The apocalypse will be televised!
A man. His ex-girlfriend’s cat. A sadistic game show unlike anything in the universe: a dungeon crawl where survival depends on killing your prey in the most entertaining way possible.
In a flash, every human-erected construction on Earth—from Buckingham Palace to the tiniest of sheds—collapses in a heap, sinking into the ground.
The buildings and all the people inside have all been atomized and transformed into the dungeon: an 18-level labyrinth filled with traps, monsters, and loot. A dungeon so enormous, it circles the entire globe.
Only a few dare venture inside. But once you’re in, you can’t get out. And what’s worse, each level has a time limit. You have but days to find a staircase to the next level down, or it’s game over. In this game, it’s not about your strength or your dexterity. It’s about your followers, your views. Your clout. It’s about building an audience and killing those goblins with style.
You can’t just survive here. You gotta survive big.
You gotta fight with vigor, with excitement. You gotta make them stand up and cheer. And if you do have that “it” factor, you may just find yourself with a following. That’s the only way to truly survive in this game—with the help of the loot boxes dropped upon you by the generous benefactors watching from across the galaxy.
They call it Dungeon Crawler World. But for Carl, it’s anything but a game.
You’ve started reading this review of Dungeon Crawler Carl, book one of the series of the same name. It’s so good they’ve named it twice! Now let’s see if your attention span hasn’t been destroyed by TikTok and aimless social media scrolling to be able to get through the entirety of this poorly written article. Strap in folks!
Ah Dungeon Crawler Carl. This is a LitRPG/GameLit Adventure novel centred around everyman Carl, his flat-faced Persian cat Princess Donut (the Queen Anne Chonk), and the end of the world. For anyone who isn’t familiar with this subgenre, LitRPG & GameLit fiction is heavily inspired by videogames and table top games, wherein the character(s) tend to find themselves in gaming like situations, full of stats, skill points, inventory management and health bars galore. And whilst it’s a massively popular subgenre with hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of fans, I wasn’t one of them. Having dipped my toe into the genre with other books, I very quickly found myself bouncing off of them for the main reason that drew so many people into them to begin with, which were the gaming elements. I found myself bored by the constant checking of stats, the inability for the characters to move forward because they “needed to level up”, which oftentimes ground the stories I’d experienced to a screeching halt. And this is coming from someone who was basically birthed with a Dualshock controller in hand.
So it was safe to say I went into DCC with low expectations.
Oh boy was I totally wrong!
Firstly, I listened to the audiobook version of this book, and I can safely say it’s one of the best I’ve ever listened to. It’s more than just narration, which is incredible on its own (Jeff Hays does an incredible job of creating what feels like a full cast performance), but it also includes various effects to enhance the scene, such as robotic filters, revving engines and, at one point, a crowd of people all chanting “GLURP GLURP”. The production is simply top notch.
This story starts out, like all the best stories out there, with the end of the world. But it also starts out exactly as it means to go on; by being ridiculously funny! Within about 10 minutes I had gone from my grumpy and snooty attitude of “why am I bothering with this” to belly laughing like a freak in my car. Dinniman immediately puts me into the mind of Pratchett & Adams by way of the best irreverent comedies of the past decade. It’s truly a laugh a minute, but definitely an adult one. The gore is over the top funny, the swearing is used with professional finesse to put a Scotsman to shame, and the situations Carl & Donut find themselves in escalate in their “what the fuck” hilarity. The gaming elements also aren’t overwrought, Dinniman keeping them in check, usually explaining the absolute necessities to us, the reader, but also giving enough detail to please the hardcore GameLit fans. The frequent use of the “NEW ACHIEVEMENT” running gag never failed, and the AI that reads these out to Carl – in a usually sarcastic manner – being another hilariously three-dimensional entity in itself (even if it’s a foot loving pervert!)
But again, like the best comedies, it isn’t just laughs. This is, after all, a book where in the first few pages billions of humans lives are snuffed out in an instant, and it never shies away from the brutality of the intergalactic TV show that now rules their lives, or the unfathomable amount of death and trauma this alien take over has caused and continues to wreck on the remaining populace. In fact, Dinniman does a brilliant job of creating sympathetic characters amongst both human and alien, and even the general mob monsters receive some semblance of humanity. Carl himself is a great leading man, a simple guy who is easy to cling to, determined in the face of overwhelming odds, and genuinely tries to the best thing. He’s also a dab hand at creating on-the-fly plans that never feel like plot conveniences or plot armour, everything he does feels like its come from him as a person and within the confines of the game itself (sometimes even exploiting the games rules, which is a cool touch). Donut is… well she’s a cat, and a princess cat at that. She’s brilliant of course (goddamit Donut!)
If I had to say one thing that I think the book could’ve done better, that would be a better ending. Whilst Carl & companions do grow throughout this first book, and I suppose they end at a natural “finishing” point, it just sort of ends? I immediately jumped into book 2 after this one ended, and it literally feels like I could have just turned the page to a new chapter. I suppose it makes sense in the framework of this world (which is this brilliantly varied The Running Man style show, where there’s 18 levels that descend slowly into the Earth, each having their own themes and gimmicks), but, well, it’s a little hard to explain without spoilers. I’m about 2 hours into book 2 at the time of writing, and I’d consider these two books to just be part 1 and part 2 of one whole narrative. Frankly though, this negative point is a bit of stretch.
Ultimately, I had so much fun with this book! It was a true pleasure to listen to and experience, absolutely hilarious from start to finish, but Dinniman also created some heartfelt moments, along with moments of thematic weight without “Marvel-ling” it up (i.e. completely ruining any sense of meaning with a shit joke). I’m loving this series and will continue to listen to it in its entirety, but it’s also dissuaded my completely wrong sense of dislike for LitRPGs, which is great because now I have another avenue of entertainment that I’ve been enlightened to. Pick this up, especially the audiobook version, you won’t be disappointed!
You’ve finally got to the end of this review for Dungeon Crawler Carl, what took you so long?! Now go and buy the book, asshole. What else are you waiting for? A parade?!