Book Review: Gifts by Ursula Le Guin

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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!

 

Small Gods: A Discworld Review

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Oh, lawks, I read another Discworld novel.

Small Gods was Terry Pratchett’s most intricate examination of organised religion and faith yet. Where do the gods come from? How many masks do they wear? Are they just a big lot of buggers sitting on their arses, pulling the limbs off mortals for the giggles?

That’s what the god Om used to be. Om is the sole deity of Omnia, a country that has it all — a state ran by the church, an (In)Quisition known for its efficiency, and the bloodthirsty appetite necessary to devour any small country Omnia neighbours on. The Omnians have some bizarre ideas — namely, that the world is round, and that it encircles the sun on a yearly basis. Nonsense, ladies and gentlemen, utter nonsense.

It surprises Om, when he takes to an earthly form, that of a majestic beast, only to end up in the form of a tortoise, his mind crippled and his vast power gone.  What brought this on? Three years on, and it’s only when Om is gripped by an eagle, flying three hundred feet in the ground, that he recalls who he is, and what has befallen him.

Turns out, Om has only one true believer left, a boy called Brutha. Brutha is a bit slow on the uptake but makes up for it with an eidetic memory, and a good heart. This ‘great dumb ox,’ as Brutha’s fellow acolytes call him, is not dumb at all, however, as the latter half of Small Gods illustrates. Once exposed to knowledge and ideas other than the fanatic doctrines of Omnism, Brutha’s development does in fact sky-rocket.

It took me a hell of a lot of time to get into. Some of the Pratchett books I most appreciate start ever-so-slow, only to explode in a storm of brilliant humour, ideas worth contemplation, and so much more. Moving Pictures was one such book, and Small Gods is another. Regardless of the time it took me to get into it, once I did, I devoured it with reckless abandon.

My favourite part of the book has to be the bit in Ephebe, where thousands of toga-wearing, wine-drinking philosophers have a lark on each other’s expense, argue, even come to blows. I showed my uncle (a philosophy professor) a good few pages about the philosophers’ stance on gods, and we shared a good laugh, too!

I have to bow down to Sir Terry once again. His sharp skewering of organised religion was both thought-provoking and funny to no end. And Even as my smile fades, the ideas take root, and they flourish.

This a solid 5/5 on Goodreads!

Coming soon, a review of Lords and Ladies, which I loved from start to finish, and read in no time flat! 

 

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

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Naomi Novik spins gold in this excellent new standalone novel, which perfectly captures the essence of Slavic fairy tales while doing an excellent job of turning the classical Rumplestiltskin tale on its heels.

Novik’s previous novel, Uprooted, was a 2015 favourite of mine. Novik’s love for Slavic folklore shined through. For the first time had I read an author who recaptured that very special feeling of magic and wonder which I hadn’t felt since those childhood nights spent listening to my grandmother tell Russian and Bulgarian fairy talesBeyond the nostalgia lay a very atmospheric, character-driven story that is well-worth the read. If you haven’t read it but would like to know more, I have a short recommendation for you! 

Uprooted left me wanting more of the same, and in Spinning Silver, I got it–and so much more. A fully realized story which goes down an unexpected road, with characters you’ll quickly grow fond of, a world covered in winter’s magic, and to top it all off…one hell of a memorable last line!

Naomi Novik went to great lengths to work on presenting the Jewish moneylender stereotype in a different light, and did admirable work with it. Antisemitism is a major theme in this book, and it is handled very well, owed to the author’s Jewish heritage and skill, both.

This novel contains six viewpoints, three major and three minor ones. All are told in the first person which isn’t anywhere near as confusing as you might think. That clarity is owed to the fact that Spinning Silver starts off with one character and introduces the viewpoints of the others at very logical points in the story. More on that later.

Miryem is the very first character the novel introduces us to; she is not only its first main character but also the engine of the story. She is a Jew, the daughter of a bad moneylender and the granddaughter of a great one. Without giving away too much, Miryem becomes a moneylender herself–and an excellent one at that. While collecting her debts, Miryem meets Wanda, the lone daughter of the town drunk and unknowingly gives her an ounce of freedom by demanding her father’s debt be paid with Wanda’s services as a maid.

Wanda sees the world in a simpler way than Miryem does. The language of her PoV sections is simpler, less colourful, as you’d expect from the daughter of a poor farmer. She is strong, though, possessing the kind of strength a young girl needs in order to survive her mother’s passing at an early age. I enjoyed her development. Some serious personal growth there, making this young lady a lot more likable by the end. Some of her scenes dragged along a bit but I hardly mind.

Irina is the third main character in the book, and she’s excellent. Her moral choices are delightfully gray and very clever, after a fashion. She too grows a lot — from the sole daughter of a moderately powerful duke with neither looks nor any great talent, to a powerful woman whose choices shape her very nation, and more.

Miryem is this story’s Rumplestiltskin, spinning coins of silver into gold not by employing magic, wink, but by her own wits and the occasional trickery. The road she goes down on isn’t an easy one, and it’s far from one her parents appreciate.

“My darling, my darling, I’m sorry.”
Sorry? To be warm instead of cold? To be rich and comfortable? To have a daughter who can turn silver into gold?
“To see you harden yourself to ice, to make it so.”

It’s a very powerful road Miryem goes on early in the novel, from a kind but starving girl  freezing every winter because her father can’t ever force himself to take a stand against his neighbours, those who owe him money; to a young woman who takes what she is owed, threatening and cajoling and bending the truth to get what she is owed and build off it, I loved her arc most of all.

Boastful of her skill, Miryem unwittingly summons unwanted attention; the Staryk, creatures of ice and winter, thieves and hoarders of gold, pillagers and even rapists. As luck would have it, Miryem doesn’t attract any old Staryk, but their king. He gives her three tasks, and a promise: To turn her heart to ice if she fails, or make her his queen if she succeeds.

See what I mean? Engine of the story.

Mild Spoilers Ahead:

I absolutely loved the character of the Staryk king, both at the beginning and towards the end of his appearances; I disliked only the parts where he acted like a petulant child. The Staryk culture, their home, their inhuman nature — I loved all those. I wonder if they are partially inspired by the Wild Hunt.

The Staryk came closer and took it from me. He didn’t pour the purse out: it was too full for that. Instead he dipped his hand inside and lifted out a handful of gold to tumble ringing back into the bag through his fingers, until there was only one last coin held between his white-gloved fingers, shining like sunlight. He frowned at it, and me. “It’s there, all sixty,” I said. My heart had slowed, because I suppose it was that or burst. “As it must be,” he said. “For fail me, and to ice you shall go, though my hand and crown you shall win if you succeed.” He said it as if he meant it, and also angrily, although he had set the terms himself: I felt he would almost have preferred to freeze me than get his gold. 

SPOILERS: The Miryem/Staryk story felt like a bit of a rehash of the Agnieszka/Dragon romance from Uprooted without packing the punch that relationship had due to a lot more ‘screen-time,’ if you will. I enjoyed it but it was the one thing in the novel that was familiar, expected and safe to bet on.

Speaking of descriptions, this book does them really well. All of them. I didn’t feel like any of them slowed down the story.

Spinning Silver transported me into its magical world; I read it for five hours straight only to fall asleep, wake up and finish it after two more hours. Truly the kind of book to miss dinner AND breakfast over. My recommendation? Read it. There’s so much packed inside — references and winks to so many myths, memorable characters forced to use their wit to survive, and loads more well worth experiencing!

It’s escapism, pure and simple, and magical to boot.

You’ll enjoy this book if you:

  • are an Ice Elf who’s looking to apply for a Wild Hunt scholarship;
  • are a lover of Slavic folklore;
  • enjoyed Uprooted and want something that captures the same feeling, while being very different, for the most part;
  • love good escapism;
  • and more! Prob’ly.

 

Book Review: Melokai by Rosalyn Kelly: The Good, The Bad, The Meh

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I received Melokai for free as part of r/fantasy’s TBRindr initiative, meant to popularize and highlight the works of independently published authors.

Melokai’s opening held a great deal of promise, which could’ve propelled the story forward. Unfortunately, this novel didn’t ultimately deliver on the promises made, both by its opening and its cover. Before I get down to the Good, Bad and Meh, I would like to state that this review represents only my opinion of Melokai. Although my opinion leans to the negative, many have enjoyed this world and the last thing I want to do is belittle the author’s labour in putting together this novel. It is my hope to provide what amounts to constructive criticism below.

With that in mind, let’s jump into the specifics!

THE BAD

  • Melokai Ramya: A novel lives or dies by its lead and the eponymous Melokai is not a character whose headspace I enjoyed sharing. She is often cruel–and casually so, for no other purpose than cruelty’s sake, best displayed when she orders an ambassador castrated and his tongue cut for being too presumptuous.
    Cruelty alone makes for an unlikable character but it’s okay for the main character to be unlikable, especially at the start of a novel. Gully Foyle was unlikable for a good portion of “Tiger!Tiger!”, and Senlin of more recent “Books of Babbel” fame also started off as unlikable, only to grow to be one of my favourite protagonists in recent years. No, what makes Ramya a bad character is the fact that I didn’t buy into her believability.
    Very early on, the novel as much as tells us this is a woman among women, a skilled and wise leader who’s led her nation of female mountain warriors for twelve years. The moment she falls for a savage, all that goes out of the window, in a time of crisis when her country needs her most.  I suspect it was the author’s intent to write someone conflicted between love and duty; execution falls well short of that. Ramya comes off as the main architect of her own destruction (and of everything she holds dear), with virtually all problems that befall her a result of her inaction. I can see the potential of this idea–I love seeing characters come undone under the weight of their mistakes(take for example Roland of Gilead, the protagonist of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series)–but the decisions Ramya made didn’t engage me in any meaningful way. The fact that very little happens with this supposed legendary warrior until the last few chapters doesn’t help.
  • The Dialogue: Too many characters read similar, came off as bland, and the choice of words didn’t fit the world of the novel.
  • Most PoV characters suffer from the same issues the Melokai does — they’re self-absorbed, never change or grow in a real, convincing way.
  • Gratuitous sexual content: I appreciate sexual content in novels when it has a purpose. A well-placed scene of the sexual act can be used to the benefit of a story — Joe Abercrombie’s “Best Served Cold” has an excellent scene which furthers both the inter-character conflict and the entire plot of the novel. Melokai’s sex scenes are often brutal and shocking while offering the plot very little of significance. Explicit sex content may be a mainstay in grimdark fantasy but
  • The Writing Style: Simple and too lean by far for my tastes.
  • SPOILERS: The ending, in which the Melokai, while fighting to save her beloved and her newborn baby’s life, decides to toy with a particularly grating princeling instead of cutting him down with the ease she’s able to. This scene had me fuming since it was the first time since the beginning of the book during which I was actively engaged with what was happening; until, of course, what little of Ramya’s personality I bought into was overwritten by something I can’t ever buy in the mother of a newborn — the decision to play with an opponent when she could’ve cut him down. 

THE MEH

  • V: The only human character I was interested in, V did not share all the problems I had with other PoV characters.
  • The Swear Words: Despite years of Pavlovian-like training under Brandon Sanderson and Brian McClellan’s made-up swear words, I still don’t find them particularly endearing. “Zhaq” did nothing for me, nor did the other terms.
  • The Wolves: Interesting but difficult to visualize at times.

THE GOOD

  • A great many good ideas: Though the execution is sloppy as I’ve discussed above, I appreciate what Rosalyn Kelly was going for.
  • The Worldbuilding: A nation ruled by women, wolves walking on two legs, cats speaking, these elements make for only a small part of what Melokai has to offer. I was interested in these different cultures and enjoyed learning more about them. The matriarchal society, in particular, was quite interesting to learn about, what with placing men in the position of slaves and worse.
  • The Cover: It’s the kind of cover that draws you in and awakens your curiosity. Whether the book delivered on the image’s promise or not, I can’t deny its a strong image, this one.
  • Adaptive People: People adapt according to their habitat. I don’t recall any explanation on how that worked, but it’s a very interesting idea.

The Verdict

I had a hard time finishing this book. Despite my initial enthusiasm, this was not the sort of grimdark novel I enjoy. Too much felt pointless to me. I enjoy grimdark not for the cruel and vile actions that this subgenre often employs, but for the way characters are shaped by and overcome all manner of hardships (if only to fail miserably at the end). Melokai didn’t offer any characters I found compelling; I appreciate the work author Rosalyn Kelly has put into it but I got very little enjoyment in my time with this particular novel.

Many others did, though! I encourage you to read through several of the four- and five-star reviews on Melokai’s Goodreads page to receive perspectives different from my own. Perhaps what they enjoyed will resonate with you more than my own views. And of course, the best way to make up your own mind is to read it yourself!

 

 

Sunday ComiX: Bone, Volume 01–Out from Bonetown

For as long as I’ve read superhero comic books, I have less experience with non-Marvel/DC titles than I’d like. I recently listened to the excellent “The View from the Cheap Seats” audiobook, written and performed by Neil Gaiman, who is one of the most talented writers I’ve read, dead or alive. He is also a constant source of inspiration, and this non-fiction novel has inspired me to read comic books a lot more broadly. I thought to start off with Eisner award-winning comics and I what’s a better start than…Bone, a series that took the 90s by storm!

A bit of backstory on Bone. It came out between 1991 and 2004. The complete run is 55 issues, and, as you’ve probably reasoned by now, these issues were released irregularly over the 13-year period. Bone was both drawn and written by one man, Jeff Smith. The art is reminiscent of a Looney Tunes cartoon in the very best of ways.

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The first volume presents us to our main cast of characters. First among our heroes if Fone Bone, a kind-hearted inhabitant of Bone Town who has the ill luck of being cousins with the most conniving man in town, Phoney Bone, a millionaire who’s been kicked out of town for the umpteenth time due to his constant scheming. This time, Phoney was kicked from Bone Town due to a scheme involving a statue of himself, a 50 ft. tall balloon, and bad prunes. To make up for Phoney Bone’s generally negative attitude, we’ve Smiley Bone, a tall, cigar-smoking empty-headed bone with a blissful smile permanently stuck on his face.

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Those are our Bones. But…there’s more! Take the dragon below. He too is a smoker, in fact. He also seems either very bored most of the time, or generally droopy. He’s introduced pretty early on in the first volume but his reasons for protecting Fone Bone don’t come into play until much later.

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All you need know is, the dragon is not to be trifled with.

One thing every colourful fairy-tale-leaning-towards-dark-fantasy comic book needs is a love interest! Enter Thorn.

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Now, I may have called her a love interest but she is so much more than that. Thorn is the first human we come upon, a gentle teenage girl living with her kindly old grandmother in the woods.

Did I say kindly? I meant to describe her as a cow-racing badass gramma, who fought the rats back in the BIG war! The name’s Gran’ma Ben, better not forget it, or she’ll make you regret it! The rats, naturally, are our bad guy goons; fluffy but monstrous, just as good children’s villains should be.

And this is the perfect graphic novel for a kid — it will never talk down to anyone, nor will it underestimate children’s intelligence. You’ll gain a lot from reading it regardless of age. This first volume serves as a nice introduction to the colourful world of Bone, some very entertaining characters and a mystery that gets a lot darker in the subsequent two volumes. (I just finished the third volume recently; expect my Bone vol. 3 post to be a lot more specific, with a number of panels and thoughts on specific issues.)

P.S. This once again proves that Neil Gaiman has spectacular taste in literature.

Next up, in Bone Vol. 02: The Cow Race! In it, a grandma races cows, a Phoney Bone is phoney, and a Smiley Bone is the most charming fake cow you’ll ever meet. Also, a honey boy comes between Fone Bone and Thorn! Oh, the horror.

Some Random Articles I read in June!

I read loads of articles on the Internet. Some are good, some are bad but those below are either the best, or the most useful, or the most random I could be bothered to write a line or two about!

RockPaperShotgun explains it all: Getting Warframes in Warframe, a Guide to end all Guides!

I’ve been dabbling in Warframe again lately. What a game! It’s basically a PvE where you collect character classes, called Warframes, which have abilities, and you shoot things while traveling our very own Solar System! All day, every day, it’s one hell of a good time whenever you’re looking for some fun but not terribly demanding game to play! Put on a podcast, a tv show, or audiobook and a good time is to be had; or alternatively, play with a friend, like I sometimes do. We’re the worst but the game makes us just a tiny bit better.

Sam Sykes announced a new book trilogy, which he dubbed a ‘love letter to Final Fantasy,’ and though I’ve never read anything by him, this sounds right up my alley!

I’m excited about Dying Light 2. Chris Avallone is in charge of its narrative design, of course I’m excited about it! Anyway, RPS wrote up some impressions from E3. Sound promises, everyone. Sound promises indeed.

Blogger Mitriel Faywood wrote an interesting post about literary fiction, aptly titled, “On Defining Literary Fiction”. I quite enjoyed reading through her reasoning and was happy to follow another lovely book blog. I ought to read more of her posts!

I was surprised to find that RPS’s 50 best strategy games list was topped off by none other than procedurally generated grid-em-up, Into the Breach. I heard it was good but I never thought it would be this good; now I have to go ahead and purchase it! Woe is me.

As you can tell, I read a lot of RockPaperShotgun.

I actually read many more interesting articles, some of which have to do with the public discourse around Article 13 of the European Union. It’s a complex topic with a lot possibly (but not 100% certainly) at stake. I’m interested to see how this change in author and publishing right will affect content creators such as myself, if it will at all, as well as how it’ll generally play out. I did try to spread the word against it, to very little effect.  Oh well.

Anyway, this is a bit of non-content on randomness. I can be random sometimes, right?

Book Review: The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan

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Disclaimer: Spoilers for Promise of Blood’s ending and minor spoilers for The Crimson Campaign. Read the review for Promise of Blood here.

I read Promise of Blood within the span of three-four days. The Crimson Campaign, in contrast, I read over six adrenaline-fueled hours. For three-quarters of Campaign, my heart was in my throat, my eyes nearly skipping through the words because of how badly I wanted to know what would happen next. And a whole lot happens, let me tell you that.

The Plot and Characters:

Like Promise of Blood, this sequel continues following Adamat, Taniel and Tamas as the former two deal with the fall-out of Promise’s ending. Tamas, meanwhile, begins from a place of strength, quickly lost when the Field Marshall makes a grave tactical error against the Kez, leaving him trapped far behind the enemy lines and with no certain way back. So it is that Tamas’ section of Campaign is an adrenaline-fueled retreat through enemy lands with some unforgettable battles, a dash of subterfuge and a lot of great banter with his bodyguard and my favourite Knacked soldier, Olem. A bit more focus is placed on the relationship between Tamas and Vlora with some heavy, emotional scenes between father and surrogate daughter (that’s what they are, really), which I was all for!

Taniel’s story here, the beginning of it, was difficult to read. After the physical and emotional torture that was Promise’s finale, we find Two-Shot in a mala-den, drugging himself for everything he and his possessions are worth. It’s a sorry state to see him in but it makes the journey of him getting back to his feet all the more satisfying. I had a few issues with the way Taniel would occasionally get into the dumbest fights (for good reason, granted) with people who far outranked him. It does fit who he is as a character, hot-headed and brusque but my sense of him was, he’s also clever enough to know where the road he goes down on might lead but he goes down it, regardless.

Adamat meanwhile is keeping a low profile, trying to outsmart and outplay Lord Vetas, the mysterious, cold-blooded antagonist working against the interests of the new government. In his attempts to thwart the evil mastermind and free those Vetas holds hostage, Adamat makes an alliance with my favourite Priliveged, Bo, who is as scary as he is entertaining!

Nila’s in the novel, too! Again, her PoV is tiny compared to the others but I was pleasantly surprised by the route Brian decided to take this former laundress in! Her relationship with a certain spell-slinging character, in particular, is something I quite enjoyed..but on that point, I’ll return when I review the third book!

Solid writing where dialogue, action and general plot direction are concerned. I breezed through the novel in an evening. And a night. It set my imagination ablaze even more than Promise of Blood and for that, I am happy to praise it to high heaven.

This was an excellent second instalment to McCllelan’s Powder Mage trilogy. Not only does it develop previous storylines, it manages to throw in a few surprises while showing a piece of the greater world outside of Adro. A few accounts were settled, a new villain established and a veritable sea of blood was spilt! 5/5 stars!

This review took me a while. Nevermind that I wrote 3/4ths of it the day after I wrote the review for Promise of Blood. Blame it on my lazy ass, or on doing fifty things at once, all day, every day. I’m lame, I know! I’ll try to finish up the last book of the trilogy very, very soon and re-read Sins of Empire in order to FINALLY read Wrath of Empire. 

Book Review: The Sangrook Saga by Steve Thomas

The Sangrook Saga is dark, and its pages are stained with blood.

Or they might as well be. This, ladies and gentlemen, is one grimdark tale of necromancy and blood magic. It might unnerve you and make you uncomfortable and if you’re not in for this sort of experience, you might as well stop reading here.

But if you are, The Sangrook Saga might just be the book for you.

It is an interesting title, this. Rather than tell one single tale over the span of his two hundred and twelve pages, the author tells six stories you can read independently from one another, with the possible exception of the sixth and final one, which is the climax of the Sangrook family’s tale.

The six disparate tales take place at different times, following characters either of the Sangrook bloodline or those close to them in some way. Chartered inside the novel is the fall, rise and whatever comes in-between of this clan of necromantic bloodthirsty warlords and despots.

They are, all of them, charmers without equal. By that I mean to say, they are a lot of nasty boys an’ girls who may or may not occasionally start from a good place only to get corrupted by the power locked away in their blood. Characters’ fall from grace involves a variety of foul crimes and horrors triggered by loss, misplaced vows and errors in judgement.

It’s an interesting magic the Sangrooks and their enemies at the Convergence have, a sort of joining between gods and their priests. That seems to be the basic tenant, though the Sangrooks and the Convergence are obviously going to be very different. There’s a further magical system which relies on animal essence extraction by artificers and that was as interesting as it was gory…which it really is.

The writing itself was a pleasure to read. Tight, easy to follow and unafraid to use real curse words, it drew me in and didn’t let me go until I reached the unhappy conclusion and put the book down. The dialogue, in particular, is excellent. Not once did I feel the author was using his characters as mouthpieces to dump information. Everyone had their unique voices, and those never came across as stilted, which I’m particularly happy about.

The Sangrook Saga draws inspiration from Dark Souls in the way its story is told, says Steve Thomas, and his words ring true. All throughout, there is a certain amount of despair, the sense of a world which has passed its heyday, a place more dead than it is alive. It is not a place everyone will enjoy. But those who can handle darkness and hopelessness in great, fat quantities…this one is for you.

If you enjoy listening to companionable music while reading, you might find psychedelic rock quite agreeable to the Saga. I listened to some King Crimson and the sort of dark fantasy music I only put on whenever one of my D&D players meets an untimely death during a cultist ritual. Gods, that’s particular, isn’t it?

Nit Picks? Aye, a few. Once or twice, characters turned to the darkness a bit more quickly than they ought to have, in my opinion. That said, not everyone will feel they did, and it didn’t take away from my enjoyment. There are also a few minor mistakes, mostly typos or repetitions — but no more than six or seven that I caught. I also disliked the cover somewhat, though I don’t mean to offend the artist, it’s just not my cup of tea.

The score? This is the first indie book I’m giving 5 solid stars to! It also takes home the “Worst Necromantic Family in a Dark Fantasy Series” Trophy Award of the Imagination!

All in all, quite an excellent job, I reckon. I recommend the Sangrook Saga to those of you who:

  • Love dark fantasy;
  • Have played and enjoyed Dark Souls and the way its story is delivered;
  • Want to learn how to take over the world with your big-ass, dark magic-wielding family (like me!)
  • And more! Prob’ly.

You should stay away if you have issues with graphic violence and the all-encompassing feeling of despair, though. Not a happy book, this one.

Its release date is June 22–that is, tomorrow! You can get it here.

Bingo Review:

  • Five Short Stories (Hard Mode)
  • Self-Published Novel (Hard Mode)
  • Novel Published in 2018
  • Novel With Fewer Than 2500 Goodreads Ratings (Hard Mode)
  • Novel Featuring a God as a Character
  • Standalone Fantasy Novel (Hard Mode)

 

I got the review copy from the author, Steve Thomas, in return for an honest review as part of the TBRinder initiative, hosted by the ever-wonderful u/Esmeralda-Weatherwax at her blog!

The E3 Titles I cared about, 2018 Edition!

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Well, well, well! Another year, another set of E3 press conferences with all those entail – cringe-worthy moments, EA sports segments making you seriously reconsider a membership amongst the living on this wonderful blue orb of ours and, occasionally, games which look just promising enough they might be worth putting a mortgage on my house.

If I had a house, that is.

The following post will go into all those games that caught my eye and, in a few cases, my imagination. There’ll be links to whatever trailers were released, so if you see anything unfamiliar, click the link and familiarize thyself!

Control looks gorgeous, seems to be a psychological thriller with more than a smidge of X-Files to it, a wonderful gun that makes everything explode in glory, and one hell of a trippy setting which shifts and generally defies the laws of physics.

There’s also what looks like telekinesis, with the protagonist throwing around pieces of the environment, much to the joy of all us fans of pure destructive chaos.

Kingdom Hearts 3 is finally coming on January 29 and I can’t begin to describe how excited I am about that. The second game, which was the first I played, meant the world to me at a time when I was lost and alone and I didn’t know how not to be.

I still don’t, sometimes. But Kingdom Hearts taught me lessons which helped ground me and it made me laugh and cry and it showed me hope. (It also made me talk like Xehanort but you gotta take the negatives with the positives, right?)

I don’t know how it did all that it did. I don’t need to know. But I can’t wait to see what Kingdom Hearts 3 will teach me, in its turn, a lifetime later.

Prey got a DLC with some very good ideas and it’s out now! It’s called Moonsomething and it’s got rogue-lite content, five characters, some additional features to be added in among which is an Evolve-ish 4v1 PvP mode, apparently? At any rate, it sounds like good fun, I reckon. It’s 20 euro, which is a bit more than I can afford, wot with Vampyr, Tales of 15 euro, and the small fortune I spend on sci-fi and fantasy books monthly. And besides, while the idea of that DLC excites me, I’m still happy with the 40 hours I spent with Prey earlier this year. Maybe next year.

Why do I care about Assassin’s Creed Odyssey? It’s probably the setting, might be that they’re finally going in a more RPG- style direction. I didn’t care about the one set in Ancient Egypt. Or about the dozen before it, perhaps with the exception of Unity which I still never bought. But this one looks nice enough. One thing, though–if you Ubisoft guys are going to be doing right by Ancient Greece, you might want to add some blood in your big-ass Spartan-on-Athenian battles, eh? Blood is good. Important. Comes out of people when you stab them. Not the same without it!

Kojima showed yet another Death Stranding trailer, which cleared up nothing while confusing everything. Seems like there’s plenty of walking around in gorgeous environments but the rest of the game still seems a murky, inexplicable void to me and most of the Internet. Not to say it’s not the sort of thing that piques my curiosity, gods, no! I’m just confused, and affected by my friend’s continued proclamations that Kojima is making a movie and dressing it up as a game…which, with that cast isn’t as unlikely as us lovers of games would like it to be, innit?

Ghosts of Tsushima! It’s another PS4 exclusive which looks gorgeous and if the gameplay actually looks the way the demo played, I might need some help picking teeth off the floor, since that’s how hard my jaw will hit it! Give me Mongol-killing samurai, and give them to me soon! Beautiful colours, stealth gameplay that looks like a lot of fun, where do I sign up?

The Last of Us II, twice as violent and bloody as its predecessor, with a lot of head-chopping and girl-on-girl romance. The animation of this one is a head-turner, too and ever since finally playing the PS4 remaster of the original last year, I’ve been hungry to get back and see how Joel and Ellie continue to deal with the good ol fun-pocalypse. The fun- is a stand-in for funghi!

Babylon’s Fall is a game developed by Platinum in collaboration with Square Enix. I know next to nothing about it but it’s Platinum and Square Enix, and so I am unreasonably cheery in my expectations! You must realize, this is unlike me–I hate to get hyped up for something without having a semblance of an idea as to its gameplay.

But you know what looks bloody brilliant, gameplay and all? Devil May Cry 5! Dope. So frikkin’ dope. Can’t wait for more excellent spectacle fightin’, this time with Nero! ( That was Nero, right?)

Dying Light 2’s narrative design is worked on by Chris Avellone! I never got to play the first game but now I have to, don’t I? Avellone hasn’t once disappointed me with any of his games and while it was pretty sad to read about what went down between him and his former employers/co-owners at Obsidian, his talent in crafting deeply engaging, morally gray and complex stories is well on record. Tyranny, my beloved KotoR 2, New Vegas and many, many more are but a part of his impressive catalogue.

Tunic looks cute and cuddly and I don’t mind seeing more of it! The piece of soundtrack used with the trailer also sounds quite good, doesn’t it?It’s foxes wielding one-handed weapons and shields, man, that’s where the money is. Ask anyone, they’ll tell ya.

Is that it? The stuff I’m excited about this E3?

Nope, two more!

Beyond Good and Evil 2!  Need I say more?

And the last one is coming rather soon…Marvel’s Spider-Man! The Sinister Six was announced, the combat looks like fun, it’s been years since I’ve gone swinging through the streets and skyline of New York and I am beyond excited to do it again! September really can’t get here soon enough now, can it?

There’s plenty of other games which look interesting enough but I either have some healthy scepticism around their developers/publishers or I just don’t know enough about their games.

 

Book Review: Song by Jesse Teller

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This book was provided by Rebekah Teller in exchange for a review! I can’t recall whether it was supposed to be an honest review or a dishonest one, so I’ll trust my fingers to guide me towards the more preferable type.

Song took me a while to get through.

On one hand, Song has an excellent idea, a core concept that attracts me the way a swarm of flies is drawn to a mass grave. An ancient, powerful wizard by the name of Rayph Ivoryfist finds himself in a hell of a lot of trouble when his prison’s inhabitants break out of their cages, killing his friend and warden in the process. Rayph is hard pressed to gather a group of allies and trusted friends to go after these escaped villains and hunt them down like the rabid dogs that they are. A good fourth, or maybe even a third of the book deals with Rayph assembling his ‘Manhunters’ and getting the sign-off of the powers-that-be, introducing us to the major players and setting up the conflict and its players.

The book features a second PoV character, a man by the name of Konnon, whose story is a lot more personal than Rayph–everything Konnon does, he does it for his daughter. The girl suffers from some sort of paralysis, slowly spreading up her body until it reaches her lungs and kills her. Konnon happens to be a good man with terribly destructive fits of rage and an even worse reputation, and so his story takes us to some very different places from Ivoryfist’s more lofty goals from saving (the prick of a) king and country.

So what took me so long to finish what sounds like the sort of novel I’ll read for an afternoon with a cool glass of scotch, on the rocks?

For one, I never drink scotch in the afternoon. The bigger problem I had, however, was with the dialogue. Most of it is written very well…but almost always would there be a line or an exchange which read across as stiff and unnatural; stilted, in a word. Perhaps I’m in the minority on this account but this would often pull me out of the scene and put me straight into editor mode–which I have no business being in while reading anyone else’s writing.

These stiff pieces of dialogue bugged me–I couldn’t help but feel unique character voices become muddled and lost in those moments, which subtracted a lot of the enjoyment — especially when, very often, the novel delivers really epic showdowns between individuals terrible in their power. Individuals who quite enjoy wagging their tongues against one another, as much as their blades and some of those showdowns didn’t affect me quite as much as they could’ve, because of that particular issue I have.

Another small qualm I have is…for a ten-thousand-year-old wizard, Rayph sure weeps a lot! Several of the occasions on which Ivoryfist teared up didn’t feel like emotional enough moments to earn the tears of such an ancient and powerful being. A bit nit-picky? Maybe but it stuck out enough that it warrants a mention.

With this criticism in mind, let me state–this is my personal opinion, and it seems to be an outlier. A lot of my fellow reviewers’ words over at Goodreads praise the dialogue. Odds are, you might enjoy it, too!

Moving on to what I enjoyed!

The tone of Song is on the darker spectrum thanks to a few particularly brutal scenes. These didn’t bother me much but I’ve been through the Malazan-Black Company-First Law triad of mental, emotional and physical torture and my tolerance for horrid torture is pretty damn high.

I enjoyed the villains of the piece, one monstrous Julius Kriss and his lovely, lovely demon of a wife. Sadists, the both of them, and very much intent on torturing the living crap out of Ivoryfist. Kriss’ brutality makes for great stakes in the latter half of Song and his interactions with both main characters were intriguing to read.

The world-building was pretty interesting, very high-fantasy due to the sheer scale of creatures with whom Rayph consorts — demons, ethereal spirits, goddesses, and spies! I also enjoyed the fact that the book had right an’ proper cursing, storm it! Some of the relationships worked for me, some of them didn’t.

The pacing…I’ll have to go back to the stilted dialogue for this one. The way some of these problematic conversations are written, they’re written to get our leads from one point to another. Not enough time and attention is given to some scenes and interactions and a good bit of side-character interactions are shoved away from the spotlight with a few lines of unrealistic dialogue.

Despite this, I did enjoy Song. Enough to revisit Jesse Teller’s world in the following ‘Manhunters’ books. Enough that I award this book my very own, very prestigious “Best Eat-the-Wench scene in a 2017 grimdark novel” trophy! Along it comes a score of 3.5 out of 5 (going to round it up to 4/5 on Goodreads, methinks).

You will enjoy this book if you are:

  • into darker fantasy;
  • into ‘soft’ magic, i.e. the sort of magic that doesn’t have much of an explanation, rules-wise but does cool shit quite often;
  • into monsters, literal and figurative, there seem to be several of both kinds;
  • one of Rayph’s many, many mortal and immortal friends;
  • looking for a guide on how to be a really nasty, psychotic and sadistic villain or villainess;
  • a really old wizard looking for a guide on how to get in touch with your feelings despite your advanced age!
  • AND MORE! Prob’ly.

If you’re doing the r/fantasy Bingo, this book qualifies for some or all of the following (depends on how bad I mess this up!):

  • Reviewed on r/fantasy

  • Self-published

  • Less than 2500 Goodreads ratings
  • Novel with a one-word title (might be what I use!)

Thank you for reading! You can find this book on Amazon and grab it for about $5 for your Kindle, or $13 on Paperback!

P.S. I just noticed that the Amazon/Goodreads synopsis talks about Rayph having to protect king Nordac. However, in the book, the king’s name is Phomax. Is Nordac a family name, or is it an earlier name for Phomax?