-This is a SpoilerFree review-
First of all I want to tell you that I'm not an english native so sorry for my poor english and for the eventual errors.
Sword Art Online, the novel behind one of the most discussed anime ever. Someone says "it's the best, omg nothing can be compared to that", someone else says "it's just the worst story ever with the worst character ever".
So that point of view gave me a lot of curiosity, I just wanted to start reading the novels, and after reading all the 14 that are out up until now I feel ready to explain my vision over this series.
We have our main character: Kirigaya Kazuto (much more well known as Kirito) who will "travel" trought many different virtual reality worlds, with just a sword as his neverchanging companion, and every time he will deal with different kind of lifethreatening dangers.
I will devide the various arcs, and than tell an overall small personal point od view.
Aincrad Arc - Volume 1+ Spin off (2 and 8)
I think I never read something with so much potential and nothing that wasted that much potential. The story is good, the setting is just insane and anyone who loves MMO would love that kind of setting. The ending is actually well done as well, the problem is what's in between. I felt like I was reading a black hole. We have no clue on what's happening during those 2 years, and I was dissatisfied. If the main problem is with the plot development the second major problem is with the characters. Expecially with the spin offs. We have a whole lot of characters over those 3 novels but just a couple are actually useful for any development, and even those aren't well explained, well characterised and we don't know nothing about their background. For me, who likes to analyze the character behind, was annoying. Anyway it's still a quite interesting story and it's enjoyable, overall rating for this arc: 6.5
Fairy Dance - Volumes 3 and 4
If the first arc showed how the autor can fuck up with the potential, here he just showed how he can create a story with basically no potential at all. I mean, I think this arc is completly useless. I didn't like it and that's just my tought. On the good side he created an actual story involving some more characters (...) out of nothing. It feel forced.
Overall rating imho:5.5
Phantom Bullet - Volumes 5 and 6
I like to think the author realized that the previous characters were just too much and not well explained and that the story had too many loops in between. So he created the GGO arc. We have just one character, and for the first time she has a background, a personality and a development. Sinon isn't static, she is interesting and well done. You can like her or dislike her, but you can't deny she is the first complete character ever in this series (it took only 5 books though), and for the story he resolved the loops by lowering the lenght of the period descripted. I personally liked the change of setting with the futuristic style of weapons (lightsaber-snipers-lasers weapon etc), but that's up to a personal taste. I preferred much more the light novel than the anime for this arc. First because we don't have all the shots on Sinon ass, second because it explains the move of the characters (I felt that the people who didn't read the novel couldn't get at all the meaning behind the move Kirito did in the episode 13... anyway) Overall score: 7.5
Mother's Rosario - Volume 7
A short spinoff with Asuna as our main character instead of the usual Kirito. It's not needed for the main story, as it won't leave anything actually important for the next arc, but it's a really enjoying volume. Finally Asuna get background, finally we can know her better, and finally we gat back to see the "new" Aincrad, which I liked (the idea of a floating castle with 100 floors). We got a new co-protagonist, Zekken Yuki, or "Absolute Sword", and she is quite amazing on both the personality and skill in game.
As I said, it's not needed to read this volume, but I personally loved it. Overall score: 7.5
Alicization arc - Volume 9 to 14 (up to now, it will go on)
That's the real thing. Finally we got an actually long story, which is set in a long period of time, and which doesn't present any gap. The character are well developed and finally our protagonist show some colours. It takes place in the new world "UnderWorld", an hyper-realistic world where magic (called sacred arts) is a normal thing and everything has his own HP (named Life).
Kirito after his long journey in the previous world was quite too overpowered, here he start from the beginning, not being able to lift an high level sword.
The story is quite simple, but it doesn't present any bad gap, everything is explained in a really detailed way, from the rules of the world, from his hierarchy... I found it interesting, sometimes the fight present too much description but well, that's what the whole series is about, swordfights.
The only thing that I hated is the beginning of the second volume (volume 10) where we have over 100 pages of description of the new fulldive technology, but you can feel free to skip them, there is nothing so important there.
It was a quite long journey to go throught this series, and I feel like you should give it a shot despite all the badmouthing that's around the animated series. If you want feel free to read the first arc and than skip to the arc that more interested you, because the only thing that's quite similar throught all the arcs are the references to the Aincrad arc, while the others are just quite disconnected.
I enjoyed the series and I give it a 7.5, just drop any previous heard stuff about it and think with your own mind!
Thank you for reading my review.