The Rise of the Arch Illager

By Matt Forbeck

The Rise of the Arch Illager, a novel by Matt Forbeck
Book details Books in the series About the author

The best villains have depth; a reason why they became villainous. There are few maniacs that comes out of the womb thus, they must be moulded into the cackling psychopaths that you love to hate. In the Minecraft Dungeons game, you go up against the Arch-Illager; a diminutive enemy who has the powerful Orb of Dominance on his shoulder as well as a chip. In The Rise of the Arch-Illager you learn that there is more behind those eyes than just fiery madness.

Archie is considered the weakest of the Illagers in his clan and therefore the worst. He is too prone to thinking and avoiding death for the others to like him. After another failed battle, Archie limps back into camp only to be blamed for the defeat. He is banished and must find his own way in a dangerous world full of the Undead and Heroes. Archie will discover new friends and new enemies, but most importantly of all – The Orb of Dominance. Will he use this powerful artefact to improve the world, or enslave it?

Having played Minecraft Dungeons, it is a different game to Minecraft itself. It is a co-operative RPG-lite with plenty of fighting. One of the most impressive elements of Rise is that Matt Forbeck reflects this. I have read a few game tie-in novels before and many do not reflect much on the game itself and certainly not the gameplay. The way in which Dungeons is played leads to real consequences in this book.

The story is told mostly from the point of view of Archie, but it is interspersed with the Heroes. This is a group of mysterious and powerful people that seem to appear in the world and lust for violence. The Illagers find themselves compelled to attack the Heroes and inevitably die. For anyone who has played the game, this makes perfect sense as it is a series of mini battles as you take on groups of Ilagers and Mobs that are mostly easily defeated. Very different to how Minecraft plays.

Rather than just representing the game in the novel, Forbeck uses the gameplay to inform the story. There is a very clever separation between the player and the NPCs (non-player characters). The Villagers revere and fear the Heroes, who are not always heroic. Indeed, it is Karl the Hero who is perhaps the real villain of the piece. He thinks nothing of killing all before him, even if they are fleeing. He sleeps in the beds of Villagers without permission. How this player interacts with the world may just have brought about their deadliest foe in The Arch-Illager.

Archie, later to become The Arch-Illager, is not a bad character. In fact, to start with he is noticeably good. It is circumstances that start to turn him. Over time we see an innocence taken over by a lust for power. Even here we have sympathy for Archie as he wants to do the right thing (on occasion). It becomes increasingly obvious that he is no longer in control of his own destiny. The end product that we witness in the game is far more complex after reading the book. You may even start the game again and next time have some reluctance to attack the Arch-Illager.    

The book is aimed at the Youth audience and it is suitable for 8-14-year olds. The language is a little simplified and the violence lower than a lot of fantasy books, but it is not dumbed down in anyway. I did find some of the interactions between Archie and The Orb of Dominance a little hard to follow as the dialogue is internalised and I was not always sure who was talking when. This may prove even more troublesome to a less experienced reader but does not undermine the book as a whole. There are some important lessons spotted throughout the book that will chime with a younger audience – what makes a true hero? How would we want others to treat us?

By reflecting the game onto the core narrative of The Rise of the Arch-Illager, Forbeck has produced a very satisfying tie in novel. Fans of the game will be amused and informed as they learn new information about the world of Minecraft Dungeons. A reader unaccustomed to the game will lose this edge and with it a major part of the book’s appeal. They will find an amusing aside but will lose all the depth that that is hidden beneath the surface. One for the fans.  

Written on 4th August 2020 by .

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The Rise of the Arch Illager