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 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.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Tai Chi Bible (read for knowledge, and fun)

Tai Chi Bible

This is yet another book I found at my local library (libraries are great!).

The first thing one should know about this book and its author, Dan Docherty, is that it is a book on practical Tai Chi. That is, this Tai Chi is meant to be a form of self-defense that would be effective in real-life situations. Mr. Docherty distinguishes this (Tai Chi Chuan) from Tai Chi that is practiced purely for competition aesthetics or for health benefits. The latter of these is the stereotypical really-slow one. Mr. Docherty considers these latter two kinds to be incomplete at best, and missing the entire point/corrupted at worst. This is one reason why some other Tai Chi practitioners consider him to be a "heretic". He addresses this in the front and back chapters.

I like practical applications of martial arts, so that was perfect for me. I wanted something that will be useful in addition to good exercise. I've been using several of the techniques in this book here every morning as part of my daily exercise. It is helpful to fully wake up and start my day. However, I do not think this book is quite practical enough.

The techniques are described with both pictures of people demonstrating the techniques and words that describe the technique and its application. Both are, in a word, laconic. It can take some time to figure out precisely how to perform the technique and how this translates into the practical application.

In particular, Mr. Docherty does not mention a starting position for each technique or says something along the lines of "from technique X", and I don't know if he means the start of the end of Technique X. It is rare for him to state which stance should be used. It is like he transliterates what he says to students in person and takes pictures of what said students look like after they take the right positions for each motion.

There is a section on weapons that has even less elaboration. They are one picture and a title; no words, instructions or diagrams present. I would hardly call this a "definitive guide".

After the core technique section, he references these techniques while discussing other subjects. He doesn't mention which page these techniques are on, so one has to either page through or go to the index. It is inconvenient.

At either end of the book, there are brief areas where Mr. Docherty talks about other things related to Tai Chi. He is unapologetic to say the least in his ideas about modern Tai Chi and practitioners that he disapproves of. He makes a lot of good points, but it feels like trashing people who trash on him.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Tai Chi Bible" a C+

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


Click here for my previous book review A Witch's Printing Office - 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.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

A Witch's Printing Office - volume 1 (read for fun)

A Witch's Printing Office - volume 1

This is something I found at my local library, and I like it so much I purchased a copy for myself. It is that much fun.

This is the story of Mika Kamiya, a witch who runs a printing office in a typical medieval fantasy world. She is also the head of the Magic Market Prep Committee, which runs the Magic Market. It is a semi-annual event where magic-users can gather to purchase spells from each other, be they expert professionals of large factions or amateurs working overnight just for this event.
In other words, it is basically a magical world version of real life's Comic Market/comiket. That is where its humor lies.

This is a Low Fantasy comedy story, and it likes poking gentle fun at dark/ high/otherwise serious fantasy stories. Each chapter begins with a bait-and-switch joke that APPEARS as though something epic is going on when it is actually something more mundane/non-dangerous.
For instance, the first chapter has the patrons of a tavern noting that a lot of monsters are gathering in "the Holy Land", which makes them think that the demon lord is reviving. There's even a group of knights whose mission is to slay these monsters.  However, these monsters are revealed to be conjured familiars of of mages who are attending Magic Market, and the knights are slaying them because it is against the rules for a familiar to hold a mage's place in line, especially overnight.  This happens in real-life, apparently, and the people who do it are called "overnight fiends".

This is not the only joke that parallels the real life Comic Market. Some of them are quick and obvious, but some are more subtle, or take longer to prepare.  One in particular had me thinking "No way...This isn't leading up to that, is it?" Then I laughed when the story did indeed lead up to that.

It is not all jokes, though. Chapter 2 takes an unexpected turn for the dramatic, and has excellent catharsis. Chapter 5 is intense. Even though it is a Mundane-Made-Awesome sort of chapter, it is still an exciting chapter. Chapter 6 is a complete package of drama, character development, humor, and plot progression.

I like Mika as a character. She is cute and friendly, but also serious about her job and has admirable work ethic. It is her pride as a professional that leads her to pull an overnight-er to complete urgent print jobs, and her concerns about her office staying solvent that create packages like "dragon slayer", which makes the job cost twice as much if it needs to be completed by morning.

Other characters aren't quite as well-rounded or developed as Mika is, but they are still plenty distinct and have interesting arcs to themselves. Naki the Necormancer, for instance, is sympathetic and Gandolf is a funny old man.

The artwork is great.
--> The battle with the "overnight fiends" looks epic, as does the "battlefield" that Broadway fights upon.
--> The settings, magic market, taverns, and, of course, the titular printing press, are all detailed and interesting to explore.
 --> The characters, like Mika and Naki, are cute.

Trickster Eric Novel gives "A Witch's Printing Press volume 1" an A+

Click here for my next book review: Tai Chi Bible

Click here for my previous book review (for fun): Spice and Wolf: Town of Strife 1 - v 8


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, March 29, 2020

Beginner Frustration after Thirteen Years

This is a stream-of-consciousness post that I wrote last week during a moment of writing angst. Revisions to my current WIP are taking longer and have been more difficult than I expected, which prompted this outlet into a different form of writing. 

______________________

Ten years. thirteen years. I lose track. I have to count them up every flippin' time. It is about thirteen years. In any case, it is over a decade since I started writing original fiction. YET I STILL FEEL LIKE A BEGINNER.

Story building. Conflict. Character construction. perspective. the art of prose. Just laying words on the page. All of it is still so... immature. I read it and it is half-baked. 

I'm not talking about first draft material. First draft material is crap. It is always crap. I don't mind if the first draft is crap. I'm talking about fourth draft material.

The fifth book of my Journey to Chaos series is in its fourth draft. To be precise, it is the second rewrite of the fourth draft. The first version of the first rewrite collapsed in on itself about 2/3 of the way through. I realized that the story I had written could not sustain itself. So many errors, it was like rotten wood. I had to create a second rewrite, which is something I've never had to do before.  Did I mention this was my fifth book? 

My fourth book was also a disappointment. I re-read it now and I'm amazed I published this thing. Maybe "horrified" is the better word. Maybe I'm over-reacting. I don't think it is a bad story, but poorly executed. It's like I published the second draft. 

I saw myself as getting better with each book. I think the second is better than the first and the third better than the second. Then I come to #4. Now I'm struggling with #5 in a way that I haven't before. Was I just lucky with earlier books? Am I only now, after thirteen years, developing actual skill as a writer? 

When I read the work of superior authors, I was happy to see how much better they were. I could learn by example. It was a mindset of "I'm new at this, so I will learn from those older and more experienced". Now, thirteen years later, how can I still see myself as new? 

I thought I'd have more books written and published by now. I have so many plots that I want to write, yet I remain in my first series. I want to finish this series so I can move on, but if I look to horizon then I stumble on the stones in my path. I don't want to put out another stinker, especially not two in a row. 

I'm not a professional author. I do it in my spare time. I have a day job. The amount of time I have to write before I die of old age is already limited. Yet so much of it is lost on rewrites, overhauls, and extra drafts because I lack skill, or awareness, or even the capacity to plan.

Planing has never worked for me. I want to plan events and story lines so I can be more efficient and avoid so much rewriting. Yet, it has never worked. The actual writing is never what happened on the outline (maybe not "never" but rarely).

Thirteen years, and four books. Now I'm writing this blog post. 

It hurts, somehow to see better storylines, better direction, better execution. It's like "I see how they did that, I know how it works, so why can't I do it myself?" Or maybe it is like "how did I not see that over thirteen years? Have I been a blind man stumbling through all this time, and just now actually seeing?"  That would be luck. 

Maybe I should be glad that I do notice those things. If I were to remain blind, I would not see how bad my writing is, and it would remain so.
Hey
I just remembered a quote. "it is far better to light the candle than to curse the darkness". Quote Investigator says this is originally part of a sermon from William L Watkinson. 

That is what I should focus on.

_____________________________________________________

Adding this part to the end of each post has become a non-thinking habit. But this time, adding it makes me feel better.

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, March 21, 2020

Spice and Wolf: Town of Strife 1 - v 8 (read for fun)

This is an unusual volume for many reasons.

For one, it is the first two-parter. I will say right now that it ends in a cliff-hanger. Normally, I do not like this but I am willing to give Hasekura-sensei a pass on this one because he addressed it in his author's notes. He tried to fit it all in one volume, but the story was too big for this to work. He would have to remove so much the story would not make sense or have the same impact. As an author myself, I totally understand that.

This volume is also unusual is that it has more than one plot thread. Previous volumes had one economic thing with Holo's search being in the background. Here, the two of them are on more equal footing. The trio of Lawrence, Holo and Cole are following a rumor of wolf deity bones primarily but are also dragged into a local economic thing, which has a lot more facets than I am used to. To be frank, I couldn't follow this one as well as the previous volumes.

I think this is because the volume's economic plot is bigger and more complicated than previous plots. It involves the town's administrative leaders, the HQ of the Rowan merchant's guild, of which Lawrence is a member, at least two other trading companies, Eve the fallen noble, the church as an intra-continental organization, and a mystery party that supposedly has already obtained the wolf deity bones. Making this all the more complicated, the town is split twin-cities style into north and south, with pagans dominating the north and non-pagans the south.
Indeed, I get the felling that Lawrence himself is having trouble following this particular economic adventure because he is caught-off guard more than usual and a good chunk of the plot is him collecting information and sending Holo and Cole out to fetch more separate from him, all so that he can determine what is going on. In that case, my confusion is a Intended Audience Reaction.

There is greater lore here than in previous volumes. I feel I have a better mental image of the town of Kerube than I did of earlier towns because there is more scenic detail of the town itself and its delta. The surrounding countryside, too, is filled in with details like the Roam River (which was the setting of volume 6) and the Roef Mountains that it flows down from, and where Cole was born. We also get to see the trade guild that Lawrence belongs to, and his relationship to it is unexpectedly non-friendly.

For those seeking the usual banter between Lawrence and Holo, fear not! for in that way this volume is not unusual. There is plenty of verbal jousting here, particularly in the first chapter. The addition of Cole gives Holo additional means to tease and provoke.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Spice and Wolf: Town of Strife 1 -  v 8" a A+

Click here for my next book review: A Witch's Printing Office - volume 1

Click here for my previous book review: Ah! My Goddess! The Devil in Miss Urd


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.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Ah! My Goddess! The Devil in Miss Urd (read for fun)

This appears to be a collection of sequential chapters from the main series. It follows the origins, creation, and aftermath of Mara creating a full-devil version of Urd. So Urd is basically the main character of this particular volume.

The meat of the story is Urd's complicated relationship with Mara. They are friends and they enjoy hanging out together for drinks and karaoke etc. but they're also enemies because of their respective jobs as a goddess and a devil. Mara's attempt to create a full-devil version of her friendly enemy could be an attempt at resolving this (it's implied this is the case when she talks to Urd at the time of the clone's creation).
Keichi and his relationship with Belldandy is very much a secondary thing here. It's like they're the domestic and romantic beta couple to the more turbulent friendship of Urd and Mara.

There's lots of sisterly love here too. Skuld is essentially tsundere to her oldest sister during the central chapters, which is adorable. The final showdown between devil!Urd and goddess!Urd can be compared to Urd's tendency for Big Sister Bully vs her Big Sister Instinct. Then, of course, Belldandy's concern and empathy for Urd is so sweet you will go "aww" at the climax.

Also, a limelight chapter for Ban-pei. That was fun, and unexpected.

The whole thing is suffuse with comedy, but these do not undermine the more action-y or suspenseful scenes. The chapters flow really well into one another, while still being fun in and of themselves.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Ah! My Goddess! The Devil in Miss Urd" an A+

Click here for my next book review: Spice and Wolf: Town of Strife 1 - v 8

Click here for my previous book review: Hungry for You - Endo Yasuko Stalks the Night v2

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, March 14, 2020

Hungry for You - Endo Yasuko Stalks the Night v2 (read for fun)

This is a book I found at my local library. It looked like a romantic comedy staring a vampire, and I have seen few of those so I was intrigued.

Endo Yasuko, the vampire in question, is looking for her sire (the vampire that turned her into a vampire), who is supposedly also the one responsible for girls going missing in the area. However, this does not figure into most of the events of this volume. It seems largely to be slice-of-life to me. For instance,
*one chapter includes a visit from Shizune's parents (who is the roomate/"emergency rations" for Yasuko).
*one chapter includes Akira, a classmate, troubled by a smutty dream involving Yasuko (it doesn't go further than a kiss/bite while both of them are fully clothed).
*Yasuko reflecting on her past and visiting her childhood home, which is now a cultural landmark.
Finding the sire, and engaging with them, is the climax of the volume, and maybe for the story itself. It is a good climax and a good conclusion.

This sire makes for a great foil with Yasuko because her behavior underscores how healthy Yasuko's relationship with Shizune is in comparison.
Yasuko and Shizune are roommates. They share the apartment rent and household responsibilities. While Yasuko drinks Shizune's blood, it is only a little bit at a time to minimize the side-effects. In contrast, the relationship between Yasuko's sire and the missing girls is presented as abusive. This other vampire locks them up and drains them until they develop Stockholm syndrome and become malnourished husks. The parallels between intensive blood-draining and drug addiction are striking.

The artwork is good, but I occasionally had trouble determining whose speech bubble belonged to whom.

It is regularly funny, and has some touching moments. It is worth looking into if you like Shoujo-ai.


Trickster Eric Novels gives Hungry for You: Endo Yasuko Stalks the Night v2 a C+

Click here for my next book review: Ah! My Goddess! The Devil in Miss Urd

Click here for my previous book review: If It's For My Daughter I'd Even Fight a Demon Lord 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.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

If It's For My Daughter I'd Even Fight a Demon Lord volume 2 (read for fun)

If It's For My Daughter I'd Even Fight a Demon Lord (volume 2)

I found this book at the local library. I liked the idea of the two leads being a guy and his daughter instead of love interests. It's a different sort of appeal, so I checked it out.
This review is for the manga version of volume 2. There is a light-novel version but I found the manga version.

It is cute. The artwork is cute, the events are cute and the relationship between the two leads is cute.
On one side, we have the doting-parent Dale who gushes about how adorable, sweet, and talented his daughter is, and on the other side we have the happily-adopted Latina, who cheerfully hugs him and loves doing nice things for him. One thing I thought was odd, though, is that while Dale refers to Latina as his daughter, she never refers to him as "my dad" or "father". Since I haven't read the first volume, perhaps I missed where that is established. Latina is of the demon race so maybe it has to do with the demon culture of this particular verse.

This volume includes several small events that do not appear connected, to me at least. These are Dale being away on a royal mission, Latina playing with other children, Dale teaching Latina beginner magic, discussions of food for a hot day, and why so many adventurers are suddenly so interested in the "lost cat" mission. I guess this is a slice-of-life series.

If you are interested in Sweet-Dreams-Fuel, then this is a good series to find some. There isn't much else to recommend it. All the events revolve around Latina and her activities so it is definitely a "cute girl doing cute things" sort of story. It is also rather short. I finished it in less than two hours.

Trickster Eric Novels gives
"If It's For My Daughter I'd Even Fight a Demon Lord volume 2" manga version a C+

Click here for my next book review: Hungry for you - Endo Yashuko Stalks the Night volume 2

Click here for my previous book review: Sword Art Online Progressive 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.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Joy of being a Devious Dungeon Master

Anyone who thinks being a dungeon master is "not really playing" can expect disagreement from me.

Listening to the players describe their plan and then leading them into an encounter. Their sense of anticipation and nerves when you unexpectedly draw a combat map. The thrill when they fall into a trap. The satisfaction when you describe something they think is important enough to write down, and their speculation about what is to come. The sheer fun that comes from roleplaying a scene you outlined, thereby bring it to life.

This is the joy of the Dungeon Master.

It has been some time since I became the game master for my D&D group (one of two), and I think I'm finally getting the hang of it. There's a lot of stuff to keep track of: monster abilities and stats,  which monster has which HP total, the conditions, the initiative order, etc. Then there's the stuff to track of this information. I had to buy school supplies (pencils, notebook paper, folders, etc.) in addition to tools like condition markers and find a way of arranging it all behind the DM screen.

 It can get confusing, and every fumble you make slows down the game and decreases everyone's fun i.e. the real loot. My first several sessions suffered because I tried to manage everything from my smart phone. Now I go lower tech,  one notepade, one sticky note pad, and paper copies of notes and maps. All this prep has been worth it.

More recent sessions have gone smoother than those earlier ones, and in my personal opinion, the last one has been the best so far. I planned something for everyone's character to do and improvised as necessary. I stuck to these notes instead of ignoring them without reason. I looked to the mechanical side of things as well as the narrative potential, remembering that I a dungeon master instead of an author in this scenario. No rail-roading, just collaborating.

And it worked.

We had lots of good roleplay as the party prepared for the final assault upon a goblinoid war camp. I dropped plot hooks for adventurers after this one, which they picked up and used as suited their characters. I lead them into a goblin trap but they suspected something amiss and only the rogue player triggered it, who was best equipped to survive it. Then the battle commenced.

It will begin in earnest at the start of my next session as dungeon master, and I can hardly wait.

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, February 15, 2020

Sword Art Online Progressive volume 1 (read for fun)


The Progressive series goes back to the beginning. This is the first floor of Aincrad,  and we see the details of Kirito's life there, how he met Asuna and the start of the march through the floating castle. This is SAO the way it was meant to be.

The original volume had to end with the game being cleared due to real life context i.e. a contest's deadline. So Reki Kawahara didn't have space or time for really digging into the mechanics of the game or the relationships of the players. This volume does both.

For instance, there is the distinction between safe zones in a dungeon and inns within the town limits. While both are clear of monsters and allow players to rest, the former is still an area within a dungeon. It is dimly light, the surfaces are stone-hard and the monsters can still be heard prowling and growling. So while a player can technically rest they won't be truly rested. This tidbit is used to develop the character of our leading couple.

Kirito, the VR nerd, fully buys into the reality of Aincrad. He considers it to be reality as far as day-to-day living and surviving go, and so he is surprised when Asuna tells him that she is camping out in the dungeon. As the academic achiever who has never touched a game before using her brother's copy of SAO on a whim, she fully rejects the reality of Aincrad. She considers everything to be fake except for sleeping, which she isn't doing much of anyway because of the camping-in-a-dungeon thing.

Thus the stage is set for the beginning of their relationship. Despite being from vastly different backgrounds, Reki Kawahara quickly draws a parallel between them. Whether it is competitive gamers or ambitious students, both want to reach the highest score and neither wants to fall behind their peers. There is also mutual admiration of each other's skills. Kirito immediately compares Asuna's agility and grace to that of a shooting star while Asuna is amazed by the finesse and efficiency of Kirito's combat maneuvers.

But this book is not solely about Kirito and Asuna. Reki Kawahara has other nicely developed characters to interact with them and push the plot forward.

Diavel is a set up as a counterpart to Kirito, a beta-tester who is focused on surviving and scoring L.A. bonuses but there is a key difference. Diavel presents as a knight, a classic knight in shining armor, while Kirito is totally into his solo selfish swordsman identity. By his confidence and charisma, Diavel pulls together and leads the first floor-boss raiding party. In contrast, Kirito totally freezes up in any social situation that is not pure game based (the first thing he says to Asuna is about monster-overkill). 

Then, of course, there is Argo, the information broker with a teasing sense of humor. Also a beta-tester, she contrasts the two boys with her different approach to the game, sneaking and spying instead of slaying monsters. She contrasts the aloof-and-proper Asuna in a similar way in their interactions with others.

Back to the game mechanics now, only one of which is the focus of the third "arc" of this volume. It is the weapon upgrading system. I didn't know anyone could make reading about two people grinding for monster drops exciting, nor create so much suspense rooted in manipulation of a player's menu window.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Sword Art Online Progressive volume 1" an A+

Click here for my next book review (for fun): If It's For My Daughter I'd Even Fight a Demon Lord

Click here for my previous book review: Xanathar's Guide to Everything (D&D rulebook)

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, February 2, 2020

Xanathar's Guide to Everything (D&D book review)

Xanathar's Guide to Everything

This is a supplement for the core books of Dungeons and Dragons fifth edition. It is framed as the personal investigations of "the Xanathar". This is the title of Waterdeep's crime lord, who is typically a beholder. At least this one is. Many pages have little footnotes from this beholder that give his perspective of whatever is on the page in question. Being an insane and paranoid aberration, the Xanthar has a different perspective than the reader, providing both comic relief and additional flavor.

This book provides great stuff for both dungeon masters and players. It's like a fusion of the player's handbook and the dungeon master's guide. Seriously, there are three chapters and there is something for everyone here. The first is new class archetypes, additional character flavor options and racial feats. The second provides options for tool proficiencies, random generators for encounters, guidance on traps, and downtime options, among many other things. The third chapter is a list of new spells, and both sides can take advantage of that.

I liked reading about the additional archetypes, both for their mechanical traits and their roleplaying possibilities. For instance, the Divine Soul Sorcerer has a feature where they can learn cleric spells in place of sorcerer ones, and so I would like to play such a one with the acolyte background and start a running gag of "I'm not a cleric, I'm a priest".
 On the other hand, the Arcane Archer Fighter feels intensely limited. It can only use its magic arrows twice per short rest. Even the Battle Master gets more uses than that. Granted, a player can decide to use the magic arrows after the attack succeeds and they will eventually gain a feature so they never start initiative without one use but it feels limited because the number of magic arrows never grows. Nor do the effects last as long as the similarly limited Wild Shape used by the druids. Then again, it also gains stuff outside of magic arrows, like the ability to make their ammo "magical" for the purpose of overcoming damage resistance, while the Battle Master is entirely bound to its limited maneuvers.

I've referred to this book frequently since I purchased it because of its DM advice. At the time I first read this book I had a party that included a character that liked to fly and one who liked to craft things, and this helps to manage both in the campaign. The downtime options are also appreciated for when they want to take a break from adventuring. I've used the random generator in a previous session, and it provided the seed for a springboard encounter.

The good artwork continues here. The new archetypes get profile pictures, and all of them together makes for an interesting contrast. Furthermore, the section on traps has delightful illustrations of them at work, such as an adventurer clinging to top of a pit trap.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Xanathar's Guide to Everything" an A+

Click here for my next book review: Sword Art Online Progressive volume 1

Click here for my previous book review: Monster Manual for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition

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.