Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Movie review: Swan Princess - A Royal Family Tale

Swan Princess (number 5): A Royal Family Tale. Watched it out of curiosity because I remembered the first three films. I will examine Plot, Character and Polish and then assign a grade.

 PLOT

This is the most original/different of the Swan Princess sequels in terms of plot. There are no expies/former partners of Rothbart to serve as villains or holiday themes. Granted, the idea of a Chosen One prophecy is not original but I'm not thinking about that kind of scale but the scale of the series (you can see what I think about absolute originality at this here link). Also, Odette doesn't get kidnapped! Does that count as a spoiler? It's a point in this story's favor of altering the recipe established by the first three films.

The third point of difference is the sense of time. Every film following the first treated Derek and Odette as in the early stages of their marriage. The fourth film was about their first Christmas as a couple. This is the first one to go beyond that and give a sense of them being married for some time. Also, adopting a child certainly changes the dynamics. Again granted, Alise fills the Damsel In Distress role filled by Odette previously but having Odette being part of the rescue party is still a point of change; the fourth point of change. Another little spoiler alert: no changing into a swan this time (number 5!)

A sixth point is that there's a different sort of ending than the first three and the stock footage from the end of the first does not make an appearance here. That's a favorable thing about the switch to CGI right?

Enough about the differences. This plot itself is one that I like.

The plot of "chosen one preventing about a golden age" is classic medieval fantasy. Furthermore, that there is a band of rescuers with diverse skills (a hunter, a flyer, a chemist, etc.) further calls to mind the classic quest narrative.

Alise is not dropped in for the cute factor; she is well integrated into the story. The movie begins with Uberta saying I Want Grandkids and the main couple discussing it afterward. Alise' father is killed incidentally by the Forbidden Arts and Odette feels a kinship with her because of this. Alise herself does something to defeat the Big Bad.

 CHARACTERS

Alise is adorable. She is a cute little Woobie taken into the loving care of Odette and Derek. That the animators were able to convey so much emotion from her without having her say a word for 99% of the film is a credit to them. Her relationships with others are cute and sweet but not saccharine (YMMV of course).

Odette's more active role is much appreciated. In my opinion, she was always on the verge of it but plot hang ups interrupted it. It's not an Action Girl thing but a Plucky Girl thing mixed with All Loving Heroine. It's also a Mama Bear thing; in the words of Scully "there's no strength like a mother's love".

Derek is not an idiot for once. The movie's plot is not underpinned by some Idiot Ball like in previous movies ("What else is there?" to "I'll destroy the notes after the festival" and others). More perceptive with people and traps and doesn't go off alone anymore. Like with Odette, this character development is welcome in my book.

Scully the Scullion (i.e. Flying Squirrel) is my favorite character in this movie It is how his voice sounds both wise and comical. It is in his skill with potions.  It is the jokes he makes without reducing himself to mere comic relief.

 The villains are also a refreshing change of pace. Instead of an evil sorcerer and their single minion, a two person operation, there is instead something like a militant cult. Furthermore, the vast majority of them are well-intentioned extremists, which is also a first for this series.
 POLISH

 The CGI looks good in my opinion and main characters like Odette avert the No Flow in CGI thing regarding hair. I haven't seen the fourth film so I can't speak about its quality but the CGI here is good. After watching the first three films it can take some getting used to, that's all.

 Trickster Eric Novels gives Swan Princess (number 5): A Royal Family Tale an A+

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Sassy Saturday: Spider in the brush

Welcome to another week of Sassy Saturday at Trickster Eric Novels.  Every week will be an excerpt from one of my novels showcasing a kick-butt heroine. If you want read about the original blog hop the link is here.

The previous Sassy Saturday post can be read here: Don't Underestimate Elf Tech

The context for this post: As part of the build up to the Mana Mutation Summit, Kasile hired Dragon's Lair Team Four to advertise her agenda under the guise of guarding supplies that she ordered for the Summit. Tiza is the only one truly guarding.

_____________________________________________________________________


Tiza stayed out of sight and unremarkable next to the laborers and hired guards. An outside observer would have no idea she was with the mercenaries at all. Internally, she grumbled about the lack of limelight while her humble teammate bathed in it; he didn't want it! Externally, she swept the area with Third Eye to check for threats.

What her teammates didn't know was that she wasn't lazing about in her hospital bed at the ICDMM; she was practicing. She examined everything around her and Retina provided her with exercises to push her limits. After a week of use and experimentation, she was confident that nothing could hide from her. She spotted a number of people who thought they were hidden and she could have laughed at them.

Part of Sathel's training involved hiding in plain sight. She didn't pay attention at first because she thought it was useless. Then Sathel said that failure would result in extra rope escape and poison immunity lessons. Now she realized its importance. No one else noticed the subtle draw of a dagger.

Like a spider in the brush, she scurried through the crowd as they chambered the weapon. Without taking her eyes off her target, she pinpointed theirs. Adrenaline rushed her system, but she was too late to stop them from throwing it. The dagger soared silently through the air and clanged off her shield.

"You're going to wish you didn't do that."

The attacker threw back their hood. "I don't think so, my Little Cocoon."

"Spider Daylra?! I'm working!"

"I know and I'm proud of the way you handled yourself on the job."

"Was it necessary to have Daylra's Dear sneak up on me?"

Retina paused just outside of sword's reach.

"Yes," Sathel replied.

"Finally, I appreciate Butterfly's help, but I don't need her here. Tell her to go away."

She turned on her heel and returned to the parade. No one noticed she was gone. Suddenly, Sathel choked up and rubbed her eyes. Her husband put an arm around her and she leaned into him.

"She would have done wonderfully in Squad Four."

"Yes, she would have."
___________________________________________________________________________
Mana Mutation Menace, and the rest of the Journey to Chaos series, is available for purchase at Amazon

To learn more about the heroines of Journey to Chaos, visit the Tvtropes character sheet. 

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, August 16, 2016

Answering Review Request: Dawn of Steam: Gods of the Sun

Jeffery Cook asked me to read his novel "Dawn of Steam: Gods of the Sun". It is the second book in his Dawn of Steam series. I rated the first one highly and you can that review at this link. I was excited to read this and it fulfilled my expectations. I will examine Plot, Character and Polish and then assign a grade.

PLOT

The main cast is continuing their exploration but in a significantly different context. The term Wham Episode is appropriate for a letter in the first arc of this book. Things are substantially more difficult for the Coltrane Crew this time around. For instance, they can't take the airship for granted and the probability that will die violently far away from home is a daily occurrence. I would go into detail but that would involve divulging a fundamental change in the status quo. What I can say is that the opposing airship crew is much more prominent in this volume and has different goals than the Coltrane Crew.

 

There is a great plot progression. There are five arcs in this story based on the location of their setting. Each one is simultaneously self-contained with its own introduction, climbing action and climax while at the same time building up to the box's climax and working to progress the series' overall story. This three layer structure is tricky to pull of but Mr.Cook does it very well, and not only that but he does it in the epistolary format, 'and not only that' but there is a two way distinction in the way in which this is done.
Greggory has three methods of recording this adventure: personal journal, letters to his employer and letters to his girlfriend, and all of them are different in the style he writes it and the information he provides. For instance, he is professional in the employer letters, affectionate in the girlfriend letters and only puts private information that he does not plan on sharing with anyone in the personal journals. Secondly, Greggory is not the only one recording the journey. There are also letters and journal entries from other members of the crew showing their private thoughts and plans and perspectives that differ from Greg's.


The ending is great. Like the previous, it contains one section of the overall journey and ends neatly at a stopping place. No cliffhanger is needed to force interest from readers because there are plenty of sequel hooks that are well imbedded within the story itself.


CHARACTERS

Greggory's character development is fantastic.
-->In the first book he had a well conceived and defined outlook on the world and its people, and he considered this to be "natural". He often commented on how Sam Bowe was an anomaly as a human being because she was the opposite of what he thought all women were. Now he realizes that there is a difference between what is "natural" and what is "normal" and specifically how "normal" is relative to one's location and company. His present location and company on the Coltrane airship have a different definition of "normal" compared to the society he is part of in England.
-->A second development is Action Survivor. In this book he has to lead companies of men into battle, defend forts and climb mountains. His role on the airship is chronicler and his role in the Napoleonic Wars was messenger but he performs these roles as well as he is able to. It's a running gag for him to write something along the lines of "it was an exciting experience but I never ever want to do it again".

The Coltrane siblings are also substantially developed. The reader learns with Greg about their history, the origin of their teamwork and the true extent of their skills and fame. Jillian has a journal entry that is fascinating in comparison to her behavior as described by Greg and James has a particularly moving journal entry near the end.

The other members of the crew continue to develop as well. Penn becomes the forefront cultural anthropologist in the places they visit and Sam Bowe has a The World Is Just Awesome viewpoint.

Unlike the first book there is now a clearly defined villain. In a way their appearance is sudden and shocking and in a way it is not. In either case, I find them to be a good and appropriate villain.


POLISH

The epistolary format is well maintained.

There are letter heads, dates (or not in Sam Bowe's case) and notes about whether or not Cordelia had to translate the letter from some other language into English (in the case of Jillian and James Coltrane). The style of writing is also different.
Most importantly, there are few direct quotes for dialogue. I always found it strange in the frame narrative of "the character is writing all this down in-universe" that the writer can remember the exact wording that each character uses for when they write down the event later. In this case, Greg only gives occasional quotes such as something Sam Bowe said which struck him as particularly odd or James Coltrane's Rousing Speech.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Dawn of Steam: Gods of the Sun" an A+

Click here for the previous review request: A Matter of Belief

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, August 13, 2016

Sassy Saturday: Don’t underestimate elf tech!

Welcome to another week of Sassy Saturday at Trickster Eric Novels.  Every week will be an excerpt from one of my novels showcasing a kick-butt heroine. If you want read about the original blog hop the link is here.

The previous Sassy Saturday post can be read here: Sassing Death Gods

The context for this post: Eric has been targeted by Samael, a death god who reports directly to Death himself, because of what he did to another reaper in Looming Shadow.  In order to save him Tasio made a wager with Samael that Eric couldn't clear a local dungeon without relapsing into monstrosity.  Annala is helping him do this.
_______________________________________________

Monsters lay dead and bleeding at the cage’s boundaries. Their bodies were burned, electrocuted, or simply broken. Others sat and stared at the bars. Only an odd tail or abnormal limb marked them as anything but human and Eric knew this to be only superficial. He himself had, or could have, a monstrous appearance, but he was still human on the inside. However, the monster was also inside him, so it stood to reason that they would have monsters too.

“Hello,” he said and waved.

One of them approached the bars and mimicked him. She was a woman as tall as Basilard with long orange hair and skin with the consistency of sandstone. While her clothing was worn and torn, the gems embedded all over her body gleamed.

She smiled and asked, “Can you open the gate?”

“Yes, I can. Were you trapped in here?”

“Yes. Queen Kasile the VI thought it was more humane than killing us. It is difficult for us to make a living here.” She sniffed and her bright eyes welled with tears. “Please let us out.”

“Right away!”

He pulled out his Dragon’s Lair badge, but Annala grabbed his hand.

“This is obviously a trap.”

“This is obviously injustice. They’ve been imprisoned here for years, ever since Kasile’s mother sat on the throne. Just a month was enough to make me stir crazy.”

“Exactly, and so they must work for Nulso. Gruffle chose this spot for a reason. They’re going to attack us as soon as you release them.”

“They’re victims of Nulso! He ruined their lives with his ‘treatment.’ That could be me in there. How long until it happens again?”

“Eric…Think about this…”

“You don’t think I have?!”

He pulled his wrist away and slammed his badge against the gate. Its lock flashed and the many runes and spells warding the entrance shined briefly as they deactivated. A crowd of monsters gathered behind the gate with the crystal woman at its head. The gate opened before them and they filed out in an orderly fashion.

“Thank you for freeing us. Now we can eat to our heart’s content.”

“You’ll have to wait until the stores open in the morning.”

“Why wait when there’s food here?”

All the gems on her body flashed and bombarded Eric with the spells they unleashed. Caught off-guard, he took the full force of all of them. Only Annala’s spell shield, Mana Guard, prevented instant death, and even then, he was stunned. Two wolf-like monsters came from the crystal woman’s left and right and extended foot-long claws from each of their four arms with which to cut him up.

“Targets acquired,” Annala muttered.

A complex magic circle with many sub-circles rotated beneath her feet. In her eyes, she saw a bull's-eye's eye over every monster outside the facility.

“Fire!”

She released her arrow and it split into a dozen energy duplicates. The real one soared for the crystal woman while the others targeted her minions. Six of them found their targets and killed instantly while four more injured. The only ones to avoid the barrage entirely were the crystal woman and the knife wolves by using the bodies of others as shields. Then the solid arrow radiated sound that cracked many of the woman’s gems before she smashed it.

By now, Annala had fired a second arrow, which created just as many duplicates, and now they only had three targets. The monsters dodged acrobatically but the wolves were ultimately impaled by three each while the original found its mark in the crystal woman. Again, it produced the gem-shattering frequency and reduced her body to dust.

“Don’t underestimate elf tech!”
________________________________________________________
Mana Mutation Menace, and the rest of the Journey to Chaos series, is available for purchase at Amazon

To learn more about the heroines of Journey to Chaos, visit the Tvtropes character sheet. 

The next Sassy Saturday post is Spider in the Brush

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, August 10, 2016

Journey to Chaos update (August 10th 2016)

A quick update regarding the status of various things in the Journey to Chaos series.
1. A Mage's Power
-Paperback version is out and available. If you go to CreateSpace and use the discount code GVE2H9WC then you can save two dollars.
2. Looming Shadow
-I put out a second edition for the kindle version because Grammarly found errors. Hopefully there aren't any more but, if there are, I will catch them when I do the line-by-line revision with the paperback version
-The paperback version is halfway done. I did Grammarly and now I'll go through it line by line. After that I imagine the process to availability will be quick.
3. Mana Mutation Menace
-I plan to go through this one with Grammarly to look for errors and that will be the second edition.
-Paperback will follow
4. Transcending Limitations (book 4)
-Beta reading continues.


To learn more about the Journey to Chaos series, visit the Tvtropes page. 

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, August 6, 2016

Sassy Saturday: Sassing Death Gods

Welcome to another week of Sassy Saturday at Trickster Eric Novels.  Every week will be an excerpt from one of my novels showcasing a kick-butt heroine. If you want read about the original blog hop the link is here.

The previous Sassy Saturday post can be read here: Escape from Mt.Heios

The context for this post:  Zettai is a new character. Up until now she has not had any extended "sassy" moments to highlight. She is a young girl (five or so years old) and a native of Ceiha. She fell in with Eric's group and has been learning magic from him. Stuff happened and now she running away from a grim reaper (not the reaper, which would this guy's boss, but the local one).

This is the last excerpt from Looming Shadow. The next book in the Journey to Chaos series, Mana Mutation Menace, will be featured next week.

____________________________________________

A cylinder-alligator-shaped beast colored in shades of purple from nearly white to nearly black. It had a primate arm, a bird wing, a lizard leg, and a fish fin. With these, it beat up the god that crashed into it. After the first five blows, Reno Grade punched its main body into the distance, but by then, Zettai had escaped again.

“It’s useless to hide from me, girl.”

In a heartbeat, he was directly overhead. She dove behind a rock.

“You were ‘killed’ by necrocraft and thus highlighted in my divine vision.”

The rock crumbled into sand under the force of his punch and she jumped away. Tripping over her own feet, she sprawled across the ground. She turned to face him and shouted, “G-Go jump in the Sea of Chaos!”

He grabbed her by the throat with his right hand and lifted her four feet up from the ground. Coldness filled her from head to toe and despair filled her mind and soul.

“I just might have to because of you. Modil knows that I violated my parole. Your selfish actions ruined my operation!”

“You know, for a divine being, you think a lot like a mortal.”

What?

“You abuse your power, pick on those weaker than yourself, and blame others for your own problems. A minute ago, I was scared of you because you looked like this unstoppable force of nature, but now, all I see is my dad taking out his anger on me because he’s too scared to confront its true source. You’re not a god; you’re a worm on a power trip.”

Reno Grade ripped her soul out of her body and held in his left hand. She shuddered but otherwise was unaffected.

“That felt…funky.” She shook her head and noticed her soul. “So that’s what they look like. Does this count as an out-of-body experience? Can I talk to myself like this?”

For once in his afterlife, Reno Grade was at a loss for words.

“Why…How…What?”

She smirked. “The so-called god is asking a puny human for revelations?”

Reno Grade glared. He would age her into dust for such an insult, but that other mortal stole his authority over senescence. If he went back for it, Tasio would no doubt find him and his trump card could not help him. Then another idea came to him. Although his face remained skeletal, Zettai got the impression that he was leering at her.

“There are a number of things I did to little girls when I was mortal. If you’re so sure I think like one, then perhaps I should do those things to you.”

Zettai kicked his arm, squirmed in his grip, and shouted, “Creep!” but he only leered more. With his prey in both hands, he flew up and out of the mountain’s Fog Cloud. He set his sights on the other mountain because her soul retained a positive impression of it and he wanted to change that. He flew unhindered and unaware that he was on someone’s radar.

A divinity such as the resident reaper was higher in standing than a planetary avatar, thus, someone that tracked avatars would easily be able to detect him. This was especially the case when he had just exited a Fog Cloud because it would have obscured his presence. The blip startled Emily and she asked Kallen what to do. Kallen replied, “Press the Smite Gods button.”

“Uh, Boss, is that really the smart thing to –”

“Emily, push the button right now.”

“Yes, Boss.”
________________________________________________________
Looming Shadow, and the rest of the Journey to Chaos series, is available for purchase at Amazon

To learn more about the heroines of Journey to Chaos, visit the Tvtropes character sheet. 

The next Sassy Saturday post is Don't underestimate elf tech!

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, August 2, 2016

Dark Fiction without angst.


I don't (generally) accept Dark Fantasy/Dark Science Fiction review requests because the ones I have accepted include a lot more angst than darkness. There are pages and pages of the protagonist whinning about how hard life is and how unfair the world is; it gets boring. Furthermore, it can easily become pointless if the author is so focused on the angst that they forget to make use of it.

You want to describe the emotional toil from an apocalyptic event? Great. You want to establish a character's baseline for future character development (in any particular direction; not just idealistic or positive etc.)? That's good thinking. You want to make clear a character's motivation for a certain act or goal? That shows an eye for character  building.  Unless you do something with the angst then it does nothing but show the character complaining about their problems without doing anything to resolve them.  On Tvtropes, we don't call that "angst" at all. We call it "wangst".
 
This was really bad in one book I read because it was written in the first person. The protagonist couldn't go a page without decrying the corrupt and uncaring government, or how her teammates don't care about her, or the horrible things that happened to her family. All of this was in the narration, so she was essentially turning her head into an echo chamber of impotent self-pitying.
 
“Blood Skies” is an excellent example of Dark Fantasy without angst.  There's lots of suffering and a great deal of death but no one angst because this is the status quo. The whole world is like this and has been for some time. Humanity has gotten used to it. This new normal has bred a certain mental detachment and culture of playing hard because life is short.

"Attack on Titan" avoids this problem.  Whether the people are brave enough to fight the titans or run away screaming, they don't whine about it. During the Battle of Trost, Mikasa basically says, "I'm going to kill those titans. If I die then I'm dead." She is clearly experiencing great mental turmoil due to memories of the last time she saw a titan attack and a more recent personal tragedy but there's no wangst.  Similarly, her adoptive brother's attitude is "no matter how cruel the world can be, fight!". Even the more cynical members of the team, like Jean, are still taking action without long stretches of cynical postulating.

If angst exists in any story then it must be put to use and this is especially important for Dark Fiction (fantasy, science fiction, etc.) because there are a lot of things that can cause it.  Use it for characterization or world building or a plot theme but don't let it hang there. Otherwise you get wangst, and that can get boring and pointless quickly.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Sassy Saturday: Escape from Mt.Heios

Welcome to another week of Sassy Saturday at Trickster Eric Novels.  Every week will be an excerpt from one of my novels showcasing a kick-butt heroine. If you want read about the original blog hop the link is here.

The previous Sassy Saturday post can be read here: Fighting zombies, mages and memories

The context for this post:  Tiza and Nolien along with other allies are attempting to escape Mt.Heios, which is basically a den of corruptive magical energy and really powerful monsters.  On Tvtropes, this sort of situation is what we call "The Godzilla Threshold".

_________________________________________________________


Their destination was Mount Heios, where Tiza, Nolien, and Vaya were running for their lives.

Monsters everywhere were eating each other. They were slashing, biting, smashing, pounding, and melting each other. The tussle between a reaper and a Bladi drove then into a frenzy. Every monster without a meal looked to the small, insignificant-looking creatures and deemed them an easy target.

The fungi that Neuro was thrown into was poisonous to mind, body, and spirit, so he was out of action. Tiza had to carry him on her back. In his current state, he was the lightest of all of them.

Looking around, Tiza scanned the horde for known breeds and quickly guesstimated what they were and what they could do. Large, old, grown strong on a diet of Fog and the mana-drenched meat of others, they ranked as B class monsters. She took stock of her equipment and her allies and possible strategies in a moment. Then she closed her eyes, removed her safety mask, and muttered, “Spider Daylra, all conditions have been met.” The monsters pounced. She opened her eyes and shouted, “Light come forth!”

Suddenly, the monsters halted. Their instincts shouted danger of the creature that multiplied its own power instantly. Tiza's eyes glowed with blue light and her body glowed with a pale blue aura. She blurred past a monster and side-kicked a second to open a path down the mountain.

She deflected a third monster reaching for Vaya and then turned aside a fourth bounding toward Nolien. Her light flickered, but she took a deep breath and renewed it. Then she tossed both her companions over her shoulder and ran down the mountain slope towards the edge of the Fog Cloud.

The monsters followed her. Hideous and misshapen, they chased her relentlessly. It was only by the power of Videlicet Mens that she stayed ahead of them. Only with the greatest effort did she maintain its effect. She took one deep breath after another and each one empowered her to greater heights. They also eroded her health and sanity.

Her hair was matted against her head with sweat. Her body heaved; a feat made dangerous by the thick Fog. No longer taking controlled breaths, the Fog began to pulse erratically within her body. Her skin turned both sickly pale and translucent. Nolien recognized the symptoms, but she did not. She was no longer concerned with them. She was not aware of them. The light of Videlicet Mens blinded her to everything but her goal. She was developing monsanity, the insanity known only to monsters.

As the seconds passed and she grew wearier, the monsters grew closer. They grew close enough for Nolien to count their teeth. A titanic monster stepped into her path, but Tiza jumped ten feet and kicked it in the stomach. Empowered by Videlicet Mens, the Fog, and her fierce determination, she knocked it over and then ran over its face. She jumped off it and continued her sprint uninterrupted all the way out of the Fog Cloud.

On her way down, she tripped and skidded down the slopes. The three people she was carrying tumbled in three directions. She breathed as deep and fast as she could but it was hard, painful, and futile in the thin air of Ceiha. Nolien rushed to her side to begin treatment, then paused when he looked back at the Fog Cloud. The monsters were following them.

They started heaving as he did when he first entered Ceiha's territorial waters. It was slow and clumsy, but they continued stalking forwards. The smallest ones adapted quicker and moved faster. Soon, they would be overrun. Nolien was calculating the odds of running again when he heard something shocking.

Tiza whimpered. Nolien would never forget it. Indomitable Tiza was afraid. His own safety was suddenly less important and saving her became his priority. Now...how do I do it...?

You can't do it, Honorable Elder Brother. Give up.

The healer ignored it and made more plans, but it followed him. It pointed out every flaw in every one. He could hear it laughing at him. Admit it. You can't do it.

Tiza flickered like a sputtering candle and, suddenly, it dawned on him. I can't!

“As I am Chaos, you are Order divine. As the sun to the moon, you shall shine. Take my power and me mine!” His slip made his face burn. He swore he could hear The Trickster laughing. “I mean like a leyline! MANA TRANSFER!”

A blue tether shot from his staff to Tiza's back and, instantly, all her fatigue disappeared. Empowered by Nolien, she grabbed the horns of the monster about to gore him and used it as a club to bash, smash, and flatten the last three monsters pursuing them. Then she tossed that one into the air, channeled enough mana to her blade to make it a mana blade, jumped up to the monster's level, and slashed off all its heads before it crashed to the ground, dead. She landed lightly and stood tall. Then other monsters caught up with it.

Unlike the three before, these were bigger than she was. Their spirits were far stronger and, unlike her, they were not exhausted. Instead of fighting them, she retreated. While she could not defeat them, Ceiha itself could. Artfully, she drew them further and further away from the Fog Cloud. One by one, they suffocated on the thin air. The sense of self-preservation in the remaining monsters kicked in and they retreated to the Fog Cloud.

Nolien had never been more in awe of her. Together with the blue dress, she appeared as a sapphire reaper. Then she faced him and he saw a monstrous look in her eyes.

__________________________________________________________
Looming Shadow, and the rest of the Journey to Chaos series, is available for purchase at Amazon

To learn more about the heroines of Journey to Chaos, visit the Tvtropes character sheet. 

The next Sassy Saturday post is Sassing Death Gods

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, July 27, 2016

Movie Review: X-Men Apocalypse

I watched X-Men Apocolypse during a weekend in May and my overall opinion is positive. There are flaws in the narrative but Its The Same Now It Sucks, is not one of them.  I will do my usual of examining Plot, Character, and Polish while also addressing flaws that I have heard and read. Then I will assign a grade.

PLOT

The prologue is fantastic. It is basically the climax of a different story with different heroes who enact their plan to defeat the Big Bad and save the day. Then there's this cool-looking "time tunnel" for the credits. It's a great start.

On the other hand, the movie's main narrative starts out divided. Normally, I take this as a bad sign because it shows a lack of focus. There's a scene with Scott's Cyclops powers awakening, then something in Poland with a guy who is implied to be Magneto. It's a "how is this relevant" sort of feeling. Then there's a scene with Apocalypse waking up and walking around Cairo.

The rest of the plot is more unified and focused. Even the Weapon X (Essex) thing fits in with the likely/logical response to what happened previously. Also, the plot doesn't follow a standard escalation. The final battle looked to be something pen-ultimate before the tables turned again.

I've read how the biggest criticism of this movie is that it deals with the same themes as previous X-Men movies and doesn't break any new ground. In response to that:


1.  All of These X-Men Films are X-Men Films
-->Of course, they're going to be similar in themes and problems and conflict etc. They're all working from the same premise. X-Men without Fantastic Racism is not X-Men. Diabolic villains that are not influenced by something relating to such a theme is likewise a minority in their Rogue's Gallery.


2. "Not Breaking Ground" is Not a Flaw.
--> Dismissing a film because it is not ground breaking is like saying everything has to be innovative in order to be worth something. If something is "not ground breaking" then that it is not a problem because the person with this mindset would toss something innovative away once they have experienced it.  Look up "Seinfeld is Unfunny" on Tvtropes to see what I mean. 


 I am disgusted every time I see a review that is negative solely (or even mostly) because the reviewer thinks it is "same-old same old". They will never, ever, find anything original; not in any medium. It may sound "fresh" to them because they haven't personally seen anything like it, or no one has done anything recently like it, but that does not make it original. A well constructed and executed paint-by-numbers piece is worth more (in my opinion) than an original piece of crap. 

 3. These Characters and Plots are Not Static
--> if you're still looking for broken ground, or at least something different from previous films, then you're not looking hard enough. For instance, Magneto's not the villain this time.  He's neither the Big Bad nor does he usurp the Big Bad's plan or become the next Big Bad. If you're paying attention, you'll notice that Magneto's role has been different in every movie and none more so than this one.


In regards to the villains, there has been plenty of diversity in villains. In fact, Apocalypse is the first "take over the world" villain in this series. The first movie was about turning humans into mutants, "X2" was a psychic genocide against mutants by a non-mutant, and "The Last Stand" focused on the mutant cure and the rampage of Dark Phoenix.  In "First Class", Shaw had this Nuke 'Em option which probably would have killed everyone (mutant and otherwise) and in "Days of Future's Past" there is the Sentinel plan which goes horribly wrong and wipes out everyone. Apocalypse is unlike all of them. 
 
 
In terms of flaws, I would point to the divided narration after the prologue and the lack of set up for Jean's Phoenix Force. There are a few indications of it before it comes to the fore.

 The Ending is great. There is resolution to the Apocalypse conflict but both smaller personal problems remain and the larger struggle for mutant-human coexistence continues.

CHARACTERS

Xavier. It's interesting to see him in this film because it is half way between what he was like in ''First Class'' and how he appears in the first X-Men movie of the original trilogy. He's started the school, become this All Loving Hero teacher and he's in a wheelchair but he's still (comparatively speaking) young and inexperienced.  He's started down the path of becoming the "wise old sage" Professor X is generally known as but he is still young and still tender, so he's kind of a student too.  He's also not a Wide-Eyed Idealist. He is still The Idealist but not wide-eyed.  He shares Erik's fears about mutant oppression but he is confident that they can be overcome.

Raven has evolved into a counterpoint to her foster brother. Instead of teaching control and self-acceptance in a safe mansion bubble, she is out in the trenches rescuing mutants from human cruelty. She urges him to teach his students how to fight; not to go to war but to prepare for a war.  You could say she is the Realist to Xavier's Optimist.

Erik is cynic.  He's tried Xavier's way and it cost him his family a second time. He even tried the "protect those that fear you" thing when saving a co-worker. Now he's back to working on mutant supremacy. It's kind like of like watching someone fall back into addiction after being sober for a while. Yes, he's done awful things and, yes, he adds a few more in this movie, but he's not a monster. He's someone that has been broken by grief, several times, and recruited by someone evil when he was at a moment of weakness.

POLISH

It looks amazing. Whoever put together Quicksilver's "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" scene deserves an award.

Trickster Eric Novels gives X-Men Apocalypse an A+

The previous movie review is Ant Man

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, July 23, 2016

Sassy Saturday: Fighting Zombies, Mages and Memories

Welcome to another week of Sassy Saturday at Trickster Eric Novels.  Every week will be an excerpt from one of my novels showcasing a kick-butt heroine. If you want read about the original blog hop the link is here.

The previous Sassy Saturday post can be read here: Plundering Dengel's Treasury

The context for this post: The Crimson Killer of Ceiha has launched a plan to eliminate Dragon's Lair Team Four, but he wants Tiza alive. Therefore he sends his minions and partner to kidnap her.
Fun Fact: I like listening to "Before my Body is Dry" while re-reading this scene.

_____________________________________________


Back at the camp, Tiza was about to become a hostage. Then, just as Sosuke set the cuffs around Tiza’s hands, two mana bolts generated from them and blew her and Kazuma away. Two more at her feet did the same to Haru, who was holding them together. They had the force of goat kicks and knocked the wind out of all three of them. Tiza grabbed two daggers from under her pillow and stabbed Sosuke in the chest. Then she mana bolted the boys again as they recovered and fell on them in turn.

She walked out of the tent with her sword on her back, her gauntlets on her arms, and one ring on each hand. There was dagger in one and the handcuffs in the other. Haburt fired a mana bolt at her feet powerful enough to crater the ground. It sent shrapnel flying and cut her dress (it quickly repaired itself to perfect condition).

“Why are you still conscious? The chloroform should have put you under for hours!”

“I’m immune to it.”

“How could you be immune to chloroform?”

“Are you kidding? That was the first thing Spider Daylra made me immune to.”

“Did she make you immune to this? Wind Vault!” 

Winds picked up all around Tiza and began solidifying into walls. She ran towards Haburt and the wind followed her, still solidifying. She cocked a punch, only to hit a wall made of nothing.

“No!”

She pounded on the barrier between her and Haburt.

“Let me out!”

She punched and kicked, but all she accomplished was making her hands and feet sting and her wrists sore. She sword-slashed and mana bolted, but only wasted energy.

Memories flooded her consciousness; wind closing in, a woman shouting for her, and three men fighting. Haburt carrying her to a prison somewhere and another woman smiling and forcing something down her throat. “How are you feeling today, Vaya dear?”

“AHHHHH!”

Videlicet Mens activated and she resumed battering the walls of her cage. Every inch of her flared blue light as she put every ounce of her power into escaping. Haburt held it firm. As a greater mage, he was leagues ahead of her in spiritual power. Escape was impossible. Eventually, the aura faded and Tiza sank to her knees. Dropping her sword, she breathed heavily and hugged herself.

“You must think me a monster for this, but it’s the only way to reunite with my daughter.”

“S-spare me…the shit… asshole.”

Tiza pushed a button on her hilt and the bottom dropped out. Along with it was a tiny vial of Mana Juice. She unscrewed the top and threw back the contents in one shot.

“You don’t care about anyone but yourself. I've had nightmares about this spell for years and I couldn’t tell if it was a memory or not. I was terrified of you without knowing why. I suppose I should thank you for trying a second time. Now I can conquer my fear.”

Haburt gulped. He told himself it was impossible. She was a novice fighter. Nothing she had could possibly overcome a greater mage’s spell. Tiza stood up and smirked. It was impossible, but a sinking feeling in his gut told him otherwise.

 Tiza clenched her right fist and then extended her middle finger to show off the tiger’s eye ring.

“Hard as stone, every bone: Earth Empowerment!”

Brown light shined from her eyes and her skin. She picked up her sword and the brown light spread to the tip of its blade. Her soul was now putting out earth-tinged mana, thus making her an earth-aligned creature. Her sword was now the perfect key for a cage made of wind.

She clenched her left fist and then extended her middle finger to show off the pale sapphire.

“Be gone air, I will not despair: Wind Banishment!”

Soft blue light flashed and the Wind Vault waned. The walls were now thinner and the winds themselves weaker.

She took a breath and thrust her sword through the wind wall. Haburt pushed back, but little by little, the blade penetrated until it emerged on the other side. With a wordless cry, Tiza slashed upwards. She stepped through the gap and pointed her sword at Haburt. Her killing intent made his knees weak.
________________________________________________________

The next Sassy Saturday post is Escape from Mt.Heios
Looming Shadow, and the rest of the Journey to Chaos series, is available for purchase at Amazon

To learn more about the heroines of Journey to Chaos, visit the Tvtropes character sheet. 

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, July 19, 2016

Answering Review Request: A Matter of Belief

Matthew Ward asked me to read his novel "A Matter of Belief". It takes place in the same verse as the "Shadows of the Raven" story that I reviewed some time ago. You can read that review here.  This one features Erika Nierev as the protagonist in a murder mystery. I will examine Plot, Character and Polish, and then assign a grade.

PLOT

This story is a prequel to Shadows of the Raven. Erika Nierev is a sergeant instead of a lieutenant so it must be some time before.


I describe this book as "everything good about Shadow of the Raven compressed into a smaller space". There is intriguing mystery, a rich mythology, engaging characters and an edge of supernatural that builds up and comes to the fore. The difference is that it is much shorter; 54 pages in total instead of several hundred.
 
There are good twists. Perhaps someone more familiar with the mystery genre will spot them sooner than I did but they caught me by surprise.  Chekhov's Gun is used skillfully.

For those that have read Shadows of the Raven, there are fun call forwards, cameos and other connections. 

It has a satisfying conclusion.


 CHARACTERS

Erika Nierev gets a lot more characterization here than Shadows of the Raven. She has several awesome moments in that book but Edric's first person narration gives the sense of her being foisted off on the police force by her family because she failed to distinguish herself in any other way. Wow, he couldn't have been more wrong, which goes to show how little he knew about the society he lived in. Nierev can be described as a Knight in Sour Armor; grumpy about her job and the problems around her but resolute in being a good cop.

Quintus gets to shine as the Big Good. He is wise, reasonable, action-forward and his behind-the-scenes maneuvering keeps the peace in the city. Nierev notes an amusing quirk of his; despite being from a noble family he likes to act as though he is not but still above commoners. In other words, like he's in neither camp.

 Stefan Dalrand was a delightful surprise. His death starts the plot of Shadows of the Raven and so it was interesting to see this personality that was Edric's only friend before he defrosted. He strikes me as this distinguished and scholarly elder gentleman, who is also a troll.

POLISH

It looks great. I didn't see any errors.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "A Matter of Belief" an A+


Click here for the next review request: Dawn of Steam: Gods of the Sun

Click here for the previous review request: Plaint for Provence
 
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, July 16, 2016

Sassy Saturday: Plundering Dengel's Treasury

Welcome to another week of Sassy Saturday at Trickster Eric Novels.  Every week will be an excerpt from one of my novels showcasing a kick-butt heroine. If you want read about the original blog hop the link is here.

The previous Sassy Saturday post can be read here: Bureaucratic Battle

The context for this post: Dragon's Lair Team Four has arrived at Dengel's Lair. While Eric investigates the inner sanctum, Tiza searches for loot.
____________________________________________________________________________


Dusty stone and old cobwebs; locked doors and mystic runes. This was the home of a mage arrogant enough to build himself a castle. To historians, it was a precious window to the past. To mages, it was a holy site. To Ceiha, it was taboo. To Tiza, it was a container for adventure and loot. While Eric was gone, she discovered an additional area of the tower. Now she prowled them with sword in one hand and healer in the other.

“Are you going to tell me why we're doing this?”

Tiza answered without looking back.

“Professor Pathetic isn't the only history buff in the world. Anything here could be worth a fortune to the right person.” She continuously scanned the walls, floor, and ceiling for traps, but mostly for loot. Due to the ambient mana in the stones, everything was blurry in her Third Eye, but she managed, thanks to Spider Daylra’s training. “Just imagine what we could find!” 

“I am. That's why we should stay with Basilard.”

“Look!” She pointed to a plaque above a door: a crest with a chest. “That must be the treasury.”

“Then there will be traps.”

“What's more important to a mage as egotistical and fixated on magic research as the Old Fossil: his vault or his lab?”

“His lab.”

“Then doesn't it stand to reason that the lab would be better protected?”

“Yes, but –”

Tiza yanked him forwards before he could finish.

The door's lock was ancient but not rusted. Like the rest of the building, it was preserved by its master's power. The mechanism looked like it came out of the forge last week instead of the last millennium. Tiza considered shattering it with her hilt and strength charm but decided on a different approach. She withdrew a pouch of metal picks and examined the lock with Third Eye. Eventually, she was rewarded with a click and she pocketed her first loot.

“An authentic lock from the Ancient Dengel period of Dengel's castle. In perfect collector’s edition and exclusive in number. This could pay for another shield.”

“Or a lot more shoes...” Nolien muttered.

Tiza whacked him, but he dodged, so instead, she entered the vault while muttering angrily. As she crossed the threshold, a rune activated. A cage dropped on her, but Nolien pulled her back before it could trap her.

“Wonderful!”

“You're welcome. Let's leave.”

“Haven't you heard the phrase ‘pirates don't bury nickel’? Placing a trap means there's something worth guarding, which means there's something worth stealing.

Nolien backpedaled Tiza out of the room and placed himself between her and the door. He used his barrier to keep her out. She did something between a scowl and a pout while he examined the cage.

“This cage has a paralysis rune on the inside of its roof. If this fell on you, you would be helpless. You couldn't even call for help.”

“That's the beauty of the buddy system; you'll save me because you're a coward.”

“No, I'll have to save you because you're reckless.”

“I found a trap –”

“You were caught by a trap –”

Tiza's expression was now one hundred percent scowl. “– and it was a restraint trap. No matter what happens, you can just free me afterwards. What's the worst that could happen?”

“Dengel could escape the Abyss, re-enter this world, float to this mountain, possess me, use my body to drag you somewhere, and then make you his slave.”

Tiza drew a dagger, punctured a hole in Nolien's barrier, and ripped it open. The shock made the rest of it disappear and Tiza marched past him once again. “I am not some lily-handed lady whose chastity you have to protect.” Then she stopped and added in a small voice, “If that really did happen....would you save me?”

Before he could reply, she ran away, dodging two more traps and avoiding a snare, and then turning a corner. Capturing no one, they instantly reset and Nolien carefully edged by them.

_________________________________________________________________________
Looming Shadow, and the rest of the Journey to Chaos series, is available for purchase at Amazon

To learn more about the heroines of Journey to Chaos, visit the Tvtropes character sheet. 

The next Sassy Saturday post can be read here: Fighting Zombies, Mages and Memories
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, July 9, 2016

Sassy Saturday: Bureaucratic Battle

Welcome to another week of Sassy Saturday at Trickster Eric Novels.  Every week will be an excerpt from one of my novels showcasing a kick-butt heroine. If you want read about the original blog hop the link is here.

The previous Sassy Saturday post can be read here: Tiza the Tank
The context for this post: Being queen is difficult and tricky so Kasile regularly vents her frustrations to the one person she feels comfortable doing so, Eric. This is one of those times.

After Tiza's action hero exploits last week...huh? You say that was three weeks ago? My, how time flies...Anyway, I felt that Kasile's "fighting" in her government was a tempting contrast.

______________________________________________
 
Kasile's guards opened the door for him and Kasile herself welcomed him with poise and grace. She dismissed the guards. It was only when he sat down across from her that he saw her legs jittering underneath her heavy skirts.


“The Knight of Education is an insufferable ass,” she said while pouring tea.
Eric sipped it. “You don't say...”
Kasile made an unqueen-like groan. “Yes! She created a new scholarship centered on a trading card game just so her grandchildren can attend a private high school at taxpayer expense.”
“A trading card game? That’s ridiculous.”
“I know! My auditor protested that she had the gall to play the ‘diversity’ card and accuse him of discrimination against the non-athletic.”
“Are we talking about a political maneuver or the card game?”
Kasile rose without elegance and hiked up her skirts so she could round the table and smack him on the head. Then she slumped back into her chair.
“She’s the kind of smug, entitled, and entrenched bitch that my dad warned me about before he was possessed by an enforcer. That condescending tone she took when I summoned her…! ‘You’ll understand when you’re a grandmother, my little queen’ GRRRR! She makes me want to splash this tea in her face!”
Eric munched a biscuit. “What are you going to do about it?”
“I’m going to host this card game tournament of hers and personally invite the best players I can find. The prize will be the scholarship. If her smothered brats want it, then they have to earn it!”
Eric drank more tea and poured himself some more. “Why don’t you just say ‘no’?”
Kasile threw her fan at his forehead and, after it impacted, she held out her hand in a silent command for him to return it. He pushed it back into her reach without a thought.
“If I did that then I’d open myself up to ‘the queen is anti-education’ propaganda and I don’t need that kind of press right now. Besides, Ataidar is not an autocracy and my status as a demi-goddess does not entitle me to ignore the free will of others. Indeed, my divine ancestor is the Goddess of Desire and as such –”
This was followed by a summation of over two thousand years of political philosophy mixed with fire-themed theology. It went all the way back to the founder of Ataidar and earlier. Eric involuntarily tuned it out. It was a habit from listening to Dengel all day and all night. Because of this, he didn't realize she asked him a question until she smacked him again.
“Are you listening?”
“You lost me around King Steiner IX and Queen Fran the XII. Why do all your ancestors copy each other’s names?”
“Irrelevant. Besides, the card game is trendy right now, and so I can use it as a fundraiser for mana mutation projects.”
“Like me going to the Mana-less Abysshole to look for Dengel-era research.”
“I don’t expect you to find anything. The point is that I’m making an effort.”
You are making an effort?”
“Yes, me. As queen, I am an administrator. If a god wants to get something done, they don’t descend from the Celestial Realm to do it themselves. They tell a monk or a nun to do it. I work through agents like you and Gruffle. I stay here in my heaven while you go out into the world to put my plans in motion and watch my enemies.”
“So that’s why Gruffle is following Nulso.”
“Of course. Arresting a mana mutation pioneer who turned to ordercraft is also bad press I can’t handle right now, so I assigned someone to watch his movements.”
“You trust him to do that?”
“Of course not. That’s why I placed a Fire Blood spell on him. If he breaks his parole, then his blood will turn into fire. This means he can’t leave Nulso behind or work against my interests.”
“Couldn’t Nulso negate it with his own power?”
She tried to smack him a fourth time, but Eric caught her wrist. Then, noticing that the biscuits were gone, he moved her fingers into his mouth and mimed chewing them. She made a face and pulled her hand back, wiping it on a napkin.
“I am a divine being. I have divine blood, which means I use divine magic. Furthermore, I am the lawfully designated authority in this country and I administer punishment for crimes occurring within my own home. Put these two facts together and Nulso cannot touch my spell.”
Until the meeting of the Noble Council, they spoke of other things. There were other knight departments giving her grief, nobles that hounded her with proposals, the Summit projects, and the soon in-coming suitor line. This led to talking about Siron and his honoring ceremony that very night. He was a brilliant hero during Tasio’s prank and she wanted to make sure everyone knew it.
“Thus my excuse for why I summoned you: I need your opinion on the Tazul attack.”
 
_________________________________________________________________________
Looming Shadow, and the rest of the Journey to Chaos series, is available for purchase at Amazon

To learn more about the heroines of Journey to Chaos, visit the Tvtropes character sheet. 

The next Sassy Saturday post is Plundering Dengel's Treasury
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).