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)

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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

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: Circe by Madeline Miller

While I’ve been much engaged in Norse mythology in recent years, the Greek myths and legends have always had a special place in my heart, owed to the fact that I grew up with them. Before the thick volumes of high fantasy, before the Lord of the Rings, my parents and grandparents would tell me of the Olympians, their mighty heroes and monsters. These stories are almost a part of my DNA and so I’m picky about modern retellings of these timeless stories.

Plot:

Circe by Madeline Miller is a spellbinding read, a novel that humanises the sorceress of Aiaia in ways I could’ve only hoped for. A story which will sweep you off your feet, this follows the lifespan of the goddess and Oceanid nymph Circe, the strangest of all the Titan Helios’ children, his first with the nymph Perse. Her life’s journey is one that begins in parental neglect, all too common a motive for the gods and their children. (One could make the case that being neglected is better than your father eating you whole along with all your siblings, but that’s beside the point.)

Circe is, at first, much like a child — desperate in love, and without knowledge of her witchcraft, she turns a mortal into a god. When he does not respond to her feelings, Circe, in jealousy, turns the selfish nymph Scylla into the terrible, many-headed monstrosity; a morally reprehensible act, which leaves a deep stain on her conscience.

Once banished to Aiaia, Circe begins to grow in earnest, and hers is a spectacular change, helped along by a small but impressive cast of supporting characters — Hermes and Daedalus, Ariadne and the Minotaur and, of course, cunning Odysseus. I’d say spoilers to that last name, but that particular bit of trivia is a few millenia past the expiry date.

Themes and Characters:

This book will scrutinise what it means to be immortal, what it is to be broken time and time again, only to rise stronger than the time before. It is not an easy road — my heart tightened at the cruelty Circe endured at the hands of both gods and men more than once. She learns bitter lessons from both, but her own exercises in cruelty are rarely callous and undeserved.

Acting as foil to Circe will be every Olympian and Titan, every Oceanid nymph — self-centered, unchangable and unconcerned with anything besides themselves and their hedonistic pleasures, power-struggles and small betrayals. All but one, that is, although who that one is, I won’t reveal…though if you’re knowledgeable enough in matters mythological, you might already have a shortlist. A very short…list.

Mortals, too, are different from Circe. But where they run counter to the gods is, each is different. No one trait, good or foul, is shared between them. Odysseus could be no more different from Telemachus, for good or ill.

So many gods and heroes appear, whether washed up on the shores of Aiaia or before. I can’t describe how much I enjoyed Circe’s interactions with Hermes and Ariadne, with Odysseus and…many others. To mention their names would be to take from the surprises you’ll find within the novel, and I just can’t do that. I don’t want to!

Very Subjective Thoughts

I love, love, love this novel! I stayed up until 4 in the morning reading the bloody thing! I ignored my poor sweet wee girlfriend to finish it! I couldn’t function, I couldn’t put it down until I finished the whole damn thing!… Which happens to me a lot more commonly than I’d like to admit.

But one thing I want to underline — this is a story worth experiencing. There is pain here, but also love and kindness and so much more that words escape me. I cannot recommend this book enough. (And I’ve obviously tried!)

Circe is such a strong, likable heroine. Her journey will long burn bright in my mind.

Score and Totally Arbitrary Awards

I gave Circe a 5-star review on Goodreads! More importantly, it is now a permanent part of my Greek mythology headcannon!

/r/fantasy Bingo

Book Review: Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft

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I’ve had some trouble putting my thoughts in order where Senlin Ascends, the first book in Josiah Bancroft’s Books of Babel series of four, is concerned. This book is an excellent read, the kind whose characters live with you well after you’ve put it down for good. Perhaps Senlin Ascends is one of those rare novels which excel so completely at surprising and thrilling many of its readers that words all of a sudden elude you.

Then again, maybe it’s the sort of read you need a few days to process. And process I have. What did I come up with during those few days?

Senlin Ascends is an excellent novel that doesn’t fall into any one genre checkbox. We can spend all day discussing its Victorian influences and steampunk elements, but at its core, this is (the beginning of) a story of a husband doing everything in his power to find his wife.

Senlin is the headmaster of the only school in the small town of Isaugh, a man ‘at the edge of things,’ a man of reserved judgement who looks on his fellow residents as uneducated and treats them somewhat like children, to their mild disdain. He only recently married the beautiful, talented and lively Marya, described as:

Marya was a good match. She was good-tempered and well-read; thoughtful, though not brooding; and mannered without being aloof. She tolerated his long hours of study and his general quiet, which others often mistook for stoicism. He imagined she had married him because he was kind, even-tempered and securely employed. He made fifteen shekels a week, for an annual salary of thirteen minas; it wasn’t a fortune by any means, but it was sufficient for a comfortable life. She certainly hadn’t married him for his looks. While his features were separately handsome enough, taken altogether they seemed a little stretched and misplaced.

She played the piano beautifully but also brutally. She’d sing like a mad mermaid while banging out ballads and reels, leaving detuned pianos in her wake. And even still, her oddness inspired admiration in most. The townsfolk thought she was charming and her playing was often requested at the local public houses. Not even the bitter gray of Isaugh’s winters could temper her vivacity. Everyone was a little baffled by her marriage to the Sturgeon.

Not much time at all passes before Marya and Senlin lose track of one another, in the very foundation of the massive structure that is the Tower of Babbel, the setting — and, in a way, the prime antagonist — of this fantastic story. Senlin has had a deep fascination with the Tower for most of his life, having bought into all those books proclaiming the Tower of Babel the greatest accomplishment of humanity. Senlin’s trusted Everyman’s Guide to the Tower even describes it so:

The Tower of Babel is most famous for the silk fineries and marvelous airships it produces, but visitors will discover other intangible exports. Whimsy, adventure, and romance are the Tower’s real trade.
Ah, how wonderful it sounds, how exciting! If only reality were so…
Senlin’s obsession with the Tower will cost him, as its true guise is much different from what he’s imagined and read about throughout his life. His wife lost, Senlin is forced, after a period of dumbfounding shock, to begin his ascension of this great structure.
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Along the way, questions will pile up. Who built the Tower, and just what is its purpose? These lay on the wayside, however. More central are the myriad questions, which shove and prod Senlin at every corner, forcing the well-meaning but cowardly teacher to grow and change in order to survive and follow Marya’s trail. Despite the trials and tribulations in his path, what Senlin retains is a core of decency, compassion and the belief that the Tower’s destructive influence doesn’t necessarily erode everything good and decent in people. It’s this belief in men and women that forces them to do better, to meet him half-way.
Senlin’s growth, in fact, is one of the main reasons this novel pulled me in so thoroughly. It’s no small feat, making a likeable person look completely unprepared and incapable of dealing with a situation, to have all his positives turn into flaws to disastrous effect, only to see him realize all this and, step by step, rebel against it, becoming something of a charming rogue by the end. (Bit long-winded, that sentence.)
Mysteries abound in the form of indebted slaves called ‘hods,’ a terrifying gentleman monster playing at Dr Jeckyll/Mr. Hyde called Red Hand, four ringdoms, levels of the Tower, each under different authorities, built for different purposes, and so on.
Plenty of side-characters are to be found, all of them excellent. My favourites have to be Edith and Tarrou, the latter’s description:
A two-pointed black beard accentuated his iron gray mane of hair. He seemed hale and athletic for a man his age. Senlin was a little intimidated by the width of his chest and shoulders, though his smile seemed amiable enough. “And that is the dazed look of a man fresh from the monkey pen.” He gave an exaggerated shudder. “The Parlor is an awful place.”
The prose is nothing short of exceptional. Bancroft’s sentences flow easily and present a clear view into another world, a world that is sometimes beautiful, sometimes unspeakably ugly and nearly always bizarre. It will set your imagination on fire, both with its adventurous streaks and with the darker undertones Senlin Ascends is rich in.
In short, Senlin Ascends is excellent and well worth your time and hard-earned cash. It’s even worth your tiny sum of pocket money, if you make no cash what-so-ever.
I can see why it has as much hype as it got; I’m almost sad to have found it only now that a big publisher has republished the first two books and will soon publish the third (in September). Now that I’ve started, I can’t wait for the last two books of the series to hit the shelves!
The simplest way to make the world mysterious and terrifying to a man is to chase him through it.
In this, Josiah Bancroft certainly succeeds…even if Senlin Ascends doesn’t always feel like a chase, it’s one hell of a ride. There I go, mixing my metaphors again.
Thank you for reading this review! I’ll be back with a review of the second book in the Tower of Babel series as soon as I finish reading it! Now I’m off to read it!
P.S. Action scenes! Excellent bloody action scenes!
P.P.S. Six seasons and a movie!

Book Recommendation: Sun Wolf and Starhawk Book 1, The Ladies of Mandrygin

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Ah, 80’s era fantasy. An era much beloved by many and fairly disliked by some. To me, it’s a by-gone age with some great books that hold up really well, and some that…well, don’t. Either way, I’ve been going out of my way to explore this decade’s worth of fantasy trends, and–surprise, surprise– sword’n’sorcery is indeed a thing. And a wonderful thing it can be, but also a terrible one.

Where does Sun Wolf and Starhawk fall on that spectrum?… It’s mostly good. Bit anti-climatic to just come out and say so, I know, but it’s true!

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you might recall how much I enjoyed Barbara Hambly’s Time of the Dark trilogy. She’s penned several trilogies and I intend to explore all of them, year by year until I’m all done with them, and The Ladies of Mandrigyn is the beginning of Sun Wolf and Starhawk’s adventures. It’s a good start, which nevertheless does a few things I didn’t enjoy. It doesn’t necessarily do them badly, mind you.

Sun Wolf is a mercenary captain, Starhawk — his loyal lieutenant. Sun Wolf is first described as an exceptional commander, a skilled fighter that has the ability to see demons. Starhawk is a cold and brutal commander in her own right, following in the footsteps of Gil (Time of the Dark main heroine) in terms of badassery, among other traits.

I was overjoyed to be reading about yet another mercenary squad — the enjoyment on this front soon disappeared, what with Sun Wolf getting himself kidnapped by a number of willful women who don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. The question? “Will you help us fight the immortal wizard Altiokis, who took over Madrigyn, our pretty seaside city, and also enslaved our men, and put them to work. We’d really appreciate it if you could give us a bit of a hand for a bit of coin!”

Sun Wolf, whose two rules of conduct are, “Don’t mess with magic, don’t fall in love,” says no to that and gets poisoned for his troubles. I’d hate to say ‘no’ to those ladies.

Starhawk, being secretly in love with the Wolf, goes after him, though she really has no clue where he went off to, what with his surprise disappearance. Her companion is Fawn, the Wolf’s pretty, young concubine, whose role isn’t all too important in this book. Wonder if she’ll reappear later on or if we’ll steer clear of the lass.

My problem with this book is that although the Wolf is supposed to be this highly skilled mercenary general — which translates to a cut-throat sunuvabiscuit who has more than a single vicious bone, he takes a lot of punishment and abuse from the ladies with a very…Zen Buddhist bearing, if you will. He’s such a stoicist — and he shows his disobedience for the leaders of the Mandrigyn resistance in the most stupid, tantrum-throwing way! It’s not that his character feels unnatural, it’s that the descriptions we get of him early on really have little to do with what he is, in reality. It bugs me.

Starhawk is fantastic, though. Sadly, she plays a less prominent part than does the Wolf. Nevertheless, the chapters with her as our PoV character caught and held my attention from beginning to end.

It’s a good book, with a few good mysteries and one of those moments where a lightbulb in your mind will turn on and you’ll say “Ah!” or, if you’re anything like me, you’ll laugh with sinister delight!

It made for a mostly enjoyable read. Not what I’d recommend if you wanted something to grab you by the throat and transport you to another world as forcefully as possible — if you want that, read Malazan or The First Law, or even Hambly’s Time of the Dark trilogy.

As to how the trilogy itself holds up, I cannot yet say. I’ll get back to it in due time, but I think I need something a bit more captivating first. Luckily, March has been rich on good fantasy. I’ve started working on Senlin Ascends, the first book in the Tower of Babel trilogy.

Working on? Pfft, reading is wot I meant! More’s to come, at any rate, in the following weeks. We are, at this point, back to our regularly scheduled programming, what with at least three posts per week — hopefully more, if I manage to squeeze in the time to write a bunch of stuff about graphic novels you might want to know more about! 

Thank you for following me!

I recently hit an important milestone — 50 followers!

I’ll keep this short — thank you! I appreciate the time you’ve taken to read my reviews, humorous fantasy stories of villains and necromancers and wizards, and many other creatures besides! Much more is coming your way, and my hope is that I’ll offer you good literature with a smile and even the occasional laugh.

On that note, I should also probably mention, prolonged exposure to words written by me will eat away at and eventually devour your sanity.

Happy reading!

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