Tag Archives: world building

Review: Closer to the Heart

Okay, I’m going to try and get back in the swing of things here!

The next in the Herald’s Spy series, Closer to the Heart deals with Amily and Mags’s wedding….sorta. They quickly take care of the legal side of it, which is a good thing. The formal state wedding turns into a distraction to be wielded against outside forces. Two of Valdemar’s neighboring countries (you know the ones, no one can spell them) are threatening to wage war against Valdemar for threatening their fragile peace due to a child king over one of their countries. While Mags investigates the funding of the rebellion with his mining experience, Amily serves as a distraction and works to maintain diplomatic relations until they can put a stop to it.

Plot wise, the story was at least a little amusing. I felt like the wedding should have been kept a secret to be a cool reveal at the end rather than just being a part of an early plot arc like it was no big deal. But at the same time, that could have made the ending too crowded, so I understand why it wasn’t done that way? I’d have to see drafts going both ways to decide, and obviously, Mercedes Lackey is not among my writer buddies. XD The return of Kirkball was not on my favorite list, but at least she kept it short and it was moderately entertaining since Mags couldn’t be on Companion back this time, so we got to see him actually handle a horse.

I liked the more earthy, proud and take charge maid that we had in Keira, who was a welcome change from the silly little newt from last book. The expansion of Nicholas’s mentor was also at least moderately entertaining, though I found him slightly insufferable. Maybe I’m just over the suave, debonair types. Maybe it was because we saw too much of him as the wise, perfect mentor and not enough to make him seem human. Bleh. I wish we had seen more of him with his wife, that might have saved him. Instead, I was more interested in Tuck and Linden because at least they had personality and problems and flaws that I could empathize and relate to, and a real relationship.

Speaking of relationships, I liked how Mags and Amily got to see a little bit of each other’s worlds in this book. Mags got to pretend to be among the nobility for real, Amily learned how to roof walk from his group of scamps. It was a refreshing change to their relationship. This also opened us up to more about their everyday life and how that worked. Seeing some of the lower Courts work was something that I wildly welcomed. We keep hearing about Heralds stationed there, but rarely got to see it actually happen and what those duties mean. Even if Mags was bored silly, I was glad to finally have that reference to world building, and it was done in a very organic way rather than being forced.

Mags was pretending to be a noble-type, but it was in among his home territory. I feel like this was a wasted opportunity. While we knew none of his old mine owner’s family was going to be around, or it was highly unlikely at any rate, I feel like we could have seen more of either him with someone from that old mine or even in the same area… I don’t know, it just didn’t feel like it had the emotional impact on the reader that I felt it should have. I felt like it got covered up with Kirkball and other nonsense instead. Especially because we saw very little of this setting in the first book due to his emotional state, so we had a lot of high expectations and then they weren’t met.

I did like the way that the tools were being worked into clothing and other disguises, with the addition of Tuck to make it happen. We know that several reigns down the road, the Heralds have all sorts of odd tools, and now we know how they get the designs! Or at least the basics, we all know how things evolve with time. I am all for rogue and spy types having hidden tools and weapons on them, though, and this really brought me a pleased, smug sense of pride in their cleverness, even though I wasn’t the writer.

Overall, this book left me feeling a little…meh. Like, yeah, there were bits of humor and flashes of things I liked, but there weren’t enough to make me absolutely love this book like I did some of the prior ones. But at least the plot wasn’t recycled this time, and even if it didn’t flesh out the emotional impacts as much as I would have liked, it brought in some good world building for the series as a whole in a way that didn’t feel forced. If you don’t already love Valdemar, I would suggest starting elsewhere. But if you’re already invested, it’s decent.

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Review: Closer to Home

(Forgive me if this is even more rambly than normal, I’m getting over one hell of a cold followed immediately by getting the flu. I delayed posting just to make sure I was in a quasi-decent head-space.)

Probably because the story about Mags’ continued to wind much longer than her normal books, or possibly as a marketing ploy, or maybe even because of a massive time-skip (like more than normal), but either way, Mercedes Lackey actually continued into multiple series with the same character, rather than others dropping in on new protagonists. I love the first series, and since I got all of the others together in a bundle, I thought I would review the second half for the blog, with a possibility of coming back to the others. (Not sure on that, they were pretty tight and I can only gush so much.)

Closer to Home picks up as Mags and the others are returning to Haven. Lena and Bear have settled somewhere with positions, and he and Amily are trying to establish themselves back into their new lives. But to their surprise, an accident that almost costs the King’s Own Herald, Nickolas, his life gets Amily Chosen as the new King’s Own…except her father, also Nickolas, doesn’t actually die! Mags managed to keep common sense among everyone, pointing out that this means there now allows Nickolas a lot of freedom, as well as providing training so that when the prince inherits, his Own is already up to speed and prepared to work with him. And they get at least partially settled quickly, because there’s a massive feud among the nobility that is threatening to send all of Haven up with it.

I was relieved that the cast of characters was changed up a bit with this book. As much as I loved Lena and Bear, the case was getting very blotted by the end of the last series. She weeded out the cast to its main core needed in Haven now as adults, and that let her add new players as needed. (Also, Lena about drove me nuts and I wanted better girl representation.) This story really gave us a chance to see a working couple who weren’t lifebonded, who weren’t well established in that relationship, and they are having to figure out how to make it work through life changes. That’s a huge thing!

I also felt like Misty did something really brave and important with this series, which is addressed the female nobility characters. Every time she’s used them before, it was either part of being life-bonded, or as part of exceptions to how everyone else behaved. This time, she was right in our faces about how the female nobility were supposed to act, and how if you didn’t have the power to do otherwise, acting against it was going to get you slapped down. I felt awful for Violetta, but with the clear explanations of the other women, you could see how she got herself in trouble and while it was unfair as hell, I couldn’t argue against it within the context of the world. And members of the world acknowledge it sucks and it’s wrong, which… since the nobility lasts for a while longer in the timeline, that’s about all it can do.

The plot….ugh, the plot. I felt like she had this one event that she needed to make happen, and then went, “Well, now what? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, with a twist!”…sorta. Like it stopped even being a nod to the plot and went full-on-commitment about halfway through and I’m sitting there going, “I know how this ends, everyone dies, why am I still reading?” She gave it like a half-twist, but it wasn’t enough to save it for me. On one hand, I’m glad she kept it to something besides wars and assassins, that is a welcome change and I applaud her for trying to branch out. I just wish she hadn’t borrowed a very tired and often repetitive plot to do it with. Even the twist was just making “Romeo” even more of a jerk than he is in the original, that isn’t a whole lot of work!

Worldbuilding wise, not a lot got added to here besides like I said, the female nobility finally being touched on as far as what is considered normal. There being “two” King’s Own Heralds is different, but I don’t think it was touched on very much. I think that probably has to do with the shoe-horned feud plot, since she usually does better with a little more original work. I do find Amily’s Gift to be a cop-out. I want to read the one-shot with Lan and see if she mentions it with Pol, who reportedly has a little bit of every Gift. Otherwise, yeah, I’m not horribly impressed with it. I’d have preferred to see real Animal Mindspeech. It’s come up I think once with a character we’ve met for any period of time? But it gets mentioned all the time.

Overall, I wouldn’t call it a disappointing read. I like the characters, and I like some of the world building elements. Considering I’m planning a similar series-split with the same character, it’s almost a study for me on what to do and what not to do. My annoyance over Shakespeare being reproduced is probably a mostly me thing (I see it….a lot…and I’m probably overly salty), so I definitely still recommend this book to others. But definitely read the prior series so you have the attachment to the characters, otherwise this may seem unnecessarily harsh.


Review: Tempests and Slaughter

I approached Tempests and Slaughter with a healthy amount of both caution and interest. On one hand, it was more of Numair and that always makes me happy. He and Daine are my OTP in Tortall. On the other hand, this is a prequel. I was going to have to put up with Valarie, guaranteed, and with one of the worst villains in Tortall history being viewed as an okay guy. Blegh. But I finally knuckled down and read it. While I don’t regret it, it definitely wasn’t what I expected either.

Not yet Numair Salmalin, Arram Draper is a young boy at the College of Mages in Carthak. Tempests and Slaughter tells of his late childhood/early adolescence, as he rises with the ranks of powerful mages with the growth of his Gift. As he grows farther away from his family and home in Tyra, he has to learn not only who he is and what he can tolerate, but also who his friends are becoming. In the end, plague hospitals and arenas decide for him where his limits are. Now if only he can bring his only two friends, Valarie and Ozorne, along with him.

So, let’s get it out of the way. I love Tamora Pierce’s writing. I’ve had my style compared to her a couple of times, and it always makes me squee because she has such a way with prose that it just flows, smooth and clear. Thankfully, she spared my overly imaginative butt too much medical in the hospitals, but the way she did it is very real to how people who are in those professions describe how they feel after it is over. I really valued her return to third person and in normal chapter format. It wasn’t so heavily cluttered with slang that I needed the dictionary in the back just to wade through until I adjusted to the dialect, but it was there enough to carry the culture of the world across. It was a little different, because the narrator is a boy for the first time for an entire book rather than a short story, but after a couple of chapters, I managed to fall in with it. I think it’s interesting how she keeps exploring new formats and narrators, rather than sticking to formula.

World building wise, she had some room to play and it shows. Carthak was barely hinted at beyond the capital during the Immortals quartet, and while some of the short stories have touched on other countries as part of the empire, we haven’t seen all of it. There’s a curious mixture of African cultures, and I use that term in relation the continent as a whole. At times, I see the south and the tribal influences, but further north it is reminiscent of Egypt and it’s interactions with Europe. I also saw bits of South Africa, if only because of the way the ruling class appears to be of light skin versus…everyone else. This is also the first time we saw how a mage was trained, from the ground up and without pesky fighting training to overlap, and while at times I felt a little like the magic systems were too muddled, that is more personal taste than anything, and it was interesting to see how magecraft is taught for the Gift when there aren’t deities involved.

Characters is really where this book could have made or break for me. I knew I was going to like Arram, because I liked him as an adult. It was curious to see how clumsy and unsure of himself he was as a boy, though, and how easily swayed he was by others around him until he found his backbone. I also wasn’t suspecting his healing magic to be at the forefront, but then, his entire history is so secretive, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Valarie… Ugh. All of my problems with Valarie still exist. I mean, her “kitchen witch” label aside, she really just irks me. I don’t think that will ever change. I don’t like manipulation like I see her doing, even when it is for the sake of those she considers friends, at least without some sort of moral code behind it, which I know she’s lacking in. And then there was Ozorne. He could have gone wrong very quickly, but thankfully Tamora never forgot what he was going to become. The brief flashes alone were enough to sooth me, and then she dropped his ambitions, his goal to unite everything under one Empire, and at that point I knew he was the same person we knew, it was Arram who hadn’t realized it yet. That is going to be fascinating to see continue, and I’m beyond curious to see what the tipping point will be.

As for other characters, the teachers rotated around so much, I had a hard time nailing down a favorite. I did like Yaven and how he applied something most people would consider silly to help Arram concentrate, and how that evolved into other lessons. Sebo and her ties to the crocodile god were also interesting. Oh god, the crocodile god was hilarious, I was very amused by him and his interactions. My only complaint, if you could call it one, was Preet, if only because she seemed like a plot device more than a character. The lack of mention of her to Daine in prior books also makes no sense. But then, we don’t know how Preet’s plot is going to end, so I could end up being placated.

This definitely reads to me like there’s one more book, possibly two, in this series, but I don’t think it’s going to be a quartet and I’m leaning towards just one more like the Aly Cooper books. That seems about right to me, because really this is mostly bringing some light to a mysterious back story that I’m sure fans like me have been wondering about since the first books with Daine. I can’t wait for the next book and to see where this story is going and how it will dove-tail with where we first met Numair.


Review: Kimiko and the Accidental Proposal

And I’m back! This time with a continuation of a series that I enjoy, particularly when it continues a one-shot fanfic that I adored and was so excited to see continued.

Kimiko and the Accidental Proposal picks up a a few years after Tsumiko, following a new reaver. This time, it’s the daughter of modest shrine keepers, with some of the women having big ambitions…except Kimiko, who is content with her lot and finds her happiness in the little things. That is all turned on its head due to a series of circumstances that lead to her courting the Starmark Clan’s youngest tribute, Eloquence, as both of them attend a trial school that is meant to bridge the divides between reavers, Amaranthine, and the rest of us. But more is going on under the surface, particularly some familiar characters, and it looks like there is more trouble on the horizon.

According to one of my professors, the hardest thing you can do is write a sequel. I can usually see where she is coming from. You have to have an overarching story for your main characters, or cause new problems without making your first book pointless. One way to get around that problem is to completely skip around and have new protagonists and antagonists, just set in the same world. That is sort of what forthright did. The focus is definitely on the Starmark clan and the school in this book, but there is such a heavy callback to the earlier book, it isn’t as cleanly divorced as the idea would imply. So this is sort of almost a third way of handling it, because it isn’t following the exact same set of characters, though they make appearances and in some cases feature heavily in subplots, but they aren’t all brand new either.

There are pros and cons to this. On one hand, it’s great for characters who barely got a few chapters to get a little more attention, and Argent’s reappearance and the outside perception of him was fascinating, I always love those sorts of things. (True fact, best Christmas present to me from RP partners is points of view from other characters besides mine in key scenes.) It also gave us an idea of how tightly protected characters like Tsumiko are protected, versus Kimiko who is on the opposite end of the spectrum. But at the same time, it felt like there was a split focus between what was supposed to be our main story, which is that of Kimiko and Eloquence, and instead a lot of focus on what was going on with the side characters, such as Akira and Suuzu. This is what is called “ensemble writing,” and this is definitely more Ginny O.’s specialty than mine, so it’s hard for me to say if it was done well or not. It sometimes annoyed me, having to dig for Kimiko or Eloquence, but it never pushed me so far that I no longer enjoyed the book, so in that regard, it was a success.

Ugh, the characters though. I loved them. Like, as attached as I was to the first group, I love these even more. Kimiko in particular is my precious baby and I want to hug Eloquence. More than anything, I like that even if they find their families are embarrassing, none of the family groupings have been the “evil step-family” sort of situations yet. I feel like that sort of trope is a crutch that a lot of YA clings to, and so I’m excited that instead we’re seeing good examples in these stories without them all being nuclear families. Even the more “comedic” character, or at least more than we’d previously had, of the monkey half-Amaranthine, half-human hybrid just made me snicker and snort in amusement, especially his line drop at the end.

Also, FUCKING MIDORI. AHHHHHHHH!!! (I screamed in person too while reading. I want THAT story.)

World building, I felt like this helped explain a lot of the gaps that I had in the first book, which was excellent, while also adding elements that I hadn’t even thought about. That’s always a huge thing to do, especially as another writer reading it. It also created some cool layers and dimension, and I love how the information sometimes came from unexpected sources. (Like….Kimiko, she was really good at it, actually.) Nothing seemed overly contradictory to me, so that was thankfully balanced out to where if something did contradict the first book, it was so minor I missed it during multiple re-reads. There are also just enough gaps left that I am still left wanting more of this world.

So, out of all of this, what problems do I have? It comes down to Akira and Suuzu. I feel like they horned in big time on the story, taking a lot of the focus away from the “main” pairing, which is ironic since part of the point of this story is Kimiko coming under scrutiny and attention where she was previously considered unremarkable, and look what is happening to her in her own book! This is probably series set up, big time, which I totally respect. It just felt like the subplot started to take over, and I’m worried that this is going to be a reoccurring problem until Akira and Suuzu are resolved. Maybe it was because of the added subplot of the wolves and the dragon representative that just threw the balance off. I don’t know…

Overall, I loved this book even more than I did the first in the series. The first had the challenge of establishing a world and altering a story I already knew, which is hard, but because this second wasn’t hampered by more than a one-shot, it had a lot more breathing room. There was a little bit of a balance issue between the main plot, the subplots, and what was supposed to be our center focus, but overall, I think this is an excellent read, even without having read the prior book. (Which is about the highest praise you can give a sequel.)


Tabletop RP: 3.5 versus Pathfinder

My group had mostly been playing Dungeons and Dragons v 3.5 when we first started out. And like any game, you play it enough times you start finding holes in the nuances of the game. Not necessarily flaws, I hesitate to say that, but rather places that because the writers/creators were so deep in the woods, they couldn’t see the trees. (Hey, it happens to all of us, even me! That’s why I have a dev-partner.)

But when the difference in classes (some of it admittedly on my shoulders, I didn’t do as much in-depth research on classes, I just picked something fun to try) started biting us in the butt and making the power balance between players kinda funky. So after a couple campaigns, we decided to try Pathfinder. There was a bit of a learning curve, because not everything is the same, but we quickly fell into using it.

So what are some of the key differences between the two? Like we moved over for, the big thing is classes. Things progress a little faster–you get more feats in general, there are more traits to classes to try and balance them out. They also introduced archetypes and variations, so you don’t have to bounce around and multi-class, take prestige classes, and God knows what else in order to build the type of characters you want. Fighters, rogues, and some of the other fighter based classes got evened out with the sorcerers, clerics, and other magic classes in later levels.

Bad side: prestige classes are basically useless at this point. I haven’t seen a single one that was worth the buy-out for advancing through a prestige rather than continuing into the upper levels of the class I was already in, at least in my current campaigns. (I made a character to deliberately aggrevate one of Ginny’s werewolves who hosts a DnD session.) And if you do need to do a multi-class character, you are screwed, the new system is so messed up. We honestly homeruled it out and said just to use 3.5, because otherwise it’s almost impossible.

What about races? There was a somewhat complicated way of figuring out if a race was playable in 3.5, I rarely messed with it because it was all the eww. I wanted to keep things simple for my own insanity. Pathfinder makes it much easier, helping identify what creatures are possible player characters as well as introducing a bunch of new races to play. I played several outside of my elven standards, and had fun with them all, for different reasons, in different settings.

That being said, some of it seems…random? I remember certain creatures being playable in 3.5 that aren’t available in Pathfinder, I guess to prevent being over powered. But the big one (my silver dragon) wasn’t that powerful with her base classes helping her out, not when you weighed in how much she paid in levels in her class in order to be that race. And some of it is very…weebo. I mean, I enjoyed playing a kitsune, don’t get me wrong, but in combination with a lot of stuff that was added to Pathfinder, it definitely feels like it is catering more to anime, I want to play a ninja/samurai/whathaveyou like out of such-and-such show, rather than the more traditional fantasy crowd of usual Dungeons and Dragons. I don’t mind the representation, I mind that it seems more like catering to a particular fanbase instead of acknowledging another world culture.

What about the worlds in general? Well, general rule of thumb, we tended to play Homebrew worlds for 3.5. I don’t think I even ever learned the “official” canon of the world for 3.5. And while we sometimes headcanon something or adjust a rule to suit our playing styles better, for the most part, we are playing Pathfinder a lot more straight to the actual information in the books. So I can’t really comment on whether the world-building/religion is better or not.

As for mechanics, not a lot has changed, and even if one thing is easier, something else is more difficult. On one hand, yay, there isn’t this ridiculousness of seeing something but you don’t hear it, everything is tied to Perception. On the other hand, I have no idea what this CMB or whatever it’s called is. (Which is bad, I am currently playing a rogue!) So for every step forward, there was a step back in terms of general mechanics. I prefer elements of both…and still hate non-spontaneous spell castors, so really, there wasn’t a huge enough difference for me to reconsider how things work and slate my preference.

So what is the end result? Well, we haven’t fully converted. My solo campaign with the rogue is being run Pathfinder, as is a future campaign with another rogue-variant type. But my silver dragon is being played in a campaign that mixes elements of both 3.5 and Pathfinder together depending on what is easier/suits the character better, which I think is brilliant, though there are obviously still issues. That one is also being run with Greek mythology for the religion, it’s awesome. And as for me… I’m going to look into Dungeons and Dragons v 5 to see if it’s any good for running a short campaign.


Review: Mistress of Thieves

Hey everyone, sorry there was a bit of a delay on this one. (Check out my social media for the full story.) I was a little unsure where to start in the Kindle Store, to which the answer is not on the app if you are looking for the self-published section, but I stumbled upon this one after a lot of digging among the traditionally-published crowd, and thought it was worth a shot!

In Mistress of Thieves by Carrie Summers, Myrrh is an up-and-coming freelance thief who’s lost her only true friend. The city guards finally captured her mentor, an aging rogue and the closest thing she had to a family. He’s dead now. She’ll be next if she doesn’t figure out who betrayed him. As she begins her search, she’s double-crossed by a fellow freelancer and sold out to a shadowy new crime syndicate. With a sack over her head and wrists tightly bound, she’s delivered to the lair of the syndicate’s boss, a man named Glint. Certain he intends to kill her, Myrrh is surprised to learn that he has other plans. An unrepentant scoundrel, Glint is as charismatic as he is complex. And he has information about her mentor’s disappearance that will upend everything she thought she knew about the city’s underworld.

So this was a surprising amount of fun! It seemed like it was going to be super dark and grim, but the writing found ways of inserting some humor that made me grin without making the main character an idiot–actually, she’s rather brilliant, if impulsive at times. The second person point of view was sort of iffy for me, I don’t particularly like it, but it was done well enough that you eventually tune it out. It wasn’t as strongly fantasy as my usual taste, but there was enough that I can see how it ended up in this section rather than anywhere else.

The characters’ backstories were well-done, as was the balance of the cast. Myrrh was fun to follow, though I’m disappointed we didn’t learn her real name yet. Considering the crap that went down, I think if she had told Glint her real name, it could have had a deeper emotional wound…but the writer might also be saving that for later, so you know, I’m okay with it. Nab was friggin’ awesome. I was like, “Oh, little kid to look after, the cute bait.” And then he actually appeared and was a smart brat and I was like, “Okay, not what I expected, but BETTER!” I love realistic kids, especially when Myrrh gave it right back at him. Glint’s backstory was a lot…smaller I guess?…in terms of scale than I was expecting, but it worked, and I totally get it if the world is meant to stay focused here.

The romance was actually done well. It wasn’t something that started in the story, it felt organic in terms of how it built, and when the plot twist is revealed, it added another stab to the heart without having gone to super cliche levels. I also didn’t feel like it took over the story, and it didn’t completely eat up Myrrh’s goals. That thrills me to death. In fact, I think it hurt Glint more than it did Myrrh, which is a nice role reversal. In a similar vein, the female characters were more plentiful than usually shown in thieves’ guild type settings, and I loved the variety. We had more than just the geisha assassin (as the trope is called) and the girl thief, and what we saw was fun. I hope we see more of them.

My only complaint is so minor, and relates entirely to the fact I bought the book on Kindle. The large city that the book was set in was broken down by districts, bridges, and a river. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the layout right in my head (it’s not numerical like you’d think!), and that left to me getting a little confused. Now, Tamora Pierce’s Provost Dog series is very similar for the first two books, and I had less of a problem. That’s because I own physical copies, and it was a lot easier for me to toggle to the map in the front. The Kindle version of Mistress of Thieves not only sticks the map in a kinda weird spot, but I don’t have a Kindle-Kindle, I use my Android phone (which is not the biggest thing ever), so setting bookmarks sucks. As a result, it was halfway useless to me as a reference.

This was a fast but fun read that I enjoyed. It kept the plot simple without getting really convoluted or losing itself down subplots, and it kept true to its characters, even if that meant the ending wasn’t your typical Happily Ever After. Overall, I highly recommend it, and I hope the sequel that comes out next week is just as good!

…Just get the physical copy. 😛


Review: Tsumiko and the Enslaved Fox

I liiiive! (Finally done being sick and through the hard part of all my dental work, ugh.) And to start us off is a review of a book series that is quickly going to become one of my favorite series, so you can bet as new books are released, I’ll be reviewing them!

The first in the Amaranthine Saga, Tsumiko and the Enslaved Fox begins with the title character, Tsumiko, coming into a surprise inheritance from relative she didn’t even know existed. It is the beginning of her introduction into a world that the rest of humanity is just becoming aware of–that of the Amaranthine, also known as the Rivven. To her surprise, she is a powerful reaver, humans who work alongside both humanity and the Amaranthine to insure peace between the two. And to make things awkward, aside from a new home, she also inherits a person–an Amaranthine butler named Argent. But Argent is no willing services, and foxes are not to be trusted on either side. Tsumiko will have to find her place in this new order of things, as will Argent, though neither is what they would expect.

So, confession time. I read the “original” version of this, that being the fanfic that the bare-bones-basics of the premise came from. I even follow forthright’s blog here on WordPress, so you know I’m a fan. ^_~ That being said, I tried to take a step back and look at this story with fresh eyes. It was a lot easier than you would think. While I can see some of the core characteristics haven’t changed, Tsumiko, Argent, even Sansa and Michael have taken on enough changes that they became their own persons. The world building was also sufficient in that regard to help separate it.

The part that stole my heart the most was the plot. I went in with a very vague knowledge of what was going to happen, but didn’t know how well it would translate to original. Lo and behold, forthright did some amazing work bringing something new to her long time readers. It deviated down some fun ways (I squealed at Gingko’s relation to Argent, for example), and it also added some substantial bones to what was otherwise a very fluffy story. I was caught up in what was going to happen next completely. I think one thing that still bugs me is the rogue dragon(s), but I figure those must be series questions. The climax was also not quite what I would have wanted. I don’t know if the pacing was off, or if its because there were two different “big” problems that had to be resolved in a particular order rather than together. Either way, the third act felt too long.

(Ginny is probably about to call me a hypocrite, but mine doesn’t go quite as long, leave me alone. :P)

Like I said previously, the characters personalities were solid, without depending on their fanfiction counter parts. I had a lot of fun with Argent’s double speak, and even in deciphering the cats’ personalities. Even the religious overtones weren’t overbearing, and I think bringing a different faith in helped break it away from its source material. That being said, as strong as they were in personality and dialogue, there was some lack in the character descriptions. Sometimes it was better than others, such as with the Amaranthine. But aside from being petite and I assume Japanese, I don’t know much about Tsumiko’s looks! This may seem a little picky, but I like to know exactly what I’m dealing with unless the writer is purposefully trying to make it where the reader can insert themselves into it.

Worldbuilding wise, I wish we had gotten some more in England. While Stately House got given plenty of time and attention, as did the surrounding area, England felt like a very rushed pass-through. Same at Akira’s dorm, though at least that served a solid purpose (and my feelings for it are probably link to my feelings over the climax). The Amaranthine culture though was very well developed. It took a second read through for me to grasp everything that I was reading. I really liked how there were very few blanket answers to how things worked too considering how varied the Amaranthine were in types. But even they didn’t have perfect knowledge, which kept them from getting to ridiculous, Tolkien elf territory.

Overall, this book was a delight. I highly recommend it for multiple reads, as new details will be constantly making themselves known, and the characters themselves don’t grow old, just more faceted. Here’s hoping the second is just as big of a success.


Review: Underworld Blood Wars

Coming back to my werewolf/vampire staple with the latest entry into the franchise. This one felt like it finally bridged the gap between the first two and the fourth movie, giving me what I always look for as far as twists to the plot that I don’t see coming, while at the same time feeding into my expectations.

Underworld Blood Wars takes place an unspecified time after the end of Awakening. Selene is still on the run from Lycans and the vampire covens alike, as the Lycans continue to want possession of her daughter Eve, and the vampires want vengeance for the death of the previous Elders. For safety, Selene is not even aware of where her daughter is, to her own personal pain, and she even separates from David until forced to rely on his help. However, a new leader among the Lycans, Marius, is threatening even the limited safety of the remaining covens. A tentative alliance is struck…and then broken as truths come to light that may be the key to the future for the vampires.

Starting with the story, I felt like this was a good balance between the run-and-fight-when-cornered feelings and the direct battle confrontations that we’ve seen in all of the previous films. I also found that the backstabbing and flip-flop alliances returned, which always makes me happy since it gives a lot of potential for surprises depending on character (which I’ll get to). But we didn’t loose the depth of feelings that are always so subtle in these movies, which is more my cup of tea than anything. Selene still feels lost as a mother and especially without Michael, we have some closure at least with Michael to my eternal relief, David’s conflict between his duty to his bloodline and his feelings about Selene are told more in the silence and between the lines than straight out which is great. Even the reveal at the end with Eve, that she was stubborn and ignored her mother’s orders, makes me sooo happy.

I do feel like the world building is getting bloated at this point. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the delving into Amelia’s backstory in this film, because I feel like Amelia has always gotten short-changed. Even the Nordic coven itself didn’t necessarily upset me, because it just makes sense that there was one group of pacifists in a war like this on one side. It was the way they decided to give Selene a power boost in this film, this idea of “going beyond” and hibernating under the ice… It was just weird and not explained well, vague mostly to keep from having to explain how it worked. There are better ways to give the character a bit of a boost to be able to work around a stronger enemy. Similarly, it felt like the nerfed Selene when convenient for the plot, and then made her this demi-goddess when needed. Consistency is important! They are also raising the gore factor in the films higher than I am necessarily comfortable with. The series has always been high on gore and gross, but this one nearly made me gag in the theater.

Character-wise, you have two groups: the veterans from previous films, and the new ones. I’ll start with the veterans. We didn’t see much of Eve or Michael, but in the case of the latter, he also got nerfed for the sake of plot. I’m happy about the plot being resolved, but honesty demands I point it out. Selene finally seems to be finding her groove again after being frozen and finding out that she has a kid. We saw some of the in control, Death Dealer and natural leader, that we have always known her as, but when she let that mask down a little, we also saw the hurt woman that she was. David grew a little bit from angry, whiny Luke-Skywalker-type into a leader in his own right for the majority of the film. What bit of angsting there was…was completely understandable. It reflected the growth that was going on with two other characters, his father Thomas and the deceased Amelia, who had a chance to actual show bits and pieces of who they are under the cranky people they usually come across as.

New characters…oye, there were a lot, like there always are. I like that we had two types of female characters–both schemers, one is the politician and one is the spy-soldier, and then the wise warrior. Most of the female characters had massive agency in this film, and were either using male minions or working in a partnership. I like it. Meanwhile, the males sort of suffered a little from a lack of depth being shown. They were either good soldier-boys for the coven, or they were the biker-reject soldiers for the Lycans. The main two of these camps, Varga and Marius…eh. They were pretty much one note the entire way through. And Varga, I had slight issues with…if only because I’ve seen Bradley James as two characters so firmly in my head, I had a very hard time breaking him out of them (King Arthur, and he’s our fan-cast for Scorpius Malfoy).

As a note of wicked story/character glee of mine–The new Elders are a flip from the previous ones. While the first set were Marcus, Viktor, and Amelia, the new group is Selene, David, and the new character introduced, Lena. David is the youngest, and is almost the blood-tie nod, which is usually a role reserved for a female character. Lena and Selene have centuries of experience on him, and we know from the way David has acted that when push comes to shove, he’ll defer to Selene. It still feels more like a balance of equals than the last three had, but I just love that two of the three are now female badasses.

Underworld is probably always going to be a movie that tugs at my geek strings. It has all the things I love in films (okay, and some things that I don’t necessarily like, but can tolerate in the name of getting everything else). They are, supposedly, already working on more for the series, and if it follows in the vein of Blood Wars, I am going to be just as eagerly waiting for it. Just…lay off the super vague world building.


Review: Justice League-The Flashpoint Paradox

There are two animated movie versions of the Justice League making the rounds, and you can tell them apart by animation styles and who is voicing Batman. One of them has touched on an alternate reality plot line that caught my interest on YouTube, and I just had to watch it.

The Flashpoint Paradox centers around the Flash–Barry Allen–as he is hit hard with the loss of his mother on his birthday. Imagine his surprise when he finds himself in a different timeline where she lives. Not only that, but Gotham is not the city he remembers. Batman is no longer Bruce Wayne, but instead his father Thomas. It seems like it wouldn’t be half bad, except there are other ripple effects. The Amazons and Atlantis are at war. There’s no Superman, and Cyborg works for the government. It’s a mess, and Barry needs to get back to his own time to make sure this doesn’t happen there. But there’s a trick to it, and it’s going to make him realize how important his own actions in his world are.

So, if you didn’t catch it, the whole Thomas Wayne as Batman was the thing that caught my attention. It was a very different Batman, and one that was sort of weird for me to adjust to. Yet it was very fascinating to see how the change, of Bruce dying instead of his parents, led to his father taking up the same mantel that his son would have. And then to counter that, we have a very different Joker. I do wish we had gotten to see Martha Wayne as the Joker in full rather than the little scene that showed who she was going to become after losing Bruce. I’d rather have that confrontation than the little fight with Yo-Yo. But the differences between Thomas and Bruce were cool to see and surprise Barry with, and I was all tearful at the end with what happened there too between them.

I also thought the war was very poorly explained. I mean, I followed along with it, but there was a certain level of random involved too. It also seemed really contradictory to Wonder Woman’s and Arthur’s characters as we know them. I mean, half the point of the Amazons living on their island is they are no longer going to be involved in the world of Man, and suddenly they are conquering Europe? And Atlantis was supposed to be a secret, even from the Amazons, so that even further makes no sense. And as for the affair? Just…ewww. This is probably something that the comics had the time to explain well, but the movie didn’t and it was rushed as a result.

Character-wise, there was a lot to cover and very little time to do it. It left a lot of things feeling rushed, as they try to show what this world did to all the characters but struggled to keep the story going at a good pace. Thomas, Cyborg, and Flash were the ones who really got the chance to show who they were. Everyone else was cardboard flat, and we could have done less with them. It might have involved restructuring or changing the comic book story, but since there was a time issue, focus was obviously desperately needed. Or maybe even dividing the movie into two parts, though that would make selling it more difficult. Either way, something was needed. I also felt like the reason why Flash couldn’t enter the speed force was pretty obvious as far as the source of the differences, despite them trying to cover it up and explain it as something else.

There was one thing that was shown well, and that was the world-building. Even if it was bloated with characters, the differences in the time streams were both obvious and organic. Chains of events led to the differences, a rippling effect of one thing being off. I like that when they went to save Superman, he was the buff farmboy we were expecting but a scared young man who was under developed due to lack of time outside of his containment. Batman was older and it showed, as was the amusing way they went with what happened to the Wayne fortune. Again, the war was poorly explained, but the effects it had on the world were well shown, even down to Cyborg’s enhancements. I get why they wanted to show everything, because it is all very interesting to look at and see what small changes can cause.

Overall, I enjoyed this movie, and it actually helped me appreciate the Flash more. He has never been my favorite DC hero (which admittedly, I deal with Wally West more than Barry), but this helped me appreciate him a little more. It also added a new layer to my love of all things Batman, which really didn’t need the feeding.


Review: She Slays Monsters

Something a little new here, this play recently showed at the University of Oklahoma’s theater program, and it struck enough chords that I felt the need to review it. Let it be known, reviewing a play is a little trickier than reviewing a movie or a book. Each production, each show, is a little different, all depending on how they worked together. I’m going off of the way the story was shown this particular time, and how it was designed to appear to the audience. Another production might be different. We’ll see.

The story revolves around Agnes as she seeks to cope with the death of her family, including her younger sister, Tilly. She and Tilly had a difficult childhood growing up together, with neither really understanding each other. Agnes is given a second chance when she discovers a notebook Tilly wrote in: a Dungeons and Dragons module that while only half-finished, contains some hints of her sister’s life. With the help of some of her sister’s friends, she starts to piece together what she didn’t know about her sister…and what she didn’t know about herself.

As a person who plays Dungeons and Dragons… I could tell that no one in the cast or at least the production team actually played. No offense meant to them, but they were obviously relying on their consultants with the local game shop to make sure things looked right…as much as possible. While I’m willing to give some slack since DnD has changed a lot over the years, I can’t help but wonder how much of it changed due to the cast not knowing what questions to ask or the game shop to answer. Which of course in turn makes me ask how many notes the playwright put into the script. You can’t always rely on people to do the research for you, and I feel like he should have placed some more hints into what certain creatures and characters looked like.

Which somehow gets my brain to costuming. Tilly looked great, as did Agnes. What irked the shit out of me–and this was written in the script via dialogue, so I place no blame on the costuming team whatsoever and think they did great with what they had–was the way some of the other characters dressed. You get that some of this is meant to be empowering for these party members, and the people who play them, but there’s something that almost every DnD/fantasy MMO player who is also feminine-leaning will tell you: they hate having no other option but to dress their character in bondage outfits or chainmail bikinis. And I mean we hate it. It hit so many offended buttons for me, right off the bat, and sort of colored the rest of the way I saw the play. Normally, you can say that it gives the production team a break as far as finding or making armor (as an excuse). Except that I know for the fact that SCA is an international organization that is usually up for working with people in exchange for publicity, and cosplay has created all sorts of cheats, that it shouldn’t actually be an issue.

At times, a lot of beats were cringe inducing unless you kept the setting and the age of Tilly in mind. You had to remember it was the 90’s, you had to remember she was fifteen when she died, you had to remember that she lived in a small town. It was too much from a story standpoint because we were watching this play out, we didn’t have the ability to rewind or flip back a few pages to remember important facts to keep things in perspective. While some of the monsters were named after people in her life, creating interesting moments for Agnus to interact with, it just sat weird to me because the way they worked into the story didn’t make sense. I think he was relying on Tilly’s age to explain it…except I was a fifteen year old writer, and I wouldn’t have done anything that blatant. It felt like the writer was trying too hard to make the audience see the parallels between Tilly’s real life and the life inside the game.

Because the writer in question is a fight choreographer, I have to pick on that a little too. This is where it’s hard to tell what was a production choice and what was written into the actual play without having a copy of the script in my own hands. But all of the party members used melee weapons–practical for a play, not so much for a party. The only healer was Tilly, and she was limited severely (more than I think even early DnD would limit a level 20 paladin). There was no magic-centric class. And even then, everyone used swords, daggers, or a battle axe (with the occasional shield). There are a lot of interesting options available, even in the early DnD stages, that could have helped spice up the monotony of the fighting and made the party make so much more sense. Of course, better spacing of the fighting and making it less random as hell would have helped too. While that’s part of DnD, this…pushed it severely, especially for a play. (Okay, I could nitpick the actual fighting in this case, but that would be cheating and I’m spoiled with my own experience.)

Some of this was very…trite and tropey and not what I expected of this play. I may have had too high of expectations because this was (I thought) written by someone who was in the know about this aspect of geekery. But I ended up feeling a bit disappointed in the writing, in things that I have issues with as a player myself, and in how this tried to show DnD to the world. In the audience, I heard people talking about the game like it was old and dead, like no one had played Dungeons and Dragons since the 90’s and like the game hadn’t changed. And you know what? They are right in a way. No self-respecting DnD group would function like this, at least not anymore.