Tag Archives: dragons

A Crown of Dragons (Unicorne Files #3)

Title: A Crown of Dragons

Author: Chris D’Lacey

Series: Unicorne Files #3

Michael is no closer to understanding the mystery behind his father, his own powers, or the secret agency UNICORNE that seems to hold all the answers. But when the dragon scale his father was hunting impacts his life once again, he’s pressing for answers. Even if finding out might change his life once again . . .

I didn’t think it was possible for the book to give some answers that actually made sense of some of my more aggravating questions, but it did. For starters, why would anyone try to make Michael into a secret agent when he clearly has little aptitude for the role? Although plot-wise, I think the second book could basically be skipped as it contributed very little, and the first and third books do a better job presenting the overarching plot with Michael, his dad, and Freya.

That said, I still had to force myself to finish. Michael feels like the wrong protagonist for a story like this. He’s got fun powers, but barely uses them at all except to pull a total rewrite for the end, and that feels cheap—he’s never really controlled them, and part of the fun was seeing the unintended consequences, like his sister becoming a musical genius, that always accompanied whatever he was ACTUALLY trying to do. Add to that he’s not showcasing much except incompetence and an ability to get into trouble (and not in a particularly entertaining fashion), and the adults who know more are basically jerking him around for the most part.

It’s not really badly written. It’s just that I ended up hating the main character, who I actually liked well enough in the first book, because it’s really hard to find things to like him FOR. I did like the ideas, particularly in this book, and its take on dragons. But I can’t see myself reading these again. I rate this book Neutral.

The Dark Warrior (Overlord #2)

Title: The Dark Warrior

Author: Kugane Maruyama

Series: Overlord #2

Momonga (now Ainz) is fully aware of his own lack of knowledge about the world he now inhabits. He’s still uncertain how much his former-NPC’s loyalty can be trusted, and the world contains things both from the game Yggdrasil and things he’s never seen before. So Ainz goes undercover as the dark warrior Momon. Together with one of his battle maids, they pose as adventurers in the hopes of learning more. But other plans are afoot in the city, and Ainz may have inadvertently tripped over a few of them . . .

For those coming from the anime, this novel was adapted in episodes 5-9. Again, the adaptation was faithful and the differences are minor (although my favorite addition was the extra information about just what Ainz did with that Jewel of Darkness).

Once again, Momonga/Ainz is proceeding into the world with extreme caution, even though he’s so high leveled that he can afford to seal away most of his magic and simply wave swords around and still be stronger than pretty much any human adversary. But the fun, of course, is in watching HOW everything plays out. The plot really likes putting him in embarrassing situations as well as situations where he can show off.

For example, ogres. Ainz can dispatch ogres with a single blow. His technique is terrible, but his strength allows him to ignore the basics any actual warrior would know. Ainz knows this and is uncomfortable at the amount of awe his “mighty deeds” generate, because to him, ogres that low-leveled would never pose a threat.

This gets even funnier when Ainz decides to challenge the Wise King of the Forest, hoping for a faster way to spread his renown.

Here, too, Momonga’s inner loneliness comes through a little better than the anime. He’s hurting for the friends he used to have, which he sees reflected in a small party of adventurers he teams up with for a time. Their camaraderie reminds him of what he lost and wants to have again, and spreading his name is a way of crying out for them to notice that he’s still here, waiting for them. It’s a little sad he can’t take Touch Me’s example to heart and go out and befriend others, even if they are weaklings, but his paranoia about keeping himself, his former NPCs, and Nazarick safe precludes any overtures.

I like how the game world details keep coming, and also how the various techniques and abilities that pop up show that this is NOT the game Momonga played. That leaves him with plenty to discover (and plenty of new things to embarrass himself with, I’m sure). Again, for those who liked the anime, this is a great way to dig deeper into the world, and to see some of the technical explanations about spells and so forth that never made it to the screen. The book also contains several nice pieces of art on the interior. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Firebolt (The Dragonian #1)

Title: Firebolt

Author: Adrienne Woods

Series: The Dragonian #1

Elena Watkins is tired of her dad’s paranoia. Moving every three months, never settling down or making friends, never able to experience a normal life . . . and then the dragons attack, she wakes up in a magical country, and she realizes “normal” will never define her life again. No one knows who was after her (or was it her father?) or why. Now she’s struggling to fit into a world where the ordinary humans surrounding her might be dragons in disguise, and her own role might be bigger than anyone expects.

This book has a lot of solid parts, but it’s also kind of jerky. The first bit is a thriller, with the abnormal home life devolving into an attack that leaves Elena all but dead . . . and then the plot just forgets about that and moves on. Elena’s feelings for her father gets a few brief mentions but otherwise nobody brings up anything about that time, which felt really bizarre. The enemy doesn’t appear to have been killed, so the lack of follow through was puzzling. Elena doesn’t ask any questions about it. No one offers any answers. No one even offers to guard her against the possibility of future attacks.

Once we get past that, it’s pretty definitely a YA fantasy/paranormal romance. There’s one main romance (I can’t honestly call it a love triangle yet) although this is hampered by Elena’s emotions and will running one way and the plot clearly pointing her in another direction. I’m pretty sure the prophecy, for example, has a lot more to do with her romantic choices than anything else.

I did like Elena’s female roommates. They’re neat characters, and Sammy in particular was a lot of fun. I liked the dragon shapeshifters, the various types of dragons, and the various abilities. I wasn’t at all fond of the whole “dragon personality completely changes when claimed by a human,” which was disturbing to watch in action (even if it does clean up his character from jerk to decent guy). Especially since it’s a given this is going to happen again with Blake.

It is pretty easy to spot the overall way things are going, though, which makes Elena’s romance uninteresting and to my mind unimportant.

****SPOILERS****

Elena is clearly the daughter of the late monarchs, with her “mother’s” disappearance and its timeframe, and the prophecy about Blake, being some of the strongest evidence. Blake, equally clearly, is her Destined Soul Mate, so anything not involving him is basically doomed by Authorial Fiat, because the prophecy says the monarch’s child will claim the Rubicon. Elena even has a PICTURE of her “mother”, which she never bothers to bring out but would likely be instantly recognized by some of the older dragons who actually knew that dragon.

****SPOILERS END****

I was also a bit annoyed that so many of the riddles present in the book are just reusing rather famous ones. Particularly Elena’s last and hardest one. Given that it was part of a myth, the two pages devoted to her thinking it over had me wondering how she hadn’t run into this before, since her father likes riddles and this is hardly a new one.

I’m torn about continuing this series. I would probably read more on Kindle Unlimited, but I don’t think I like it enough to buy it outright (if this was in my library, it would get a rental). I feel like the story is dropping some interesting angles in favor of a love story it’s too obviously telegraphing can’t work anyway. On the other hand, the world was fun, and the dragons are by and large more fun, so I wouldn’t mind seeing more of them. I rate this book Neutral.

The Applicant (Conservation of Magic #0.5)

Title: The Applicant

Author: Michael W. Layne

Series: Conservation of Magic #0.5 (Prequel)

Chris is fresh out of college and hoping for a job at the prestigious—and mysterious—Rune Corporation. He’s one of three candidates for a single position, but he’s confident he can make the right impression. Unfortunately, the application starts going weird quickly . . .

This is a bit rough, but the overall world is interesting. Given that this is basically a novella about a single day’s experience, it makes sense that the applicants themselves don’t have a whole lot of background, apart from Chris, but it does mean it was harder to get a feel for their characters. However, with most of the focus remaining on Chris and the woman interviewing them all, this still worked okay.

It does do the job of getting me at least somewhat interested in the larger world. I had a lot of questions about how exactly humans were supposed to help with the language process (although the job in question being for an interface designer does make that particular part easier to understand). The mystery portion is weaker because there isn’t a lot of opportunity to set up who might be the culprit before everything comes out.

Overall, since this was a free read, I think it’s worth checking out. It’s an easy way to see if the magic or the characters grabs you. The preview for the next book at the back does imply the actual series doesn’t follow Chris, though, for what that’s worth. I rate this book Recommended.

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.

Further Thoughts – Yona of the Dawn

I wanted to jot down a few further thoughts on Yona, since I had a chance to review the dub, and I wanted to mention a few things in a bit more depth about the manga.

The dub is serviceable, but most of the characters didn’t feel great in their roles. Gija is a major exception, as his voice actor absolutely nails his bug-related freakouts, but others like Jaeha don’t have any transition between their comedy portions and their regular voices, which made Jaeha sound more monotone than his Japanese voice. Or there are odd moments like Yun using his obviously male voice when talking to Yona during a period when he’s disguising himself as a girl—and none of the other girls figure this out until so much later it feels really stupid. In addition his attempts to sound feminine are still gravelly.

As an added annoyance, this disk is the first anime I’ve watched that didn’t allow me to put subtitles on when I was watching the English, which is how I prefer to view dubs. That allows me to more easily evaluate where the dub changed the script, or catch lines that might be muttered or in the background.

Jeno/Zeno is still my favorite. (Looks like he’s officially Jeno, but it sounds like Zeno in the Japanese, and we already have Jaeha, so I prefer Zeno.) His little “we can totally storm the castle” speech in the last ep is the first big hint that he’s more than he appears—why the massive amount of confidence when he’s previously described himself as basically powerless?

And when the manga finally shows his ability in chapters 99-100, Zeno demonstrates he could probably storm the entire castle by himself. And win.

**MANGA SPOILERS**

I love how Zeno’s backstory is basically: the other three dragons never let him fight because he was weak, and then when they got old and retired, he went out and did everything by himself. He’s unkillable but not invincible, as Shin-Ah demonstrates by tying him up. So despite having massive powers, he doesn’t unbalance the plot because his personality isn’t suited for fighting, and because in order to trigger those powers he’s first got to take deadly levels of injury.

I adore his initial battle, as his ineffectual resistance slowly transforms into complete invincibility. And all his friends are shell-shocked from the moment he first gets stabbed through the heart . . . and he’ll take way more damage than that before he’s done. One of my favorite frames is the panel after he’s been stabbed multiple times, dismembered, and beheaded, and is standing there with ruined clothes but a whole body and taunting the enemy: “What will you do? Unlike you, I have no limits. I can go on fighting for hundreds of years. Come at me. I have all the time in the world.”

And then they find out that he’s not only unkillable, but after a certain point he can’t even take injuries anymore, and they’re now fighting a dragon just as ferocious as Gija and Jaeha combined.

It really is a shame it’s going to take so long to get volumes 17-18 in English.

I like how the dragons are becoming more and more a group of friends. Zeno admits the original four never really meshed that well, as the thread of competitiveness disrupted the sense of being a team. But the current group demonstrates again and again their willingness to support each other, which is perhaps a reflection of Yona being weak where King Hiryuu was strong. Yona can’t pull her own weight in fights the way he did. And Zeno isn’t volunteering to hurt himself as long as the other three can  handle things without his help, but if the situation calls for it, he’ll cheerfully offer to undergo hideous pain because he knows he can take it.

I also like how the manga has generally moved towards longer plot arcs. Su-won turns his attention to the surrounding kingdoms, and Yona for one reason or another is in the middle of things, which means plenty of time to explore the other nations. It raises some interesting questions about Su-won’s ultimate goal, as his short-term aspirations are building up Kouka and reducing his neighbors so they won’t face external threats. He doesn’t seem like he wants to invade, so I do wonder what he’ll get up to once the last neighbor has either submitted or lost a war with him.

At any rate, it’s a shame that the anime doesn’t look likely to go any farther. The plot continues to improve, the characters have a lot of interesting revelations, and the surprises keep on coming.

Yona of the Dawn (anime)

Yona of the Dawn

Episodes 1-24

Yona is a pampered princess with a peace-loving father. She’s in love with her cousin, Su-won—but when Su-won kills her father and usurps the throne, Yona becomes a fugitive, with only a single guard, Hak, to protect her. In order to survive, she’ll need allies. So begins her quest to gather the four legendary dragon warriors.

I was hoping for something similar to the excellent 12 Kingdoms, and in that regard was disappointed. Yona is very solidly a shoujo with a dash of reverse harem, and the show focuses a lot on the string of guys she accumulates and the various semi-romantic hijinks that occur between them. That said, there’s a fair amount of action as well, and even if I didn’t like Yona, the guys tended to be a lot more interesting.

Hak, for all that he isn’t a dragon (officially, at least) can rampage just as well as any of them. He’s also in love with Yona, although his position as her servant won’t allow him to admit it (and Yona is extremely clueless). The dragons themselves are a fun lot. Each of the dragon warriors has a specific power, and generally very different relationships with that power depending on how their villages viewed it. The one major exception in the anime is the Yellow Dragon, mostly because he shows up in just the last episode, but presumably the manga digs into his character more. I like Jaeha’s power the best, and his stubborn insistence not to let dragon-blood-destiny run his life (although he ends up coming anyway, of course). Rounding out the group is Yun, whose competence with everything not fighting makes him a vital support.

(I did read the manga and once we FINALLY get Jeno/Zeno’s backstory and get to see his powers, he easily became my favorite. I like his casual, happy attitude, rumpled appearance, the moments of surprising insight or wisdom that shows he’s not an idiot, the spirit of self-sacrifice that says, “This may be all I can do, but I will do it.” He’s really not a fighter the way the other three are, and his approach to battles horrifies everyone who watches him because of how much he has to suffer to use his abilities, but he never complains, and even volunteers his own suffering to save them pain. And his powers are SO MUCH FUN. Even if, far more than the other three, his could honestly be called a curse.)

Yona, though, is almost unbearable in the beginning. I’m glad the anime beginning included a flash forward, because I don’t think I would’ve stuck around long enough to get there otherwise. Eventually she realizes the depths of her helplessness and determines to get better, but it’s a long journey to even marginal usefulness. She’s almost more of a mascot, whose job is to keep everyone else happy and willing to fight. This is starting to turn around by the end of the anime, and I can only hope the manga grows her up more.

The plot can also suffer from some bizarre moments, particularly early on. Like the snakes that show up out of nowhere, at night, and are chasing Yona and Hak through a forest. Because . . . cold blooded creatures with no legs can run as fast as two humans? Yeah. Although I ended up liking the show, especially once I read the manga and got to see some of the later ways things play out, the beginning is just hard for me to watch.

Overall whether or not you like this is going to depend on how much you like the shoujo aspects of it. It does have a good amount of action, humor, and depth of character, so there is enough to enjoy if the presence of some of the tropes doesn’t ruin it. One of the more surprising aspects, to me, is that the usurper Su-won is actually a remarkably good king—and so much better than Yona’s father that it’s arguable if it would even be a good thing for Yona and the dragons to go against him. Certainly Yona’s not ready to sit on a throne. But neither the anime nor the manga treats that question much. It’s more about Yona being able to survive in a desperate and dangerous world. I rate this series Recommended.