Book Review: City of Kings by Rob J. Hayes (Archived)

Hey, everyone! This review was originally published over on BookNest.eu about six months ago. Check the site out, great reviews by me and many other lovely folks! I thought I’d start reposting my old reviews here every few days, in case anyone who hasn’t seen them before follows my blog for the book reviews in question. Hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer: I received this novel for free thanks to the r/fantasy TBRindr initiative, in return for an honest review. The purpose of this initiative is to showcase the works of independent authors.

 City of Kings is a tale of siege, dark necromancy and bloody betrayal. It’s the sixth book in Rob J. Hayes’ First Earth setting, but it works well as a stand-alone. I should know since I haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading any of his previous works. And I don’t use ‘pleasure’ lightly.

Let’s jump straight into what I loved about this book!

The Characters:

Five main characters, five diverse viewpoints.

Meet Rose, leader and de facto queen of the Wilds. Rose is on a quest to rid the land of the blooded, long-time lords and despots of the Wilds. This is one scary pregnant lady, ready to put everything on the line for vengeance. 

Anders is a good-for-nothing drunk, a charming spy, and capable of inexplicable feats of magic. He is also the son of our big bad, the blooded lord and military tactician Niles Brekovich.

The Black Thorn is a giant of a man, and a wielder of a great-axe much more at home lopping off heads than acting the part of nominal leader of an army and being called a hero. His romantic relationship with Rose is written well, and the prospect of fatherhood in the world he inhabits is examined well.

Red Henry delights in blood, murder and mayhem…but she is no soldier. And the battlefield is all too foreign to a woman used to striking from the shadows.

Pern Susku is an honour-bound warrior who failed in his mission to protect his master; who, in fact, allowed that very master to be killed by The Black Thorn. This failure haunts him, as does the tribe of warriors he comes from.

These five main characters come alive over the three-hundred pages or so of City of Kings. None of them are good people, with the possible exception of Szusku who does a fair bit of agonizing over past decisions. They‘re one and all opposed to the blooded; much like Joe Abercrombie‘s First Law trilogy, this presents characters wholly entwined with one side of the conflict. The blooded are ever seen as adversaries and for good reason.

Not that our protagonists are much better, mind. Hayes does very well with the ending when one of the main characters steps over the line in what is a particularly gory and memorable scene.

The side characters are memorable, too. Two captains, a sergeant, and of course the Five Kingdoms general, Verit, deserve mention. So does Pug, The Black Thorn’s young squire, whose fear and lack of skill don’t stop him from putting his hide in harm’s way time and time again.

The Plot:

Fast-paced and with the highest stakes, City of King‘s plot takes place over just six days. Not the time to pull off a proper siege, but time is not on Rose‘s side. With an empty coffer and enemies threatening to push on all sides, the self-styled queen of the Wilds only has one choice – to wager the men and women under the Black Thorn’s banner in a desperate bid to break the last bastion of the blooded.

But if a siege blood-curdling in its intensity isn’t enough for you, you might be won over by the shambling hordes of undead, or the daring battles with horrifying cave-trolls! Or perhaps you seek betrayal and heartbreak? There’s plenty of that, too!

I appreciate the downtime between battles, the moments of quiet reflection and discussion on what comes next, how the siege is compounded by whatever disaster our protagonists are forced into dealing with. It is during those times I most appreciated the character-building skill Hayes possesses, and so will you.

Conclusion:

Like the best of grimdark, this book doesn’t contain violence for violence’s sake. There is a point to it all, and it reflects on and deeply affects the characters who witness or perpetrate it. You will find no glamour in the clash of attackers and defenders, no allure to battle in City of Kings.  

What you will find, is a deftly written story, detailed and unafraid to show characters at their worst. Rob J. Hayes displays a tremendous amount of skill with a fully realized world, as well as a string of unexpected twists and turns all the way to the end.

With City of Kings, Hayes has earned a great deal of my interest. I’m looking forward to revisiting the First Earth setting both in future installments, and by picking the past five novels!

Did I have any problems with it? Not as such; more nitpicks than anything. Anders, despite being a favourite character of mine, was a bit too verbose even for a nervous drunk prone to bouts of chattering.  A letter is missing here and there, maybe even two!

…I really have no issues with this book.  I’m not shy about pointing out what I dislike, but there wasn’t anything I had problems with here, neither in terms of story and characterization nor on the technical side. The writing style is clear, crisp. Descriptions set the backdrop of scenes well.

You’ll enjoy City of Kings by Rob J. Hayes if:   

  • You are a fan of grimdark;
  • You are planning to besiege a fortress in the bloodiest way possible;
  • You’re looking at a handy how-to guide to pregnancy;
  • You enjoy books written by men who can pull off a gambeson;
  • And more! Prob’ly.

I gave this 5 stars on Goodreads!  (4.5 Stars)

Anthem: Demo Weekend Impression

Hullo, everyone! In case you didn’t know, along with occasionally writing stuff for this blog, doing reviews for BookNest.eu and universiting (coining that word), I also make videos on video games! I thought I’d share with you, dear reader, my latest video below but with a twist! If you care little for my voice or my video editing skills, I’ll also upload the ‘script’ which is largely what the video consists of! Whether you read or watch, thanks! Any likes and comments are, as ever, appreciated!

Or: How I learned to stop caring about FPS drops, and love the Magneto cosplays!

Anthem is more enjoyable than I thought it would be, which makes its abhorrent technical issues, and there is a myriad of them, nothing short of appalling.

I had the…uuuh…pleasure? Of playing Anthem during its demo weekend, and while I had fun with several parts of the game, I am far from convinced it is worth the asking price. Anthem excels in making you feel powerful – with a few exceptions, but on those later. Never has a game felt so much like what an Iron Man game should be; especially with the first javelin we had access to during the demo. Miniature rockets, grenades, and an ultimate that’s powerful enough to wipe out dozens of mobs all at once cements this power fantasy in a way that is nothing short of captivating, and for that Bioware has my most sincere congratulations. Good work, guys.

That, coupled with the vast amount of customization of the javelins made me thoroughly enjoy my time as the Storm Javelin in particular, whose ability to glide through the air with his majestic cape and aristocratic poise made me immediately seize the opportunity of giving my favourite master of magnetism tribute. Some pretty sweet moments were to be had, especially whenever I dropped the Storm Javelin’s ultimate ability. It’s a visual spectacle, and again, it plays really well to the core power fantasy this sort of game revolves around. Well, that and loot.

Speaking of loot, some of the guns aren’t too impressive in their damage output or their sound assets. Bit too silent sometimes, bit too normal in others. This is a science-fantasy world, right? Why not give guns an extra kick?! Granted, maybe they do become better at level 30 than at level 10-15 but with how little we know about the end-game look of the game outside of PR, who the hell cares?

Now, for the technical issues – and they were truly abhorrent. Once, when I alt-tabbed, Anthem murdered my screen resolution, transporting me back into ye olde middle ages. FPS drops were a common occurrence, and me and my dear friend, MegaShortFuze, were disconnected just as we were doing the stronghold mission – an admittedly fun mission, although why anyone would replay it more than five, ten times, I do not know. There’s only so much fun you can get from decimating a big-ass bug that doesn’t seem equipped to do anything to harm any of the javelins in the air: and hint, that’s all of them! Those things literally float on jetpacks, in the air! I don’t think I got hit a single time!

I will say, that boss at least was fun. At least it made us feel powerful. Know what wasn’t? A big, bullet-spongy anti-air gun boss! I don’t remember how it’s called, and I don’t care about wasting anymore time on it, ever, to find out, but that thing took us way too long to kill, and me and my friend were deploying advanced warfare tactics, son! That whole experience was frustrating and unrewarding, unlike the stronghold.

As for the story…the less said, the better. The one quest we actually had access to showed some fun Bioware writing and at least one memorable character, even if for a gimmicky reason. What about comm-conversations between supporting characters while we’re in the warfra—I mean, javelin? I recall smiling at a single line, but I don’t remember the line itself. It’s just…not even filling, y’know? Same as that nice lady that talks to you occasionally in Warframe. Makes for a nice change of pace from all the bullets flying at your noggin, but it’s not like you actually care, is it?

IS IT?

The sad truth of the matter is, I doubt Anthem’s creation has been due to Bioware’s sudden and inexplicable desire to break away from the tried and true format of creating rich worlds where choice matters for the benefit of making a Destine-lite loot shooter. Even so, they’ve done an admirable job in creating a game as fun as Anthem seems to be, in terms of the core gameplay loop and javelin customization. What has me most worried about Anthem is just how much we don’t know about this game, days before its release – how much will the cosmetics cost in terms of real money, as opposed to time spent grinding? How extensive is the end-game content? To quote Anthem’s latest video on the topic, there will be “challenges, contracts, freeplay and strongholds.”  How does the content drop delivery map look like, two months down the road? How about six? Just how many tens of gigabytes will the day-1 patch be, and how many new bugs will we get for each one fixed? I could go on and on asking questions like these – and it’s unfortunate that I have to. There was a time when I gave Bioware every benefit of the doubt, but in a world where EA’s bottom line forces its developer studios towards ever more rushed, money-grubbing video games, that time is long since past.

Anthem is…a definite ‘wait for many months, if ever’ buy for me. Based on my enjoyment of the core, I honestly would like to play it at some point. Based on how tired I am of EA, I ought not to. Time will tell. And so will the impudence EA shows in their monetising of cosmetics.

But at the same time… I still think there’s a massive audience for this game. Five-six million copies, maybe? And then, undoubtedly, we’d get a headline in PCGamer the like of, “Anthem underperforms well below EA’s expectations.”

Hell, I take on bets about that last point!

Octopath Traveler Diary Entry 06: The Deadly Dance

It’s a deadly dance that Primrose plays for vengeance.

The lone daughter of a noble house that fell under assassins’ blades, Primrose has suffered no end of indignities working as an exotic dancer under the vile Master Helganesh. All to find the three marked assassins who murdered her father. The dream of that horrible night has tormented her for years, ever since she was a small girl; the things she would do to free herself of these spectres of the past.

Unspeakable things…and she has had to do the unspeakable to come this far, following up on the barest hint of a man with the mark of the crow. That’s what has led her to Sunshade, and that is where the party of five came across her. By that time, Primrose had begun making enemies, but also a friend. Here is the tale she told her new companions:

Helganesh, that leery old fool. The things I’ve had to do to keep in his good graces, I shudder to think about the memory of them. You can’t imagine being in the power of a man such as he. All my accomplishments over these past few years have been his, all my failings – my own. My reward for those accomplishments was nothing, and the punishments I suffered for failing… I will not speak of them. You will meet men like him in every city, town and village – petty and vile,  and all too willing to abuse whatever little influence they’ve managed to work out for themselves. That his influence in Sunshade is more than negligible is beside the point.

Over the past few weeks and months, I began worrying that the lead for which I sacrificed so very much of my dignity had led me astray, and I would be doomed to this nightmare forever. This very night was nearly catastrophic for me — my mind astray, I gave a performance for Helganesh’s patrons that the ‘Master’ found wanting. His threats forced me to go to the streets and perform my charms on passers-by until I had enough clientele to make up for my failure. The last of these clients escorted to Helganesh’s hall, I was resigned to give the leering masses another show when I caught sight of a man with the crow on his hand!

Finally, all my suffering had paid off! Just as I was about to follow, however, the old wretch cornered and threatened me. I nearly gave in to the threat, when Yusufa, the only other dancer who has shown any kindness to me, stepped in and offered me her help.

I could hardly refuse, could I? 

I tracked Helganesh down — and you can imagine my surprise when I saw him colluding with who else but the hooded man? I listened in, and what I heard made the hairs on my neck stand at an end.

I wasn’t surprised to find that Helganesh is a flesh peddler…but I wasn’t going to stand by and allow him to keep it up, least of all when it’s that monster’s pockets that he fills. I made my decision then and there …

So telling her story, Primrose needed do nothing else to recruit the adventurers to her quest. They quickly made their way to the dark underway below, following Helganesh and his mysterious partner. The road led them to the desert outside Sunshade, where they were all forced to witness a horrible crime…

Her friend dying at her feet, Primrose was overcome by rage. The time for standing against Helganesh was nigh, but before it, she would make sure to show him how she’d played him.

How good it must’ve felt to remove the mask she’d worn for so long! Though, admittedly, not as good as what came next!

Even as death stared him in the face, Helganesh didn’t change his ways — a traitorous bastard till the end. But an end it was, and soon, the crows…
will follow.

Octopath Traveler Diary Entry 05: The Sacred Flame (Ophelia, Chapter 01)

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After much discussion, the scholar Cyrus managed to convince his fellows Tressa, Olberic and Therion to return with him to university to pick up a few tomes he’d misplaced. Much grumbling and several days later, the group ended up further north than they’d ever come together, in the town of Flamesgrace.

This is where they came upon Ophilia.

Before she was pressed into attempting a dangerous pilgrimage (more on that later), Ophilia had spent most of her life in the shadow of the person she most loved in the world, her foster sister, Lianna. Both have walked the same path as acolytes in the Great Cathedral, whose bishop is the girls’ father. Lianna is a brilliant orator, an exceptional pupil, and an obedient daughter whose greatest wish is to follow in her father’s footsteps and make him proud. Under other circumstances, it would be Lianna who is the main character of this story — but that is not the case.

Ophilia doesn’t resent her sister for all that she is the Great Cathedral’s star pupil; perhaps she is even blind to her own contributions to Lianna’s success, and her own popularity amongst the faithful. All the young cleric wishes for is to help her sister perform her duties better. She is every inch the selfless young lady you would expect her to be from the very first, and her capacity for self-sacrifice is equalled only by her sheepishness around her adopted family.

After a heartwarming attempt of father and daughter to remind ‘Phili that she is, indeed, a part of the family, Archbishop Joseph got into the nitty-gritty about what’s to be expected during his daughter’s pilgrimage. Death, danger, devilry of all sorts, and the fate of the world. The typical drawbacks of failing in one’s religious quest. For further commentary on horrible, terrible no-good religious pilgrimages, look up Final Fantasy X.

It’s later on that very day that Ophilia, while entertaining a visitor seeking to speak with the Archbishop, is sent word that her adoptive father has fallen ill. Joseph is in fact in good humour, even if his repeated coughing worries Phili to no end and sends Lianna to think things through at the two sisters’ favourite spot, overlooking the Cathedral.

It is then that Phili suffers from an onset of Flashback Syndrom, remembering her coming to the home of Joseph and Lianna after her parents perished during the great war ten years ago (possibly the same war that Olberic fought in? The time period fits!). Ophilia was a closed-off child for a long time because of that, exhibiting near-Batman symptoms of loneliness, until Lianna managed to get through to her, and made of her a friend.

Lianna helped Ophilia when our newest recruit needed it most; now, Phili has the idea to do the same, by making certain Lianna does not leave her father’s side at his hour of greatest need, and instead taking up the mantle of Flame-barer herself.

Having talked the party into helping her, the cleric leads them to the cave within which the Sacred Flame rests. But before she grabs it in the sacred lantern, a wild challenger appears!

Of course the party turned the stone monstrosity into a bunch of boulders, courtesy of some excellent boulderwo–pardon, bladework by Olberic and Therion. This done and over with, Ophilia is now the proud bearer of the Sacred Flame, and her quest to carry it around in order to save the world from ever-lasting darkness, begins!

Well, before she can get going, Phili is forced to sit down with Lianna and discuss all the details that were kept from her because she never needed to know about them.

Ah, religious quests in jRPGs. Nothing quite like them. There’s one more interesting companion story in Octopath Traveler; after I tell it, I will just rush through the seventh and eight companions since their stories are basic and not all that interesting — yet, anyway.  For now, thank you for reading, and…we’ll find out what becomes of Ophilia  soon! 

Octopath Traveler Diary Entry 04: Bound In Victory (Therion, Chapter 01)

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Therion is a thief. And not just any thief — not some pickpocket or cutpurse but a proper master of stealth, the kind of man of whom stories are told, the sort that no walls, no prison bars could hold. Safe for those prison bars during the flashback sequence, of course — but it was ten years ago, and we’re all allowed to be young, even those of us living a life of thieving crime!

In present day, Therion reminisces about the bad ol’ days in a quiet tavern in the city of Bolderfall. He is, in fact, the only topic of conversation in the tavern — a pair of youthful thieves recognise him, and immediately begin recounting some of his more impressive recent jobs. Therion doesn’t stop them, but neither does he join in their conversation. He’s a lone wolf. The only words he exchanges are with the innkeeper — and those concern the business he’s in Bolderfall over.

Not that Bolderfall isn’t ever bustling with opportunity — for skilled professionals like Therion, a city as divided as this could very well be heaven…even if, somewhere deep inside, the thief might feel a twinge of regret for what his home city has turned into.

The dashing rogue had a target in mind, and it was over this target, the Ravus Manor, that he was grilling the inkeep over. The wonky man on the other side of the bar offered the information Therion was after willingly enough, and lo and behold, the rogue dashed forth to scout out the manor defences. While hiding behind a row of bushes and doing his best petunia impression, the gallant sneak spied an unlikely route — the front door!

Said proof is a letter of introduction, signed by the lords and ladies of the House!

If there’s one thing Bolderfall does not lack in, it’s crowds of grumbling commoners, most of them unable to take their destiny in their own hands, as this rakish knave did! If there’s two things Bolderfall does not lack in, it is commoners and their counterpart, the snotty nobles who spare not a thought for those they lord over, guarded safely by small armies of sellswords…which, I suppose are the third thing Bolderfall does not lack in. But the fourth…! The fourth is what I–Therion cares about! Merchants, too busy with boasting to notice their valuables picked from under their noses.


It’s at this point that the dashing rogue, making his way to the Manor, suddenly crashed into three ruffled, smelly travelers–a sturdy warrior, obviously a sellsword guarding the pair; a man a few years Therion’s senior, and a–oh, could it be?–a young lady with a bag almost as large as she was, clanking under the weight of scores of different wares. A merchant! What better way for Therion to sneak into the home of the Ravuses under the guise of a merchant, than by having a real one sitting beside himself?!

He put the most sly of his smiles, and– “Hey.”

The handwriting in the journal you currently read through suddenly changes after several lines of unreadable squiggles, some of which might be depicting the scholar Cyrus in a rather unflattering light.

Pish-posh and absolute hogwash! I swear, Therion, if you pollute my journals with your humourless drivel, I will cover your thieving backside with so much fire…!

Ahem.

The road to Bolderfall did not come without its dangers, but the party of travellers, led by the scholar Cyrus, manages to defeat a great deal many strange and curious creatures; the sort of beasts the trio comes upon would better fit a menagerie rather than the countryside–but it is a dangerous world these heroes inhabit. Forgetting that would cost each and every one of them.

But no less dangerous is the city of Bolderfall, fractured as it is by political and social conflict. It’s not a place either Tressa or Olberic have previously visited, and what little Cyrus has read of it does the beautiful city no justice. It’s as if the very buildings have been etched from the stone. It’s in this city that the trio comes upon the thief, Therion. This wiry, white-haired lad did not possess a single smooth bone in his body, much as he’d like to think otherwise; and his curtness nearly made the scholar reconsider his offer of help. Even so, Therion accepted, and let his new acquaintances in on his scheme. It was simple in its beauty; and with Tressa here, it would be all too easy to buy into the angle of merchants come to the Ravus manor to speak with the lady of the house.

The guards, of course, had to prove quite obstinate.

This hurdle out of the way, the four companions snuck into the manor through an open window — “No more front doors,” Therion had said with disdain as soon as the guards behind were out of earshot.

The Ravus Home was…there really is no way around it, a splendid home, truly exquisite in its presentation. It spoke of opulence and great riches, and, if one looked at Tressa’s face, one could almost swear she was considering a change in professions. But no, the dear girl didn’t take anything — and the more power to her! Perhaps she did murmur a promise, to one day build a mercantile empire to dwarf the riches of this place… but who could say such things? They are lost to the annals of history.

Within the innermost chambers of the Ravus home, Therion found no great fortune, no fairy-tale treasure. No, what he found was…a single gemstone. Its outward appearance promised no particular riches. The party of four was less than impressed, as any reasonable reader might imagine.

This Heathcote then immediately proceeded to pull his sabre out, and the battle was joined! White-haired and wrinkled as he was, the man moved with alacrity not even Olberic was quite prepared for. His first few slashes nearly took entire party out, and it was only the knight’s swordplay — and Therion’s skill with the dagger — that saved Tressa and the scholar.

He sure was bigger than life…

Once Cyrus had a moment to collect himself, he released torrents of arcane fire, followed by barrages of ice and finally, by a veritable lightning storm! Still, the man refused to back down — until Therion, at breakneck speed, moved past his guard, his dagger skirting past the man’s defences and cutting a bloody path across his ribcage.

But just as victory was in the travelers’ grasp, Heathcote snatched it away. Frowning, Therion looked down at his hand, recognition fast turning to dread.

And that…that’s when Heathcote’s mistress revealed herself.

But what possible reason could she have to do so?!

Soon enough, it becomes apparent that Therion’s entire plan to rob the manor has been orchestrated by the lady Ravus, in her search for a capable enough thief; a man who could discover and reclaim the three missing gemstones that once belonged to the family but have since been stolen. Hardly overjoyed by this turn of events, Therion nonetheless is forced to accept the new job at hand; and his companions are only too happy to help, either for the adventure of it, with the expectation of reciprocity or — in the scholar’s case — the opportunity to research three arcane artifacts of some potency immediately after recovering them.

With this, the adventurers made their way to the outskirts of Bolderfall, only to be surprised by the sudden appearance of Heathcote and Cordelia Ravus. The noblewoman showed unexpected care for Therion’s well-being, and the butler — who, the scholar suspected, was an old thieving hand himself — offered the travellers a precious lead.

What awaited Therion? The answer lay in Noblecourt.

Magnus Commentary: Therion’s story was a lot of fun! And at this point I’m having so much fun with this diary series, can you tell?

At any rate, thank you for reading this, and to all my friends forced to check back journal entry after journal entry – you are far too kind. There’ll be more soon!

Octopath Traveler, Diary Entry 03: Hedge Knights and Exultations (Olberic, Chapter 1)

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Cobbleston, home to beautiful women, sturdy young men, and quite possibly the realm’s mightiest retired knight. Cobbleston, Cyrus and Tressa soon enough find out, is home to Olberic, the warrior.


What a badass, this guy.
Olberic’s tale begins with a flashback, as is sometimes the case with badasses. This one takes us back years from present times, at a time when Olberic was not a glorified sellsword going under the name of Berg but a true knight, serving his king and kingdom.This flashback is seventeen different kinds of epic, starting with Olberic holding off an entire platoon of enemy soldiers without so much as breaking a sweat. He’s immediately likeable, owed to his no-nonsense personality. The low, dangerous voice he has doesn’t hurt any, either.And when someone knows you under that moniker, you’re either a helluva fighter, or a damn good lover; and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out Olberic is both!
But Olberic has something that neither Cyrus nor Tressa have – – a nemesis. This flashback, in fact, is little more than Octopath introducing us to the first real antagonist I have come across in my ten hours of play.Did anyone ask for a fresh serving of “Assassin of Kings”? Think I’ve got that order squared away for ya!
Erhardt is just the kind of villain you learn to hate with surprising ease. He used to be Olberic’s sparring partner and dearest friend, and that betrayal stings all too deep, despite just coming into Olberic’s story.
At any rate, Erhardt wins this round, and Olberic fails in his last duty to avenge his liege. All the years since,
Olberic has toiled away as a hired sword from town to town, teaching the youths to fight, and protect their homes from roving bands of brigands.  Far from glamorous indeed, but it’s better than thieving, isn’t it, Therion?! Cough, cough, I’m getting ahead of myself.
From all the village miscreants, Olberic took a liking to one in particular, a fatherless lad named Philip, gasp! Okay, okay, that’s not him, that’s another Filip, with an F. Lemme try again.Huh, those two look rather similar. I’ll file this under “to be researched further”. Philip is a nice enough lad, even if a bit impatient;a little bit too young to see combat, he nevertheless clamours after it. Others, too, are promising students, especially a pair of young men who remind the expert swordsman of himself and an old friend, almost painfully so.
All goes well for a time, Olberic using his Path Ability, “Challenge”, to teach a great many of the villagers a lesson. What this lesson is, no one is quite sure, but when a swordsman smacks you stupid with the dull of his blade, you better thank him, or else!
Then, shameless and in the light of day, brigands attack.Yeah, those lads, it turns out we’re asking for it. Olberic is not a man to shy away from combat, though, and his skill was more than enough to take. Them. Apart.A level slash of his blade, and they were done for. But little did Olberic know, in another part of town, a brigand had snuck away and taken young Philip. Queue the Liam Neeson-style Taken moment, when Olberic decides to murder his way through an entire band of brigands to get the lad back to his mother. It was then that we, COUGH, I mean, Cyrus and Tressa, came upon the man, as he made his preparations to crack open a circle of hell as yet unimagined by any brigand.Now would be a good time to spend a few lines to recollect the time spent on the road, and how Cyrus and Tressa have so far gotten along! It went something a little like this:Cyrus: Do you like books, dear girl?Tressa: I sure do! How about you?Cyrus: Love them!T. : . . .C. : . . .*Companionable reading ensues for hours, until Tressa comes across a person and buys everything they have, including the clothes on said person’s back, for pennies. *
Good Times.


Needless to say, both Cyrus and Tressa were all too happy to save young Philip. And besides, after the episode with the pirates, it only seemed the next logical step for Tressa to rob some brigands blind, next!
What did folks say about a road paved with good intentions? The pavement’s real high-quality? No, no, that’s not it. Well, I’ll figure it out!
The brigands were, needless to say, not too impressed by our merry band of rag-tag adventurer-scholars and traveling merchants.



But Olberic is far from all bluster, and his skill catches many of the petty criminals unawares.


Of course, the leader of these brigands is no random comic relief sidekick, the scholar noted while throwing Tressa the stink-eye.
The blade he wields, Olberic realises with cold horror, used to be the weapon of Erhardt! Blade or no blade, thoigh, Olberic will have Philip freed… And now, he will have answers, too!
What’re Cyrus and Tressa to do but provide covering fire?
Okay, covering fire might not quite xdescribe it. How about, Blazing Inferno! (Trademark Pending)

Aye, the brigand leader was taken care of, after a fashion. Defeated, he expected death for himself and his men. Olberic surprised him, and perhaps himself, when he offered another option.
Overcome by Olberic’s mercy, the brigand leader gives the warrior what he is most desperate about – – the chance to find information out about Erhardt. Uh-huh! By the end of that little tête-à-tête, this Gaston fellow figures out just who the hedge knight’s true identity is! Queue the gasps!
The brigands defeated, Philip safe and sound, our knight errant decides to move on with his new-found companions, to clean up the rust of his blade with some sweet, sweet monster blood, and-oh, yes- deliver the villainous Eirnhardt to justice. After, that is, he finds out why his friend betrayed their monarch.

It’s a full plate Olberic has, but with good friends along the way, he’s sure to have a hell of a journey!
Olberic’s introduction was easily the most blend of epic-tragic storytelling Octopath has delivered thus far, to my great joy. Good voice acting all around, excellent writing, and Olberic himself is an excellent party member to have in a pinch!
Together with Cyrus and Tressa, these three will take the wilds by storm, as they explore the next few cities over. Who will they come across next?
The answer might surpri–it’s the thief. It’s Therion, that smooth, white-haired anime protagonist.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Octopath Traveler Diary 02: Tressa and the Good, the Bad and the Incompetent Pirates! (Tressa, Chapter 01)

First / Next

The road from the bustling city of Atlasdam to Rippletide didn’t do much for Cyrus’ academic pursuits. Granted, he discovered that fire magic in spades will indeed murder most creatures a scholarly fellow like him might chance upon. And aye, try as he might to salvage anything from the bellies of those beasts, Cyrus is well and truly bored by the time he arrives at the town.

How lucky for him when, almost immediately as he enters the coastal town of Rippletide, he comes face to face with a greatly distressed young woman by the name of Tressa. This merchant, as Cyrus soon learns, has good reason for her distress; and he, like you and me, takes on the role of member of the audience as young Tressa tells her tale.

The daughter of a family of merchants, Tressa is all too happy to follow in her parents’ footsteps(and especially her father’s). Tressa’s wanderlust is hinted at early-on, and of course is a fully realised desire by the time this first chapter of her adventure is done with.

Tressa’s usual routine of buying different merchandise for her parents’ store – – wine, fruits, any worthwhile stock she gets at a good price from the fishers, merchants and sailors in port – – comes to a screeching halt when a cacophony of screams travels through the air from the center of town. In the middle of conversation with an intriguing Captain of a merchant vessel, Tressa does not hesitate to run towards the unknown danger… A few pirates, come to rob the town blind!

An infuriated Tressa faces the pirates down, nearly coming to blows with foes that outnumber her three to one. It’s only the appearance of the Captain–name-drop still pending– that dissuades Tressa and the pirates from beating each other silly. Once they leave however, our bold merchant concocts a fine plan — offer the pirates a casket of wine as way of apology for being such an unruly young lass. Of course, the wine has been spiked with a potent enough sleeping concoction, but the pirates won’t learn the truth of this until their cove has been robbed blind… Or does robbing thieves count as liberating the booty in question?

Either way, Tressa intends to do a lot of that!

The plan goes without a hitch, until, just as Tressa gets to the treasure trove, one of the pirate leaders wakes up. Try as she may to get out of there, the pirate ain’t THAT dumb. After an exchange that looks a little something like:

Pirate: What’re you doing here?!


Tressa: Heh, heh, picking up the casket…?

Merchant’s Guide to Living, Lying, Cheating — A Biography of a Merchant by Cyrus

Yeah, Tressa and Cyrus (who at this point had joined her in the journey to the pirate cove in order to perform scholarly research about the moral fallout of robbing pirates) kicked the pirate captains’ teeth in for a good few minutes before the rest of their dastardly crew showed up! Just then, things looked dire – – you know the sort of situation I’m talking about. Our two valiant heroes with their backs against one another; the scholar calling on fire and thunder, the merchant shooting arrow after arrow into the ever tightening encirclement of enemies.

Hope is nearly extinguished – – and that’s when The Captain strikes.

Felling two of the pirates with as many strokes of his saber, he descends upon the rest, and at last introduces himself! And voilà, turns out the hero of the hour is a popular pirate himself, now retired from plundering the seas but just as deadly as ever.

He gives a rousing speech about how incapable pirates are the scum of the earth and whatnot — Tressa (and by extent I) was no longer listening as much as swooning over in the Captain’s general direction. Said swooning intensified when the Captain later invited her on his ship and, for her bravery and wit, allowed her to pick any one item from his ship. Immediately, Tressa gravitates towards a ridiculously rare and expensive painting…

… but once she discovers the diary of an adventurer, all thought of potential riches is given up for the sake of Tressa’s wanderlust. With the promise to fill the empty half of the famous adventurer’s diary with her own adventures across the world, Tressa leaves home to find her fortune!

Cyrus was happy to have her as companion, and the two made for a good team on the route to Cobbleston. Next up: Olberic, the warrior, and prime suspect for Octopath’s TRAGEDY background award!

My impressions of this chapter: I’d say Tressa’s first chapter was the most open-world friendly of all the ones I’ve so far played through. It felt every inch the typical beginning of ye olde adventure story, in all the best ways. The voice acting for Tressa and the Captain continues to uphold the high bar I’ve now come to expect after Cyrus’ first chapter.

Octopath Traveler Diary 01: Cyrus’ Dismissal, Chapter 01

Hullo, darling blog!

Too long has it been since I last wrote about video games. Nothing like a big-ass jRPG to strike a vein of inspiration, and so here I am, working on this brand new series of impressions, thoughts, and the occasional criticisms (if I find something I’m unhappy with).

Octopath Traveler begins with a choice between eight unique characters. A warrior, a thief, a merchant, are but a handful of these; for my choice, I picked the Scholar, Cyrus.

Lovely, isn’t he?

And here he is in-game. Quite the lively sprite, wouldn’t you say?

Cyrus fills the combat role of Red Mage in most jRPGs, dealing with elemental magic — fire, ice, lightning — but far more interesting is his personality. A brilliant scholar and a fine enough professor to tutor a Royal Princess, Cyrus is also an impressive investigator in his own right, capable of figuring out a veritable gold mine of information on just about every NPC he meets. The Sherlock Holmes references are a great deal of fun, as well.

Cyrus has the very cool Scrutinize “Path Action,” the Holmes-like investigative ability which unlocks hidden treasures and discounts, and provides details on a variety of the different NPCs I came upon.

Cyrus gets in trouble with the Arch Lector of the university he works at pretty early on — the reason for which made him instantly likeable to me (as if the sexy, smooth voice wasn’t enough!). Cyrus’ latest research paper freely discusses some of the University’s greatest secrets. Cyrus believes knowledge should be freely shared with all; the Arch Lector firmly disagrees. But Cyrus is smart enough to hide his displeasure. Oh, I have been in your shoes, friend.

At the same time, a number of valuable volumes have disappeared from the most inaccessible part of the university Archives; Cyrus takes up the job of discovering just who the perpetrator of this heinous act is.

Hint: it’s another researcher with gambling debts all the way up his arse. He’s been selling these volumes on the black market, the knob! After some arcane beat-down, the perpetrator spits out a list of all the potential buyers, and all ends well… Until, that is, a single arcane volume is left unfound. And this one has been missing for a great deal longer than the rest — 15 years, in fact. Soon as Cyrus finds that out, he is all but seduced by the mystery of this missing tome. What a book worm! (Takes one to know one, I s’ppose).

When he’s summoned by the Arch Lector once again, and summarily dismissed over the rumour he’s begun an elicit affair with one of his pupils, the aforementioned Royal Princess, Cyrus is all too happy to leave, seeing this as the perfect excuse to pursue new avenues of knowledge out “in the field,” as he puts it.

It’s just sad his reputation took a bit of a hit, on account of this ugly rumour. And why? Cyrus’ other pupil got jealous over him responding to all the Princess’ questions and giving her more of his attention. He quickly deduces that, though of course he remains blind to the obvious fact this girl is crushing hard on him. Oh, Cyrus, do you really think someone would go to all the trouble of getting you into trouble over this:

Her response was perfect: “On second thought, Professor, maybe you’re not as bright as I thought you were.”

With this, Cyrus marches ahead in this beautiful pixelated world, and I moved on to collecting my very first companion, the merchant Tressa! Her first chapter we’ll discuss come the next chapter of my Octopath Traveller chronicles! Pirates, wine, and a mysterious blonde Captain, all coming up next time!

Sidenote: Cyrus is voiced by Steve West, whose voice I swear I’ve heard in either anime or gaming before!

NEXT ENTRY

A Wizard of Earthsea: Yester-year’s Magic is All the More Potent

Illustrated by Charles Vess

Ursula K. Le Guin’s legacy will echo throughout the world of fantasy for as long as the genre is read. Chief amongst her works are the six novels (and several short stories) based in Earthsea, a world of seas and islands, and adventure most of all. I’ve had this classic on my TBR pile for ages, and when I stumbled on an excellent Black Friday deal on the Complete Earthsea Illustrated Edition with art by Charles Vess, I knew the time had finally come.

A Wizard of Earthsea is a 56,000-word novel, less than 200 pages in length in most paperbacks, a mere 125 pages in this glorious edition; for all that, it took me several days to make my way through. This is no page-turner that keeps you on your nails; rather, it’s a slow dive in a world that is half fairy tale, half “Young Merlin and Gandalf going on a quest of self-discovery”.

Self-discovery is something Le Guin places emphasis on. Our main character is Sparrowhawk, who will one day, we are told, grow up to be among the greatest wizards of Earthsea and certainly the greatest voyager and adventurer the world has ever seen. But before he became a legendary Archmage, Sparrowhawk was first known as Ged, an apprentice prideful for the depth of his talent and the well of his power. Going yet further back, he was a child on the island of Gont, motherless and raised by a blacksmith father without an ounce of tenderness; and taught in his first words of power by a village witch whose own knowledge of magic consists as much of truth as it does of old wives’ tales and fraudulent imitation.

Ged’s thirst for learning takes him far, to an unknown land where he studies among some of the greatest of wizards; but one lesson, more important than all others, he learns all on his own.

Power used unwisely and to one’s own prideful ends, is not the wizard’s way. 

It’s a hard lesson, and one that haunts Ged, defines his journey as the wizard recovers from a terrible ritual that let loose a thing of shadow into the world. 


“To light a candle is to cast a shadow…” 


Ursula K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea

A Wizard of Earthsea is about Ged’s moral journey and his coming face-to-face with his personal demons — and not dispatching, but embracing them and becoming whole. It’s a book also about friendship and the strength of kindness, which is often more powerful and significant than the greatest magic worked by master wizards. It’s about trust. Time and time again, it’s about “unshaken, unshakable” trust. 

“If plain men hide their true name from all but a few they love and trust utterly, so much more must wizardly men, being more dangerous, and more endangered. Who knows a man’s name, holds that man’s life in his keeping. Thus to Ged, who had lost faith in himself, Vetch had given that gift only a friend can give, the proof of unshaken, unshakable trust.” 

Illustrated by Charles Vess

But I’ve said enough about Ged. To learn the full length of his journey from a brash boy to a humble wizard, take the time to read the novel. And hey, if the journey of self-discovery isn’t enough…

A dragon awaits within these pages, and his face-off with our young wizard is a thing to behold, a thing of great beauty.

But before I let you go, I’d like to turn your attention to Le Guin’s prose, and her. Her words have a magical, enchanting quality about them. They seep into you gently, unerringly; and the lessons of the book stay once you’ve closed and put the book away. Long after, I’m willing to bet.  She does so much with little enough — the supporting characters aren’t particularly deep and they won’t offer some thorough observation of the human soul; and as I previously mentioned, this is no sprawling epic. It is, however, compelling to no end, and the world of Earthsea is a magical place.

And — something I didn’t know until I saw Charles Vess’ illustrations; Ged isn’t white. Funny how so many of the covers (and subsequent fan art) I’ve seen completely misrepresent the colour of the main character, portraying him as your run-of-the-mill white wizard. But he’s not, in a book originally published in the late 60’s — and that’s enormously important. Le Guin continually subverts expectations in tiny ways, even this early on in the genre’s history, even when, in some ways, this is the most traditional of fantasy stories. It receives my glowing recommendation.

You should read this if: 

  • You enjoy quests of self-discovery;
  • You’re looking to explore the roots of the fantasy genre;
  • You, like me, love the grimdark genre but could occasionally use a break and a reminder that the human condition is defined by more than just pain, betrayal, and loadsa murder! 
  • You have a love for magic that works on the basis of naming objects and creatures by their true names;
  • You’ve ever had a passing interest in the works of Ursula K. Le Guin;
  • You enjoy prose on the edge of the fairytale-like! 
  • And more! Prob’ly.

 
“You thought, as a boy, that a mage is one who can do anything. So I thought, once. So did we all. And the truth is that as a man’s real power grows and his knowledge widens, ever the way he can follow grows narrower: until at last he chooses nothing, but does only and wholly what he must do…”

Thanks for reading, everyone! It’s been a long time since I’ve posted on my blog, mostly because I’ve been posting my reviews over at the wonderful BookNest.eu ; but I hope to be doing more on here, as well! Discussions such as this, not quite reviews, about older books; some lists I’ve been working on; maybe a few “Favourite Male/Female Characters in Fantasy (2018)” lists! There’s plenty more to come.

Book Review: Gifts by Ursula Le Guin

leguin-gifts.jpg

I’ve been meaning to explore the great Ursula Le Guin’s writing for a few years, now. I always thought I’d start with Earthsea if not for a serendipitous occasion in my new university library thanks to which I stumbled upon this, a short 280-page first part of a trilogy by the name of ‘Annals of the Western Shore.’

The pages ran out all too quickly, almost as if the ink itself flowed within me as I consumed this tiny tome in a single morning. It took me…four, maybe five hours to finish from start to end. Time well spent, I assure you.

Gifts tells the deeply personal story of a young boy called Orrec, and his coming to terms with the deadly gift that runs in his bloodline, as well as his’ and his family’s place in the Uplander society. The Uplanders are a tough lot — different gifts run in the different bloodlines, and some of them are thoroughly horrific, like Orrec’s own family gift of ‘unmaking,’ which allows the gifted in the family to unmake creatures with a look, a gesture, a whispered word.

What Le Guin does with our protagonist (the story is told in the first-person view) is, she goes really in-depth inside the mind of a boy–a young man–who possesses such a dark and final power, and what the ability to kill with such ease does to him.

Loss and grief also play a great part in the plot, and in writing about them, Ursula shows uncanny skill and her own deep understanding of these complex themes.

No surprise there.

This work also examines the relationships between parents and children, between cultural gaps, and more. All the character work is nothing short of excellent, truly, and I am beyond excited to read more for that reason alone.

What I did dislike was a climax that felt somewhat rushed. The ending was all too sudden, and the resolution wasn’t as satisfying as I hoped it would be.

My score? 3.75 out of 5.

I didn’t know this was the first book in a trilogy until well after the mid-point, so maybe it’s my expectation that has played a trick on me, but there was enough I did not enjoy the handling of that I feel certain of my 4 star score on Goodreads.

You should read this book. Just don’t come into it expecting too powerful a climax, and you’ll find a lot to love.

Final Verdict: Journey before destination!