Lizards, and Thieves, and Bugs, Oh My!
Recently, while scrolling through the digital shelves of Audible, I stumbled upon Chrysalis – a LitRPG fantasy by R.P. Jones. One glance at the eye-catching cover had me eagerly trading in my last credit.
The voice of narrating legend Travis Baldree sounded through my phone’s speakers. Within minutes I was lost in a story of Art, a young entomology student, as he navigates the fanciful world of Beast Realms.
Art, in the avatar of a badass lizardman, teams up with a dangerously adorable beast companion grub and an unlikely thief to scour the realms in search of the gems of power.
From cover to cover, Chrysalis brings surprises at every turn.
This debut, published by Portal Books, breaks the mold of what I’ve come to expect in the genre. Yes, there are all the elements that we’ve come to love in LitRPG – levels, classes, and character progression. But Jones brings this story to the next level (pun intended) with his use of compelling characters and intricate settings that leaped from the page to spark my own imagination.
It is books like Chrysalis that remind me what I love in the genre. Adventure, whimsy, humor, and twists and turns that leave the reader longing for more.
Interview with the Author, R.P. Jones!
I was privileged with the opportunity to connect with Jones and pick his creative mind. Here’s what he has to say about Chrysalis, his passion for writing, poetry travel, and creatures big and small.
JAMES: The theme of transformation runs strong throughout your book Chrysalis. In future books can we expect further evolutions of your main character Art, or his beast companion Nails? Any new classes?
R.P. JONES: Book 2 is called Evolution -- that ought to give a sense of the direction the mechanics of the characters takes. But yes, Art and Nails continue to evolve and transform in new ways which I hope will appeal to readers. There are also new classes which I've not seen in other LitRPG's and -- without wanting to spoil anything -- we see a couple of them (and how they work with the existing team) in considerable detail.
JAMES: Art uses his knowledge of entomology to carve a unique path through Beast Realms. Are you a budding entomologist yourself?
R.P. JONES: I'm not specifically into entomology, but I am a keen animal lover. In fact, I was the UK's first Pet Poet Laureate. I have written other books where animals play a key role so I try to make them seem realistic and not overpowered. I liked the idea of choosing a bug as the MC's Beast because it seemed like a choice most players wouldn't make. I like the underdog, or the under-grub in this case.
JAMES: The class of Gray Knight is a unique choice in the genre. What were your inspirations for the Gray Knight class?
R.P. JONES: I think that Naruto and Star Wars were two key influences of the Gray Knight class. I liked the idea of being able to switch between skill sets, but that this technique also comes with drawbacks. It means that Art has to be careful about how he approaches a problem, especially since he might not necessarily be in the most appropriate form for the situation. Partly, I think the Gray Knight was also a product of my old martial arts training, where different stances might offer varying benefits.
JAMES: If you were to find yourself transported into Beast Realms, what race or class would you choose?
R.P. JONES: I'd probably choose something a bit more dull than the Gray Knight class because I'd be more interested in just exploring the world and eating the food, than in battling and completing missions. So perhaps a Speedster (so I could get around quickly and escape if needed). I do like the Lacerta (lizard) species though, as they are acrobatic and can heal, which appeals to me.
JAMES: The side characters in Chrysalis are compelling and carry voices of their own. My favorite is Big Ben, the Bard Bull and his Butterfly (for alliterative power alone). Are we going to see more of these characters in future books? Any “side quest” stories in the works?
R.P. JONES: I'm glad you like Big Ben - I wanted him to be a complete contradiction to what we expect. He's a huge bull, but he is actually a bit of a dandy who just likes music and extravagant clothes. He's not well-suited to battles, really, so his appearance is deceptive. In book 2, Art and Nux are forced to go elsewhere in the Beast Realms, so those side characters from book 1 aren't about. But there are other side characters who have their own more in depth back stories and arcs, which I hope readers will enjoy. If people enjoy the series well enough (which is currently planned as a trilogy) then I may write a few shorter spin-offs focusing on specific characters. Other readers have asked for a book about Maxus, and one about Nux.
JAMES: Your home of Edinburgh, Scotland boasts some of the most beautiful landscapes and medieval architecture in the world. Were you able to draw on these surroundings for the imaginative settings in Beast Realms?
R.P. JONES: I've been lucky to travel a lot, and Scotland is a beautiful country. Beast Realms contains so many varied landscapes, I think I imagined the Mages' Guild and Paladin Enclave in a pseudo Scotland, whilst the temple locations were based more on the jungles I've visited in Asia. There is a labyrinth which I based on my travels in Greece, and the medieval town of Stonebull I envisaged as something similar to Stratford Upon Avon, where Shakespeare is from.
JAMES: Where can we expect Book 2 of Beast Realms to be released?
R.P. JONES: Early 2021, so not long to wait!
JAMES: How did you get involved with Portal Books?
R.P. JONES: I initially approached them to work as an editor. But I was also keen to write my own LitRPG since the genre is so much fun and I had the idea for Beast Realms (or at least, players with animal companions) already. So instead of editing, I started on the novel synopsis. They loved it, and so I started writing the novel!
JAMES: Travis Baldree’s, who narrated the audio format of Chrysalis, gave a masterful performance. What was it like working with him?
R.P. JONES: Travis is SO DAMN GOOD. I am so lucky to have him narrate my books, he brings so much life to my words. It was very easy to work with Travis as he is such a seasoned professional. I essentially just explained who the main characters were, and how I thought they might sound. I gave a few tips on pronunciation of certain names and words, and he did the rest. There are a lot of songs and poems in my books, which he did a brilliant job performing -- but this time around, I've recorded myself humming the tunes for the songs, to give Travis an idea of how they might sound.
JAMES: LitRPG has been riding a wave of popularity over the last few years. What is it about the subgenre that you believe attracts readers?
R.P. JONES: Escape. I think that's one key reason we read, and why we play video games. The world can be a tough, and sometimes dull, place -- LitRPG combines elements of gaming (character progression for example) which, for me, make the reading experience feel more involved and invested. It seems like it only takes a small dose of LitRPG for readers to be hooked on the genre. It's the heroin of contemporary literature, if will. Side effects possible, be careful.
JAMES: As the UK's first Pet Poet Laureate, can you tell us about that pets and animals in your life? Would any make good beast companions in Beast Realms?
R.P. JONES: I have two dogs (an English Springer Spaniel, and very recently a rescued Brittany from Spain). I love animals, and I wanted to be a vet when growing up (but I worried I wouldn't get the grades). When I travel, I like to see native animals, it's a really big reason for me to go abroad. My dogs wouldn't be very useful Beasts in Beast Realms, except maybe that they have "cute" powers which might stop players from wanting to attack us.
JAMES: Your skill as a poet certainly shines in Chrysalis. Personally, I love the song in the book, “Venom in my veins”. Who are some of the poets that inspired you throughout your career?
R.P. JONES: Thank you, that's lovely to hear. Poetry was my first vocation as a writer, and I researched the sci-fi poetry of Edwin Morgan to gain my PhD in poetry. So I would have to say Edwin Morgan -- if you haven't heard of him, please do check him out!
JAMES: As a poet, I have to give you a challenge. Can you sum up Chrysalis as a Haiku?
evolve as tactical teams.
Form is everything.
JAMES: What advice do you have for aspiring authors and poets seeking to publish their works?
R.P. JONES: Keep at it! Don't give up! The difference between a hobbyist and a writer is perseverance. It's a hard road, but you'll get there eventually. Oh, and read.
JAMES: What are you reading now? Any recommendation for our readers?
R.P. JONES: I've started "Caesar's Shadow" by Anthony Wright, and am also really keen to dive into "Ascendant" by Michael Miller. I've heard great things about "Battleborn" too. Aside from LitRPG I'm reading a book about living in Japan, "The Only Gaijin in the Village" by Iain Maloney, and a book of poems about grief (in the form of Super Mario World levels) by Stephen Sexton.
JAMES: Any animal charities you'd like to give a shout out to?
R.P. JONES: I was the Pet Poet Laureate for Blue Cross, so they're a good one. But honestly, times are tough for animals as well as people, so I'm sure most animal charities would appreciate whatever time or money you can give.
Chrysalis, book one of Beast Realms is available now in Paperback, Kindle, or Audible. To get your own copy click the link below: