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 previous book review: 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).

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Answering Review Request: Curses of Scale

Stephen Reeves asked me to read his novel "Curses of Scale". It is a fantasy novel and the basic gist of it is this druid trying to save his wife from a dragon but it is more complicated than that....a lot more complicated, and I'm not simply talking about the plot. I will examine Plot, Character, and Polish, and then assign a grade.

PLOT

As the story begins In Media Res (sort of), Calem, a druid, has just acquired the final ingredient he needs to complete the spell that will save his wife,  Nina.

It is an exciting opening. He is being pursued by the henchmen of the guy he stole from, dodging them and killing them with a mixture of magic and metal weapons. It is this opening that convinced me to accept the review request. It is after this point, where Calem casts the spell that will save Nina, that things get confusing.

You see, the narrative is split between three view points, Calem, Nina, and Nina's grandfather, Marny. They alternate chapters but not every chapter switches perspective. The reader has to figure it out each time. This is the first of the confusing points.

The second point is the abstract nature of the narration. It suggests what is happening more than directly stating it. The out-of-universe reasons for this are in POLISH. Right here are the in-universe reasons.

1. Calem has occasional magical hallucinations, and/or extremely vivid flashbacks that overwrite parts of his narration. He also spends time looking through the eyes of his cat familiar, which obviously has a different viewpoint than a human mind.

2. Nina spends some time in the Eldritch Location known as the Fairhome (that is, home of the Fair Folk) which is influenced by imaginations, and hers is very strong so it is very weird when she is there. She is also constantly narrating backstories for the places she sees or the story she's writing, and the distinction between what is going on around her and what is in her head is not always clear.

3. Marny is apparently going senile, and spends as much time on Memory Lane as he does on solid roads. His wife dies off-screen and neither he nor anyone he interacts with recognizes this. I didn't realize it for dozens of pages because he keeps seeing her. Like many things about the narration, I had to infer it long before it was stated.

The third point of confusion is the style of the narration, which is also in POLISH. The fourth point is a minor point. Nina's grandfather calls her "Squirrel" but this is not immediately apparent. It is left to the reader to realize that Squirrel is actually Nina. The fifth point is that this Nina is not the same Nina that married Calem but a younger version that hasn't even met him yet. Even Calem has to figure this out on his own, because the only person who is aware of everything that is going on is Oberon, a fairy who spends 85% or so of his dialogue on non-sequiturs.

In the background of this story, there is trouble with the local empire. Apparently, it is disintegrating, or being conquered, or something. I couldn't figure it out because only Marny talks about it, and he doesn't seem to care.

Personally, I felt it was a slough to read this book. It is confusing. It is slow-paced. The triple-part narration breaks up everyone's progress and makes the book feel longer than it is. Making all of this worse is that none of these events are relevant to the initial plot. Oberon is basically waiting for the crucial moment where Nina was cursed so he can make sure it doesn't happen while Nina and Marny are working on something entirely different from Calem.

The ending is both closed and open-ended. Like the rest of the story, it is weird that way. I like it.  I consider it a good ending.
 
CHARACTERS


Calem is an interesting guy because he is a flip of an archetype. At the start, he appears to be the classical action hero risking his life on a mystic quest for the sake of his beloved wife. Then he becomes more unhinged and possessive and ruthless with the implication that he may have always been that way. Declaration of Protection and Yandere merge with this guy.


Nina is an aspiring bard. She wants to travel to a college and become a professional. She is a Plucky Girl and a Guile Heroine, but she is also really na├»ve. Her romantic ideal of the bard's life is a subject of frustration and scorn to her world weary grandfather. Not helping her case is that she is also spacey, drifting off into her own fictional worlds so thoroughly that it is not immediately apparent that she has drifted into a literal alternate world. At that point, she is torn between using it as an opportunity to run-away to bard college or run just as fast back to her grandfather.

Marny, Nina's grandfather, is the ranking officer of a military post that may or may not still be active for an empire that may or may not still exist. I recall him calling his garrison a collection of scarecrows.  He is old, grouchy and cynical. I get a general feeling of "burned out" and him waiting to die. Looking after Nina/Squirrel is all he lives for these days.

The cause of all this trouble, the dragon, receives no characterization beyond "maybe it is looking for a new lair". As far as I can tell, it exists solely to start everyone's subplots and then appear at the end of the story for the climax.

POLISH

The narration is written in present tense, rather than past tense. This is a little jarring but not bad. It is easy to get used to it. What I dislike is the deliberate refusal to use conventional grammar.

There are sentences fragments everywhere. Seriously, they are on every single page. It has the effect of isolating phrases and emphasizing certain words. I feel this is meant to evoke a sense of flowing, and add an ethereal feel to the narration in support of the three viewpoint characters. In other words, Painting the Fourth Wall.


It is a creative technique, and not one that I have seen before (at least, not since reading experimental modernism in college) but I can certainly see how it can be confusing. Personally, I felt it was better to skim it for the "feel" of the section rather than to learn exactly what was happening, which felt increasingly like bailing water with a sieve.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Curses of Scale" 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 like this one):Traitor's Prize

Click here for my previous book review (a request like this): Poisoned Princess

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).

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Challenge Your Darlings! (Game Master - not murderer)

"Murder your darlings" is something that I've heard is common advice for writers. "Every scene should end in disaster" is another, more recent, phrase I've heard. Whether this is supposed to mean "don't play favorites", " cut unnecessary things regardless of how much you like them", or  "add continuous hardship for the sake of drama", I feel like it misses the point. After reading about the role of dungeon masters in Dungeons and Dragons, and listening to tips on being a dungeon master, I feel that "challenge your darlings" is a more accurate phrase.

The role of a dungeon master/game master, fundamentally speaking, is to make sure that the players have fun. That is what everyone gathers around the table for. Part of this means making sure they are challenged.  If one were to apply "Murder your darlings" to writing a game campaign instead of writing a novel, the result is a brief game session, frustrated players, and an empty table. 

Thus, game masters are supposed to prevent things being too easy or too hard. If the campaign is too easy, the encounters are boring and the players don't feel a sense of achievement or victory. If the campaign is too hard, the encounters can't be overcome and the players don't get to progress through the story, collect loot, gain levels etc.  This can be translated for authors.

Events should be difficult for characters. Enemies should be challenging to overcome. Emotionally harrowing, physically taxing, mentally puzzling; all of these things are good. They are what led to the sense of satisfaction in victory and sense of sorrow in defeat.  They create page-turning tension. However, one shouldn't go too far.

A game master who wants their players to have fun doesn't throw a trio of beholders at their 1st level characters. It would be decided in a round, game over. Likewise, twisting the story so every victory makes the situation worse creates Darkness Induced Apathy (and likely causes a bag of chips to be thrown at the game master's head). A series of sufficiently powerful threats that are just powerful enough to make failure a real possibility (there's no plot armor in a D&D game) and a progression of events where the adventurers make progress towards a goal but the enemy's victory is always possible, lead to excitement, tension, and thus fun. Similarly, an author doesn't pit their main characters against threats that are too much for them to handle. Naturally, there are exceptions.

A setting and story where life is cheap and the cast of characters is an ensemble rather than a division between main/supporting can lead to continuously new characters, each with their own quirks and point of view on events and the setting. It can compliment an omniscient viewpoint for the narrator, or some other character, who watches these failures and has a plan of some kind that involves them.  If those are the kinds of stories you want to write, go for it. The point is to use the lack-of-challenge deliberately. (There's no challenge if it's impossible).

Instead of being "murdered", the darlings should be challenged. It is challenge that leads to excitement and suspense, and thus to a sense of satisfaction in both victory and defeat, for both readers and players.


I'm still reading the Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master's Manual, so I don't have a review for it yet. However, I have reviews for three other books if you are interested. All of them are from Version 3.5.

Complete Divine -  a guide to using game elements related to the divine (magic, classes, gods themselves etc.)

Heroes of Battle -  a supplement to the Dungeon Master's guide. Yes, I read this one before the main one. It's basically about war campaigns and related elements.

 Player's Manual -  the basics of gameplay and the point of view of the player.
 

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).

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Answering review request: Poisoned Princess

Armen Pogharian asked  me to read his novel "Poisoned Princess". It is a medieval fantasy, and I want to include high fantasy because it is much like a classic Dungeons and Dragons campaign, but it has a small and close scope that is better fitting of low fantasy. It's basically a quest to retrieve a cure for an important political figure.
I will examine Plot, Character, and Polish, before assigning a grade.

PLOT


There's a somewhat slow start to the main plot. It takes a bit for the princess to be poisoned, and this is a good thing. It provides space for the world to be set-up and characters to be introduced and developed. I also like the event itself, both in being present and how well it is executed; skillful guardians vs devious assassins.

As the story unfolds, the titular poisoning was the assassin's back-up plan rather than their main effort. This strengthens the plot by making the princess' safety a game of cat-and-mouse between the assassins and the warders (who are basically the royal Secret Service). It would have been easy to make this into an excuse plot to justify an adventure but it is developed and better throughout than that.

Even after the princess is successfully poisoned, the assassin doesn't call it done and go home. He spends the rest of the book trying to knife her in her sickbed. This makes for a continuation of the pre-poisoning dynamic with some of the warders while the others go on the quest.

It is a great quest; a quest in the classic epic style. The adventuring party has to travel a considerable distance within a time limit. They encounter everything from bounty hunters to monsters while keeping their mission as secretive as possible. There are many close calls and dangerous encounters, and both are skillfully written by Mr. Pogharian.

The heroes get a couple of lucky breaks that make these encounters easier but so do the villains. I think it evens out. To me, it was never about making things easy for the heroes or artificially giving the villains an edge to stay threatening, but more of a genuinely lucky thing or a matter of foreshadowing.

This is basically a Save-The-Princess storyline, which is one of the oldest in the genre, and I really like it. This is because it is a well-written use of the trope, which I think is more important than being original.

The ending is great. It closes this book's conflict while remaining open to all kinds of new adventures for latter in the series. I respect and admire that kind of planning.

CHARACTERS

Toran is the story's protagonist (and the hero too).  He is a half-elf barbarian fighter who is good with both the sword and the bow. He joins the warders on the recommendation of his uncle at the start of the story.
While he has significant skill in battle and highly skilled in tracking, this is presented as due to his uncle's elven training and the two halves of his heritage mixing well (barbarian strength and battle lust together with elven senses and speed make a formidable combination). My point is, he is a powerful character without being special in someway. This means he doesn't overtake the story and his teammates are relevant.
He has angst about his heritage, and it causes him some problems, but he manages that and is a stable young man overall. That's another thing I like about this story; engaging characters without Dysfunction Junction.

 

Adrelle is a human noblewoman, and the handmaiden of the titular princess. She insists on going on the quest to help her friend.
Her Establishing-Character-Moment is a thing of beauty. It firmly and quickly establishes her as a both a Deadpan Snarker and a very clever girl. See, the warders aren't used to people tracking their agents back to their hideout.
There's a twist/secret regarding her character, and I thought I guessed it but I was only half-right. That's yet another thing I like about this story. Despite appearing to be traditional fantasy fare, it still surprised me.

 

Draham is a fine mixture of Our Dwarves Are All the Same and some personal twists. While he is a short and stocky character of great strength, a wielder of a warhammer and is very proud of his large and bushy beard, he is basically a rogue. Yes, he has numerous disguises, aliases and has sufficient dexterity and speed to convincing play the role of a jester.
He's the senior partner of the adventuring party, the veteran with the two young bucks. He acquits himself very well indeed in both battle and outside of it.


Yuden is the assassin who poisons the princess and then spends the rest of the book trying to make sure she dies. He gets a couple of focus chapters that show how he goes about his work. Because of this, the reader knows more about him then "evil poisoner guy". He is not an evil character, so to speak. He's more like an amoral character. As far as I can see, all this assassinating and sneaking around is just his job, and he gets squeamish when it comes to torture.


POLISH

I don't recall anything in the way of typos. There might have been one or two near the end.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Poisoned Princess" an A+


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 like this one): Curses of Scale

Click here for my previous book review (a request like this one): When Hope Calls


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).

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Answering Review Request: When Hope Calls

David Lui asked me to read his novella "When Hope Calls". It's about a humanitarian office that tries to save a girl from slave traders. It's based on a true story, and given this fact, my grading system of "plot" and "characters" and "polish" feels....inappropriate. So this will be more free-style than usual.

 
The premise is that Mya, the girl who was kidnapped by slave traders, miraculously (this is the word used in the story itself) has a cell phone on her. The cast tried to pinpoint her location through clues she provides and eavesdropping on her captors. It is a high-emotion, touch-and-go situation with low periods that feel like emotional burnout.

During the periods of rapid activity and tense waiting that occur between calls from Mya, the cast ponders what sort of person kidnaps a child to sell to into a harsh and abusive life, and controls them with fear and violence. The answer they come up with is a person motivated by greed and envy.

When reading reviews from books, I've noticed that it is common to call them "page-turners". In fact, it is so common that I bet someone has said "lots of books are called page-turners, but this one really is!" Maybe it is because the thriller and suspense genres aren't my personally preferred ones, but I don't generally read books that are mean to be finished quickly. This one has the rare distinction from me of being called a page-turner. It is a quick read, with high suspense and tension throughout.

There is a tad of Leaning On the Fourth Wall when one character accuses another of being part of the human trafficking problem because they're not doing anything about it at the moment.

It has a good ending. Regardless of whether or not Mya is rescued, The Adventure Continues.

When the story is over and Mr.Lui returns us to real life, he lists steps the reader can take to combat human trafficking. They are all practical things that the reader can do personally, and not appeals for donations, which I think is nice. It's about spreading awareness of the problem.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "When Hope Calls" a +

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


Click here of my next book review (a request): Poisoned Princess

Click here for my previous book review (for fun): D&D Complete Divine.

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, May 1, 2018

Dungeons and Dragons rule book: Complete Divine.

Continuing my recent exposure to and fascination with Dungeons and Dragons, here is another rule book, Complete Divine. This one is focuses in on the divine/spiritual/religious aspects of a possible D&D campaign world. There are lists of prestige classes beyond the standard found in the player's manual, a consolidation of information about deities (I think most, if not all, of these are from the official Greyhawk setting), holy magic items, etc.
 
So many classes and all of them made distinct; I was surprised just how big the "divinely-empowered" category could be. This is more than just mechanical terms but also how these characters fit within the world of the game itself.
 
 
There are sections at the start describing the class in-universe terms and then how they function as part of a setting and then as part of a player's campaign; like bifocal glasses. There are even quotes from or about this class and an illustration that matches the equipment list. It's well-thought out stuff from a lore perspective, and as I have started reading the Dungeon Master's manual, this is just as important in an immersive campaign as stats and rules.
 
 
Reading this book made me want to roleplay a Bard who becomes religious by multi-classing to an Evangelist, and then after becoming unsatisfied with only that class (perhaps after acquiring all of its class abilities), switches to Holy Liberator (because they are basically Chaotic Good Paladins, and Bards are always chaotic). 
 
 
The list of deities was one of my favorite sections and I found myself flipping to it often, because of the interaction with the alignment of the classes, and also because of the magic item/artifact and spell lists. There is connecting lore for all these sections.
 
Trickster Eric Novels gives Dungeons and Dragons rule book: Complete Divine an A+
 
Click here for my thoughts on other D&D manuals: Player's Handbook v 3.5 and Heroes of Battle


Click here for my next book review (a request): When Hope Calls

 
Click here for my previous book review (for fun): No Game No Life volume 4
 
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, April 24, 2018

Book and Author Spotlight - Kellyn Roth

Hello Blogsphere and internet in general. Today, I'm helping Kellyn Roth with a blog tour. Yes, this woman right here.

   

My part of this is a spotlight for her and her new book, At Her Fingertips. This is a piece of Realistic Fiction, and furthermore it is Clean Romance. She asked me to share the book's blurb, a couple excerpts, and tell you about the prizes she's giving out. First, the blurb.
At Her Fingertips (Book #3)
Alice Knight is looking forward to her debut as it means she will be able to carry out her plan. She will have her first Season in London, she will meet her husband, and she will marry him. However, Alice struggles to make her feelings reconcile with her goals.
Alice is sure that, if she can only cling to her plans, she will manage without help from anyone — including God. A childhood friend returning unexpectedly, a charming gentleman who is not all he should be, and an American author with strange ideas about life all make her question the plan.
With the life she longs for at her fingertips, can Alice grasp it?
 
If you're interested, CLICK HERE for the excerpts.
I read them and they're good. I prefer the first one because of this line, "
Mr. Knight had a brain that worked just like a semicolon; he was forever remembering something new that needed doing and asking Kirk to write it down". I can see in my mind how such a scene plays out. It makes me smile, and it works as quick characterization for both characters.  



  

Author Bio

Kellyn Roth was born and lives on a cattle ranch in North-Eastern Oregon. Always fascinated with telling stories, she created crazy games to play with her little brothers as a child. Today, she writes Christian and Historical Fiction with a focus on truth and family. Find out more about her and her novels at kellynrothauthor.com
Social Media
Facebook: @krauthor
Twitter: @ReveriesofRuby
Goodreads: krauthor
Instagram: kellbellroth
Pinterest: krauthor
YouTube: Kellyn Roth
Personal Blog: kellynroth.wordpress.com
Book Blog: reveriesreviews.wordpress.com




Monday, April 16, 2018

Read for Fun: No Game No Life Volume 4

No Game No Life Volume 4

I was a fan of series before I picked this book up. It is the first volume I've read. After watching the anime, I wanted to see more. Naturally, the animation crew had great material to work with because this volume delivers on the appeal of the series.


It was fun and satisfying to see the aftermath of the events of the anime. It turns out the stinger for the anime occurs in a later light novel. It was a great cliffhanger, definitely, but caused some confusion on my part. Anyway, the ongoing process of it merges the real-life-implications of such an event and the games-resolve-conflicts rules of Dishboard.

The game of the Sirens is a real-life Romance game (dating game), which is one of the few that the gamer siblings have not mastered. Far from being afraid, they are so proud of the fact that they are socially incompetent shut-ins that they emit a battle aura. Furthermore, the mystery of the nature and victory conditions of the Siren's game is intriguing and compelling, especially given that it is the gamer siblings' logical weakness.

The deviousness and cunning of the gamer siblings also continues to impress. One would be surprised at how much of their silly antics are actually a cover for plans, and how much of it is both. They certainly surprised me with their exploitation of the Beach Episode trope.

I want to focus on that. Beyond the lighthearted and fanservice of the trope, and even beyond the covert deviousness, it specifically deals with the gamer siblings' opinion of beach vacations. Due to their backstory as Hikikomori, they see this common vacation destination as too messy, too hot, bad for one's hair etc. It's pretty deep given the archetypal form of this trope.

Also worthy of note is that Steph does something awesome, proving that she is not "a steph" once and for all, while simultaneously exploiting her reputation as such.

The new character, Plum, is definitely a Woobie. The circumstances of the Dphamir race elicit much sympathy, and Plum makes a great Straight Man for the stupidity of the Siren race as well as the silliness laid-backness of the main cast.

The ending was both satisfying and exciting. It achieves all the advantages of a cliffhanger without actually leaving anyone hanging, as well as the advantages of a resolved conflict while still going full steam. It is impressive.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "No Game No Life volume 4" an A+
 
 
 


Click here for the next book review (for fun): Dungeons and Dragons - Complete Divine


Click here for the previous review book (also for fun): Dungeons and Dragons - Heroes of Battle

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, April 10, 2018

Read for fun: Dungeons and Dragons - Heroes of Battle

This is a supplement to the main Dungeon Master's guide which is specific to war-theme campaigns. It offers campaign advice, sample missions, new prestige classes, new feats, new items and new spells. The idea is provide aids for a campaign other than dungeon crawling.

 The differences are quickly made apparent. Four adventurer PCs in a large army of NPCs against another army of NPCs in open area instead of an enclosed one with far more going on than a single encounter at a time; how does one manage that? The answer can apply not only to board games but to video games and adventure novels too, "Think big, play small". After reading this section, I started seeing it in a lot of plots, such as Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon.


There is this chapter in the game which revolves around a huge siege of Dragon City. There are a lot of humanoid moles defending the walls and the gates (competently, I might add) and four big and powerful dragons. In all of this, how do the programmers make Spyro and Cynder relevant here? Before you say "exploit protagonist powers and take on the entire army in the field", let me pre-empt that by saying this is not a game where the main character can kill any number of mooks; take on too many and you will die. Maybe you could do it using cheat codes to get fury breath early and unlimited mana but even then an enemy could get the drop on you from above.

Instead, the game guides the players through scenario. The dragon pair put out fires, defend a wall-mounted cannon, help the guy reload, destroy siege towers, and defend the front gate. All of these are singular, specific, important areas where PCs can make a significant difference in at least one section of combat, and through it, the overall battle.


Also, this book is not all about pitched battles or sieges. There is variety. A DM can plan covert stuff like intel gathering and rescues missions. There are escape-the-siege-and-bring-reinforcements missions. There is infiltration and La Resistance type missions. There is lots of potential fun suggested apart from dungeon crawling, and that can be included too (Ex. "The general has received word of special combat-power-enhancing herbs that only grow in this haunted forest".....).

In addition to campaign and encounters, there are also new prestige classes ranging from Combat Medics, mixing fighter and cleric, to War Weavers who are basically wizards geared around team-playing, to Legendary Leaders, who milk all the advantages that come from having many cohorts and can make the morale checks easier to manage.


Speaking of which, the morale rules are interesting. Losing too much health or seeing a bunch of their comrades die can lead an NPC to fear and panic, but seeing a hero doing something awesome or giving a rousing speech can embolden them. This is another way that PCs can influence battles. It also adds another layer of realism and strategy, which aids immersion and rewards those that can effectively utilize the system.

I tell you, I'm going to refer to this book when designing my own war-themed campaigns as much or more than a textbook like The Medieval Siege. What's good for the Dungeon Master is good for the Author.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Dungeons and Dragons: Heroes of Battle" an A+
 

 

Click here for my thoughts on other D&D manuals: Player's Manual 3.5 and Complete Divine

Click here for my next book review (for fun): No Game No Life volume 4

Click here for my previous book review (a request): Song Hereafter

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, April 3, 2018

Answering review request: Song Hereafter

Jean Gill asked me to read her novel, "Song Hereafter". It is the fourth book in her "The Troubadours"  series and the fourth book of hers that I have reviewed. I wished I had a Hall of Fame on my blog because this is also the fourth book of hers that I find excellent. I will examine Plot, Character, and Polish, and then assign a grade.

PLOT
 
The overarching plot here is that of Dragonetz and Estela's relationship trouble; not with each other but with their situation. They are effectively a married couple (common-law marriage?) but for previous-book reasons, they can't be officially married. This causes certain problems in 12st century European society. These problems take the form of several, smaller, more concrete arcs. The biggest of which, and what is the meat of this book, is a stealth-diplomatic mission to Gwalia (i.e. Whales).


Upon initially reading the book, it can come off as disjointed because certain plot points are set up and then resolved shortly after (with exception, of course, to the main plot in Gwalia) without any obvious connection. However, one soon sees how they are all connected to the larger plot and build off on each other. It can sometimes be surprising just how well they connect. It is a tapestry of life, sort of thing.
 
I like what Jean Gill does with scenery and other landscape details. It is a great balance of what is beautiful and what is necessary. When the leading couple approach the Palace of Joy in Zaragoza, there is this depiction of its splendor. The natural landscapes in Gwalia are similarly attentive but not every location is described. That would be exhausting. Reaching this balance is something I try to do in my own writing, but I am not as consistently skilled  in this area as Miss Gill.
 
Question: "What's in the bag?" Answer: "A badger." WHACK. Simultaneously, this scene is funny, serious, and an establishing character moment for two critical characters and their society.
 
Over the course of this book, Estella writes a travel guide she calls "The Wise Traveler". Not only does it show another development of Estella's creative nature but it also serves as a handy and non-intrusive way to provide exposition. It is actually a meta device because the information provided about the places Estella visits also informs the person reading Miss. Gill's book about Estella's point of view and audience.
 
There is a satisfying conclusion, both to this book and to this series. The Romance Genre aspect of the series is fulfilled in full and many plot threads are tied. It is a good place to stop in the lives of Estela and Dragonetz, though there is definitely more to them.
 
CHARACTERS
 
Estela's character continues to develop as her character arc takes a new turn. This book places a special emphasis on the roles of wife and mother, which unfolds in how Estela is vs how the society at the time and place expects both to act. There is patience and understanding but also stubborn support (whether he likes it or not). There is also a heightened contrast with Alienor that was previously absent.
Contrasting this is her coming into her own as a healer by saving her own medical mentor from a disease that is really tough to cure. It turns out that her first task with a patient is convincing the family that A.) it is not yet time for Last Rites and B.) she, personally, can heal them.

Then there is writing "The Wise Traveler", which shows another facet of her artistic side, apart from writing and singing.
It is interesting to note that despite getting beaten over the head with social norms like wives being absolutely obedient to their husbands, Estela is not portrayed as a feminist. Sure, she doesn't want to "count to four" whenever her husbands commands it of her, and would really appreciate it if people didn't assume that her man was responsible for her lyrics, and bristles when a court lord forbids her from singing because of her gender, but she is also totally on board with supporting her husband's goals even if she doesn't agree with them, making sure her children are taken care off even if it precludes other opportunities, and generally putting family first.
 
As for Dragonetz, the self-flagellating continues. He is a complex chivalric character. It's like he is a Knight in Sour Armor that aspires to be a Knight in Shining Armor but has too many human frailties and too much disillusionment to do so.
Despite all the good he does, he never feels like it's enough. There's this scene where he goes to a notary to legally designate the son he sired with Estela as his heir and make sure they're both provided for in the event of his untimely death (which, considering his line of work, is a very likely thing) but leaves it feeling like he's betrayed her since she's legally his mistress instead of his wife (incidentally, this is also his fault due to a previous  attempt at helping her).
Also, there's this running gag where he jokes about using his sword on any warrior or bard that Estela shows too much admiration for; Estela hopes he's joking. It turns out to be another human frailty that he feels a need to metaphorically whip himself for.

The third character that I want to focus on is John Halfpenny, a master minter. He's mostly here for comedy, whether it is rants about how he hates working with gold, clowning around as the Lord of Misrule, or standing perfectly still while Estela practices knife-throwing on him. Yet he, too, is a complex character, with his backstory regarding The Anarchy in England at the time, and the role he plays in the stealth-diplomacy mission.

There isn't really a villain here. It's more like a series of grey-scale antagonists. Here are people who could be allies or enemies. It is part of a general greyness that is upheld well through all of Miss. Gill's series. Lords Rhys and Marredud are like neutrals who could go either way depending on the actions of their guests/captives, Patronella doesn't do much more than sniff disdainfully at how the lead couple is living in sin, and Miquel, despite being a stellar example of Faux Evilly Affable, thinks he's doing the right thing.
 
POLISH
 
I didn't see any typos or grammar errors. That's a difficult thing to do with a novel.
I also like the glossaries and maps that are included at the start of the novel.



Trickster Eric Novels gives "Song Hereafter" an A+


Click here for book 3 in "The Troubadours" Plaint for Provence

Click here for my next book review (for fun): D&D Heroes of Battle

Click here for the previous book review (for fun): Resisting Happiness


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).