The Primal Hunter by Zogarth: Review


review Pretentious high fantasy it ain’t, but if you can look beyond Zogarth’s obsessive tabling of his protagonist’s stats, you’ll find The Primal Hunter is highly satisfying fantasy fare that anyone can love.

I clearly recall when I heard the name “Zogarth” first mentioned.

My colleagues in my day job had gradually realised over a period of months that I am a collossal nerd who highly enjoys lying around all day reading science fiction and fantasy books. After some discussion of the fantasy greats – Robert Jordan, George R. R. Martin and Raymond E. Feist included – the discussion turned to the books that we were currently reading.

My colleague Phil mentioned the ‘LitRPG’ genre that was proving popular on ‘read along’ services such as Royal Road and replicated the experience of playing a video game.

Although I’m also a big fan of role playing games (‘Dark Souls’ anyone?), I couldn’t help but express my immediate skepticism about The Primal Hunter, which Phil mentioned as being a standout of the LitRPG (Literature Role Playing Game) genre.

“The book contains actual statistics and details of the skill levels?” I asked. “Reading it is like playing a RPG?” and then: “And the author hasn’t even given his real name? What kind of name is Zogarth?”

But I’m here right now to confess: I am totally hooked. I love The Primal Hunter series and I’m now halfway through the third book. I’m sure I’ll keep on reading all the way through to the end.

The plot of The Primal Hunter starts off relatively simply. A somewhat solitary office worker named Jake Thayne is going about his ordinary business in his ordinary workplace, when suddently the entire universe that Earth is part of is swept up in an unnerving transformation, and all humans are transitioned into the next phase of our existence: The System. Complete with integration into a much broader multiverse of universes.

Being enrolled in the system is a lot like playing a role playing video game. You start off by choosing a class (Jake chooses archer), you get a basic set of starting equipment and skills, and then you are set loose in a fantasy world to slay beasts, collect loot and up your skills and experience, before taking on bosses and collaborating with other players.

The System is a lot like Dark Souls meets Diablo meets The Elder Scrolls.

However, the difference between Jake and most of the other humans who enter the System (literally the population of planet Earth) is that Jake is more adaptable. While the others around Jake immediately start panicking as they are faced with their new reality, Jake takes it all on board. Already something of a loner, he takes off in this new world to gain as much experience and level up as much as possible. He fully leans in.

If you’re a fan of high fantasy, then you’ll probably find much of The Primal Hunter quite low brow to start with. Jake debates with himself a lot about whether he should put more skill points into Perception or Agility, for example, and there are whole chapters devoted to whether he should choose one type of skill upgrade over another.

Anyone who’s made their way through the complex skill trees found in Diablo II will immediately recognise these quandaries. Should Jake become a magic archer or just focus on upgrading his stealth? Should he branch out into skills that allow him to also fight with a sword, or should be grind more in a given area to get better loot? For those who haven’t played many video games, it may get a little confronting to learn all the new terms, although Zogarth does a great job of explaining them along the way.

Zogarth’s frequent quoting of Jake’s exact statistics can reinforce the illusion that this isn’t exactly fantasy on the same level as Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea series. And the author himself notes that he creates “web novels”.

But as it turned out, all of my naive assumptions about the quality of Zogarth’s writing and the depth of The Primal Hunter were totally wrong.

The Primal Hunter masquerades as a lightweight LitRPG. But underneath the surface of this sub-genre convention, the series conceals incredible depth of world-building, depth of character and some complex philosophical morality.

Zogarth spends the majority of the first book in the series focused on the titular character, the Primal Hunter, Jake. But the author has done some incredibly deep thinking about the world of the System that he places Jake in. This world is gradually revealed in the second and third books, and is complex enough to allow Zogarth unlimited scope to expand gradually into it.

Jake’s moral quandaries are also well thought out and display Zogarth’s competent knowledge of modern psychology, which allows him to flesh out his characters and place them in conflict with each other in situations which allow their characters to shine.

Lastly, the action that takes place in the books (and after all, this is a LitRPG) is satisfying and advances the relatively minimalist plotline. Although much of its overall structure appears based on the types of battles you’ll see in Japanese Shonen anime and manga (Zogarth himself references the popular Naruto series a number of times), this isn’t a bad thing, as it gives Zogarth a structure to choreograph complex fight dynamics to the reader.

There’s a reason why shows like Naruto have enduring popularity amongst their viewer base, and there’s much of the same addictive combat to be found in The Primal Hunter.

In general, Zogarth has clearly understood one of the most popular theories of novel writing: That if you understand your characters well, and if you place them in a world that you understand well, then the writing can flow like magic, as the characters themselves will drive the plotline and narrative. It especially helps if you have a consistent set of magic system rules, embodied well in The System conceit that Zogarth employs in The Primal Hunter.

The Primal Hunter isn’t as complex or deeply researched a series as the epic series that so many of us have grown up reading. It’s not as solidly rooted in history as The Wheel of Time, in political machinations as A Song of Ice and Fire or in deep world-building as The Lord of the Rings.

But it doesn’t need to be.

With his The Primal Hunter series, Zogarth has picked one genre — LitRPG — and is delivering that genre in a pitch-perfect manner, doing one thing extremely well. His books are addictive and display fast-paced action, but are still thoughtful in tone, with many thought-provoking concepts.

Along the way, Zogarth is showing that LitRPG deserves to be taken seriously as a sub-genre within the overall fantasy universe. This is the kind of non-traditional series that might have struggled to get published with a traditional publisher. This makes it even more satisfying that it has found such a wide audience online.

Don’t be turned off by the LitRPG label, even if you haven’t ever played a video game in your life. The Primal Hunter is a satisfying series that most fantasy readers will struggle to put down, and an absolute gem of the genre. I’ll be reading until the end!


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