Rating: 7/10. Mother of Learning is probably the most popular English language web novel. Wildbow’s Worm web novel may or may not be more popular. MoL is still the number one best-rated novel on Royal Road despite no new chapters being released for more than a year now.
Is MoL worthy of all the praise it gets? I don’t believe so. The first arc is certainly worthy of praise but by the second and certainly by the third and final arc the protagonist had become way too powerful so there was no tension.
What then was the appeal of MoL in the first arc? The protagonist alone figuring out what was happening and more and more things fitting together the pieces of the puzzle until a clearer picture of what was going on appeared while at the same time evading the menace of the red-robed villain (whose backstory ended up being so boring) and the powerful immortal lich. The fact that the protagonist was stuck in a time-loop by himself and so couldn’t depend on others also added to the tension as there was no one who would come and save him if he screwed up.
The telekinetic spiders introduced in the second arc were a sign of things getting worse as the protagonist started to show “chosen one” special abilities that nobody else had thus shattered the illusion that he was getting-by by his wits alone. Furthermore, it felt kind of improbably that he was the only human who had gotten to know these intelligent spiders so well given that they lived beneath cities. By the end of the second arc, most of the mystery around the city’s invasion at the end of every loop was already revealed except the identity of the red-robed individual.
The third arc mainly consisted of the protagonist flexing his gains in order to get others on board with his plans. It gets pretty boring pretty quick after seeing a few characters surprised at how powerful the protagonist is despite his young age.
I always felt the story could do with more romance but I am in the minority. Apart from that, I felt that there were too many time-skips towards the end and the author wanted to get it over with and be done with it
The politics and world-building of the story were interesting and perhaps because the author was a Serb it mirrored the break up of Yugoslavia – although that may have been just a coincidence. It’s not like fantasy stories set in a world after the collapse of a large empire are that rare – I guess the reason it reminded me of the break up of Yugoslavia is that the nation which had an empire is still there, like Serbia – in fact, that is where the story is set for the most part. By the end of the story, I was more interested in the setting than the characters. I would like to read another story by the author in this same setting.
The most interesting setting, of course, was the urban fantasy setting where most of the first arc took place. The least interesting must have been the desert setting where the protagonist no longer feels like a mouse in a maze being observed from above as he did back in the city but rather is more powerful than most of everything. The reason I would not be interested to read more about Zorian is frankly that I don’t agree with the author’s idea of character development. Basically, his magic powers become more powerful and everyone around him starts to respect him for it. His inferiority complexes to his brothers also disappear as he is no longer inferior to them. This is the attraction of the premise, of course, a time loop which allows mistakes to be undone and gives the protagonist a whole lot of extra time minus consequences to improve himself. It would have been nice instead to see him lose everything he gained from the time loop and have to start from zero but now a changed man. Now it looks like the protagonist was isekaid and was allowed to return to earth with all his magic powers.
The author also made some maps and notes about the setting on his WordPress site. Another interesting factoid about this story is that it is probably the only popular story on fictionpress.com the sister site of the more popular fanfiction.net.
The magic system is quite detailed but honestly, I have forgotten most of it except that the Zorian Kazinski (the protagonist – “Kazinski” does sound rather Slavic, the Serbs just like the Russians are Slavs) kept on complaining about his lack of mana though that didn’t prevent him from becoming ridiculously powerful.
I realize I have been overwhelmingly negative in this review but it was actually a treat to read a new chapter whenever it came out and it was always a disappointment when nobody103 missed his deadline and postponed his chapter three weeks. Certainly, when I first came across it I was surprised by the amount of work put by someone into an online novel anyone could read for free. The story was already into its second arc when I came across it. I recommend reading the first third of the story and then reading on until you lose interest.
Maybe if red robe’s identity was revealed earlier then it would have been a bit less disappointing – but the mystery about the time loop as with all mysteries ceases to be interesting once you learn why it is there and it no longer is a mystery. The longer something is kept as a mystery the more disappointing it gets when it is eventually revealed as the expectations have slowly crept up higher just like the power levels.
The writing itself was clear and concise. The descriptions of monsters and places always gave me a good idea about what was going on. The only places where I got a little bit confused was in the large scale battles where I found it hard to keep track in my head all the things that were happening at once – the picture of the battle in my mind was not always clear except for what was immediately being described. Red Robe’s character wasn’t given enough time – the other villains – the witch and the lich were much more interesting probably because they actually posed a threat to the protagonist. Red Robe by the time his identity was revealed really did not seem that dangerous or scary but just came off as whiny. In short, the first arc was so good that I expected too much and was disappointed.