Monthly Archives: October 2018

Autumn King (Of Cats and Dragons #5)

Title: Autumn King

Authors: Carol E. Leever and Camilla Ochlan

Series: Of Cats and Dragons #5

Omen and his companions have finally reached the Faerie lands in search of Khylar. But these are realms with numerous dangers for mortals, and when he finally discovers Khylar he finds the truth of their journey has been shrouded in more layers than he expected.

Although this in some senses concludes the adventure that’s been building from Summer’s Fall through Hollow Season, it’s not like everything manages the neat ending Omen was expecting when he set out. I like the layers to the story. Even before now, Omen has had hints this isn’t as simple as it appeared. And once he learns, the right answer is nebulous too.

The characters are fantastic. From the weird and wonderful dwellers of the Autumn Lands (Puppy!) to the comfortable banter between Omen, Templar, and the rest of the party, there was always something new to appreciate. The hints about Devestation’s past are especially intriguing. Or watching Nikki come into his own. The cast has been slowly but steadily expanding and everybody’s got such interesting histories and futures (as hinted by a certain someone early on).

And this wouldn’t be a proper sequel without gut-busting humor. The last chapter is particularly good, but there are moments throughout. Whether it’s Tyrin’s adventures down a mousehole or Dev’s internal commentary on events or the zingers Lilyth inadvertantly sets herself up for, even the most serious bits can’t stay totally dark.

And Templar, among others, learns the perils inherent in saving the world.

Templar shifted uncomfortably in his seat, his eyes downcast. He twisted one of the rings on his left hand. “He told me that if I was now in the world saving business, he had a number of jobs for me to do, things to fix, people to save, towns to liberate. And then he handed me a list — a long list.” He scowled at Omen. “They’re like chores, Omen. Lots of chores! It’s horrifying.”

Overall this is another excellent chapter in what will hopefully be a long-running series. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

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Infinite Competitive Dungeon Society

Title: Infinite Competitive Dungeon Society

Author: Toika

Translator: FudgeNouget

Chapters: 354 (Complete)

https://www.wuxiaworld.com/novel/infinite-competitive-dungeon-society

Shin is following in his father’s footsteps of exploring a mysterious dungeon whose depths are invite-only. Meanwhile, Earth is drastically changing as monsters start appear, followed by dungeons of their own. But Shin isn’t concerned about the new ability users or monsters. He’s determined to conquer the depths of the dungeon.

It’s hard to give this one a good summary because it is a very long story, so there’s a lot going on. On a surface level, at the beginning there are two plot threads that rarely intersect: the Two Moons incident that caused Earth to gain monsters, magic, and little dungeons, and the giant extra-dimensional Dungeon that Shin is working his way through.

It takes a good while before the full story comes out about why both the big Dungeon and the little ones exist, and I like how this takes a familiar trope and twists it a bit, and then goes on to break out of it completely. Heroes defend their world, and monsters invade, but there are reasons behind why all of this is going on, and it’s a lot more grey than it first appears. Shin is stubborn and passionate, and even though Earth is in a very bad situation, he’s looking beyond the immediate problem and towards the bigger picture. Because Earth isn’t the only world facing these kinds of problems. And some of those other worlds have already lost.

This is a litRPG, but it twists away from skills and stats by the end. Actually, it was fascinating that the whole “dungeon” concept is an abstraction, and Shin eventually tries to tackle things at a deeper level. I liked that Shin has actual experience as a spearman from training with his father (and I also like that he’s using a less-common weapon), which makes his progress in the dungeon more believable. He picks up or creates a number of skills and abilities, but I like that after a certain point the concept of a skill can’t overcome actual knowledge/training in how to fight with his chosen weapon or technique.

A large focus of the fights isn’t so much the stats but the strategy. Some of that is tied to skills and their cooldowns, but more of it is about evaluating his enemy, trying to interrupt their dangerous moves, and most importantly not getting hit. Despite his rapidly increasing power, he’s also got enemies far stronger than him—and also a father who is determined to win in any competition against his son.

The one downside for me is unfortunately a rather big one. I don’t like any of the girls. They’re all introduced by hair and eye color, height, and breast size, and every single one falls in love with him and competes to be his wife. They have only the most minor personality variations because of this. They’re flat, uninteresting, and clearly there just to pander. Which makes the harem ending unsurprising but also annoying.

I kept hoping that he’d meet at least one girl that either hated him for real or just wasn’t interested, or could get more of a focus than trying to jump him. In the same vein, all of the elementals are female, all of the tamed monsters are female, and even his sister’s relationship with him is less than platonic (for a while I was hoping she was just playing up to his crush on her to extract benefits from him, but no luck). Even Daisy, who initially appeared to be sane, eventually joins in the “marry me too, please” crowd.

So that being said, I found Ren, Walker, Leon, and Lin way more interesting. Ren is a hotheaded beastman who can’t always live up to his own expectations, but gives his all however he can. Lin is half-dragon and a blacksmith who takes over the dungeon floor shop when Loretta gets a vacation. His grumpiness hides a sharp mind. He’s unwillingly friends with Shin, who keeps toppling his expectations (and thus creating more work with every bet he loses). And so on. The men manage to have better character arcs, and they aren’t spending every other sentence trying to get down Shin’s pants.

The chapters are a bit longer than the other web novels I’ve read so far, so it took quite a bit of time to finish, but the story is complete. I’m on the fence about recommending it, though, as the girls all harping on Shin gets really tedious, even though the fight scenes and the idea behind the dungeon was great. I rate this book Neutral.

Dragon with a Deadly Weapon (Fantasy & Forensics #10)

Title: Dragon with a Deadly Weapon

Author: Michael Angel

Series: Fantasy & Forensics #10

Dayna and her friends are running out of time. Between the rapidly unraveling situation with Greyson Archer back on Earth and the threat of the forces of Dark in Andeluvia, she’s been stretched to her limit. Prophecies predict her failure. Prophecies she has every reason to believe will be accurate. But she’s also standing on a split path of fate, and her actions may be what controls the future . . .

I received this book for free, and was asked to provide an honest review.

This was the perfect cap to the series. There’s still a bit of crime drama, but there’s a lot more on the fantasy-action side of things. Yes, the big thrilling showdowns are spectacular—but the heart of the book is the relationships Dayna has built with all of her friends. Including some surprise reappearances.

Although the ending TOTALLY made me cry, the humor is still very much on point:

“Finally, thou hast come to understand the need to perish gloriously!” The drake enthusiastically nudged Liam’s side. “See? I told thee that Dayna would come around in her own good time!”

Or Dayna’s negotiation with the unicorns for assistance. Windkey is still very much himself . . . and Dayna’s HORRIFIED to find she’s sounding like Zenos.

I am pleased at least one of Dayna’s friends finally gets to see Andeluvia. I have hopes the other might someday, just because imagining the reaction is too much fun.

And the griffins proved once again why they are my favorite creature in this series.

Overall it’s hard to say too much because I don’t want to spoil any of the really neat twists. If you’ve liked the series at all you owe it to yourself to read this one. If you haven’t read any of them, start at the beginning, because this book picks up little bits from all the previous and ties them together. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Rogue Protocol (The Murderbot Diaries #3)

Title: Rogue Protocol

Author: Martha Wells

Series: The Murderbot Diaries #3

Murderbot isn’t having much luck with its grand escape plans. After interfering with a human conflict while trying to learn its own history, it needs to get away again before more awkward questions come up. But when an opportunity arises to probe more deeply into the corporation that nearly killed it, Murderbot arranges for a personal visit to an abandoned terraforming base . . .

I liked this one a lot better than the previous two. The story is finally long enough to feel more satisfying, and the cast is small enough to flesh out all the major characters.

Murderbot is also dealing with new emotions this time around. When it meets Miki, a robot who likes humans and calls them friends, all sorts of confusion results. To Murderbot, there’s a divide between human and AI that goes far beyond physical capabilities. To Miki, that wall may as well not exist.

I liked the way the battled played out in this book as well. Particularly the way Murderbot can split its attention between multiple parallel tracks, or the way bot “biology” means that brains are in the torso, not the head, which changes fighting styles a lot (headshots aren’t useless, but they’re definitely not fatal).

Overall this is a good continuation of the series. I rate this book Recommended.

Stop, Friendly Fire!

Title: Stop, Friendly Fire!
Author: Toy Car/Toika
Translator: Boko
Chapters: 1 – 6.3 (Vol 1 complete, story ongoing)

Location: https://www.wuxiaworld.com/novel/stop-friendly-fire

Lee Shin Woo has been given a second chance at life by a god who is desperate to stop the undead curse ravaging her world. But his request for an immortal body and infinite growth potential has backfired. Now he’s a skeleton, dropped in the middle of a dangerous world, with the goal of wiping out the undead Empire . . .

This is another hilarious book. The fact that Lee Shin Woo has become a special type of undead allows him to blend in somewhat with the forces he’s out to destroy—although even the stupidest ones can prove deadly if they suspect him. But it gives him the option to switch up his tactics as the situation demands. Some of the funnier fights involve him working with other skeletons to fight the Treasure Eater monsters. He’s encouraging all the skeletons to help him, while at the same time ensuring their numbers stay low enough for him to wipe them all out.

His habit of nicknaming the various types of monsters is also a lot of fun. All of the ordinary skeletons are Paul, and he counts the number of Pauls he’s killed. And this goes on in a similar manner for the other types of enemies he’s dealing with. (Hearing him curse out “Steve” the Treasure Eater kept me laughing.)

Lee Shin Woo does have a grudge against this god, too—his two great fears were becoming bald and impotent, and now he’s stuck with both.

The story is a litRPG, so skills, stats, and levels are an important part of the worldbuilding. I like the absurdity of the leveling system—he’s floored that monsters a single level higher than him are so strong, until he finds out how the mechanics of a “level” actually work. The karma system is also interesting. People’s actions build up karma, and when combined with levels it can act like a job or class change. The bit about spending money at a shop being another form of karma exchange also fits into that.

So far it’s been a good blend of adventure, absurdity, and worldbuilding. Lee Shin Woo seems to be heading for the Trickster karma, which should bring plenty more amusing fights. And given the title of the book he’s bound to have trouble with the other summoned heroes once they actually meet him. I rate this book Recommended.

Cells at Work (Anime)

Title: Cells At Work
Episodes: 1-13

This is an oddball little show that’s half education, half entertainment. It’s a collection of little adventures inside the body, following various types of cells around, with the main character being a certain klutzy red blood cell (and the white blood cell who ends up as a love interest).

I’m not hugely into biology stuff, but this one caught my attention with the hyperviolent humor. Because there’s something really fun about a show where over half the characters introduced are some form of rampaging killer—and this is known by everyone, and applauded, because it’s just their jobs. There’s a scene late in the show that sums it up perfectly: Red Blood Cell is explaining to another red blood cell “He’s perfectly nice, really!” while White Blood Cell is rampage-murdering a pathogen right in front of them, which is only visible as huge gouts of blood splashing up from below.

I love White Blood Cell.

For that matter, most of the immune system is hilarious. There’s the white blood cell tendency to flip into rampage mode shouting “DIE, GERMS!” or the SWAT-team-like T-Cells or the axe-murderer Macrophage (who also teaches preschool) . . .

Basically cell behavior looks really weird when you transpose it onto humans.

On the downside, because much of the show depends on some rather technical information, it keeps stopping to throw up WALLS of text explaining some biology fact. I think to a large part these were not needed, as the most pertinent bits could have been worked into dialogue or something the characters did.

Overall this is a fun show that offers something a bit different from everything else out there. If you like more science-focused shows, or you just want to see some germs get their just desserts, this is a good one to check out. I rate this show Recommended.

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime (Manga)

Title: That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime
Format: Manga
Volumes 1-7

I’m not going to bother recapping the story review since I just posted the first three novel reviews, and the manga so far only touches those three volumes.

In terms of story, it’s impressively similar. There are certainly bits dropped, but it’s mostly Rimuru’s technical explanations of various matters (which I enjoy, but I realize not everyone might), and there’s some slight reordering of events to make the trimmed version cohesive. So if this is the only version you care about, you’re still getting pretty much everything. And the visual gags can add some additional humor.

The art is fantastic. This story was going to be a challenge to draw purely due to the number of monster characters, but the visuals are for the most part very good. I think the lizardmen are the weakest, but even they have recognizable differences in design so characters are visually distinctive. Of course Benimaru and Souei were my favorites (the panel showcasing Souei’s smiles made me laugh so hard . . . He really does look super irritated when he’s grinning).

Rimuru’s human form is also spectacular. I like how androgynous he is—he still thinks in somewhat male ways due to his past life, but the body he mimics was originally female, and in any case is genderless when he mimics it since slimes have no gender. So the scenes where he’s being dressed up by the girls, or where he’s pulling on a suit and tie for treaty talks both look natural.

Kodansha’s not skimping on the release, either. Not all of the volumes have color pages up front, but the ones that do are presented in color, which I appreciate because not all publishers will.

My absolute favorite thing about the manga, though, and the one item that absolutely makes them worth buying if you already have and like the light novels, is Veldora’s diary entry at the end of each volume. Did you ever wonder what happened to Veldora after Rimuru swallowed him with the promise of both of them working on the seal? The novels leave you to assume Veldora is diligently throwing his all into breaking free . . . and his diary quickly dispels that notion. The incredibly bored dragon has found a number of new sources of entertainment—Rimuru’s memories (especially his human ones), whatever Rimuru is up to at the moment, and, eventually, Ifrit. (Poor Ifrit.) Add in a bit of meddling from the Great Sage (or Veldora trying to use the Great Sage for his own ends) and it was impossible for me to get through more than a few sentences without laughing. And oh, is Rimuru in for a surprise whenever he finally gets Veldora out . . .

Overall, I would consider this a solid investment, whether you’re only intending to follow the manga or whether you want it as a companion to the anime or light novel. I rate this series Highly Recommended.