Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Read for fun: Sword Art Online Volume 9

I finished reading Sword Art Online Volume 9 recently. This is the start of the Alicization Arc, which, as of this posting, has not been adapted for an anime (although one is in the making). This was a novel experience for me as I watched the first four arcs before reading them (technically, I've only read the first two). I will examine Plot, Character, and Polish before assigning a grade.

 
PLOT
 

What I like about this arc, and this volume in particular, is the three layers of plots. On one hand is the immediate plot about Kirito investigating the new world, Underworld. There's also the in-universe storyline which he himself is a part of; the history of the Human Empire within the End Mountains. The third is the most far-reaching, the ongoing conflict with Laughing Coffin. It began when he clashed with them in Aincard and continued in confronting Death Gun and now there's a conflict in real life. There are hints of something more going on in real life with Rath and the Soul Translator, but I'm not that far yet.

The beginning is kind of disorienting since it starts in what does not appear to be a virtual world or the real world but a more typical medieval fantasy setting and has a boy named "Kirito" who acts as though he is a native of this world. This is thoroughly explained after the prologue and I found it interesting regardless. It was intriguing even, whether or not this was a role play.

This arc is quite different from previous ones in that it is an ontological mystery. When the story proper starts, Kirito has to figure out where he is and what he's doing there before he can do anything else. He even considers the possibility that he's been transported to another dimension, before dismissing it as ridiculous. He has no idea what's going or what's happening so he has to figure it out as he goes. For a guy once derided as a "beater", this is indeed a new experience.

In every way, he's starting out at level 1; not even his meta knowledge about VRMMORPG in general is useful because this game features real pain, no predictable spawning points, and no level-grinding (at least, nothing that he can track; I think stat increases are based on feats rather than grinding). Criticism about how Kirito is "uber-broken" or whatever has no place here.

There's also humor here, such as jokes about Kazuto being a henpecked husband and some self-deprecation to the general shonen genre and even previous arcs of SAO itself such as Kirito trying to predict the storyline he's been flung into.

There's more focus on Kirito and Asuna's relationship as well, which I think is nice given the perception about the franchise being in the harem genre. It's an understandable misconception that stuff like this volume clears up. An exemplary moment is when, shortly after being stranded in Underworld, Kirito considers himself a "CPU that's missing half its cores" because Asuna isn't around; endearing nerdy for the VR-addict.

There is an excellent split ending - the series' conflict is set up and ongoing but the specific conflict in this volume (centered on the Gigas Cedar) is closed.

CHARACTERS

Kazuto/Kirito continues to be introspective in this volume. As in Volume 4, where he contemplates the difference between physical reality and virtual reality, in this one he thinks about the nature of existence and life itself. Part of this is that Yui, his beloved A.I. daughter, is not fully "alive" in the way he himself and Asuna are because she is mimicking human behavior based on watching the 3,000 SAO players for two years. However, Fluctlight based programs, like the natives of Underworld, are just as alive as he is because they are clearly not limited in knowledge/behavior/expressions/etc. to a limited pre-programed database. This leads to pondering if he is a Tomato in the Mirror, i.e. one of those Fluctlight based programs based on the real Kazuto.

Incidentally, he considers faithfulness to Asuna to be fundamental to his personality and identity.

Several new characters are introduced, such as Euego, Alice and Selka (though I imagine readers will see far more of the first two than the third). Euego is this Beware The Nice Ones kind of character - friendly, helpful, understanding, and also brave, solid and has a lot of practice swinging an axe. Alice strikes me as an Iron Lady in-the-making because of her determination and bossiness, but also has a mischievous streak via Loophole Abuse and some cute traits like asking her friends' opinion of her cooking (and "secretly" getting her mom's help with it).

POLISH

I don't recall any technical errors.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Sword Art Online Volume 9" an A+


Click here for the previous book review (a request): A Change of Heart - The Royal Blood Chronicles

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, January 9, 2018

Answering review request: "A Change of Heart - THE ROYAL BLOOD CHRONICLES"

Mark Benjamin asked me to read his novel, "A Change of Heart", the first in his Royal Blood Chronicles series. I will examine plot, character and polish and then assign a grade.

PLOT

The story is told through rotating viewpoints. Every chapter has a different perspective and some of these "chapters" are a couple paragraphs long and consist solely of a character's thoughts. You might need a flowchart to keep track of who is who and related to whom. I typically frown on this sort of thing because it dilutes the narrative, among other things, but this case has so many viewpoints and it rotates so rapidly through them that it crosses a kind of literary event horizon and becomes useful; for storytelling, for webs of alliances and schemes, and for Omniscient Third Person.

Assuming that one can keep track of everything, it becomes a marvelous device. There is a LOT of scheming and backbiting and plotting going on, and this rotation of viewpoints enables the reader to see all the points and developments in real time. It develops the setting and character dynamics in a way that a single viewpoint never could. It also helps to lessen the Gary Stu factor of Gabriel because he is just one viewpoint among many and doesn't intersect with the main story for over a hundred pages. This story does not revolve around him.

It has a slow pace. This is a consequence of the viewpoint kaleidoscope. Gabriel isn't turned into a vampire for many "chapters" and doesn't realize this for many more; dozens of pages. The Silver Legion drafting Gabriel and his friends, which is described in the book's blurb, doesn't happen for one hundred pages, and by then the reader will have figured out on their own all the exposition given in the draftees' orientation, which further slows the pace.

In my opinion, this book causes Darkness Induced Apathy. That's what we at Tvtropes call it when the story/setting/etc. is so grim and awful on all sides that the reader stops caring what happens to whom. The vampires are, of course, vicious monsters. Even the more sympathetic ones think nothing of torturing and killing both humans and other vampires For the Evulz or something equally petty. The Silver Legion is no better, being an equally Deadly Decadent Court which cares more for killing vampires than protecting humans from them and recruits via kidnapping and indoctrination. Gabriel is too much of a pacifist to do more than protect his friends (he doesn't even want to feed on squirrels, let alone human, even evil ones) and said friends get absorbed in the culture of this shadow war.

This book has an interesting twist to the whole "protagonist transformation into magical superbeing" thing; no one to explain. Gabriel doesn't know he's become a vampire until a week has passed because his transformation took that long. He basically has to figure everything out on his own. His initiation to the secret world of fantasy is an entirely separate event.

One flaw in the story that I noticed is an inconsistency in the Silver Legion's structure. One part says that they are a secret government agency and another part says "we answer to no one" and says that the organization is older than most modern governments.

There is an open ending but it is more sequel hook rather than cliffhanger. If one considers "the fallout of the assassination of Lucas" to be the story's main narrative thread and Darius' Evil Plan to be the conflict, then there is....not really "resolution" but more of a changing of gears.

CHARACTERS

Gabriel is kinda-sorta the protagonist. The rotating viewpoint device mentioned in the PLOT section makes this story more of an ensemble thing but he's the closest to a central viewpoint character.

He's a nice guy, a nerd and a stereotypical wimp. He's also a vessel for wish fulfillment; getting bitten by a vampire made his life better on all accounts and he doesn't have any their weaknesses. The amount of Wangst makes him even more annoying.

When he realizes that he's a vampire, he REALLY pushes the Cursed with Awesome angle. He even rejects the Vegetarian Vampire route.

Gabriel's friends are a pair of foils and a love interest. There's the intelligent rich nerd who envies Gabriel's "change" into a socially smooth hunk and there's the jock who used to protect him from bullies and now suddenly feels socially threatened by him. The love interest is basically a nice girl without much else to add. What happens when they are drafted into the secret war is where things get interesting.

The rich nerd appears primed and ready to Jump At The Call but then he gets a more complicated view of things. The jock appears to assimilate into the hyper masculine Social Darwinist of the vampire hunters (a la He Who Fights Monsters) while the love interest jumps on board with the Fantastic Racism as soon as she sees that her little sister was in danger because of the vampires.

Darius is a half-breed royal vampire, a noble. He's the one with the Evil Plan. He is Cruel, arrogant, and ambitious to the point of kin-slaying. He's also completely lacking any sort of compassion or empathy for anyone. He even wears a turtle neck to hide his bite mark and so pretend to be a full-blooded vampire. It looks like the only reason his evilness hasn't exposed him is because vampires as a whole are a nasty lot.

Vincent is one of the rising stars in the Silver Legion. Now this guy is a messed up piece of work. He acts all gung-ho for vampire slaying just like his best friend (the guy whose in love with his own adoptive sister) when he actually wants to make the vampire hunters implode because he wants to be a vampire. It's not because he thinks being a vampire is awesome but because his mother turned into a vampire and he lived with her Momma's Boy style until the vampire hunters "saved him" by killing his mom.

POLISH

There were a couple of spelling and grammar problems, but those were minor. More pressing is when one character's name is used in place of another's. It's like the author got confused.

There is lavish detail on injuries suffered by the characters. It is gruesome to the point of Gorn.

This book is long and drawn out. I am no stranger to that. I've been accused of it myself. This book has Gabriel spending several pages of story (most of his time in each of his viewpoint chapters) indulging in each individual superpower as he receives it to the point that he does something like watch ants crawl from the far side of his yard. That is too much even for me.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "A Change of Heart - THE ROYAL BLOOD CHRONICLES book 1" a C

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

Click here for the next book review (for fun): Sword Art Online Volume 9


Click here for the previous book review (request): Gama Ray Games


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, December 12, 2017

Review Request: Gamma Ray Games

Holly Rivney asked me to read her novel, Gamma Ray Games. I will examine plot, character and polish and then assign a grade.

PLOT


Upon reflection, this story sounds like an episode of Star Trek; literally one episode. There's this military crew sent to investigate a mysterious incident on some other planet. The captain and two others (one of them a medical officer) investigate the incident, there's a romantic liaison, some fist fighting and ray gun shooting, and then, after a resolution, the captain leaves for another mission. I could see this happening in a 30 minute block of screen time.


As soon as Kellaam is revealed to be as Quinaal's husband, I thought I knew exactly what was going to happen. By the book's conclusion,  I was only half right.


I like the ending. Mission accomplished and all that, but there a couple threads left dangling or other, personal angles that could develop the book's verse later on, which is also nice.


CHARACTERS
Captain Thomas Jackson is a good protagonist. He's compassionate, focused, competent, doesn't angst excessively about a lost opportunity with Quinaal. I know some people would call him "bland" or "boring" and that is unfair. He wrestles with personal and galactic dilemmas which, on their own, make him plenty interesting.


Quinaal is the second most prominent character, female lead you could say. I was afraid her role would be a mere Old Flame Love Interest but she is more developed than that. She is a geologist and a medic (she uses powdered metals for healing infected wounds so they're intertwined). She is the only person suspicious of the new technology because of her knowledge of other worlds.


I can't say much of anything about the rest of cast.


POLISH
There's maybe one or two errors. It was nothing worth noting while reading.

I feel I must justify and give context to the grade. Far too often I see people using a two point scale to judge things; it's either great or terrible. Thus, anything lower than a full score means bad or mediocre (which also means "bad"). I once gave a C to someone and they thought that meant that I "despised" the book. According to my grade scale, a grade of a "C" does not mean "bad". It does not mean "average" either. It can mean one of two things: 1.) That book has no weaknesses or strengths and is thus a solid, well constructed story that simply doesn't, in my personal opinion, excel in any area or 2.) a book that excels in one or more areas and also has a significant weakness or two. In this particular case, the first one is
correct. 

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Gamma Ray Games" a C

This has been a free review request. The author wanted an honest look at her book so I provided one.


Click here for the next review request: "A Change of Heart"

Click here for the previous review request (a request): "My Shorts"

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, December 5, 2017

Answering Review Request: "My Shorts"

Arthur Doweyko asked me to read his short story collection, "My Shorts". Yes, the double meaning is intentional. Being unrelated, I can't use me usual method so I will instead list my impressions.


The trick with a short story is to introduce a setting, a cast of characters and a conflict and reach a resolution of some kind in a minimal amount of space. In opinion, it is variable whether or not Mr.Doweyko succeeds here.


"Harry and Harry" is definitely a success here. It is set up and resolved quickly and effectively. There is no pretentious twist at the end. Emotions are conveyed with the laconic intensity of a poem; Harry's depression, enthusiasm, relief etc. jump off the page. There is nothing to add here. It is like lean muscle.

"Andrew the Last" possesses none of "Harry and Harry's virtues. There are gaps in the setting that lead to a long line of headscratchers, (listing them all would be spoilers but the author may contact me directly if he wishes to see it) which render me unable to take the character's emotional conflict seriously. There is a perplexing twist at the end with no explanation or resolution. "Perplexing" is a word a character uses; when asked about the confusing state of affairs, he replies, "It is perplexing, sir."

"Mars I" is another one that I like. Its premise and starting point enable it to be either a mind-horror tragedy or a black comedy and a funny one at that. Its events might not have happened at all, and its reality could be something completely different.

"The Probability Machine" has a bunch of glaring holes in its internal logic. I think of it as similar to the Twilight Zone. "P'sall Senji" likewise.

"Linda" is not even a short story. It is an excerpt from a larger work. Given its content, I wonder what it is doing in this collection because it is realistic fiction (possibly even historical, but it is outside my area of familiarity so I can't be certain) among science fiction.


Trickster Eric Novels gives "My Short" a C


This has been a free review request. The author requested an honor review so I provided one.

Click here for the previous book review (a request): Gama Ray Games

Click here for the previous book review (for fun): Spice and Wolf Volume 6

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, November 21, 2017

Read for Fun: Spice and Wolf volume 6

Spice and Wolf volume 6; I was eager to start this one because it is the first volume to go beyond the anime. The anime was so interesting that I wanted to continue Lawrence and Holo's story. With their voice actors continuing to speak in my head, it was a lot a fun.

There's a radical change in status quo here. First of all, there is the introduction of Cole, a little boy who joins the main cast. He kinda-sorta becomes Lawrence's merchant apprentice but wants to study church law instead in order to gain the ability to protect his pagan village. He's an interesting addition to the duo's dynamics (I had to come up with my own mental voice for him).

Because of Cole's age, the main cast is basically a family unit now. Lawrence and Holo are more or less an official couple at this point. Lawrence's feelings are out in the open but Holo's got this Mayfly December Romance fear. The economics typical of the series take a backseat as the volume delves more into the leading couple's relationship. Prime among them is the fact that their journey will be ending soon. It's intriguing to see continuous development that is also a in-universe delaying tactic.

This is not to say that there are no economics. On the contrary, it continues. For instance, Cole's backstory leads into a discussion about the education system in this time period. There's no publicly funded school system so education is significantly different. Those who can afford to hire private tutors. Those who can't pool their money together and hire a wandering scholar.

As far plot, this book picks up directly from the fallout of the last book's climax. I.E. they are pursuing someone from the previous book. Holo sounds like she really wants to sink her teeth into "the vixen". This is the second change to status quo.

The third change is how the book starts. Usually, there is a prologue about the pair traveling in their cart to the next town. Not n this case. Leaving Lenos is the prologue. There's no more cart at all. They're sailing down a river now.

Isuna Hasekura has written another solid entry for this series.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Spice and Wolf volume 6" an A+


Click here for the next book review (request): My Shorts

Click here for the previous book review (request):From Ice to Ashes

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, November 14, 2017

Answering Review Request: From Ice to Ashes

Rhett Burno asked me to read his novel From Ice to Ashes. Technically, it is a sequel to Titanborn (which I reviewed at this link) but the two stories take place simultaneously so it is effectively a stand alone novel. I will examine Plot, Characters, and Polish and then assign a grade.

PLOT

This novel has several parts to it, story-wise. The first section feels like a slice-of-life world building sort of thing. Then it shifts into a more espionage-y thing and then into something bigger; broader in scale and higher in stakes. It's like a tunnel that expands as events take place and the protagonist develops.

Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters is a huge chunk of the narrative. Considering the Fantastic Racism involved in this setting and the living conditions of most Ringers, it is easy to feel sympathy for the Children of Titan despite the horrible things they do.

It has a good beginning, well, technically, beginnings because it has a prologue. The first, and thus the official opening for the story, is the immediate aftermath of a woman shanking her rapist. Yes, it is gruesome and it is a laconic view of the setting and conflict; the rapist was the Earther captain of the ship she worked on and being marched into his bedchamber on a regular basis was an unofficial job duty of a Ringer. The second beginning follows up on this, Kale Drayton staking out his Earther pickpocket target because it is the only way a Ringer can make a living outside of menial labor that pays next to nothing. This leads into a chase scene. It is a good set up for him, his situation and his conflict.

Though it is a stand-alone novel, I feel there is benefit to reading Titan Born first. It adds a level of context and detail to events that I find valuable. It is a Another-Side-Another-Story appeal as the protagonist of that book, Malcom Graves, is an Earther collector who investigates the crimes committed by the main cast in this book, who are Titan born (a.ka. Ringers). In particular, the stinger for this book will not make sense unless the reader has read Titanborn.

The ending is strong. It is a natural consequence of the initial conflict and the actions taken to resolve it. I kind of want to call it Protagonist Journey to Villain since it involves Kale moving from a pragmatic pacifism to a more ruthless pragmatism but maybe that is more Gaining the Will to Kill mixed with the setting's Grey and Black Morality.

CHARACTERS

Kale Drayton is the protagonist (using the term "hero" is debatable but he's definitely the viewpoint character). He is an average guy in as far as is "average" for Titan Born. That is, he is cynical, a clean freak, and intensely dislikes Earthers. In fact, he's unusual in that he doesn't like starting fights with Earthers.


He's also a Momma's boy. It is fair to say that everything he does in this story is motivated by his concern for her (whether or not she approves of what he does is of lesser importance).

Over the course of the story, I would say that his essential shift in character is to a different flavor of pragmatism. He goes from a self-preservation don't-want-trouble sort of pragmatism to a more opportunistic hit-them-where-it-hurts-most sort of pragmatism, which, in the long view, is still self-preservation. The progression makes perfect sense and is well executed. The ending is a dark sort of triumphant.

Maya is Kale's cynical mentor. She makes a foil of mother-figures with Kale's own biological mother. This is highlighted at the story's close in a magnificent and gruesome fashion. She also shows the distinction between a good field leader and a good organizational leader.

Captain Sanders is quite well constructed and useful for the narrative. He's friendly to Ringers, reasonable as a captain and employer, and is otherwise a gruff but nice guy. He even hires a Ringer to be his navigator for the simple reason that she is better at it than the Earther she replaced. Yet even he is part and parcel of the society oppresses and exploits the Titan born.

POLISH

Mr. Bruno clearly put a lot of thought into this story's setting and it shows in the consistency of the rules and how they affect characters and the story. The interlocked nature of this story with Titanborn also shows how they can add value to each other but not be required reading. I think I saw a couple of mistakes throughout the book but I could be wrong about that.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "From Ice to Ashes" an A+

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


Click here for the next book review (for fun): Spice and Wolf volume 6

Click here for the previous book review (request): Tethered World: Blue Star Setting

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, November 9, 2017

MLP: Friendship is Magic Season 5

I finished watching My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic season 5 recently. I immensely enjoyed it.

The idea of Cutie-Map-Adventures is a good one because it enables different kinds of episodes. It's a Quest narrative like adventurers from another genre, but instead of something like "defeat the evil overlord" it is "solve a friendship problem". This means that the Mane Six can help someone else with their problem, in a new setting, without having to argue with each other to provide an episode's conflict.

I also like it because it shows that the writers/directors etc. aren't afraid to change the status quo. The core of the show remains the same but the nature of some of the episodes changes, there is a change to the cast (addition rather than subtraction, which I think goes better) and progress is made on another front. I'm excited to see where this is going.

Some of the episodes have a lot of songs (so many they're practically a musical), but they're good songs so I enjoy them.

Starlight Glimmer is another example of this series finding new ways to express the same core. She is a villain with a warped idea of friendship that tries to enforce this idea on others. That is not something that has been done in the series before. Nor is she some evil eldritch monster like previous Big Bads (such as Nightmare Moon, Discord, Chrysalis, or Tirek). She's just a unicorn with power, talent, and a lot of motivation to fulfill her evil plan.

Some episodes were weaker than others. "What about Discord", for instance, is one that I think tried too hard pushing its central conflict. I still like but not as much as others, such as "Rarity Investigates". Being a novelist, "Canterlot Boutique" struck a special cord with me.

Trickster Eric Novels gives My Little Pony - Friendship is Magic Season 5 an A+

To read my review of "The Journal of the Two Sisters" click here

P.S. I ordered the sixth season soon after this and it arrived two days ago. I watched the opening two-parter and I'd say the season is off to great start.

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, October 31, 2017

Answering review request: Tethered World Blue Star Setting

Gregory Faccone asked me to read his novel, Tethered World Blue Star Setting. This is the second book in the Tethered World series. I reviewed the first one here.
 
PLOT
 
The first thing I should mention is the very long prologue. There's like 40 pages of recap and people reacting to the events of the previous book's climax.  It is framed by a long training exercise for our protagonist, Jordahk. This is a significant contrast to the previous book, which boasts of not only a In Media Res but also being headlined by a piece of in-universe propaganda, so the reader has no idea what's going on or why. For a while, I thought this book was going to be more of an anthology than a single story given the title (i.e. more "setting" focused than character). The pace picks up after this point but this is still representative of the rest of the book.
 
With this book, "Mystic" level technology has basically become "space magic". I feel justified in calling it that because the author's own page says that he is influenced by Arthur C Clarke's Third Law: "sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic".

I have no problem with Magitek. I like that trope. My thing with it is how it doesn't appear to have a Magic A Is Magic A nature. Perhaps I missed something, which is certainly possible given how much thought Mr. Faccone put into world building, but it appears to me that the only rule Mystic tech follows is the Rule of Drama. Mystic Tech will always work always but it will just barely work, just barely be what you need and getting it that far is difficult, painful and risks a Heroic RROD.  On the other hand, it is always awesome.

There is one Beam-O-War scene featuring Jordahk that is worthy of epic music as a background theme. Then there's the climax, which rates high on the Holy-Shit-Quotient and is fully deserving of its dramatic buildup.
 
This book has plotlines which, in my view, are not strictly necessary for the book. This includes Pheron Xammetrix's subplot, which is basically a Humiliation Conga all the way up to the climax. It has only a small effect on the main plot (important but small). I like this side plot. I find it interesting and it adds circumstantial stuff to the initial mystery that leads to the climax but it is curious on a first read through.
In retrospect, there are two plotlines. One is recovering Aristhal's old mystic ship and the other is investigating the strange behavior of the Perigeum starmada in order to stop their next encroachment.
 
Through out both plotlines, there is a strong message of "people in government are, with rare exception, greedy and lazy morons". It doesn't matter if it is Perigeum or Cohortium. The narration calls this the fallen nature of man. It makes sense and fits with the tone and setting but there is more than a whiff of Author Tract.
 
I think that the author did a much better job with the Perigeum this time. In the previous book, the characters of the Perigeum were flat and monolithic entities with lots of off-screen villainy. Here we see individual bad guys that are distinct from some "evil military officer" or "evil politician/bureaucrat" archetype and how they work against each other as much as enemies outside the Perigeum. We also see exactly what the Perigeum does to worlds under its control, retroactively spelling out what could have happened to Adams Rush in the previous book. Beuker is like a space-age "1984" hell-hole.
 
My opinion of the ending is as follows. It is bittersweet, its conflict closed in a satisfactory manner, and there's a good sequel hook. I have only one complaint. There is a Disney Death that zigzags so much that I don't know where it landed. It is frustrating, disappointing and leaves me feeling like They Wasted A Perfectly Good Character.
 
CHARACTERS
 
Technically introduced in the previous book, only now does she have a significant role.  Khai-aLael Khrais has several layers to her personality. She is cute and innocent but also reliable in all situations and skilled in combat. Her backstory is interesting. She reminds me of Nia from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, only more stoic.
 
It's nice to see the senior Wilkrests doing important stuff, both off-scree and on-screen. Usually in stories with kid or teen protagonists, adults are useless but that is not the case here. In fact, Jordakh prevents Khai from aiding his parents in a fight by basically saying "watch and learn".


Jordakh himself is still developing. He lacks the confidence that his elders possess but pushes on anyway out of duty, heroism, and perhaps desperation. He is an uncertain Determinator.
 
There is also a backstory/flashback for Aristhal, Jordakh's grandfather. It shows a glimpse  of the Sojourn's Crusade. It was interesting to see him before he became a grandfather and a mysterious mentor.
 
The villain this time is Prime Orator Janus (orators are kind of like senators in the Perigeum government). He is a despicable sort and thus a much clearer villain than Pheron. While Pheron was definitely a bad guy, he had Villainous Valor. It's this sense of "I will accomplish my mission to the best of my ability" and "I am proud of the skill and intellect that I worked hard to cultivate". He did not display selfishness or pettiness. Janus is nothing like that
. In addition to his Evil Plan, he has an odious personality; petty vindictive, gleefully wastes taxpayer money, and even ignores a diplomat to consider ways of "acquiring" the guy's wife. There are other villains but this guy is the Big Bad (considering the ending, maybe Arc Villain is more appropriate).
 
POLISH
 
A couple of spelling or grammar errors. They happen in large works.
 
Trickster Eric Novels gives "Tethered World Blue Star Setting" a B+


Click here for the next book review (a request): From Ice to Ashes

Click here for the previous book review (for fun): The Journal of the Two Sisters

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

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, October 14, 2017

Read for Fun: The Journal of the Two Sisters


The Journal of the Two Sisters is a companion piece to the Friendship is Magic main series. I bought it for the glimpse into the show's backstory. It definitely delivered on that.

This is backstory specifically for Celestia and Luna. It starts when they were first crowned princesses of Equestria, shortly after its founding. Their half of the book records their activities from that day through officially taking up their duty of raising the sun and moon. It fills the gap between the Unicorn Tribe doing it in the origin story, "Heartwarming Eve", and Celestia and Luna doing it in the story recounted in "Mare in the Moon". (Small note: The journal ends before Discord's reign of terror).

It is a fun read. The journal is written in-universe (what the human reader holds is a defictionalization) and so the personalities of the two princesses show in the first person narration. As it turns out, Pinkie used the Organ-to-the-outside exactly as Luna designed it. Fans rarely get to see Celestia and Luna interact as sisters and this has a lot of that. They fit the mold of the Foolish Sibling-Responsible Sibling dynamic; Celestia is a polite princess and a book nerd while Luna likes adventure and pranks.

There are lots of adventures within this tory. They range from befriending a manticore in the Everfree Forest to negotiating peace with the griffin kingdom. Also, there's something with the ROYAL CANTERLOT VOICE that is too awesome to spoil here.

It's not just the royal sisters. Starswirl the Bearded is also an important character here. He was basically Merlin to Celestia and Luna's King Arthur. No wonder Luna could recognize Twilight's Nightmare Night costume and praise it for accuracy. 

The second half of this book is the full version of the Mane Six's journal entries from Season 4 of the main show. It was fun to read those too but there was nothing new there.

POLISH
 
Celestia and Luna have alternating motifs of sun and moon and warm and dark colors for their pages. The art style is similar to fairy-tale recounting in "The Mare of The Moon". The Mane Six (and others) also have distinct backgrounds. This adds to the emotion of the book.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Journal of the Royal Sisters" an A+


Click here to read the next book review (a request): Tethered World Blue Star Setting

Click here to reach the previous book review (a request): Light of the Radiant


I reviewed season five of the main series as well.

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, October 3, 2017

Movie Review: Legends of the Hidden Temple

Legends of the Hidden Temple began as a TV game show on Nickelodeon. When I was a kid, it was among my favorites. I loved watching it, especially the Temple Runs at the end of each episode. Now, imagine my delight when I discovered that there was a movie about the show that was basically a one-hour-long temple run!

This movie does a splendid job as an adaptation of the TV show. The idea of the challenge, the traps and puzzles of the rooms, the temple guards, the time-limit, Olmec as a guardian etc. all of it is translated into a "this is the real deal" adventure from the game format. Kirk Fogg is here too as a theme park tour guide.

Frankly, it's amazing how they fit parts of the show into this adventure. The team names were animals that lived in the temple, one of the kids is given a helmet by his parents just in case he jumps into something dangerous and needs it, the three minute count down, and, of course, Silver Monkey Shrine jokes. This is only a small sample. Fans of the show will love spotting these. I did, obviously.

Furthermore, it is not just a translation of elements. There is a cohesive narrative here. There's backstory to explain the purpose of the quest (for once, Olmec's stories include himself). The three siblings have character development (mostly the elder two). Yes, the plot is simple and straightforward, maybe even "bare boned" but it is solid. It has just enough to support the main event.

Trickster Eric Novels gives Legends of the Hidden Temple an A+

Click here for the previous movie review: Assassin's Creed (2016)

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).

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Answering Review Request: Light of the Radiant

Light of the Radiant by Matthew Ward. I very much enjoyed the previous book in The Reckoning series, Shadow of the Raven (you can read that review here) and I eagerly waited for the second book to come out. I even jumped on a short prequel as an appetizer ("A Matter of Belief"; it was also really good). Did these two build up my hype too much? Nope!

It has an engaging start using In Media Res. Edric, Cal and Jamar are investigating a cult but got caught instead. The reader joins them as they are being escorted to a sacrificial alter. Everything flows smoothly from there to the very end. It's remarkable how what can look like a Deus Ex Machina is actually a heavy clue to The Reveal.

Indeed, there are a lot of hints about The Reveal before it comes out and even before it becomes obvious. It's a "snapping into place" feeling meant to be shared with the protagonist.

Whereas the previous story was heavy on mystical mystery, stealth, and fighting Things-That-Go-Bump-In-The-Night, this is more of a political conspiracy story. There is a lot of wheeling n' dealing; "political theater" is what Edric calls it. Investigation is here too but it is more uncover-corruption than find-the-arcane-secret. Indeed, Edric treats Azyra more like the mortal/human ruler of a foreign country than some fey overlord. Certainly, he does it more for her than Malgyne or Jerrack.

I find the Serathi's society and history interesting. The world building of it and how it relates and interacts with what is known from the previous book has this wonderful building-up effect. This rich mythology is one of my favorite parts of this series.

Overall, I would say this story is a different experience from the previous one. There are mysteries and narrative twists but it feels like the world has been sketched out; the highest level borders are in place. More than that, the story is more....straightforward than the previous. The bulk of the plot concerns the Serathi and their preparations for The Reckoning. Perhaps what I mean to say is that there are fewer factions and the motivations between each faction is less opaque. There are lots of factions but they have more minor roles. SERATHI is everywhere in a way neither the trees nor the ghosts of the last book were.

The ending is fantastic. It is a neat trick to close one book's conflict and threats while simultaneously shifting weight to set up the next with a sequel hook.

CHARACTERS

Edrin has much lasting great development. Most importantly, he is no longer a depressing mope. Now it's more like snark and Heroic Self-Depreciation. The relationship upgrade with Arianwyn has done wonders for his mood and outlook. His character arc has moved on towards the future instead of dwelling on the past but it is clear that the past still influences him.

Also, he is moving towards Seen It All. The events of the last book have left him unimpressed by further supernatural happenings. For instance, when he meets the Serathiel, the ruler of Sky Haven and leader of a race of angels, he interacts with her like he would any human ruler (i.e. politely but suspiciously).

Arianwyn is now a Defrosted Ice Queen. The couple-y scenes she has with Edric are cute and romantic but not overwhelmingly so. She has a new character arc as well, and also rooted in the events of the previous book. Namely, it is a tug between doing what she can for the people of the republic, which she wants to stay a republic, and resisting the urge to become queen so she doesn't have old and stubborn upper class twits sitting on their hands and obstructing her. It contrasts nicely with a Scared of Her Own Strength subplot regarding her magic.

Calda has a more substantial role in this book, and, wow, it is more dynamic than Edric's. There's enough fuel for an interquel. She is the one who thought up the idea for the misadventure that became the Media Res start, something big happens to her and then she goes drastically off the rails. In some ways, it is a foil for Edric's response to the same, and underscores how different they have become culturally.

Azyra the Serathiel. She is Imperial, Proud and Mighty. She's also not as clever as she thinks she is. It's basically favorable circumstances (i.e. she is The Spook and has a Bigger Stick than anyone else). What likes Beneath The Mask is both egoistical and tragic.

Elynna is adorable. I'm not sure if this is accurate, but I picture her as this little child-like cherub. She's likely much older than that but that's the impression I get because she's so friendly and cheerful and lacking in guile.

Elspeth is another new character. Her introductory big moment was executed well. I also liked the Fair Folk part of her personality. It is clear that she is not human but equally clear that is she human-like, if that makes sense. I loved her banter with Edric. In retrospect, it makes the bombshell she dropped make perfect sense. The way she describes her connection with the Palace of Dreams was interesting world building.

POLISH

It looks good. I think I saw a handful of errors over the course of the book. It happens when books are of a sufficient length.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Light of the Radiant" an A+

This has been a free review request. The author requested an honest review of their book.

Click here for the next book review (for fun): The Journal of the Two Sisters

Click here for the previous book review (for fun): Doctor Who - The Secret Life of Monsters

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, September 13, 2017

Read for Fun: Doctor Who - The Secret Life of Monsters

This book is half in-universe bestiary and half behind-then-scenes extras. I mean that literally. Half of each chapter is one and half the other. Each chapter focuses on one species: Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels, Judon, Sontarans, Silence, Silurians. It looks as though all of them are New Who species or ones that were carried over from the classical series to the revival.
 
The framing device for the first half is that someone in the Doctor Who universe put together information on the species in question and their encounters with humans. This takes the form of publicly available information, observation from eye witnesses, hacked documents from UNIT or Torchwood etc. It presents an outside and rear-view-mirror of the events, like someone investigating after-the-fact. This includes "speculation" that is often correct and used to contrast the official/cover up story. There's also a running gag of the person doing the investigation failing to recognize the importance of the Doctor. It's interesting to see this perspective because we, the viewers, have a front-row seat that someone else in-universe would not.
 
The behind-the-scenes stuff talks about the creation and conception of the aliens and monsters. This involves how the props are made, the real life circumstances that affected their portrayal, and excerpts from scripts saying how the writer wants the creatures to move and appear.
 
This is definitely a book written for fans because there's jokes/references/bonus understanding for those that have seen the episodes alluded to here. I've only seen part of the First Doctor's run so much of the Classic Who stuff went over my head.
 
This kind of book is further outside my norm than I usually go so I'm not sure what grade to give it. I'll just say that I enjoyed reading it and I'm going to keep it and let you decide from there.
 
Trickster Eric Novels gives "Doctor Who: The Secret Life of Monsters" a +

Click here for the next book review (a request): The Light of the Radiant
 
Click here to read my previous book review (for fun): Assassin's Creed (2016 movie Novelization)
 
Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Read for Fun: Assassin's Creed (2016 movie) novelization

I watched the Assassin's Creed film shortly after it came out last year (you can read that review here). Amazed, I bought other Assassin's Creed media, such as the first game and the first movie's novelization. After reading the latter, I'm off the opinion that the movie is an adaptation of the book instead of the other way around because it provides the kind of context and character information that is typically excluded from movies that are made from books by nature of the medium. Whether this is a good point on the book or a bad point on the movie I'm not sure. Perhaps it's both. In any case, this is a great book.


It provides a great deal of backstory to the characters that would have been difficult to put in the movie for reasons of pacing and length. Sofia Rikkin, for instance, is apparently a Friend To All Living Things as she has flashbacks to how she adopted an utterly filthy and flea-ridden stray dog and takes great care of it and also tried to befriend a squirrel by sitting outside with nuts in her hand for a prolonged period of time. This feds into and validates the compassion she shows to the "patients" at the Abstergo Rehabilitation Facility; she sincerely believes that they are patients and not "prisoners". She is not the only one to get this treatment and this adds a good deal of emotional heft to the storyline.

 
There are a number of viewpoints in this novelization, rather than focusing on Cal/Aguilar's point of view like the movie does. I typically don't like this technique because it leads to a bloated narrative and less development, but in this case it works. Why? Because everyone is in the same location and everyone is viewing the same events. This has a concentrating effect. It also helps to flesh out other characters because they get the sympathetic POV and internal narration. Moussa, for instance, has this scene where he messes with a guard using a shell game that provides info on him and the state of the proto-Assassin Cell inside the Abstergo Facility, and what he intends to do about the new "pioneer".


Another thing that I like about this novelization is that it fills a vexing narrative hole that the film doesn't address. While it doesn't provide many details, it confirms how many allies and resources Cal has going into the final scene which implies why he took the action he does.


Also, there are bonus chapters at the end of the book. Each one focuses on one of the other Assassins and their ancestor, framed as one of their Animus regressions that took place before Cal arrived. All of them fill in information from characters that were introduced in the games. For instance, Nathan's ancestor is Ducan Wapole, an Assassin turncoat from "Black Flag" and it shows the moment where he decided to become a turncoat. It is a nice treat.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Assassin's Creed (novelization" an A+

Click here for the next book review (for fun): Doctor Who - Secret Life of Monsters

Click here for the previous book review (for fun): How To Cheat Your Friends At Poker

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

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Sassy Saturday: Final Showdown with Gruffle


Sassy Saturday!  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: Young Blood vs Old Spirit

 The context for this post: Gruffle has gone One-Winged Angel. It's time for the final boss fight. Eric's party members include Annala, Kallen, Perrault and [[ SPOILER! ]]]

Special note: This will be the final Sassy Saturday until I publish another book. I'm thinking about doing a different excerpt series. This one will be about magic in fiction having rules, i.e. it is not a story breaker concept if an author thinks it through. Instead of just excerpts, I will use those excerpts to illustrate the point of a specific rule. 
If you like the sound of this, please let me know in the comments.  

Second special note: Outside of anything to do with video games, there is something here that references the inspiration for the scene. Can you find it?

__________________________________________________________________________

Annala intercepted him with a jab to the stomach, and just as quickly, he flew in the opposite direction. Then she turned and blocked Samael’s Reaper Cleave. The Right Hand of Death pressed down with all her divine might, and Annala grunted with the effort required to hold her back. Her body trembled but ultimately held firm. Samael and Gruffle disappeared, and she and Perrault became golden blurs as they fended off attacks too swift for mortal eyes to follow. Five seconds later, all four reappeared and Annala was only slightly winded.

“I just shared a special moment with my boyfriend, no, my fiancĂ©,” she declared. “My love amplifies the divine chaos within me, which has already been amplified by direct contact with Lady Chaos herself. It would take a million reapers to challenge me now!”

Gruffle snarled. “A million? A million! A MILLION! A MILLION! A MILLION!”

He raised his scythe high and it fired a necrotic beam into the sky. At its highest point, it stopped and sent out a pulse. Then it fired a new beam southeast. There it connected with the Grand Obelisk in Latrot’s capital.

“Execute Reaper Command: Royal Rite of Annual Decimation!”

“Wish Reaper Gruffle!” Samael shouted. “You are not permitted to use such authorities until you have formally been sworn in as this world’s resident reaper. Either refrain from this action or renounce your Final Wish. Persisting on this path will violate your probation.”

Gruffle didn’t look at her. He didn’t acknowledge her. He only had eyes for his scythe and the action he had primed it for.

REMOVE ONE-TENTH OF THE POPULATION!

The Grand Obelisk released a pulse that combed the country. Every city, town, village, farm and hermitage was analyzed to account for every living thing within its borders be it animal (human or otherwise), plant, spirit, or bacteria. It calculated how much each area could lose before its local stability was affected. Then one-tenth of them fell dead immediately. Their kon and paku traveled to Gruffle and flowed into his scythe. From the scythe, it coursed into Gruffle himself. The look on his face was euphoric.

“Mom!” Kallen shouted.

Nunnal stepped out of Albatross IX. “Yes, sweetie?”

“Grab Emily and fly as fast as you can. She will not survive being near this fight.”

Nunnal nodded. Transforming herself into a dragon, she grabbed both Emily and the wrecked airship and flew away at the speed of sound. The sonic boom she created rattled the stone pillar, and a bigger wave was incoming.

The numerous lives augmented Gruffle’s power far beyond anything he’d ever dreamed of. The total number of stolen years reached the thousands. The teeming souls melded with his own spiritual body and transformed it.

It grew fourteen times bigger. It grew more limbs in more places and all of them as rotten and decayed as the original pair. It grew more wings, each as ratty and bat-like. It grew two more heads; one at the front center of mass and one in the back. Gruffle roared like a monster and his Divine Presence rippled through the area on seven planes of existence. The monstrous reaper faced down the trio of chaos warriors, who braced themselves against its power.

[[[SPOILER! ]]]

Tasio played a brief tune on his ocarina. “Final Boss Fight: Gruffle the Rogue Reaper!”

By the time Tasio finished speaking Gruffle had regrown all his limbs, and this time, each of them was curved like his scythe. With them, he attacked all four of his enemies at once.

They dodged, deflected, and blocked, but the sheer number of attacks made completely avoiding injury impossible. They took damage at an alarming rate. If this continued, then, godhood or not, all of them would die.

“Annala!” Eric shouted. “Medic duty in the rear!”

“Got it!” She dashed to the far end of the platform away from Gruffle and prayed for the good health of her companions. Immediately, their wounds healed and their stamina rebounded.

Eric thrust forward his right hand and created a dark fire wall to burn away limbs that tried to entangle him and then flew away from Gruffle’s scythe combos.

“Perrault! Cover me!”

“If you insist...” She reverted to her wolf form and watched for attacks on Eric instead of opportunities to strike Gruffle. Spotting seven, she lunged so quickly she appeared to teleport as she bit through them.

“Kallen! Attack from the other direction to split his attention.”

“So this is teamwork...” she muttered as she teleported to Gruffle’s back side. Once there, she alternated between white fire blasts and mana bolts tainted with chaos. She kept her distance so she would have plenty of room to dodge his counterattacks.

_______________________________________________________________________

Transcending Limitations, and the rest of the Journey to Chaos series, is available for purchase at Amazon as an ebook. The series is also available in Kindle Unlimited. The paperback format is available at Amazon and also at Createspace.

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

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

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Read for Fun: How To Cheat Your Friends At Poker

I picked this up on a whim a bookstore one day. I thought it would be about harmless tricks to prank one's friends during a friendly game. I couldn't have been more wrong. See, the title is not accurate. This book isn't about "cheating" but "making money", it doesn't involve "friends" but "con marks" and it doesn't really have much to do with poker either. Poker just happens to be the medium that the first two work through. I would call this book "How to make money by scamming strangers who play poker".

Pen starts this book by talking about the book's supposed real author, "Dickie Richards" who is a professional poker con artist. Whether this is true or a literary agent hypothesis I do not know for sure but either way it definitely shows that Pen, who usually embraces controversial topics with enthusiasm, felt a need to distance himself from this book's subject matter. It is easy to see why.

The first section written by "Dickie Richards" is called " You Are Not Playing A Game". This is part of his refreshing frankness that is maintained through most of this book. There is no romanticism or rationalization in this first part and it sets the tone for the rest. This book is about stealing money from people through poker tricks. He calls himself a cheat, a crook, and other things. At one point, he even advises aspiring poker crooks that if they can steal the game's money box or a player's wallet then they shouldn't even bother playing; just grab the money and run.

This is likely why the book doesn't actually teach any poker tricks. Indeed, Dickie Richards refers those looking for the nuts and bolts of such tricks to another author. Instead, this guy talks about the other parts of his craft - how to find marks, how to get invited to their games, how to hide one's cheating, when to "burn a game" and what to do if caught in the act of cheating. However, this book is more than just instructions, it's also an exercise in ego stroking.

Dickie Richards brags about how much money he makes. He compares himself to a god in how he controls the poker table. He regularly reminds the player that he doesn't have to work a "real job" because he has poker cheating. He even brags about how he seduces the wives of the people he scams and then has the audacity to say he improved their marriage by making the wife feel guilty. I suppose this makes for more lively reading but it has its flaw. Namely, it is a contradiction of the real author's "I am a crook" frankness.

There are sections where he complains about people looking down on him because he cheats. He argues that controlling the table makes for more interesting hands, rewarding people who had bad days, punishing jerks, and generally making the evening more fun for everyone. He even says that taking someone's money teaches them a lesson about not playing with money they can't afford to lose, which is something he specifically debunked earlier in the book. This makes him sound like a hypocrite trying to have it both ways and thus also makes him sound pathetic.

One more thing: there is a section where he gives tips on how to make one's poker game cheat-proof. Then he says he included that section just to appease the publishers and goes on to say how all those tips are either useless or helpful to cheaters. Ironically, he does actually advise how to make one's game cheat-proof. He talks about how much work it is find games and get himself invited to them, and also how much time goes into practice to make his moves seamless. Because of these factors, he says that as much as 200 dollars "isn't worth bending over to pick up". Thus, the method to make your game cheat proof is simple; don't play for stakes. If you do, keep them low or make them something that a nomadic card shark can't use, like I.O.Us. Dickie Richards specifically said he doesn't like those.

Bottom line: treat it like a work of fiction (like it just might be anyway) and it is an entertaining read.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "How To Cheat Your Friends At Poker" an B+


Click here for the previous book review (also for fun): The Italian City Republics

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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).