Jim Butcher’s Fool Moon (The Dresden Files #2)

Hullo and welcome to this tiny review, in which I will bitch and moan about Fool Moon for a wee bit! Why? Because #EverythingIsContent !

I listened to James Masters’s reading of the first Harry Dresden novel almost two years ago — my Goodreads shelf tells me I read it on June 29, 2017 — and I enjoyed it deeply. Here was the humble beginning of a likable protagonist, the lead of a first-person novel that defines more than any other work of fiction the look of today’s urban fantasy. To top it all off? I have it on good authority that James Masters, over the sixteen or so books in the series, makes the character and series his own with a remarkable audio performance.

So there I was, excited to know more; I quickly got Fool Moon, I started it and somewhere half-way along the book, I pressed pause and did not touch it for nearly two years. Why?

Because of Murphy.

The way she was written in the first one didn’t make much of an impression. Cool, the competent detective prototype that’s common enough in this urban fantasy subgenre we so adore. She wasn’t memorable enough next to Harry, his talking skull and dangerous businessman and mafioso John Marcone.

In Fool Moon, Murphy is impossible to stomach. She doesn’t act like a competent cop, investigating ritualistic murders that seem to have been committed by some sort of a beast, instead choosing to jump to one wrong conclusion after another without any solid evidence. She goes as far as to arrest Harry Dresden, refusing to trust him even a long, long time after a menagerie of events proves his innocence beyond reasonable doubt. Murphy acts as judge, jury and executioner without anything but circumstantial evidence and facts unrelated to one another.

How does Dresden accept her accussations and behaviour? He feels bad. Doesn’t get annoyed at her, doesn’t get rightfully pissed, he feels guilty for having to keep secrets from her; secrets that, if he shares with a non-wizardy person, he’ll be commiting a crime punishable by death! She arrests him, refuses to trust him and he nods along with it, feeling bad for himself and for her. God dammit, Harry, get a grip!

This was a relationship that completely broke my immersion from what was otherwise a really interesting novel about magic and werewolves. And there’s a lot of good werewolf stuff here. Five types of the beasts! A talking skeletal head! The sexy journalist lady from the occultist paper that Harry has a fun semi-relationship with! Some sweet action scenes!

And I could barely enjoy all of these because Murphy’s relationship with Harry went against everything I know about how human relationships function, in fiction or otherwise. It’s kinda funny, if you think about it.

Except, it isn’t.

What’s important, however, is that it’s all uphill from here on out! All the Dresden fans agree (or most of them, anyway) that Fool Moon is the weakest in the series. I’m looking forward to seeing what heights the series will offer next.

Would I recommend this novel? Not by itself. As a stepping stone to get to know more about The Dresden Files? It has some interesting aspects. But once I read the rest of the series, I will probably come back to this review and give one last verdict as to whether this is, in fact, important enough to read despite the glaringly bad relationship between Dresden and Murphy.

History Hour: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

Hullo, friends, frenemies and followers! I’ve been meaning to post a lot more here — obviously without much tangible result, so from this point onward I’ll be going with the wonderful slogan of #EverythingIsContent! Shocker, I know.

Today’s content: the gigantic historical novel that is William L. Shirer’s masterpiece, the best known history of Nazi Germany, originally published in 1960, just fifteen years after the end of World War II.

Shirer is interesting in that he was if not a player in much of what transpired over the Nazification of Germany, then an observer; an American journalist stationed in Berlin for the early years of Hitler’s rule and for much of the war period as well. His own observations make their way into this sprawling, 1600-page epic and they never seem out of place, never irrelevant or historically inaccurate. William L. Shirer does not seek to be objective and judge this period fairly — and where the bloodstained rise of Nazism is concerned, I’m more than happy to say, “Fuck any pretence at objectivity” — but he does look into so many of the aspects that make possible first the rise, and then the fall, of Hitler’s Reich. If ever you’ve needed proof that collision, rather than causation, defines social order (for more on this topic, read my summary of Caroline Levine’s Forms ), the rise of Nazi Germany is a compelling reading in favour of the former argument.

What did I learn from this novel?

Much of the bloodiest period of history came about thanks to in-fighting, backstabbing, supreme egoism and selfishness that often had nothing to do with Nazis other than giving Hitler and his cronies the kind of possibility every would-be authoritarian regime could only wish for.

Hitler’s charisma is no small thing, and has certainly played its role; but a bigger role by far is the sick personal ambition of men without great skill or talent, and not a whit of understanding. Men like Franz von Papen and Kurt von Schleicher, like dozens of military men from captains to generals, all the way to field marshals. Don’t even get me started on the vast majority of degenerate high-ranking Nazi officers, or at the learned men in universities who, rather than objecting to the destruction of basic scientific principles along with basic human decencies, bowed down and allowed the shrine of knowledge to be raped in such a profane way. Did you know Nazis propagated that much of physical science was untrue, that they twisted principles just because they were discovered by Jewish scientists and researchers? Most of the faculty at universities said nothing, even when they could have. Even when they should have.

I could write four thousand words, forty thousand words and I would barely scratch the gist of this book. It’s good, it’s written really well, and a lot of historians hate it: What more do you need?!

As to the why behind certain historians’ dislike for this massive work of history — I don’t quite know why that is. Perhaps it’s Shirer’s decision not to mask in the slightest his hatred for Nazi ideology. Perhaps it’s the fact that his novel sold so well. But he does not lack for first-hand historical sources — the diaries of so many of the Nazi High Command, as well as many others, most notably that of Galeazzo Ciano, the Italian foreign minister and Mussolini’s son-in-law. I might look into a translation of Ciano’s diary, in fact, since it’s a fascinating read and shows a side to Italian-German relations that is much more multi-faceted than I ever expected.

I listened to this in audiobook form because…history is easier to consume this way, for me. I absolutely recommend this, and I think any politically conscious citizen of the world could use to see the myriad processes that led to the Rise and Fall of Nazi Germany.

Thank you, reader, for your time!

Monstress, Volume 01: Some Good #%@!ing Art

There, I said it. That’s all there is to it.

What’s this? I should probably give you a little more than that? Persuade you, you say. Alright, don’t get your feathers ruffled like so, I’ll do it. I’ve taken the initiative now.

Volume 01: Awakening has a unique art style, slick and gorgeous, showcasing the full skill of Sana Takeda. Obviously inspired by Manga, it’s also informed by Takeda’s work on Marvel series such as X-23 and Ms. Marvel, resulting in an amalgamation that’s unlike most art I’ve personally come across:

Gold and brown and grey are often the colours that dominate the many panels of the first issues of Monstress in particular, creating a human world that looks luxurious but feels cold and metallic. Dominated by science and religious fanaticism alike, the human side of the world of Monstress is nothing short of disturbing. The upper echelons of human society are unnerving, to say the least — humans auction off arcanics (we’ll get to those in a minute) for pleasure, experimentation or …a meal. Disturbing how easily it would be to see this happening; all we need is a comfy distinction of human versus ‘other’ and what ammounts to cannibalism is suddenly acceptable.

Arcanics are half-human and half-ancient. That is to say, they’ll often look like humans, only they’ll usually have a fluffy fox tail, or cat ears or angelic wings; something giving away the fact they’ve got a bit of magical, immortal biped animal-like grandpa/grandma genetic material in them from several generations ago. Arcanics will always be mortal…I think. There’s a lot of them though. Part of the beef arcanics have with humans is that the power behind the human government. the religious Cumaea sect, has been chopping arcanics for their bones, producing a magical resource called lilium for a little while. Lilium has all kinds of wonderful properties — enhancing life duration, healing those at the very edge of death, and only Marjorie M. Liu knows what else.

Knowing this, it’s understandable how humans and arcanics traded some serious blows a while back, a war that ended in tragedy and death, and a tentative peace hobbled by mistrust and downright hatred. I mean, humans hunt cats and put them in cages because they are in fact an arcanist-allied race of hyperintellectual, many-tailed…well, cats. Nothing unusual about that, actually.

The tone of this graphic novel is dark, as you might’ve guessed by now. But it needs to be said and underlined: this is a dark story, a story of death and brutal violence, much of it perpetuated by our own heroine, Maika.

Maika

Maika is dangerous. Possessing power that no arcanic should, Maika’s ignorance of that same power makes her both horrifying and sympathetic. A tragic backstory plays up the sympathy but the power slumbering inside of her is hungry; and whenever that hunger manifests, we get treated to some pretty dark shit. As for who she is as a character? Determined, angry, looking for answers. There is an underlying softness to her, a caring that she seems intent of not showing but which nevertheless comes to display every once in a while, in particular towards the later issues of this volume, whenever we see supporting character and adorable girl-fox-who-is-scared-shitless Kippa.

Kippa is kutta! And by that I mean, cute. I don’t know what phonetic
nonsense I was going for there. She’s loyal despite being afraid most of time
— but she’s got a really good reason so don’t think any less of her.

See? She IS adorable!

What else, what else? There’s a cat! His name is Ren, he’s a nekomancer,
which I’m pretty sure sounds intentionally like a necromancer and that fucks with my head in several ways, mostly because I want to see a cat raise the dead, oh how I want that. New short story idea? You bet! But also, this cat is way too much like me, it’s uncanny.

If you know me, you’ll see the resemblance.

I am in love with this, and it’s no surprise how successful, popular and
critically acclaimed it has become. The writing is on point, offering dramatic tension, character development and plenty of conflict. The art, as you have seen, is a wonder. This truly is a praiseworthy graphic novel, an example of the heights that this mode of storytelling can reach, up there with Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and Kieron Gillen/Jamie Mckelvie’s The Wicked + The Divine. I’ve already ordered the next two volumes and can’t wait for the fourth, releasing in October of this year. I wish I hadn’t waited this long to get my hands on it, Monstress truly is that kind of story. No wonder it’s won a bunch of Hugo and Eisner(Nominee) Awards!

Oh, and the antagonists? Some of them are pretty fucking scary, and you just can’t put them in the ground, no matter how hard you try. Besides, no matter how hard you try, you won’t do as well as Maika Halfwolf will so you might as well take a seat, open up this volume, and enjoy the ride!

Caroline Levine’s “Forms” and Theory of Literature: Introduction (#01)

Hello and welcome! I’m Filip Magnus and I’m an English Studies major, currently doing a Theory of Literature class. I find it utterly fascinating and quite complex — so what better to do in order to learn more about Forms than to write about it on my blog?!

In this short series of blog posts, I’ll endeavour to break down Caroline Levine’s Forms to their very core without taking away too much of their hard meaning. I’ll be quoting directly from the book for the most part but I’ll also be splicing in a bit of my own commentary, as well as impressions and experience from Theory of Literature lectures and seminars. I won’t be giving many examples from the book — that’s no fun, and way too much in the way of copying. Instead, I’ll be making up some of my own later down the line! Besides, the book is not one of your absurdly expensive textbooks — you can grab it for a couple of dollars for the Kindle right now! Exciting, isn’t it?

The reason behind this entire exercise is two-fold; on one hand, both explaining something to others and writing down the ‘highlights’ has a positive didactive effect on assimilating complex ideas…and on the other, I would like to analyse some of my favourite SFF novels using these methods. So in the future, rather than referring to the book, I will be referring to these next few blog posts. Oh, there’s one more reason, in fact — I’ve been having this blog rust for too long now. No more! Time to go back to serious, regular content updates once again, folks. If you’re new here, that’s something we haven’t had since 2017.

But without further ado, let’s jump into it!

Defining ‘Form’

Caroline Levine opens the first chapter of Forms with an inquiry: Is the literary critic right to distinguish between the realm of the formal (i.e. aesthetics) and the social? Indeed, Levine’s proposed methodology is built on the notion of “expanding our usual definition of form in literary studies to include patterns of sociopolitical experience”. (1) The form of a literary text and its content need not be separated by a gap. Nor is there a need to limit our analyses only to literature — equipped with these types of forms Levine presents, we can analyse and understand sociopolitical institutions, as well. Forms are at work everywhere. *gasp*

But just what meaning should we place in this rather abstract term, what does Levine mean when she says “form”? In just about every science, natural or not, we can find a different meaning of the term so it’s only natural that some confusion — a lot of confusion — may arise. Levine admits that freely: “Even within literary studies, the vocabulary of formalism has always been a surprising kind of hodge-podge…”(2)

Rather than crumble underneath the weight of all these various meanings, Levine finds their existence refreshing, and even works it neatly into her argument — “Form has never belonged only to the discourse of aesthetics.” (2) Better yet, these different uses throughout history allow her to extrapolate a common definition: “‘form’ always indicates an arrangement of elements-an ordering, a patterning, or shaping. Any sort of structure, social or otherwise–all shapes, ordering principles, patterns of repettition and difference, all of these are forms.

To Levine, who defines politics as a matter of distributions and arrangements, this is obviously going to be a potent lens through which to view the sociopolitical state of the world. Political power is defined by the enforcement of boundaries, the organization of time and the imposition of hierarchies on experience. By Levine’s definition, these are all forms.

It’s this book’s task, then, to bring together the field’s dispersed insights into social and aesthetic forms to produce a new formalist method. To this end, five influential ideas are articulated(3-5):

  1. Forms constrain: form is disturbing because it imposes powerful controls and containments. Critics, especially Marxists, have often read literary forms as attempts to contain social clashes and contradictions.
  2. Forms differ: theorists of narrative have developed a rigid language when talking about formal differences among stories — such terms as frequency, duration, focalization, description, suspense, narrative voice, narrative distance, and so many more.
  3. Various forms overlap and intersect: “Intersectional analysis emerged in the social sciences and cultural studies in the 1980s and focused our attention on how different social hierarchies overlap, sometimes powerfully reinforcing one another.
  4. Forms travel. For one, certain literary forms like the epic, survive across cultures and time periods, enduring through vast spatial and temporal distances.
    Second, the structuralist school of thought made the case that human communities were organised by certain universal structures, binary oppositions such as masculine and feminine, light and dark, which impose a recognizable order across social and aesthetic experiences, from domestic spaces to tragic dramas. We’ll get to speaking about those when we talk about Antigone; plenty of binary opposites there.
  5. Forms do political work in particular historical contexts.

Forms have Affordances

‘Affordance’ is a term borrowed from design theory. It is used to describe the potential uses or actions latent in materials and designs. For example, steel affords strengths, smoothness, hardness and durability. So do items made of it; but given their different designs, they adopt new affordances as well. A steel fork affords stabbing and scooping. For an inventive user, it can afford even more — things that are not readily obvious to most, like prying open a lid.

So it is that different forms have different affordances. Rhyme affords repetition, anticipation and memorization. Networks afford connection and circulation, narratives afford the connection of events over time, or even between events happening simultaneously. What conclusion should these wildly differing examples lead us to?

Forms are limiting and containing but in crucially different ways. Each form can only do so much.

We should further ask ourselves: What potentialities lie latent, obvious or not, in aesthetic and social arrangements?

There is one affordance all forms DO share — they are, each and every one of them, portable. They can be picked up and moved from one context to another.

Literature is not made of the material world it describes or invokes but of language, which lays claims to its own forms–syntactical, narrative, rhythmic, rhetorical–and its own materiality–the spoken word, the printed page. And indeed, each of these forms and materials lays claim to its own affordances–its own range of capabilities.

Affordances, at the end of the day, show us not only what forms are capable of but make us aware of their limitations as well.

Forms can only do their work in contexts where other political and aesthetic forms are also operating. Forms overlap one another, imposing their order and constraining the world in a variety of contexts.

Rethinking Formalisms

Plenty interesting in this section but I’ll cut it down to the bare essentials. (A discussion on New Historicists, New Critics, and Marxist formalists is just some of what you’re missing out on).

We’ve already spoken how forms can be moved from one context to another. Let’s extend this logic to suppose that forms outlive the specific conditions that give birth to them. They stick around, available for reuse despite the change in ages; waning and waxing again, waiting to be brought back into the spotlight. They don’t belong to certain times and places — recall that the hero’s quest, originally began in the epic is now a favourite tool of the contemporary novelist.

Further attention at the historical study of such ‘holdover’ forms can only benefit those of the “nerw formalist” school of critical thought.

Forms also allow us to recognise configurations and arrangements which organize materials in distinct and iterable ways no matter what their context or audience might be.

Where politically minded new formalists or Marxists would read the text as a response to the immediate social world around it, Levine’s formalism is dependent on tracking the many organising principles (forms) that encounter one another inside as well as outside of a literary text. This book asks two questions: what does each form afford, and what happens when forms meet? (16)

From Causation to Collision

Levine doesn’t like the concept of causation. Nope, not even a little bit. She phrases it differently, of course: “…no form, however seemingly powerful, causes dominates, or organizes all others.” I’ll grab this rather direct quote from her book next, since it seems to me a striklingly good point:

This means that literary forms can lay claim to an efficacy of their own. They do not simply reflect or contain prior political realities. As different forms struggle to impose their order on our experience, working at different scales of our experience, aesthetic and political forms emerge as comparable patterns that operate on a common plane. I will show in this book that aesthetic and political forms may be nested inside one another, and that each is capable of disturbing the other’s organizing power.

This book puts an emphasis on social disorganization, exploring the many ways in which multiple forms of order, sometimes the results of the same powerful ideological formation, may unsettle one another.

Caroline Levine, Forms, 16

The key to social, long-lasting change, Levine seems to argue later on in this section, is knowledge of the forms governing social life, as well as of those forms that have the power to recognize and dismantle unjust, entrenched arrangements and oppressive social structures.

Enter “collision” — that event in which two or more forms encounter one another, to results both foreseeable and deeply unexpected. One of the purposes of Levine’s accent on these collisions, which we’ll talk about over the next few chapters, is to unsettle the explanatory power and critical influence of dialectic materialism. Not because binary opposition doesn’t exist but because it is, Levine argues, just one of a number of powerfully organizing forms. Many outcomes follow from other forms, where they aren’t necessarily related, oppposed, or deeply expressive, but simply happen to cross paths at a particular place and/or time.

See? Told you she has it in for the good ol’ causality concept.

Narrative

Narratives are useful, valuable and posit a shortcut that allows for the study of many different forms interacting. Whethery they cooperate, come into conflict or otherwise overlap, a narrative will track these differing forms without posting an ultimate cause behind their setting in motion.

For Levine, fictional narratives are productive thought experiments that allow us to imagine the subtle unfolding activity of multiple social forms.

Levine’s insistence on narrative further thrusts her upon a reading of the plot that’s somewhat incongruous with other critical schools of thought. It’s a reading practice that does not fir any familiar formalism but draws from all of them.

What Follows Next

The last section in this introductory chapter Levine uses to preview the four major forms she’s decided to explore fully. She also introduces the questions she’ll use in order to look into each of these four forms: wholes, rhythms, hierarchies and networks.

One chief purpose of “this book is to propose a way to understand the relations among forms–forms aesthetic and social, spatial and temporal, ancient and modern, major an minor, like and unlike, punitive and narrative, material and metrical.” (23)

Well, this was somethin’. I hope you find it an interesting read, whether as an introduction to ideas that you’d like to explore more deeply using Levine’s novel or as something else entirely.

The Tuesday Book Digest (26/03/2019)

Or: How many different ways can I name my reader’s diary?

These past few days, I had the pleasure of finishing several novels and beginning several more, as well as reading another short story by the brilliant Ursula Le Guin.

A Dangerous Fortune by Ken Follett

This is my second proper piece of historical fiction by one of the greatest contributors to the genre, the one and only Ken Follet. If I had no liking for this genre before, this book alone would’ve won me over. As it is, I’m hungry for many more words penned by the very fine Mr. Follet.

A Dangerous Fortune has an awful lot going for it, chief amongst which is a cast of compelling characters moved by very believable motivations, and a historical accuracy both in the spirit of late nineteenth-century London, as well as the details of the age. It’s a riveting tale with plosts and turns that surprised me more often than not; and that’s an ever more difficult task for someone who reads as much as I do. #wotisevenmodesty

I didn’t expect I would love a historical novel about a banking family as much as I did. The main characters I either loved, or loved to hate — the villainous Augusta, the matron of the Pilaster family of bankers, some of London’s richest and most cunning financiers, is a woman who delights in her power over others, and though she knows nothing of banking, manipulates everyone in her family (and outside it) in both subtle and very brutal ways. Everything she does, she does for her son, Edward (or Teddy, as she calls him), as well as her own advancement in society. She is blind that her pampering and humouring of Edward’s every want and need has made a monster of her son. The fact that he’s an inept banker is besides the point.

Edward’s counterpoint in every way is Hugh Pilaster, the family’s black sheep through no fault of his own. Hugh’s father kills himself over the bancrupcy of his businesses; an event that hardens Hugh early on and makes of him a principled and ambitious banker, scrupolous and very much aware of the responsibility all employees in financial institutions should be conscious of (but rarely are, as the 2008 crash, and many others besides, show). I was awed by Hugh, and cheered for him harder than for most other characters I’ve been reading about–and I’ve been reading about some incredible characters these past few months!

The pacing, twists and turns, and characters all will leave you breathless, if ever you decide to pick this one up. In all honesty, had I read this book three years ago, I’d probably have taken a wholly different relation to my finance classes in university! Oh, well!

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

I read an ARC of this one, and it is a beautiful, inspired science fiction novel, filled with truly masterful worldbuilding and brimming with political intrigue. I’ll say no more: you can expect my review of it very, very soon, over at BookNest.eu. I regret being unable to release it today, as it is technically launch day over at the USA (though I did see it already on sale in a Swedish bookstore last week, which surprised and confounded me to no end.)

Stay tuned for that, I’ll post a link on one or all of my social media channels as soon as it goes online! Follow my twitter, in particular, if you haven’t yet!

Semley’s Necklace by Ursula K. Le Guin

The second story in the “Real and the Unreal, Vol. 02” anthology, “Semley’s Necklace” is one half fantasy, one half science fiction, and all tragedy! Semley is a beautiful alien princess from a race that has attributes that reminded me of the Norse gods — warlike and proud, tall and stunning. However, her people are destitute, have been ever since the “Star Lords” came into contact with them, and all war of conquest between the natives of the world has come to an end. In the backdrop of all this is the story of Semley, who seeks riches enough for her lord husband, the prince of their people. She goes on a quest to reclaim a great treasure of her people, in the hope that it’ll be tribute enough for her family.

This short story very much feels like a classical myth, again of Norse origins. Towards the end, however, things take a turn that pierces the heart in its tragedy. I recommend this one with the greatest pleasure.

Thank you for reading!

Currently Listening to: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Currently Reading: The Imbued Lockblade by M. D. Presley.

Reader’s Diary: March 03, 2019: Le Guin and Iggulden

I’ve the highest regard for Ursula K. Le Guin. In tandem with that, I have something rather more tangible: one of her volumes of “The Unreal and the Real,” in particular the second volume, called “Outer Space, Inner Lands”. And what a fine volume of short stories it is — if you’ve little experience with shorter fiction, you, my friends, need to buy yourselves some Gaiman, a bit of Poe, Le Guin, a hundred others!

The first story in “Outer Space, Inner Lands” is “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” a Hugo Award-winning piece, very short and all too brilliant. This short story breaks most, if not all of the guidelines your average creative writing class will impose on you; and yet, Le Guin’s story is superb in its prose, skill, and the moral and philosophical quandry it puts forwards.
What price is the happiness of the many worth? And what difference does the knowledge of the price paid make?

This story is a mind-fuck, in other words.

It is also a shining example of what short stories can achieve, the feats they are capable of. “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” is the kind of short story that, like “The Lottery” will long remain in your minds, for years and years to come.

One thing I know there is none of in Omelas is guilt.

Found this on Google, don’t know what edition it’s from — some booklet, perhaps?

Today also marks the day when I finally finished my first proper historical fiction novel: “Dunstan” by Conn Iggulden!

This one, I got on one of the Audible.co.uk (Audible — it sales books that speak to you!) Daily Deals. It tells the story of Dunstan of Glastonbury, one of England’s most beloved saints. It’s a fictionalised account of the patron-saint of blacksmiths, a man who saw and served in one capacity or another seven kings of England, put the crown on the heads of several of them, and supposedly even held the devil by the face with the help of his tongs.

Wild stuff! This fictionalised account of his life explains away the miracles in ways both amusing and sobering, showing Dunstan to be a man of impressive willpower, action and greatest cunning. It’s this cunning that serves to raise Dunstan from son of a minor Thane to Archbishop and Kingmaker. A very fine novel, though it took me a while to get into. Perhaps too much time was spent on Dunstan’s childhood but it served to develop his character well.

Dunstan’s sins are many, nearly as many as his great successes. The characters of the myriad kings he served under come alive on the page, and even though I knew what was coming (history nerd alert!) to most of them, I was still overcome by tension — Iggulden’s easy prose and the wry tone of his narrator, an older, experienced Dunstan at the dusk of his life, did much to make this a captivating listen.

The narration was also fantastic — thank you, Geoffrey Beevers!

“What is a first line, but a door flung open by an unseen hand?”

I’m just excited to have finally taken my first steps into the unimaginably vast, detailed world of historical fiction. I’ll be reading (or listening to) more Iggulden in the future…but first, I think, it’s time to explore Ken Follet. It’s been a long time coming.

Monday Morning Book Clubbing: “And They Were Never Heard From Again” and “UR”

Hullo and welcome (back) to my blog! It’s been a little while since last I had the pleasure of working on a blog entry for this here Grimoire Reliquary and since I just finished two rather small works (in terms of content), I thought now might be a good time to tell you about these two. One is a short story by Benedict Patrick, a friend and a fantasy author I admire greatly for his folklore-inspired Yarnsworld series. The other is by Stephen King, a novella originally written exclusively for the Kindle. Both together, these reads are a little over a hundred pages — the perfect length to read on a busy Monday evening, afternoon, or whenever you’ve got the freedom to do so. Let’s talk about each of them in turn:

“And They Were Never Heard From Again” by Benedict Patrick

The Magpie King’s Forest was one of my favourite new places to inhabit last year, when I first came across Benedict’s work. It’s a mysterious place, dangerous during day and deadly at night, the Forest still unclaimed by the human villagers who live in its reaches. I’ve had my share of exploration of its great and dark confines, and yet have hungered for more over the past few months. Once Benedict Patrick gets in your head, you see, it’s difficult not to hunger after more knowledge of the Forest’s denizens of the night.

But what is a monster of the night without a pair of humans to horrify and appall? The unlucky protagonists of this story are two brothers, one younger and the other older — as these stories tend to go — by the names of Tad and Felton. Felton drags his younger brother to another village for just about the most teenage reason you could think of, and after a series of unfortunate events, the two end up far, far away from the safety of home after darkness falls down on the forest.

What follows, I won’t spoil — but this was the kind of story that questions the power of storytelling and the collective subconscious in a way eerily reminiscent of my favourite work of Neil Gaiman.

The best part? It’s completely, absolutely, unreservedly free, this story. That’s right. $0.00. I’d grab it if I were you. If you’ve never experienced the world, you might just fall in love with it. My score for “And They Were Never Heard From Again” is 5/5.

“UR” by Stephen King

When I opened this on my Kindle on accident a few days ago, I did not expect to come across a very solid, enjoyable 61-page novella that was also tied to Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” series, one of my most beloved meta series.

“UR” does all the things Stephen King’s best novels do. It presents a relatable, likable protagonist with very human flaws — in English Lit professor Wesley’s case, a sort of childish spite — and an event that sees said protagonist’s grasp on reality begin to slip, pushing him towards a questioning of reality as he knows it.

It’s incredible how much I grew to care about Wesley in the span of these sixty pages. The mark of good writing, and King’s writing in particular — the man can make you care about anything and everything in just a few pages, and then force you to bitter tears. I’m looking at you, “The Stand.”

It’s a simple enough story — Wesley is looking for a way to show university colleague and his ex, Ellen, that she’s wrong about him, and so buys a Kindle. This used to be in the very earliest day of Kindle, kids, when you only had the one variable; it came in white, didn’t have touch-screen or LED lights, and was generally a somewhat bulkier and worse device than some of its competitors — but it did have all of Amazon’s considerable catalogue of e-books, which crowned it King of the e-reader market. History lesson over!

At any rate, Wesley gets a pink Kindle, which at first he doesn’t at all mind — he hasn’t done too much research, after all, it was more of an impulse purchase on the advice of one of his pupils, “the Henderson kid” who plays an important role in the novel’s interpretation of “The Three Stooges”. Ha-ha, my reference game is strong today!

At any rate, it’s not the colour that’s the strangest thing about the Kindle — it’s the fact that its experimental features allow the reader to access the works of writers like Ernest Hemingway and William Shakespeare; only, Wesley discovers works never written by these authors. Works that are so obviously written by these authors that to deny their authorship would be madness, greater even than accepting the impossibility of the small pink device being able to tap into the virtual libraries of alternate realities. I’ll say no more, but let’s just leave it at this: there are other, more impressive features this pink Kindle possesses.

What surprised me was the ending. It could’ve gone several kinds of wrong, but unlike in, say, “Pet Sematary” or even “The Dark Tower” itself, King decides to give us readers a break…mostly.

I will say, if I ever see a pink Kindle delivered to my door by mistake, I’d like to think I would squash it with the heel of my boot…but I have the gnawing doubt that I’ll pick it up and sign up for the experimental “UR” features, instead.

My score of “UR” by Stephen King, is…5 stars! Again!

A fine day to review titles, I reckon. Not that I’m complaining. If they weren’t good, I’d be a sad lad! At any rate, thank you for following along! As always, more is soon to come!

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.