Category Archives: Adult

Dragon Seed (Archemi Online #1)

Title: Dragon Seed

Author: James Baldwin

Series: Archemi Online #1

Hector is dying of an artificial virus, but he’s determined not to go out quietly. When he receives a message from his estranged brother, he returns home to find an unexpected opportunity to extend his life via the first full virtual reality game. The only problem is that the game’s still in progress. Still, Hector decides it’s worth the chance, and plunges into a fantastic world with the goal of becoming a dragon rider . . .

This has amazing characterization. From the very beginning, Hector’s reckless personality shines bright, and the various humans and NPCs he runs into are equally compelling. (I’m not totally ditching the “this is actually another world” plot twist, but for now they do appear to be actual NPCs).

Hector’s start in the game is plagued by some disturbing glitches. He’s dumped straight into a nightmare-grade quest, the safety measures that the devs assured him were in place don’t seem to be working for him, and he somehow caught the interest of one of the local gods (which really wasn’t supposed to happen given the game’s background lore).

Of course, my absolute favorite character is Cutthroat, the dinosaur-like mount used to haze the newbies, which of course ends up as his gifted steed. Cutthroat has all the tricks of a bad horse and then some, and her antics frequently had me laughing out loud.

Given where this ends, the next book is going to be really entertaining.

The litRPG element is fairly light, with most of the game elements confined to the character creation scene. Most of the rest of the book plays out like a more typical fantasy adventure, just with a few skills to use during battles.

Overall this was a very fun book, and I’m eager to see where the series goes from here. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

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Changing World: How It All Began

Title: Changing World: How It All Began

Author: Sergei Katz

Dave is a stock analyst with a disability. When he’s offered the chance to beta test a newly developed full-immersion virtual reality game, he’s all in. But a few early mistakes puts him at a disadvantage starting out, and it will take luck and cleverness to ensure his character isn’t eliminated early on.

I probably should’ve stopped reading when the first chapter was pumping the main character up as a super-awesome stock analyst with an unbelievable ability to make money. It would have been a more engaging story if it had focused more on his disability and how going into the game world changed that.

It was also a very odd choice for a disability–the inability to see colors doesn’t seem to be as compelling a reason to abandon your everyday life for three years as perhaps some others might have been. And Dave doesn’t seem like much of a gamer otherwise. His main draw for playing is supposed to be getting around this disability.

And that all ignores the fact that after the very beginning, his life and personality outside the game has no relevance.

The actual game begins the litRPG aspect. Unfortunately, the story has a tendency to play up whatever the main character is finding or doing as awesome, without giving a good sense of the strengths or weaknesses of others. This makes the story as a whole less interesting because the stakes are either not there or poorly defined.

The fights, for example, tend to describe what’s going on by what’s happening with HP bars, rather than focusing on specific skills or strategies by both sides (and when it does try to show what both sides are doing, it tends to give a tiny bit of detail and then go back to talking about HP bars). So the fights are no fun to read because of their vagueness and lack of detail in the important parts, and excessive detail on the unimportant parts.

Both of his pets bother me. The bird in no way acts like a bird, which could be partially explained by this being a game, except nothing really indicates this is pet behavior specifically.

Overall, this has the bones of an interesting story, but the execution falls flat in a number of areas. I rate this book Neutral.

The Color of Magic (Discworld #1)

Title: The Color of Magic

Author: Terry Pratchett

Series: Discworld #1

Rincewind was a washed-out wizard—someone who never graduated, can’t really use magic, and has nothing more than a facility with languages to his name. Then he meets Twoflower, a foreign man who claims to be a tourist. A man who flashes absurd amounts of money around like it was nothing. Sensing opportunity, Rincewind volunteers to translate for him and show him around, but little does he know what “tourist” actually means . . .

I decided to revisit this after many years. Rincewind has never been one of my favorite Discworld sub-series, but that’s in comparison to the other Discworld books. On its own, this is a funny look at a hapless wizard stuck escorting an unintentionally dangerous man through every imaginable peril. It only takes about five minutes after they meet for Rincewind to realize there’s a problem: when Twoflower expresses interest in seeing a real live bar fight.

Twoflower has this rock-solid belief that he’s only an observer, and can therefore “participate” in events that Rincewind then has to figure out how to keep him alive through.

In terms of the Discworld books in general, this is where it all begins. And that shows, sometimes in ways you can’t really blame this book for (because this WAS the first) but that feel odd now that I’ve read pretty much all the rest of them. The Patrician feels a bit off from his later characterization (though since they never give a name it’s possible this isn’t even the same one). Death is another character that changed a bit in later books; he’s more human here, and at one point seems to be killing a few things out of frustration rather than because it’s their time. As I said, that’s really not something to knock this book down about, but it does feel off since I’m more familiar with the later books.

Overall this is a good read, especially if you like humorous fantasy. I rate this book Recommended.

Gods and Kings (Eve of Redemption #9)

Title: Gods and Kings

Author: Joe Jackson

Series: Eve of Redemption #9

The time has come at least to open the Temple. But in some ways it leaves more questions than answers. A conflict spanning thousands of years is reaching its tipping point in the present day. Kari and her allies must coordinate multiple plans over multiple worlds as they fight to overthrow the demonic Overking.

It’s hard to summarize this book because there’s so many characters and so many plot threads. Almost every chapter drops some major revelation or advances something critical. And a lot of the things hinted at did not turn out at all the way I expected (particularly regarding Max’s father). I would definitely recommend catching up on the other books before reading this one, as it drops you straight into the action and never lets up.

I love that the gods are pretty much uniformly good in this series. They’re not the conniving, selfish manipulators so many other books use. They have different focuses, different forms, different worlds, but they have an underlying unity of purpose. And they all care for their believers. Which is one reason that although faith is hugely important in this series, it’s not restricted to a single group.

I also love that Gil gets a fanclub (richly deserved). The werewolves continue to be one of my favorite parts of the series. And Starlenia’s reaction to finding out she can’t inherit the “curse” is hilarious.

The humor stays strong. One of my favorite lines was this:

“Perfect. As for everyone else, I’d say Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, but since that list apparently includes sleeping with demon kings, I’ll just leave you to fend for yourselves.”

Overall, this is another strong volume in a fantastic series. Start at the beginning and work up to this one for the full impact. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

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.

The Detective & The Unicorn

Title: The Detective & The Unicorn

Author: Michael Angel

Derek Ridder never had much interest in the fantastical creatures from the Morning Land that contacted Earth. He was more invested in doing his job as a cop and trying to get over the loss of his wife. But that was before a call brought him face-to-face with a warlock. Now he’s somehow ended up with the unicorn Tavia as his partner as they hunt down the madman who wants to open Earth to demons . . .

I received this book for free as a gift.

If you’ve seen the author’s other series (Fantasy & Forensics), this has no relationship, despite a rather similar premise.

I loved this. The characters all have a lot of depth, especially those like Coombes, the unidentified-agency agent, who would have been easy to write as stereotypical given his relatively minor role. I loved that Coombes kept showing his humanity. I also appreciated that Derek seems to work at a hard but mostly functional police department with a boss and co-workers who look out for him. And Thunderbolt (the Wonder-Colt) was hilarious. Kids will be kids, no matter the species . . .

Tavia and Derek play well off each other. They’re both guardians of the peace, with serious personalities and a lot of smarts. Derek doesn’t take long to adjust to her as a partner, and while he doesn’t have her knowledge of magic, he also doesn’t have her blind spots. It’s interesting to see how their histories have so many common points, even though they’re from vastly different backgrounds. And I liked that Tavia points out that it’s possible to lose the one you love without death necessarily being the cause—that just because one loves deeply, truly, and well doesn’t mean everything will work out.

I also really like the exploration of various fantasy races. Unicorns, pegasii, dryads, the werewolf-like yena . . . they have their familiar points, but they’re also drawn up in new and interesting ways. Like unicorns as predators as much as herbivores. Or like a pegasus diplomat, and how things work out for him. Or certain creatures being able to run faster than a speeding car. Or, my favorite, a MALE sphinx (who is just as cat-like as one might expect. Which is to say arrogant, ruthless, a bit cruel, and not interested in much outside of himself). There’s a surprise in each chapter, but overall it all hangs together very well.

If I have one small criticism, it’s that it feels Tavia should have picked up on the reason for her own immunity to William Teach’s mind control a while back, and only been confused at how Derek was also able to resist. After all, she knows a good amount about magic, and it doesn’t seem that the ultimate cause was that obscure to someone of her education.

Overall, this is a fast-paced and fun ride, especially for those who wanted a “first contact” type story to be with a fantasy world instead of an alien race. I rate this book Highly Recommended.