Monthly Archives: November 2017

The Hero and the Crown (Damar #2)

Title: The Hero and the Crown

Author: Robin McKinley

Series: Damar #2

Aerin is the king’s daughter, but that doesn’t mean much to a people who are half-convinced her mother witched her father. An awkward, plain, Giftless princess who tries to hide in the shadows, Aerin is acutely aware of her shortcomings. But her persistence in odd hobbies reaps unexpected dividends when she discovers an ointment to protect herself from dragonfire, and volunteers herself to slay dragons. Small, nasty, vermin dragons, which is a job with as much glory as hunting rats. Then the real trouble arrives . . .

I’ve liked this book a lot ever since childhood, although now, rereading it again, I can see things that just don’t seem to hang together as well. What exactly draws the cats and dogs to Aerin’s side? They just show up, and suddenly they’re allies. And the evil villain is brought up and disposed very quickly, so he never really feels like much of a threat, more of an aside to the actual plot. He doesn’t force Aerin to come to grips with any of the issues she’s been struggling with, or serve any kind of thematic climax. He’s just there. Which is kind of funny considering he’s supposed to be mega-threatening.

And it’s both puzzling and annoying that Aerin sleeps with Luthe when she does, because she is highly conscious of her duty as a princess, and that sort of thing tends to have severe repercussions on the marriageability of princesses (and depending on how soon she and Tor had a child, could cast serious doubt on the legitimacy of the heir. Which, given Aerin’s own precarious position, doesn’t seem like her to wish upon another). And it’s not very fair to Tor. The story would have worked equally well if she’d just liked Luthe, and gone back to him after Tor died.

But for all that, the story is still a good one. Aerin’s a princess without the usual princess trappings. She gets stuck with much of the duties but few of the benefits. What she earns, she earns through study and experimentation and hard work, and her victories are as likely to grant her sympathy as acclaim. Because while dragons may need slaying, no one’s overly keen on glorifying the butchery. And the courtiers turn up their noses at those who manage the grunt work, dragons or no. Aerin spends most of the book sick with one thing or another, and being a wallflower, so her eventual victories feel like great triumphs.

So Aerin is very human, and relateable. She befriends a horse, defends her country from dragons great and small, and in the end finds a place for herself, even if it’s not going to be entirely comfortable.

Overall this is a good read. The later portion tends to feel a bit dreamy because so much is happening that doesn’t quite make sense, and there’s bits of the mythic creeping in about the edges. I rate this book Recommended.

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Tales of Zestiria the X (Anime)

Title: Tales of Zestira the X
Episodes: 13-25

With the war on hold—for now—Sorey turns his attention to the larger issue: the Lord of Calamity. But issues from Roses’s past and Alisha’s present threaten to derail them. The second season picks up right where the first one leaves off, continuing the Shepherd’s journey.

I loved Tales of Zesteria the game, so the anime has been alternately really good and really frustrating. The frustrating part is that, by and large, Sorey has been mostly sidelined in what’s technically supposed to be his story. I’ve heard this referred to as the Rose and Alisha show, and that’s not far off. The second major criticism I have for the show is that its attempts to blend Berseria continue to feel out of place, and I think the story would’ve been stronger to ignore the Berseria bits, or just refer to them much more briefly.

That said, the anime also continues to expand on some things the game either explained poorly or not at all, and it changes some of the minor things that were rather frustrating about the game. Maltran’s whole subplot is gone, which works better—they either needed more time to expand the whole mess, or it needed to go, and the anime chose to cut it (which I like more, since I liked Maltran, and the game threw her under the bus). Similarly, Eizen’s fate is much happier in the anime. Dezel and Rose’s backstory gets more attention, and is told in a much more straightforward way (although Dezel still can’t avoid how it turned out). Alisha’s present struggles with her father and the kingdom also get more attention.

I really liked the way the anime adjusted the final boss battle (no more bullet mechanics!) to be a better transformation, and actually wish they could patch that back into the game. (Besides, Heldalf’s multi-phase fight really sucks. I had SUCH a bad time the first playthrough because I had mediocre equipment. Second playthrough, knowing what was coming and able to gear up better, was a lot better.)  The downside here is that Heldalf himself is really a nonthreatening villain in the anime. In the game, he toys with Sorey, whereas the anime just has him as the focal point of malevolence and therefore only dangerous because he exists and not so much for doing bad stuff.

I also really liked the epilogue, which is about half the last episode, and expands on a few things the game left really vague (I really like Mikleo’s future design . . . and the fact that he’s trolling random kids who are arguing about seraphs being awesome).

This is still probably best for people who have played Zesteria, and possibly Berseria, who can appreciate the various things the anime did to adjust the story. But it wouldn’t be a bad introduction to those curious about the game, either, since unlike the Tales of the Abyss anime this doesn’t feel nearly so much like a videogame.

Overall I still enjoyed this second half. The anime is at times a very different thing from the game that inspired it, so even if you disliked much of the game, this could still be worth a shot. If you’re going to get into the show, start at the beginning, so the whole journey makes a lot more sense. I rate this Recommended.

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana (PS4/Vita)

Title: Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana

Systems: PS4/Vita

Series: Ys

Adol Christin is an adventurer, but he isn’t planning to embark on his next one quite so soon. When the ship he’s on sinks, he and the rest of the castaways must survive on a deserted island. Only this island has far more in store for them—Adol’s dreams connect him to a mysterious girl, Dana, whose story has great importance for their own . . .

I have never played a Ys game before this one, but this has little enough to do with its surrounding series that it wasn’t a problem. Adol’s adventure is pretty self-contained, with only minor references to what I presume are series staples or callbacks.

The game was excellent. I loved exploring every corner of the island, unlocking its secrets one by one. The gameplay is action-based, and fights generally go very quickly, so there isn’t much grinding required (even if you’re like me and have to horde healing items for longer dungeons, the fruit regrows pretty quickly, and the ingredients for potions are easy enough to gather).

I liked how there isn’t any money in this game–you’re on a deserted island, with only fellow castaways, so what use would it be? Instead there’s a trading system that allows you to trade up or down for various materials.

And I wish the journal was something all RPGs implemented. It keeps track of the expected basics, like a plot summary and the tutorial screens that you’ve seen so far, but it also keeps track of every fish, monster, and material, which makes figuring out how to craft anything a breeze. And the menus are cross-linked, so you can start with a material, pick a monster that drops it, and go right to the screen with details about that monster. It’s such a little convenience, but one missing from pretty much every other game I’ve played.

Because of features like this, you don’t actually need a guide to get 100%. Just keep an eye on the quests in the village after every major story event and things will take care of themselves.

The graphics are admittedly dated, showing the game’s Vita origins. Still, I like the bright, colorful world, and the tropical locations are beautiful. The setting is the ancient Mediterranean very thinly disguised (Greek is the name of the country? Really? I suppose they speak Greece there).

The characters are mostly good as well. I was never fond of Laxia, who has the unfortunate distinction of being humiliated for fanservice right at the beginning of the game. It’s things like this that make it really hard for me to get non-anime fans into these games. They see a dropping-the-towel scene like that and figure the game will be smut, especially since this comes barely an hour into the game. And it makes no sense for her to even have a towel at that point in the game, much less feel safe enough to take a bath, given that she’s just washed ashore from a shipwreck and the local wildlife is decidedly unfriendly.

However, others, like Sahad, Ricotta, and Dana, were much better. Hummel is just kind of there to be comic relief.

I should probably mention the localization is getting an update, though as of my playthrough I only saw the original. It would be nice to get a few of the place names updated to something with less awkwardness in English (the Archeozoic Big Hole is probably the worst offender), but I didn’t find it a game-ruining experience.

Overall, I am very glad I picked this up (would also like to get the soundtrack, and if there is an artbook I want it, because the monster designs are awesome). I beat it in 77 hours, but that was with a lot of exploration, the final boss, true ending, postgame dungeon, and various points early on trying to subvert the need for double jump to get some chests (hint: the characters have different jump distances, and this can also be altered somewhat with moves. So Sahad, if you can get him to do his 4-swing attack in the air, has a lot of horizontal distance, or Laxia has a charge attack that can move her forward). I only missed the platinum because I decided to play on Normal and not Nightmare. I rate this game Recommended.

Hand and Talon (World of Kyrni #1)

Title: Hand and Talon

Author: Melonie Purcell

Series: World of Kyrni #1

Krea is a thief who just stole the wrong moneybag. But when she’s about to be captured, an unlikely intervention changes the course of her life. Her rescuer, Sorin, is an old caller. He tells her about the kryni, the shapeshifters, and insists she is one—and that she needs to be linked up with a caller before her first shift or she will lose her humanity forever. Krea doesn’t agree with him, but they journey together towards the capital in hopes of finding help for her. But unexpected dangers dog their journey, and what seemed to be relatively simple keeps getting more complicated . . .

The description of shapeshifters who need callers to stay human admittedly gave me pause, because I was expecting something along the lines of a cheap hook for a romance. Thankfully, this is nothing like that—and Sorin makes a few vehement points about interbreeding totally not being a thing, so at least the story quickly loses any suspicion that this is going to go in a sketchy direction.

I really liked Sorin. He’s old and grumpy and emotionally closed-off, especially to Krea, because of some things that went on in his past. He tries to do his best by her, but realizes time and again he’s unconsciously holding back.

Krea, for her part, isn’t taking anything for granted. (Actually, she’s probably taking everything anyone else took for granted.) She is a thief, through and through, and her kleptomaniac tendencies often get her far more than she bargained for. The knife is especially good. What initially looked like an amazing find becomes something she can’t even give away, much as she wants to.

And Dane plays off Krea perfectly. They’re both thieves, but their different ages and abilities lead to squabbles more often than solidarity.

All in all this was a strong story. It leaves off with a clear hook for a sequel, which I will be eagerly anticipating. I rate this book Recommended.

Freaks & Other Family (Necromancer)

Title: Freaks & Other Family

Author: Lish McBride

Series: Necromancer (set after book 2)

This is a collection of two stories. It follows the many of the characters from the Necromancer universe, but the stories don’t require you to have read them (although they will spoil some things).

You Make Me Feel So Young – An undercover mission to investigate a suspicious organization at their black-tie dinner turns crazy. It was pretty easy to see where this was going, but still fun. Sam still manages to astound those who think he ought to know better with his almost-total ignorance about magical things.

Halfway Through the Wood – Ramon has had some difficulty keeping up with family events after being turned into a were-bear. But when his abuela has a birthday party, he’s no longer able to make excuses. This is definitely the stronger of the two stories, and I like the opportunity to see a bit more of Ramon, his family, and how he’s dealing (or not) with what happened to him. It’s the little things, like massive amounts of strength or trying not to shapeshift under stress, that worry him.

Overall this is a nice treat for fans of the Necromancer books, especially those who liked Ramon. I rate this Recommended.

The Star Thief

Title: The Star Thief

Author: Lindsey Becker

Honorine is a maid for the Vidalia Estate, but her life completely changes when she discovers intruders breaking into the house. One group has curious beings like a winged girl and a wolf whose body isn’t the usual flesh and blood, and they want Honorine to join them. The other group, however, has Francis Vidalia, Honorine’s childhood friend, and many new devices that fascinate her–and the two groups are bitter enemies. All she wants is to live happily with Francis and her long-lost family, but the only way to get there is by sacrificing everything else . . .

This had some interesting ideas I wish went farther. The Mordant are star-creatures, linked to their constellations, and they have various influences and abilities related to those constellations. We meet several of them: Lux, Scorpio, Leo, and so on. Their powers are decidedly magical. On the other side we have Nautilus and his (steampunk) technology, who is capturing the Mordant for reasons unknown. Obvious logic would put Nautilus as the villain, but the Mordant’s mysterious leader, known as the Mapmaker, doesn’t exactly want what’s best for humanity, just the Mordant. So we have a situation where both sides are neither good nor evil, but it’s more nuanced.

I liked it well enough overall, but nothing about the characters or the story really stuck to me. The fact that both sides are somewhat villainous kind of irritated me by the end, because it means Honorine keeps waffling between them while she’s trying to find a way for everything to resolve without wiping out one side. (And I can’t say I think too highly of the scientists who are happy to enslave sentient beings simply because it makes them more productive.) But the Mordant are a lot of fun, and hopefully if there are future books we’ll see more of them. I rate this book Recommended.

The Forever Court (Knights of the Borrowed Dark #2)

Title: The Forever Court

Author: Dave Rudden

Series: Knights of the Borrowed Dark #2

Uriel Croit has spent his entire life waiting for the Redemptress to awaken. The Croits train and prepare for the War that will come when they will take over the world. But when Uriel’s fondest dreams are realized, he finds the world isn’t as simple as he thought . . .

Denizen Hardwick is in training to become a Knight who kills the Tenebrous who invade the world from some outer dimension. Too bad he’s absolutely fascinated by Mercy, the Tenebrous he saved, the Tenebrous who granted him knowledge of ALL of the Cants the Knights use to control their magic. And when a message comes from the Tenebrous asking for Denizen by name, no one knows what to think. Could peace even be possible, or is this some elaborate scheme? And even if it is a genuine offer from the Tenebrae, will the Knights risk it, or try to sabotage it themselves?

I adored the first book, and was happy to find this one was just as good. Uriel’s sections are important, but Uriel isn’t as funny as Denizen, so I tended to prefer Denizen’s commentary about basically everything.

Like the first, this has a good dose of horror, humor, and fantasy. Denizen is exploring his first crush—and amusingly enough it’s Mercy. Which gets him into no end of trouble with everyone.

We will see each other again, Denizen Hardwick.

Denizen had assumed that was the kind of thing magical glowing girls said all the time, to promote an air of mystery. He hadn’t realized it was something she was going to go and organize.

And:

He’d read enough fantasy books to know that diplomacy didn’t mean honesty and conversation. It meant fancy dinners, watching betrayal flash behind people’s eyes, and not trusting Grand Viziers.

Naturally, the situation is way more complicated than anyone realizes. I liked the rough relationship between Denizen and his newly-discovered mother. He thought of himself as an orphan for so long he’s not sure what to do with family. And honestly, he almost feels like an orphan still, because the way Vivian runs the Sanctuary is more like a barracks and less like a home. He’s much more a novice Knight to her than her son.

It was an occupational hazard of being a bookworm. You stopped thinking in terms of reality and started thinking of nick-of-time rescues and the power of a dramatic speech. It couldn’t be over because it shouldn’t be over.

And I liked how Denizen is an absolute wildcard in this whole mess. His knowledge of the Cants makes him extremely dangerous—but he doesn’t have the training to use them properly, or the physical ability to back them up. Cants are supposed to be a last resort, because of the Cost. He’s the only one who believes Mercy is telling the truth and that peace between the Knights and the Tenebrous is even possible. But is he right about her heart, or have those older and wiser Knights who see only monsters spotted something he missed? Just because a happy ending would be a nice story doesn’t mean it’s actually the truth.

Overall, I was thrilled to finally get a copy of this in my hands, and I can’t wait for the next installment. I really need to start a quote file to save off my favorites—the above are only about half the places that had me laughing so hard I had to put the book down. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

More quotes because I can and I want to remember these:

Mercy gave a passable approximation of Frown No. 12—Here Is Some Sympathy I Am Not Sure You Deserve.

And:

Jack shrugged. “There’s no point to revenge. You either don’t get it, in which case the want grows until it collapses your world around you, or you do get it. And then you have it. Great. Show me something you can build from revenge that you can’t build from acceptance.”

And:

I want a form, Denizen thought. I want everyone to have a form, and you have to fill out your intentions and list why you’re doing what you’re doing. And you’re not allowed to lie.

And:

He’d feel like a right idiot if all this was happening and he died from smoke inhalation.

And:

Denizen didn’t think he was claustrophobic, though he had avoided small spaces up until now precisely because he didn’t want to find out. He had the sneaking suspicion he was home to a whole plethora of phobias he hadn’t discovered, simply because he hadn’t been exposed to them yet.

And:

She gave Denizen a half-smile. “Hardwicks aren’t great with emotion. We’re our own worst enemies, really.” She paused. “Which, considering our vocation, is actually rather impressive.”