Book Review: The Five Trials, by Mike Truk
You guys wanna get weird? ‘cause this is gonna get weird.
In 1994, a game by the name of Fighting Baseball was released in Japan.
The thing was, said game didn’t have a MLB license, so they had to make up generic team names– and player names.
In 2016, somebody noticed this and put it into meme on twitter.
In 2018, somebody decided to use one of these goofy names, Mike Truk, as a pseudonym. Or, well, I at least hope it’s a pseudonym.
That should probably tell you about what we’re getting into, here.
See, every now and again, I poke around self-published stuff on Amazon. Partly because it’s something I’ve vaguely considered getting into with my own writing (presuming I ever write anything worth trying to publish), and partly because, with a lot of the current changes in the publishing industry, it’s a lot harder to find the kind of pulpy, throwaway schlock that’s destined to fill the dollar bins. I’ll spare you the details (mostly because I don’t know all of them), but there’s a definite movement for lower-to-mid-tier authors towards online publishing. And, with tools and stuff in Kindle Unlimited, doing so is easier than ever.
For better and worse.
Which brings us to Mr. Truk.
As I poked around the fantasy section of Kindle Unlimited, Mr. Truk’s books popped up fairly regularly. A few months ago, he was giving copies of his first book, The Five Trials, away for free, and I got curious. And here we are.
So yeah. The Five Trials centers around a bland, reader-insert guy by the name of Noah. Noah is a generic nerd who’s kind of good looking, at least, and like maybe did a couple years of aikido (which will become important later). He’s in love with his best friend, Emma, but sadly she’s off to the Big City™, and he can barely stammer out a confession at the bus stop–
–when some dude in a space-pod crashes through the bus and hands Noah a magic sword before dying.
Oh, and there’s an evil monster attack, too. Noah pees himself a bit, then manages to kill the monster, at which point Noah and Emma are zapped into another dimension. As you do. Once there, it’s revealed that Noah is apparently the “Savior,” (that is, your bog standard chosen-one), destined to save the universe from darkness. Only part of the savior-ing process involves picking out a party of fellow adventurers to assist him as they go through the titular “Five Trials.” Each one’s basically a different level of a video game– though sadly it’s not quite on the ‘ice level, lava level, minecart level’ scheme of things.
Oh, and Noah has to form a magical bond with the other members of his party, and apparently the best way to do that is by having sex. Good thing Noah winds up surrounded by a bunch of hot ladies, I guess? There’s the blonde valkyrie one, the gothy snarky one, the mean-girl redhead, and Emma’s also there to be the girl-next-door.
It’s that kind of book, folks.
If the cover didn’t tip you off, gratuitous sexytimes are more or less the whole point of this series. Mike Truk pretty blatantly gets his, er, inspiration from cheesy harem anime– though it’s not QUITE as bad as it could be? I mean, at least there’s no panty shots or underage characters or anything. Which, uh, is kind of a low bar to set.
I knew all this going in. And heck, I’m not necessarily opposed to smut in a book. Sometimes it can actually be used in an interesting way, such as in Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel novels. And as I read The Five Trials, the book surprised me in that it wasn’t quite as cringeworthy as I thought it would be. Which isn’t to say the book was good, mind you. But it still had a couple attempts at depth?
Like, for example, there’s the whole thing with Noah and Emma (oh, and there was a third best friend in the trio who died in a car crash before the book even started) which had the makings of, like … actual emotion behind it? Of course, a lot of that love triangulation is forgotten (or at least expanded into a far larger love polygon) once Noah learns he’s got to sleep with the other characters for contrived magical purposes. Likewise, there’s even a throwaway line about how some of the other ‘candidates’ for Noah’s party are dudes, but he’s not into that, but it’s at least rafted as an option? Which, uh, would be a far different book if he went that way, but hey. It’s just a hint more depth I’d expected from a cheesy sex-fantasy-adventure written by a guy naming himself after a meme. Heck, there are even a couple of female characters in the book Noah doesn’t have sex with! (I suppose that’s what sequels are for).
And the funny thing is, there’s not even as many sex scenes as you’d expect? Don’t get me wrong, there’s a fair bit of explicit smut in the book. And sometimes the smut is a bit … off. (For the record ‘canal’ is a very unsexy word). And heck, the sex scenes themselves are … kind of vanilla? Like, Noah never hooks up with an elf or a dryad or any other weird magical babes that a fantasy novel could offer. (Which, again, is what I suppose sequels are for).
But an even greater amount of wordage is focused on monster-fighting in the various trials, or clumsy fantasy worldbuilding, complete with a deluge of made up nonsense names and some magic system bits I think Mike Truk cribbed from Final Fantasy Tactics.
The Five Trials tries, if slightly, to be something more than just an excuse for chainmail bikini babes to sex up the protagonist. And honestly, I think that might be its biggest flaw? Because on the one hand, the plot is goofy and contrived and narrated by leeringly horny protagonist. Like, every time a new female character shows up Noah gets to drool and go on about how she’s “smoking hot” or somesuch. But on the other hand, the fight-the-monsters and save-the-world action is rather gritty and gory, which doesn’t match the tone. Like, about two thirds of the way through the novel there’s an extended sequence in which Noah & co are captured and tortured– and not in a kinky fuzzy handcuffs way, either.
All and all, this weird and inconsistent tone really drags down The Five Trials. It’s like Mike Truk tried splicing a Lord of the Rings knockoff with the literary equivalent of a Porky’s movie. Sex and the fantasy genre have been intertwined at least since they started painting naked ladies on the cover of Weird Tales, if not earlier. It’s not the inclusion of explicit sex scenes that makes The Five Trials weird– it’s the fact that the goofy, contrived horniness doesn’t fit in with the gritty, bloody action of the rest of the novel.
But yeah. I’m probably not going to read the rest of the series, even though The Five Trials ended on a cliffhanger (because of course it did). There are plenty of better fantasy adventures out there, and I dare say there are sexier ones, too.
But hey, at least I got the book for free, right?