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Dragon Bourne – 5 Star Book Review & Author Interview

Welcome to the November 28th review & author interview stop on the blog tour for The Guild Core by T. J. Reynolds, organized by Audiobookworm Promotions. Be sure to follow the rest of the tour for spotlights, an audio excerpt, other reviews, and other author interviews!

Please note that this post contains affiliate links, which means there is no additional cost to you if you shop using my links, but I will earn a small percentage in commission. A program-specific disclaimer is at the bottom of this post.

Author Interview

Tell us about the process of turning your book into an audiobook.
I spoke with Steve about working on another book actually. It wasn’t the right timing or fit, but then I fell in love with his voice. I’d been writing The Guild Core for weeks at that point, and knew the kind of narrator that would nail it. Steve has an “every man” kind of voice that is warm, sweet, and kind sounding. He can also do dark and gravelly. My book had all of those components, so we planned the audiobook six months in advance!

Was a possible audiobook recording something you were conscious of while writing?
A big hell yes to this one. Audiobooks are my jam. I love them! I am a frustratingly slow reader, and since I spend most of my days playing with prose in the written form, my only method of escape is audiobooks. So when I write a book, I ALWAYS consider if and how it might succeed in audio format.

How closely did you work with your narrator before and during the recording process? Did you give them any pronunciation tips or special insight into the characters?
Steve is cool enough to host many of his recordings on his Discord chat. He streams a live video/audio of the narration, and a bunch of nerds like me can hang out and chat. He asked about various things, and I gave him some preferences on the types of accents I wanted, but Steve is an artist. He needed freedom to nail the book, and I had no problem doing so. In that regard, we are similar.

Were there any real life inspirations behind your writing?
This is such a typical question, yet it never gets old. Yes. Everything I write is filled with the essence of real life experience. I was an infantryman for a few years, and spent some time over in Mosul, Iraq. My perspective as an author will always be tinted by my time at war. I write violence seriously. It happens often, and usually without sufficient cause, ect. But it is also necessary when defending the weak, fighting tyranny, ect. This second brand of violence is obviously my favorite.

How do you manage to avoid burn-out? What do you do to maintain your enthusiasm for writing?
HAHA! Do I though? I have been getting better at balance. Walks, yard word, gardening, and time with family helps a ton. I also love to switch things up when world building. Last night, I used pastels to color out a topography map for a new series I’m working on. Then I drew a pencil map of the same region and jotted down a bunch of landmarks. My final step will be to head back onto my laptop and build a digital map on Wonderdraft where I can combine my two previous drafts. Map making, world building, pointless research… these all keep the magic alive.

Is there a particular part of this story that you feel is more resonating in the audiobook performance than in the book format?
It all depends on how you are as a reader. I often assign voices to my characters, so in a way, even when reading, I am listening. But Steve is a natural and had a ton of fun with voices. I particularly like how he manages banter. So much sass, attitude and sarcasm captured so perfectly!

If you had the power to time travel, would you use it? If yes, when and where would you go?
Of course I would! Despite the lack of hygiene and elevated chance of injury, infection, or death, I’d choose a time where an axe or a sword meant more than a rifle. Being a knight in the medieval era sounds so appealing to my silly brain even though I’m sure it was hell at times. Still, could you say no to entering a tourney? Sieging a castle? I couldn’t…

What do you say to those who view listening to audiobooks as “cheating” or as inferior to “real reading”?
This one makes me sad. It helps to remind everyone that stories BEGAN as an oral tradition. Our brains are wired to interpret stories with our auditory senses. I am not alone in hearing the words out loud inside my head when I read. So Audiobooks are a more “natural” method of consuming stories, though I feel both are valid. They are different mediums, and both should be respected. Besides, there are many readers who have disabilities that NEED audiobooks to stay connected. Wouldn’t want to insult them, would ya???? 😉

What are your favorite movies?
The Guild Core was my best attempt at creating an epic fantasy experience for people who like progression fantasy, gamelit, litrpg, and cultivation novels. It is a mix of many subgenres, and I feel I did a solid job at that.

Movies were and are a big part of my life though. I’m very visual in my head while I write. And during this project, I tried to channel some of my favorite worlds. The Neverending Story had such a big impact on me when I was young. Other movies like Willow, The Labyrinth, and The Dark Crystal formed much of how I perceive high fantasy settings. Yes, I was an 80s child, haha, and yes, all of those movies will change your life!

What’s next for you?
I’m almost halfway done with The Guild Core book 2: Core Sworn. The second book picks up even more momentum and the struggle the Main Characters go through develops into something of global consequence.

This series will be 5 books long, each at a juicy 130-150k in length (14-16 hours audio), so it should guarantee a delightful binge experience.

When I’m done, I have a hundred other plans. I like to keep some of my plans closer to heart, but I am stoked to say I’ll be writing a more classic cultivation story with a particularly unique twist I haven’t seen done before. So, if you’re reading this (not a chance), I’m coming for you Will Wight!

About the Book

Dragon Bourne
The Guild Core Book One
by TJ Reynolds

Published 23 September 2020
Page Count: 556

Audiobook Released 6 October 2020
Narrated by Steve Campbell
Length: 16 hours 5 minutes

Genre: High Fantasy, LitRPG
Add it to your Goodreads TBR!

Wake a dungeon. Form a guild. Fight to restore the world.

Kai was the least likely young man to ascend. Raised on his uncle’s potato farm, he began his career as an adventurer with empty pockets and little skill. But a foolish attempt to prove his bravery leads Kai to unlock hidden power within himself and acquire a most unlikely ally.

Kai was the least likely young man to ascend. Raised on his uncle’s potato farm, he began his career as an adventurer with empty pockets and little skill. But a foolish attempt to prove his bravery leads Kai to unlock hidden power within himself and acquire a most unlikely ally.

When Bancroft the Earth Core awakens, he can’t wait to clean up his dungeon and begin building things anew. A recovered item from his past reminds him that more is at stake, however, putting an end to such pleasantries.

Join The Guild Core, a small band of friends determined to restore the world to an age of dragons, heroes, and honor.

The Guild Core is a novel by TJ Reynolds, fantasy LitRPG author of Eternal Online books one to three. The Guild Core was inspired by the Divine Dungeon series, The Wheel of Time, and classic films like The Labyrinth and The Neverending Story.

This story takes place in an epic fantasy world governed by gaming mechanics. It contains light to moderate litRPG, gamelit, cultivation, and dungeon core elements. Features realistic violence, three MC POVs, and more than a few quaint jokes. Language and adult content is appropriate for teen listeners.

Amazon US | Amazon CA | Amazon UK | Audible

My Review

My Rating: 5 Stars
Consider “liking” my review on Goodreads.

I was granted complimentary access to a copy of Dragon Bourne by the author through Audiobookworm Promotions in exchange for an honest review as part of my participation in a blog tour for this title. Thank you to T.J. Reynolds and Audiobookworm for this opportunity! This has not swayed my opinion. My thoughts are my own and my review is honest.

Normally I start my reviews off with a teaser-style synopsis in three sentences or less, but there’s a lot going on in the book, the official synopsis that’ll be included in any place you’re reading this review does a good job, and I’ve got other things to talk about that aren’t just a gloss over of the plot, so let’s skip that.

I loved this book, but I had absolutely no idea how to formulate my thoughts when I was done, so I hopped on Goodreads to see what previous reviewers were saying about it. I had no idea that this (dragon core) was a wider genre with established norms and tropes and I feel like a n00b now because I don’t know if the things I loved about this book are standard issue or not. I did grow up with geeky friends and spent my early twenties dating a World of Darkness (White Wolf) Storyteller (think D&D Dungeon Master, but different company’s umbrella of games) so I’m familiar with tabletop and live action RPG, I just had no idea that more than one person had thought to novelize the concept beyond companion books from the publishers of Dungeons and Dragons, World of Darkness, etc. (By the way, protip to other significant others of DMs/storytellers/etc., when you agree to NPC for them play 20 questions and make sure you know who you’re playing. Being set loose with a stats sheet and no back story only to be kidnapped by the player vampires because you’re actually the rival court’s queen and you should know important things… We’re still friends, that was over a decade ago and I still haven’t let him live that down. Hey, Chris?)

Okay, review, I’m supposed to be reviewing. Other reviewers are discussing how the dungeon is usually the main character and this book flips that trope on its head by primarily following a chosen one instead. Obviously I wouldn’t have known that and as a first timer to the genre nothing felt wrong with the character arrangement, but I do think it’s interesting that the dungeon normally would be the MC. If this genre is a spinoff of Dungeons and Dragons in particular then that kind of makes intuitive sense in that the person telling the story and leading the campaign in D&D is the Dungeon Master and the game’s dungeon (setting) is the source of all of the plot elements (be they NPCs or environmental obstacles.) It really is interesting then that Dragon Bourne pushes the dungeon character off to the side in a supporting role. I suppose that’s the freedom of translating this type of story telling into a novel (and not a choose your own adventure one at that) because in an RPG campaign you have actual people behind so many of the other characters making choices and forcing changes upon the story. The only way to think of that sort of story telling as having an MC without alienating all but one player is to think of the DM or the dungeon itself as the MC. (If you’ve made it this far through the review and you’re utterly lost because you aren’t even familiar with RPG but you’ve at least caught on that this would make the MC the antagonist, keep in mind that main characters don’t have to be protagonists regardless of genre.)

Some things that I enjoyed about this book and its world and characters that I’m now thinking may possibly be parr for the course in the dragon core/LitRPG genre:
* The cores being tied to single elements means this book uses an elemental magic system (at least in part) and I’m a sucker for elemental magic.
* Not only does the plot involve characters levelling up and literally applying points to their stats and experiencing an immediate change (obviously this must be standard to the genre) but some of the characters have to be instructed about this process and their initial excitement about it followed by a more careless approach as it becomes routine is hilarious and spot-on for how new players handle it in actual RPGs.
* I love the fact that when characters choose to change their class and do something else with their lives their stats sheet shows the skills and abilities they used to have that have now been deleted.

The plot absolutely reads like the progression of an RPG campaign with several different players who have their own goals in mind. The world building and description in this book is so thorough and vivid. There’s a lot of humour used, too. Mostly it comes out in what the different characters are thinking or saying but there’s the occasional clever use of situational humour as well.

At 16 hours and change this is a fairly long audiobook. Due to the timing of this tour stop in comparison with other review stops I ended up cramming it into a shorter timeframe than I really should have allowed for and I found myself getting bored at times. I think that’s okay for a book in this genre. RPG campaigns don’t start and finish in just one session unless you’ve specifically gathered for a marathon session. It makes perfect sense that an adaptation of that into a format that is simply read or listened to passively would be best consumed in chunks. The fact that I got bored at places is not a negative reflection on the writing nor on the narrative performance (which was excellent, by the way.) It’s a reflection of the fact that it should feel epically long and require breaks.

Since I’ve mentioned it: the narrative performance. I started playback at my usual 1.5x speed but ended up on 2x as I was trying to push through with enough time left to compose a thoughtful review. This performance was easy to listen to and follow at those speeds, but I don’t feel like I would have been able to go faster, which leads me to the conclusion that Steve may narrate faster than the average narrator I’ve come across. (Remember this is my first dive into the genre, so that’s not a statement about LitRPG narrators.) His voice was clear and he made each character sound unique without doing the annoying overly pitched-up thing men frequently do when voicing a female character. One of the characters ended up sounding a little like C-3PO, which I loved, but I’m not sure it would come across that way played at normal speed. Perhaps it’s a fun little unintended easter egg for us speedy listeners.

Overall, I loved this book. As someone who is familiar with RPGs but had no idea there was a LitRPG or dragon core genre out there to explore I can assure you this is a great place to start if you’re also in that position. I didn’t spot any of those things above that are apparently up for debate without seeing other reviewers bring them up, but I wasn’t lost at all in the book itself, which means this book does an excellent job of relying on the tropes of RPGs and otherwise standing on its own as a piece of fiction to pick up and read without prior experience.

Amazon US | Amazon CA | Amazon UK | Audible

About the Author

T.J. Reynolds

I spent a few years in the Army infantry, and one year in Mosul, Iraq. I was a machine gunner. And though I’ve never wielded a battleaxe or a Scottish claymore, my 240B is the best modern day equivalent.

I have three kids. They are small and sticky, but I somehow love them. Their power is greater than mine, yet I too am great to have borne witness to their rising.

I’m a Taurus – year of the Rat – I love keys and boxes, stones and the rivers that hold them – I’m not a flat earther – Science Rules – so does love – and if you’ve read this far my friend, so do you…

Website | Facebook | Amazon | Goodreads

About the Narrator

Steve Campbell

Steve is a lifelong storyteller that grew up on stage. Once a character actor/singer, he’s now a full-time award winning narrator. While no stranger to a wide variety of genres, he’s best known for his work in LitRPG, Fantasy, and YA.

Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

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Disclaimer: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Jenna is the artist/illustrator and author behind Westveil Publishing and its sub-banner platforms Jenna Gets Creative and The Westveil Archives. She live in Newfoundland, Canada with her husband, daughter, and feline overlords.

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