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 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).

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Sassy Saturday: Brave the Orderly Reality Vice

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: Arin's Defiance

The context for this post:  Annala has joined a raiding party to free slaves from Latrot. Unfortunately, she has to pass through a region infested with spirits who want to kill her boyfriend.
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They marched the remaining miles to the Orderly Reality Vice. Then suddenly, they were inside it and the world was a mass of grey mist. Just as suddenly, they were not and the sky was clear. Behind the wedge, Annala explained to Eric that the chaotic nature of the Orderly Reality Vice made it vary in size.

“This is why shipping has decreased in the region,” she said. “Many regard it as too dangerous these days. We should be out of the fluctuation zone in about ten minutes.”

Whether or not she was correct was difficult to determine. Their watches no longer worked properly. Counting off the seconds didn’t work either. Every barrage of soul mist brought with it the wailing and confusion of the countless consciousness within them. They shouted words, numbers, and gibberish that made them lose count.

Eventually, one of the barrages didn’t recede. Here, it was neither cold nor hot nor any earthly temperature in between. Here, there was neither sky nor ground because the Orderly Reality Vice ripped apart such distinctions.

“DOWN!”

Annala tackled Eric to the ground just as something wraithlike soared overhead. Beyond the girl’s veil, Eric could see piranha teeth but nothing attached to them. Perrault barked at more such forms from on top of Kallen. Only when the threat passed did she allow Kallen to stand. Annala pulled Eric to his feet and grabbed his chin with her other hand.

“No float spells, grip my hand, don’t stop moving forward; got it?”

Eric grinned. “Yes, ma’am.”

She led him forward by the hand while her familiar acted as Kallen’s blind-seeing-eye dog. The four of them walked in the shelter of the swan formation of Sister Sagart and the Ordercrafter Hunters. As strange and dangerous as the area was to the four, it was worse for the forwards. More than once, Meza had to assert his authority over the younger ones in his team as their sanity ran thin and their wills faltered in the face of the enemy.

Salamanders flew in erratic circles. Undines screeched and sobbed. Gnomes did senseless dances. Sylphs tore themselves apart only to reform again. Ghostly apparitions flew around them, spreading their despair like miasma. The sight of Kallen or Eric enraged all of them and they attacked without warning.

“New body!” The words echoed in the mist. “Live again! New body! LIVE AGAIN!”

“Stay away!” Annala deflected the specter. “I won’t let you hurt him!”

“World breaker!” the spirit mist boomed. “Chaos maker!”

“Where am I?” wailed one voice. “Lady Life said I was to reincarnate. Said it was somewhere nice...where am I?

“Get me out of here!” screamed another voice. “It hurts! YOUR FAULT YOUR FAULT! YOURFAULTYOURFAULT!”

“KAAAAAAAAA!”

One bolt from Annala’s Deathkiller bow drove them all back. It plunged deep into the cloud and released chaotic waves that burned their essence. It dissolved those that didn’t move fast enough. Perrault pounced on the ones advancing from the rear and shredded them with her teeth. The raiding party advanced, but where to they couldn’t be sure.

A crowd of spirits pressed together into an astral oversoul and, as if from a cannon, propelled itself past the Ordercrafter Hunters. It dodged Sagart and drove straight toward the demons. Annala stepped between them to intercept. It pushed her back and she dug her heels in, but the ground shifted and swept her off her feet. The composite monster rushed unhindered towards Eric and Kallen with its ghostly maw wide.

“Perrault! Go!”

The wolf was a golden-brown blur as it plowed through its target. The astral oversoul wailed and the sound rang in the raiders’ own souls.

“Not again! Not again! Not again! Not again!”

Chaotic residue from Perrault’s attack rushed outwards. Suddenly, the mists disappeared and were replaced by a world of fire, ash, and dust. Here, a duplicate of the astral oversoul battled Priestess.

It lashed out with its limbs and Priestess avoided with nimble leaps. She drew an arrow, shook it, and it became a lance. Then she plunged into the astral oversoul. It wailed as it was torn apart by chaotic energy.

Then a flash of darkness appeared on a cliff behind Priestess and a grim reaper emerged. It swooped down with its scythe cocked, and it was tackled by a golden-brown wolf.

This wolf bit its arm, so it transferred its scythe to the other and pointed at the astral oversoul. Black energy coursed through it and it rose again. It writhed in horrible pain until Priestess struck it down a second time.

“Hold him in place! I can’t have any distractions!”

Priestess recited chaotic prayers until the astral oversoul decompiled and drifted apart. Shrinking the lance back into an arrow, she put it away and pulled out a bag. She gathered the spirits into it and then the reaper sliced it in half.

“You can’t stop entropy!”

“Of course I can! I’m Maxwell’s Demon!”

__________________________________________________________________

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, June 17, 2017

Sassy Saturday: the Defiance of Arin

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: Priestess at Work

The context for this post: Annala reenacts the heroics of her ancestral mother, Arin, during a festival's play.

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Smoke rose again to conceal the muses. Another wind spell blew it away, but not all of it disappeared. One area of the stage remained obscured and the sound of rushing water (from a backstage faucet) could be heard. Outside the smoke was a pool of water surrounded by stones, a patch of grass, and a crowd. These extras used cosmetics to look human.
“Muags is a mighty warrior, but so is everyone here,” Annala said. “No one is born strong; strength must be developed through work and dedication. Thus the power of chaos can be wielded by anyone.”
She raised her hand and this cued the SFX department. Typically, this sort of thing would be done by the actress herself, but in Annala’s case, it had to be someone else. This elf conjured a lightball and sent it to Annala’s outstretched palm. The actress took aim and the SFX mage fired it at a rock, which blew up.
“I shall teach thee and thou shalt ascend to the first level of chaotic enlightenment.”
“Then shall Muags be smote?” one villager asked.
“No mortal can withstand the power of chaos unless they themselves wield this power for the source of all power is Lady Chaos. If you make contact with her essence and learn to use it, then nothing in all of Creation will stop you.”
“You’re not speaking old-timey enough,” a second villager said.
“What?” Annala said.
The first villager smacked the second one.
“Verily the wisdom of chaos has altered the patterns of thy speech,” this villager said, “and thus it is that—”
A scream cut him off.
Backstage, three elves clanged swords together and then a trio of the village’s soldiers back-pedaled, fighting two soldiers each. Their swords were enchanted to create sparks and “clang” when they struck each other, and in this way, they struggled all the way back to the pool. All three fell dead at Annala’s feet. In a fury, she stood up and shouted, “Curse you!”
More SFX mages created a screen of light bolts and fired them upon the enemy soldiers. They all pratfell to their deaths. Then Annala knelt at the three allied soldiers and the SFX mages created a light show to signify resurrection. They rose to their knees and said, “Thank ye, lady priestess, for thy mercy and compassion.”
“Tis nothing at all. Return to your homes and your families.”
They did, and as soon as they were gone, five members of the crowd jumped Annala. Pinning her to the ground, they stuffed her mouth with a rag and bound her hands. Typically, they would also attach a fake slave collar, but in this case, the fox fur muffler was removed.
“Thou art a fine jewel, lady priestess,” said a sixth villager. “Lord Muags shall reward our service in adding thee to his collection.”
 Eric dashed on stage and ran this one through. Actually, he slipped his sword in between the actor’s chest and arms, but the guy fell limp all the same. Then he fell on the other five.
“Snakes!” he declared. “Infiltrators!”
Three of them engaged him while the other two pulled Annala off stage. Though he succeeded in slaying all three, his precious maiden was gone. The warrior fell to his knees and howled his despair. The smoke of the pool rushed forwards and consumed the stage.
“Release me, brute!” Annala screamed. “Thou shall not deny me liberty!”
The smoke parted and Muags’ throne room reappeared. The tyrant watched smugly as his latest prize was dragged in. Though she wore the tiara of a queen, she also wore the fetters of a slave. Her dress looked the same as before, but it was actually a “battle damaged” version.
“In good conscience, I cannot do that.” Ralm stood up leisurely and circled her with the air of an appraiser. “Delicate flowers belong in gardens where they can be protected and admired. Weeds are in the wild and these vile things stop at nothing in choking beauty.”
Annala’s ex-boyfriend cupped her cheek and ran his fingers from the slave collar on her neck to her bare shoulder, then back again.
“Your beautiful snowy skin is already tarnished with the dust and sun of travel; an ugly shade of brown. It would harm my sense of honor to allow a princess like yourself to live like a vagabond. If I picked you, then someone else might. Someone cruel and,” he licked his lips, “lecherous. You shall be my wife today and mother of my heir tomorrow.”
Annala bit his hand. She was supposed to merely gum it, but bitterness slipped in.
“I will be a corpse before I am either of those!” she shouted with such passion Remho shed a tear. “Tyrant! My guardian carries a sword for three reasons: defending my life, his own, and ending the lives of those who threaten others! With three strikes, you will die!”
She winced as he backhanded her. Normally, Arin’s actress would swing her head to the side while Muags’ actor motioned and someone backstage slapped a prop, but Remho changed the script this year. A genuine strike created a lovely bruise on his human star’s cheek and brought forth genuine tears.
“You are a fool, maiden! You are to me as that statue; if it displeases me, then I may have it dismembered and beheaded. It is also within my power to keep it polished. I could have these ropes removed, exotic food brought out, spacious rooms prepared, dresses of elegant nature made. Every luxury this world has to offer me, I can offer you.”
“You lie!” Annala declared, bravely staring him in the eyes. “There is only one thing in this world I desire and you cannot offer it. You may conquer a thousand nations and possess a thousand treasure hoards, but you can never conquer my heart nor buy my love!”
_______________________________________________________________________

This is the scene where the " the fair maiden slugged the dragon with her golem fist" line that I like to tweet comes from.

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).

Monday, June 12, 2017

Answering review request: Star Racers

Martin Felando asked me to rad his book Star Racers: Win the Race. Save Your Planet. It is about a universe wide space race where the winner secures protection for their planet from invaders and local warlords. I will examine Plot, Character and Polish and then assign a grade.

PLOT

"Win the race; save your planet" is the slogan for Grand Battle, the space race in question. It is also a concise summary of the plot. The people who join Grand Battle come from planets that have big problems. United Plant Coalition, the force behind Grand Battle, pledges aid to those racers that win. My problem with this set up is that the link between the two is never explained. This is not a "Show; don't tell" thing because there is a talkshow host guy (Verus) who explains things about Grand Battle and how it works, yet he skips the link between "win the race" and "save your planet". The prize's basic role is to serve a macguffin for the story; only the beginning and ending directly have to do with it.

See, this story has a In Media Res format. It begins with Rev Ardent, the protagonist, starting a draft race to qualify and then it jumps back to before he was in any position to even consider competing. The majority of the story is him acquiring the necessary equipment and then making the journey to Grand Hotel, which hosts Grand Battle.  There's nothing wrong with this, in and of itself, but the set up suffers for it. The bulk of the story is made for suspense, tension, and drama yet the format guarantees certain things, which then deflates them. For instance, when Rev says that he is going to quit racing, the reader knows that it will be a Ten Minute Retirement at worst.

However, this is not to say that certain scenes are suspenseful or dramatic. The pre-Grand Battle scenes have a different cast than that at the race itself, and Verus mentions how Rev encountered a lot of trouble reaching Grand Battle, thus implying that he and Sashi are the only survivors of the previous cast. The battle abroad the starliner Stepp I is my favorite part of this story despite knowing that the two leads would survive it because it is still exciting due to the presence of other heroes whose fate is unknown and to the awesome things they do.

The setting that this story takes place in, its technology and culture, is interesting. For instance, there is a smartphone app called "JustThink" (sic) that enables the user to read someone's mind. The narration states that this app is "inexpensive" and there is nothing that one needs to do to the target in order to make it work. Here's the clincher; not only is the device legal to use, it is socially acceptable. The reporters present at Sashi's interview don't have to be covert at all. Sashi even wears a "smart shirt" that displays different messages depending on her mood, and these messages can be seen by anyone near her. This is not the only instance where private information is easily accessible by others. Just thinking about the implications of this are interesting. At the same time, the technology angle is pushed beyond my Willing Suspension of Disbelief.

An example of this is the pair of devices used by the Maelae to mind control. A needle is injected into someone's shoe, remains dormant for an unknown period of time, and when it reaches a destination, which is unknown, is can remove itself and propel itself towards a target whose location could not be known ahead of time; the needle has to find the target on its own. Then it injects liquid into the target which then quickly takes effect. This liquid makes the target berserk but, at the same time, controlled by the liquid to execute certain tasks. How in the world does it do that? There isn't even a handwave like "nanomachines".

After I read the ending, I began to think that "show, don't tell" might have been in effect, after all, regarding Grand Battle's prize. There are numerous references to charity throughout the story, like Besty's Lover promoting a charity that helps war refugees on his planet and the advertising income from one of Grand Battle's side shows goes to support the planets of racers who didn't qualify for the main event. I began thinking that, perhaps, Grand Battle itself is the universe's biggest charity event.

The ending itself is good. The conflict is closed and the premise resolved but there is still an element of And The Adventure Continues.

CHARACTERS

Rev and Sashi, the two leads, are great characters. Rev has this underdog theme matched with racing passion and Sashi has this Iron-Lady-in-training vibe. Rev is basically scared and anxious during all the combat scenes but is capable of harnessing that for impressive competence (including this really gutsy move he pulled on a Maelae destroyer-class ship). Sashi likewise has unshakable self-confidence while also being self-aware of her abilities and driven to improve them. They make a fantastic team in Grand Battle itself. It is their romance that I take issue with, specifically the beginning.

Rev is apparently head-over-heels for Sashi immediately, despite the fact that he spends little time with her at their first meeting and part of that is a private conversation with his AI sidekick. Sashi likewise even though she snubs him for his AI sidekick. Personally, it feels like Strangled By The Red String. The rest of the relationship is good but I don't get how it started.

Stepp and Kaedn don't have this problem. While the start of their relationship isn't shown, it is implied that Stepp made a decision between him and Verus, and this is implied to have been a big deal beyond the relationship itself, so I can assume that there was a good reason and a lot of thought going into it. Now about them individually.

I like Kaedn because he is a fantastic foil for Rev. He is a veteran star racer, well respected in the free city of Nightona that he lives in, and is both courageous and noble. When Rev meets him, it is really no surprise that he seriously considered quitting; Kaedn practically has "The Hero" written all over him. In particular, I like his first scene. It is a meeting with Shiemi, A.K.A. Mor the Warlord to discourage him from allying with the Maelae. On the one hand, he knows such an alliance would be devastating for Earth's free cities, but on the other hand, Shiemi is (or used to be) a good friend of his and his girlfriend and he doesn't want Shiemi to be backstabbed by the Maelae, which they are definitely going to. It is an effective Establishing Character Moment.

Stepp also has a splendid scene that establishes her character. It starts out with her on her private starliner, working on her tan and then having a childish argument with her best friend. It appears as though she is a spoiled and shallow actress, but then she gets a message that her boyfriend is in deadly peril. There's an immediate switch where she gives orders to her starliner's crew and then goes out to rescue him herself.

I could continuing writing paragraphs about the other racers in Grand Battle because they are given space to develop. Scrap Meat, for instance, has a chapter to himself that is great at developing him and his struggles. It is not out-of-place in the narrative either, because much of the story is framed as interviews for Verus' show, Action, Please. However, this review is already far too long (that happens a lot with me).


POLISH
It looks good. I didn't find much of anything wrong with spelling or grammar.

Trickster Eric Novels gives Star Racers a B+

Click here for the previous book review (request): Holindrian

Click here for the next 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).