Die has been my most recommended series over the last year and a half. It’s a book that speaks to both the writer and the lapsed tabletop gamer in me in equal measure, a hyper-meta experience that doesn’t care to revel in its own cleverness. The whole series has felt fresh, unique, and overflowing with novel but incredible concepts.
As we speed toward the series conclusion, it’s interesting to see how fluid the book has become, hitting major conceptional story arcs, establishing and then streamlining its characters, and making the major overtures that any good RPG campaign might hit given a natural and long lifespan. After the epic, kingdoms-versus-kingdom and player-versus-player intrigue of the previous storyline, the characters have united. They are approaching endgame, and narrative themes are tightening as they do so.
The book isn’t all RPG action, however, and our POV character, Ash — who can’t precisely be called a protagonist — begins the issue with a reminder that they have a heart. We’re treated to a flashback sequence where the characters’ real-world personas are fleshed out a little more. Released from their initial time in the world of Die, our characters struggled against the growing pains of what happened within the game (namely Angela’s in-game romance with Chuck) not being able to stand up against real life. Ash and Angela get a nice moment of trying to resolve their tragedy in a life where they cannot speak of said tragedy.
It’s an important move, reminding the readers of the roots of our party beyond their epic status as superhuman rulers and destroyers. The dual worlds of Die and the real world are not the only things at stake: so, too, are our characters’ very selves, however dichotomous. With all the huge, overpowered Player Character actions, a reminder of their human souls — what they stand to lose — is critical. Ash’s reluctance to return to that life — a life small but real — needs tempering with a moment of humanity.
The book is still interested, of course, in its metatextual overtures, and even these are becoming smaller, more personal. While authors have been painted as abstract, godlike (or at least force of nature-like), we are returned, finally, to a simple narrative scene stripped of pretext and meaningful in its familiarity. An old book on the edge of an ancient well, deep in a forgotten, unpopulated dungeon.
It’s here, in an iconic setting from the most influential fantasy novel of all time and inspiration Dungeons & Dragons, that we’re poised to finally learn the final truths about Die. It ends at the beginning, as if there was any other way.
Die #18 adjusts the focus of the story, and our camera is now pulled in for the tightest of close-ups. We’re left seeing the heart of things while standing on a precipice, both metaphoric and literal.
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