Book Review: The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan

crimsoncampaignthe_940-492.jpg

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

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

The Plot and Characters:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Promise of Blood

promise-of-blood-1680x1050.jpg

(Disclaimer: Some minor spoilers ahead.)

Brian’s Style

Promise of Blood isn’t the first novel I’ve read by Brian McClellan. That honour goes to Sins of Empire, which holds a special place in my heart as both the first flintlock fantasy I’ve read, as well as the first title I purchased because of a recommendation read on r/fantasy! I seem to recall getting my hands on Sins either on its debut date or just a few short days later but it was fresh hot!

I’m not just mentioning Sins of Empire out of melancholy for by-gone times; rather, I mean to venture into a small comparison. If you came to me, asking which of these two books to get, I would point you to Sins of Empire. The writing is better, the twists and the action more memorable. The beginning of McClellan’s second trilogy is an established writer’s fourth novel, where Promise of Blood is Brian’s debut. I like to think that most writers, as they continue working on the craft, grow in skill, find more and more distinct voices and Brian is an excellent example of that.

…Which is not to say Promise of Blood is by any stretch anything less than an excellent first act to what has proven to be an exciting trilogy, filled with some of what I love most about fantasy. What makes it so?

The Plot

Revolution, bloody revolution! That’s how Promise of Blood begins — with our trilogy’s main protagonist, Field Marshall Tamas slaughtering the Privileged Royal Cabal in their sleep with the help of his Powder mages, dethroning the rightful king  Manhouch, rounding up the nobility and cutting that lot’s heads off while a million men, women and children watch the executions in Adopest, the capital of Adom’s public squares. Enough blood is spilt that the executioner could drown on it several times over.

And that’s just the start of Promise of Blood, one of the flagship titles of everything flintlock fantasy is supposed to be. Fast-paced, action-packed and ridiculously easy to read, this book was a blast.

The Characters

Promise of Blood follows three main storylines:

  • Field Marshal Tamas’ attempt to build a working government with his co-conspirators while securing peace with the Kez.
  • Inspector Adamat’s search for answers — when the Privileged were dying, each and every one of them cried a certain phrase in death, ‘You can’t break Kresimir’s Promise.’ Adamat has his hands full in what turns out to be a more dangerous investigation than he imagined.
  • Taniel, the Field Marshal’s son, nurses his broken heart by going after his dad’s enemies along with a savage red-headed girl whose magic is entirely different and way scarier than anything else you’ll see in the trilogy.  Taniel and Ka-Poel’s shenanigans set up some of the most entertaining fights in the novel.

An additional plotline follows Nila, the laundress of a noble family, trying to save a young boy from his parents’ fate. It’s interesting but a lot less detailed than the rest of the plot; unfortunately it’s also the only female perspective, which is a pity since Vlora, who is one of Tamas’ gunpowder mage cabal, was the stand-out PoV in Sins of Empire.

Regardless, I loved these characters during their trials and tribulations. Tamas now shares in Dalinar Kholin’s title of “most likely older general to inspire me into fictional military service”. But Tamas is far from perfect — his past grievances with the Kez force his hand at a critical time.

The same can be said about Taniel. While a legendary powder mage, Taniel ‘Two-Shot’ is in a pretty bad place, psychologically, after two years of bloody war, only to return home to find his fiance bedding another man; the relationship between father and son is strained at best, especially considering some of Tamas’ orders later on in the book. Taniel’s addiction to gunpowder also grows worse as the book progresses.

As for Adamat, his storyline is a great way to get a bit of distance, a little break from all the Army and politics and it reads like an atypical Victorian detective story in all the best ways.

So many memorable side-characters — Olem, Lady Winceslav, Borbadeur; I could spend a good few minutes listing character names which’ll mean nothing to you since I ain’t spoiling any more than Ihave already.

The Magic System

The Privileged are this setting’s elemental sorcerers, men and women capable of touching the Else with their hands, each finger connecting to one of the four elements and the thumb for the aether (which, I’m told, some of the Ancient Greeks were crazy about!).

Gunpowder mages, while nowhere near as potent as the Privileged, gain enhanced senses when they snort or taste gunpowder charges. Where they lack in power, they make up for in reach and alacrity and the added benefit of being able to deflect bullets, force gunpowder to explode from a certain distance with their minds and all that.

There’s also lesser magic manifested in individuals called Knacked, who possess certain talents (or Knacks), like Olem, for example, who doesn’t need to sleep, or Adamat, who remembers everything he’s ever seen. And neither of them are insane because of these magical abilities!

Sanderson himself has praised it as a good magical system and I thought it read great. There’s plenty of depth as well, as the novel progresses — and the next two books in the trilogy add a lot to make the magic systems feel even more distinct.

Closing Thoughts

‘The Age of Kings is dead…and I have killed it.’

This is an excellent novel, which begins with a promise of blood and delivers through and through. Whether you’re following Tamas’ decisive dealings against internal and external threats alike, Taniel’s chasing around of dangerous targets or Adamat’s investigations, there’s plenty to be loved about this first part of the Powder Mage trilogy.

Will I reread this? You bet! 

The Verdict? Buy it, Read it, scream at your dad angrily until he caves in and reads it too. It’s what I did.

How about the score? It’s a five out of five on Goodreads and it bags the ‘Most Promising to Deliver Loadsa Blood’ trophy!

You’ll love this bloody, bloody book if you’re into:

  • violent revolutions eerily reminiscent of the French revolution;
  • Angry, angry mages doing loads of damage with their fingers and/or guns and sharp objects;
  • Fast-paced reads which suck you in all the way;
  • loads of blood, really;
  • Political intrigue, subterfuge, betrayal and more! Prob’ly.

To close this off, the reason behind me reading this first trilogy of Brian’s is to celebrate the release of Wrath of Empire, Sins of Empire’s follow-up and the second book of his sequel trilogy in the Powder Mage world. I’ll soon post the reviews of the second and third books since I read them both for two consecutive days (and what joy that brought me!) but the end goal is to review McClellan’s newest novel, and hopefully his best yet!

Thank you for reading!

God of War: First Impressions

gow-og-image

I played six hours of God of War with two of my closest friends, and I can’t stop thinking about it.

It’s rare that I’ll find a game lingering on my mind after I’ve put it down. Such games more often are those “just one more turn/game” strategy experiences, which can suck your life away while you’re grinning happily at your perceived intellectual genius, caused by thrashing a bunch of AI opponents. There’s a reason I no longer play StarCraft 2 on ladder!

But I digress. God of War, what an epic experience! First of all, this game’s encounters are Hard! We three amigos played on the third difficulty, i.e. what would be called in yon olden days “Hard mode,” and it frustrated me a few times if I am honest. If I were alone, I would’ve played the game on Normal. I’m not ashamed to admit it, I often pick Normal on most games, because,

A) I’m not that good, and;

B) I have a library of games I want to finish, and no matter how many I finish, it seems to always expand. I haven’t finished the Witcher 3 DLCs for Tolkien’s sake!

A few fights were an outright nightmare, I tell you. I reckon a few battles forced our collective blood pressure to go way, way up due to the sheer amount of time spent trying to beat them. The first battle with the heavy shield draugr(might’ve misspelt that, I’ll freely admit) was…not fun.

That said, passing through those moments eventually, after all that effort, it’s a high. I am definitely beginning to see the appeal of games like Dark Souls (my friend, whose place we invaded to rob him of his time with God of War made loads of Dark Souls meets Kratos jokes, some of which were quite good).

Enemies can take a lot of punishment on Hard. I don’t want to think what it’s like to play on God of War difficulty. It’s doubtlessly insane. But then again, the rush I felt at beating a few of those encounters which so flummoxed us — that’s almost enough to make me consider.

Might I not be able to spare the time? It might just be worth it if it’ll make me feel like a… God of War.

Cringe. I know, that last line was abhorrent. What about the story and the four boss fights I witnessed and/or participated in?

I liked BOY.

711049

Boy is the boy of Kratos, who is patiently taking care of him, bonding with him over hunting magical deer and boars, and also over his mum’s death. They’re taking a road-trip to the peak of the nearby mountain and I can’t help feel that it’s a lot more difficult than it should be, what with the army of undead giants and non-dead giants, and angry gods without any clothes on.

The story is one-fourth road trip, one forth greek tragedy, and many more forths of cheese axe-throwing, all to defeat incomparable odds and yell some more at this little godling. Or demi-godling. Probably all-part godling though, if you ask me.

It’s great. Angry dad Kratos 2018 is even more entertaining than I hoped, and those few times during which you see Kratos fighting to keep as calm as possible or having a tender moment with Atreus Boy are nothing short of emotional.

Oh, and fighting the naked Stranger (who may or may not be a very weird interpretation of Baldr, though I’m beginning to see it)  was epic beyond all rhyme and reason!

In short, I’m excited to experience more of this god-son road-trippy goodness.

P.S. I love how the side-quests are done! Because of Kratos and BOY’s continuous conversations, none of the ones we played through felt like they were moving away from the actual main plot; it was all an extended lesson for the Boy. The levelling up-upgrade system is also something I have a lot of appreciation for, though I need to further familiarize myself with it before I can really discuss it.

Book Review: Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft

Senlin-Cover

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.
21821669._SY540_
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!

The Unintentionally Helpful Villain Vol. 2, #01: Brother, Brother

pablo

This is the Diary of High Imperial Supreme Sourceror, Sheikh, Sovereign, Suzerain and Ship Captain Maus. If lost and found, please return to:
The City (capital of The Empire),
0000, Imperial Palace,
Seat of the Empire,
Throne Room. Any of them is alright, really.
Upon return, you shall be rewarded, and promptly murdered for having touched this sacred artefact. Try not to bleed on it.

Diary Entry #001

I do enjoy new beginnings on occasion.

Sitting before my chained twin-brother in the damp, mossy dungeon of my newly refurbished castle doesn’t mark one of these occasions. He’s got a handsome face, I’ll grant him that but little else going for him. For one, he’s the brother set to rot in a nightmarish dimension of fairy tales come alive, which I reckon he deserves.

How do I reckon that? Having put him there, I doubtless had a fine reason for doing so. He’ll be back in his prison in due time, no doubt of it, and by Me, he’ll learn to enjoy it. Or perchance he won’t. At any rate, mine patience having grown short, I turned to the jailor and snapped my fingers at him.

‘Awaken him,’ I said.

The guard’s face slackened at the order. ‘I-I only puts them to sleep, master,’ he groaned under my gaze.

I sighed. Whose idea was it to cut on expenses and reanimate undead to use as jailors? The stench is pleasant enough, I’ll grant you that, but the shambling legions of rot-infested beings are hardly known for their ingenuity.

‘I suppose it can’t be helped,’ I said, and clasped the zombie with one hand. The creature seemed only mildly surprised as I held it above my brother and squeezed. Its juicy insides plopped over his hair and face. A piece of entrail staunchly refused to fall off him, like a bizarre amulet put on by a small child. Most of the grey rot tapered off, leaving not a spot on his bright white mane, not even on his beard.

How had he grown a beard? I never had a beard. Once glued on the beard of an exceptionally beardy, subsequently beardless, dwarven adversary. Wasn’t quite the same, and I suspected a number of my more cruel and oppressive generals for snickering while I had my back turned to them. Unfortunate to learn how they’d lost their heads later in the evenings.

You can imagine my surprise when they were found to have laughed at an entirely unrelated and military matter I’d heard nothing about. Paranoia is such a terrible weigh on my chest as of late,  I even suspect it might be a curse done me by one of my many viziers, advisers and court magicians.

‘How much longer must I listen to your ridiculous monologues, brother?’ said I. Oh, no, wait. That was my brother that’d just spoken. Permit me to do a little something to this here magical quill that takes my thoughts, actions and words into account and writes them down with– dontyoudaretouchmemausstayawayarghhhhh–

‘There, all better. The Quill has been mentally prepared to deal with your whining, brother,’ I (i.e. Maus, Dark Lord extraordinaire), said.

‘You’ve lost your marbles. Perhaps the last single marble you had, when you threw me in that happy little dream of yours,’ he said, scowling. ‘Is that a zombie gut on my head?’

‘It couldn’t be helped, place is full of them. And I didn’t lose my marbles. Look!’ I produced a marble from one of the hidden pocket dimensions within my armour.

‘You’re so bizarre, I swear.’

‘Takes one to know one, brother!’

‘Should’ve strangled you in the womb.’ He suddenly strained against the chains. His muscles grew taut as ropes, but the chains held. With a final huff, he relaxed.

‘An impressive, if useless display, brother.’ Looking down on him, I smiled. ‘Shall we hold counsel, as we once did, you and I?’

He nodded, grumbling.

‘It has come to my attention that I have a daughter.’ No surprise on his face. ‘You knew?’

‘Only you can forget your own kid, you mad basta–nope, forget that one. Of course I remember Alisha.’

‘A-lee-sha.’ The name tasted good on my lips. It felt right.  ‘I’ve been busy, what with defending against the Council of Wotsitsname and making moves to rob my enemies blind.
Good governing is a complex task I don’t expect you to know anything about.’

‘I was your chief governor, you wanker!’ Oh! Right. ‘And besides, I’m not going to help you look for your daughter. If she’s in hiding, it’s probably because of a good reason. Like, I don’t know, her father is a witless git!’

‘You’re one to talk!’

‘Who better?!’

I shut my mouth before fire escaped from it and burned him to a crisp. A deep breath and I began anew. ‘Fine. Talk all you want. But you will find my daughter, whether you want to or not.’

‘And just how do you see that happening?’ he asked, smiling that infuriating half-smile that should be mine, and mine alone!

I returned the smile as frosty as I could’ve made it.

‘I have set the curse of unicorns and puppies upon thine body, brother. If you don’t…’

His eyes widened in disbelief. ‘You would do this to me? To your own brother? You have turned cold, indeed,’ he said. His eyes studied me carefully, no doubt measuring me up, wondering how I’ve grown in power and what could be done to remedy his blighted situation. Whatever his conclusion, it didn’t please him. He broke the eye contact with a last heavy sigh. ‘Very well, brother. Let’s shake on it.’

‘Good, good! Welcome back to the fold,’ I said, ripping his chains off him.

As he got up, unsteady at first, I turned, walking towards the cell door. ‘Oh, and no more attempts to stab me in the back. I may not remember some things, important ones at that…but I’ll never forget your betrayal, brother of mine. And the next time you so much as lift a finger against me, your last prison will look like a dream resort.’

He said nothing to that, just looked at me.

‘Oh, and if you see any undead jailors here, would you turn them to naught for me? I’ve decided on expanding government expenditure, after all. I know, I know, beware of labour unions, but…’

Here, the Dark Lord chatters for several thousand words on policy and labour rights. The Quill would continue to write all this down, but…it doesn’t care enough to want to. Alas.

 

Thank you for reading, dear reader! I had way too much fun writing this, I swear, and time passed by very quick this time around. What’s next for the Unintentionally Helpful Villain? …Labour unionisation? Spoilers: Probably not.

And what about his brother? Find out in the Intentionally Unhelpful Villain, coming soon!

 

Saturday Night Gaming: Prey

prey-banner

Back when I was a kid, and then a teenager, I hated games like Prey! Dead Space, Bioshock 1&2, a variety of others which saw a lone protagonist facing against horrifying and unknowable enemies, whether on a derelict starship or submerged leagues beneath the sea.

Hated is, perhaps, too strong a word. Feared, in truth, would work much better; I was a scaredy-cat when I was a kid, due to an unfortunate accident that had much to do with a movie adaptation of Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher — as average a movie as any, but a seven year old’s mind can turn silly, horrible special effects into the stuff of nightmares.

After that experience and another one a year later, it was easy to ignore horror films and games with a lot of jump scares; so it was when I got over Prey’s beautiful intro that I knew, the Filip from six-seven years back would’ve stayed as far away from Prey as he could throw the physical copy of the game (that younger Filip hated digital distribution; whether due to distrust, or some other reason, I couldn’t tell you).

I’m very happy to have grown out of that fear, for Prey deserves to be played and replayed, and replayed some more!

You take on the shoes of Doctor Morgan Yu(the gender of the good doctor is your choice), as you find yourself missing a three year-sized chunk of memories. If that wasn’t enough, you’re also on the space station Talos I, which orbits the moon in the year 2035. It’s…not looking too great, with corpses littering the ground and strange alien lifeforms running around, turning into cups, trying to chew your face and what-have-you. It’s all terribly confusing, as the last thing you remember was preparing to leave for that same space station, after some cajoling from your older brother, Alex Yu, in 2032.

Downloadmorgoons

Alex is the CEO of TranStar, a mega corporation whose public face is the Yu family (mum and pop, as well as big bro and –yey — you!). The biggest hit of the company is the so-called Neuromod; the device changes the neural pathway of its user, allowing them to gain a new skill ranging from learning languages, to lengthening the life span, as well as a variety of other skills. As you might imagine, they’re something of a luxury, with only the richest and most influential on Earth able to purchase them.

Thankfully, Neuromods a plenty, since you’ll need a lot of help if you’re to stand so much as a chance of getting alive. Then again, a friendly robot who seems to have all but stolen your voice — your personal assistant January does the talking, instead of you — is asking you to blow up the station, for the sake of all of humanity down on Earth.

The choices are many, both in how you go about your exploration of the space station, and in how you deal with the decisions the story throws in your face. I won’t spoil now, nor will  I go in an in-depth discussion about the bits of the game that made my mind go boom, then blank, then boom again — but I have to say, it’s an excellent game that deserves a lot more attention than it got, both for its narrative and its varied gameplay.

It was made by the excellent Arkane, which stand behind the Dishonored franchise (although, to be fair, there are two studios that wear the Arkane name, one in Lyon (Dishonored 2), the other in Austin, Texas (Prey) ) and it does feel like Dishonored in space, in some ways. The best ways.

What a brilliant gem of 2017, a year that’s given us a ludicrous number of excellent games!

P.S. Thy Typhon were downright scary for the first five-six hours I spent playing, and that’s the greatest thing! Enemies who spook you as you squish them into fine jelly with a wrench or turn them into statues with your trusty GLOO gun are the best.

The best.

 

Ah, how I’ve missed writing one of those! Next week, Horizon: Zero Dawn. Probably. Alloy is the best.
Morgan Yu ain’t half bad, though, trust you me!

 

 

Adventurer’s Mishaps: Assassin’s Blade

Welcome to Adventurer’s Mishaps, a new short fiction series on this blog, inspired by my love for role-playing games akin to Dungeons and Dragons (D&D).  Today’s entry follows the story of Liadrin, whom we shortly met last week. If you haven’t read last week’s ‘Mishaps,’ click here to take a look.

Liadrin drew the dagger out of the guard’s neck, holding his body as it fell to the ground without a sound. Capable guards were impossible to find, nowadays. Countess Morrgiana’s were a new breed of rabble altogether — messy, inattentive pigs. This one had crumbs and jam all over his collar. Like children with sticks, these — and only marginally less likely to hurt themselves if they tried.

The body would be found, she had no doubt; it was meant to. If no messenger was to be had, you drafted the message on a warm body; that way, no one could ignore it. Not for long.

She was worried, however. With mercenaries this ill-suited for guard duty, the Gods only knew how long it would take them to find a corpse, even one in such an evident place. She looked over the balcony’s edge, scanning the ground below. No one in sight. The assassin sighed.

If you can’t bring attention to the corpse, bring the corpse to attention, Liadrin thought, as she dragged the body over the marble railing. The fall would attract attention, no doubt. Attention was good.

She moved upwards with the alacrity of a shadow, and just as silent as one. Torches flickered and died out as soon as Liadrin neared, providing her with an even deeper cloak of darkness. She didn’t use magic, but she might as well have, such was the nature of her skill.

Yells sounded from below, muffled by distance but clear enough to convey undiluted fear and surprise. Liadrin’s smile widened, a couple of daggers flashing by in the dark.

Two guards stood on the sides of  her supposed target’s living quarters. One of the men held a heavy crossbow, just as the assassin’s information had pointed out. He had the time to give out a surprised yelp, not even loud enough to awaken his colleague before one cold blade sucked the life out of him. The man on Liadrin’s left groaned in his sleep. He would never awaken.

Footsteps sounded on marble steps, somewhere far behind; good, they were coming. Perhaps there was hope for these men yet.

Liadrin hardly appreciated making a showpiece of the craft but her master’s needs demanded that she stand on the spotlight. The assassin relit the torch on one side of the doors to the Countess’ private rooms. She positioned the heavy crossbow in as evident a way as she could, before opening and passing through the door.

Morrgiana slept in her bed, undisturbed by all the commotion. Without so much as a flinch, Liadrin dragged her awake by the hair, forcing the young woman to her crumbling feet despite the Countess’ horrified screams. Even hauled off her bed in the middle of the night, she was in beauty, Liadrin couldn’t deny. Obvious, then, why King Lekaved had taken her as his lover…the assassin couldn’t fault his taste.

“Please, please, please let me go. I-I promise I’ll be good, I’ll do whatever you want, I-I have jewels and gold, and trinkets with little magicks in them and you can have–”

Liadrin pulled on the girl’s dark hair even harder. “Shut up, you little fool,” she said, her voice as cold as the north seas. “You and I will share in the romantic  view of Kiern at night. The gem of the East, in all its glory is worth appreciation. Move!”

The last word Liadrin underlined by shoving Morrgiana through the glass archway, onto the ground

“Why-Why–?”

Liadrin forced the woman–little more than girl, really–to her feet, ignoring the cries of pain and the tiny pieces of glass that embedded themselves within the Countess’ skin. “With bedfellows such as yours, must you ask?”

Blows fell against the wooden doors to the bedchamber. They wouldn’t last long, but Liadrin had ample time. She forced Morrgiana to turn around with one hand, taking a bone blade out of its sheath with the other, and held it to the younger woman’s pretty face.

Morrgiana’s sobs rocked the woman’s petite body. “Please don’t. If you know about–about Lekaved, you know I could make him do anything.” Her voice grew desperate, histeric. “The King’s ear, I could have it listen to whatever you want. Anything you want, please!”

“I want you,” Liadrin whispered, “to look at the city. Take it in, all of it. Do you see the lights, over there? Have you wondered what it’s like, being one of these lights? Have you ever imagined life out there? Not this pretty little thing you have here, this mimicry, built on marble and the bones of your King’s starved subjects?” Her voice fell to a whisper. “You would think my touch a kind one, and so soft, compared with some of what is there.

But it is beautiful, isn’t it?”

Wood shattered into splinters somewhere behind them. With a well-practiced flick of the hand, Liadrin’s blade left a mark down the side of Morrgiana’s face, from her temple all the way down to the edge of the jaw; far from a deadly wound, it would leave a deep mark on the Countess’ beautiful face. Liadrin removed her grip from the woman, leaving Morgianna to her wailing, and moved next to her, between the arched doorway and the balcony railing.

She glimpsed backwards, to see several guards, one of which pointing the crossbow at her back. Yells mixed into one, calling for her to put the dagger down. Liadrin lifted the blade higher, as if to throw it at one of the guards, her lips curling in a blood-curdling smile.

The guard holding the heavy crossbow squeezed the weapon’s trigger, releasing its loaded metal bolt. Time came to a standstill. Liadrin repositioned her body in that single moment, with preternatural speed that would’ve allowed her to avoid it entirely, if she wished.

That wasn’t part of the job.

Time resumed, and the bolt pierced Liadrin’s body, puncturing muscle, shattering bone, tearing organs to pieces. The force propelled her over the edge. As she fell towards the lake below, Liadrin smiled, despite the burning pain. As blackness overwhelmed her, one thought alone swam above it.

Her task was complete.

**********

Liadrin awoke to the warmth of a fire and one of the worst itches she’d ever felt; a sure-fire way to know that you were alive, and recently gone through serious healing. Without opening her eyes, she said, “Klaus. Your divinations proved as helpful as ever.” Her voice was husky with strain, her mind clouded with exhaustion. “I see your healing arts are as formidable as I’ve heard. You will forgive me if I don’t look forward to the next time I need one of those.”

“I’m sure I’ll find some amount of forgiveness within me,” he humored her. There was strain in his behind the chuckle. “You pulled it pretty close, Lia. A few millimeters higher, and not even the energy within that trinket you gave me would’ve been able to save you.”

Her smile widened. “I know.”

She heard the priest grumble an indecent comment under his nose, then say more loudly, “You should rest now. It’ll take you more than a short nap to recover from this.”

Liadrin nodded, then opened her eyes. The human flinched at her iris-less gaze before getting a hold of himself. “You are ready for your part?” she asked, her fine eyebrow lifting up in what bordered mockery.

Klaus nodded gravely. “You know as well as I do, there really is no other choice.”

 

This is where we’ll leave the tale of Liadrin (for now, anyway). Something tells me that we’ll see her again, at one point or another. Things are heating up, in Adventurer’s Mishaps, and I have so many ideas, and we’re going ever-deeper in the rabbit’s hole! 

Hope to see you again next time!