The World Below is a modern fantasy novel depicting a fantasy “realm” that dwells beneath humanity. This isn’t a metaphor for a parallel universe, this is a physical beneath, most likely below sewers, utilities, and subways. This also isn’t a fantasy world within Earth like that of Middle-earth or Harry Potter. This is simply an area, you can call it a realm but it’s more like a town that dwells within a series of caverns, filled with fantasy-like beings that wield fantasy-like powers. Thus the term World Below. The World Above, that’s where we live, is no different than what we see or experience now. It is thus that this fantasy layer placed atop a modern day location is completely remote and secret as far as almost everyone is concerned.
Besides the setting, The World Below features the main protagonist, Mitch, as he becomes a part of that fantasy realm through no fault of his own. He is simply a gifted human who has a knack for seeing past the ruse to see things a bit more clearly. In the end, he becomes the true hero and wielder of the all-powerful sword capable of killing the main antagonist (I don’t really want to spoil too much).
From my perspective, The World Below contains a wonderful blending of realism with fantasy to produce a modern fantasy (or urban fantasy depending on what you want to call it) setting that doesn’t disconnect you from the real world. These fantasy beings must skulk through the shadows to remain undetected, and if they don’t, they are simply shrouded by invisibility or ignorance from human eyes. Throughout the book you get to experience Mitch’s life as he gradually moves from being a simple blue-collared worker to the hero. Not an epic hero as he relies heavily on the assistance of his new goblin friends, but a definite hero nonetheless. The best part of this climb to heroism? It’s slow and realistic; it didn’t just happen overnight like some stories portray.
The World Below contains a combination of the horrific and satirical sides of this urban fantasy environment. The evil lording over the fantasy races still around uses fear to control those beneath him. On the other side, the hero and his goblin friends are almost comedic in their endeavors as they travel throughout the city and the World Below to fight against this evil and save the girl (explaining more about her would share too much). After establishing the purpose of this quest and the motivations of the antagonists (probably half of the book), the adventure progresses along quite nicely to a build up where good clashes with evil.
As stated on the cover, The World Below is the first book of the Chronicles of the Goblin King, which rings quite true. There is a lot of storyline that establishes the series, setting that baseline for future adventures. This does mean that the bulk of Mitch’s quest is in the second half, but there’s a lot of good set up material prior to that. During that time, you learn a lot about the antagonists and the protagonists, but the true quest into the World Below doesn’t start until much later. This is okay as it is the first book in a series and is a necessity. You just have to be aware that there is some “set up” time.
The World Below is an enjoyable book and role-players can definitely turn it into a role-playing adventure or even a setting. I asked Mike Phillips about the setting and he informed that it’s based in Traverse City, Michigan. A setting of which he takes a personal interest in. Because it’s a real place and the fantasy elements are placed in a non-visible location, you can easily recreate this setting without having to break the realism of Traverse City, from an in-game perspective. There is also a familiarity with the fantasy portions of the book that can be found within many fantasy RPGs. The only key to turning this book into a RPG experience is to stick with the modern times and make the World Above seem as real as it does now.
It also can make a great setting for a creepy Halloween adventure!