested all over again. This is especially frustrating when I read on the Stairmaster (which I do a LOT).

Nevertheless, I am enjoying rereading this series and will happily continue...

Ok, finally done. Loved it. I'm tempted to move right on to part two but I've got Under the Dome to contend with first. :-)
Profile Image for seak.
429 reviews475 followers
April 16, 2015
Tad Williams has been one of those authors I'd never really gotten around to even though he's a pillar of fantasy literature. Technically, I did read his story contained in Songs of the Dying Earth (which was excellent), but never one of his mainstays such as Otherland and his epic, Memory, Sorry, and Thorn series.

Apparently that day has come and I've officially read Tad Williams. And what did I think? I hate to say this, but mostly meh.

That's not to say I didn't enjoy City of Golden Shadow, but for the ending we get (i.e., the status of the characters at the end), there's not really a whole lot to show for it. It's a long book, and not really all that much happens. There are tons of mysteries, but I found myself not really caring about some of the main characters and that made it difficult to say the least.

At the same time, I feel compelled to go on. Though I was disappointed with where we got in the end of the book, I wasn't so much disappointed in the ending itself. It was exciting to finally see things moving along, to see progress. I was finally sucked in by the end, but how did it take just under 800 pages to do that?

I won't go into the story, I feel like I'm one of the last to finally discover Williams so it's weird describing it, but it's interesting and mysterious and I guess that's what kept my interest for so long.

Additionally, I listened to this on audio and I really wonder if I would have pushed through had I been reading this page by page. It's so long and slow-moving, I honestly think I might have given up. I'm glad I listened to it because I'm excited to see what happens now that the story can finally begin. But that's one long intro.

And I have to say that the narrator, George Newbern, did an excellent job. That certainly helped as well. His accents for the different characters, including Indian, Spanish, and Bushman (!Xabbu) were always impressive. He switched through them effortlessly as well and though some sounded similar, it was also distinct.

Overall, I'm glad I finally read City of Golden Shadow and after doing so (to completion I might add) I'm convinced that Williams deserves the praise he gets. I was bored at times, but interested and even captivated at other times. I enjoyed it in the end, but I don't know if it's worth the slog for everyone because it really was a slog at times. I'll have to read more in the series for more incite.

3 out of 5 Stars (for a slow start but eventual payoff - recommended)
Profile Image for David Katzman.
Author 3 books440 followers
August 6, 2021
This is my second book by Tad Williams. I didn’t much enjoy The Dragonbone Chair, which I reviewed here. Based on recommendations of this series, I wanted to give him another chance. I fear Tad Williams just isn’t for me.

City of Golden Shadow was a step up in some ways from how I felt about The Dragonebone Chair...which wasn’t bad per se but just didn’t grab me. This novel had a relatively interesting plot and at least one or two interesting characters. It was a step-up in overall quality for me, but I can’t say it really compelled me too deeply either. It’s an amalgamation of little things that failed to elevate this book to a must-read.

First, I found elements of lazy writing now and again. Cliched descriptions or phrases. And while they weren’t frequently used, they bothered me enough to take me out of the story to irritate me. I hate shortcuts like that. To truly elevate any novel, even if it’s pulp or addressed toward a genre category, the author ought to obsess over every sentence and care deeply about every linguistic turn and twist.

Second, the plot of this novel is so convoluted and has so many unknown and unclear clues and mysteries, that many of the characters, particularly the lead character, spend the majority of their dialogue and time asking questions, being confused, and getting frustrated. Admittedly it serves the plot, but it also presents us with a lead character presented in a mostly “negative” context. Yes, she made active decisions but is also constantly in doubt and almost always stymied. It’s frustrating to get to know a character who is constantly batting her head against a wall. Another character is a native tribesman of the Kalahari Desert. I’m not a believer that writers can’t create characters of diverse races that are believable and authentic. However, writing an authentic well-rounded native person, from the perspective of majoritarian culture, is particularly difficult and provides unique challenges. At least in this first book of the series, Williams fell into the most obvious writer’s trap, which is making the character too noble and too good. The old “noble savage” type cliché. Certainly, on the surface it makes them “admirable,” but unfortunately it also acts to marginalize their humanity. It simplifies them and reduces their complexity. And it also reinforces the cliché of “model minorities” who behave “as they are supposed to.” Minorities need to either be perfect and “better than us” or else they’re criminals. Saints or sinners, black or white. Beyond the weakness of these two leads, the remaining characters are a mixed bag. Not badly drawn but also not particularly rich either. They lie somewhere in-between.

The final aspect of this story that bothered me was a reveal late in the book, that I’m hesitant to share because it’s not exactly a spoiler, but it is something hidden up until late in the story that affects the genre. In order to avoid adding spoiler tags here, I’ll just note in a more general way that I think it’s a weakness in worldbuilding to wait until late in the book to reveal a key aspect of the universe we’re living in. It strikes me as a flaw in the framework when you spring a surprise of that nature so late in the story. It’s like pulling the rug out from under the reader.

The plot is definitely the star of this story, and it does have strengths. The story is set in a future where virtual and augmented reality has been taken to a much deeper more sophisticated level and is the driving technology of society and culture. A group of rich and powerful Illuminati-types have built the largest and most authentic virtual world for their own nefarious purposes. At the same time, disparate youth across the country are falling into mindless comas, and the sister of one of them, Renie Sulaweyo—a South African university assistant professor of virtual technology—is investigating these comas because her brother has fallen victim to this condition. Renie eventually realizes that there is some connection between the comas and the strange virtual environment known as Otherland. The novel fluctuates back and forth between real-world and the virtual, which is much like switching between near-future sci fi and a fantasy world. In effect, a smash up of genres. Overall, the drama and suspense of the investigation by Renie and a few other secondary character was interesting enough to sustain the story despite its weaknesses. Although I didn’t love the book as a whole, it did leave me curious enough about what might happen next. Williams did a nice job creating this drama, and I’d put 50/50 odds that at some point I’ll read the next book in the series. But it doesn’t get my whole-hearted endorsement.
Profile Image for Kitty G Books.
1,544 reviews2,930 followers
February 15, 2016
I'm giving this book a 3.5* rating which seems a little harsh to me becuase I genuinely really really enjoyed it. Honestly, the only reason it's not quite scooping the 4*s is becuase although I really enjoyed it, it's a 900 page book and it's only just starting the overall plot by the time you reach the end.

This is probably one of the most surprising books I have read in a while as it's a slightly older fantasy/sci-fi crossover (pre-2000s) and so I kind of assumed it would be a classic style. It is a bit wordy at times, and I think if I had read (rather than audiobook-ed) this it may have taken me longer to digest it all, but honestly the narration had me envisioning the different worlds so clearly. We also have a whole host of characters, so again I suppose this is somewhat classic in theme, but they are from all walks of life, all different genders, races, sexes and nationalities. They each have their own problems and unique situations, which inevitably do come together at the end of this book in a very interesting way (but like I say, it's riiiight at the end where stuff starts to make more sense as a whole). I liked all of the characters in their own way. I felt that they were some of the more uniquely written characters I had encountered and it's a story I very much got hooked into straight away.

So, the story... That's kind of hard to explain. We have a lot of different characters, some are in the real world, some are in Otherland, and some spend a majority of their time in the Net (basically Virtual Reality which is super cool). This book kind of reminded me of Ready Player One (although RPO came after this) and I think if you like that and you want a broader, wider look at how that sort of thing could affect the real world, this is it.
The story focuses largely on Renie, a young black lady who is in South Africa and lives with her young brother (who she cares for) and her father (a drunk). They struggle to get by but she has a job at a uni teaching people how to use and navigate the ins and outs of the Net. When her young brother suddenly becomes quite unresponsive whilst at a friend's house, not long after she caught him getting up to illegal activities, she becomes convinced that the Net is involved. Renie and her friend !Xabbu (a Bushaman) embark on a mystery trail to try and unwind the virtual realities, simulations, dimensions and stories which might lead them to find out more about how to help Stephen (her brother).
That is the main story anyways...
Alongside that we also have Christabel (a young girl whose family seem to underestimate her) and the old man she visits (who is certainly somehow involved).
We have Orlando and Frederich (friends via the Net although they have never met, and Orlando has a very rare condition which means he's dying).
And Paul (a wanderer with memory-loss who is struggling to understand his new reality and decipher his past along the way). They are the main characters, although we meet more and more along the way including Gods, new races, disembodied voices, tribes of child monkeys and much more (it's a wacky world).

We also have a section at the start of each chapter which relays some sort of general news articles about the world and the chaos/troubles it faces with the new tech taking over. I thought these all really helped to flesh out the story even more.

And some of the sections are told in second-person which I have to say can be very creepy and disturbing at times as you feel that you're really in the story (a pretty cool feature).

Basically this book surprised, captivated and enchanted me, disturbed, intrigued and shocked me all at different moments and I do really want to know what will happen to our characters next. I fully intend to go on to the next book soon and I would highly recommend this. Just know, going into it, that it's vivid and exciting but it's ultimately a set up book and the story is fast-paced and slow-paced at different intervals. 3.5*s
Profile Image for Michelle F.
232 reviews68 followers
March 19, 2020
This series has become one of my most reread collections, and this first book has a lot to do with that.

In the big picture, Otherland, book 1, is almost entirely set up for the main (huge) story-line that follows. Although there is a frustration in coming to the end of it and realizing that the “journey” hasn't even started yet, it remains the most stand-out of all the books – for me, anyway. Perhaps it is because as the true story unfolds in the following installments, the movement and challenges become cyclical and can feel redundant. This first book is masterful in its characterization, and has fewer threads to jump between.

The whole series is an interesting mesh of genres. Set in the near future with Virtual Reality as the main vehicle for plot movement, Williams uses this SciFi base as a platform to jump into a true Fantasy Quest Story. My logical brain loves this sort of justification for transporting everyday people into a world of impossibilities and apparent magic.

I have great fondness for ensemble-cast quest stories, and the Otherland series has a huge roster of characters. The time we spend with a smaller handful of them in this first book is almost essential, I think, because as the story evolves and the playing fields get more crowded, it can almost feel like too much to follow. Our grounding with these initial characters keeps the convolution at bay and helps to recenter us when things seems to get aimless.

Although the following books are incredible in their imaginative scope and are densely layered with detailed intrigue, I find the attention that Williams pays to the diverse characterization and real world surroundings are what draw me in, every time, and sell the promise of the story to come.
Profile Image for Cynnamon.
509 reviews92 followers
September 17, 2022
English version below


Auch nach mehrmaligem Lesen gehört dieses Buch - sowie die ganze Reihe - zum Besten was ich jemals an Cyberpunk gelesen habe.

Tad Williams hat hier eine Geschichte innerhalb unglaublich komplexer virtueller Welten geschaffen, in die einzutauchen eine wahre Freude ist.
Die Technik hat sich seit dem Erscheinungszeitpunkt der Bücher so stark weiterentwickelt, dass viele Dinge gar nicht mehr weit hergeholt scheinen und andere Dinge schon genauso Wirklichkeit geworden sind.
Die reale Welt, die Tad Williams in diesen Büchern beschreibt, scheint zwar weit entfernt von unseren tatsächlichen Zuständen zu sein, aber wenn man ein bisschen unter die Oberfläche schaut, erscheint vieles beängstigend real.

Die Protagonisten der Geschichte sind mir immer noch überaus sympathisch, ohne auf Klischees reduziert worden zu sein und die Antagonisten sind - zumindest für mich - unglaublich hassenswert,

Ich finde das Buch bemerkenswert spannend, ohne dass es ein Action Thriller ist und ich freue mich enorm darauf, die restlichen drei Bände der Reihe zu lesen.


Even after reading it several times, this book - as well as the whole series - is one of the best I've ever read in the genre cyberpunk.

Tad Williams has created a story within incredibly complex virtual worlds that is a real joy to immerse yourself in.
Technology has advanced so much since the books were published that many things no longer seem far-fetched and other things have already become just as real.
The real world that Tad Williams describes in these books may seem far removed from our actual states, but if you dig a little beneath the surface, much seems frighteningly real.

The protagonists of the story are still extremely likable to me, without having been reduced to clichés and the antagonists are - at least for me - incredibly hateful.

I found the book remarkably gripping without being an action thriller and I'm really looking forward to reading the remaining three books in the series.
Profile Image for Matt Standley.
1 review2 followers
April 23, 2012
I think Renie's quote from the middle of the book sums up my feelings entirely:

"...We still don't have any answers or any way to bring my brother back, and the search just seems to get more complicated and more vague. If this were a detective story, you'd have a body and some bloodstains and footprints in the garden - it's definitely a murder, and you've definitely got clues. But all we have here are things that seem a little strange, bits of information that might mean something. The more I think, the less sense it makes." She pushed at her temples with her fingers. "It's like when you say a word too many times, and suddenly it doesn't mean anything anymore. It's just...a word. That's how I'm feeling."

Reminder: That's just halfway through the book.

The first volume of the Otherland series had an incredible concept, but a slow execution. This mammoth of a novel could have done away with many unnecessary descriptions. If it had been condensed down by at least a fourth of its page count, I would have loved it. The epic physical size has a tendency to outshine what lies within. However, I would like to read the rest of the series to see what fate has in store for the protagonists. The characters were the best part and I found them far more engaging than their world(s) at several points in the story. I would rather see those two factors hand in hand though. The Matrix aside, I'd be intrigued to see a film adaptation of this. Good luck to the screenwriter though. They'll need lots of it.
Profile Image for Max.
714 reviews14 followers
April 27, 2020
What a ride! Absolutely loved this book, and I'll be starting part two right away. Wonderful world created by Mr Tad as usual. Written in his kaleidoscopic style, with every chapter returning to another character. I had to get used to it the first 200 pages, but as you get to know the characters it was easy to follow. Plus, that really keeps you reading because you want to know what happens two chapters away! It's a tad long (pun intended) so buckle up for a journey!
Profile Image for Rob.
839 reviews534 followers
August 1, 2016
Executive Summary: Slow in places, but this story really works for me. Interesting world building and decent characters has me looking forward to the continuing on this series.

Audio book: George Newbern does an excellent job with this book. Good inflections and emotion, as well as a variety of accents. He is definitely a narrator that adds extra enjoyment to the book.

Full Review
My only experiance with Tad Williams prior to this book was his urban fantasy book The Dirty Streets of Heaven. I was not much of a fan. The writing was excellent, but the characters and the plot didn't do much for me.

I'm not sure how to categorize this. Is it sci-fi? Is it fantasy? It is cyberpunk? It has elements of all three, but doesn't exactly fit into any one of them neatly.

This isn't a dystopian story. It's a near future one where computers have enabled in depth virtual reality. It has a very cyberpunk feel at times. Maybe it's post cyberpunk? Then within the virtual reality, we experience many traditional fantasy settings and characters. So it's really a blending of the three.

Regardless of the exact genre, the world hits all of my buttons. I'm a sucker for VR stories. If you mix in fantasy like this does, all the better.

The story took me a bit to get into at first. It's very well written, but there are several subplots, and it took a long time for it to become clear just how they related to each other. This book is very largely a setup book. Much of it seems involve moving characters into the right place and setting up the world.

The characters are pretty well developed and diverse. We have a VR specialist from South Africa named Irene "Renie" Sulaweyo and her student a Kalahari Bushman named !Xabbu. There are also the more traditional protagonists in Paul Jonas and Orlando Gardiner.

I found Renie and !Xabbu refreshing as characters, but for me the large draw was the world building and the mystery of the Golden City. Once I was up to speed on what was going on, and the storylines began to converge, I was hooked.

I'm definitely looking forward to continuing on and seeing where things will go next.
Profile Image for Semjon.
630 reviews311 followers
September 24, 2019
Otherland ist eine rasante Fahrt durch das Cyperspace. Ich habe bis dahin und auch nie mehr danach ein Epos gelesen, in dem so viele Genre ineinander verflochten wurden. Ein Buch, wie ein Adventure-Spiel, welches ständig zwischen realer und virtueller Welt hin und her springt. Dieser erste Band dient dazu, in die Geschichte eingeführt zu werden. Letztlich werden kaum Fragen beantwortet, aber so viele gestellt, dass man ja nicht offline gestellt werden möchte und nach einem weiteren Level giert.

Otherland ist für mich um Galaxien besser als „Ready Player One“. Das Buch von Cline ist nur billiges Fastfood, wie ein Jump‘n‘Run auf dem Smartphone, während Otherland das grandiose HD-Online-Game ist, in der wir uns am liebsten verlieren wollen. Das Beste, was ich in Sachen SciFi-Fantasy-VR-Thriller-Mix gelesen habe. Unbedingte Leseempfehlung, wenn man sich auf die 3.000 Seiten in vier Bände einlassen will.
Profile Image for Freya.
564 reviews117 followers
October 5, 2014
When I picked up this book I initially thought it was fantasy... and for some reason to do with faerie - it really isn't. Well, not very much!

Otherland is a story about a virtual world where people can shop, meet up, have businesses, play games, or anything you really want to do! Think if you will of the evolution of the internet. It actually sort of reminds me of OZ in the anime Summer Wars.

Something has gone wrong and children are falling into comas and having seizures, and some people are discovering a mysterious part of the VR system called Otherland (I suppose this is why I thought of faerie tales as it is a little Pied Piper of Hamlin). Our main character, Renie, decides to investigate when her younger brother Stephen ends up in one of these medically baffling comas.

Then begins a dangerous hunt throughout both virtual reality and reality itself where no one is safe in either, corruption, killers, and many, many worlds historical, fantasy and so on, created on the net, with all the characters trying to find out answers to something which all seems to lead to the Otherland.

There is so much to like about this book, through the characters and plot it explores the good, the bad and the ugly of the internet and future progression with its effect on humans of all backgrounds. Highly recommended and I'll be looking out for the next one!
Profile Image for Wanda Pedersen.
1,807 reviews348 followers
November 27, 2019
My previous experience with Williams’ writing was his Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series, so this book was a bit of a shock to the system! While that series took place in a rather mediaeval setting, this one is set in the future and largely in virtual reality.

One thing that remains consistent is the size of each book, being rather brick-like. It took my about 170 pages before I was convinced that I really wanted to read this volume. It reminded me of a lot of books that I’ve read before. The little vignettes at the beginning of each chapter made me think of Stand on Zanzibar. All the virtual environments were reminiscent of Neuromancer and as characters plugged things into their bodies, I thought of When Gravity Fails. The time spent in Eight Squared (a chess board), complete with a Red Queen threatening “Off with their heads” was obviously referencing Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The emphasis on Egyptian mythology also reminded me of The Anubis Gates. The guy without a memory running through the virtual word made me think of The Bourne Identity. Early in the book, our amnesiac man has a “Jack and the Bean Stalk” adventure too.

This is another conspiracy-theory heavy story. I seem to have run into several of those lately. I’m relieved that I finally found my footing around the 200 page mark, as there are three more books in the series and on my reading list. They may still end up being tough sledding, but at least I have a bit of hope!

Book number 336 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.
Profile Image for Karen.
80 reviews11 followers
January 26, 2009
I don't know what to think of this book. I liked it, but I was confused, so I looked up some reviews on Amazon, and then decided that I didn't like it based on what people said, but then I kept reading, and then I liked it a lot and made my peace with it being just the first part of a four-book series, and then I was totally into it, and then they spent too much time on the villains and their complicated pseudo-Egyptian mythology simulation, and I am sick of completely evil antagonists who are cruel and wicked to a cartoonish point, and having to spend most of the last twenty pages in the company of Horus and his odd minions and their monologuing tales and now I am doubting if I'll continue with the series. The world is so interesting, and could be perfectly entertaining as obtuse and marvelous and strange, and the AI could be a perfectly sufficient source of conflict, but then it gets all mucked up with a conspiracy. I honestly don't know if I can handle another three thousand pages of conspiracy. I wonder if the books would make sense if I just skipped over the villain parts. It certainly hasn't affected my ability to enjoy the virtual reality coolnesses of this first book.

Although the book is way too long for the story it contains.

I did learn a valuable lesson about reading Amazon reviews before finishing books. I've learned it before, but I need periodic reminders. It's awfully fun to go to Amazon and read only the reviews that perfectly align with your feelings after you garner some of your own, but you really can destroy a book experience by reading them partway through. I almost ruined this experience. Should I end up continuing with this series of books, I'm not going to look up another thing about Tad Williams til this session has run its course.
Profile Image for Jeffery Moulton.
Author 2 books12 followers
September 10, 2014
I picked this book up on a whim, not realizing that it was just the beginning of four very long books with a myriad of characters and challenges. Fortunately, the book and the series are both amazing.

The Otherland series takes place in the near future where the Internet has become fully interactive with rich people literally able to plug themselves into the net and others using less effective virtual reality equipment. In this world, a varied group of people stumble upon a secret plot put in motion by a cadre of the richest men in the world. At the center of the plot is Otherland, an intense, virtual reality beyond anything anyone has ever imagined before.

The series is global in scope and filled with a plethora of fascinating characters and locations. The worlds featured in the book, both Otherland and the real world, are rich with detail and fascinating in their variety and complexity. The characters are well fleshed out and their motivations are well detailed. The short news feeds at the beginning of each chapter create a frighteningly realistic future and the plot is satisfactorily complex and detailed.

I loved this book and the entire series. The one caveat is that the series is long and takes time to get through. Each book is over 800 pages and none of them end until the finale.

Still, this is a great series that should not be missed by epic fantasy or science fiction fans.
Profile Image for Alexandra .
839 reviews258 followers
June 21, 2012
Alle begeisterten Rezensionen stimmen: Dieses SF-Epos, und so kann man es wirklich nennen mit seinen 1000 Seiten a 4 Bände ist atemberaubend und eine Achterbahnfahrt der Fantasie.

Perfekt ist eine zukünftige eigentlich nicht mehr ferne Welt konzipiert, in der sich die Menschen sowohl im Realen Leben RL als auch in virtuellen Realitäten VR bewegen. Mit einer Schnittstelle am Kopf als User Interface, kann man in den künstlichen Welten auch fühlen, riechen schmecken und manche finden auch nicht mehr heraus. Die Universitätsassistentin Rennie möchte klären, warum ihr Bruder im Anschluss an eine Netzsitzung ins Wachkoma gefallen ist. Quer durch viele wunderbar konzipierten Netzwelten versucht Rennie zu eruieren, was ihrem Bruder passiert ist und deckt dabei ein unglaubliches Komplott auf.

Vom Stil her ist dieser SF-Krimi in mehreren losen Erzählsträngen konzipiert, die erst am Ende der Geschichte zusammengefügt werden. Genauso wie die Hauptprotagonistin schwebt der Leser bis zum Ende total im Ungewissen und vermutet bzw. spekuliert total wild drauflos wie sich die realen und virtuellen Identitäten und Handlungen in das gesamte Verschwörungsgebäude einfügen - sehr spannend.
Am Ende werden zwar die virtuellen Identitäten und ihre Funktionen einigermaßen gelüftet - die Aufdeckung der Verschwörung wird aber auf die anderen Bände verschoben. Dies ist auch der Grund, warum ich einen Stern abgezogen habe, das ist mir ein bisschen zuviel Cliffhanger und die Geschichte in sich zu wenig abgeschlossen. Die Zeiten als ich 4000 Seiten fast in einem Rutsch und mit wenig Schlaf durchlesen konnte, sind bei mir auch schon vorbei ;-)

Neben der überbordenden wunderbaren kreativen Fantasie hat mir in diesem Buch am besten eine Szene gefallen, die beschreibt, in welcher Art ein Schöpfer seine virtuellen Welt kreiert. Das war die beste Beschreibung von Gott, die ich jemals gelesen habe.

Fazit Sprache, Geschichte, Fantasie, Figurentwicklung real und virtuell traumhaft, für mich vielleicht ein bisschen zu breit angelegt - aber wer es episch mag, wird bei Otherland kaum einen Kritikpunkt finden.
Profile Image for terpkristin.
581 reviews58 followers
November 29, 2014
Audiobook from Penguin Audio
Narrated by George Newbern
Length: 28.75 hours

I hate to admit this, but I judged this book by the cover at first. I knew nothing about the book when I started listening, I hadn't even read the blurb in the description. I saw a fantastical-looking image on the cover and, knowing that Tad Williams typically writes fantasy novels/series, I just assumed it was a fantasy novel. I was wrong. This is actually a cyberpunk book, a quite good one at that. There was only one downside to the book, which I may as well get out of the way now: it's not a complete story. The book ends with no plot lines resolved and more questions than answers...so, if you read this book, be prepared to read at least the next book in the series (River of Blue Fire. I say "at least" because I have only just started that book (and it's 24.3 hours long!), and I have no idea if it resolves any of the story. There are 4 books in the Otherland series in total (City of Golden Shadow, River of Blue Fire, Mountain of Black Glass, and Sea of Silver Light, the first two of which are available in audio so far).

The plot is intriguing. In a future-world setting (the book was written in 1996), virtual reality (VR) in the form of using an avatar to explore the "net," is fairly commonplace. Many people, instead of congregating/living in cities with malls and town centers and such, live good parts of their lives in the virtual world. At least, the younger people seem to do this. Main character Reny (a nickname for Irene) is a teacher of computer science/VR manipulation at a university. One day she comes home to find her little brother, Steven, comatose after spending some time in the VR world. Setting out to try to figure out what left him in the coma, she comes across a hint of a world called "Otherland," a world within the VR world. In parallel, a kid named Orlando is exposed to "Otherland" in a part of his online video game. They find themselves searching for answers on Otherland, enlisting the help of some others who have also found out about the mysterious world, all seeking answers for what it is and why it's harming kids. There is another story in the book, of a man named Paul. He may or may not have been a soldier in World War II, but somehow has found himself stuck in the world of Otherland without the ability to escape. There is also the story of those running Otherland, some with more nefarious reasons than others...

The entire plot is engaging, if sometimes a little confusing to keep track of who is where (especially at first, as the world and characters are introduced). That said, the book drew me in more or less from the get-go, and I found excuses to listen more as I went about my days. Williams, unlike many authors I've read recently, is able to describe the world and the technology organically through the telling of the story. Where some people would spend time info-dumping, Williams is able to make the world comprehensible by explaining things to characters, or having the reader go along with the process of discovery with the characters. For a book written in 1996, Williams was somewhat a visionary of technology and how people use it. In the book, there are VR systems (think: Oculus Rift taken to the extreme), normal day-to-day use of the internet, tablets, videophony...things that are in the early years of widespread adoption now.

The characters in this book are very interesting. I've read a lot of complaints, recently, from people who wish that there were more women and/or minorities in the books that they read, especially genre fiction. This book doesn't have that problem. Reny is a South African black woman, and one of her closest friends through the story is a native African. One of the main villains is Australian and there seem to be people from across the globe involved in either the world or trying to study the world. When Reny needs help, she turns to another woman (another professor in computer science-type fields) for aid, and though men are involved, they are on an equal footing with the women. While I normally don't fault a book for having weak female characters, it was refreshing to have such diversity in the book.

George Newbern's narration was fantastic, if a little slow. I found that I had to bump up the playback speed slightly, otherwise it felt like the pauses were a little too long, the speech a little too slow. This made some of the characters or world aspects a little hard to understand at times (pronunciation-wise), but that didn't detract from the story. It was always easy to keep track of who was talking and what was going on, thanks to Newbern's voices for the characters and for the main narration.

All in all, I really liked this book. I wish it had come to some form of closure, or at least given some more hints on the motives of the villains, but that's a minor complaint. I've already started the second book and can't wait to see where the story goes.
Profile Image for Chris.
341 reviews950 followers
July 11, 2010
Let me just start by saying this: the first time I finished this series, I immediately went back and started reading it again. I can't think of any other series that I've done that with.

This is one of Tad Williams' "economy-sized manuscripts," similar to his fantasy classic Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. Similar in size and scope, anyway - four giant tomes chock full of all things awesome. It's a series of grand scope, amazing scale and great imagination, well worthy of your time. It's a complex, interweaving of tales, full of vibrant characters, implacable enemies, and important questions about destiny, identity, consciousness and the very nature of reality itself.

Seriously, top-shelf stuff here, people.

It begins in a near-future world, and it begins with the children. Renie Sulaweyo, a teacher in South Africa, has a brother in the hospital. He, like many other children around the world, has gone into an inexplicable coma, the causes of which defy medical science. The only clue she has is that the outbreaks of these comas coincide with the availability of access to the Net - a virtual reality internet that is what Second Life dreams of becoming. Here, depending on your equipment, you can live in a virtual world that is more vibrant and exciting than anything the real world can offer. And you can do it in full sense-surround 3D.

Renie's brother, Stephen, engaged in the usual mischief that any kid with access to his own virtual universe might do, and finally got caught. Something shut him down, and Renie was determined to find out what did it. With the assistance of her student, a Bushman named !Xabbu, Renie uncovers an amazing virtual world, something that puts the best virtual reality to shame. It is the Otherland, a playground for the obscenely wealthy. And it may hold the secret to what has afflicted her brother.

That's the short version, and since Renie is the one we're introduced to first, it would be easy to think of her as the protagonist of the story. That would be highly inaccurate, though. There's a lot of other storylines going on in there as well. There's young Orlando Gardiner, who compensates for a crippling illness by being the baddest barbarian on the net. His best friend, Sam Fredericks, has stood by him for many years in an online game that makes World of Warcraft look like pen and paper D&D. They and others are lured into a deadly quest by a vision of a great golden city, more realistic and magical than they ever thought they could find.

Out in the real world, there's little Christabel Sorenson, upon whose earnest desire to help the funny-looking Mister Sellars the entire future of the Otherland rests. There's the aptly-named Dread, an assassin extraordinare whose strange "twist" gives him an edge in all things electronic. And, of course, there is Paul Jonas, a man trapped in an imaginary world, whose escape threatens the greatest dreams of the richest men the world has ever known.

All of this, as the series title suggests, centers on the Otherland project, a virtual reality of monumental proportions. It's a digital world that is more real than the real world is, a world of computer-created, but very deadly, dangers. The slightest misstep could spell disaster and death - die in the Otherland and you die in real life.

And just FYI, Otherland predates The Matrix by three years and, kung-fu aside, is a much better story. So if you're thinking, "Man, this is just a Matrix rip-off, you're very, very wrong.

It's a daunting series to begin. After all, it's four books, each one clocking in around 800 to 900 pages. There are at least fifteen major characters, and the Otherland itself shows us seven different "worlds" in this book alone. There's a lot to take in, and on top of all that, there's a whole world happening outside the story - each chapter is preceded with a small news blurb that tells us about things that are going on in the world. Cops rounding up homeless kids in lethal "snipe hunts," homicidal artists, legislative representation for the industrial sector of America - this world is both familiar and alien at the same time.

The good news is that it is a lot of fun to read. The pacing is very good, so you never get too bored watching any one character for a while. What's more, Williams pays homage to some of the greatest fantasy and science fiction the English-speaking world has to offer. At one point, even the characters admit that they seem to be caught up in a very familiar story. So my advice is to just dive right into it. Once you get going, things clip along at a good pace and you'll find yourself on page 943 in no time flat.

The really fun part is re-discovering things in this series. There are some things I remember very clearly, but other little details that pop up and make me think, "Oh yeah, I forgot all about that." I enjoy seeing Williams' prescience - after all, he wrote this just as the internet was really becoming popular, and a good ten years before things like online gaming and social media took over our lives. His vision of an immersive, VR world may have seemed a little wild and out there back in the mid-nineties, but not anymore.

So, make a sandwich and find a comfortable place to sit. This'll take a while, but I guarantee - it'll be worth it.
Profile Image for Anthony Ryan.
Author 81 books8,166 followers
October 4, 2014
Williams' near-future sci-fi epic is a compelling exploration of the social/psychological costs and benefits posed by the advent of true virtual reality. A disparate cast of heroes find themselves trapped in an array of artificially constructed realities where death is an all too real possibility. Williams' pedigree as an epic fantasy author is evident in the scope of the narrative and the presence of a dark lord of sorts lurking at the heart of this web of invented worlds. Reading the whole series is a big commitment but I found it well worth the investment.
Profile Image for Ashley.
85 reviews1 follower
December 19, 2009
This novel, to me, is 780 pages of nothing. With five main characters, there is a lot of running around, random descriptions that seem to me are pretty uneccessary, and a LOT of confusion. When a new chapter starts, there is a tendency of character switching, so you are left with a few pages just trying to figure out which character you are focusing on. If Williams only focused on Renie and !Xabbu, I would have been content with this novel, considering that's where most of the focus is on, anyways.

Pros: When the story actually focus' on a single character and continues with the plot, it is actually pretty entertaining.

Cons: Random breaks, no cliff-hanger chapter endings, unneccessary detail, random POV (point-of-view) character switching... the list can go on.

Judgement: I personally couldn't muster up the will to finish this novel. I got through about half of it until I said "Enough is enough... I need something better to read." I'll probably save this for winter or summer break, when I absolutely have NOTHING better to do.

Meh, it was less than okay. 2/5 stars.
Profile Image for Olivia.
689 reviews114 followers
March 6, 2018
I bought this one about a decade ago, tried reading it, enjoyed it, but then stopped somewhere halfway through, and when I got back to it, I knew I had to start from the beginning, because it had been too long, and then I just never did.

I'm so happy I finally sat down with this book. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Yes, it's slow, there's a lot of set-up and Tad Williams could probably cut a few hundred pages from (all?) his books and not lose much plot, but I loved every page.

This came more than a decade before Ready Player One, and it is even older than The Matrix films. Today, some of the tech and science is outdated, but the concept of virtual reality and what Tad Williams did with it, is amazing.

The Otherland series mixes science fiction, South African folklore, fairy tales, and fantasy into a wild tale and that mix is what I loved most about it. I can't wait to see where this series takes me!
Profile Image for Kostas.
303 reviews32 followers
April 18, 2017

This is the second series that I’m reading from Tad Williams and I have to say that I’m really impressed of how different it is compared to his most famous series, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, although personally I quite liked it even if it’s not outstanding.
In this series Tad Williams changes his style and goes to Science Fiction but he also raises his skill level as he has mixed Cyberpunk, lots of mystery and a touch of Fantasy that, I believe, makes all the difference!

The story is set mostly in Africa, in a world far more technologically advanced than our own, where people are now using Virtual Reality for everything; even more than their actual life, doing whatever they want without limitations. But when a group of kids accidentally fall onto something that they weren’t supposed to discover, a secret that no one knows, they will find themselves against an evil that does not even hesitate to kill in order to protect it.
However Renie, an instructor in virtual engineering at a polytechnic institution, having seen her brother fall victim to this evil, she will try with her friend !Xabbu, one of the last hunters of the ancient tribe of the Bushman, to find what was this secret and who was chasing him so she can save him.
On the other hand, Ronald, a kid from America has also seen something unexpected and he will also begin his own quest for the truth, while Paul, a soldier from the WW1, who no longer remembers who he was before will travel to unknown worlds and see things that didn’t believe were possible.
Their paths will not be easy and the secrets will only multiply as they go on but all the answers seem to be in the golden city, Otherland; a city that has actually more secrets than they know and their enemy that is chasing them is, perhaps, even worse.

For a first book in this huge series I must say that is actually quite good even though Williams’ familiar problem with the size of his stories, but he has made, once again, a very rich world and with incredible ideas.
His witting is really easy but flows quite good without tiring as much as his others books and the characters are all well drawn and interesting enough as we discover their secrets and of their world; only Christabel, I would say, didn’t hold me much but she has rather small role in the story so I can’t say it really bothered me.
My biggest complain would be for the ending, which is really abrupt, but Williams explains (in the next book) that the series is one story, one “book”, just split in four parts.

In general, Williams might not have fast paced stories or flashy action scenes as other writers but his world-building and the mystery of the hidden city are, for me, what I think really stand out in this book and are, indeed, that which kept reading till the end. He’s not perfect but he definitely shines, in his own way, so if you like his style, even a little, give this a try.
Profile Image for Viencienta.
304 reviews45 followers
July 17, 2021
Pue aquí estamos, y la verdad es que estoy un poco entre 2 aguas. Ya conocía a williams de Osten Ard y pese que yo soy más de murrte y destrucción, reconozco que me gustó y como estoy empachada de Malaz y de asesinatos pensé entrar por aquí.
Está bien siempre y cuando se tenga en cuenta la fecha de publicación y aún así, no la veo obsoleta. Creo que alguna obra más moderna se ha apoyado en ella...
Estoy un poco perdida con los personajes, no con los avatares y sus reales, sino con los malosos... no los hubico como debería...
La narración es entretenida... lenta y quizá sin muchos aportes salvo el recrearse pero de esto va este viaje, creo. La trama no es muy complicada y yo estoy disfrutando del camino, la verdad es que me está resultando muy entretenida y aunque no sé cuánto me durará, hasta me está gustando el tono buenista.
Profile Image for Verena Hoch.
133 reviews22 followers
November 15, 2022
Ich finde die Geschichte einfach genial. All die verschiedenen Erzählstränge, die erst einmal unabhängig von einander wirken und erst im Verlauf der Geschichte fängt man an zu begreifen, wie sie zusammenhängen. Ich werde gleich mit dem nächsten Band weiter machen.
Profile Image for An EyeYii.
3,423 reviews60 followers
February 4, 2012
I got to p76. "Otherland" by Tad Williams starts with assorted quilt squares I didn't have the patience to wait for assembly. WW1 mud-soaked Paul explodes, climbs a cloud high tree-stem to a trapped bird-woman, chased by a Giant to awaken back in the trenches. South African college tutor Renie guides bushman !Xabbu through basic virtual reality scenarios, rescues her 11-year old brother from a dangerous sim club, then loses him to a coma, three weeks after her drunk father kicks the boy out to live with a schoolmate. Mercenary from tavern suddenly killed, suprising his gamer alter-ego.
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