RPG Fiction: A Review of Critical Role: Vox Machina – Kith & Kin

Critical Role expanded into comic books awhile ago, telling tales of Vox Machina. Although their first campaign started in late 2012, Critical Role began streaming on March 12, 2015. The characters started that stream at 9th level, so there are still plenty of gaps to fill in about Vox Machina's early days and their origins. With Critical Role: Vox Machina – Kith & Kin, we're finally digging in to their backstories.

Kith.jpg

Written by New York Times best-selling novelist Marieke Nijhamp from material by Critical Role, it's a hefty novel as a 368-page hardcover. The audiobook version is read by Robbie Daymond with Laura Bailey and Liam O'Brien voicing their characters' dialogue, and, not surprisingly, it's very well produced. If you like audiobooks or have been wanting to try one, Kith & Kin is an excellent choice.

In the book, Vex'ahlia Vessar and Vax'ildan Vessar are half-elf twins, a ranger and rogue respectively. Kith & Kin begins with them as children being raised by their human seamstress mother until the day their elven father claims them. Then it flips forward to Vax and Vex heading to a city, which he likes but she loathes, to restock and find more work. Thereafter the story seamlessly switches between their childhood and their adult selves.

At its core Kith & Kin reveals why Vax and Vex always feel like outsiders and their longing for home and belonging while not achieving it. As if it isn't difficult enough being whisked away to an elven city where their biracial status status stands out, the twins have to deal with a cold, unyielding, impossible-to-please father. While they are well schooled in fighting, history, and more, nothing is ever good enough. This makes Vex try harder while resenting it, and Vax rebellious.

But the main plot is an introduction to the Clasp, and how Vax became caught in their schemes. A slimy noble puts a contract out on Vex. The price of breaking that contract is another contract to retrieve a particular ring in the village of Jorenn. Vax is told it'll be a nice, easy task.

Of course it isn't.

Along the way the twins find themselves on opposing sides of a deadly conflict between Jorenn's villagers and a group of miners fighting to survive with undead as a threat to both. Vax and Vex, independently and together, navigate their way through lies and rationalizations to work their way out of the “simple job.”

I'm avoiding specific details because the twists and turns are part of what make Kith & Kin entertaining. Both half-elves hide tender hearts behind tough, indifferent exteriors and for a time think about finding a place in one or the other community. The truth makes those decisions much more complicated than they might seem at first.

Kith & Kin is a juicy fantasy adventure with twists, turns, and intrigue. It's not big “save the world” fantasy. This is “dark underbelly of life in a world with magic” fantasy. No knowledge of Critical Role or Vox Machina is required since this is a prequel. If you are a Vox Machina fan, Kith & Kin helps to explain Vax and Vex's personalities and behavior.

Whether it's for yourself or as a gift, Critical Role: Vox Machina – Kith & Kin is an excellent choices for fantasy readers.
 
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Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels




robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
Couldn’t disagree more with this review. I’m about finished with the book and it’s mostly been a tedious slog. Finishing it just so I can give a proper review. What a disappointment.
 

I didn't find anything like twists, turns, or intrigue in this book. It's honestly really straightforward as adventure stories go. But I absolutely recommend the audiobook, since Robbie does such an amazing job presenting the story. You can tell he really cares, which makes sense since he's personally involved and becoming friends with these people.

So, if you are looking for the next groundbreaking saga, this isn't it. If you are happy with a basic story being told by familiar voices who are pouring their hearts out? Give the audiobook a try.
 

I'll be honest, as a fan of Critical Role I'd be more interested in stories involving new characters or side characters in this world rather than going into the backstories of the main protagonists. However, I may at least give the audiobook a try.
 


robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
My 1 star goodreads review:

An inauspicious start to what one imagines will be a series of novels filling in the backstories of the various members of Vox Machina, the adventuring group from the first live-streamed campaign of Critical Role.

First a bit of context, I like Critical Role and have followed the group through their various campaigns. I love adventure stories and was hoping this book would provide some hours of much needed escape into a land full of them.

This review will contain spoilers, not that there’s much to spoil as you’ll learn by reading on.

Kith & Kin tells two tales about the dynamic half-elf duo Vex & Vax. One, told in flashbacks, of twins raised in a small village by their human mother and then whisked off for a proper education by their aloof elven father. The other, in the present, of adventurers getting entangled with the notorious underground organization known as the clasp and being sent in a quest to steal a precious ring.

All well and good, and things start off fairly promisingly with some exciting adventure in the city of Westruun and the Clasp getting portrayed as a particularly ruthless crew.

Vax is forced to take the mission on behalf of the Clasp in order to protect his sister and pretty much as soon as the mission begins is when the book gets stuck in a tedious rut for far too many pages.

As Vex & Vax draw near to their destination, a mining town called Jorenn, they are set upon by strange undead creatures and become separated, Vex ending up in Jorenn thanks to a rescue by a scouting party, Vax by a group of mysterious miners. In Jorenn, Vex sees the ring on the finger of Derowen, the Shademaster or protector of Jorenn. The ring seemingly repels the attacking undead and saves the town. Oh dear, how can Vex take a ring that’s so useful?…

And the story pretty much hits pause right there for about 150 pages (note: I haven’t counted). Vex fruitlessly searches for Vax and Vax hangs out in the mines - for chapter after chapter. Now one might think that this would be an opportunity for us to get to know and care about the residents of Jorenn, or the miners. But we don’t. Vax and Vex find out little about the people at the heart of this story because the miners don’t want to talk, for “reasons”, and Vex seemingly never bothers to ask.

One might think that the flashbacks might provide a welcome break from the tedium, but they don’t. Life is pretty miserable in Syngorn and there is no adventure recounted at all except for a minor sneak into a professor’s office. Just stories of the twins disappointing their father and wanting to leave. Despite various references made in the present day story to adventuring lessons learned in Syngorn (such as Vax learning to find comfort in the rooftops of a town) we never see those adventures.

I should mention that the present day story clumsily revolves around 3 pairs of siblings: Vex & Vax, Thorn & Anissa (the miners) and Derowen and Culwen (Jorenn). Thorn is in a rage because Derowen supposedly killed his sister (though this happened a long time ago off camera and no one ever brings Anissa back to life for us to relive that fateful day). So we don’t care about her and Thorn doesn’t open up about her, instead he’s apparently falling for Vax, but this is also clumsily handled and their first kiss seems out of nowhere. As for Derowen and Culwen, Culwen is mostly absent and Derowen seems to little love for him, her affections are reserved for Aswin (her daughter) and perhaps Wick (a half giant companion who I thought would have an interesting story but we never hear it). When Culwen does return, the central conflict is revealed through clunky contrivance and we slog on to to the bitter end.

The combat scenes are poorly described and as such pretty dull, no heart pounding action here.

Anyway, the book has a lot of pages and very little story but keeps beating you over the head with emotional beats that it hasn’t earned. For example, the twins return to Byroden, their home town only to find it destroyed by a dragon attack and their mother killed. We’re supposed to feel devastated of course (and perhaps this is an attempt at the darkest cave of the heroes journey?) but we’re not because we never spent any time with residents of Byroden at large (just some of the kids of the village) and absolutely no time with the twins’ mother. The obvious scene of the twins departing Byroden to tearful farewells, didn’t make the cut, but would have paired nicely with their fateful return.

The book is a tedious two-dimensional slog. No exploration, little combat and artless social interaction. I would call it formulaic, but then it would need to have some plot points. Perhaps it’s what an AI might churn out given the inputs. Soulless tedium.

An absolutely wasted opportunity, and so very disappointing.
 

I got the book despite the negative reviews here and am very surprised to see the Despoiler of Flesh from 3.5's Book of Vile Darkness is in it.

Vile-rod.png

It's not referred to by name, but it is a rod made of tongues that permanently polymorphs a victim against their will.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
Couldn’t disagree more with this review. I’m about finished with the book and it’s mostly been a tedious slog. Finishing it just so I can give a proper review. What a disappointment.
It isn't a review, it's a sales piece. (If it wasn't written by the publication team, they should consider hiring the poster)
 




That was the best bit tbh.
IIRC I think I heard that the campaign before the stream started also featured another character from the 3.5 Book of Vile Darkness, the Dread Emperor, who was a guy with a magic belt that he kept children chained to that would cause the kids to die instead of him if he was attacked.

I'm thinking the world of Exandria was a bit darker and edgier before the show started.
 

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