Author Archives: aelvana

Archer’s Goon

Title: Archer’s Goon

Author: Diana Wynne Jones

Howard’s ordinary life is turned upside-down when he comes home from school one day to find the Goon sitting in his kitchen. The Goon claims he’s from Archer and wants Howard’s father to give him two thousand words. But the words are only the beginning. Howard’s town is ruled by seven siblings who want nothing more than to be released from their confinement here so they can take over the world . . .

This is probably my favorite Diana Wynne Jones book (tied with Dark Lord of Derkholm). I love the way she can take the ordinary bits of life and twist them around into a hysterical adventure. Howard’s home is under siege by marching bands. Road construction crews are sent to pester his family specifically. Buses are run by someone who lives 400 years ago and that’s why they’re frequently off-schedule.

And interwoven in all that, the sheer humanity. Howard’s father, Quentin, is passive until he gets his hackles up, and then nothing in heaven or earth can shake him (although many people try). Howard has a little sister Awful, who earned her nickname, yet somehow avoids being completely unlikable. And Howard himself is caught in the middle of all this drama and tries to uncover the truth—and discovers way more than he bargained for.

Basically, it’s nonstop fun. My favorite part is the chase near the end where the various siblings are being called upon to work against each other. Howard is trying desperately to figure things out, but he’s starting to see where this is going to lead, and it’s something he doesn’t want to be true, even if it were somehow possible.

Overall, this is a great introduction to Diana Wynne Jones if you’ve never read her before. It stands alone and isn’t very long, but it’s packed full of laughs. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Advertisements

Winter of Ice and Iron

Title: Winter of Ice and Iron

Author: Rachel Neumeier

When the Mad King invades, Kehera finds herself a pawn in a struggle between nations and their Immanent Powers. Innisth is a minor lord determined to keep his land under his control, and is searching for the best way to deflect his king’s attention so he can be left to rule his lands as he sees fit. The two of them may be the only ones able to stop the world from plunging into chaos during the four days of winter when the Unfortunate Gods are strongest. . .

First, a content warning: although the acts happen offscreen, the book does contain numerous instances of rape (of both men and women), abuse, and Innisth has a homosexual relationship with one of his staff. If I had known this going in, I might have passed on the book, because I really don’t like reading stories with rape or abuse, no matter how obliquely they’re portrayed.

For me the magic system was the most interesting part of the book. Each country has become so largely because of the Immanent Powers that are tied to the land in that location. The strength of the Immanent determines if it’s subordinated to some other or ruling others, which is how the four main countries formed. But it’s not like the people know all that much about Immanent Powers and how they work—there’s a very strong prohibition against experimenting with them thanks to one major and a couple of minor disasters spawned from bad things the Immanents did when humans got creative. And of course, as much as humans may want more power, if their Immanent decides to ascend to godhood, even the best of them cause disasters and leave the land empty for a time.

On the flip side, it is puzzling that the Powers have no concept of equivalent relationships. It’s all about dominance and subordination.

The book did feel a bit long to me. There are a lot of longer descriptive passages, and I wasn’t always a fan of when the story would cut away from the main two to show some of what the more minor characters were doing. It felt like it took a long time for Kehera and Innisth to meet. Once they do, Kehera–who was able to go along with the idea of being married off to a maniac on the slim chance she could be rescued, and to keep her country from being destroyed–balks at the idea of a similar sort of alliance with Innisth. Even though she agrees with all of his reasons.

It’s not her protest I minded so much as what she did next. In a moment where she totally loses her head, she causes a disaster within Innisth’s household. That was one of two moments I really didn’t care for in the book. Innisth did need people to stand up to him and challenge him in a nice way (those not trying to take over his country), but that was a cruel–and more importantly, really stupid–way to do it. Now she’s really angered the guy that needs to help save her country.

Another thing I really disliked was Innisth telling his new wife, right after they get married, that he has no intention of giving up his homosexual lover. This fits his character. What bothers me is that his wife is totally fine with the fact he’s going to be sharing his attentions with someone else. She’s started to care for him, and regardless of whether she agrees with his decision or not, I can’t believe she wouldn’t feel at least a little slighted or rejected or jealous that he’s basically told her she won’t be allowed his full loyalty.

And I didn’t care for how the ending treated Innisth. Tirovay seems to be advocating for himself the exact thing he doesn’t want Innisth to do, but it’s okay because he’s not Innisth.

Anyway, overall it was not a story I would read again. I rate this book Neutral.

Waking (Clockwork Twist #1)

Title: Waking

Author: Emily Thompson

Series: Clockwork Twist #1

Twist is a clockmaker living in London, and perfectly happy with his life. When a woman hires him to fix a clockwork princess straight out of fairy tales, he’s reluctant to abandon his home, but determined to fix the girl. Because Twist has a Sight: he can see what’s wrong with anything he touches. So he’s sure he can do it. But pirates and other hazards threaten him . . .

I mostly loved this. Twist is so much fun. He’s grumpy about having left home, very vocal about being anti-people, and single-minded about helping the clockwork princess. I was particularly amused at how Arabel’s attempts to flirt die against his determination not to engage with her. And he’s got the crew pegged, when he rails at them about how they treat Jonas, because he’s not afraid to call out the ways they misinterpret or mistreat him.

The other really interesting thing about Twist is how his Sight has basically destroyed his life. He sees how things are broken when he touches them (or they touch him). This includes people. But whereas a machine has obvious ways to get fixed, people aren’t nearly so easy. That would be bad enough, but even machines can impart enough personality to basically take Twist over for a short while. It’s strong enough that he keeps a pocket watch with his own thoughts locked inside simply to remember what his own self is actually like.

Twist isn’t the only one with a Sight, either. The magic system isn’t explored a lot in this book, but Sights appear to be a rare but decently understood phenomenon. The Sights aren’t the only magical part of this steampunk world, either. Various creatures such as vampires, kitsune, and jinn also exist. (Props for having a male kitsune, too.)

The story never gets bogged down in one place. In some ways it barrels forward almost too fast, because I’d like to see a little more into some of the places, or get a better overview of the world and the magic in it, but on the other hand I appreciated that it never stopped anywhere long enough to get boring. (Also Twist’s bitter tirades on pirates, pirates everywhere, had me laughing hard. He has a definite grudge.)

The one thing I wasn’t so fond of was the obvious romantic overtones to the relationship between Twist and Jonas. Twist ends up falling in love with the clockwork girl, which made a second romance unnecessary. And it annoyed me because I thought Jonas and Twist would be great friends, but instead the story jumps straight to a more romantic angle, which makes some of their interactions a lot more awkward than they would be otherwise.

Overall, this was a fun little story, and I’m hoping the series drops the extra relationship as an unneeded distraction and goes with a more friendship angle (probably a futile hope, but whatever). I rate this book Recommended.

The Blue Sword (Damar #1)

Title: The Blue Sword

Author: Robin McKinley

Series: Damar #1

When Harry’s parents die, she’s sent to the frontiers of Homeland, to Damar, to live with a family who has agreed to take her in. But as grateful as Harry is for the home, it’s also a place where she’s expected to rein in the “excesses” her own parents permitted. Being ladylike doesn’t suit her at all. Then the Hill folk native to the area, a people bearing a strange power, carry her off, and suddenly everything changes . . .

I was always more fond of The Hero and the Crown, but plot-wise The Blue Sword does feel like the stronger story. I liked that the whole “abducted by handsome barbarians” trope is somewhat turned around by the fact that Harry can’t help noticing she’s more like a problem to these people (or at least some of them). They don’t know exactly why the magic wants her, and even when they figure it out, there’s still the matter of her not actually being one of the Hillfolk.

Because Corlath, the Hillfolk King, is more concerned about saving his country (and by extension the rest of the human lands) from the weird creatures of the North. Those inhuman assailants are pressing hard again against the border, and this time they’ve got a leader who can organize them enough to be a serious threat. He doesn’t want to deal with the Homelanders. Especially since they refuse to believe him about the nature of the threat.

All in all this is an interesting book, though not my favorite McKinley. I rate this book Recommended.

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.

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.