Sunday, March 29, 2020

Beginner Frustration after Thirteen Years

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

______________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is what I should focus on.

_____________________________________________________

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

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration). His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

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

This is an unusual volume for many reasons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration). His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration). His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Click here for my previous book review: If It's For My Daughter I'd Even Fight a Demon Lord volume 2

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration). His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration). His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Joy of being a Devious Dungeon Master

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

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

This is the joy of the Dungeon Master.

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

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

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

And it worked.

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

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

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration). His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Sword Art Online Progressive volume 1 (read for fun)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration). His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

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

Xanathar's Guide to Everything

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration). His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Still Learning - a Series Twelve Years in the Making

Hello!
Welcome to 2020. I'm working on something I started earlier in this millennium, the craft of writing a novel.

These days I am revising the fifth book in my first novel series, Journey to Chaos. This is the second rewrite of the fourth draft. If I were to fully disclose, then it would be the second rewrite of the fourth draft of the third version. I started the first version maybe eight years ago, before publishing even book #1 but then I decided to rewrite book #2 which then spilled over all the way to this one, book #5. What I'm working on now has been a long time in coming, and I am still learning.

That is both good and bad. Obviously, it is good to always learn. To always learn is to always improve, and to perpetually expand one's knowledge and skills. However, it is also bad because it is frustrating. After twelve years I feel that I should be beyond the basics. When I learn something new I reflect "duh! that's obvious". Except it wasn't, and isn't, or I would already know it.

The most recent thing I learned is about narrative concentration, and that is why it is frustrating. Like in formal, academic writing, one needs to be focused on what one is writing about. To find a clear subject and write exclusively on that subject so that it can be developed over the course of the work, sounds like something that should be obvious. But I wasn't doing it.  As a result, my most recent book (Transcending Limitations) did not live up to its full potential. Its themes were shallow, its events lacked build-up, and its magical mechanics were confusing (to someone other than me, anyway).

I thought this was because a novel is not formal academic writing. I did not want to follow the rules of formal academic writing because I was not writing an essay. I was writing a novel. There are different rules for writing a novel.

Characters are not rational. They do not make clear and logical arguments. They do not always act based on reasonable premise or a concise thesis statement. They certainly don't talk like an essay (unless, of course, a character's personality is based on being formal and academic). That is why what now appears to be obvious now was most hidden from me indeed.

Now I understand that writing a novel is more similar to writing an essay than I thought (or perhaps wanted to think). One has to write formally for the structure and build up of the story itself, but also informally to catch the emotion and life of characters and for reasons that I likely do not know yet.

  This is the seventh paragraph,but it was the fourth one in my first draft of this article. I added more content during the revision process because I realized a need to concentrate its themes. So now it is no longer the last paragraph before the conclusion in a standard essay.

I realized this when I was wondering where to end this post, or if it was too long. TL;DR, you know? That phrase would never appear in a formal piece, not without a paragraph defining it and its purpose, and within an essay where it would be relevant. As there, and here and in a novel, a writer should only include what is relevant. This aids the quest of subject clarity because there is less clutter.

I'm working on that. It's an on-going process of learning. I want to continue learning and improving as I continue writing for the next twelve years and beyond (ideally, it would be more like ten thousand years, but I'll take what I can get).

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration). His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Monster Manual for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition (D&D review)

Monster Manual for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition

Disclaimer: I read the Monster Manual for 3.5 E but never played it so my basis for comparison is minor at best.

A LOT of monsters are in this manual, 315 pages of them plus a pair of appendixes for creatures and possible foes. Thus there is a variety available for a dungeon master to throw at their players. Be it straight-up and uncomplicated brawlers such as hill giants, the cunning and numerous smaller creatures like kobolds and goblins, the paranoia caused by the classic mimic or spell-casting creatures like hags, this book has it all.

Except for celestial creatures. Demons, devils, dragons and giants all get large sections for their sub-species and society but the upper planes get less attention. There are three varieties of angels listed and some others like the unicorn but those are all high Challenge Rating creatures; mid-game at the earliest, and there is little more lore for them than other creatures. I understand the reasoning for this, at least, I think I do.
Players are encouraged to fight creatures that are generally evil or threatening. These are feral monsters, devious demons, and rampaging orcs. The number of situations where they would fight angels or unicorns is far more limited. Including them as allies runs the risk of making the players irrelevant. So why waste time on them?
Being a guy who likes lore and world building, I find this disappointing. Although, there is enough to homebrew something, and that can be fun too.

That is also something fun with this book. It's not something that I can get from other books, which tell a story. This one gives the actors for such a story. After a certain creature's entry, it is fun to imagine a small little scenario featuring them which makes use of the lore: their habits and diets and such. Also, I like to consider some way to effectively use their stats and features against potential players.

This is another book with gorgeous artwork. Every monster gets their profile picture. The celestials look majestic, the fiends look dangerous and some of the aberrations are just creepy, like the gibbering mouther. This is great for the theater of the imagination.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Monster Manual for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition" an A+

Click here for my next book review: Xanthar's Guide to Everything

Click here for my previous book review: Dungeons and Dragons Player's Handbook for 5th Edition (D&D book review)

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration). His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Dungeons and Dragons Player's Handbook for 5th Edition (D&D book review)

Dungeons and Dragons Player's Handbook for 5th Edition

I've been reading this over the course of the year, just after I started playing at a local gameshop. It's been a lot of fun, and a lot to read, which is also a lot of fun.

Disclaimer: While I read the handbook for D&D 3.5E, I never played it so I don't have much of a basis for comparison.

There appear to be rules to most situations a player could get into and actions they may take, and for what isn't explicitly covered there is guidance or just encouragement to make it up as the players and DM go. I've read briefly about the "rules vs rulings" debate and this edition seems a fair enough balance to me (as inexperienced as my viewpoint may be).

I've also read that the Charisma stat was often ignored in previous editions for being useless, and derided as "the talking stat". For this edition, it appears that the designers overcompensated. Charisma is now the spell-casting stat for four classes (Bard, Paladin, Sorcerer and Warlock) while also the saving throw of choice for nasty effects like ghostly possession and or a hostile Plane Shift.
On the other hand, this seems to have relegated Intelligence to the throne of uselessness. It's only used by wizards, and lore based abilities, and certain mental effects. So in a game without a wizard that doesn't have much lore, there isn't much reason to use it. That's a shame.

I regularly refer back to this book before, after, and during a session to check on class abilities, spell specifics or some detail about a piece of adventuring gear. I have a set of bookmarks to make to this easier and faster for myself.

The last thing I want to talk about is the art. It is fantastic. Nearly every page has something, big or small, to decorate the text. Some are full page depictions of combat, the working of magic, or some other scene. Sometimes as I'm flipping through, I stop to admire them.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Dungeons and Dragons Player's Handbook for 5th Edition" an A+

Click here for my next book review: Monster Manual for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition (D&D review)

Click here for my previous book review: Volo's Guide to Monsters

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration). His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Volo's Guide to Monsters (D&D book review)

Volo's Guide to Monsters.

This is a supplement for the core 5E books, providing lore within the frame narrative that Loremaster Volothamp Geddarm is the one who collected it and made it available to the reader. The Literary Agent Hypothesis is fun when it is done well, and it is done well here. Volo's comments provide extra insight, humor and a greater degree of immersion into the lore itself.

The lore is for certain monsters, such as mind flayers and orcs. It also has a list of new races for players but that is by far the shortest section. Third it has more monster-manual style monster entries, and finally an appendix for NPC humanoids with class levels, such as an abjuration wizard or an arch-druid, or some other non-class NPCs like apprentice wizard. So this is definitely something that is more useful to the Dungeon Master than the players, but players can also benefit (and not in a meta-gaming way either).

For those that want to play a paladin but don't like the "honor and justice" mold then Tritons provide an excellent template. They are typically lawful good but in a good-is-not-nice sort of way and gain racial bonuses to their STR, CON and CHA (+1 each) in addition to useful abilities, which set them apart from the paladins of other humanoid races.
Additionally, the communication methods and non-combat skills of the kenku sound like they would be fun to role-play. The curiosity of the tabaxi as well; there's a random table to simulate their mercurial curiosity.

For DMs, this is an extremely useful aid. The first chapter provides lore on cultures, history, social structure etc. for monsters, which can help with role-playing them, devising encounters that can lead into future events, and what their lairs can look like. Each section has maps, many of which are a full page, detailing a typical lair.

As a DM myself, these sections have already proven useful for me. I used the section on goblins to describe a war camp that was the centerpiece of a prior campaign, and the section on hags to devise and plan a future campaign.

The artwork looks great too. The focus monsters get several pictures showing them in action, like this one of an orc hunting party chasing down an elf, who is trying to hide, or a dissection of a mind flayer (Volov's own work, maybe? Or some researcher he interviewed?) Each monster and player race has their own depiction (warning: the spider-themed ones are creepy).

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Volvo's Guide to Monsters" an A+

Click here for my next book review (for fun): Dungeons and Dragons Player's Handbook for 5th Edition

Click here for my previous book review (for fun): My Next Life as a Villainess, All Routes to Doom volume 2

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration). His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

My Next Life as a Villainess, All Routes to Doom volume 2 (read for fun)

I've been waiting for this to come out, specifically the manga version because I like the cute art. This one focuses on Katarina meeting the heroine of the game's setting, Maria Campbell.

This volume has five chapters and four of them focus on the newest character, Maria Campbell. In "Fortune's Lover", Maria was the player's character and the one everyone fell in love with.  Naturally, this is different due to Katarina's presence but Katarina herself doesn't realize this, and that is where this volume's humor comes from.

Our self-identified "villainess" has become wrong-genre-savvy, and the dissonance between what she thinks is going on and the reality that is apparent to others is as funny to the reader as it is baffling to her friends. One moment in particular has her thinking that Mary is tsundere to Alan when this could not be farther from the truth. It is a skillful use of Dramatic Irony. The running gag that is Katarina's farming hobby returns and is also good for laughs.
However, not all is humor.

Just because the villainess of "Fortune's Lover" wants to be Maria's friend that doesn't mean Maria isn't subject to bullying. Also, her home-life is implied to be rocky. Being the most special girl in this country has its drawbacks.
The student council president has a scene and a follow-up event which just screams "something wicked this way comes".

The other characters are a bit Out Of Focus due to Maria's introduction but I feel that is only for the introduction and things will even out later. The fifth chapter mitigates this by showing what Katarina does with each of them during summer break.

The art continues to be cute and funny.

Overall, it is a great follow-up to the first volume but it feels a little lesser in content. Everything basically boils down to "Katarina and Maria become friends" instead of the more expansive plot line of the previous.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "My Next Life as a Villainess, All Routes to Doom volume 2" a B+

Click here for my next book review (for fun): Volo's Guide to Monsters

Click here for my previous book review (a request - maybe): The Princess and the Pea - a retelling

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration). His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

The Princess and the Pea - a retelling

The Princess and the Pea - a retelling by K.M. Shea. I think I was asked to review this in the Clean Indie Reads group, but I am not sure. It was something like that. 

 Anyway, this is a retelling of the fairytale "Princess and the Pea". Here, the princess is actually a renowned mercenary who has "warrior princess" as a nickname. She is hired to guard a gem known as "the Pea of Primeorder". I will examine plot, character, and polish and then determine a grade.


PLOT

The first thing I want to say is that this book is lean. It is 99 pages long in total, and even shorter when excluding front matter, back matter and the next-book-preview at the end. This means the narrative is tightly focused on events directly related to story itself. Only set piece event are included: the opening fight, the job offer, the first attempt at the gem's theft, etc. This gives the story a certain drive and energy, as well as preventing clutter that would distract from the two main plot threads, the gem's safety and the romance of the two leads.


This pre-empts any attempt at world building. There are great attempts at flavoring the world, such as tidbits about previous jobs Lisheva has taken, primary traits of nearby countries, and how mages are regulated. In fact, the musical specialty of the country that the story takes place in becomes a plot point. However, these are mostly confined to a single chapter.

The musical specialty is limited to the existence of several fine instruments in the library, and I don't recall a scene where anyone used them. I don't even know what the palace that the entire story takes place in looks like, save for structures that are necessary for the plot, such as the castle's gate and the existence of a garden.

On one hand, the story possesses laconic energy that prevents lulls. On the other hand, the appeal of the story rests entirely in character interaction. Fortunately, this is where it is shines (and the fights are pretty good as well).


One more thing about the plot is that it makes no attempt to hide the obvious. The identity of Apex the legendary/foolish thief is strongly hinted at immediately and shortly thereafter unmasked. Lisheva falling in love with and marrying Prince Channing is implicated by the king himself in the second chapter, before the job offer itself. This is not a story that relies on tension or suspense, which I find refreshing.

This story takes Happily Ever After and merges it with And The Adventure Continues for a delightful ending.



CHARACTERS


Our protagonist is the "princess" in question, Lisheva the Warrior Princess. She is a wandering mercenary who enjoys the challenges presented by her line of work. She is a challenge seeker but she is professional about it; no self-imposed handicaps to make it more interesting or whatever. Her first scene, and the first scene of the story, is her trouncing bandits due to her long honed combat skill. She doesn't kill anyone in this story despite her occupation but I'm not sure if this is a Pragmatic Hero thing or a Thou Shall Not Kill mentality. She has a reason/excuse for the former every time, which becomes suspect by the climax.

Fun fact: despite her profession, her seriousness, and the implication that "warrior" is an unusual job for a woman in her home country, she is not a stereotypical man-hater. That trait actually belongs to her mare.

Vorah is the sidekick, and she is a great sidekick. She serves as comedy relief by making jokes but is an excellent aid to Lis in combat, not a bumbling sort of comedy. The running gag of referring to Lisa as "master", "teacher" or "boss" when Lis doesn't like any of it is funny. She is a foil to underscore Lis's seriousness.

The third major character is Channing, the prince of country that the story takes place in. Shea has fun with his stoic nature and chiseled physique by saying he resembles a statue until he talks, while also expressing his thoughts and emotions without breaking this stoic demeanor. He is wise, including knowing when to seek wisdom from others. He is noble and polite, but also proud of his skills.


The king and queen, Channing's parents, are minor characters but still have distinctive personalities and characteristic scenes. The only character who falls flat is the ultimate villain of the piece. This is not a problem.

Other than providing the initial conflict to the start the story and the climax to end it, this villain doesn't have a role to play. Simply the fact that they exist is enough for the narrative. In fact, Lisheva lampshades how unnecessary a fully developed character is by saying that their motivation for their villainy doesn't matter; regardless of the reason, they did villainy. In fact, the villain's existence does more to illuminate the king's character traits than their own.

POLISH

This is a tight book, and so it reads well and quickly. I didn't see any errors.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Princess and the Pea" a B+


I don't remember if this was a review request or not, but either way it is an honest review.


Click here for my next book review (for fun):  My Next Life as a Villainess, All Routes to Doom volume 2
https://trickstereric.blogspot.com/2019/12/my-next-life-as-villainess-all-routes.html
Click here for my previous book review ( a review request): Crown Of Blood - Bloody Crown Trilogy part 3.html

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration). His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Crown of Blood Bloody Crown Trilogy # 3 (Answering Review Request)

This is for the third book of the Blood Crown Trilogy, Crown of Blood. This is where Denland's civil war reaches its conclusion. I will examine plot, character and polish and then assign a grade.
SPOILER!
SPOILER WARNING!
Beware of spoilers for the first two books. Given the wham line that occurred at the end of book #2 and the contents of this book, it is difficult to talk about the final book of the trilogy without spoiling things. So if you don't want to risk spoilers then don't read this review.
SPOILER!
SPOILER WARNING!

I also have reviews for the first and second books in this series. They have spoilers too, especially the second one, which is basically entirely spoilers.
Book 1 - Kingdom Asunder
Book 2 Traitor's Prize

SSSSPPPOOOOIIILLLLEEEERRRR!

PLOT


The narrative thrust here is the invasion of Denland by neighboring Falaria. This would be the second or third invasion during the civil war depending on how you view the Kurtrish that landed to the north and demanded to be hired as mercenaries. I wonder if John Esden anticipated that possibility when he opened this can of worms by opening Queen Anne's diary.

Anyway, the rival factions of Penmere and Esden have a conundrum. They have weakened each other so much that neither has a chance of defeating Falaria on their own but working together has its own mess of problems, the most pressing of which is, of course, what happens immediately after they remove their common enemy? This book charts the reaction to this invasion, the response to it, and then the aftermath to decide the war.

It really is an interesting turn of events, and Mr. White uses a rotating perspective narrative style to show them all. I am typically wary of this style because I have read the work of authors who have used it poorly (in my opinion). The result is an underdeveloped mess lacking development in all its parts. That is not the case here, where the style is used to create a proper kaleidoscope of contrasting and mutually reinforcing perspectives. It also works to provide relevant information that would be difficult to exposit on in any other way.


There is one twist in the latter part of the book that "appears" to come out of nowhere. It confused me. I had to re-read the scene to get a sense of what was happening. It truly turned the tables after a big event. At first I thought this was just that "every chapter has to end in disaster to maintain tension" advice that I saw being touted about as a rule on some blog, and so I was upset at what I thought was a lame diablous ex machina. Then I thought about it, and I reconsidered.

This particular twist was set up as far back as the first act of the first book. It was further hinted at in a line from a relevant character in book 2 and more foreshadowing appeared in this very book. It was not at a plot device simply to maintain tension. On the contrary, it was an integrated plot advancement that makes perfect sense in the framework of the narrative. The initial confusion that the reader might experience is the same that the characters on the receiving end of this twist would experience. The full details of the twist are explained by its engineer in a manner fully consistent with the character and the setting. It is a brilliant twist really, not at all contrived for some stale narrative "rule".

The ending is a satisfying one. The war has been won but the peace may or may not have been lost. Life goes on and it is a bitter-sweet experience for most, with one fortunate exception.

CHARACTERS

I did an interview with Mr.White on my blog when he did the book-release-promotion for this book. One of his responses was that nothing completes a character/character's arc like that character's own death. That is clearly represented here. There are a number of characters, big-name-important-characters, who face their death and it reflects or reveals big things about them.

One character who seemed only ambitious and using a pretext for grabbing power turned out to be more lawful and selfless than I thought they were. Another character who presented as cold and scheming turned out to value their family far more highly than I thought. A third character turned out to be a poisonous friend and a fourth, rather than loyalty to a friend, appeared to value their skill more than friendship.

I would like to name these characters and go into more detail about the skill of the author who wove their insightful and poignant final moments but these events were some of my favorite parts of the book. I do not want to spoil them by doing more than hint.

I would like to comment specifically on two people. The first is Stephen Penmore. He starts as a total scholar who seemed perfectly happy to wait the war out in a library and while he has gained some skill in war it is not a dramatic transformation. He's still not a warrior. It is always his knowledge that is the key point, in contrast to his cousins' brawny confidence and steel-like scheming, respectively.

The second is Stuart Esden, a man ruled by ambition and an utter lack of restraint in all matters. Even his one sympathetic moment in the whole trilogy can be read as his refusal to be mastered by anything or anyone. He is also revealed to be pettier and more spiteful than I thought. I figured him as the type who would do everything on his own terms, and never let anyone decide anything involving him for him. Yet he gives up control of something of lasting importance just to twist a metaphoric knife.


POLISH

I didn't any errors of grammar or spelling, so that's always nice.

I have just one question, what was with the Hykir fort that had that dragon statue? I don't see how it relates to the rest of the story, and so it feels like filler. It was a fun diversion but I don't know why it was included.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Crown of Blood - Bloody Crown Trilogy" an A+

This makes Thaddeus White the second author to be inducted into my blog's Hall of Fame. This means I granted "A"s to four of his books. "Journey to Altmortis", "The Adventures of Sir Edric", "Kingdom Asunder", and now "Crown of Blood" ("Traitor's Prize" was a B+). This means that I see Mr.White as achieving a consistently high level of quality in his novels across all categories.

Congratulations!


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

Click here for my next book review: The Princess and the Pea (a retelling)

Click here for my previous book review: The Lost Mines Of Phandelver

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration). His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.