Spotlight Sunday: Strongholds & Wyverns

Today’s Spotlight Sunday will be about a fantasy story! Fantasy is one of my favourite genres, and I’m really fortunate to be writing a review for such a fantastic unappreciated story! As with the other Spotlight Sundays so far, this was chosen because it is so unique and really changes the ballgame of what kind of stories are being told on Episode as a platform. If you haven’t tried Strongholds & Wyverns yet, you’re missing out! If you need convincing that this story is more than worth your passes, stay tuned and I’ll tell you why you’d have to be crazy not to read it! 

Name: Strongholds & Wyverns

Author: QueenIvy

Style: Limelight Cinematic

Genre: Adventure; Fantasy

CC: No

Chapters: 4

Status: More episodes coming soon!

Summary

Gracie, Abby, Craig, Candace and Tommy are Strongholds & Wyverns enthusiasts. They play once a week after school without fail, and their story is detailed and intricate, as any good fantasy game should be! However, after Gracie finds a mysterious die on the street outside of her house and shows it to the others, they find themselves thrown into their own Strongholds & Wyverns world! Split up and tasked with the mission of finding the princess, this group will have to defy some pretty crazy odds if they want to make it out in one piece! I mean, no one ever said that medieval life was easy! 

My Verdict

There’s very little that I can compare this story to on Episode, but I’ll try my best to give you an idea of what you’ll have the pleasure of experiencing. Imagine mixing Dungeons & Dragons with Narnia. Now throw in some comedy to lighten up the atmosphere and make the situations one hundred times more relatable. Yep. Basically my dream! This story is most definitely going to surpass all of your expectations of how Adventure/Fantasy is made on Episode! It is absolutely fantastic because the atmosphere is authentic and fun with lots of light-hearted humour thrown in to make any nerdy person chuckle. On occasions, you might just belly-laugh like I did. I mean, can you blame me? Some of it really is hilarious!

Screenshots from Strongholds & Wyverns on Episode

QueenIvy has really aced pacing in her story. She’s managed to establish the events and allow the plot to move forward rather quickly without making the story feel forced and unnatural. It makes complete sense that the events happen as quickly as they do, and we as readers are never left feeling out of our depths. I think that’s largely because she spent enough time building up the characters as genuine people before she turned to the climactic moment where they’re pulled into the world of the game. We got some time with them playing the actual game and even some events at school. There was some mild romance to break up the nerdy stuff and create that natural high school student feel.

The chapter lengths really help with this. They’re concise and packed with a lot of love and care, which means we’re never get the feeling that too much information is being forced at us in once go. Instead, we’re given the chance to experience well-structured chapters in our own time and choose to move on to the next section of the story in our own pace. That definitely adds to the idea of it not being rushed as a story. While a lot is going on, it’s never all at once, so it doesn’t feel like the reader has been hit hard in the face with a torrent of exposition. I always viewed Episode as a platform that really leant well to the busy person. If you only have five minutes of time and you want to throw yourself into a new world, it gives you the freedom to do so. Strongholds & Wyverns stays true to that ethos and embraces the unique nature of Episode with open arms and does it successfully. I want to be able to remember what happened in the last chapter I read. I don’t want to feel like one hundred things have happened and I can’t distinguish one part from another! Episode gives us a chapter-based system, and QueenIvy was smart to use it!

Characterisation

QueenIvy has created some absolutely incredible characters. One of the things that really stood out to me was the way nerd culture was treated in this story. I am well aware of the fact that nerd culture has become big recently, but the Hollywood shows apparently dedicated to hailing and promoting nerd culture still fall into dangerous traps, such as constant gripes at male nerds’ masculinity and the idea of women who game as weird and rare, giving the impression that women are unable to enjoy gaming in the same capacity as men (I’m looking at you, Big Bang). With the way the dialogue so easily slips references to nerd culture (as if, shock horror, nerds are real people), you really get this sense of authenticity that you can sometimes miss in these shows. Here we have people who proudly like nerdy things and don’t feel emasculated or weird about it. They certainly don’t seem to be teased, either! That’s a nice break from the usual toxic cliches! Thank you, QueenIvy, for contributing to the (unfortunately considerably small) collection of stories that promote nerdiness as something normal.

One of the things that struck me when I read it the second time around was how much QueenIvy must have really thought about these characters. It’s certainly in the small details that you get a sense of the scale of characterisation that went into creating this story. I mean, every single member in the party had a completely different reaction to the magical die, and they were able to give us a nice glimpse into their characters in a single line each before they were pulled into the world. It’s a very difficult thing to do, and the talent that goes behind naturally creating intricacies in characters in mere seconds is astounding.

Artwork of Abby created by ChaoticDeluge

I found Abby extremely relatable, and not just because she’s the person you get to make choices for. First of all, I spent these three chapters not quite knowing if Abby knows that Tommy likes her or not. Frankly, I’ve been in that situation many a time: not knowing if a guy liked me, or not being sure I’m reading the situation properly. Heck, there have even been times where I’ve been confused about whether or not I knew someone liked me after I found out! Also, you have the choice to make her strong and independent without being a complete witch about it (which I find very relatable and extremely refreshing in an Episode story). It seems that often in stories, the girl will either be a complete pushover or a little mean with the way she asserts her independence. It’s nice to see a girl who doesn’t need to be sharp or snappy, even if she doesn’t need another person’s help.

While Craig might be just a little bit insufferable, what I like about him is that he’s not completely irredeemable. He’s still a good person (deep down) who clearly cares a great deal about his friends and does eventually realise that he’s overstepped boundaries if you glare, tut and sigh hard enough. He also has his moments of comedy, like trying to seduce a dragon, which make him endeared to me in a lovable creep kinda way. In fact, I’d even go as far as to say that QueenIvy mastered this lovable creep concept a lot better than The Big Bang Theory. Howard can do downright illegal things from time to time and Penny was forced to apologise for calling him out on his harassment. Meanwhile, Craig does say some annoying stuff and seems to hit on anything with a pulse, but his bad behaviour is never treated as okay or something the girls just have to cope with and (unlike some people) we even get a moment where he apologises for it! I really don’t mean to keep comparing this story to Big Bang because they’re absolutely nothing alike, but what can I say? Strongholds & Wyverns deals with its nerdy characters a lot better!

Also, can I take a moment to just swoon over how cute Tommy is? Where are the gentlemen like him in the world? He represents a lovely, very positive type of masculinity that I really wish we’d see a little more in the media from time to time. It’s good for stories when people see different types of masculinity (other than the usual hegemonic masculinity that the media loves to portray) as a good thing. What I mean by that is Tommy’s never seen as particularly un-masculine for being a sweet gentlemen, and he isn’t ridiculed for his caring nature. On the contrary, QueenIvy builds it as something we’re supposed to grow to love. Abby certainly sees something in him!

Diversity

I don’t feel as though I’ve seen enough of the world (yet) to come to any serious conclusions when it comes to representation of POC or other underrepresented minority groups, but what I have seen is certainly very promising! Of course, Gracie doesn’t fit into the usual stereotypes of a woman of colour that can be so difficult not to fall into, which makes it a lovely break from a lot of the sometimes damaging and toxic portrayals we can see on Episode and the media as a whole. To be honest, I have complete faith that the story will get even better when it comes to diversity, and I cannot wait to see what comes next!

Of course, the actual world the characters find themselves in is definitely diverse from the little we’ve seen of it and doesn’t obey any restrictive stereotypes. I don’t want to get too political, but a lot of people who see fantasy as purely medieval Tolkien-esque stories can become quite narrow-minded with their ideas of race. They’ll argue that black people in the medieval times is historically inaccurate, even though they’re willing to suspend their disbelief with the idea that dragons exist. If you’re writing a fantasy story, you really have very little excuse to not include POC in your world because fantasy is probably the most… well, fantastical genre of writing there is. You can’t get away with the historical accuracy argument when you’re writing about elves and orcs because the world is clearly not real. This is a very common idea that many POC advocates have to fight against, but not in this story! QueenIvy has included people of different races and creeds from the offset, and that makes me rather happy!

As well as that, I have already mentioned the fact that diversity of character is not lacking in this story. This is possibly one of the most fundamental types of diversity that people should, but often fail to, put into their stories, and it can really make or break your narrative. It’s nice to see that our nerdy group doesn’t act the same simply because they’re nerds. They all have personalities separate of their interests, which shine through in even the smallest of moments. They all wear their status as a nerd with pride, but it doesn’t define them, which is the perfect balance to strike. 

Overall Impression

The romance was handled incredibly well. On an app like Episode, it is very difficult to find a story that includes a romance, but neither the narrative nor the characters obsess over its presence almost completely. We’re very much aware of the fact that Tommy has a crush on Abby, but at the same time, they are able to stop swooning over each other and get down to business when they need to. After all, they are friends first and possible love interests afterwards. I’m not sure if this was knowingly, but QueenIvy has sent out a powerful message: you might like someone, but you don’t need to let your whole life revolve around your crush. You can still play Strongholds & Wyverns like a functioning member of society and not constantly make everything about how in love you are. That is certainly a powerful, and extremely unique, message to send out on Episode.

QueenIvy has beautifully married two different ideas together. The whole Dungeons and Dragons-style tabletop game really lends itself well to the whole choices aspect of Episode. As you would in a real game of DnD, you make choices for your characters which have outcomes you’re uncertain of (although not because of the presence of dice in this case) and your choices shape the narrative. I really got the feeling that I was playing DnD myself when I was reading this story, what with the atmosphere created and the inclusion of choices that actually matter. It’s a fantastic read!

I’m sure you’ll all love this story as much as I do! I would love to include more, but this is already significantly longer than I’d planned for it to be, so I think I’ll stop here so I don’t start spoiling the story for you! If you haven’t done so already, give Strongholds & Wyverns a read. It certainly deserves it!

Let your nerdy side free by giving this story a read. You know you want to!

And don’t forget to vote for the next Spotlight Sunday!

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