Category Archives: Adult

Dragon Born: Chronicles of Dragon Aerie (Plague Born #1)

Title: Dragon Born: Chronicles of Dragon Aerie

Author: Travis Simmons

Series: Plague Born #1

On the night a slit-eyed baby was born, the dragons returned. Ravaging towns with their breath and their claws, slaughtering the people—and cursing many of the survivors with a disease that, if not fatal, might grant some the abilities of dragons themselves.

Wylan knows the events that surrounded her birth, but she’s still curious about dragons. She and her adoptive parents make a living scavenging, a life grown harder because the dragons are driving everything to ruin. But when she finally sees a dragon up close, it isn’t the encounter she imagined having . . .

This would have worked a lot better as a part 1 to some longer book, although even then there were pieces that would puzzle me.

The story opens—not with Wylan, who the summary would have you believe is the main character—but with the midwife who births her. Millie Bixby is as much a main character as Wylan is in this short piece, and the initial return of the dragons (along with their wreckage) gets a lot of detail. I thought the story went a little far here trying to humiliate Millie, mostly with the description of her pissing herself. I have no problem with the reaction, but the way it was described felt off, like the text was delighting in the fact rather than sympathizing with her. And Millie returns later on, to give a view of what’s been going on in the last remaining human towns while Wylan grows up.

I don’t really buy the way the wyverns have integrated into the town’s defense system. Unless I misread something and they are the majority of the town, in which case the setup makes a lot more sense. Millie’s drastic timeskip means the story loses a lot of interesting things, like how she determined she could shapeshift/had powers/was connected more to dragons, and how she reacted to that. Or how ordinary humans reacted to this. And are there other countries beyond the desert that people could run to, or is there some reason they’re stuck where they are? The story didn’t have time to introduce enough of the world, but even what’s here left me puzzled about certain bits.

Wylan’s story is fine until we get to the pivotal event, which goes by too quickly. I could write off her reactions as shock but her story basically ends right there, so there’s no sense of actually dealing with the event. Boom, it happens, and the next instant she’s vowing revenge, and then we swap back to Millie until the story finishes.

Speaking of, there isn’t much of a sense of cohesion to this. We have Millie’s story, which is basically entirely different from Wylan’s story, and there isn’t any kind of thread tying them together beyond the overall world and the fact that Millie happened to be there for Wylan’s birth. The end just stops—it doesn’t feel like an ending, just a chapter break. We don’t really get rising action, or any kind of payoff for reading just this segment. Again, this wouldn’t be an issue if this was just the first part of something else, but the fact that it’s treated like its own book makes me want something that feels like a cohesive story.

Overall, although I really like the idea of wyvern shapeshifters in a world with dragons, I’m not sure what to do with this. There’s a lot of solid writing on the bits that do work, but this feels more like bonus material than a story by itself. Wylan didn’t grab me with her personality, her story, or her decision, so that leaves reading a sequel solely based on enjoying her abilities . . .  and I’m not sure I want to do that. I rate this book Neutral.

The Edge of Worlds (The Books of the Raksura #4)

Title: The Edge of Worlds

Author: Martha Wells

Series: The Books of the Raksura #4

A shared dream has left the court of Indigo Cloud uneasy. But with no way to tell what it means, they have nothing but speculations. When a delegate comes to ask for their help with a mysterious city that might be related to the forebearers, no one can tell if this will be the fulfillment of the dream or its prevention. So Jade and Moon set out hoping to find some answers.

Something to know going in is that this is basically part one. The ending leaves off on a rather nasty cliffhanger, so you might want to have the sequel in hand before you start reading.

Here we get to see Moon as a flustered new father, wanting to protect his children but uncertain if that means haring off on another adventure or remaining home to defend them against possible invasion. To a lesser extent, that uncertainty extends to Jade, who desperately wants to make the right decision but can’t get enough information to know what that is.

Overall this is another solid chapter in the series, although many of the elements will feel familiar (more strange ruins to explore, some weird creatures and powers, etc). I rate this book Recommended.

Hounded (The Iron Druid Chronicles #1)

Title: Hounded

Author: Kevin Hearne

Series: The Iron Druid Chronicles #1

Atticus O’Sullivan is a 21-centuries-old Druid who would prefer to be left alone. But a sword he happened to acquire in his younger days is still being sought by its original owner: the Celtic love god Aenghus Og. Atticus has been on the run for centuries, but this time, when the fight comes to his doorstep, he might be ready to try to end this for good.

This urban fantasy contains a lot of the usual suspects: vampires, werewolves, witches, gods and goddesses. And a few of the not-so-usual in the form of the main character, a Druid (who conveniently avoids most of the less savory things historical Druids have been known to practice in favor of a more earth-worshipping religion). It was also a nice change of pace that most of the gods showing up were Celtic.

The story moves quickly, as Atticus finds himself at the center of a storm of attacks designed to either steal the sword or kill him (or both). I did like his lawyers, and how all of them are deadly in their own ways. And the dog is a lot of fun.

Mostly I wasn’t too swayed one way or the other by this. It’s a decent urban fantasy, but nothing particularly grabbed me and made me want to keep going with the next book. The worldbuilding is probably the best part, but the “everything goes” mindset was annoying because it fails to provide any context for how wildly disparate belief systems can all be equally true. I would have preferred some kind of baseline that could then show how various things worked within it. I rate this book Neutral.

Beast Master’s Ark (Beast Master)

Title: Beast Master’s Ark

Author: Andre Norton and Lyn McConchie

Series: Beast Master

Storm has better things to do than cater to the egos of the scientists on the Ark. Some unknown thing is stripping living things down to the bone overnight, and if it isn’t stopped soon, the humans and the natives of Arzor might end up warring each other. Tani, a scientist, dislikes the Beast Masters because she thinks they kill their teams. But her help is vital if they hope to stop disaster.

A number of things broke the story, for me. Punctuation was one of my more minor quibbles, but cropped up often enough to be aggravating. Characters would ask each other questions, that are clearly questions, and not use question marks. Some of the dialog felt stilted. The story awkwardly sets up Storm and Tani for a couple well before either of them want anything to do with the other, with even the animals asking if they’re going to mate right after she arrives.

And I found Tani extremely unlikable. She’s supposed to be 19 but her behavior is really childish. Giving her a tragic backstory is almost an excuse not to think. She’s lived through a war: she ought to understand, at the very least, there are two sides, and sometimes choosing not to fight means getting run over. (I have no problem with extreme pacifists who are willing to stake their own lives on that philosophy. It starts becoming a problem when they want to stake everyone else’s lives on it too.) This is a big problem with the potential romance angle, because now I’m actively rooting against them getting together.

For something so intrinsic to her character and her upbringing, she changes her mind remarkably easily. The character just never felt right to me. The tragedy felt rather tacked on since once the decision is made that’s it.

Other than that, this is a decent enough read. I just couldn’t get over how much I hated Tani, which spoiled everything. I rate this book Neutral.

Yamada Monogatari: To Break the Demon Gate

Title: Yamada Monogatari: To Break the Demon Gate

Author: Richard Parks

Series: Yamada Monogatari (technically there are more about the same character but I was unable to track down what order they are supposed to go)

Yamada no Goji is a minor nobleman with a keen mind and a tolerable blade, but he has little influence at court. So when the conspiracies of the nobility reach out to ensnare him again, he’s reluctant to get involved. But for the sake of an old friend, he agrees—and finds himself confronted by a silent killer who is leaving dead bodies around the city. If he can’t solve the mystery fast enough, he’s bound to lose more of the few people dear to him.

I’m reading these incredibly out of order, I suppose, but it didn’t make much difference as far as I could tell. The story is good about introducing characters, places, customs and so on as needed, without assuming too much knowledge beforehand. I liked the historical Japanese setting, and how naturally the supernatural intersects everyone’s lives. Yamada is smart but not impossible to follow, and the layers of mystery generally work well.

I wasn’t as fond of the alcoholism, or the way the story breaks between its first segment and everything that comes after (largely because Yamada spends four months drinking his life away). It’s a little harder to sympathize with his poverty when he’s wasting multiple opportunities to stay farther out of it.

All in all, though, it worked far more than it didn’t, and I would be interested to read more in this series. This story is fairly self-contained, so it doesn’t hurt to read out of order or as a standalone. I rate this book Recommended.

In Arcadia (Touchstone #5)

Title: In Arcadia

Author: Andrea K. Höst

Series: Touchstone #5

Laura never second-guessed her decision to walk through the gate to Munia to live with her daughter. But now that she’s on the other side, living in another world is settling into a directionless, mundane existence. Then comes the complication of possible romance. Having been divorced, Laura isn’t sure she wants to go through a relationship again.

I was expecting something closer to the Gratuitous Epilogue than the first three Touchstone books, but this isn’t even much like that. Although the idea of a story focusing on Cassandra’s mother was interesting, I thought the execution fell rather flat in several places.

I liked being able to see the impact Cassandra’s disappearance had on everyone at home, and what happened to the family as a result. Even though this was more of a summary backstory, it still filled in some holes and helped to explain why everyone who came with had decided that way. I liked the general story about Laura and her wanting to be close to her daughter but not be some kind of helicopter mom, understanding her daughter now has a family and a life.

The problem is I never really bought the romance, and unlike the other books, where there’s plenty going on outside that, here the romance is basically the story. I don’t mind the story being sex-positive, but I still find it bizarre Laura has no inkling this man even likes her, then a week later decides to sleep with him as the FIRST step in a relationship. And then half the reason she decides to continue it seems to be nothing more than “we had really good sex.” It would’ve made a lot more sense to me to have them start building the relationship on some common foundations before getting to that point. As it is, she’s known the man for mere hours before offering him that much intimacy.

It would have been nice to see more of her struggle with being a divorced person in a new relationship (and frankly, his struggle with the same; Tsur Selkie’s backstory is interesting, but he’s a rather flat character compared to Kaoren).

At least the twist at the very end leaves me hopeful some future book might explore the impact of that. But even if it does, it’s unlikely this one will need to be read to augment the story. I rate this book Neutral.

Tokyo Ghoul (anime)

Tokyo Ghoul

Episodes 1-12

WARNING: MATURE CONTENT
– minor amounts of nudity, ghouls eating human flesh (mostly not shown), and an intense torture scene (the main reason to stay away if this will bother you)

Ken Kaneki is an ordinary human in a city where ghouls lurk. Ghouls eat people, and a special task force hunts them down. But it’s all distant from his everyday life—until a date gone bad leaves him no longer quite human himself. And even if he wants to live a quiet life, people from both sides have taken an interest in him . . .

This was far less of a horror story than I initially expected, although by the end it does go quite deeply into some hard things. I doubt I’ll watch the last episode or two again, as sitting through someone being tortured while chained to a chair was bad enough the first time. So I want to reiterate up front that this is NOT a children’s show and the Mature rating is for a reason.

On the more positive side, though, the characters are really strong. Although the whole “must eat people” bit would make it easy to characterize ghouls as monsters, both sides have a lot of gradations. There are members of the CCG (the anti-ghoul force) that have far crossed the line with their obsession to wipe out all ghouls. Similarly, some ghouls don’t see the point of giving humans any dignity, or restraining their own excesses. Ken isn’t the only character caught in between those two sides. He falls in with a group of ghouls who only want to be left alone, and try to exist in ways that minimally impact the general human population.

This comes to a head in tragic scenes like the confrontation in episode 8, where the person giving the speech about ghouls having the same right to live as any ordinary person is telling the one person who can’t be convinced, and the one who might be convinced is fighting someone who can’t figure out how to say the same thing. And it probably wouldn’t be as easy as winning that one man over to the ghoul’s side, but that would have been a start. A start that never happened, and might never happen, which leaves the world stuck in the same struggle it’s always been, where ghouls and humans mischaracterize and kill each other.

Some threads might be better in the manga, as, for instance, Ken’s best human friend, who is a major character early on, disappears from the story for no obvious reason. It would have been interesting seeing the two of them interact more after Ken was turned. However, the heart of the story is Ken and his relationship to the group of oddball ghouls who dare to believe they can coexist quietly with humans, and find ways to take the nourishment they need without becoming monsters.

Oh, and although this can be a dark and serious show, the space after the credits where the preview would normally go tend to be lighthearted side stories told in about 30 seconds, and are well worth watching.

Overall this is nothing like what I expected, and I enjoyed it a lot. I watched it in Japanese because I streamed most of it, so I’m not really sure how the English cast performed. I haven’t read the manga yet so I can’t say how faithful or not it was as an adaptation, but I understand a great deal of manga was condensed into these episodes, which may explain why some characters don’t get as much time as I thought they should. I rate this show Recommended.

(As a side note, regardless of what you think about the second season, episode 13 does make a much better ending than episode 12, as it finishes that fight and gives a better sense of an ending. But the box set will only come with episodes 1-12.)