Critical Failures 2: Fail Harder by Robert Bevan

When I read Critical Failures Book One by Robert Bevan a few weeks ago, I laughed from start to finish. Of course, I didn’t really have a clue about the world of role-play games but, to be honest, it didn’t really matter. When you read any book, you are transported to a world that is often unfamiliar and as long as you can enjoy the plot and you find some kind of likeability factor with the characters, as I did with Critical Failures Book One, you are happy to figure it out along the way.

Critical Failures: Fail Harder starts where the other book left off.  Toilet humour is ever-present and the grossest character, Cooper the half-orc, is strangely the most endearing. Tim, Dave, Julian and Cooper have found an inn to get drunk in, an ideal location for these men-children to commence phase two of their adventures. Of course, they are joined by Chaz and Katherine, Tim’s sister, who found themselves unceremoniously transported to this fantasy game land.  I like Katherine a lot. She’s strong, feisty and puts the boys in their place. It is her determination to be independent that sets the wheels in motion for the plot, as the boys attempt to rescue her from a supposedly undesirable character. As she is the only female character who gets any proper action, it’s no wonder I’m drawn to her. It would be nice to see Katherine with a female buddy amongst this male-dominated group. Two feisty women are so much better than one!

There are lots of new characters to enjoy in this book. The boys are directed to an inn in a rough part of town called “The Whore’s Head” where a collection of other players who have been banished by Mordred, the Cavern Master, reside. As our group of friends start to understand what they need to do to stay alive and try to find a way home, they make a number of new acquaintances who add another layer of comedy and mirth to the proceedings. I loved the idea of the Four Horsemen being feared by all the residents of The Whore’s Head because they are teenage players who have found themselves in a place where they can wreak havoc without retribution and have easy access to alcohol. Now they have all transferred to their role play characters, it is only their reckless manner and inability to think things through that gives their ages away.

The boys experience a number of hairy scenarios which could easily be the end of them and it seems that they manage to get by in spite of themselves. Again, this adds to the comedy and Bevan generates a number of cliffhanger moments where the characters survive by pure luck. They are their own worst enemies! Yet as a reader, you want them to continue on. At the very least, you want them to be able to return home, but not before they have had a few more adventures.

After reading these two books, and Bevan’s blog (also hilarious, by the way), it seems that he has a great talent for satire. He is able to add an intelligence to the activities of a mainly moronic bunch of characters. The combination of vulgarity, idiocy, yet an uncanny ability to find their way out of life-threatening scenarios, whether by luck or an actual plan, works like a charm to entertain the reader. The names that he gives to things in the fantasy realm add to the already amusing narrative.

Bevan has generated a fantastical world which is intermingled with things that readers can easily recognise, which is perfect for those like me who are new to the concept of Dungeons and Dragons-style role-play. Trials and tribulations are mixed up with inept characters who are insanely funny and although, of course, the plot is key to the flow of the narrative, for me, it is the dynamics between the characters that makes these books so enjoyable and as an advocate of the importance of good characterisation, I applaud Bevan on his ability to generate flawed, yet endearing and hilariously funny characters whose relationships with each other provide continuous amusement with every line of dialogue. I thoroughly enjoyed book two and thanks to the cliffhanger at the end, I can’t wait to read the next one.