Tag Archives: alternate world

Between Worlds

Title: Between Worlds

Author: Skip Brittenham

In the forest is an aspen tree said to grant wishes. When Marshall and Mayberry encounter it, they end up in a world full of strange creatures, magic, and danger. Can they survive?

This was stuffed with all the things I usually enjoy, but maybe because of that I never connected much with anything. It was too much, too fast. Or perhaps I just didn’t feel enough of a connection to the characters or the world to really care about what happened to either.

The illustrations are easily the best part. Every few chapters another full page color illustration showcasing a nearby scene. The pictures really help to bring some of the strange creatures to life.

The characters are generic. Mayberry is the “too cool for the country” new girl, and Marshall is the dork with no self-confidence. Both of them are outcasts, and pretty much the other’s only friend. They feel similar enough in the prose that I had a hard time telling them apart; other than surface details it felt like most of what one of them did the other could’ve done and it wouldn’t have made a difference.

And the fantasy world would have been better if we didn’t have Marshall and Mayberry mastering magic in the space of a week. There’s no attempt made to explain what magic is or how it works, which I could live with if it didn’t feel so haphazard. These kids have never seen magic before, but after only a week they can do complicated magical tricks like lighting multiple sticks on fire at the same time or calling up gigantic waves from nowhere? And all it takes is chanting a few words and twisting your fingers a certain way?

Same with the familiars just showing up and instantly being best friends, because the prose doesn’t have time to be anything but bare-bones. We have multiple intelligent races, there’s some kind of war going on, here’s a magical weapon that’s the source of all magical weapons, etc. And then the way the book ties up it doesn’t feel like it wants a sequel, so whatever this world is and whatever relation it has to ours doesn’t seem to matter either.

It was frustrating because I wanted to like this more than I did. Instead it felt like a firehose of fantasy trappings without ever getting enough depth to make anything stick. It’s not bad. It’s just that I’m more likely to remember the pictures than anything in the plot. I rate this book Neutral.

Overlord (Anime)

Title: Overlord

Episodes: 1-13

Momonga has been a long-time player of the DMMO-RPG Yggdrasil. But the servers are shutting down, his guild has more or less dissolved, and he’s left to wait for the end alone. But the shutdown doesn’t work the way he expected: he’s now living in his undead avatar, with the NPCs turned sentient, and an actual world that only somewhat works like the game he used to know. In Yggdrasil, Momonga had max level, great items, and a solid team at his back. Can he continue as the Overlord of his guild in this new world?

I’m not a big fan of the “trapped in a game” scenarios (it’s just a halfhearted attempt at “transported to another world” to my mind), but this is the second show I’ve gotten into solely because I liked the opening song. “Clattanoia” is a lot of fun. And I was surprised that the story was actually a lot more to my interests than I had expected. Momonga isn’t some upstart with something to prove, or a man desperate to return to his former life. If anything, he just wants his old guildmates to join him, and he works hard to protect the place, NPCs, and memories they left with him. It’s really fitting that he’s an undead, as I think that’s another symbol that he can’t move on (it’s also hysterical that he completely breaks the convention of being handsome, and has to hide his real face in public lest people flee in terror).

Part of the fun is the intersection between the gaming world and the “real” world. There’s a good dose of gaming humor thrown in, like a guild member named Touch Me (who has a much better reputation than his name suggests), the names and types of some of the spells cast, or how HP and MP apparently are still a thing, at least for the formerly-Yggdrasil entities, and so on. And Momonga isn’t coming at this as a newbie, either—as the title implies, he’s starting from the top. It’s kind of a fantasy-flavored One Punch Man, although Momonga actually does have one opponent that can put up a decent fight. And if other players came along, which seems very likely given the end, then he’s likely going to be dealing with them at some point in the future.

I laughed pretty hard at most of his earliest encounters with outside people because he’s repeatedly toning himself down and still overwhelming everyone (this is almost funnier on a re-watch, when terms like fifth-tier magic have enough context to be meaningful . . . Momonga complains people die to “only” a fifth-tier spell when the maximum level humans can cast is third-tier). Or Momonga being embarrassed by things that others find amazing, like the Wise King of the Forest. And the scene where we finally get to meet the NPC Momonga himself created . . . (I do wonder what kind of powers it has, since most of the NPCs seem to be full of their own flavors of nasty surprises…. but that seems to have been a guild trend).

Yet Momonga’s tremendous power is balanced by his (completely reasonable) caution. I think the last fight actually did a great job of demonstrating why: even though he’s strong, he’s still got the class limitations he would’ve had in the game, but he no longer has others of different classes but similar level to watch his back. So running into another player or even just a high-level item in the hands of someone hostile could put him in danger (I do wonder what will happen when his cash shop items run out, since there’s no way he’s going to be able to restock some of the tricks he needed to use pretty liberally to win that encounter).

The art is pretty good but not amazing, and the CG is pretty noticeable. I didn’t think it detracted much from the show, though, as most of the CG is reserved for the undead, so it wasn’t as distracting as it would have been on characters. I’m also not fond of some of the shenanigans that went on with Albedo (Momonga changes her programming in the last minutes of the game so she’s deeply in love with him), but Momonga taking on more and more of his undead persona quickly kills the lust on his side, so after the first episode, he doesn’t do much to encourage her. It’s also fascinating to watch the slow shift in his personality—from someone who thinks mostly like a human, to someone who can casually kill people just for being in the way (and then take their corpses back to practice necromancy upon).

Overall I had a lot more fun with this than I expected. I watched both the sub and the dub and both are solid performances. I honestly don’t even have a favorite—Momonga’s voice in particular is great in both (he’s got a trick where his “official” voice is a lot deeper than his “normal” thoughts). I do hope a second season shows up soon as there is a lot that could be done yet with the characters and the world. I rate this show Recommended.

Seeker (Riders #2)

Title: Seeker

Author: Veronica Rossi

Series: Riders #2

Daryn is haunted by her greatest mistake: the conflict that severed Gideon’s hand and thrust Bastian into a world that only she can enter. She has to go back. Has to make things right. But she’s totally unprepared for what’s waiting . . .

Gideon is frustrated at Daryn’s reclusiveness. ALL the Horsemen want to go after Bastian (and messily dismember the demon who went with him), and Daryn won’t clue them in. But they’re searching for her. And once they find her, they’re going after Bastian.

As much as I loved being with these characters again, this felt like a necessary conclusion rather than a story I liked as much in its own right.

The first book was a big favorite, so I’ve been looking forward to the sequel for months. I didn’t want to believe Bastian was doomed to “probably dead in a horrible way” as part of the bittersweet ending to the first book. And I wanted to see more of the Horsemen being awesome and wrecking stuff, or otherwise goofing off with each other, or digging into their personalities more. There was a little of that, but most of the book was so heavily focused on hooking up Daryn and Gideon, and the rest of the plot didn’t go far enough into some of the more interesting ideas it started to explore.

This was still funny. Well, Gideon’s portions were funny. He’s still got that bit of a smartass to liven things up, and there’s some great mini-stories about various misadventures he had with Bastian. Which is a great contrast to the general heaviness of the overall book. Daryn is more depressive, but sometimes she’ll observe something hilarious that the others are doing or saying, but I definitely preferred Gideon’s point of view.

And there were still interesting bits. I found it fascinating how Gideon refers to being War as a VICE, something he has to struggle to overcome. At the same time, I thought the pocket world could have done more to push them through that. As it was, the only character growth I could see was what had happened in the first book (I’m not counting him and Daryn staring intensely at each other and being swept away by “I want you.”). Daryn has a lot more development, for sure, but I felt a little let down by her wanting to go back home to her family. That needed to happen to close out the threads from the first book, but I didn’t care for how it actually worked out (although the aftermath was plenty amusing).

*** SMALL SPOILERS***
The fact that the actual going home was skipped, as well as it being such an easy reintegration, bothered me.
*** END SPOILERS****

I didn’t like how the pocket world limited everyone’s abilities. It helps add to the tension, but it takes away a ton of the fun. Rather than have a scary world where their powers are matched by equally scary Harrows, we get a bunch of restrictions on what can and can’t be done that make them little better than well-armed ordinary humans.

The romance, too, was kind of there for me. I really don’t care for these types of relationships, where it feels a bit more like two people crushing hard on each other, but at least there are things each of them can notice and pull out of the other. So there’s at least something of liking each other as people, and being a decent fit for each other. I did prefer the first book, though, since this one reverses the balance. Here, romance is a much stronger focus than the rest of the plot.

Overall, I was still happy to read this to get more of an ending, but I found myself frustrated at a lot of the directions the story went. I wanted more Jode and Marcus. I wanted more wrecking stuff in huge ways. I wanted Gideon to be more effective, and to be able to use his leadership. That said, this wasn’t bad, just not all I wanted it to be. Be sure to read Riders first, though, as this heavily depends on the previous book. I rate this book Recommended.

Twelve Kingdoms (Anime)

Title: Twelve Kingdoms

Episodes: 1-45
Rewatch

Youko has a quiet, ordinary life–except for her monster-filled nightmares. But when a strange man shows up at her school and whisks her and two of her friends to another world, her life changes forever. She didn’t want this. She’s not ready for this. Going home is not an option. If she’s going to survive, she’ll have to confront murderous monsters and a jealous king, and in the process discover her destiny . . .

It’s hard to put into words everything about this that makes it my favorite series. The first time I saw it was like the first time I read Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones—the kind of story that just makes your soul resonate. This had everything I liked in stories: fantastic creatures (bonus points for being intelligent and able to talk!), magic, swords, shapeshifters, getting taken to another world . . . and also the core of deep character building, where Youko is forced to confront herself and rise above, to become a queen in actuality and not just role. Also a huge plus for me personally was the lack of romance. With the exception of Youko’s initial crush on Asano (which he doesn’t return), the story ignores romance in favor of action and intrigue.

Youko wasn’t my favorite character initially: that was always Sugimoto, the fantasy lover, whose utter delight at finding herself in a world like her books contrasts sharply with Youko’s tendency to cry over every setback. But Youko grows up, facing herself as well as her circumstances, and Sugimoto is again her dark mirror as she sinks ever deeper into jealousy and frustration. And the story doesn’t give Youko many breaks. I was shocked at the encounter with Taki the first time I saw this, and Taki is merely one of many who may help or hinder in ways not initially obvious.

But when Youko does confront herself, and later the embedded corruption in her country, she doesn’t do it halfway. That meek little people-pleaser hid a backbone of steel. She’s constantly confronted with her own weaknesses, her own stupidity, her own limitations, but that isn’t going to stop her from pouring everything she has into the decisions she eventually makes. I love her second story arc (episodes 23-39) because they tackle a fascinating question I hardly ever see in secondary-world fantasy: having been given the throne, how does an outsider actually rule well? Youko isn’t just ignorant about government, she’s ignorant about geography, history, climate, inhabitants, everything. And that ignorance, through no fault of her own, costs her dearly.

As much as I enjoy Youko, she’s not the only excellent character. King En and Enki are two that never fail to amuse. I love Enki’s accusation that En enjoys playing the bad guy way too much–right after decking his own king in front of other people. I love that En’s introduction is “Kill monsters first, ask questions later.” He and Enki both are hands-on, stubborn, and full of surprises. En is so unconventional. It’s one thing to go down to hang out with the lay people in disguise—it’s another when your ministers are constantly needing to bust you out of jail for getting into bar brawls. En seems to exist to drive his ministers insane. (See: nicknames. En is a giant troll.) But behind that teasing, En is working out plans on a level no one expects. He and Youko are very similar in a lot of ways, but there’s also a profound gap between them. En is a leader born and raised, and he gets how people work.

And I love Taiki. One of the biggest frustrations I have is that the anime doesn’t finish adapting out Demon Child (Mashou no Ko), which gives at least a little closure to the horrible situation Taiki finds himself in. The intersection of past and present in the anime does lend an element of horror that isn’t really there in the books—because it’s obvious from the outset that something went drastically wrong if Taiki is now back in Japan with no memories of his time in the Twelve Kingdoms. (The blood on his face does provide a clue that it’s due to his horn being damaged, but the books are clearer on that point.) And I like the anime’s decision to use Sugimoto to pry into his history, because she’s a foil for him. Her venture into the Twelve Kingdoms taught her she couldn’t grab for a world that wasn’t hers, and she assumes Takasato is the same, although the situation isn’t supporting her assumptions. Taiki is also unusual in being the only kirin to really struggle with being a kirin. He’s too used to being human to really get most of what is supposed to be natural to him. And I like that Taiki unwittingly showcases Keiki as a gigantic stick-in-the-mud. Even other kirin think Keiki is too much, heh. (If you’re interested in reading Demon Child to see some additional scenes, the translation can be found here: https://tu-shu-guan.blogspot.com/2006/08/demon-child-prefacing-poem.html)

I’m less fond of Suzu and Shoukei, but I do like their character arcs. Both of them are extremely self-centered, but it plays out differently. Suzu is unconsiously addicted to being miserable, whereas Shoukei has a massive entitlement complex. Youko, compared to them, is starting from a much better place, but she’s still clawing herself out of the pit of pleasing others rather than forging her own way ahead. All three of them suffer from ignorance (though in Youko’s case, it’s at least excusable because she just hasn’t had time to get caught up on how this world, much less her kingdom, actually works). I love the challenge to Suzu about the different reasons why people cry–and that she’s stuck in a child’s mindset despite having been alive over 100 years. (This is a show very much not afraid to outright TELL its characters “Grow up.”)

And that’s just the characters. I also really like how the show approaches destiny and the will of the heavens. There is absolutely an element of choice for everyone involved—but those who challenge heaven find themselves in the way of heaven’s justice. And it raises some fascinating questions about Keiki’s first queen, and who she might have been if she hadn’t crumbled, and other questions along those lines. Destiny can be denied, thwarted, foiled at the individual level. But the heavens aren’t, long-term. Or take Youko’s struggle to figure out what makes a ruler a good one. Every time I watch this, I see some new facet that leads me to wonder about something else.

I get that this series may not be for everyone, but for myself it’s basically perfect. I only wish we had more. Even with Demon Child’s happier ending, Taiki’s situation remains grim (and what DID happen in Tai?). Whether the stories would be about Youko or someone else, I’m always happy to visit this world. I rate this series Highly Recommended.

Ocean Realm (Crystal Doors #2)

Title: Ocean Realm

Author: Rebecca Moesta and Kevin J. Anderson

Series: Crystal Doors #2

Elantya is recovering from the merlon attack that nearly overpowered them. The threat isn’t over, but now they have time to figure out how they can defend the island, and what they might do against the evil mages Azric and Orpheon. Gwen, Vic, and the others don’t expect to have a large role—and then a kidnapping puts them in the heart of the ocean, under Azric’s power. Can they free themselves and save Elantya once again?

This had an okay story marred by a few really annoying things that kept throwing me out of it. Basically, “like on land but underwater” kept being a dealbreaker for me. Take the behavior of light. Yes, light goes through water. Badly. And this gets worse the deeper you go. According to a quick search, to match the behavior of light in the book, most of this has to take place about 200 meters below the surface. That’s a really shallow ocean. Or take how Vic’s father treats diving with rapid descents and ascents. There is one nod on the last one that he got the bends, but overall I was either expecting magic to explain it away or him to do things properly. And so on.

I also wasn’t that fond of the merlons. We finally get to see their society, so I was expecting a little more of the society and a little less of evil/stupid slave drivers with a king that behaves like a toddler either throwing a tantrum or distracted by a shiny toy. Vic feels sorry for killing one. That felt really forced to me, since their behavior barely puts them above dolphins on the intelligence scale. And none of them show any signs of not being evil, even if it’s not quite at Azric’s level. They’re pretty much here to be cannon fodder.

That said, the plot took a while to get going, but once it did, managed to keep things moving. Most of the focus was on Sharif and his character journey. It’s got a lot of message about slavery being bad and not looking down on people, though I did appreciate Sharif wasn’t really obvious in his superiority and so didn’t recognize it in himself. I also really liked one quote from late in the book.

“Mmm,” the Ven Sage said. “A choice may be unfair, unbearable, unreasonable, dishonorable, painful, awkward, complex, unethical, or impractical. It may even seem impossible. But there is always a choice, even if it is a bad or painful one.”

Overall, I’m not all that interested to see where this is heading. It’s obvious Orpheon still has a role to play, and that the prophecy will be fulfilled (though I would hope a few twists in its interpretation materialize). I’m still annoyed at how the worldbuilding and the science worked out, so I don’t think it’s worth trying to track down the final volume unless you liked it a lot better than I did. I rate this book Neutral.

A Legend of Starfire (A Sliver of Stardust #2)

Title: A Legend of Starfire

Author: Marissa Burt

Series: A Sliver of Stardust #2

Wren still has nightmares about the land of Nod, the evil Boggin she so narrowly stopped, and the horrors at the gate between worlds. Unfortunately, it looks like her contributions to the peace aren’t over yet. When some work on the gate goes wrong, she ends up on another adventure, one that will determine the fate of both worlds.

I wasn’t as engaged by this one as the first book. Wren’s still struggling with the aftermath of her actions in the previous book, which was nice. But the plot tries really hard to introduce a lot of content, particularly in the latter half, and it feels like a lot just got skimmed. Take the mechanical animal hybrids. There’s certain twist, but there’s almost no time in the story to actually dig into that or what happens as a result. So it ends up feeling really rushed. Or Wren suddenly having a crush on a certain guy, which seems to consist of finding him cute but not much else, and no time at all to act on that. Not that I mind as much on that, since one thing that aggravates me is breakneck pace adventures slowing down for a lot of romance. But I do mention it because it was another area that felt underdeveloped.

That said, I did like the end. The Ashes and the Crooked Man were interesting, particularly with the conflicting information Wren has about them. Jack, particularly, was a star of the book for me. He’s not at all who he was in the first book, but he’s not entirely free of his old self either. I wish we’d had more of a chance to see how he’s changed and how he hasn’t, and walk with him through the major decisions he makes and the way they impact him.

Overall, this is still a good cap to the duology, although not one I liked as much as the predecessor. If you have more of a liking for dystopias some of what goes on probably won’t sit as badly. I rate this book Recommended.

The Burning Page (Invisible Library #3)

Title: The Burning Page

Author: Genevieve Cogman

Series: Invisible Library #3

The Library’s timeless existence may be running out. Alberich, though he cannot enter, has found some way to threaten it—a fact painfully clear to Irene, who has been stuck doing dangerous missions thanks to her probation. But she, Kai, Vale, and the rest of her allies don’t have the slightest idea what Alberich is up to. Irene only knows she must do whatever she can.

This has good points and bad points. Irene remains amazingly competent in a great way. I love how ready and able she is to bite back on petty retorts, or force herself to overlook offenses, because it’s childish and won’t help what she really wants to do. She’s smart and quick to judge situations (usually correctly), but she’s not perfect by any means. She knows the Library is hiding things from her but accepts that as part of the way things are and tries to work within the system (at least, to the extent that’s even possible).

The dragons still frustrate me. We finally get to see Kai’s true form, which is nice. I’m way less a fan of how dragons appear to be the dumping ground for things that don’t make sense with their natures. This time around it’s creatures of order who are totally fine with a dragon’s gender being whatever said dragon says it is, regardless of biology. Which is a headscratcher. So dragons never change their minds? But mostly it’s the biology. We have a dragon willing to declare Irene insane and take over for her because she makes what that dragon considers an irrational choice, but declaring one’s gender to be opposite one’s physical sex somehow makes sense. It would make total sense as a Fae trait, because they define themselves by the stories they tell, or participate in. I guess the dragons got stuck with it in order to make this sound cool.

I had mixed feelings about the ending. The final fight was good, and everything plays out well until the very end, when certain matters about Vale suddenly come to a head. And then the completely-exhausted Irene does something that we’ve already seen is very difficult and it’s over in about two sentences. It felt more like getting this out of the way than bringing that tension to a climax and resolution. Vale mentions nothing, and we can’t even see him react, and then it’s the end.

I also suspect Irene may be more right than she knows, and Alberich may be wrong, about one crucial detail. And Bradamant probably found out in the first book, because she’s the one who actually read the Grimm story, and I still think she cut the ending short. But if that is the case, it will take another book or more to play out.

Overall this didn’t grab me as much as the previous books. The story was more straightforward, and one of the more interesting subplots fell flat on its face by the end. If you’ve been reading the previous books and liked them, you’ll probably still like this one. I rate this book Recommended.