Esmes Indie Highlights: Ascend Online by Luke Chmilenko

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So, I had this one marked down as “already read” mistaking it for a different LitRPG with a game called Awaken Online. I went to write the review for it and the authors didn’t match, and then it dawned on me….anyway

This one I read very quickly, I started and finished within 24 hours because this book ticked all my boxes – it’s kind of audience specific, but for the right audience it’ll be a lot of fun.

This book was reviewed and selected for the semi finalist position by Bookworm Blues, and what I really *love* about that is the fact that the person who read it admitted they do not play games, do not like games, and have no background in this what so ever, but they still gave it 4/5 stars and selected it for semi finals – that’s really cool. I love people find a book that breaks their genre preferences, or at least gives them an appreciation for the genre. +

I listened to this on audiobook and OMFG Luke Daniels smashes this performance, I loved it! If you like audiobooks and LitRPG is your thing check this one out for sure.

Review link for Bookworm Blues :


  • Marcus – he’s our main character, I think he’s somewhere in his early 30’s and is a pretty ‘average joe’ gamer kind of person. He’s likable and pretty easy to relate to, he’s also a pretty experienced gamer and chooses the class “Spellsword” which is a warrior and mage mashup.
  • Marcus’s group – Peter, Deckard, Zach, Heron, and Misha –  they don’t get a ton of page time so you don’t get to know them well, but they are all pretty standard people with slight variances to give them different personalities.
  • Amaranth – probably my favorite character, he’s a Familiar one of the characters binds to them in the game. I always love Familiars, and when they are intelligent and can talk and mock the person they’re bonded to all the better. Plus he’s a puma, and cats are awesome.
  • Jenkins and Ritt – two NPC’s with a lot of personality that you meet early on, they train Marcus and have other useful attributes which give them a fair amount of page time
  • The Bann – the leader of the the town Marcus spawns into at the beginning of the game. I like this guy too, I think he gets more page time than any of Marcus’s friends, at least it feels like it.

Some of my favorite chapters are interlude chapters where we get small POV’s from other characters/beings in the world. Because these POV’s are so different, short, and packed full of plot points and world building I get really excited when I got to them.

Final Score: 7.5/10


Marcus and his friends find out about a virtual reality video game that has been kept secret until the day before release, extremely excited they all sign up and log in to explore a new world. What’s cool about this VR is that it’s not a headset and or hand held anything – you get into a pod and get hooked up to life support systems and are then injected with nano bots. The nano bots are what connect you to the video game, and the life support systems make sure you don’t die if you spend 24 hours or something in the game at a time.

Much of the beginning of the plot is world building and introducing you to the rules and setting of the video game, honestly, this was a ton of fun for me. I watch Twitch on occasion and will watch people play games, so reading about it is also fun for me, especially when the world building is fun, fast-paced, and interesting. For me the world building didn’t feel like it was bogging me down, and there isn’t a TON of page time spent on stats and figures. There’s a bit of it as you’re first introduced, but it’s only touched on from there out which leaves more room for plot and character development.

There are a couple different plots going on – there’s a diety that calls herself Creativity, she’s responsible for respawns and all the creations in the world, and her opposite Destruction who’s growing out of control and stepping over bounds trying to destroy the game and Creativity’s world.

There’s also a mysterious house in the Mages Guild who’s paying lots of money for expeditions and other suspicious activities, the main character needs to find out what’s going on and question some people. The Familiar, Amaranth, can detect lies and half truths through the heartbeats of others and sends that info down the Link to his Master, it creates this awesome layer where the player gains knowledge he shouldn’t have and it makes for a tone of mystery and intrigue.

Final Score: 7.5/10


World Building:

It’s easy to go overboard with World Building in a LitRPG, but I think this book balances things really nicely. Although I would say this is a plot driven book than a character driven book, the characters aren’t bad, they have a lot of believable dialogue and interactions which is always nice in this genre.

The game is set in a standard medieval setting with classic fantasy races like orcs, elves, dwarves etc. What I wish we saw more of was the dozens of other races that were hinted at in the beginning during character creation for the main character, there were lots of unique races hinted at and I wish the group Marcus is with picked things other than orc and elf and human – bring on the rat people!

Pain is a real thing in this game, and you can’t turn it off – if you get stabbed you’re going to know it. It adds a layer of complexity for the characters to deal with, and makes them way more hesitant to go rushing into danger or jumping off of roofs.

There’s lots of cool magic and spells and swords and creatures in this book, it’s so much fun to explore the countryside with the character – giant spiders, and goblins, and pumas, oh my!

Final Score: 8/10


This book went by so quickly for me, there’s basically no metaphor or simile, it’s a very straightforward writing style that makes the book fly by. It doesn’t feel amateur or YA either, it’s just quick. There’s cursing, so be aware of that if you’re trying to keep your reading clean or are thinking of giving it to a younger kid. The word fuck comes up on occasion but I wouldn’t call it a super colourful book, it doesn’t come up often.

Pacing Final Score: 8.5/10

Writing Final Score: 7.5/10


Fun! Adventure! Fast! I’m always down for a fun book that is total escapism, I think that’s one of the roots of why fantasy exists in the first place, and books that I can zone out and just smile through are awesome. I’ll read Guy Gavriel Kay when I want a fantasy book to stab me in the feels and leave me in the fetal position, but I have to be in the mood for it – however, I’m always in the mood to have some fun.


I’ve read a lot of LitRPG stuff, but the world building here was unique enough to make it stand out.

Final Score: 7/10



  • For people who like LitRPG
  • For people who like classic fantasy elements, goblins, raids, dungeons, giant spiders, elves, dwarves, medieval setting etc.
  • For people who like in-depth world building
  • For people who like fun fast paced reading with more straightforward prose
  • For people who like a  book that’s largely one POV (there are small interludes, but mostly this is Marcs story)
  • For people who like intelligent/talking animal companions. Familiar for the win!


Final Score: 46/60 or 7.66/10 or 4 stars on goodreads.

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