One Word Kill

Dungeons & Dragons was never cool. Fun? Totally. But the game cannot, and probably never will, rise above its stigmata of being a holy place for geeks, dweebs, nerds, and the Simpson’s Comic-Book Guy. Polo-shirt wearing drones need not apply. Thanks to Stranger Things, the game has regained some of its collective groove. A counter-culture hip vibe that those-in-the-know can openly wear along with their fashionably-acceptable Vans and Skullcandy headphones. One Word Kill adds to the hipster fist pump.

Author Mark Lawrence channels his inner Generation X, and no doubt love of the RPG, and rolls out One Word Kill, a fun tale of friendship, romance, and adventure. And oh yeah, time travel. The book is a coming-of-age journey starring Nick and his role-playing friends. Nick is a 15-year-old recently diagnosed with leukemia when a traveler from the future offers him the hope of a cure, the chance to score with a goth girl, and punch in the face to the school bully. The catch? Well, as all D&D gamers know, there is always a quest.

One Word Kill’s Terminator-like nostalgia yields a fresh take on time-travel involving quantum mechanics that would make Tony Stark proud.

The characters of Nick and Mia make for a great pair of star-crossed lovers, but unfortunately the remainder of the cast are forgettably cliché and the street-wise antagonists are despairingly ridiculous. Lawrence catches the vibe of being a young teen in Margaret Thatcher’s London and navigates such avenues with a level of Rick Steves professionalism. Yet the duality between Nick’s physical plight and his emotional play is too rough. The realism of the moment doesn’t successfully bleed into the fantasy of the mission. The read is fun, but the disjointed bumps dissolve the David Bowie cool into a Neil Young blah.

One Word Kill has a strong narrative with a likable core cast yet it presses the genre instead of embracing it. Then again, if all D&D adventures could bleed into reality, maybe that set of lead figures and 35-sided die would have a stronger appeal.

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