BOOK REVIEW: Critical Failures #4

Critical Failures #4 The Phantom Pinas by Robert Bevan

After CF #3, Tim & Co are back in the C&C world to find Mordred. They captured Mordred’s dice at the end of A Storm of S-Words, but they can’t use them to get themselves back to normal. Instead, they return to Cardinia to tell Frank and the other transported players at the Whore’s Head that they’ve got the dice. Initially, everyone is excited, but no one knows where Mordred is or how to use his dice. This leads to the group splitting up, which is what slowed down the plot too much for me.

Honestly, I didn’t care as much about what Tim, Dave, Cooper, Katherine, and Julian did in this installment. (More on that below.) CF #4 is more about the side characters and expanding the cast. We meet the Drow elves, which might become more important later, and an awesome mayor that can shape-shift into a tiger. Tim spends 90% of the story being drunk, and Cooper tags along with him until even he can’t stand Tim. A lot of what the main cast does is chase after the captured Ravenous, and it’s a bit tedious. Maybe I don’t appriciate Ravenous enough as a character, but Ravenous conviniently escapes from Mordred, which forestalls a real confrontation with the dickish CM. I think this series works best when the characters have to confront Mordred and his minions, which felt lacking here.

The new characters–Stacey, Randy, and Denise–are amazing, but they might’ve distracted from advancing the main plot line. They steal this book and get the best plot lines. Stacey was designed by Mordred to be ‘the perfect character’. She has an 18 in every skill set and is an elf. Denise came to C&C to get his manhood back, which doesn’t work out well for him. He ends up a dwarf–a female dwarf–named Dennis.

But let’s talk about Randy. Oh, Randy. My new favorite character and vehicle for the star plot line in this book. Randy, the gay Southern, kidnapped van driver, is now an incredibly buff Paladin. Randy is a humble character, and while he deals with latent guilt over being gay, he’s instantly liked by the Whore’s Head residents. It’s difficult not to like Randy, and I totally forgive Bevan diverting the story to focus on his plot. The people at the Whore’s Head explain to Randy later, because Randy is a Paladin, he has to worship a god. Being the good Christian that he is, he picks Jesus Christ. A glitch in the C&C game causes Jesus to manifest as a New God in the C&C world, and Randy gains incredible healing powers. He heals people in the name of Christ–this never gets old–and eventually gains enough notoriety as the first disciple of the New God to meet the king. This seeming diversion is what eventually turns out to be the ‘real plot’ of this story.

Because Mordred is the CM and knows everything about said game, he releases a lich king, who heads straight for Cardinia with an army of orcs. This ends in a climactic battle, where everyone dies and is resurrected as zombies in service of the lich king. Except Randy is there, and he prays to Jesus Christ, who manifests in the C&C world.

That’s right, Jesus comes to fight a lich king. Whatever other problems this book had was worth it for that battle.

The C&C adventure continues but in a series of short stories. I loved this absurdist fantasy world, but I’m not a huge short story fan. If you are, there are plenty of them.

Rating: 4 stars because while there are some amazing plot moments, this book felt more disjointed than the strongest books in this series.

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