Trolled. Hoodwinked. Bamboozled. Jebaited.
If you read the synopsis and thought, "This story is about fighting against monsters in an underground dungeon," then I guess I can't blame you. That was more or less my initial guess as well. While I thought that the events would eventually advance further, I believed that at least the genres, themes, and narrative structure would remain at least somewhat loyal to the idea of a conventional battle gauntlet survival struggle. Then I actually started reading further and quickly found myself wondering "What even is this?"
The initial assumption had been reasonable, given the synopsis. After all, that is what it sounds
like, and usually the synopsis is a good indicator of what will actually happen. It makes perfect sense for you to assume so because it would almost always be the right call. There are good reasons for this. Authors want to make sure that the audience understands what they are walking into. In the rare case that the story is meant to be unconventional, there are usually clear signs that you should keep an eye out. Then the story is openly marketed as an unconventional experience, for instance as a particularly confusing mystery novel. But not always. Sometimes we walk in completely clueless. How meta, come to think of it.
Returning to the assumption about the synopsis, and you probably saw it coming after my intro, but there is a problem: it isn't what it seems to be. The synopsis is technically not wrong, but it makes you expect a battle gauntlet against monsters in an underground dungeon. While such fighting does in fact take place, it isn't really the main substance here. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. The plot, characters, themes, dialogue, narration, and general tone are all different than what one might expect. Even some of the genres were surprise additions, and this novel sure seems to incorporate many genres. The author must have had a good, long laugh when writing this. All the way to the bank, possibly. You really can't trust anything these days. I suppose you should always stay alert because those pesky authors keep coming up with new trolls or at least remixed versions of the classics, but I argue that I was merely being genre-savvy. Stories like this don't usually happen in isekai light novels. Actually, they don't usually happen in literature, period. My initial guesses would have been accurate in almost every instance. It isn't a bad thing though. I don't mind getting trolled as long as the trolls have been constructed well. It is only welcome that now and then people shake me awake with a fresh take on things.
Strictly speaking, it is not uncommon for novels to deviate from their alleged premises in various ways, but it usually happens in a more conventional manner. You probably know how some novels start off with a decent premise, but the author has no idea how to continue beyond it, so it devolves into random aimless filler or an uninteresting repetition of the same generic plot devices over and over again. By the time you get to volume 10, you are wondering why you keep reading the stretched-out, meandering doorstopper that obviously isn't going anywhere. However, in this case the story deviates from the premise by actually delivering a cohesive plotline. And not just any plot but something a bit different for a change.
Here the plot has strong continuity and a low amount of filler, and it moves along at a steady pace that is neither rushed nor painfully slow. It is worth noting that actual effort went into the transition from the web novel to the light novel. They added scenes, viewpoints, and various details, most of which were a good addition. A few scenes were cut, but for the most parts their replacements better convey the main substance. The dialogue and narration have been beefed up as well. Also, the plot was clearly planned beforehand. The author has set up early elements that deliver their payoff much later, and even many of the small details look like they were carefully placed for a reason. Seemingly trivial lines can turn out relevant in the long run. The decisions made by the characters have actual consequences and they usually can't hand-wave them away. One of the lessons here is that the structure of the plot matters. It really does. Events should not simply happen for the sake of filling pages but to actually play a role in the overall narrative.
It is not all about the plot on its own though. The cast of characters is surprisingly large, and they are very generously given viewpoints. And I really mean that. A volume often contains viewpoints from half a dozen people, and even the minor characters manage to get at least a few pages here and there. Sometimes multiple characters get viewpoints right after each other in the same scenes, and it can be pretty amusing to witness their inner monologue in those cases, especially when their perceptions, personalities, goals, and ideologies are entirely different. They may severely misunderstand each other's intentions or launch thinly-veiled jabs at each other. Place mutually antagonistic characters in the same room and try to hold a meeting, and interesting things may happen.
I like the morally grey characters, scheming, uneasy alliances, and temporary ceasefires for a common goal. The relationships between the characters seem to vary quite a bit, and whether they are good or evil is often pretty unclear and may depend on the situation. Incidentally, the protagonist is not a generic hero by a long shot. She is not an unequivocally altruistic person who helps everyone in need. Instead, she can often be selfish and vindictive as well. She can also be fairly ruthless and anarchistic but isn't too edgy or stoic about it (in terms of internal monologue, at least; how other characters interpret her may differ). Of course, not all the characters are equally interesting. Thankfully, some of them may seem boring or generic at first, but they too often end up playing different roles than initially expected. At the very least, the presence of outright annoying characters is relatively small. Another thing I noticed is that most of the characters do not hold self-defeating "villain speeches" in which they explain their plans. Instead, they keep their cards close to the chest. It is for them to know and for you to find out.
Overused RPG and isekai tropes and literary tropes in general are pointed out on occasion, but rather than simply make a note of their existence, this time it carries more weight because the story diverges from them more clearly than most. Instead of "here is the trope, but we'll adhere to it anyway" we have "here is the trope and we are doing something else instead." The in-universe technical explanations can get unnecessarily lengthy sometimes, but the characters at least tend to comment on them in witty ways, and they are usually sufficiently relevant for the plot.
All in all, a breath of fresh air that caught me by surprise in many ways. Well played, well played.