Book Title: Apocalypse Archer: A Ciphercraft Origins LitRPG Novelette, Book 1
Author: Timothy C. Ward, writing as Tim Kaiver
Publication Date: October 14, 2020
Available On: Amazon as an eBook
Indie Athenaeum Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
After having taken her law certification test, Viera and her friend Sienne need a break and are going away on a camping trip. An archer who likes to spend time in the woods imagining she’s fighting mythical creatures, she agreed she needed a break. While Sienne is bringing her boyfriend Jax, Kenif is coming along as well, making this a double date. Never having met him, he’s nevertheless intrigued by her, based on what Jax told him.
But before they can really start to enjoy their vacation, the entire campground is inducted into The Cipher, turning her life into a quest to survive! Now being pursued by those who want to kill her and Kenif, they go on the run, determined to stay alive. But will they even be able to survive the dangers of the forest and the cunning enemies who dwell within it?
The return of the Cipher after thousands of years, as chronicled in Cipher’s Quest: Ciphercraft, Book 1, is seen through the eyes of Viera. She learns how the Cipher works, which includes things like experience points, improving health after being hurt, and the skills she must utilize to defeat knife and gun-wielding enemies.
However, she’s only used the bow and arrow for fun and not for survival. As she’s thrust into this struggle with little warning, she’s learning on the fly. The pain that she experienced in taking a life, the first time she has done so using her archer skills, feels real. But, when faced with this apocalyptic dilemma, it’s kill or be killed.
Kenif, who has some skills of his own, is also drawn into this situation along with her. He proves to be more resourceful than she thought and the two of them make a cool bow-and-arrow wielding duo as they get to know each other while on the run from people who want them dead.
The tone of this one is a little darker, grittier, and more gruesome than the first novel in the Ciphercraft trilogy and certainly much more violent. But the action moves swiftly and there’s barely any time to take a breath before the next challenge is upon them.
As the Cipher teaches them more about how it’s integrated into their lives now, they learn how to understand it, the clues it gives about their environment, and how it’s changed forever. While it does turn the forest into a living video game of sorts, this is a “game” that has deadly consequences!
The exciting finale is just as much an evaluation of their archer skills as it is to carefully observe their surroundings. It takes everything they have cumulatively learned about the Cipher and places them in their most difficult situation yet. Their enemies are the most cunning they’ve met so far, and I wondered if everyone was going to make it out of this one alive.
My only criticism of this story is that Viera and Kenif’s enemies and their motivations seem a little thin. At first, it’s about enemies who seemingly choose the path of darkness and they decide that these two are a threat. But the people they meet in the finale seem to have darker, yet nebulous reasons, for their actions.
There are some subtle hints and possible clues to this but no direct explanations, other than that they are “evil.” Having read stories by this author before, I’m sure there will be more answers coming, especially as Viera is positioned to have a larger role in the next Ciphercraft novel.
This novelette is written in the LitRPG genre, short for Literary Role-Playing Game, in which the story introduces elements like health, experience, weapons, and skills. These ideas, initially taken from computer games, are essential knowledge for Viera must overcome the different challenges she and Kenif have to face in order to stay alive.
This novelette ties into the larger world of the Ciphercraft and the galaxy-wide struggle against the Osuna empire. But by focusing on one protagonist, the intensity factor is ratcheted up and we understand her struggles by seeing them through her point of view.
This standalone novelette can be understood without having read any other Ciphercraft story. However, if you have read Cipher’s Quest, the first book in the Ciphercraft trilogy, this one takes place in roughly the time period, between books one and two, just on a different planet. However, once you’ve read this, you will be tempted to learn more about this universe. Having read other stories by this author, I know for a fact that you will.
While this novelette answers many questions about the Cipher and what its arrival means to Viera’s planet, there are more intriguing questions lingering that are begging to be answered. The ending of this story promises to tie into the second novel in the Ciphercraft trilogy, coming out soon. I’m hopeful it will answer those questions, as I want to know more about Viera and the role she will play in the upcoming book. As a result, I’m looking forward to reading more stories in this universe to see where it goes next.
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Previous Indie Athenaeum book reviews about stories by Tim Kaiver include “Cipher’s Quest: Ciphercraft, Book 1.”