Sunday, September 30, 2018

Read for fun: The Sword and the Mind

I picked this book up some time ago out of curiosity. It is about techniques and philosophy from the Shinkage school of swordsmanship. This book itself was translated by Hiroaki Sato; the original was
written by Yagyu Munenori in the 17th century.

It has three basic categories:
1. Historical context and introduction written by Hiroaki Sato (along with translation footnotes).
2. A list of techniques with instructions and illustrations created by the historical swordsmen.
3. Philosophy, school principles, mental techniques anecdotes to illustrate a point etc. also created by the historical swordsmen.

It's interesting stuff.

I enjoyed reading the historical context because I like reading about history, and having such context for the latter two categories is indeed helpful for understanding them.

The list of techniques and their illustrations are, obviously, most useful for those who will learn and practice them. Even then, this is not something that can teach swordsmanship on its own. Indeed, Yagyu Munenori frequently mentions how difficult it is just to describe the techniques, and also writes that something will "be transmitted verbally" because a teacher is necessary. Even then, the techniques themselves are only the first stage. Once the student has achieved the proper mindset through training with them, he no longer has any use for them.

The meat of the matter, from my perspective at least, is the third category, the philosophy behind the techniques that was crafted by the men in their historical context.

A summary would be misleading and insufficient but, in a nutshell, it advocates an empty mind. This does not one that is lacking anything but rather one that is not cluttered. A mind that is free to move around and indeed, does move around. This is the Zen influence, which both the author and the translator make note of.
It is frequently stated how important it is that a mind not "tarry" or become fixated on any given thing, including a desire not to be fixated. Interestingly, Yagyu Munenori states that Confucians are stuck at the beginner level because of their fixation on "kei", which Hiroaki Sato translates as "respect" or "reverence".

I enjoyed reading this and I found it useful but it is too far outside my usual grading rubric for a proper grade

Trickster Eric Novels gives " The Sword & the Mind: The Classic Japanese Treatise on Swordsmanship and Tactics" a +

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

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

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Answering review request: The Tribute

Matthew Ward asked me to read his story "The Tribute". This is the fourth story that I've reviewed for him (Shadow of the Raven, Light of the Radiant, A Matter of Belief). I rated all of them highly and so I was excited to read this one, and even then it surpassed my expectations.

PLOT

The conflict is simple: a Fae Lord is causing trouble in a village and the village's leader sends his daughter to appease him.

The opening for this story is so awesome, it has its own blog post (click here for that one). Here, I will simply say that it is effective for setting the tone of this story: spooky and atmospheric. Even the oatmeal in the following scene is effective for the warm-family-life thing.

It is very much a classic Hero's Journey, and I think that's why I like it so much. The Call to Adventure, Trials and Tribulations, The Abyss and the Return; all elements are presented in a professional manner. It is classic. Perhaps fairy-tale-ish is a better term.

I like the way it is structured. Something that looks like a coincidence is actually something set up in advance. Something that might be a literal deus ex machina, it actually foreshadowed at numerous points. There are staggered revelations up until the end.

It has a satisfying climax and the close of the story is....well, I don't want to say exactly but other than fitting. It is a perfect, in my opinion, thematic ending for a story hinging on Fair Folk and fairy tale gods.

CHARACTERS

I like Mira. She is a plucky girl with a sense of duty and responsibility. She is also a Daddy's Girl that is brave on her own. She has flaws that can be expected of a teenager, such as over-confidence or not thinking something all the way through.

Jaldor Jarn sounds like an archetypal knight errant or paladin. He is, but he has a deeper and more nuanced personality than For Great Justice. He also has really thick skin given that Mira is suspicious of him even as he rescues her. It's like, if Mira is Little Red Riding Hood, then he is the woodcutter who gracefully acknowledges that someone like himself could be just as dangerous as the wolf.

Jack or Jerrack, the Lord of Fellhallow, is the villain of this story. He is also one of the Great Powers and his domain is life in general and forests in particular. He is arrogant and sinister; a spooky villain for a spooky forest. He is also petty, which, in a strange way, warps back around into a form of kindness.

POLISH

It looks good.

This story definitely stands on its own, separate from the books in this 'verse while relating to them. However, readers will complete Light of the Radiant before this one will discover an extra treat.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Tribute" an A+, which means that Matthew Ward is the second author to be added to my Hall of Fame.


Click here for my next book review (for fun): The Sword and the Mind

Click here for my previous book review (also for fun): The Medieval Siege

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

Monday, September 10, 2018

Read for Fun: The Medieval Siege

This is a textbook I kept from a college class because I thought it would be useful reference material. I didn't read a tenth of it at the time because there was enough time for it. Anyway, I finished it the other day.

This book traces a path in siege warfare in Europe and western Asia (the Middle East etc.) from the end of the Roman Period through the Reformation (around the end of the 1400s). It deals with tactics, equipment, and the social/political/religious stuff involved with sieges themselves.

I like the beginning and ending of this book; no that is not a backhanded compliment.

The first several chapters have great information pertaining to siege warfare. It talks about sieges in detail, and also generally. That is, the course of a typical siege. It compares between Roman, post-Roman and "barbarian" methods and equipment. There is a lot of information in particular about the Viking period. The background of sieges is explored: logistics, maintenance of fortifications, internal affairs and external relations etc.
There is a lot of stuff that I find useful and what I would expect to find in a book that deals exclusively with sieges.

The middle chapters are more about general history. To grossly oversimplify, it is a list of names and places and results. I imagine I could find similar information in any book about the crusading period or the Hundred Years War,  or even in an online thing like Wikipedia. The density of siege details is lower. They're still useful, but between the chapters before and the chapters later, they feel superfluous.

The later chapters reverse this trend. They are a chapter about siege equipment and a chapter about siege conduct and customs. It is compact stuff about throwing machines, mining, and "dirty tricks", that is followed by even more informative siege conduct, surrender terms, and the evolution in what was done and what was acceptable, as seen by chroniclers over time.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Medieval Siege" by Jim Bradbury a B+

Click here for my next book review (for review): The Tribute

Click here for my previous book review (also for fun): Dungeons and Dragons e3.5 Dungeon Master's Manual

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).

Saturday, September 1, 2018

The Tribute has a FANTASTIC opening


"The Tribute" is a fantasy short story by Matthew Ward, and it has a FANTASTIC opening.

Right from the start it sets its mood. The opening of a story is difficult, because there is nothing to work from. By invoking the witching hour in an organic manner, the mood is set for supernatural creepiness.

It is a couple pages long, but several thing are accomplished without bumping into each other. The protagonist, her personality, her natural clairvoyance, her history of not being All of The other Reindeer, are smoothly established. Initial world building is set up to prepare for the coming adventure. All of this wraps around the immediate event and comes together in a spooky atmosphere.

It is quick, compact and powerful.

It is impressive.

As soon as I read it, as an author, I marveled at it. I wrote the above paragraphs immediately because I wanted to gush about it later.  It is only by trying (and failing) to write something this good that can truly appreciate just how good it is.
This book takes place in the same universe as other novels by Matthew Ward. I've reviewed three of them: Light of the Radiant,  Shadow of the Raven, and A Matter of Belief

For the full review of this book, Click here

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).

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Read for fun: D&D Dungeon Master's Manual

I finished reading the Dungeon's Master Manual for D&D e3.5 recently. In addition for its stated purpose, the game itself, I find it is also tremendously helpful in for novel writing as well. For me, at least, it does double duty as one of those how-to-write books. It is particularly useful because D&D is the root of my favored genre.

It has extended lessons and quick tips for writing plots and handling multiple characters. It has numerous plot prompts and story hooks, as well as means for investing both characters and players (or in my case, readers) into the adventure. It covers both long-term arc plotting as well as improvisation. There's lots of help for quickly creating NPCs. It even has rules for things like daily weather, which I tend to forget to include. These rules inspired me to create my own system so that I remember to include these little, background, things. This alone does wonders for setting and scene.

Just the initial distinction of adventure is a big help. There is the "kick in the door" style of starting at the dungeon and fighting everything inside, or the more ease-into-adventure that has more role-playing and narrative. That is the primary distinction between Journey To Chaos and my next flagship series, currently untitled.

Journey To Chaos starts with Eric and establishes his character, his conflict, etc. before there is any action. My next protagonist will be introduced beating the shit out of enemies. Currently, (first draft material) she will quickly find a story hook and go straight into the unknown world for adventure and plunder.

If I ever started DMing, I feel like this book will give me all the necessary tools.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Dungeons and Dragons: Dungeon Master's Manual E3.5" an A+


Click here for my next book review The Medieval Siege

Click here for my previous book review (also for fun): Sword Art Online Volume 10

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).

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Mini Excerpt - The Highest Power - Battle the Tront

Hello all,

This excerpt is from the chapter I am currently working on. It is chapter five of the third draft. Here we have a motely crew fighting a tree giant, which is called a "tront" in my 'verse. The wider context is full of spoilers.

Incidentally, I corrected one spelling error and one grammatical error while composing this excerpt. Please keep in mind that it hasn't seen a proof-reader yet.

______________________________________________


The ground shook. It shook again, and then a third time. It was foot falls. From within a ravine, a tront appeared. It walked on two sequioa legs whose branches intertwined to form a torso and chest before further branching out to form arms and fingers. Its head was a pair of glowing eyes within a leafy canopy on top of its chest. Even Nayr had to crane his neck back to see them.

            "These things are slow! We can outrun it."

            "Big Brother's Love: Mode Change: Better Safe Than Sorry."

            The bow in Annala's hands shimered. A secondary set of runes appeared next to the ruined primary set.  At its creator's command, it transformed into a different style. Then it displayed a holographic list of options. The ability to fire lethal arrows was gone; all of them debilitated enemies from a distance. Annala looked them over, choose one and said, "You are not older than me." Then she fired.

            As she expected, the arrow did not damage the tree giant. Instead, it released a cloud of darkness big enough to smother its leafy head. While it stumbled, the party ran in the other direction. A wall of thorns stopped them dead. Looking back, Annala saw a trio of slyphs hovering above the tront, blowing away the last of the darkness around it.

            "Hey Lawful Pirate! I'll hit him high if you hit him low."

            Hasina angled her staff and cast a simple earth spell. Amplified by her great spirit, a super barrage of pepples assaulted the slyph trio.  It stunned long enough for Tolv to banished them with fairy dust. This cleared a path for Nayr and Tiza to charge the tront. Annala fired another arrow over their heads.
            It exploded into more darkness. The tront staggered as Tiza dashed to its right leg. Her elven sword ignited as she swung it.
_____________________________________________

The last excerpt I posted was from chapter 20 and it was the second draft. You can find it here.

To learn more about the Journey to Chaos series, you can visit Tvtropes at http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/JourneyToChaos.

The Journey to Chaos series is available for purchase at Amazon: http://amzn.to/10NsG2i

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).

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Using game rules to ease writing. (Journey to Chaos homebrewing)

Recently, I started homebrewing rules for a tapletop game set in my Journey to Chaos series. It came about when I was brainstorming the next flagship series for this....I guess it is (or is going to be) more of a franchise than a series.

I've been experimenting with dice to ease the creation of battles. I didn't use any classes, or stats, or skills, etc.  I thought creating all that would be too much trouble at this late stage in the series (book 5 out of 5). So battles were basically "two rolls, higher number wins" with situational modifiers if there were any. That worked out well. So I planned to expand the system.

I wanted to roll stats for my next main cast and I immediately hit snags. When you get down into the numbers, and balancing them all, it is overwhelming. I tip my hat to anyone who has crunched all the numbers for all the characters, and all the monsters and how they all progress in power etc. to create a tapletop dice game. For instance....

My book series, Journey to Chaos, has the power of the soul as a central element. The strength of it, the skill with using it, the intensity of it, etc. governs the entire setting: non-magical combat, both military and domestic magic, the threat of monsters, and the structure of society. If I were to add this stat to any given system, it would change everything about that system. Even if I were to create my own system from the ground up, it would dominate the other stats. In this particular setting that I plan to write, only a handful of people even know about spiritual power and fewer know how to use it effectively.  This would make battles a foregone conclusion; there would be no need to roll the dice, and if the stronger spirit lost the roll, how would I narrate that?

By now, I should say that this was never intended to be a homebrew that anyone could play. It was just for me to guide my writing, and as such, it was going to involve a LOT of Game Master/Author discretion. For instance, there would be no hit points.  Balancing hit points with the monsters I create and the characters I create and the level progression of all of them would be too much work.

As I write this post, I've been thinking about this homebrewing thing for a couple weeks now. The rules I made have come to sound....limiting. Even with my homebrewing, I don't want to be shackled to dice rolls. I don't want to be bound by stats or skill levels. It was fun thinking through all this stuff but I'll probably chuck it all and go back to writing without it.


Simplicity is the key. One die, perhaps a d6 such as ones that are used in board games, to determine everything with one or two rolls. I like that. No complicated rules. No percentages. No progression of stats or skill levels. This will be something quick and easy to add to the immediate setting and smoothly progress through battles and other events.

That would make all of this, and this blog post, a shaggy dog story. Huh...

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).

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Read for Fun: Sword Art Online volume 10

Sword Art Online volume 10 is the second part of the Alicization arc,  Alicization Running. Aside from Reki Kawahara's skill in general, I'm continuing to enjoy this arc because of how distinct it is from previous ones.

First of all, it is split in two segments, one for Asuna and one for Kazuto.

I like the first one because it has a genre shift to Mystery. Asuna has to put her head together with Silica, Suguha and Yui to find Kazuto so that they can rescue him. It can be seen as a flip of the alpha couple's situation at the start of volume 2, and, in fact, Yui points this out. She has a MUCH harder time of it than Kazuto.


He was forwarded a picture taken in a publicly available server. She has to search for clues, piece them together, and make logical deductions that drift rather far into conspiratorial speculation. Then she has to devise a way to enter a private, highly secured, area. It is not action-y but it is awesome. Really, that scene was my favorite part of the book.

The continuing development of the mechanics of Underworld fascinate me. It is a shame that SAO's haters don't read the light novels. Then they would see that Reki Kawahara's is not some hack terminally dependent on harem fanservice. There is a ton of thought and foresight and literary skill going into the science fiction here, and more goes into how it is set up and delivered through the narrative.

There is this one scene in particular where a human talks with his fluctlight clone, and the clone has a critical case of Cloning Blues. It is genuinely unsettling. It is an existential terror.

As for Kazuto's section, he is still inside Underworld where he goes by Kirito. This book is about the VR nerd part of him. He spends basically the whole of his section trying to figure out how the Underworld works, and he does it through experimentation. The OP Mary-Sue that haters insist that he is cannot be found here; he has three fights and two of them are against practioners with more experience than him. The later two are struggles and neither of them is a victory. Neither is the harem seeker his detractors deride him as present in this volume. On the contrary, he resolves to be a Celibate Hero out of faithfulness to Asuna.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Sword Art Online Volume 11: Alicization Running" an A+


Click here for my next book review (also  for fun): Dungeons and Dragons - Dungeon Master's Manual
Click here for my previous book review (also for fun): Don't Know Much About History


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).

Monday, August 6, 2018

Playing D&D in person

I've read Dungeons and Dragons rulebooks, I started using dice to aid my novel writing, and I've started watching Critical Role. I've also looked for a place that I could play the game myself. Today, I stopped by a place.

It's a café/game shop that hosts a lot of games other than Dungeons and Dragons. In fact, there was a Magic: The Gathering tournament starting while I was there. It's about fifteen minutes from where I work, and about the same from my home if I use the highway. I was happy about that; convenience, you know?

I spoke with the guy behind the counter and he explained how it worked. D&D day is later in this week. There is a beginner period before the main event so I'll arrive early to catch that. Most of the time I spent there was actually spent among the merchandise.

I'm building a collection of miniatures to use in staging battles and other events in my novel. It's helpful to have something solid like to see distance and such. I found some great figures for a series that I plan to write after The Highest Power is published and the Journey to Chaos series is complete.  Three of them are for MCs (which is starting to blend with PCs in my mind...), one is a more minor character, and the others are likely going to be Red Shirts. There were others, but I didn't see an immediate so I restrained myself.

I think this is going to be fun.

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).

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Mini Excerpt - The Highest Power chapter 20 second draft


Lately, I've been sharing these mini-excerpts at my Facebook author page. Unlike Sassy Saturday, they are from works in progress instead of published work. In fact, I typically post stuff that I wrote the previous night or several days before (as the case may be).  They were smaller so I put them there instead of here. However, I think putting them here is a better idea. What pushed me over the top in this decision was the apparent character limit to the "Your Page's Story" sharing option.

Though this is second draft material, it is not fully finished or completely polished. Please forgive spelling mistakes or whatever because my editor hasn't seen this yet.

This excerpt is from the chapter that I finished revising about three hours ago. The context for it is too involved to explain in brief. It is also heavy into spoilers.
_________________________________________--


"My day has been busy, thanks for asking!" Slamming the tray down on a wagon the baker shouted, " Matthew! The bagels!" A small tiger jumped out of hiding and stood at the front of the wagon, looking fierce.

            "Local custom?"


            The baker sat next to the cat and clacked the reigns. "Onward!"


            Eric jumped aboard. "Well?"


            "Get off my cart, boy, before I kick you off and feed you to my tiger!"


            Eric nonchalantly stroked the cat's head and it nuzzled his hand. The baker groaned and face palmed. "Some protection....The golden haired beast will laugh at me."
 

            "Golden haired beast?" Eric asked. "Is a monster bothering you?"
            The baker raised an eyebrow. "You ate with it!"

            "Kallen? She's not a monster. She's-"

            "A monster! She may have been human once but she's a monster now. Those stripes in her hair prove it. Hair is fundamental DNA and hers has changed. That's why she did such a terrible thing to her own sister!"
________________________________________________________
 
The next excerpt of The Highest Power is chapter five of draft #3. You can find it here

 To learn more about the Journey to Chaos series, you can visit Tvtropes at https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/JourneyToChaos.

The Journey to Chaos series is available for purchase at Amazon: http://amzn.to/10NsG2i

 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).

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Read for Fun: Don't Know Much About History

I think I was given this book as a gift years ago. it's only now that I've read it all the way through. It's a snapshot of America history from the pre-history settlement by Native-Americans all the way through the contentious presidential election between George Bush and Al Gore.

This is accomplished through focusing in on specific events of key relevance to the era, and broad overviews of certain subjects. Despite the subtitle, it is not "everything" about American history. In fact, in the introduction, the author states that he thinks of his book as "the first word" rather than the last one on each of these subjects and recommends one or more books that deal exclusively with each subject that he touches on.

The question-and-answer format is useful for such a broad stretch of time and is often funny. However, it is also rather opaque as to what the question refers to. Some are clear, definitely, but some of them are references or jokes about what he's talking about, which means a reader would have to be familiar with the subject matter to know at a glance. This diminishes the book's usefulness as a reference guide, but not enough to affect the grade. I'd say most of them are fairly indicative.

Each section is between one and four pages long. It is enough to get across the event itself, its significance in the larger history, and some contrasting views on it. The exceptions are the timelines made for some of the wars. They are funny and informative.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Don't Know Much About History" an A+

Click here for my next book review (also for fun): Sword Art Online volume 10

Click here for my previous book review (a request): Traitor's Prize

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).

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Answering Review Request: Traitor's Prize


Thaddeus White asked me to read his novel "Traitor's Prize". It is part of his Bloody Crown trilogy and the sequel to "Kingdom Asunder", which I have reviewed here.

SPOILER WARNING!
SPOILER WARNING!

Basically, this entire review is spoilers. Not only for the previous book but also for the book itself. The reasons for the things I say only make sense if I bring up spoilers. SO.....

SPOILER WARNING!
SPOILER WARNING!


PLOT

This one picks up right where the previous one left off. The civil war is still on-going. 

If one were to identify plot-lines specific to this book then they would be two in number. 1.) King William's fealty problems in North Western Denland, around Norcot and Belgate.  2.) Sophie Hurstwood's journey home. There are many events and just as many separate viewpoints but all of them relate to one of these two points (although Stuart Esden's pillaging is more indirect than most). Both are well-developed and well-written, but as I read, there was something of a problem.

Honestly, I'm not entirely comfortable calling it a "problem" because the events make sense and there is an in-universe reason for them. However, they affect how the story reads structurally and also affect my enjoyment of reading them. 
 The problem is that of a mechanical advantage ball.

1. A thousand Kurtrisch mercenaries offer allegiance to William Penmere, and then the ruler of Albergenian promptly turns against him over him accepting them.

2. Sophie arrives at Hurstwood shortly after it comes to terms with Stuart Esden. On the other hand, the one person who makes Stuart's siege pointless arrives immediately before he leaves.

3. Galmoth flip-flops on King William; it was originally for him and then turns against him at the start of this story and then goes  back towards him without a fight or even preamble at the end. Even he notes that the terms of "surrender" are extremely generous, so neither one of them lost anything over the scuffle. 

4. After a whole book about how heavily David Esden outnumbers William Penmere and the need to avoid a fight, Penmere's envelopment strategy works flawlessly and the army is put to route.

5. Sophie's guardian is killed only to be immediately replaced with another one just before she is recaptured. She is on her third by the book's end. 

It is like watching a tennis match, only not quite as exciting.

It is a good book, a solid read, and a worthy follow-up to "Kingdom Asunder" but it did not impress me as much as "Kingdom Asunder" or the other books that I have read by Thadeus White such as "Journey To Altmortis" and "The Adventures of Sir Edric".

I'd say that my favorite part of this book is the fight between Hugh and the Kurtrisch vs the Elerin, which is a supernatural swamp monster native to Denland. It is a good battle sequence; well set-up, the monster's Dreaded status established in advance, and well executed. Which, now that I think about it, is a nutshell of my opinion of this book.

See, an elerin can only be defeated by magic. Any sort of physical damage is eventually mended automatically; even cutting its head off and throwing it away will only make it the body retrieve it.  Since Hugh's party had no magi, all they could manage was a stalling action. They accomplished nothing. Which is the same to say of both sides in this war.
1. Penemere gained mighty mercenaries but lost the north coast because of them. It lost and regained Galmonth as bookends. It killed another one of the Esden brothers but everyone knows  that the remaining one, Stuart, is going to be the biggest hurdle (and, personally, I think he would have killed his older brothers after the war ended anyways, so he could crown himself). It secured Norcott as an ally, but Norcott's lord is reluctant to part with enough soldiers to help its war effort. It defeated a big army, but considering how outnumbered it is supposed to be, the fundamental situation may not have changed, and now William's army is carrying around a lot of prisoners (thousands of them) so the army is still kind of a threat.
2. Esden trampled Haledale, but its lords had already evacuated everyone and taken everything of value, leaving the army hungry. It "conquered" Hurstwood but couldn't pillage anything due to an agreement enforced by magi, and the non-aggression is likely to expire soon. 

What saves this book for the author is the revelation at the end. Charlotte and her Felarian mercenaries were revealed to be double agents for William Penmere in the last book. Here, it is revealed that her true master is the leader of neighboring Felaria, who wants to invade. The fact that both sides of Denland's civil war have expended much effort and resource to ultimately go nowhere is exactly what Charlotte wants.  While she isn't responsible for everything (at least, I don't think so, but maybe.....), part of this mechanical advantage ball is her fault.

CHARACTERS

The cast and its members are more or less the same. I'll only list some highlights here.

Elena was presented as this shy and fragile Woobbie in the previous book. She is on much better footing here, and is a much more developed character. For one thing, she is a lot bolder in her interactions with Stephane.

Sophie Hurstwood has more opportunity to show her Action Survivor chops in this book then the last one. There she had an ill-fated escape attempt. Here she shows off quick thinking, guile, and determination without its foolishness.

David Esden makes a fine foil for his younger brother, Stuart. Although he seems competent at organizing troops and making strategies, he does not enjoy war. He strikes me as a "court's darling" sort of character, which makes Stuart appear all the more brutal and savage.

POLISH

It looks good. The map of Denland at the start of helpful for tracking the events that occur, and the spelling and grammar are error free as far as I can tell.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Traitor's Prize" a B+


This has been a free book review. Thaddeus White asked for an honest review so I provided one.

Click here for my next book review (for fun): Don't Know Much About History

Click here for my previous book review (a request): Curses of Scale

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).

Saturday, July 14, 2018

New Release Spotlight - Aerisian Refrain

Hello everyone!

Today I'm spreading the word about a fellow author's new release. This time it is Sarah Ashwood's Aerisian Refrain. It is the first book of her Beyond the Sunset Lands series.


 
Book Blurb:
Following the prophesied Artan’s victory over the Dark Powers, the land of Aerisia is finally at rest, until ancient beings, long imprisoned, begin to stir…
            Eight years after Annie Richards’ stellar voice and musical talents skyrocketed her from rural Oklahoma to international fame, haunting visions have begun threatening her sanity. While she’s returning to her childhood home to convalesce, creatures straight from her nightmares bring down her plane. Annie wakens in a parallel world, Aerisia. Here, she discovers her musical gifts translate into magical powers—the legacy of a banished race who have been invading her dreams.
Mistrusted by Aerisia’s most powerful factions because of her heritage, Annie finds allies are hard to come by. Supporting her are one Simathe warrior, Cole, who refuses to label her as evil, and one woman willing to stand against anything and anyone to help a friend: the Artan herself. Seizing control of her destiny will mean defying both her ancestors and the Aerisian leaders. Mastering her magic may mean making the greatest sacrifice of all…or risk becoming the reason Aerisia itself is torn apart. 

Find Aerisian Refrain on Amazon and Goodreads.




Author Bio:

Don’t believe all the hype. Sarah Ashwood isn’t really a gladiator, a Highlander, a fencer, a skilled horsewoman, an archer, a magic wielder, or a martial arts expert. That’s only in her mind. In real life, she’s a genuine Okie from Muskogee who grew up in the wooded hills outside the oldest town in Oklahoma and holds a B.A. in English from American Military University. She now lives (mostly) quietly at home with her husband and three sons, where she tries to sneak in a daily run or workout to save her sanity and keep her mind fresh for her next story.

Sarah’s works include the Sunset Lands Beyond trilogy and the fantasy novella Amana.

To keep up to date with Sarah’s work and new releases, sign up for her newsletter. You can also visit her website, or find her on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter. __________________________________________

Me again!
Personally, I like the sound of this book. Annie Richards doesn't seem like a This Loser Is You sort of protagonist, which is always a plus in my opinion. I wrote a blog post explaining why, which I'd like to link to, but I feel that doing something like that would be crass in this case.
I also like the idea of mundane singing ability translating into magical spell casting ability because of the similar structure of songs and classic rhyming spells. In this case,  it helps to explain how Annie would learn to use it (thus alleviating Instant Expert).
Overall, it sounds like an exciting adventure. 
Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).
 

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Finding the Entry Point (Tabletop RPG novel writing)

Finding the starting point in a novel is like finding the entry point in a dungeon. The scene is a door, chapters are fortresses, and books are comparable to national borders.

Lately, I've been reading about Dungeons and Dragons through the rulebooks for version 3.5. I'm on my fourth one. I've also been watching Critical Role on Geek and Sundry's channel (an awesome show, by the way). Using what I've read and watched has helped me write my latest novel because of how similar writing a novel is to playing a tapletop RPG.  I was struggling for several days recently because of my inability to find the starting point for the next part of the adventure.



Specifically, it happened when I was revising the 13th chapter of Journey to Chaos book 5 (ttentatively called, "The Highest Power"). This is the second draft. My heroes need to get into this highly secure place for a rescue mission, but the place is the HQ for an elf who is very rich, very old, and highly values the security of this place. How do they get in?

1. Do they use stealth, and finds a means to hide themselves from the many security devices?

2. Do they go the sudden and direct approach, and hope that they can punch through the many layers of security fast enough to avoid being pinned down by this guy's personal army?

3. Is it possible to negotiate with him? He is, after all, a guy who likes making deals, and they have a few things he'd be interested in.


As players around a game table might debate this, so do the characters. Except all these characters are me, and the debate is in my head, or on my computer's word processor. It's hard to draw a line between those two sometimes....

I could have used several pages of one character proposing an idea only to get it shot down. I.E.
--> "We could try X"
--> "No, that wouldn't work because of Y"
-->  "Well then we could try A"
--> "His B would make that impossible."
I also considered writing a scene of them scoping the place out and testing areas, but then I immediately shot that idea down as well with "the elf has thought of that too".

I needed up going with "none of the above". The way into this highly secure facility was actually already written. I put it into the manuscript half a dozen chapters ago for a different reason entirely. I never thought it would be mentioned again. Yet, once I realized that it could be useful again, it was like "ding!" I love it when that happens. That is Organic Growth in Writing (which is another blog post topic).

Questions like is "the door locked" or  "is the corridor booby-trapped" are comparable to choices like "how does this scene advance" or "who should say this particular line of dialogue that is necessary for plot advancement". It is helpful if the questions align, such as "the rogue checks for locked doors because that's their skill set" or "the elf ranger should check for traps because of their keen senses." but it is also useful in other situations.

If your detective doesn't have a certain department of knowledge for a particular case, how does he find it? Does he have a friend, does he do research, or do one of the suspects or witnesses have the necessary knowledge? Maybe this is how the Odd Couple/They Fight Crime plot line starts.

The same line of dialogue spoken by a romance heroine's father has a different connotation than if it was by her best friend. If they are both in the scene and either one could say it, which one? Perhaps the line of dialogue that you think is necessary to move discussion towards a needed subject is too artificial and you need to overhaul the entire thing. This happened to me in the same chapter as the planning stage for the rescue mission that I mentioned three paragraphs ago, and I had to overhaul the entire thing. You could say that I arrived at a false door and so I had to look for the genuine entry point.

As I write this, I am walking down a passage towards the completion of chapter 15.


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


Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Critical Role is Awesome

This post is going to be about the web series "Critical Role" and how awesome I think it is. That's basically it but more specifically, it is going to be about how remarkable I think Critical Role is for being so awesome.

For those who don't know, Critical Role is a bunch of voice-actors playing Dungeons and Dragons, 5th edition. It is a live-streaming web series, which means it is nothing more than that. There is no Deep Immersion Gaming interface, there are no post-production effects, nor is there even any script writing (other than what Matt Mercer has done as any game master would do). It is literally nothing more than watching other people play a game. Yet it is really exciting.

It is rare that I come across a show or a book that makes me this excited. I recall watching a hot-blooded super robot anime (Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann) that occasionally did the trick, but Critical Role is an every episode thing. The one I watched several nights ago (episode 7 of season 1: Throne Room) was so thrilling I couldn't fall asleep for over an hour. What is so fun about this? There are several reasons, and the first of which is Matt Mercer.

He is an absolutely fantastic dungeon master. Someone else made a Youtube video about this, and I agree with all of their points (I'm gonna link to it here). Personally, as an author, I admire his skill with location description and characterization of NPCs. You can see him shift in and out of character seamlessly and he makes all of them distinct, which is major for the life of the story. If this were a radio show, you would be hard pressed to guess that Clarota and Lady Kima had the same actor. As for descriptions, there is a fine mix of function and flavor, which is something that I struggle with in my own work.

The second reason is the players themselves. Being voice-actors, they are obviously skilled at talking and acting in character. This adds to the realness of the world and immersion for the viewer. Equally important, if not more importantly, they are fans of this game and enjoy playing. When they successfully execute a plan, I want to cheer with them. The stealth sequences are tense. These are not look-cool-and-sneaky sequences; they are if-they-spot-us-we-are-going-to-die sequences. In particular, Sam Riegel (Scanlan the genome bard) makes catchy parodies of songs and the others either laugh at him or join in. Their fun is infectious.


The third reason I think this show is fun and exciting is its script-less nature. These things are broadcast live and decided by die rolls. In the Kraighammer arc, Matt says "these games have consequences" when the party fails miserably at persuading a potentially helpful character. Like the player characters in any other tabletop game, it's possible for them to go totally off the rails if they want.

There are other reasons, but I'm going to stop there. Matt Mercer the skilled and talent dungeon master, the players who are clearly having fun, and the script-less nature of the story; just three reasons why Critical Role is awesome.
A fourth reason could be how helpful it can be to authors.


By the way, Critical Role regularly promotes this charity, 826LA. It is about fostering the writing skills of skills and teenagers in Los Angeles. This includes creative writing, like the kind that goes into D&D campaigns, and also into writing fantasy novels like my Journey to Chaos series. I like supporting that kind of thing.

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