Shadow Slave

B: Great read, highly recommend.

A cultivation/LitRPG mashup where Awakened protect the world from Nightmare creatures in the dream realm.

Blurb

Growing up in poverty, Sunny never expected anything good from life. However, even he did not anticipate being chosen by the Nightmare Spell and becoming one of the Awakened - an elite group of people gifted with supernatural powers. Transported into a ruined magical world, he found himself facing against terrible monsters - and other Awakened - in a deadly battle of survival.

What’s worse, the divine power he received happened to possess a small, but potentially fatal side effect…

Thoughts

As of writing this story, I’ve read about 500 chapters or so. But, because WebNovel is the worst, I’m not going to read further given the requirement to sacrifice a newborn and both an arm and a leg.

I have… complex thoughts on Shadow Slave. I jumped in on it after seeing a good dozen recommendation threads in the PF sub with people saying it was on a similar level to Cradle (which I love). Now, having finally hit the WebNovel price wall, I must struggle to put those words into thoughts. Having read hundreds of chapters, the story is obviously engaging, so to try and break down my thoughts, here are some headings. Ranked from “best” to “worst” in my opinion.

Worldbuilding

It’s masterful. The Nightmare Spell and the dream world are imaginative and visceral. Whether we’re looking at the subsiding ocean from the first main arc, the city the MC’s reach, or the Chained Isles, it’s fresh and incredibly detailed. The world the Awakened have to contend with is ruthless and deadly, and the effect it has on characters is profound. Absolute top-tier marks for the worldbuilding and setting.

Progression

It’s strong. Sunny doesn’t get a million skills and levels and class upgrades, those are few and far between but impactful because of it. The smaller progression is focused on the Memories (and Echoes) gathered from killing Nightmare creatures, and those Memories (aka magical items) come in the form many different weapons, armour, charms, tools, and the like. Seeing how Sunny’s upgrading arsenal is put to use is a joy.

Characters

Are generally well done. Obviously Sunny is the most developed, given he’s the focus of the narrative perspective, but Nephis, Cassie, Effie, Kai, Caster, and all the side characters have their own personality and goals. My only wish here—and maybe this happens in a future chapter—is some character growth from Sunny himself. Granted, his background is an orphaned street rat who trusts no one, but sometimes I read a passage where he decides again to trust not even his good friends and gets himself into difficult situations because of it and I just closed my eyes and sighed. Dammit, Sunny, learn how to have friends and trust people, and 90% of your problems will disappear and you’ll be much happier. Just once. Please.

Writing

The technical writing itself, I believe, could use some refinement. I assume this is a translated work given a lack of standard things like italics for thoughts, but ignoring tiny things like there (and the occasional jump from Sunny to omniscient/someone else for a sentence or two) I think the the two biggest drawbacks are how brow-beaten some passages are, and the amount of exposition. There are many passages where Sunny puts something together and you get text like:

A few things became more clear from this short description. Firstly…

And then you get a lot of exposition thrown at you all from some innocuous thing which means Sunny puts together a massive puzzle.

I’ll pause here to say that, I will try to draw primarily only from the first arc, but there are still some light spoilers from it.

If you want to ensure absolutely no hint of a spoiler crosses your eyes, stop reading. For an extract (that isn’t plot-relevant), Sunny and Redacted are clashing in the air, getting entangled as they try to kill each other. This is obvious from the entire fight they are in. But the writing still pauses to make sure it’s even more obvious:

But in reality, of course, the purpose of this intimate closeness was not love; it was violence.

So much of the combat scenes are statements which are already explicit just rephrased and made more obvious. Sometimes this in-your-face informational passage is just… wrong.

He was not very educated, however, even he knew that a falling object would forever accelerate at a steady pace… theoretically. That meant that every second Sunny was falling, his speed was increasing exponentially. By now, it had to be simply insane.

That’s right, it’s my favourite pet peeve: abusing the word exponentially. But also… that’s just not how free-fall works. Sunny realises this a few chapters later and there’s a passage to clarify, but these sorts of incorrect revelations and then adjustments a few chapters on are very common, and it is frustrating. I’m aware that a few serials have this sort of problem, not just Shadow Slave.

Plot enforced stupidity

This is my number one Do Not Like trope, but Shadow Slave does do this a lot. I’ll just use the conclusion of the first primary arc as an example, so let’s get some spoiler tags in here. Serious spoilers, for real.

Here’s roughly what happens:

  1. The dreamers attack the Crimson Spire so they can use its gateway to wake up.
  2. Nephis goes to attack the Big Bad at the top of the spire while telling Sunny to lead everyone to the gateway.
  3. Sunny does this, and then Caster disappears, as he’s on his way to kill Nephis.
  4. Sunny intercepts and kills Caster, but is grievously wounded.
  5. Sunny finds Nephis at the top of the tower and notices a new attribute in his stat sheet.
  6. Nephis explains to an ignorant Sunny that they both have this attribute and it’s because someone who’s been exposed to the sun’s light needs to stay behind or the gateway won’t work.
  7. They attack each other because they both want to escape.
  8. Despite taking so many wounds, Sunny is “stronger than ever”. He gains new power several times in the fight and is now at his peak… despite being on the verge of death. But despite all of this, somehow Nephis is always stronger than him, despite her also being on the verge of death.
  9. Sunny figures out Nephis isn’t fighting him properly, because she wants him to escape. But if she didn’t put up a fight, he’d feel guilty and not leave her side.
  10. She eventually has to use his true name to make him her slave and orders him to go through the gate.
  11. Arc one ends as Sunny wakes up in the real world.

This entire section was exasperating. Maybe I’ve missed something, but…

  1. Why didn’t Nephis just tell Sunny to ensure that Caster needed to be kept alive, to use as the person to power the gateway? Granted, maybe she didn’t know.
  2. If Nephis knew Sunny’s true name, why did she not just use it instead of almost killing them both in a pointless fight she intended to lose? Maybe she considered that worse?
  3. But, for real now, if Nephis wanted Sunny to leave… why did she not just tell him to go through the gate first. Sunny was, after all, completely ignorant that someone had to stay behind until after Nephis explained it to him.
  4. And then, when Sunny reached the gateway first and was a moment from teleporting out, thinking he was victorious… why did Nephis jump into the gateway too to shut it down? This is the opposite of letting Sunny leave.

It felt like the author really wanted a fight between the two characters and so shoehorned one in, despite it making no sense. And to rub salt in it, the fight didn’t even make sense. The amount of “he had reached the absolute pinnacle of his power potential” despite being incredibly injured and still ass-pulling power and insights that didn’t have any meaning because “Astoundingly, incredibly, irrationally, she was still stronger."

For an analogy, it felt like Goku vs Frieza. There’s an intense fight and the difference between the two is slim… but then Goku finally manages to go Super Saiyan. Except, imagine that when Goku went SS, instead of getting that amazing smack-down, you find out Frieza is still irrationally just a bit stronger than Goku. I get why, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t frustrating to read.

Anyway, those sorts of oddities have happened a few times and I end up just skimming through that current conflict given the lack of coherence pulls me out of it. But thankfully Sunny is always getting into new problems, so a few chapters later I’m back happily reading. The worldbuilding is just too good for me to put it all down. Thank goodness WebNovel is here to help me get my free time back.