Monthly Archives: June 2018

Darkness of Dragons (Wings of Fire #10)

Title: Darkness of Dragons

Author: Tui T. Sutherland

Series: Wings of Fire #10

Qibli is worried. Turtle’s messages have only increased his certainty that Darkstalker is bad news. But what can they do? Turtle is the one with animus powers. And Qibli is horribly aware that Darkstalker is not the only threat—Vulture, his grandfather, has his sights set on Queen Thorn, and wants to tangle Qibli in his plans . . .

After the hesitant Turtle, Qibli is a breath of fresh air. He’s always thinking about what could happen, analyzing things quickly and comprehensively. Even though he really wants Turtle’s animus powers to solve things, he can do much more than he believes with what he has.

It’s also a much lighter book in some ways than the previous.

“No!” Tsunami shouted. She stuck her claws in her ears. “No prophecies. LA LA LA FATE IS STUPID.”

“Well, at least we’re all being adults about this,” Starflight said.

It still feels like animus magic is too unbalanced, though. Without any kind of cost, it’s hard to see why it would function at all. And the “destroy your soul” part of it seems to have been thoroughly proved wrong by this point, as it’s the actions the various animus users take and not the magic itself that’s responsible for the destruction of their souls. This makes dealing with Darkstalker more a matter of wits.

Overall this was a good read, with plenty of laughter to balance out the more tense moments. And even though the end closes things off, it also throws out one last surprise that indicates another series should be arriving soon. I rate this book Recommended.


Praise the Orc!

Title: Praise the Orc!

Author: Lee Jungmin / Translator: Rainbow Turtle

Status: 228 chapters (Complete) + 3 chapters extra story (incomplete)

Jung Ian runs his own cafe, content to earn enough money to support his younger sister and fund his own modest life. It’s a nice change from his previous position in the military. He’s not interested in the new virtual reality game, Elder Lord, which has exploded in popularity. At least, not until he overhears his sister complaining about how other players are harassing her. So Ian creates an orc character with the intention of protecting his sister, but the world of Elder Lord has many secrets . . .

I’m so glad I found this. I usually hate books about virtual reality games, but this one has several expected and unexpected twists, as well as solid writing that kept me blazing through chapter after chapter.

Right away, Ian stands out. He’s no slacker teenage gamer genius (although he MEETS a number of them). Instead, he’s a former member of an elite military division. An ACTUAL assassin. Someone who has killed before, and knows exactly what those kinds of battlefields entail. So when he faces the disturbing level of reality in Elder Lord, his previous combat experience gives him a leg up on many other players. He knows what it means for people to die. He knows what it means to be responsible for other lives. And that’s one reason he can’t leave bullies alone, especially when it’s players against natives.

The orcs are a simple, brutal race, but their philosophy suits Ian perfectly. Their traditions of honor and strength resonate deeply with him. I love how the constant refrain of an orc is “I’m alive.” It’s how they greet each other, how they say farewell, how they challenge their enemies. Ian slowly comes to appreciate exactly what an orc means about living, and why death isn’t the worst thing that could happen.

I love how the book is structured. All of the little acts of goodness Ian seeds grow into something far beyond what he could have imagined. The various lives he’s touched repay his trust tenfold. And the end is a brilliant declaration of hope against absolute despair, and celebrates the meaning of every single life even though those lives will eventually perish. It cracks open a window to something more.

The secondary characters are also a lot of fun. There’s an ongoing thread following Ian’s sister, who has no idea who he is in-game. I love the understated relationship between the two of them. She trusts Ian utterly, and he’s careful not to betray that trust. He takes care of her in place of their deceased parents, encouraging her. There’s another thread following a rich woman Ian knows, which gives a lot more insight into what Elder Lord is at a corporate level, and some behind-the-scenes looks at the things the players would never find out.

And then there’s the people Ian knows in Elder Lord. Anor was easily my favorite, even though he doesn’t grow into his potential as much as Tiyo. Anor was a shy, bullied half-breed until Crockta came into his life and challenged him to stand up for himself. But standing up for himself involved something like a psychotic break, and once his magic is unleashed so is his language. Anor went from quiet and polite to basically unable to talk without swearing at everything, and his responses to his own power range from terror to playing up his villainous side to the hilt. (I can’t even tell if he’s serious, psychotic, or just trying to roleplay himself into it. And I’m totally fine with not having a solid answer on that.)

Tiyo is another source of amusement. A muscled gnome who uses a magical gun, he’s overly sensitive about people looking down on him in any manner. He might be tiny but he’s got the biggest attitude of the whole cast.

The other users are well-drawn. Some simply want to play casually, and don’t really do much one way or another. Others see this as a chance to wreck havoc in a world that won’t punish them for rape, murder, or wanton destruction. A few, like Ian, have enough of a sense of justice to stand up for what’s right. The videos posted and snippets of forum threads commenting on game events perfectly capture the various types of reactions. (And who can forget the tabletop roleplayers who are generally pretty strong but have that one Really Embarrassing Friend who won’t shut up.)

Overall this was just a blast to read, and I desperately hope the rest of the Extra story (kind of an Afterward short story) gets translated. Not only was the ending perfect, but the followup was everything I could’ve asked for (AND I MUST KNOW HOW IT ENDS!). Highly, highly recommended.

Rising of the Shield Hero #11 (Light Novel)

Title: Rising of the Shield Hero #11

Author: Aneko Yusagi

Format: Light Novel

Naofumi’s plans to rebuild Raphtalia’s village and raise an army to fight the waves is derailed when news comes in of the missing heroes. But their failure to win against the Spirit Tortoise has left them in a terrible state. As Naofumi finds unexpected allies, he’s also confronted with the fact that the waves and the Divine Beasts aren’t his only enemies.

The first few chapters of this are once again pointless harem crap, but it does get more interesting later in the book. I like seeing Naofumi realize he’s been neglecting his training, and that as important as it is to raise up strong allies, that won’t help if he’s unable to keep up with HIS strongest allies. Naofumi has been smart enough to realize that despite levels and stats there’s more to this than trusting game mechanics, so I look forward to him continuing to improve his actual combat ability.

The best part of the book, for me, was the fact that the other heroes are now so broken they’ve started unlocking their own curse series. Which leads Naofumi, for the first time, to start thinking really hard about what the curse series is and what it means. For instance, Naofumi has a well-known love of money, yet he only unlocked the Wrath curse series, not Greed. But Naofumi’s greed is a more normal greed, not the psychological break that triggered his initial Shield of Rage. And the theory that the Curse series might even be a hero suicide prevention mechanic is fascinating.

But Curse weapons are going to make recruiting the other three heroes—or even just trying to keep them safe to protect himself from stronger waves—rather more difficult. They were arrogant and stubborn before. Now they’re sinking into legitimate crazy.

Overall, this is sadly bogged down with a lot of pandering and Naofumi continuing to expand his slave enterprise, but the story does still have a stronger core. I rate this book Neutral.

Legend of the Dragon King

Title: Legend of the Dragon King

Author: Tang Jia San Shao / Translator: Hyperdimensional Space Vampire

Status: 434 Chapters (Ongoing)


Soul Beasts were once the undisputed rulers of the land, but as humanity has advanced and slaughtered them for their powerful soul rings, the soul beasts are dying out. The beasts, however, are planning to take back their world.

Tang Wulin has never seen an actual soul beast. He’s a little boy who wants nothing more than to be a Soul Master, but his martial soul is incredibly weak—just a blade of grass. But the bound Golden Dragon King is lurking in his bloodline, offering him incredible power. If, that is, he can actually master it . . .

This story was interesting, but there were a few things that took the story down a few notches. First, although the story opens with the most powerful Soul Beasts setting the scene, they basically vanish after that. (There’s some hints that the girl Tang Wulin picks up is probably related to them, but that plot thread is still dangling after over 430 chapters.) There’s also a few incongruities, like Tang Wulin’s father initially being presented as completely unable to earn the money, and then later as only unwilling to compromise to get it. Or the fact that Tang Wulin had to sign a contract saying he wouldn’t switch schools, and then a few years later he does.

Aside from those things, though, I did enjoy the story. Tang Wulin at first doesn’t know there is anything peculiar about himself, and, faced with the destruction of his dreams at the tender age of six, decides to do what he can to work them out anyway. He gets a job to help support himself and his family when his peers are out playing. He works his way through problems, or finds a way around them. And it’s funny to see him growing as a blacksmith, which is a career that despite his genius he’s not actually that invested in except as a way to earn more money. That doesn’t mean he won’t work hard. It’s just that being a blacksmith is only a step towards his real ambitions and not an end in and of itself.

The fights tend to be explosive and colorful, and due to the various martial spirits, often somewhat animal-themed. I like that Tang Wulin, due to his weaker martial soul, uses strategies related to his physical strength (and later dragon strength) instead. Because swinging hammers around every day ought to do something for the strength of a punch.

Overall this is a fun read. The chapters are fairly short and the translations are clean. Cultural notes, like the twist behind Xie Xie’s name, are added as appropriate. I rate this book Recommended.

Briar’s Book (Circle of Magic #4)

Title: Briar’s Book

Author: Tamora Pierce

Series: Circle of Magic #4

Briar was looking forward to a free day in the city after helping Rosethorn deliver medicines to the poor, but he finds himself discovering a strange new disease that forces him and Rosethorn to stay in quarantine. As the plague ravages the city, he’s determined to do what he can to stop it from getting worse. Especially because he has a personal stake in the outcome.

This book changes things up a little. (I feel bad for the Duke, having gone through earthquake, pirates, and wildfires in about a year, and now a plague.) Since Briar was exposed to the illness, he can’t stay with the other three for a good portion of the book. The four kids have to navigate their own path through the crisis.

I also liked seeing the investigative process the mages employ to diagnose and treat the plague. They’re methodological about curating the disease in order to test possible cures. And it’s not as easy as finding a single magic combination, as the plague has several “keys” needed to unlock its secrets.

The end of the book has my favorite scene in the series: Briar stubbornly arguing with Rosethorn about how much she means to him. As is typical of Briar, he’d rather let his actions showcase his affection. Rosethorn tends to be the same.

That said, as much as I enjoy each of these books as a single read, none of them spark the drive for obsessive re-reading. And the plague investigation is like a mystery novel in that once you know the answer it’s not as much fun on a reread. I rate this book Recommended.

Daja’s Book (Circle of Magic #3)

Title: Daja’s Book

Author: Tamora Pierce

Series: Circle of Magic #3

Daja and her friends have followed their teachers to the Gold Ridge Mountains to do what they can to help out a drought-stricken and fire-prone province. The local mage doesn’t welcome the assistance, though. Daja also runs into a Trader caravan, which forces her to confront her feelings about the people who cast her out.

This story leaves Winding Circle for a new location, which is nice. Daja, Sandry, Tris, and Briar are as inseparable as ever—and that’s becoming a real problem now that their magics have bled together so much that even the kids can’t tell whose power will come out whenever they cast a spell. Something clearly has to be done. But will it mean giving up their special bond?

It’s also interesting to see Daja interacting with Traders again. She avoided them back home. Here, when she ends up creating something they really want to buy, she’s finding it harder. And that leads to all sorts of mixed feelings. She’d love to be a Trader again, and not be outcast. But even if she could, abandoning her friends and her craft is a heavy price. Traders trade, they don’t create.

Overall this is another good story. I rate this book Recommended.

Tris’s Book (Circle of Magic #2)

Title: Tris’s Book

Author: Tamora Pierce

Series: Circle of Magic #2

Sandry, Daja, Tris, and Briar are still recovering from the earthquake—and getting used to their new bond with each other. The earthquake has attracted pirates who want to strike while Winding Circle’s defenses are weakened. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem, but the pirates have a new and dangerous weapon. And in the midst of dealing with all the external drama, Tris discovers unexpected family.

This isn’t a bad book, but it telegraphs some of the major plot points far enough in advance that it also doesn’t grab me much. It’s obvious Tris’s cousin is more than he’d like her to believe, and it doesn’t take a huge leap to guess his actual aims. So when everyone is noticing all the little things, it feels a bit like “hurry up and figure it out already.”

That said, it is fun to see how the kids continue to grow in their magic. They each have a powerful teacher pushing them to develop their abilities, but they also have this mysterious connection with each other. I like how their powers are starting to connect more. They’re more and more willing to put themselves out for each other. So when Tris decides to do something dangerous, nobody has second thoughts about helping her out.

The mage traps near the end did annoy me. They’ve been warned, and then in the space of a few sentences everyone gets caught when they’ve been doing fine beforehand. I would’ve preferred it to be spaced out a bit more, or else that the traps had been actively thrust on them and not something they all decided to investigate.

Overall this is another solid story, though less memorable than the first. I rate this book Recommended.