Saturday, August 19, 2017

Short Story Submitted!

I just submitted my short story to an anthology. It is Dragons, Demons and Djins, organized by Rhonda Parish (you can read about it here). It was a fun and strange experience to write in short story format because I'm used to going much bigger. The limit was 7,5000 words. My piece ended up as than 7,000 words and fit within 12 pages.

There are four characters in the entire cast (five if you count the golems as a collective character). Everything takes place in one or two locations, although there are several areas within one of them. There is very little exposition about magic or the local society. I could definitely expand it if I had a mind to but the initial conflict has been resolved.

Now I wait to see if it will be accepted into the final project. That's another reason it is an unusual experience. Being an independent author, I don't have to worry about approval periods. Amazon's KPD, Smashwords, etc. accept anything that doesn't violate their policy standards (not getting into that debate right now) so when I submitted it I only had to wait for to appear on the site.

As for my main project, I am on chapter 12 of the first draft.

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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).

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Read for fun: The Italian City Republics

This is another textbook I kept from a college course. It was about Europe's Medieval Cities and specifically about the development of urban cities in one part of it. "The Italian City Republics" was one of them. It focuses on the "communes" developed in Northern Italy during this period.

Subjects are their origins, how they functioned, how they developed over time, and how they related with other governmental entities in comparison to their own inner discord/harmony. The last chapters focuses on all the vulnerabilities that ultimately lead to many of them failing in one way or another.

I found this book to be quite useful and informative. It has a focus on the structure and function of the various forms of governments (consul, podesta, Captain of the Pololo, etc.) and provides much in the way of details and examples of them. Other areas, such as the social or cultural aspects of the communes are only included insofar as they effect and are effected by the government

The organization of the book itself is well thought-out. For instance, putting a chapter about "External relations" back-to-back with one about "internal Divisions" was useful for easy compare/contrast. This, in turn, aids understanding and retention for the next chapter, the tendency for communes to fall. After reading about all the points of failure, the sharp rivalries and general commotion that could take place, the reader is primed to learn how fragile the communes could be.

Much of the information is pulled from historical documents and official government stuff, which is certainly relevant. However, there is also helpful input from another angle. For instance, several lines from Dante's "Divine Comedy" are used to illustrate Florence's habit with re-writing its constitution.

Photographs of buildings, locations, paintings and statues are also included. I enjoyed looking them over and relating them to the subject, such as the fortified towers that were built by factionalism and conspicuous consumption.

I'm definitely keeping this as reference material.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Italian City Republics" an A+


Click here for the next book review (for fun): How to Cheat Your Friends at Poker

Click here for the previous book review (for fun): The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan

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 12, 2017

Sassy Saturday: Young Blood vs Old Spirit

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: "I don't want to hurt you" Mutual Threat

 The context for this post: Zettai has come into conflict with Omnias, an immortal cleric has spent thousands of years gaining power and combat experience. How does she win?
_______________________________________________________________________________


“I know what you are planning, little girl,” Omnias said, “and it will not work.”

“Oh? Why not?” Zettai asked without lifting her eyes from the pages.

“Because I could kill you before you finished.” Omnias kept his eyes and spiritual senses on the Dragoness. She could kill him if he let his guard down for even a moment.

“I’m not worried about that.” Zettai still didn’t stop reading to reply. She used one hand to turn pages and the other to form the magic gestures pictured on them.

“Oh? Why not?” Omnias asked in deliberate mockery.

“Killing a necro penitent is itself a death violation. With Neuro’s blood on my face, my entire person is inviolate. You don’t want to dodge reapers forever, and especially when you are this close,” she held up her thumb and pointer finger for emphasis, “to reaching your goal.”

She gripped Neuro’s scythe with her right hand and placed her left flat on the Book of Death. She closed her eyes and began to chant. It wasn’t smooth and it wasn’t steady, but Omnias recognized death speech when he heard it.

“Here’s what’s going to happen,” Zettai said with her eyes closed. “You are going to leave us all alone and you will do so empty handed.”

“Why would I do that?”

“Because you are afraid of death.” A necrotic aura bloomed around her. “As of this moment,” she opened her eyes and pointed her finger at him, “I have become death.”

A tiny sliver of necrocraft generated in Neuro’s former scythe and fired at Omnias. He used Chameleon Leap to avoid it, and in the process, gave up his position at Eric’s throat. Ridley dashed into the void he left and her guarding stance was not something Omnias dared to test.

“Just like I thought,” Zettai said, smiling smugly. “Immortals fear death just like everybody else. No, they fear it even more, because for them, death is something avoidable. They’ll do whatever they can to keep it away. It would take years of constant effort for me to kill you with necrocraft.” She laughed. “I might die of old age before I drained it all, but you still couldn’t let it touch you.”

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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).

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Read for fun: The World of the Shining Prince - Court Life in Ancient Japan

"The World of the Shining Prince" is a book I kept from a college class. It was a history course about the Far East. Between all the reading assignments, I didn't have time to read all of it (or even most of it) so I kept it. Only recently did I finish it.


This is a broad look at the Heian Era of Japan, and specifically, the court life at the capital. It covers many subjects from the structure and function of the government, religion, literary culture, taboos and superstitions, relations between men and women and, of course, the history of the period and some other things.

This is not a novel so I cannot use my usual method of critique. Interestingly though, one of its major sources is indeed a novel, "The Tale of Genji" by Murasaki Shikibu, one of the capital's court ladies in the tenth century.


It's interesting stuff. It starts with an argument about how creative and sophisticated Heian high culture was, not a copy of something else. Rather, that after a period of importing stuff from China, it spent another period, for lack of a period word, "Japanizing" it to create something new that worked for them. The author argues that this is a parallel to a more recent copy-and-transform period that took place after WWII.


The following chapters give focus to the areas mentioned earlier. The source of this information is primarily literary records and other written works. Murasaki's "Tale of Genji" and her diary are the most prominent. Second is the "Pillow Book" by Sei Shōnagon and many others are quoted or referenced. Indeed, the author states that Japan's Heian Era has unusual riches for the historian when it comes to written records, but certain sectors of the society are much better covered than others due to most of the writers being court ladies.  This reliance is balanced with evidence from other sources and a mindset that makes allowances for poetic license, exaggeration, etc.


One of my favorite sections was about the Fujiwara family and the methods they used to stay in control through the period. This included the many ways they used imperial power such as making the emperor himself a figurehead and making their own offices the only ones with de-facto power. It is my favorite because I find it interesting, it contrasts with the government in place in my time and country, and also because it had the side-effect that the imperial family outlasted the period and became one of the longest reigning "ruling families" in the world because they didn't actually rule.


I enjoyed reading this book and I found it informative. I don't have any other book on the period to compare it to and its methods seemed sound to me. That's what I'm judging it on.
 

Trickster Eric Novels gives "The World of the Shining Prince" an A+


Click here for the previous book review (for fun): The Book of Wizardry

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

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 5, 2017

Sassy Saturday: "I don't want to hurt you" Mutual Threat

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: Supernatural Guard Duty

The context for this post: Coming off the last excerpt, the next threat to Eric's life comes from his own mentor, Basilard Bladi. This poses a challenge to Annala beyond the man's power and experience.
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Meanwhile, deep within Mt. Fiol, Annala and Perrault sat in the tunnel playing tic tac toe. Omnias left some time ago and Gruffle was rounding up more spirits to send her way, so for the moment, she had nothing to do. At the sound of footsteps, she flipped her hood up and jumped to her feet. When she saw Basilard, she didn’t relax.

 “Hello,” he said casually. “I’m here to visit Eric.”

 “Sorry, but you can’t,” Priestess said.

A little more nervous, he said, “I’m his mentor. Surely it would be okay.”

Priestess’s stance was tranquil, but Perrault raised her hackles. “No one can see him until his ascension is complete. That includes you. This is for his safety. Please understand.”

“Annala, let me pass.” Basilard gripped a sword he kept in reserve. It wasn’t as good as BloodDrinker, but it would do. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

This made her crack up laughing. “That’s who you think stands in your way? Annala Enaz, the teenage schoolgirl and novice cleric? Allow me to correct you.”

She pounded her staff on the ground and the clack of wood on stone echoed in Basilard’s soul. She unfurled her spirit and made his knees buckle. She looked him in the eyes and inspired in him the Universal Dread.

 “I am a veteran cleric in the service of Lady Chaos. For five years, I have wandered the Veins of Noitearc, and I have never met my equal. I have killed monsters, demons, and fiends. Reapers avoid my path and sowers seek my aid. The power of ordercraft fades in my presence. I am Priestess and I will not let you pass.”

“You told me to be honest!” Basilard bellowed.

“I what?”

“In Sage Hearth, you told me to be honest with my actions. I did and now you’re stopping me from doing so!”

“I’ve never said anything of that nature to you,” Priestess protested. “I haven’t even been to Sage Hearth! I’d love to read its records and its authors because they don’t allow copying and so... maybe I haven’t yet. My life hasn’t been linear since the Latrot raid.”

Basilard unfurled his own spirit. She didn’t react. He released his full power. It made the tunnel shake and the air vibrate, but she mimed yawning. He fired off disabling spells from sleep to petrification to paralysis. She deflected all of them with her staff, then pulled down her eyelid and stuck her tongue out. He charged, but she kept him away with a mana beam that ignored his barrier. She cut it off as soon as she pushed him back to where he started.

“Basilard, go away,” Priestess said mockingly. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

“I can’t. The safety of my family and the future of my daughter depend on this.”

“I know and I don’t care. Eric’s importance to me and to the future of Tariatla outweighs that of your clan and your daughter.”

“Not to me!”

He ran forward and made a downward slash, but she blocked it with her staff. He bore down on her with his greater height and muscle mass. She forced him away with her greater spirit power. Once again, they were separated by five paces.

“I could have shapeshifted and forced you away physically, but I don’t need to.”

“You will!”

He attacked again and alternated between the physical and magical at a break-neck speed. Priestess negated both seamlessly. She never exploited openings or pressed advantages; just stopped him from advancing. She didn’t even sic her familiar on him. Hours passed this way and he got desperate.

“Bladi Empowerment: Adrenaline Overdrive!”

His muscles bulged, veins and nerves popped forward, and a red aura highlighted it all. Shouting a battle cry, he rushed Priestess again. She stood her ground and blocked his wild strikes; once, twice, thrice. Then he slipped past her guard and plunged his sword into her chest. She screamed and Perrault lunged.

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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).

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Read for Fun: The Book of Wizardry

This is a book I bought a long time ago at a bookstore on a whim. I started reading it soon after but I stopped for reasons that I will explain in the review itself. I finished reading it last month or so. Yes, this book's review is much delayed in coming. It is not a novel so I can't use my usual criteria. Instead, I'll just write my impression in a couple paragraphs.

This book is basically arts and crafts + choose your own adventure with a frame narrative to pull everything together. An
elder wizard, Cornelius Rumstuckle, has been chosen by the Wizard's Guild to teach anyone who picks up the book how to use magic. The bulk of the bulk is written as lessons for the trainee/reader and the last bit is the "Wizard's Journey" which serves as a test for the trainee/reader.
 
It is written so that it sounds as though the elder wizard is talking to the reader instead of sounding like a schoolbook, such as Cornelius anticipating questions and responses. Of course, this is a work of fiction so that's not actually happening but it is remarkable how it keeps up the act. After making the four magic tools, for instance, he says that the trainee/reader is not going to be taught how to use them for anything until they have "joined the guild", that is, finished the book.
It is the magic tools that made me pause reading the book for a while. One of them is making a fan from bird feathers and they have to be found on the ground (gifts from the birds, as Cornelius puts it). Not only is that time consuming (and possibly unhealthy via disease) but it can be difficult in some areas. Combine this with how the trainee/reader is not supposed to read lessons out of order, and you have a recipe for someone putting the book away and forgetting about it.

There's also the "magic" of astrology, where a wizard can look up connections between activities and constellations and/or planets and do a little ritual which supposedly helps in mundane tasks, like finding a rare music CD. Yeah, the magic is doing things the non-magical way with invisible and unnoticeable back up.  At least there's still the "you'll be taught the big stuff later" thing as with the magic tools.

However, at some points, the author doesn't try. Like the magic method of memory, which is the Memory Palace method started up by an ancient Greek who the author says was never magical.

The "Wizard's Journey" at the end is a choose-your-own-adventure thing. Out of all the lessons from earlier in the book, only the astrology stuff is really necessary. I find it annoying because of the numerous fake outs. The ending, where the trainee/reader finds the entrance to the Wizard's Guild tells the trainee to send a letter to the publisher saying as much. I haven't done that because this is an old book so whoever was responsible for responding is probably not doing it anymore.

Bottom line is that this is a fun read. It is certainly better at the "I want to be a wizard" wish-fulfillment angle than any novel due to its frame narrative.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Book of Wizardry" a B

Click here for the next book review (for fun): World of the Shining Prince

Click here for the previous book review (request): Gothon's Campaign

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

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Sassy Saturday: Supernatural Guard Duty

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: Zettai's Mad Dash

The context for this post: Eric is in a deep trance for SPOILER! and thus unable to defend himself from the many ghosts and nature spirits that want to kill him.  Fortunately, he has a devoted guardian in "Priestess".

_____________________________________________________________

Inside Mt. Fiol, a herd of wind and fire spirits stampeded towards the Rite of Fire Ascension Corridor. There were so many of them, they choked the passage with their ectoplasm.

“Gruffle’s getting better…”

Priestess swung her arms and brought her bow and quiver out of her personal pocket dimension. Slipping the latter onto her back, she pulled an arrow out of it and nocked it to her bow. She drew it and took aim. A magic circle formed underneath her feet and programmed the arrow for maximum damage against spirits of these two elements. She released the arrow and a double helix of blue and brown soared forward.

It cut a swath through the herd and plunged into the far wall. Though many were vanquished, many remained. Then four directional earth spikes impaled the wind spirits and spheres of water encased the fire spirits. This secondary attack vanquished most of the remaining spirits. Priestess sniped the rest with chaos bolts. She hugged Deathkiller to her chest and pivoted on her heel.

“I’m done. You?”

Perrault growled at a vast clump of grey mist. Ten or so spirits cowed at her paws. Priestess tapped the air directly above them with her staff and another magic circle drew itself. It opened a portal to the Veins of Noitearc and sucked up the souls. Then Priestess closed the portal, put her staff and bow away, and briskly rubbed Perrault’s head and back.

“Good girl!”

The wolf wriggled in pleasure.

“Now I’m going to check on Eric. Can I trust you to handle things here for a while?” Her familiar stared at her. Priestess pulled her hood further over her face. “It’s not like that. There is serious stuff to monitor.”

Sullenly, Perrault stood at the entrance of the corridor. Her mistress skipped through it for a pleasure trip.

Deeper underground and closer to the heart of the volcano, Eric meditated. A roaring blaze engulfed his entire body, but only his mortality was burning away. The rot in his stomach and groin were the first to go. Though they would no longer be needed when he woke up, he would still be able to use them, which pleased Annala.

She stood at the foot of the altar and sighed happily. Seeing her boyfriend in a focused state of contemplation as he reached for a higher state of being appealed to her. Then Tasio appeared in her field of vision.

She squeaked and smacked him with her staff. A cartoonish bump grew out of his head. He crossed his arms, and she bowed her head.

“Sorry! It was a reflex!”

“I came to warn you, Granddaughter. You’re going to have company soon. It will be someone you know, so please be a good and proper host when they arrive.”

“I understand, Grandfather. Thank you for the warning.”

Tasio disappeared and Annala could see Eric again. This time, her eyes were hard with resolve. She pounded her staff on the ground and declared, “Eric, I swear to you and to Lady Chaos, that no matter what happens, I will protect you until you awaken.”
_____________________________________________________________________________
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).

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Sassy Saturday: Zettai's Mad Dash

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: Tiza the reaper slayer

The context for this post: Basilard has an undeniable reason to believe that someone wants to kill his daughter, so he's taking her to his guild's headquarters for her own safety.
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Miles away, in the streets of Roalt’s warrior district, a brilliant blue array formed in the dirt. Basilard emerged from it with Zettai in a protective grip. Both of them projected their barriers moments before a swarm of arrows rained down on them. Basilard grunted as they punctured his barrier one after another. Seven in total found their mark before he could take a step towards the Dragon’s Lair. Then he dashed. Then he fell.

His legs had locked. He lost feeling in his arms and Zettai tumbled out of his grasp. She rolled across the ground, sprang to her feet, and continued her father’s dash to safety. In mid-step, she wiped his blood on her clothes and chanted, “Bladi Defense Technique: Plasma Shield!”

A red sheen colored her barrier and stopped all incoming arrows. She was only a yard away from the door when a wall of rock blocked her path. She skidded to slow down and bit her forefinger. Pushing her now bleeding finger into the dirt blockade, she shouted, “Bladi Offense Technique: Ancestral Beam!”

Red light shot from her finger and cut a hole in the earth wall, but only one as big as her finger. She pounded her left palm with her right fist.

“Rock wall as tall as AHHHH!”

One arrow finally found its way past her defense and lodged itself inside her chest. It struck with enough force to further lodge itself into the earth wall. She raised her hands to push herself off, but the pain was too intense. Looking over her shoulder, she saw a stout man carrying a giant hammer. The red sheen of her Plasma Shield drained away. It wouldn’t protect her from his incoming swing.

Then the earth wall vanished.

Lacking its support, Zettai fell forwards into Mia’s arms. Her cousin smiled kindly down on her like always. It didn’t fade in the slightest as the brute swung his great hammer down on both of their heads. Mia simply held out her left hand to block it. The weapon disappeared. While the thug stared in puzzlement, Mia leaned forward and grabbed his empty fingers. He disappeared too.

The earth under her feet was giving way and small objects that weren’t nailed down were flying in her direction. Still holding out her left hand, she created a field that caught everything within a foot of herself and sent it straight to her pocket dimension. The only thing that didn’t vanish was Zettai.

Hoisting the smaller girl fully into her arms, she ducked back inside the guild building. She closed the door with a kick. The arrows ceased firing and the streets calmed. The entire ambush occurred in less than one minute. Then a man with red hair flew out of an alley and landed face first in the dirt near Basilard.

A second man followed him from a nearby rooftop and then a woman and then a third man and then a second woman. Eight in total landed in a pile on the street. A motley assortment of warriors gathered around them.

These were locals who heard the commotion. Drawn by the twang of bows and Zettai’s scream, they found the archers and subdued them. One of them contacted Roalt’s Justice Station. Another examined Basilard.

“You okay, Bladi?” she asked while scanning him with her staff.

“I can’t move,” he replied.

“Hmm...I don’t detect any paralysis spells or poison...and your wounds are minor...”

The door to the Dragon’s Lair swung open and another girl with red eyes ran out. Her red ponytail bobbed behind her as she hurried to her uncle. She thanked the locals for their aid, slung Basilard over her shoulder, and then carried him inside.  

 “Wow, the Bladi raise up their girls strong!” one boy remarked.

“Don’t get your hopes up,” another boy said. “She only likes older men.”
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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).

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Answering Review Request: Gothon's Campaign

Dan Wright asked me to read his novel "Gothon's Campaign". This is a prequel to the first Draconica book, "Trapped on Draconica" (which I reviewed here). It is actually two prequels because it is a combination of two previous works, "All Hail Emperor Gothon" and "Taurok's War". I will examine plot, character, and polish and then assign a grade.
 
PLOT
 
All Hail Emperor Gothon flows pretty smoothly into Taurk's War. The later is a direct result of the former. In fact, the first scene of the latter is the natural consequence of the last act in the former.  Additionally, the military campaign that begins at the end of the former also defines the conflict and direction of the later. This makes it easy to see the two stories as a single narrative. The crucial difference between them is the shift in protagonist from Eric Gothon to Bairn Taurok. The reason for the combination is  arc welding.
 
I've been reading Mr.Wright's work since he published the first version of "Trapped on Draconica" and so I have seen the reconfigurations that have been put in place. He has used these prequels to start the work on the two-parter series finale much earlier than he did originally. Thus, there are now four books and prequel comic to set up for "Final Ragnarok". Now about the works themselves...
 
 
There's lots of darkness, tragedy and gruesome things happening in both stories, but there's also a counterbalance to prevent it from becoming a grimdark angst fest. Seldom do I find an author who can write "darkness" without "unrelenting gloom and doom". Kudos to Mr.Wright for that. In detail, there's lots of heavy emotion. It is good in both stories but better handled in the Taurok story. It feels more...authentic there. Perhaps this is because it is less of a character study. The Taurok story is a skillful balance of War is Hell with sweet family moments and soldier comradery.
 
The stories are a logical progression of events and escalation of conflict. While I have issues with the set up (see below), I can see how Erik Gothon could go from The Good King to Evil Overlord and how the two Taurok men arrived to where they were by "Trapped on Draconica". This is also the failing of the two stories.
 
They don't seem to have as solid a narrative thrust as the stories that chronologically come after them. It's more like they are goo that fills in holes inside a mold or the cracks in a sidewalk. Their events are meant to slot into events in later stories. It is interesting and I enjoyed reading them but they are not page turners. It's like reading two books filled with world building. Seriously, there is a lot of world building going on in these two books. I enjoy that. The other books were too focused on plots and driven by actions to go as much into lore, history, culture, etc. It's a different flavor of story, I suppose.
 
Now, for that problem I have with the first one. Erik Gothon doesn't have any idea of how to run a government which is the source of all his problems. He became emperor at a young age and then there's a time skip until he's an adult. That strikes me as Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot and it is especially striking because Gothon talks about all the progress the country has made since his tyrant father died. The Senate has been "guiding" him and supposedly tutoring him since the death of his father. Why doesn't he know more about statecraft? Surely his mother (whose opinion it is explicitly stated as always carrying heavy weight with him) would tell him to pay attention to his school work. This underpins all the bad stuff that happens through this book and basically the next three books so it's a narrative fulcrum.
 
CHARACTERS
 
Erik Gothon, emperor of Baalaria; this is the story that changes the reader's perspective on him from the one that they gained in "Trapped on Draconica". He's a Well Intentioned Extremist that basically went mad from a number of factors. It is a good example of how being "The Good King" means more than just making your subjects like you. Each step (or misstep as the case may be) is one towards the path of Slowly Slipping Into Evil. This makes him a tragic character.
 
Finn and Bairn Taurok are the main characters of the secondary story. I want to say that Bairn is the  protagonist (there can only be one protagonist) with Finn as more his foil because of the narrative giving his inner thoughts most often and it usually follows him around instead of his father. They are a Red Oni Blue Oni pair because Bairn lacks his father's Nerves of Steel and acts impulsively.
 
Yoma and Lydia Taurok are the wife and daughter, respectively, of Bairn and part of the supporting cast in the second story.
I like Lydia. She is adorable. She has a small role in "Trapped on Draconica" and it is nice to see more of her at this age. A pleasant surprise is that she was a fan of Daniar Dragokin before meeting her based on a book series that dramatizes her (already pretty amazing) adventures.
Yoma is also an ascended extra. She starts as a sweet girl and loving wife and then becomes a Lady Macbeth (abeit a heroic one). The transformation is so subtle that I didn’t realize it until I wrote this review.
 
There is an interesting subplot with a rebel leader called "The White Sister" who can summon ghouls to fight for her. I would have liked to know what happened to her but given her last known circumstances, maybe it is better that I do not.
 
As for the villains of this story, this is basically the villain's side of the story. At times it can seem like Evil vs Evil because there are countries and organizations that are worse (much, much worse) than Baalaria and its military. The Viscount of Romano and the people working for him are awful, dreadful monsters.

POLISH

I found a number of typos. Some of them change crucial meaning in a scene, which makes for a jarring reading experience. I informed the author of these errors before publishing this review so I assume that he has corrected them by now.
 
Trickster Eric Novels gives "Gothon’s Campaign" a B+


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): The Book of Wizardry

Click here for the previous book review (request): Shadowbane - Age of Aelfborn


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

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Sassy Saturday: Tiza the reaper slayer

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: Beware the Giant Fire Salamander

The context for this post: Gruffle has started his latest attempt on Eric's life. He's being more creative than usual and so Eric is unable to handle him or rely on Priestess (a.k.a. Annala). Someone else comes to his rescue.
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At the top, Gruffle clapped sarcastically.

“Yes, yes, very impressive, but you forgot one thing; I’m still here!”

Then his head dropped from his shoulders and rolled across the ground. When the world stopped spinning, he confirmed that Priestess was still face down in the snow. The one who felled him was a warrior riding a funky-looking unicorn.

“I’ll finish him off, Tenderfoot,” Tiza said while dismounting. “You look after Dimwit.”

The unicorn nodded and jumped into the hole.

Wasting no words on trash talk, Tiza chambered her sword again. Runes buzzed along its blade and hilt. A magic circle formed beneath her. With one swing, she cut off the arm holding Gruffle’s scythe. It fell to the ground, twitching. Her third strike cut off his second arm.

“Stop that!” Gruffle’s head protested. “You can’t win a fight against death!”

Tiza cut the reaper’s body in half long ways and the pieces fell to either side. Then she sheathed her sword and unzipped a bag from around her waist. She sprinkled ashes over the reaper’s body and then struck a piece of fire-red stone against a piece of iron. The holy spark created a blaze that reduced the body to ashes. Then she mixed the ashes together and bottled them up. Only then did she say, “Ashes of a reaper.” She looked down on Gruffle. “I know a lot of mad scientists and mage freaks who would pay through the nose for this stuff.”

Gruffle shouted the harsh alien language that made the salamanders explode. Tiza leaned over and cupped a hand to her ear.

“Huh? You’ll have to speak up, Worm Stone. I can’t hear you over the sound of your constant failure.”

Veins bulged in Gruffle’s face and forehead. His lingering mortal mindset made them manifest in his anger. “My body will grow back, and when it does, I will kill you!”

“Judging by your ugly face, you’re threatening me with death. Well, you can’t. Know why? ‘Cause you’re a failure!

Gruffle’s scythe rattled and levitated. It chambered behind Tiza. “DIE!”

It swung and she ducked. Naturally, she’d seen it with her Third Eye. She dodged the second swing, sidestepped the third, and jumped over the fourth. She closed her physical eyes just to irritate Gruffle further.

“Fire Fossil must be mistaken. You can’t be a reaper. After all, no one sees death coming.” She opened her eyes. “Right?”

Gruffle’s eyes shone with deathly light and he increased the speed of his scythe. After the fourteenth swing, he got it stuck in the ground. Tiza pointed and laughed at him. It took three pulls for him to get it loose, and in that pause, Tiza brought out another device

It was small enough to fit in the palm of her hand, white in color with gold edging, and the words “Hariana Inquires” were etched into the underside. Depressing a button with her thumb triggered a grey beam and she drew a circle on the ground with it. When it was finished, she stepped into the circle. When Gruffle freed his scythe and swung at her again, she stepped out and took her thumb off the device’s button. The grey light cut off and the circle on the ground flashed.

 Its light climbed to the sky in the shape of a cylinder and it was one that the scythe found itself unable to leave. No matter how Gruffle commanded it, there was no escape. Tiza took a breath and then, just for fun, she shined the light into Gruffle’s eyes. He blinked and closed them.

 “Big Mouth made this one too,” Tiza said, jerking her head in Priestess’ direction. “She thought that if she could trap a reaper, then she could stop everyone from dying. As soon as she finished it, she considered it blasphemous to Lady Chaos and never used it.” She pocketed the device. “I have no such problem.”

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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).

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Sassy Saturday: Beware the Giant Fire Salamander

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: Liberating the Body, Mind and Soul

The context for this post:  Eric is traveling to Mt.Fiol as part of his plan to save himself from Gruffle's vengeance. On the way, he runs into some trouble. Fortunately for him, the airship he's traveling in is piloted by Kallen and her copilot Emily.  
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Mt. Fiol was a stratovolcano in southern Ataidar. It grew out of the eastern side of the Sussano River and so it faced Mithra instead of Latrot. Fiol’s Faithful, Ataidar’s state religion, maintained that it was the only thing that prevented Ataidar from being absorbed into the Mithran Weeping Willow Empire. Although the historical account was more complicated, the volcano remained essential. As Albatross IX approached it, smoke spewed from its peak.

Big and dark, it formed a cloud that shrouded the area. Emily scanned it with the ship’s sensors and determined that it was not volcanic ash. Nor was it small enough to be even the largest of burnt offerings.

“Shields up,” she muttered out of reflex.

Her hands moved across the co-pilot’s controls with practiced ease. Small changes rippled across the hull to make it flame retardant and its weapon systems heated up. From within the smoke cloud came a salamander spirit.

It was as big as the ship itself. The orange and red coloring in its ectoplasm streaked backwards and bled into each other as it raced towards Albatross IX. Its mouth opened impossibly wide.

Kallen made a sharp dive to avoid it. The spirit followed. Fire plumes shot from its mouth. Kallen swerved around the first four and performed an aileron roll to deflect a fifth one, the maneuver generating an electrostatic barrier that canceled the flame on contact. Everyone but Emily lurched in their seats with each maneuver. The redhead was too busy relaying data to Kallen to notice the turbulence.

“See?!” Eric shouted. “GIANT MONSTER ATTACK!”

“SHUT UP AND GET UP HERE!” Kallen ordered.

“But I can’t—”

“NOW!”

Eric shifted to his true form and then undid his seat belt. At that moment, Kallen did another aileron roll and tossed Eric across the cabin. His head clanged on the inner hull. He crawled to the cockpit only to find that he couldn’t fit. Grabbing the door with both hands, he waited through a third and fourth aileron roll before dismissing his bulky metal hide.

“Stick your Soiléir into the power converter console.”

Eric clapped his hands together and plunged the crystal into the gap in the dashboard near the ignition key. The sea blue light shimmered within its depths.

“Hang on to something!”

Kallen pulled back heavily on the control stick and performed a loop. A blast of divine wind magic from Eric’s crystal overcame the inherent vulnerability of the maneuver and put Albatross IX behind the giant salamander in an instant.

“Campione Cannon, fire!”

The ship opened its griffin mouth and fired a specialized beam of divine water energy at the fire spirit’s tail. It both punctured and washed over the target via twin currents. The salamander withered and hissed as it went out in a puff of smoke.

Emily hummed a little victory tune as the cannon retracted and cooled down.

“Have you done this before?” Eric asked while retracting his Soiléir.

“Flesh and spirit both,” Emily replied. “It’s how I pass the time while Kallen is on a mission.”
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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).

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Answering Review Request: Shadowbane: Age of Aelfborn

Paul Francois asked me to read his novel "Shadowbane: Age of Aelfborn". It is an Epic Fantasy focused around finding a legendary sword and reviving a lost kingdom to restore planetary peace. I will examine Plot, Character and Polish.

Note: Yes, this is the same setting as the Shadowbane MMORPG that shut down some years ago. The author says this book is about using that game's lore to tell stories.

Note: There are spoilers in this review. WARNING! WARNING! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!

SPOILERS!!!!!!!!!!!!

Okay, now for the review

PLOT

It starts off with a prologue talking about the world. It is a good start, in my opinion, because it sounds like an epic-storytelling-campfire thing. Considering that bards are so important here, both in the world and the main cast, it makes for a suitable introduction both in and out of universe.

This book basically has two plots: one for Megildur  to find his kidnapped sister and then to find a legendary sword. They occur in the same story because the latter is a Mission From God that grants him the authority to tap allies needed for the former, which is strictly personal.

I have mixed feelings about this story's plot. On one hand, it relies heavily on Because Destiny Says So which leads to Foregone Conclusion, Deus Ex Machina and other things that weaken a story. On the other hand, it is possible that this is the only story that follows the trope to its logical conclusion. If Destiny/God/The Powers That Be really said "X is going happen because it is fated to happen" then X is going to happen and those get in the way would be smote with a Bolt of Divine Retribution and that is precisely what happens here.

Then there's another problem. It's a jarring thing at the start at the story's proper. Megildur knows nothing about the world. He doesn't even know about the Tree of Life stuff. One could say his village never needed it, it never came up, he wasn't told etc. but his much older father apparently doesn't know. In the first act, he goes all "you're the man of the family now" while dying even though he knows he's going to immediately respawn nearby. It's an incongruous thing that I can only imagine is meant to make Megildur an Audience Surrogate. Readers who haven't played Shadowbane don't know about the Justified Extra Lives mechanic but they will still find it jarring like I did. Readers who have played it will likely see it as a waste of time.

Speaking of wastes of time, the first several scenes of the second act are basically filler. Megildur respawns at Sea Dog's Rest and Zeristan is all "let's start your adventure!" Megildur refuses and teleports somewhere close to his raided village. He's captured and rescued a couple times and then ends up right back where he started. The only plot progress there is introducing his love interest but that is a brief introduction and she doesn't appear again until the ending. On Tvtropes, we call this Strangled By The Red String.

I'm not quite sure how the ending works, in or out of universe. If the All-Father choose Megildur to recover a sword then why does that redeem all of the world? It can't be a "cooperation" thing because Megildur tried to do it with as few people as possible (though he still has to be bailed out frequently). Also, removing the "Tree of Life respawns" would fundamentally change the setting and so it wouldn't be the same Shadowbane. If this book is about the game's lore then it just made a substantial change to it instead of expanding it.

There's a reliance on Deus Ex Machina. There are three big problems that are saved by explicitly Divine intervention and a fourth where a nameless and faceless character comes out of nowhere and uses a divine-aligned heroic-sacrifice-style spell (not really a sacrifice given the mechanics but he still dies, temporarily). This is another mixed bag sort of thing. On one hand, if the Top God of a setting wanted a character to do X then they would assist them in doing so, right? It just so happens that most stories have this deity assign the mission and then disappear because such a character constantly helping your hero would be a storybreaker. It is, but speaking in-universe it makes a certain amount of sense. It's like non-verbal communication from the All-Father; something like "Seriously, I want this guy to do X. Stop interfering." Then again, this ties into the problem of how did Megildur personally restore his faith in humanity by finding a sword? Anyone could have done this with that kind of assistance.

There are too many questions, plot holes or inconsistencies for me to mention here. At this point, I don't care.

The ending is good. It concludes the book's conflict, ties up a few loose ends, and then points towards And The Adventure Continues.


CHARACTERS


Megildur, this story's hero and protagonist, is a mixed bag (much like the plot itself). He starts out in relation to his sister. When she's around, his personality is at its most clear. Otherwise, his personality is muddy. This means he often feels like an excuse for exposition about the world or some empty vessel to instigate the cooperation of other characters. I think the author tries to present his relationship with Zabrina as this deeply-romantic, love-at-first-sight (or smell) thing but it is pretty shallow (partly because of her minor screen time). Randomly kissing someone you've just met does not sound like something the champion of a benevolent Deity would do. 
He constantly needs to be rescued but given his lack of skills and training (he's a beginner with a sword and dagger and doesn't have anything else) that makes sense and it has the effect of preventing him from being an inexplicably powerful Gary Stu just because he's the Choosen One. I get the sense that he considers his task from the All-Father and future duties as the High King to be a hassle. It's like the assistance he receives for saving his sister is payment up front for undertaking this divine mission.

Honoria, one of Megildur's two traveling companions, is better. Her personality is more consistent across the story. Her humility is played up and tied into her job and passion as a bard which adds meat to her character. She has a realistic sense of betrayal following an incident with a friend of hers and an equally realistic making up afterward. However, her backstory is clumsily delivered.

Gaal is a solidly written thief-rogue type. He is sneaky, crass, greedy etc. but he also has redeeming features such as Honor Among Thieves and loyalty via I Owe You My Life. It's nothing original but it is well done and harkens to the traditions of medieval fantasy style RPGs, upon which this book is based.

Aranel is cute. I would have liked to see more of her.

I can't really say there's a villain here. There are a number of enemies but all of them are sparsely developed and quickly dealt with so they don't count. They range from hostile guilds to political rivals to monsters.

POLISH

"Amateurish" is how I would describe the prose. I do not mean this in the sense of spelling or grammar errors because I saw few, if any, of those. I mean it in the style. The narration states the obvious. The sentence construction and paragraphs lack punch. It is like it is trying to be epic and exciting and failing (thinking it is more epic than it is).

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Shadowbane: Age of Aelfborn" 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 (request): Gothon's Campaign

Click here for the previous book review (request): Star Racers


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

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Sassy Saturday: Liberating the Body, Mind and Soul

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: Brave the Orderly Reality Vice

The context for this post:  Preceding from the previous excerpt, Annala has arrived at a Latrot slave market.
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Inside was a dark and chilly place. Meza found the light switch and pale lanterns illuminated every corner of the room. Annala gasped at what she saw. She’d read of such places in her studies, and even walked through a virtual reality reconstruction, but the real thing left her speechless and outraged.

Row upon row and stack upon stack of birdcages, and each one containing an elf. They were identical in every way save gender: shaved heads, clipped ears, pale skin, black tunics, and gleaming Subjugation Collars on their necks. All of them were emaciated and so clean their skin was as sterile as a vacuum.

Annala bowed her head and clenched her fists. She marched to the nearest cage and grabbed its bars with both hands. Instantly, they melted. Security measures activated to repel her and she melted them too. Within twenty seconds, the cage was so much sludge.

“You’re leaving,” she said tightly. “Now.”

The slave looked up at her with blank eyes. “Leaving is unlawful,” she said in a dull voice. “I must await my duly designated handler. Leaving is unlawful. I must await my duly designated handler. Leaving is unlawful. I must await my duly designated handler.”

It was a broken voice and it moved Annala to compassion. Reaching into her dress pocket, she withdrew a silver-grey metal scrap. It carried the shape of an “L,” but when she inserted it into the keyhole of the slave girl’s collar, it molded to fit inside.

This was no ordinary lock pick. Her mother gave them a long name, but she herself decided on “Contagious Contradiction” lock pick. It was forged from a piece of the Subjugation Collar that used to be on her own neck. A quartet of contradictions shorted out its control matrix and left modified rule structures in its attempt to solve those contradictions. They were half-baked nonsense and thus utterly useless to ordercrafters, but they were a godsend to elves.

The collar possessed program madness, and with minor tweaks, it could be made contagious. Even now, the young girl’s collar was shorting out by mere contact. It gave up and depowered long before Annala figured out the tumblers. Now it was nothing more than cold metal. Annala shapeshifted stronger hands and ripped it off.

“I am your new duly designated handler.”

“The Law of Order requires me to request proof of such a claim.”

Annala presented the Subjugation Collar. “How could I remove your collar if I was not your new handler?”

“You could be chaotic kidnappers and forced it off.”

Annala waggled her finger and tsked. “Foolish slave. You know the Church of Chaos requires several hours in a cursed location and a profane ritual to force the removal of Subjugation Collars. Seeing as I did so without such tools, I cannot be a chaotic kidnapper.”

The slave girl hesitated.

“The only other alternative is that Order is not as almighty and powerful as he says he is, and Order does not abide lies, so it’s not really an alternative.”

“Uh...Umm...Yes, that is certainly the less likely explanation.” She bowed and said, “Handler, what are your orders?”

Shifting one of her fingers into a blade, Annala cut off a strand of her hair. She placed it into the younger elf’s hands and gave her a gentle smile.

“You must be hungry. This will make you feel better.”

A faint chaotic pulse traveled through the slave’s body. It reached deep to connect with her tightly repressed Seed of Chaos and awakened an ancient longing. A rumbling stomach concurred. She placed the hairs into her mouth and swallowed.

A perfect copy of Annala’s DNA entered her system and a fragment of Annala’s Twin Seeds leeched into her blood. A little color returned to her skin and a little awareness returned to her eyes. Her hair started re-growing and her ears resumed their natural shape.

“W-who are you?” she asked.

Annala crouched to be eye-level with her. “I’m Annala, and I want to be your friend. What is your name?”

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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).