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She Kills Monsters – Spoiler-Free Book Review April 19, 2017

Posted by Maniac in Reviews.
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Author’s Note:  This is a review of the published book version of “She Kills Monsters” by Qui Nguyen, and I will not be reviewing any theatrical version of it since I have not seen a live production of the play yet.

As an author, I have always had a fondness for the written word and I have to admit I love theater!  You can tell any genre of story on stage, just as you could with film, television and video games.  That having been said, I’ve recently grown sick and tired of seeing an oversaturation of boring musicals and depressing drama on theatre stages all across my state.  Recently, I asked a peer of mine if there were any recent plays written completely out of the mainstream that wasn’t Spamalot, and he eagerly recommended the play She Kills Monsters by Qui Nguyen.

Like with some of the other content I’ve done on this website I like to keep my reviews as spoiler-free as possible. I feel it does a disservice to an author to reveal important details about their story, and I also feel it does a disservice to an audience who would be cheated out of the chance of fully enjoying the first time they experience the play, so consider this review spoiler-free. However, while there will be no spoilers in this review, I do need to talk about what the story is about and give a light summary of the plot.  If you don’t want to know anything about the plot, feel free to skip the next paragraph, otherwise continue reading right along.

She Kills Monsters revolves around a woman named Agnes Evans.  Agnes is a twenty-five year old English teacher still recovering from the death of her parents and little sister Tilly in a car crash.  Agnes and Tilly never had much in common while they were growing up, and Agnes regretted the fact she never really knew her sister while she was alive.  One day, Agnes finds a custom Dungeons & Dragons quest module Tilly wrote for her among her sister’s belongings. Agnes has no experience with Dungeons & Dragons, so with the help of local Dungeon Master Chuck, Agnes is compelled to play the module to discover all she can about the sister she lost.

While the story revolves around Dungeons & Dragons, specifically the editions that existed back in 1995, because the protagonist isn’t an experienced player herself the reader does not need to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the core books to understand what is happening in the story.  That being said, the author really did their homework because the rules, races, classes, alignments, and monsters specifically cited in the play do actually appear in the various Dungeons & Dragons editions. You won’t find any mentions of  Gorvilles in this play, thank goodness, so long-term D&D players should feel comfortable reading it.

The book of the play reads like a series of dialog with some minor stage directions.  While there are brief descriptions of battles in the stage notes, I did appreciate there were moments in the stage direction where specific songs or songs of a similar tempo were recommended as background music in certain moments. I will commonly include song notes in scripts that I’ve written and even though I have been constantly told by my peers that is something that is never done, I feel a scriptwriter should be able to name songs in their work as it can greatly influence the audience’s mood.  In this book it is done to great effect, as some of the song choices the author recommends had me breaking down in laughter at certain points, making humorous sequences downright hilarious. 

After reading every word of the play’s book, I found myself moved in a way I had not been in a very long time. When I say this play is hilarious, I mean it.  However, I don’t want readers to think that just because the characters play a game of Dungeons & Dragons during the play, it can only be enjoyed by D&D fans. While there are a few jokes that will be enjoyed by long-term Dungeons & Dragons players, everybody will enjoy the vast majority of its humor.

This is more than just a play that makes you laugh, parts of this play will bring you to absolute tears.  As I write this I’m feeling a bit constrained by my self-imposed spoiler-free guidelines as there are several moments throughout the play that nearly brought me to tears, with one scene in particular still resonating with me days after I finished reading it.  The reader will go through plenty of emotional highs and lows during the story, and I feel that it is because the play is so funny it can make its sadder subject matter even more effective.

After reading the book, I’m sure a lot of you are wondering if I would have preferred to see the play performed on stage and I’m hesitant to give an answer to that question because I’m actually conflicted by it.  On the one hand this is a really imaginative play featuring battles with monsters, dragons and the like, so I really want to see how different production companies would handle adapting it.  On the other hand, having read the book, I have my own expectations for how scenes would look.  With all that said, I think I’m trying to say that even though I already read the book, I would still be interested to see it performed live.

I think what it all boils down to is does this play have heart, and I’m happy to say that it does.  Qui Nguyen has a clear love for D&D, but the specific story she is telling is much more personal.  If you have any interest in geek culture, Dungeons & Dragons, or just unique stories in general, check out She Kills Monsters for an experience you won’t have anywhere else!

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