Author Archives: aelvana

City of Gods II: Horsemen (City of Gods #2)

Title: City of Gods II: Horsemen

Author: Jonathan Maas

Series: City of Gods #2

The Horsemen have learned much during their time at the Academy, but now they have to face final exams. True to form, the exams aren’t easy—and some of them require involving themselves in the outside world. And after, everyone is split up as they’re sent on their first real missions . . .

I still think this is better as “kids with powers” than Horsemen specifically, the little nod to a vision of horses notwithstanding. That said, it’s still an interesting world, and each of the kids gets a lot of opportunity to develop.

In some ways this feels like a novella about the final exams, followed by the first half of a book about their first missions. That’s not a bad thing—both stories rotate between all four Horsemen and the split means things can go in several directions. One of the missions, for example, is directly built on an exam.

I like that Gunnar’s challenge is more about leadership, because he’s not really used to working with others still, much less the people who actually end up by his side. And I liked that Rowan isn’t quite as one-dimensional as he’s seemed (I usually love berserkers, but Rowan being an arrogant bully cancelled that out). I liked that Saoirse picked up the biggest incongruity about the minotaurs and is clever in playing to her strengths. I liked that Kayana gets challenged over her sociopathic tendencies, because Tommy and Cassander show her she may be extremely intelligent but she’s operating from a bad set of assumptions about humanity. And Tommy not only has a chance to be more of a leader himself, he’s got hints about the shape of his destiny that intrigue me.

Some of the characters felt a bit weaker, though. Cassander sometimes comes across as less of a character and more of a mouthpiece, and I dearly hope Kayana’s “overpopulation is the problem” confronts the reality that people can be jerks just fine even if they have all their material needs met.

Overall, though, this is still a really unique setting that I’m enjoying a lot. It’s fun to see Apaches and Celts and Spartans and Amazons and so much more all vying for attention. There’s enough tech to be a light sci-fi while of course the gods provide a lot of magic. I rate this book Recommended.

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City of Gods: Hellenica (City of Gods #1)

Title: City of Gods: Hellenica

Author: Jonathan Maas

Series: City of Gods #1

In a world where gods and mortals squabble over a constantly changing set of countries, Hellenica has dared to try something different. They have chosen 16 different beings with their various powers to train as peacemakers. People who might be able to change the status quo. Of those, the wildcards are the four Horsemen, whose powers no one fully understands and whose destiny points towards great things . . .

I’ll be honest—I really enjoyed this as a story about kids with powers, but I think the kids with powers shouldn’t have been associated with the Horsemen. For one, the White Knight doesn’t appear to be Conquest, but reminds me more of the rider from Revelation 19:11-16, which has imagery depicting someone with powerful speech. Also Pestilence is used here, which has a very interesting set of powers but doesn’t technically seem to jibe with the descriptions of Revelation 6:1-8, which reads more like Conquest, War, Famine, and Death. The only reason this MATTERS to me is because we are talking about various gods and legends, and by and large everyone else fits pretty well into their source material (I was highly amused to see Dagon show up. Talk about obscure deities).

That’s also what trips me up on some of the other details. We have Horsemen, who are part of Christian doctrine, but they have no horses. They don’t even seem aware of the existence of God, with the possible exception of Tommy, but there’s no indication Tommy actually BELIEVES in the faith of his hospital. Saoirse even worships a completely different goddess. They not only don’t have horses, there seems to be no need or desire for them. So again, this really works well as kids with powers, but I have a ton of trouble buying these are actually the Horsemen. I don’t really care that two of them got gender-flipped to female to provide a balanced team. The other things bugged me more.

Once I decided to pretend these weren’t actually the Horsemen but rather just a bunch of kids with interesting powers, I could enjoy the rest of the story a lot more. There’s a good mix of personalities as well as powers. Tommy’s kind and caring nature is at odds with the fact that he’s basically a walking vector for every disease known to man (and probably will accidentally invent new ones if that’s what it takes to infect someone). Kayana is highly intelligent but absolutely clueless about the workings of normal humanity and tends to view things in a very black-and-white manner. Saoirse has very ill-defined powers, but being raised as a high-class prostitute has left her attentive to the subtleties of humanity, and she prefers to avoid conflict and seek to talk her way out of problems. Gunnar feels like he got the short end of the stick. He’s Spartan, raised in a culture of war, and a pit fighter—but apart from a few glossed over fights at the start most of his matches do little to highlight any unusual skill or any kind of power. I was particularly miffed at the bout with the Amazon near the end. They don’t have any divine power, and he should, so why couldn’t it have turned out a bit differently?

Gunnar’s the one I hope develops the most, as nothing he’s really done so far has hinted at him being anything different than a Spartan, except the mystery of what he did with his rite for adulthood that has cast him out of Spartan society.

Overall I did enjoy this. It was fun to see so many different cultures and gods represented, even though the story mostly picks a few varied examples rather than try to handle absolutely everything. The friendship between the four main characters is growing, and if this book is any indication the story will continue to unfold in unexpected ways. I rate this book Recommended.

(And if you want a less ambiguous take on the Horsemen, I highly recommend Riders, by Veronica Rossi.)

The Men of the Kingdom Part I (Overlord #5)

Title: The Men of the Kingdom Part I

Author: Kugane Maruyama

Series: Overlord #5

Brain Ungulus is a shattered man after his encounter with Shalltear Bloodfallen. But Gazef Stronoff, his old rival, might be what he needs to get on his feet again. In the castle, Princess Renner is mostly useless, but she has a very devoted servant in Climb, who will do anything for her. Sebas and Solution are in the country simply to gather information, but Sebas’s kind nature soon gets him in trouble with the local criminals. When Climb’s path intersects with Sebas, Climb gets a glimpse of ultimate power . . .

This novel has fun moments, but by and large it’s mostly setting the stage for what happens in part 2. I like seeing some of the fallout from things like Brain’s fight with an enemy he absolutely couldn’t beat. Similarly, it’s interesting to compare Brain and Climb’s reactions to Sebas. Brain can’t help but compare Sebas to Shalltear, but Climb’s one-track mind allows him a different perspective.

Of course the best moments by far are watching Sebas take down a tiny corner of a corrupt organization. When the butler gets mad, the butler proves he’s just as capable of smashing in heads as anyone in Nazarick (and he’ll continue to look classy while doing it). My only regret is that there’s nothing even approaching a threat big enough to cause him to reveal his alternate dragon form (mentioned in book 3, but so far has yet to make an appearance even through book 11).

Sebas is also easy to feel sorry for because he’s the one person at Nazarick with something approaching basic human decency. He was the creation of Touch Me, who besides being the strongest person in the original game, was also the one who brought the guild together because of his compassion towards players who were having a hard time. Sebas inherited that desire to help the suffering (although he does have a condition I like: they have to be willing to struggle themselves. If they’re just not strong enough, that’s something he’ll help with, but if they’re not even going to try, he’s not going to bother). But he’s surrounded at Nazarick with a host of beings who don’t think like he does, and after Shalltear’s betrayal, aren’t willing to trust anything that looks like disloyalty . . .

Overall this novel drags on a bit. It’s unfortunate that even the bits about Sebas and Brain don’t really carry the long passages about Climb and Renner. Hopefully this will be part of what’s animated for season 2, which is due to start airing in January. That should help significantly by cutting out all the description in favor of visuals, therefore truncating the more boring parts for the actual fun. At any rate, though, since this does set up the next book, it’s not really skippable in order to understand some of what goes on there. I rate this book Recommended.

My Hero Academia (anime)

Title: My Hero Academia

Episodes: 14-38

Izuku Midoriya has inherited the superpowers of the mightiest hero of all—but can he live up to those lofty expectations during the annual UA Sports Festival? Then, when the festival is barely over, the students get some on-the-job training from pro heros. Then again, some internships turn out to be a little more than anyone bargained for. Finally, with the end of the semester comes exams! And UA’s exams consist of both a written and a practical.

This season covers several major arcs, as detailed above. I like the tail end of the Sports Festival arc, but I’m not as keen on the beginning. Doubly so when the anime tries to cover the fact that these chapters don’t QUITE make a full episode and slap in 4 minutes of recap at the front of the first several episodes. However, once the arc gets in full swing, the physical challenges of the actual event start to mingle with the more interesting emotional and psychological challenges various characters face.

The festival also highlights several of the characters around Izuku, most notably Todoroki and Bakugou. Todoroki and Izuku make an interesting contrast: the scions of the first and second ranked heros, both expected to carry on and surpass their forebearers, but urged onward for opposite reasons. Endeavor is consumed with defeating All Might and becoming the number one hero. And if he can’t do it, his son will. All Might may not even notice that rivalry—but as a teacher, he knows he’s falling short.

The internship arc introduces a villain who challenges the “hero society” and has his own lethal way of dealing with what he considers fake heros. And the exam arc is another place where some of the non-core cast members finally get a chance to step up.

Manga readers will appreciate how the anime does flesh out several short or offhand mentions into actual fights (or in Tsuyu’s case, almost a whole episode). The pacing does suffer most at the beginning, when the recaps feel like they take up a huge part of the episode, but as the series rolls on, it settles into a more comfortable groove.

Overall, if you liked the first season, there’s plenty more to like here. The story is beginning to show bits of the world beyond the school, the world these young heros will one day inherit, and it’s not all it’s cracked up to be (just look at Bakugou’s internship). I rate this show Recommended.

Subjugation (Subjugation #1)

Title: Subjugation

Author: James Galloway

Series: Subjugation #1

Humans had dreamed of alien contact, but nobody expected the Faey to show up one day in a gigantic battleship, demanding Earth surrender or be annihilated. These blue-skinned humanoids then solidified the subjugation by using their telepathy to root out and crush any resistance. But Jason Fox refuses to surrender. His plan to do just well enough in school to avoid forced labor on the farms and then wash out to a quiet career comes to a screeching halt when he captures the interest of one of the Faey Marines stationed in his town. She wants him, and she won’t take no for an answer. Soon his little resistance snowballs into a far bigger fight than he ever imagined.

I’m really torn on this book. On the one hand, I love the detailed descriptions of alien tech. The ideas behind it, how it fits together, and how Jason scrapes by with obsolete components built to do something outside the original specs is a lot of fun. The plasma-based technology is interesting, and some of my favorite parts are where the story spends a page or more simply breaking down how the newest gadget works. Add to that the challenge of building a habitable base in an urban wilderness of abandoned towns, or the various prank wars Jason initiates, or the eventual real war that happens despite everything, and there’s a lot of fun to be had.

And the twist about human telepaths was really good.

On the other hand, there’s just no way I buy the “romantic” relationships. The Faey are a female-dominated society whose women are a teenage boy’s wildest dream come true: girls whose thoughts are dominated by sex, all have great bodies, and don’t mind sleeping around. All. The. Time. In fact the book gets pretty fervent in its defense of why it’s totally okay for Jason to be true loves with one Faey female but bedding anyone else he finds attractive. And his partner equally expects to be able to sleep around herself.

I don’t buy the lack of jealousy (he rationalizes the situation over and over to himself, but since when was jealousy rational?), or on the flip side, the way his roaming eye isn’t degrading his bond with his true love. I don’t see anything deep in his relationship with the woman he gets involved with. It’s a relationship that starts with her not honoring his “no,” and even though that drives him wild, once he ends up sleeping with her they’re golden. I could go on, but it boils down to Sex Makes Everything Better just being something that ought to work out better in theory than in practice.

(For a great counter-example, see Teckla by Steven Brust, where Vlad and his wife love each other but have irreconcilable political differences. And this is not because I think everything ought to end unhappily, but because it highlights the hard truth that holding to convictions can cost you, and which ones you choose to hold on to determine what has to be sacrificed).

Overall, whether or not you like this is going to depend on two things: if you like getting a lot of details about pretty much everything, and if you don’t mind or enjoy the way all the sex gets presented. I rate this book Neutral.

A Simple Task

Title: A Simple Task

Author: James Galloway

No particular series, but set after Pyrosian Chronicles #3

Tarrin’s work for the God of Gods has put him into an interesting situation. He’s tasked to stop a war, and without using his preferred method of wanton destruction to both sides. Since subtlty isn’t his strong suit, he ropes Miranda and a few others into the scheme to make a boy a king worthy of his crown, stop a war, and preserve the Balance of the multiverse.

As a “short” story (still the length of a long novel), this is an interesting addition to the canon. I actually hadn’t been aware of this until my recent reread through the main series, so I was very happy to find a bonus story to cap everything off.

This is set several years after Demon’s Bane, so it does help to have read the Firestaff series and the Pyrosian Chronicles first. Amazingly, it manages to introduce even more different types of magic (psyonics/will, which was very briefly mentioned in previous books but gets a fuller treatment here, plus some of the tricks Tarrin has picked up that he insists aren’t magic but certainly behave that way).

I like that we do get several returning characters, although I wish Haley got a bigger role. But the returning characters also hamper the story a bit, as the characters from the new world tend to take a back seat to the ones imported to help Tarrin with his job.

I also found it fun how much of Polin’s education centers around teaching him that even though he’s the king, he doesn’t have the power to fix everything, and he shouldn’t try. That no matter what he does, people will still suffer, but his job is to do what he can where he can so he can be a good king.

Overall, this is more of an optional extra for those who liked the main series. It serves to answer a few lingering questions (Telven, Haley, and what’s up with Tarrin’s alter-ego on Pyrosia), and provides a bit of fun in a new place, but doesn’t impact the characters or the world too heavily. I rate this book Recommended.

You can read the book for free here: http://www.weavespinner.net/worlds_of_fel.htm

Demon’s Bane (Pyrosian Chronicles #3)

Title: Demon’s Bane

Author: James Galloway

Series: Pyrosian Chronicles #3

Pyrosia is in trouble. Tarrin is dead, a Demon Lord is on the loose, and the pieces of Tarrin’s sword–which still contain all the power of a god–have been scattered across the world. The situation is grim for the defenders. They’ve put everything on the line, but without Tarrin, is it going to be enough? Meanwhile, Tarrin has used the destruction of his body to launch his soul into the Crossroads, a place where he can continue his hunt for the One. The single rule of the Crossroads is “Do no violence.” But Tarrin has never been inclined to follow the rules . . .

It’s interesting to me how basically every book in this series manages to introduce so many new things. In this case, the big addition is the other planes Tarrin traverses in his search for the One’s home domain. In those places, the rules can be very different, and Tarrin only has a few tricks and no friends.

Although the Goddess does send Jula and Tsukatta to attempt to head him off.

Also fun is that Demon’s Bane (aka Bane) proves to be very much like Val’s shadow in that it can evolve as it grows. The problem is, it either doesn’t or can’t talk, so nobody on either side has any idea what it’s up to, because it’s not indiscriminately slaughtering demons the way everyone expected.

There’s also a rather massive war—which, ironically enough, isn’t actually the point (although if the Demons win, it would certainly make Tarrin’s plans more difficult). So there’s plenty of large-scale action as Pyrosia’s version of the Blood War plays out.

I love the surprise near the end, too, with how the situation in Pyrosia works out. Seeing Triana and Haley’s reactions in particular cracks me up. Poor Triana can handle just about everything except Tarrin, because he surprises everyone, even himself.

Overall, this is an excellent finish to the trilogy, and properly caps off the saga of the Firestaff. I rate this book Recommended.

You can read the book for free here: http://www.weavespinner.net/worlds_of_fel.htm

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