Thursday, October 15, 2020

Aria volume 1 masterpiece edition (read for fun)


This is another book I found at my local library, and another book that I liked so much that I purchased my own copy. 

This the story of Akari, a girl who travels from Earth to a terra-formed Mars to become an "undine", a tour guide who rows a gondola. The story takes place in Neo-Venezia, a canal city just like Venice on Earth. Going forwards, I'll be using the terms that the book uses for the planets, "Manhome" for Earth and "Aqua" for "Mars". 

This is a charming slice-of-life story. Its chapters show particular days of Akari's life as she trains to become a full-fledged Undine. She lives and works with her mentor, Alicia, in the Aria company office. The two of them have a darling relationship,  the mature and graceful elder guiding the innocent and earnest junior. Watching them interact brings a small smile to my face. 

The third major character is Akari's counterpart from a sister undine company, Aika. I thought that she was going to be Akari's rival, or maybe some antagonist that causes trouble for her and Aria company, but I was wrong. They quickly become friends and then have a cute relationship as fellow undine apprentices (although it does start off because Aika hero-worships/is infatuated with Akari's mentor). As apprentices around the same age, they have a different relationship than Akari has with her mentor, more like equals who can relate on the same level. 

Some of the chapters focus on Akari's training, such as the lessons she has with Alicia or independent practice with Aika. These chapters go into the typical life of an undine apprentice. Others focus on life on Aqua in general, such as "Aqua Alta", a seasonal flooding where the water level increases and the city shuts down until it decreases. As I read these chapters, I got a sense of a theme, Romanticism vs Enlightenment. 

On Manhome, life has become very neat, tidy and convenient. Many jobs can be done from home, and shopping is more often done from home than not. Akari mentions a "beautification" process going on in cities, which I assume means artificially making them more appealing to the eye. Then she mentions that "something is missing" from such a neat and tidy life.  

Life on Manhome  is contrasted with life on Aqua, which is more....rustic, so to speak. 

To go anywhere in Neo-Venezia requires rowing a gondola, which a postman calls inconvenient but also "strangely relaxing". Rowing to higher elevations requires elevators created by changing water levels instead of something mechanical. It takes longer but also provides time to rest from rowing. Things like this create a slower pace of life than Manhome but the mode of life is simultaneously more active. 

Furthermore, there is a difference in technology between the two planets. 

While both Manhome and Aqua use levitating stations in the lower atmosphere to control the weather of their planet, the stations on Mahome are automated, run by computers that maintain a perpetually pleasant climate. The stations on Aqua are manual, run by humans known as "salamanders", and so the weather has more variation to it than Mahome. Akari meets one of these salamanders, who sheepishly apologizes for the late summer months being so hot and humid, and asks her to consider it part of Aqua's charm. Indeed, I think that is the point. 

Aqua's situation is more natural than Manhome's, despite being terra-formed. Rowing a gondola may be inconvenient, but with a lovely and skilled undine at the helm, it can be more than just transportation. Events like the Aqua Alta can be inconvenient, but it creates variation in daily life that can lead to unexpected and memorable events. Even the hot summers give rise to cultural events, like the Night Light Bell Fair. 

The art is beautiful. From the simple scenes of domestic life in Aria company, to the double-page spreads of Neo-Venezia, you will want to linger on the pages to take it all in. The pace of the story and arrangement of the panels creates anticipation for these special views. 


All this together makes for a calm and soothing read. It is a perfect book to read in bed. At the same time, the nostalgia it invokes can be a little painful, as Akari herself experiences in one chapter. 

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Aria volume 1  masterpiece edition" an A+

Click here for my previous book review: Rising of the Shield Hero - manga volume 2

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Rising of the Shield Hero - manga volume 2 (read for fun)

Rising of the Shield Hero - manga volume 2

By the time I read this, I had read the first volume of the light novels and watched part of the first anime season. For comparison, this manga volume covers about the second half of the first light novel and a couple episodes of the anime. This is Naofumi visiting the Dragon Hourglass for the first time, the Second Wave, and then his duel with Motoyatsu. Then, of course, the aftermath of said duel and Raphtalia's backstory. I don't really have much to say about this volume. 

It does an alright job of conveying the story. A reader will know enough of what happens to follow along when another real-life fan talks about it or when these events are referenced later in the story. However, its medium prevents it from conveying as much information as the light novel. Without knowledge outside the manga, a reader might not understand some things. The anime outshines it in visual appeal, providing more of a spectacle and adding emotion through voice acting. The manga just doesn't provide anything that the light novel or anime don't do better. 

This is not to say this volume is bad on its own merit. That is definitely not the case. The art looks good. The arrangement of cells moves the story along at a good clip, faster during action scenes and slower during more tender ones. The way that the aftermath of the Shield vs Spear duel is handled is particularly effective. Specifically, the way the manga presents Naofumi's realization of Raphtalia's true age and appearance captures the emotions he must be feeling at that point very well. 

I just recommend one of the other two mediums. 

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Rising of the Shield Hero - manga volume 2" a passing grade. 

Click here for my next book review:  Aria volume 1 masterpiece edition

Click here for my previous book review: The Royal Tutor volume

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Royal Tutor volume 1 (Read for fun)

 The Royal Tutor volume 1

This is a manga I picked up at my local library. Check out your own. They likely have great stuff.  This story is a comedy about a tiny man, Professor Heine, teaching four difficult princes. This first volume is mainly set up. 

The professor arrives and meets the princes all at once, discovers that none of them want to be tutored by him, and then sets up interviews to get to know them better. That is the framework of this volume. It's a great framework because it plays to the strengths of this story. 

The characters are vivid and detailed, practically life-like. Even before the interviews that focus on each prince, they are distinct individuals. Trust me, it's difficult to set up five characters at the same time, while also introducing the setting and conflict of the story. Naturally, this distinction increases over the course the story. 

The traits initially introduced are developed further and further traits are added, complimenting and contrasting the original ones. As a result of Heine's interview with the prince, some conceptions are even turned around, revealing hidden depths. Of all the princes, it is hard to say which makes the most dramatic turn. My vote goes to Prince Bruno. 

It is a satisfying story that resolves its initial conflict.  

Though I wonder how much tutoring is going to happen in future volumes, the story addresses this as well. Heine states that his purpose as a tutor is not only to teach the princes academic subjects, but other subjects as well. It would appear he is intended to be something of a life coach, because the king considers all four of princes unfit to rule for reasons of their personalities. 

The artwork certainly looks good. In fact, I'd call it beautiful. It has this regal feel to it, fitting with its setting and premise, but it is occasionally softer and sillier for more comedic moments. 

And that is where my only complaint comes in. 

The story has a "Heine is tiny" running gag that I generally find to be lame. Some of them can be funny, such as when guards mistake him as the royal tutor's son, or palace ladies gush on how cute he is and he reacts favorably to the attention while remaining stoic. However, others are not funny.

 In fact, they exaggerate his tininess to the point where he seems to actually get even smaller than he already is, rather than just drawn smaller for comedic effect. The most egregious of these is when he rolls off his bed and gets stuck in the tiny space between his bed and the wall. He seriously can't move until a maid checks on him in the morning. That pushes the gag too far. 

Trickster Eric Novels gives The Royal Tutor volume 1 a B+

Click here for my next book review: Rising of the Shield Hero - manga volume 2

Click here for my previous book review: Sleepy Princess in Demon Castle

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Sleepy Princess in Demon Castle volume 1 (read for fun)

 Sleepy Princess in Demon Castle volume 1

This story comes recommended by Tvtropes, which called it a funny fantasy parody. I agree. This story has a familiar set-up, the princess of the Human Country has been kidnapped by the Demon King and held captive in his castle, so a human hero sets off to rescue her. However, this story is not about the hero's journey but the princess's attempt to get a good night's sleep. 

As a captive, Princess Syalis doesn't have much to do other than sleep and, as it turns out, her cell in Demon Castle serves as a poor bedroom. So she sets out to improve it by gathering materials for sleeping aids around the castle. This is the source of the manga's humor.

Every chapter has the same set-up: Princess Syalis has a sleeping problem, so she devises a solution and then works towards that solution. It is amazing how many different scenarios Kagiji Kumanomata can devise out of this framework, and how many different kinds of comedy can result. Some of it is fantasy parody (seeking a magic shield to use as an air mattress), some of it is comedic sociopathy (ghost shrouds make for great fabric) and some of it is based on sustained misunderstandings or dramatic irony.  As a result, I never found this set-up to be boring. 

Indeed, I looked forward to each chapter to see the new scenario because I was at a loss for what would come next after the pillow and bed sheet quests were complete. It is a slice-of-life series, so don't expect too much change from chapter to chapter, yet there are still signs of continuity. The reader is occasionally shown all previous sleep aids that the princess has collected so far, and the demons become progressively less alarmed when they see her out of her cell. One of them even escorts her to another area of the castle, because she asked nicely, as if she were the princess of "this" castle instead of is captive. 

The artwork is cute. The princess, of course, is adorable, but so are the teddy demons and some of the others, like the Poison Apple Men. The Demon Castle itself looks good, as well. It is definitely NOT cute, and this serves the purpose of the series's humor in a Comically-Serious sort of way, given the parody tone and the events that take place in it. 

I am definitely interested in volume 2

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Sleepy Princess in Demon Castle volume 1" an A+

Click here for my next book review: The Royal Tutor volume 1

Click here for my previous book review: Ah! My Goddess - omnibus #1

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Ah! My Goddess - omnibus #1

 One of the upsides of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it led to me using the local library network's online catalog instead of browsing the selection available at the closest library building to me. This is because of a change in how books were being checked out at the time  (there is a new but similar process in place as of this writing, I think). You select a book and put a hold on it, and then the librarian puts your selection into a bag for you to pick up. This helps with social distancing. 

This means that the catalog for the entire library network opens up to me. I didn't know how to do this at the start of the year, so I might not have found this particular book. It is the first omnibus for the classic romantic comedy, Ah! My Goddess. It is chapter 1 through chapter 23. Up until now, I have only seen the OVA, so I was excited to see its roots. 

It was very interesting to see how the story began. Belldandy's design, for instance, is a lot different than what it would be when the anime started. Characters in-universe mistake her as being a traveler from India. Also, since Belldandy herself is initially the only supernatural character to be regularly present for many chapters, the story as a whole is more a low fantasy/urban fantasy than it would be in later arcs, when more goddesses and demons show up. This includes what I think is a narrow restriction on the number of times Belldandy can use her powers in one day. If she could use them freely, then she would solve every problem effortlessly, because no one else has any kind of power. 

Certain events in the early chapters are a different kind of interesting in light of the infamous plot twist that takes place late in the series; it is clearly a retcon BUT one can see where the origins of such an idea can be seen. Is it a coincidence or foreshadowing decades in the making? 

The chapters definitely get better over time. 

The introduction of different sorts of antagonists allows for different types of conflict, while providing opportunities for hilarity to ensue as this conflict happens to Keichi. Sayoko Mishima tries to steal Keichi, Toshiyuki Aoshima tries to steal Belldandy, and Urd is actually trying to be helpful to Keichi and Belldandy but causes trouble because she is "The Exchanger of Means and Ends". In other words, she has a good intention but gets carried anyway in how she fulfills that intention. Occasionally, there is a motor vehicle race, and those are also fun. 

So the comedy follows the duo's responses to these conflicts, and Keichi is usually the butt of the jokes. Indeed, it is as if the Yggdrasil system is balancing the tremendous good fortune of having a girlfriend like Belldandy with lots of comedic misfortunes. My favorite is when he takes a part-time job as a monster for a Tokusatsu superhero show, only to discover when the rest of the cast has left that he can't work the zipper on his costume, so he decides to wander the street and beg a stranger for help. That scenario had me in stitches for several minutes. 

On another note, regarding the story's romance aspect, I thought it was odd that the earliest phase of Belldandy and Keichi's relationship is glossed over. The first three chapters are their first full day together, and then the next two chapters cover (I think) several months. So by chapter 6 or so, they are definitively a couple, and acting like it. I think I like it better that way. 

Rare is it that I find a manga that quickly establishes its official couple as official so quickly. Most go for the Will-They-Or-Won't-They route, so a reader is lucky to see as much as an attempted confession by the end of the series. This one shows an actual relationship, such as the two of them going on dates, working together on projects, and Keichi looking for a meaningful way to mark their one year anniversary together. So while I didn't see why they fell in love, I get to see chapter after chapter of them actually being in love, which few series are willing to do. 

Trickster Eric Novels gives Ah! My Goddess -  omnibus #1 an A+

Click here for my previous book review: Sleepy Princess in Demon Castle (read for fun)

Click here for my previous book review: Dungeon and Dragons 5th Edition Dungeon Master's Guide

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Critical Role inspired multi class character- Rogue-Ranger Assassin.

I've been thinking about a Ranger/Rogue multi class for Dungeons and Dragons fifth edition lately. It started with the Critical Role episode, Heredity and Hats, where Vax and Vex's half-sister Velora is introduced to the audience. She's adorable. Unlike her father, she thinks her elder siblings are the coolest people ever, and wears an owlbear feather that Vex gave her.

One of the Youtube comments for the episode talked about the idea of playing Grown-Up Velora in their home game. She would be both a rogue and a ranger to take after both siblings, and she would have an owlbear as a beast companion. I don't know how the latter option would work out, because the lore states that owlbear are thoroughly aggressive and ill-tempered, and their Challenge Rating is much higher than a bear like Trinket. However, the multi-class intrigued me because of its potential synergy.

Both rangers and rogues are a light-weapons-and-armor class, so using Dexterity as the chief weapon stat would work for both finesse and ranged weapons (daggers and longbow, of course).  Both classes benefit most from studded leather armor in regards to mundane armor, so that fits with the build. DEX is also the stat governing Stealth, which  suits both a ranger stalking prey in the wild and a rogue stalking a humanoid mark in a crowd.

Rangers use Wisdom as their spellcasting stat, and this stat is also useful for rogues. For what rogue would not appreciate the boost to their Insight checks when running a con, or to their Perception when they are sneaking about an active fortress or a dungeon inhabited by monstrous humanoids? So a player can boost DEX and WIS without worrying about their character becoming Multiple Ability Dependent.

As I explored further, I discovered more synergy. It was really quite fun to find all the little mechanical details to support the idea of roleplaying as the younger half-sister of famous adventurers. Roleplaying a particular character idea is fun, but it can become frustrating if the character's build is not viable mechanically (like the Hill-dwarf guild-artisan CHA focused paladin I'm currently playing).

Rangers can cast Pass Without A Trace to boost their roguish stealth ability, which they can choose to have expertise in. Thus, they can be like Vax and appear to disappear. Furthermore, as a ranger they can cast Hunter's Mark and therefore boost the potential harm of their Sneak Attack. Said player would just have to remember to cast it  (^_^) and add the damage of the former to each attack and the damage of the latter to only their first. 

This is still the early levels.

At level 5, a ranger gets Extra Attack, which a rogue does not. This means our hypothetical Grown-Up! Velora would be able to "Dagger! Dagger! Dagger!" even without Boots of Haste active.

Beyond that, the synergy would depend on what kind of Ranger/Rogue hybrid our hypothetical Velora would want to be. There are many possibilities in archetypes between the classes, depending on what sort of adventures she expected to get into story-wise, or how her player wanted her to develop mechanically. 

If this hypothetical Velora wanted to be an assassin like her big brother, then choosing "humanoid" as her ranger Favored Enemy would add to the damage boost she would gain from the Assassinate ability (Ranger -  Revised version). With all her other benefits, she would be able to reliably drop most standard humanoid NPCs without being seen or giving away her presence. 

Going for the Hunter conclave as a ranger would give her an even bigger boost to damage output, and thereby enable her to quickly finish off assassination targets if they happen to survive the initial death strike. At the same time, it could enable her to stay in the fight longer with its defensive features, and add to those of the Rogue (Escape the Horde, Uncanny Dodge, Evasion). I like to visual all this as her being too nimble to be hit and taunting the enemy with, "Too slow!"

However, if our hypothetical Velora wanted to emulate her big sister instead, then she could take the Scout archetype as a rogue, and gain more features for fighting, tracking and navigating. Together with Favored Enemy and Natural Explorer, nothing would be able to escape her and she is unlucky to ever get lost. She could still be sneaky by investing in the Gloom Stalker ranger conclave, learning its features to hide and kill from the shadows.

Perhaps this version of Velora got involved with a drow conflict. Now doesn't that sound interesting! The only child of an eleven nobleman and ambassador, hunting dark elves through pretty words at formal events and sneak attacks in some dark and empty tunnel.

 "House Vessar sends its regards. Rest in peace."

Now I want to write a fanfiction about that scenario. Maybe someone else already has. I'll have to check.

Anyway, that is just one scenario that I envisioned with this idea for a character build. I seriously might use in a future campaign because it sounds fun. I doubt I'll pretend to be Velora herself, partially because I don't think I could roleplay someone as cute as her and partially because I like the idea of her figuring out how to tame owlbears and then cuddling them rather than assassinating drow. It depends on what happens to her as she grows older. 

Oh! She would outlive her siblings, wouldn't she? Being fully elven and all, but that is neither here nor there for the mechanics of the build. 

If use a different character for character personality, should I keep the noble background? To keep with the idea of the build, I would have to choose one that boosts both ranger and rogue. I'll look into that too. 

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

The Value of Lorebooks

The Value of Lorebooks

I've been reading Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes recently, and something has struck me about the first chapter, the one for the Blood War. It is how the paragraphs that list and describe each ruling archdevil and the layer of The Nine Hells that they rule functions as both a travel narrative and bestiary, and at the same time they are seeds for adventures; a tool to inspire dungeon masters.

It is a treasure trove of inspiration. I've read only part of the first chapter and I've already started thinking of several ideas that I would like to use in a campaign. I went over and re-read that part so that I could delve deeper into the lore and its layout and how it can be used. Just one piece of lore can spark an idea that can span a whole campaign, and this book has a wagon full of chests bursting with lore.

For those that haven't read the book or are otherwise unfamiliar with D&D Lore, the Blood War is an ages-long feud between devils and demons. The demons boil up from their home plane, the Abyss, and assault the first layer of The Nine Hells, Avernus. The devils push them back out but are unable and/or unwilling to push further into the Abyss. So the infernal creatures are perpetually at war with each other.

The chapter deals with both the devil-ish and demonic side of the Blood War. The section I just finished reading was for the Lords of the Nine, the nine archdevils who rule the layers of The Nine Hells. It talks about the lord, their personality and traits and the kinds of deals they make with mortals. It talks about the layer that the lord rules, its environment and history and its purpose within The Nine Hells as a whole. This is where one gets to the high grade campaign fuel.

Each section lists possibilities for adventures by mingling them with the lore. The first layer, for instance, has multiple tie-ins for adventurers seeking any number of things.

First of all, Avernus is the front line for the Blood War, and that alone has many opportunities. If you want a mass combat, you can find an endless horde of demons or devils. If you're looking for infernal weapons or armor, scavenge after a battle. Nothing wrong with looting the bodies of dead devils, right? Perhaps the adventurers have been recruited as scouts, impartial messengers or mediators, or maybe even assassins by some devil of interest.

Even if the Dungeon Master plans to avoid the Blood War directly, there are still innumerable forts that have been built to hold back demonic hordes. These forts may have been abandoned as the Blood War shifts to a different front, or perhaps they have been destroyed in battle. In their time, they may have stored treasure of many kinds, from magic items to demonic lore to forgotten trinkets that still hold value to some quest giver.

The second layer of the Abyss, Dis, is an active metropolis. Lots of arms-dealing is done here, and so is a lot of mining. This is where the supplies that support the Blood War are created. Adventurers could come here seeking weapons or armor, they might be searching for an item to be used for some other adventure, or just looking for work in one of the busiest places in the planes.

They might get involved in some intrigue involving the de-facto ruler of the plane, Tivisius, who is the true ruler's second in command. They might be contracted by the true ruler, Dispater, to seek out some nugget of lore, which could lead them anywhere in the planes, or to a lower layer of The Nine Hells.

This is not an exhaustive list for these two layers, not by any means, and it is only the first two layers. There are seven more with just as many potential adventure seeds waiting to be developed by Dungeon Masters and played out by the adventuring party. I can go further.

The third layer, Minarous, is ruled by Mammonon. Mammonon is listed as potentially the richest entity in all of the planes, due to his obsession with seeking out opportunities for enrichment and his eye for efficiency. So if you found some supposedly priceless artifact that no one in the Material Plane can pay full price for, than Mammonon can, and he might throw in something more valuable than gold to seal the deal. Of course, you have to reach him first or contact him somehow, and that can be its own adventure, because everything involving Mammonon has a price. 

That is the other thing, Mammonon is said to be one of the safest demons to make an infernal pact with because he might not ask for your soul. If you have "the wealth of a dozen kingdoms", then you can buy arcane power and influence from him with mundane money. Of course, stealing from him is also an option. 

He is an excuse for the Dungeon Master to go all out and make the most complicated puzzles, the most deadly traps, and the most numerous guards; dungeon obstacles that would be fairly called "unfair" or "unbalanced" if in some ruin created by mortals. But this is Mamonon, for whom no expense is too much to protect his vault, and who has had multiple mortal lifetimes to advance its security.

However, he is also incredibly stingy, so despite the wealth in his vault, the layer itself is shambling and decayed. It is a Wretched Hive if there ever was one. Such a place could be the scene of literally hellish criminal activity, or an opportunity to stir up trouble for Mammonon, and possibly an attempt to unseat him as the lord of the layer.

The fact that the layer is a swamp gives rise to other more implicit opportunities, only hinted at by what is present in the book itself. It may be that the comatose princess the adventurers are trying to cure was soulnapped (kidnapped via soul theft) by a night hag who plans to auction off the poor girl's soul in Mammonon's town. So they could try to track and kill the hag, participate in the auction or bargain with/steal from the entity who purchased the soul.

Wow, this is getting long, and I've only covered, briefly, some of the potential adventurers from three of the nine layers. Which, itself, is only one part of one chapter of one book. So, as you can see, there is a lot of inspiration a dungeon master can draw from a good lorebook. 

They don't even have to use the full "Nine Hells of Baator and Blood War" cosmology if such a thing wouldn't fit in their campaign. The idea for the night hag auctioning off souls could happen in the Material Plane amid some devil cult, or maybe a school of necromancers, or some other entity. Just one aspect of one section of lore can spark an idea that could fill a campaign, one adventure or even just a single session or two. That is the Value of Lorebooks.

For other 5E D&D books containing useful lure, you can turn to the Dungeon Master's Guide

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

D&D 5E Dungeon Master's Guide (Read for utility - and fun)

 Previously, I wrote a review for the 3.5 edition of the Dungeon Master's Guide for Dungeons and Dragons, and I useful I found it for writing novels. All of that applies to the 5th edition too, but more so. I much prefer this edition as a writing aid. Oh yes, I also find it useful for running a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. 

This book is split into three main sections, each describing the responsibility of the Dungeon Master in the game. They are "Master of Worlds", "Master of Adventures" and "Master of Rules".  The first is for creating the campaign world, the second is for creating the adventure, and the third is a list of rules to help the DM run the scenario, tweak situations to fit the campaign, and a section with advice on homebrewing elements. 

As a Dungeon Master, I find this book extremely helpful. I have several areas of it bookmarked for easier and quicker reference. One of them is the area for building encounters and managing random encounters. This helped break my previous conception of random encounters, which I picked up from video games.

 In video games, there is no point to a random encounter other to beatdown on the monsters for some droppable resource (Experience points, money, some form of loot). Then you move on. Not so in a Dungeons and Dragons session, where some groups play for 2-3 hours a week or even less. That can become tedious (as it sometimes happens in video games as well). This area of the book taught me how to make a random encounter more meaningful. There is a "Sylvan Forest" encounter table in here that I merged with another table in the Monster Manual to create the one for the area that my party is currently adventuring in. These "random" encounters provided the seed necessary to create events that are relevant to the here and now of the session. 

I also bookmarked the area that explains how to create maps for dungeons, settlements and wilderness, as well as adjudicating and describing what your players do in each. Because each area is different, different methods are used for each one. For instance, a dungeon is likely to be traversed room-by-room, as the player-characters check for traps and treasure. The wilderness, by contrast, is more likely to be a more general environment that does not involve the player-characters checking behind each tree or the top of each hill. Unless, of course, they are in a particular section of wilderness that doubles as a dungeon. 
Also, my players have done a lot of foraging recently so it is useful to have a table that enables me to quickly determine if they find something and how much they find. 

A third bookmark, of which I currently have seven in total, is a rule variant for chases. In Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, all creatures have a set movement speed, which makes chases deterministic and therefore less interesting. This area lists certain rules that can be used to add randomness to this otherwise pre-determined scenario, basically obstacles that both the pursuer and the quarry can run into, which can slow them down. There are also rules for determining when the chase begins, ends, or turns around and makes the hunter the hunted. 

Oh, I wish I had read this book cover-to-cover when I first started DMing. I thought I knew the rules well enough as a player and that I would do fine by imitating what our group's original DM did, but I didn't do fine. Not in the least. I have several embarrassing sessions under my belt, and this book could have prevented several of them. Particularly the Chase section; especially the Chase section. 

On another note, there is gorgeous art in this book. This review is mainly about the usefulness of the book for a Dungeon Master (and therefore also a novelist) but I have to mention the gorgeous art. You can see landscapes of everything from mountains and meadows to the Shadowfell or the Elemental Plane of Fire. You get portraits of an adventuring party consulting/drawing a map or in combat with a dragon. Most of the magic items listed in the treasure also get their own images along with their listing. 

Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Dungeon Master's Guide for D&D 5E" an A+

If you want to read my review for the 3.5 E version, it is here 

Click here for my next book review: Ah! My Goddess - omnibus #1

Click here for my previous book review: Spice and Wolf volume 9

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Spice and Wolf volume 9 Town of Strife part 2 (Read for Fun)

Spice and Wolf volume 9  Town of Strife part 2. The second part of the first two-part adventure in the series.

I must say upfront that I did not enjoy this volume as I did the others. Despite being two volumes long, not as much appeared to happen in comparison to previous volumes. If there were many events and commotion going on I certainly didn't follow them. Lawrence acts as though he is in terrible danger right from the start, and that Kieman is a direct and immediate threat. This is before Lawrence does anything that could upset him. In fact, in the previous volume, he had affirmed his loyalty to Kieman and the Rowen Trade Guild, as though it were a matter of course. That is one of the things that confused me.

I got the feeling that there was a lot more going on between the lines and off the page than what the reader was presented with. Lawrence had a greater understanding of the situation, but did not share this information with the reader even though he shared his thoughts and feelings.  So I didn't understand why he was so nervous the whole time, and why he was so afraid of his guild's sub-leader asking him to be a messenger. Eventually, I got an inkling that Kieman was plotting a coup to usurp the leader of the Rowen Trade Guild, and that he would make life difficult for Lawrence if Lawrence refused to cooperate, but I don't think that this was ever made explicit.

What I saw was all about how intimidated he was by Kieman and Eve being administrative merchants, heads of their own companies, in comparison to the traveling merchant who makes all his deals on the spot and with immediate goals. So I guess keeping the reader in the dark was supposed to help them emphasize with how out-of-his-depth Lawrence feels in this situation. I get that. It worked. However, I didn't understand the danger he or Eve were in, and that really deflated the tension of the story for me.

Another thing that I didn't understand was all the fuss about Eve. I was under the impression that she was a traveling merchant like Lawrence back in her introduction a couple volumes back. I understand that she has a lot of connections, and that the "Bolan Company" is basically just her and these connections, but what's the deal with her in this town, and why is knowing her such a big deal. Kieman acted as though only Lawrence or a local trading company head could serve as intermediaries in his shady deal with her. 

There are other things that I didn't get about this particular story, but that would make this review longer than it already is.

I still enjoyed this book. The out-of-his-depth experience Lawrence feels is well executed, and shows a different side of him than in previous stories, so it is good character development. His banter with Holo was as good as usual, and she seems to have become comfortable enough to express her jealousy more openly. I just didn't understand the economic angle this time.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Spice and Wolf volume 9  Town of Strife part 2" a C

Click here for my next book review: Dungeon Master's Guide for D&D 5E (Read for Utility, and fun)

Click here for my previous book review (for fun) : The Ultimate Book of Martial Arts

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration). His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Ultimate Book of Martial Arts (read for fun)

I think this book was a gift from years back, and it is yet another book that has languished for a while on my shelf. This is an overview of many popular martial art traditions,  ten total (13 if counting different styles within the same tradition. It's a good book over all but it has some drawbacks. 

The book is divided into sections for each martial art, or a particular style within each martial art tradition. Each starts with history of the art or style and some philosophy to go with it. Next is basic etiquette and equipment. Third is common warm ups followed by basic techniques and then advanced techniques. 

I found all of these sections educational, helpful, and interesting. Etiquette is often as important for the martial art as the techniques, and receives as much attention. Both have full-color pictures showing each step, and they even include close-ups on some techniques involving grips. The back of the book lists the names, styles and rank of the people in the photographs, and they are all experts, including the author, Fay Goodman herself. So you can be sure that what you see is correct. 

This book provides a greater breadth of general martial art information than anything I've come across. However, it doesn't have depth. 

The book is a good sample platter, so to speak, to get the gist of the martial art in question. This is only to wet your appetite. If you want to learn more about a specific martial art then you'll need to look elsewhere. This means either finding a book dedicated to the specific martial art or finding a teacher or otherwise an expert who can tell you more about it. Indeed, most of the pages on technique include the refrain "Only practice this under the supervision of an expert" or something to that effect. 

Also, some of the sections are shorter than others. The section on Tae Known Do, for instance, is smaller than the ones for Karate and Kung Fu, so the Tae Known Do section has even less depth than some of the others. 

It is overall a good resource. 

Trickster Eric Novels gives ""The Ultimate Book of Martial Arts" a B+

Click here for my next book review (for fun): Spice and Wolf volume 9 Town of Strife part 2

Click here for my previous book review (for fun) : A Witch's Printing Office volume 2

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration). His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

A Witch's Printing Office volume 2 (read for fun)

I was really excited to see a volume 2 for this series. I had so much fun with volume 1 that I pre-ordered this volume, and I was not disappointed. This volume delivers on the same light-hearted humor and fantasy-parodying, but also delivers on extended world building and a little more continuity. 

Like the previous volume, each chapter stands on its own as a short story, but this time the short stories can link together as one narrative. This is done by having characters from one short story show up in a later one. It is simple to arrange this seamlessly by having the characters gather for Magiket, such as Demon Lord Satziiko.

Magicket's fame as reached the underworld, and Demon Lord Satziiko has signed up for a booth. So not only are there humans and magical creatures selling spell scrolls (and dungeon maps, and primers on medicine for adventurers, and slash fanfiction of the local deities), but demons as well. The phrase "overnight fiends" as become literal, and it is hilarious.  But that is just one story. 

Another story stars Miss Aile, a young noble girl who is frustrated with all-day studying, basically cloistered in her family's mansion. So she runs away from home to see the world and accidentally boards a ship headed to Magiket. 
She is adorable. She looks cute, tries to act grown-up, and gets swept up in the event. She even bonds with Mika over similar parent troubles. She has a fantastic character arc, and a satisfying conclusion to her introductory story. There is also a sequel hook, suggesting that she will appear later. 

The fantasy parodies show up again, this time in the form of dragon hunting and the Sword-in-the-Stone template. Neither are original ideas but they are written and displayed in a way that only this particular setting could achieve, which makes them new. 

The art is still beautiful. Aile, again, is adorable, and the landscapes featured are great to look at, but the dragon is fearsome. 
The arrangement of the panels helps to keep the action moving and provide for twists, or punch-lines as the case may be. There is little true danger here, but tension is still maintained in this way. 

Trickster Eric Novels gives "A Witch's Printing Office volume 2" an A+

Click here for my next book review (for fun): Ultimate Book of Martial Arts

Click here for my previous book review (for fun) Rising of the Shield Hero - volume 1

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration). His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Rising of the Shield Hero - volume 1 (Read for Fun)

I picked up this book because I really liked the anime, and I had heard that a lot of stuff had to be adapted out in the making out of. Lore, world building, the inner thoughts of the protagonist, etc. had to be left out. So I looked into the light novel, and I enjoyed it. 

As the book opens, the plot is ostensibly about this kingdom summoning four heroes from another world as part of preparing for the Waves of Destruction, this apocalyptic event. Except, that is not really what the plot is about. The plot is really about Naofumi surviving a much more mundane threat between each Wave, the treachery of his fellow humans. 

The book starts out pretty lackluster and generic. Naofumi is this perfectly ordinary otaku college student who is abruptly summoned to another world to be a legendary hero that has to save it from doom. He gets a special item, and a really cute girl joins his party. Then he sets off for a fun adventure! Except not really. 

The plot only truly starts at chapter 7: "A backstapper named land mine". This is the infamous plot twist that you have most likely heard of if you have heard of the series at all.  After this happens, the story gets truly interesting. World building picks up, lore on and mechanics of the Legendary Shield expands, and Naofumi's characterization gets deeper than "nice guy otaku".  This switch is necessary. 

A trope can only be properly subverted if it is first played straight, otherwise it has been averted and its absence is only noted by the reader's mind. So it is necessary to introduce Naofumi and the other three as generic in order to set the contrast, both between the innocent Naofumi and jaded Naofumi, and also between jaded Naofumi and the other three heroes, who appear to be more typical isekai protagonist types. 

What follows is Naofumi's attempt to simply make a living for himself, getting enough money to buy food or hunter/gather food himself. He has to teach himself how to use his Shield, how to navigate the town's economy, and how to fend off people who think he is an easy mark. It is not glamorous or heroic but his personal narration makes it interesting, which is likely why the anime skipped forward to Raphtalia's introduction. It is hard to make "a character thinking" interesting in a visual medium. 

Speaking of the 2019 Crunchyroll Best Girl, Raphtalia's introduction makes the story even better. Now Naofumi has someone to interact with on a regular basis in addition to his private monologues.  Raphtalia is intensely sympathetic, a little girl who has been enslaved, has been mistreated by prior masters and is currently sick and experiencing night terrors. Naofumi buys her to wield a sword in combat, because his Legendary Shield forbids him from using any other weapons. So Naofumi protects her with his shield while training her to use a sword. 

Now this here is an interesting point between the two versions, anime and light novel.
 In the anime, we don't see Naofumi's thoughts, so what we have is essentially Raphtalia's viewpoint. She is purchased by yet another master but, unlike her previous one, this new one treats her very well. He buys her food when she is hungry, protects her from monsters in the field, prioritizes her equipment over his own, makes medicine to cure her illness, comforts her when she has nightmares, and even buys her a ball to play with for when she is done with her daily work.  It is little wonder that she becomes so devoted to him so quickly.  
In the light novel, by contrast, we have Naofumi's viewpoint, and it is a pragmatic one. Everything he is does for Raphtalia is about protecting his investment. She is no good to him dead, after all, and he doesn't have enough silver for a replacement slave. There is still the issue of the toy ball, though, and he admits to becoming fond of her. 

It came as a surprise to me that the Wave of Destruction was not the climax of the story. While it is a high point, what happens afterward is the true climax, and it is more fitting with the book as a whole and provides far greater catharsis. 

Now a note on the battle sequences. There are certain segments during the Wave of Destruction that appear to have been created for the anime to make it more engaging because I did not see them in the book. The book's event is good, don't get me wrong, but I think the author is more interested in "Naofumi the merchant" than "Naofumi the warrior".  The duel at the end of the book is also somewhat disappointing, effectively only showing Round 1 and then skipping to the conclusion. 

Also included in the book are two bonus chapters featuring Raphtalia and Motoyatsu, the Spear Hero. 
Raphtalia's chapter shows what her life was like before meeting Naofumi, which is only hinted at in the main narrative. It makes her even more sympathetic than before, as well as a deeper character. 
Motoyatsu's chapter is like a fun-house mirror. It is presented in his perspective, which sounds like a happy and pleasant thing on the surface, but scarcely conceals what is really going on. He is basically using his status as a Legendary Hero for ego-stroking, and ignores anything that does not fit his rosy image. One scene in particular can hit really hard in the feels when the pieces come together. 

Finally, a note on the wordcraft of the story.
 This story is written from Naofumi's perspective, so anything that he doesn't notice or doesn't feel important enough to describe or explain is not described or explained. If he doesn't realize a condition is in effect immediately, he will say something retroactively. This second part might be a remnant of the story originating as a web novel. 

Next, the dialogue does not always explicitly indicate who is talking. This may be confusing if you are not expecting it. It is a little confusing at times, but I do not see it as a problem. Why? Because whenever it happens, one can infer who said it based on what is said. 
The king speaks differently from the slave owner, and Naofumi speaks differently from the vendors he talks to . So one can tell who is speaking based on context. I think this is a side-effect of translation from Japanese to English, but I do not know for certain. Also, since the other three Legendary Heroes tend to appear as a group, they are effectively a cast herd, so it doesn't matter which of them said which thing, because it is appropriate for any of them to say it. Even so, one can spot differences and infer as time goes on. 

Trickster Eric Novels gives Rising of the Shield Hero volume 1 a B+

Click here for my next book review (for fun): A Witch's Printing Office volume 2

Click here for my previous book review (a request): Heart of the Curiosity


Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration). His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Review Request: The Heart of the Curiosity

H.L. Burke sent me a copy of her book, "The Heart of the Curiosity" so I could tell everyone what I think about it. I decided to read it because it sounded fun. Two kids exploring the catacombs of an old theater, facing puzzles and traps, to find a treasure at the end? Sounds like a classic dungeon delve. It is only kinda-sorta like that, but it is still a great story that I enjoyed reading.

I will examine plot, character and polish and then assign a grade. 

PLOT

The story begins with Leo and her little sister Muse escaping from a traveling carnival and making their way to the Curiosity, the greatest theater in the country. I mean that literally, the first paragraph is Leo is cutting open a canvas wall so she and Muse can jump off a moving cart. It is a fantastic introduction because of how it establishes the personalities of the sisters and their objectives. 
Leo is the pragmatic sort who wants a better life for her sister, and Muse is more romantic than her and wants to dance professionally. Achieving these goals would make for a fantastic story, which speaks well of Miss. Burke's ability to set up conflict and engaging characters quickly. However, the real conflict is a little different. 

It is a multi-layered thing. There's the financial troubles facing the Curiosity, the threats made against it by those outside it, and finally Leo's own more personal trouble relating back to the carnival and how it affects her today. All of these layers are skillfully wrapped together into a strong rope like that which holds up the Curiosity's curtains. There are many types of conflicts but they all meld nicely and support each other.

Personally, it was disappointing that the actual dungeon delve into the Curiosity's catacombs was so short. Far more time is spent simply finding the starting line than the delving, and when the starting line is found, the following traps and puzzles are not the focus of attention. It was definitely disappointing since this is what was highlighted in the book's blurb when I picked it up. Even so, it makes for an exciting and worthy climax. It is like being given a sub sandwich when you were expecting a hamburger; the former is still satisfying even if it is not what you were expecting.  

The ending is satisfying as well. It closes the stories conflict and resolves numerous plot threads so the falling action is complete and the reader experiences closure. It also opens up the possibility for future story down the road, thus achieving a "snap shot in the life of X" sort of thing. 


CHARACTERS
Leo is the protagonist, and she is a complicated character. On the surface, she is a grumpy girl with a major case of Big Sister Instinct, but she has a lot of layers. There's her love-hate relationship with her Knack (i.e. personal magic), for instance. She hates manipulating people's emotions but she still does so without prompting in many circumstances. She also seems to have a Madonna-Whore Complex but for guys. They're either depraved sexual predators or totally harmless and nonsexual saints, and she assumes the former until proven otherwise.
She is definitely a flawed character but also a very sympathetic one. She constantly meddles in her little sister's life and career, sometimes against her explicit wishes, but always with the best of intentions and a concealed personal reason that is totally understandable given her history. As distasteful as she finds her Knack, it is still a very useful one, and so a reader can understand why she relies on it while simultaneously hating it. 
Her weakness for pastries is a fun running gag.

Muse is also an interesting character. She is Leo's younger sister, and the focal point of Leo's life. She enters the story as a timid little thing that definitely needs Leo's looking after. Over time, she has a remarkable development into someone more vivacious. The phrase "colorful butterfly" comes to mind. She becomes as good at managing Leo, as Leo thinks she is at managing Muse. She doesn't have as much focus as Leo but she is still quite vivid as a character.
The sister-teasing is cute and funny.

Our third major character is Paxton, repairman who works in the Curiosity and is the nephew/grandson of the theater’s stagemistress and propmaster, respectively. He is also Leo's best and only friend (excluding Muse). He is a hard-working yet easy-going guy. Like Muse, he is a contrast and a foil for leading lady, Leo. She is typically stressed out about something, and he smooths things over. Yet, he certainly feels the weight of responsibility for the Curiosity, and has his own issues related to his past, just like Leo.

The villain of the story, Sturgis is a more archetypal Corrupt-Corporate-Executive. He is clever, sinister, and effective as a villain, but doesn't feel as multi-faceted as the other characters. As wealthy and renowned as he is, there does not appear to be a motive to his Evil Plan beyond base greed and petty bullying. Miss. Burke uses him as a catalyst to stir up conflict for the theater and for the other characters, and he serves this purpose excellently, but as a character himself, he falls flat, in my personal opinion. 

Finally, snail circus. It is adorable.

POLISH

It looks good. I don't recall any typos.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Heart of the Curiosity" an A+ 

Click here for my next book review (for fun): Rising of the Shield Hero - volume 1

Click here for my previous book review (a request): The Endless Lands

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration). His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Walking a Nature Trail is Inspiring - a brief novelist's perspective


Spring has come, and warm weather has come with it. So I decided to take a walk on a nature trail by my house. I haven't done that in a while, and it was a beautiful day. I am glad that I did. It was inspirational.

I don't see such all-encompassing nature often. Mostly, it is just the small and trimmed areas that line the roads on my way to work. These days, I don't even see that anymore. The only plant life that I have regular contact with is a tiny plant in my study, which I water every other day or so. I should probably do that less often because the soil is growing white moss. 

When I walked through that nature trail, by the water and among the trees, I realized anew why so many fairy tales take place in the woods.

They are so full of life. The many plants and many varieties of plants all around lead one to thinking of the world and all that it contains, and the little critters that one can spot can lead thoughts to other communities outside of human settlements. I spotted a family of ducks swimming by in the lake. They went about their business, maybe and maybe not noticing the large and alien creature that was observing them (i.e. me).

The tall trees and the foliage limit visibility, and so one can be surprised by what is just around the bend in the path. This happened to me numerous times. I trotted down this hill and was greeted by a new glade, mud puddle, or tree formation. I saw cross-roads, and those are linked to Fair Folk in stories. 
Take the wrong path and you might end up in the Land of the Faerie, a land renowned for its strangeness, wonder, and danger. To someone living on a farm, a forest would fit that description. 

You can meet strangers in the forest too.

A couple families were out enjoying nature as well, and our paths crossed going opposite directions. Naturally, we had to stay six feet apart due to COIVD-19 social distancing rules. I drifted a bit off the path to be that far away. I greeted them and they went on their way; a momentary meeting in the woods that happened by chance.

Shortly after that, I came across a bridge. Two bridges actually, one was made of wood and the other, metal. They span segments of the lake that is nearby. I like bridges. They represent connection between two places, and this can take many forms in the mind of a novelist. It could be the distance between two worlds, or a connection between two groups. With the woods on one side and a neighborhood of buildings on the other, this bridge was like the threshold between the world of humans and the world of Fair Folk. The metal bridge could add a layer of meaning to the connection; Cold Iron is supposedly poisonous to the Fair Folk, and so a bridge made of it would not a friendly bridge to the Fair Folk.

And so my nature walk came to an end. It was fun. I found much inspiration. So I decided to write when I returned home. 


Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration). His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Friday, May 8, 2020

The Endless Land (review request)

Rob Gregson asked me to read his novel, "The Endless Land: A Continuing Tale of Fantasy, Lies and Rebellion". This is the second book in the "Written World" series and the sequel to "Unreliable Histories",  which I enjoyed so I was looking forward to this one. It is an unusual book.

PLOT

Much like the first book, this book is a quest narrative. Myra, Al and Nevi are searching for the Diegesis Gate, which is "the only power worth having". Yay for Genius Bonuses.

The first thing I noticed about this book is that it follows a similar arc as the previous book. It has a slow hum-drum start followed by parodies of scenes or events in the genres of Adventure and Fantasy (particularly low fantasy). Then it gets into serious parody, which I mean a parody that includes drama or genuine danger, and then gets into something truly serious, which is the meat of the subject matter.
This makes the start of the book a slag to read through. The main characters are strangely absent in much of the opening scenes. There are numerous scenes jumps, and the scenes themselves are not established before the narrative moves along. There's even a scene about two bored people guarding a harbor. It goes on for several pages, and I don't understand why. I think it has something to do with the novel's concept of "being Here" (note the capital 'H'). I think it may have been addressed at the climax by SPOILER but it was still boring to read.
Seriously, there is an extended sequence near the end of the story that addresses all these (seemingly) unrelated scenes, what their purpose (or lack thereof) is, and the author uses this extended sequence and these scenes to make an interesting point about the nature of fiction, literature and general narration. Yet I cannot discuss it without spoiling everything. That wouldn't be fair to the characters.

Spoiler reasoning aside, the story doesn't pick up, in my opinion, until Supreme Lord Dahrrek appears. This is where the first hint of the story's true subject matter enters the narrative, and his conversations with Myra are fun and intriguing. Also, the way he acts so affable and benevolent when all of his subjects act like he's a stereotypical evil lord is a recurring running gag that is most useful when amusing the readers.  (I hope the author catches the reference I made just now).

Things get trippy towards the end, but it's all clear and makes perfect sense. I want to talk about how much I like the true conflict of this story, as well as its resolution and continuation (as opposed to ending), but to do so would be spoilers. It is such a well-thought out, fascinating, and ambitious idea that I don't want to give it away by providing any more hints in this review. So I hope the Author/Narrator is satisfied with these vague and generic remarks.

 CHARACTERS

Myra continues to develop, and it is a full and natural development. The way she learns about the world and its history, and how she uses that to handle her enemies, shows her background as a merchant but it also shows her as a person of compassion and understanding. She certainly has greater ambition and visionary scope than her uncle, but hasn't absorbed any of his obnoxious greed.

Dahrrek is another interesting character. The contrast between what he says and how people react is both funny and really relevant to the story's central theme and conflict. His part of the resolution is part of what makes the resolution so interesting.

The other characters are not quite so interesting. Al seems diluted from what he was in the previous story. He just doesn't have much to do besides ask questions and get confused by the answers he receives. Nevi is always fun to read about but he was distracted in the early bits of the story by a shape-shifting shark.
The villains feel insubstantial and interchangeable. Being called "The Cowl" by the narrative is mysterious and all, but it does little for characterization. I honestly can't tell him from any of his fellows because all of them appear to be the same basic template.

POLISH

The story looks good. I recall few if any typos.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Endless Land:  A Continuing Tale of Fantasy, Lies and Rebellion" a B+

This has been a free review request. The author asked for an honest review so I provided one.

Click here for my next book review (a request): The Heart of the Curiosity

Click here for my previous book review (for fun): Tai Chi Bible

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration). His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.