Monthly Archives: February 2016

The Grimjinx Rebellion (The Vengekeep Prophecies #3)

Title: The Grimjinx Rebellion

Author: Brian Farrey

Series: The Vengekeep Prophecies #3

Jaxter Grimjinx and his family can see, as few others, the Palatinate Mages’ schemes to wrest power from the High Laird. Unfortunately, even with the Dowager on their side, there isn’t much a family of thieves can do against the plots of nobility and mages. But when Aubrin, Jaxter’s little sister, turns out to be a seer and is taken by the Palatinate Mages, the whole family is determined to get her back. Whatever it takes.

This is, like both the previous books, fast-paced, funny, and an amazing ride. I appreciate the little note Jaxter starts out with, explaining that things are generally much more obvious in hindsight, when you aren’t running for your life—it’s not only true, but helps set up some of the things he takes a while to notice. As fun as it is to see him reason his way through things, he’s got too much emotion mixing him up for a lot of this. Fear for his sister, anger at the mages, and a gnawing worry for his own life, which she’s prophesied will soon end.

This being only a trilogy, when things go downhill they go down fast. Jaxter doesn’t have much of a view into the palace, so most of what happens there is secondhand. Same with the towns. That does leave things feeling a bit disjointed, as the story rockets through some pretty intense periods with a few sentences, before settling in the more day-to-day Jaxter experiences.

I don’t want to spoil too much. Read the first two books (won’t take long, and they’re lots of fun too!) and then this one for the best experience. I rate this book Recommended.

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The Blackthorn Key

Title: The Blackthorn Key

Author: Kevin Sands

Christopher Rowe–once-orphan, now alchemist’s apprentice–had a happy life with his master, even if his days were filled with study and work. (The explosions were a regrettable side effect of the combination of bold curiosity and a disregard for certain rules.) But someone is targeting alchemists in a series of brutal murders. When Christopher finds himself closer than he ever wanted to be to the scene of the crime, he has two goals: find the killers. And get out alive.

This is a fun bit of historical fiction. Set in England in 1665, it follows young Christopher through the perils and wonder of being an alchemist, who at the time functioned a bit like a scientist, doctor, researcher, cryptographer, and businessman all at once. I liked how the book underlines the sheer amount of study and work it took Christopher to get where he is; too often it’s easy for the the main character to stumble into the right answer. That can be fun too, but it’s nice to see people who earned their place living up to their full potential.

The book offers a lot of puzzles and codes, even spelling them out for the enterprising reader who would like to take a crack at it himself before reading onward. And the murders, as they unfold, offer another layer of mystery, because it’s not just about who, but why. Also things explode or otherwise get set on fire quite a lot, which is great fun, but tempered with the reality that when things go boom sometimes people get hurt. Or have the potential to be hurt.

I also liked Tom’s friendship with Christopher. This is a friendship that weathers some pretty bad events, and Tom’s wise enough to know what’s really needed when Christopher’s cleverness might otherwise have left him in a very bad place.

Overall it’s a gripping read, and I would recommend it easily.

The Shadowhand Covenant (Vengekeep Prophecies #2)

Title: The Shadowhand Covenant

Author: Brian Farrey

Series: The Vengekeep Prophecies #2

Jaxter Grimjinx has left the family business of thieving to be a botonist. Well, mostly. His current apprenticeship isn’t working out too well, and the most powerful group of thieves, the Shadowhands, want to talk to him for some reason. Jaxter tumbles into the middle of conspiracy he never asked for—mysterious robberies, vanishing thieves, and far too much adventure for someone who tried to opt out.

It’s been a while since I read the first book, but this one wasn’t at all hard to get back into. Where the first book has Jaxter as a rogue among rogues, this one has him playing more to his botanical studies, and his familiarity with thievery gives a good background to some of what’s going on.

I liked the bigger picture narrative, which draws back to encompass more of the bigger continent and government. (A little sad, though, that there is only one Aviard and he has about one sentence of page time…. but I have a huge weakness for winged beings that are NOT angels/demons.) And Jaxter is growing in his ability with plants, so he’s got some nice tricks up his sleeve, but he’s still maturing in his gifts.

The characters remain hysterical. Each chapter starts with a little witticism, like “Innocence is relative, but relatives are rarely innocent.” Jaxter spends much of the book in close contact with his once-friend, then-enemy, now-maybe-friend Maloch, and Jaxter’s habit of running off his mouth about Maloch in particular is good for a lot of laughter.

The story is quick, funny, and deepens the world nicely. I just picked up the third book and can’t wait to see how it all turns out. I rate this book Recommended.

Digimon Adventure 01

In anticipation of playing Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth (PS4/Vita), I recently re-watched Digimon’s first season. Digimon Adventure follows 7 kids who went to summer camp and get transported into another world full of monsters. Some of those monsters immediately befriend them, while others by chance or intent are trying to kill them. Gradually the deeper mysteries unfold: why are they here? What do they have to accomplish to get home again?

Digimon Adventure is an unusual story in a number of ways. It’s hard to call the setting fantasy or sci-fi—it’s closer to surrealism. Modern kids get yanked into a wilderness that has forests, deserts, and . . . telephone booths and vending machines? The setting is part of the appeal, because although the world has its own set of rules, they’re so wacky you can never quite know what will show up next, whether it’s the convenience store at the bottom of the ocean or the modern city borrowing buildings from New York and Paris.

Plot-wise, it’s a bit more predictable, but the ongoing story allows for long plot arcs with a good amount of character development. Each of the kids has a backstory, and each of them has a role to play. And the backstory can get relatively deep: Matt’s insecurity over his parent’s divorce affecting his relationship with his brother and his rivalry with Tai, Izzy’s adoption distancing him from connecting with the parents who love him but feel the need to keep that secret, etc. The boldest arc (and my favorite) has everyone, monsters included, going back to the human world to deal with the digital monsters who have migrated there to cause chaos for ordinary humans. And suddenly it’s no longer just about the kids as their parents and siblings are caught up in everything as well.

It’s also worth noting that the digimon are characters in their own right. Unlike other monster shows where the goal is to collect a lot, each child only has a single companion, who can evolve to multiple forms. The digimon can complement their partner’s personality, like Agumon being as bold as Tai, or be completely at odds, like the carefree Gomamon for over-responsible Joe.

There are certainly rough points. I watched enough of the Japanese to vastly prefer the English (Matt sounds WAY too old in Japanese), despite the sometimes odd humor in the dub. The show has its share of recycled plot points—how many times do they really need to split up and come back together? And without the nostalgia appeal, this isn’t going to hold up as well for older kids or adults (with perhaps the exception of the arc in the real world).

Overall this held up better than I thought it would, but it never quite breaks free of the kids show feel. For kids, Recommended. For adults, maybe watch a sample first. It’s available for streaming for free on Crunchyroll currently.

And I’ll note here, because I have no intention of watching the entire season of Adventure 02, that the sequel’s main draw is watching the original cast move from heros to mentors, and seeing how TK and Kari grew up. But its main turn off is that Davis, the leader, is completely insufferable, and the other new characters, Yolei and Cody, feel less like their own characters and more like shadows of the original cast. Season 03, Tamers, breaks completely with the Adventures storyline, and the writing is better in the few eps I watched. I wouldn’t mind finishing that eventually.

The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom (League of Princes #1)

Title: The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom

Author: Christopher Healy

Series: League of Princes #1

Everyone knows about the princesses. Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Cinderella. But what about the prince who broke the curse, slew the dragon, danced at the ball? Aren’t they all Prince Charming?

Such is the premise of The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, which chooses to focus on those oft-neglected heros of legend: the prince. Of course, as the story is quick to point out, not all Prince Charmings are created equal. Some actually had to be heros for their princess, while others merely attended a dance. Kudos especially for remembering Rapunzel’s prince had his eyes scratched out by thorns.

Most of the book is character-driven humor as these four misfit princes scramble to deal with a wicked witch and some kidnapped bards. Liam, who was my favorite, is the closest to a real hero—even if it was built on false pretenses (his dismay at dealing with the other three makes me laugh). Duncan, the oddball, is probably second. He’s convinced he has magical good luck, and although the text goes out of its way to assure us this is NOT magic, he’s still uncannily good at working out the most bizarre situations. Then we have Gustav, big and brawny and with an inferiority complex because of his sixteen better-regarded brothers (explaining how they are all only a year or two older than him made me stop reading because I was laughing so hard I cried). And Frederic, the Cinderella prince, whose most dangerous encounter pre-story has been dust bunnies.

I also want to mention the illustrations. This book is peppered with fantastic little sketches that provide some visual humor to go along with the story.

Although some of the humor was hit-or-miss for me, the general quirkiness and upbeat plot made for a fun read. I look forward to the sequels. I rate this book Recommended.