Critical Role: Vox Machina Kith & Kin is not a good novel.
In an age where there are dozens, of fantasy series I still need to read, Kith & Kin, this Critical Role Campaign 1 prequel, featuring Vax and Vex of Vox Machina just doesn’t cut it.
I have a background in Critical Role; I’m loving Campaign 3 (I have tons of Critical Role videos on my YouTube channel), and I’m about halfway through Campaign 2. Kith & Kin takes place before the events of Campaign 1, and I have not watched Campaign 1 yet.
The story being told by Marieke Nijkamp is barely interesting. It follows siblings Vax’ildan and his sister Vex’ahlia (along with her bear, Trinket), as they are heading into Westruun; as they are in need of some coin, and supplies after spending some time on the road, and in the wilderness.
Very early on, a hit is put on on Vex…because she refuses to go on a date with a noble. Agreeing to a job to steal a magical ring for the Clasp (the thieves guild with the hit) in exchange for his sister’s freedom, Vax and Vex eventually wind up separated; each taking refuge with a group on opposing sides of a conflict.
Woven into the story are flashback chapters to the rough life of these half-elf siblings growing up; first with the mother, then later with their elven father.
The plot of Kith & Kin plays out as predictable as it seems.
Both siblings view their newly found friends as “in the right” and eventually, when the truth is spilled (the twist), they save the day, sort of?
This novel is just run of the mill, bargain bin fantasy. Had it not been a Critical Role product, I wouldn’t have made it past the first 2 chapters. Especially because those first two chapters lack a hook. Nijkamp made the odd decision to start the novel in the past with the siblings as children, setting up the reader for Young Adult fiction about the struggles of two half-elf siblings. This seems right in Nijkamp’s wheelhouse, as she mainly seems to be a Young Adult writer (Kith & Kin is the only “Adult” novel listed on her website).
Chapter 2 flashes forward to adult Vax & Vex, full of swearing and bloody battles.
The man plot of the story revolves around Vex refusing the advances of a noble; who decides to put a hit out on the woman who wronged him. Vax intercepts the assassin before his sister is murdered and agrees to complete a mission to save his sister’s life. That mission — to steal a magical ring.
While on the road, the two (and some campers) are attacked by zombie ash-walkers and are separated. One is saved by the local town’s guard (Vex) and the other by some outcast miners (Vax). The twins get pulled into this local quarrel and take sides before the real truth is revealed!
There is some promise here, as I was genuinely curious about the plot when the twins were separated. Unfortunately, that plot doesn’t go anywhere that isn’t obvious. That along with the lack of any character development or world-building makes this Critical Role novel a slog to get through.
Yes, we find out the true intentions of one of the characters that have been interacting with the twins, but none of that adds to the further development of Vax or Vex. The ending felt so disjointed with the decision made by Vax that Nijkamp seems to have had no idea how to wrap the story she told back into the Critical Role lore of Campaign 1.
The relationship between Vax and Vex is an odd one, as well. Both can’t stop telling each other, themselves, or the people they meet that nothing in the world is more important than their sibling. Yet, they are at odds with each other when they finally regroup near the end of the novel. Vax also lies to Vex about the very reason they are on this mission. That doesn’t sound like a great relationship to me.
A poor attempt to develop Vax by having him develop feelings for one of the characters in the mine seems to be for no other reason that I can see other than, to remind us that he is in fact, bisexual.
Obviously, I didn’t enjoy the story, but I would like to briefly mention the audiobook version. Curren Critical Role Campaign 3 Guest Robbie Daymond narrates the novel and Liam O’Brien and Laura Bailey reprise their respected roles of Vax’ildan and Vex’ahlia. The performance of all three is fantastic, with Robbie Daymond shining, as he does various character voices (I would love to see Robbie DM a one-shot!). Unfortunately, the audiobook is not quite the same as an episode of Critical Role and isn’t enough to earn a recommendation. I actually sped up the playback speed during the final 4 hours so I could power through it.
The reason why I love Critical Role so much is because of its fantastic blend of epic storytelling, character development, and comedy.
Kith & Kin doesn’t check off any of these boxes; it isn’t a replacement for Critical Role, at all.
Curiously, I see that Kith & Kin has some pretty good reviews on Amazon, Audible, Goodreads, etc. I will say this; If you are a huge fan of Critical Role Campaign 1 or if Vax/Vex were your favorite characters, you might enjoy this (fan-fiction-esq) novel.
Critical Role: Vox Machina – Kith & Kin Gets 2 out 5 Stars
If you’re just a normal Critical Role or fantasy fan, this novel is a hard pass. It’s boring, fan-fiction with no world-building or character development. It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever read, but it certainly is uninspiring. Grab something from your “to ride” pile instead.