Tag Archives: fantasy

Harrow (Galleries of Stone #2)

Title: Harrow

Author: C. J. Milbrandt

Series: Galleries of Stone #2

Every fall and spring, Aurelius Harrow comes to the mountain of Morven where his brother-in-law Freydolf is Keeper. He brings food and supplies, trades uncut stone for Freydolf’s masterpieces, and provides some much-needed company. But this year is different. This year, Aurelius is going to be staying for a while.

This book continues a few years after Meadowsweet, with Tupper a little more grown up and a lot more comfortable in his role. Tupper continues to open up Morven in surprising ways, as additional people are coming to the nearly-empty halls that he and Freydolf occupy. It’s beautiful to see how the story keeps extending the sense of family—first with Aurelius, then with other Meadowsweets, who not only dare to flout the typical fear of Pred but work on making their new friends more welcome in the rest of the village.

And Ulrica, Freydolf’s sister, finally makes an appearance. She’s thoroughly Pred, though in a slightly different way than Aurelius (I love how Tupper marks Aurelius as the prettiest of the lot . . . he’s so vain about clothing).

Tupper nodded tentatively, but he wasn’t so sure. What kind of person showed affection with sharp criticism, thinly-veiled insults, and death threats? Upon serious consideration, Tupper realized that the answer should have been obvious. A sister.

And in between all the marriage and babies and family happenings, Tupper’s also starting to think about his own future, and the person he might want to share it with. It’s funny to watch him approaching his future love life much the same way he approaches anything else: methodical, thoughtful, and unusual. Because Tupper’s short list of requirements is less about how she looks and more about whether or not she can put up with living statues and fearsome Pred without flinching.

It’s also fun to see that although Tupper may be the most exceptional Meadowsweet, in his own way, he’s hardly the only one. His family did a great deal to make him who he is, so once they’re committed to the Preds as family, they’re in all the way. And his family has their own secrets . . .

Overall, I loved seeing the world expanding, and the magic expanding too. This is a great followup. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Meadowsweet (Galleries of Stone #1)

Title: Meadowsweet

Author: C. J. Milbrandt

Series: Galleries of Stone #1

Freydolf is one of twelve Keepers in the world. Guardian of a sacred mountain, master sculptor, and yet utterly alone. Other races fear the Pred, and it makes something as simple as hiring a servant a challenge. But Tupper is different. Freydolf is soon surprised to find HOW different . . .

I tend to love stories like this, about a lonely and isolated individual gradually finding friendship. And this one is particularly good. Tupper is rather young, but more than that, he’s not very bright in a traditional sense, and has a tendency to be blunt because he’ll honestly answer questions. As Freydolf and his brother-in-law Aurelius discover, there’s far more to him than meets the eye.

Aurelius is also an interesting character. He’s much more typical of Pred, heavily armed and dangerous, and he has a biting sense of humor to match. He’s also the one with the biggest vocabulary, which leads to several funny conversations with Tupper, who can’t parse his big words and doesn’t understand why Aurelius even wants to use them when smaller words can say basically the same thing.

“Which parts made sense?” Aurelius patiently prompted.

With a slight uptilt of his small chin, Tupper gravely replied, “Master Freydolf wants you to be quiet.”

I also liked the magic in this book. Living statues provides an interesting assortment of creatures to populate the mountain, and it’s fun to see the various bits of personality many of them possess. Especially Graven, who does so like to tease.

Overall this was an excellent read, with charming characters and a lot of heart. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Knights of the End (Knights of the End #1)

Title: Knights of the End

Author: J. D. Cowan

Series: Knights of the End #1

Teddy MacIsaac dreams of heroes in a world where heroic ideals have succumbed to world-weary pessimism. Undaunted, he follows his dreams and a voice calling inside until he discovers a golden coin with mysterious powers. It grants him what he always wanted: the chance to be a hero. But no hero stands unopposed, and the general evil that’s haunted his world is about to get a lot more personal . . .

I really liked this. I found it based on a blog post by its author, and the comment that it had been written for his (her?) 13-year-old self immediately grabbed my interest, as the summary promised an actual light-versus-dark conflict that’s becoming increasingly hard to find.

And we get lots of awesome. Transforming superhero powers, secret identities, magical powers strong enough to change the world, and a colorful cast of friends and enemies. I particularly liked what happened with Rock, and how Teddy’s relationship with him changes over the course of the book. Bits of this read like an old comic book or cartoon drawn in greater detail. And I mean that as a compliment—the bombastic fights, the witty exchanges, the soaring imagination, the love of what it actually is to be a hero.

There are a few minor typos and errors that detracted a bit, but overall this was a solid book. I do hope the series continues, and continues to explore more of what it actually takes to be a hero who holds on to right no matter the cost (along with increasing the superhero cool moves and powers). Teddy takes a few knocks this time around, but certain events seem to be setting him up for a much deeper conflict between who he is and who he wants to be. I rate this book Recommended.

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 (unofficial fan translations)

Author: Kugane Maruyama

Series: Overlord

Volumes 5-11

I’ve been catching up on the unofficial fan translations of Overlord, because the official next volume isn’t out for several more months, so I thought I’d jot down a few brief thoughts (full reviews will come when the official volumes are released).

This was a blast all the way through. I think I like it more as a comedy than as a fantasy, although the fantasy portions aren’t bad. I just can’t get through most volumes without stopping because I’m laughing too hard. I like how other races keep popping up, even if they do tend to fall within a lot of the expected tropes (the lizardmen remain the most fleshed-out to date, and the best). Although seeing the Frost Dragons were amusing (and technically, the “loser” was smart enough to save most of his family).

The series keeps throwing out awesome curbstomp fights between various members of Nazarick and the high and mighty of the current world. Sebas gets a chance to shine, although I hope the upcoming season 2 will expand his fight scenes (well, give him more mooks to plow through, since he can’t help ending everything in one hit). Entoma is the only one who transforms, sadly—I’d love to see Sebas in his draconic form, but it’s hard to say he’d actually need it. Still, Sebas versus an underground crime ring, Ainz versus Demiurge (hysterical fight on multiple levels), and Ainz in the Arena were probably my favorite fights.

Another point that the series keeps making is that Ainz is the moron surrounded by people smarter than he is. Demiurge comments on how glad he is that the Empire’s ruler is smarter than average, because it’s easy to predict smart people and impossible to predict fools—by implication, Ainz is one such. There’s another moment later where someone outright suggests Ainz is just a moron who gets lucky sometimes. This works at its funniest level during things like the Arena match, where the Emperor is convinced that Ainz is some fiendishly brilliant strategist . . . and Ainz just wanted to say hello because he thought it was polite. And because Ainz said hello, the Emperor, Demiurge, and everyone who heard about it thinks he’s a genius, since it was the one move toppling a whole string of dominoes.

Also it only took Ainz 7 books to figure out Demiurge took his comment about world domination seriously and has been working diligently towards that end. And true to form, he’s too embarrassed to tell him to stop, so . . . he’s probably going to be taking over the world whether he wants to or not. Ainz is definitely not a good guy, but how evil he’ll be as a world ruler is largely going to depend on how many details he entrusts to those like Demiurge, who take pleasure in tormenting people, and whose plots to overthrow kingdoms follow more traditional routes. (Well, Ainz is so non-traditional he has no idea why it’s even working, since that wasn’t what he was trying to do in the first place.)

All in all, I can’t wait for the official versions to come out, and I’m glad eager fans have provided a way to get caught up a little faster. I don’t necessarily think these light novels are written well—book 5 in particular tends to drag a few things out—but in terms of sheer fun they’re some of the best I’ve read this year. I can’t wait to see the story continue to unfold. Ainz may have his side of the map cornered, but there are hints that the larger world will be a much bigger challenge. In particular I hope the Elves and the Dragonlords show up sooner rather than later, and at some point I hope they get to that desert city that looks like it was transported from the game previously, so they can uncover its mysteries.

So whether you’re curious enough to peek ahead like I did or are determined to wait for the official translations to emerge, it’s a wild ride ahead. I get that it probably takes a specific sense of humor to not get fed up with someone like Ainz, whose villainous acts come in equal measure with his more merciful ones, but for those who do like what’s come so far, what’s ahead is going to be lots of fun. Highly Recommended.

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 Lizardmen Heroes (Overlord #4)

Title: The Lizardmen Heroes

Author: Kugane Maruyama

Series: Overlord #4

The lizardmen tribes thought little of the outside world, until the day an unwelcome visitor appeared with a message: in eight days, their villages will be destroyed. With the threat of annihilation upon them, a lizardman traveler named Zaryusu sets out on a desperate mission to unite the tribes. But can their efforts save them from the armies of Ainz Ooal Gown?

The series shifts gears in this book, telling most of its story from the point of view of the lizardmen Ainz intends to conquer. Having gotten a good taste of Ainz’s power in the last three books, there’s little doubt how this will eventually go . . . which is why it’s fascinating that most of the story humanizes so well those Ainz sees as little more than statistics.

I love the details about their culture and society, about the five tribes and their last war, about the day to day worries about food shortages and the new inventions that might disrupt their former way of life. Zaryusu’s solitary existence hasn’t bothered him until he meets Crusch, the head of another tribe. So there’s a bit of romance in play too as the two of them fumble around getting to know each other in the shadow of certain death.

There’s also some scenes carrying forward previous plot threads, like Shalltear’s reaction to having been under mind-control. Ainz is also still interested in running experiments, and those range from completely understandable (wanting to see what the ACTUAL area-of-effect is on some of his larger spells so he can more effectively use them) to the more villainous (wanting to wipe out the lizardmen for trivial causes).

It’s interesting that Ainz has trouble reacting to anyone not in Nazarick as beings with their own lives, hopes, and dreams, which is something this plot highlights extremely well. He mentioned in Carne village about how humans seem to him like ants, or perhaps like a pet once he’s talked with them for a bit. Whether it’s an effect of being undead, or his humanity being overstressed by not actually getting to sleep, or him thinking too much in game terms isn’t clear.

Actually, I really liked the detail about sleeplessness basically driving him insane. His body may not need it anymore, but his mind desperately wants a break from all the stress. And sure, he’s very likely overreacting (again), but the problem has always been a lack of intelligence about the world around him. He is PROBABLY overreacting, but he can’t be sure, and if he’s wrong he’ll lose everything left that he cares about.

And at the end of the day, things not going as he expected might be best for everyone involved.

I do hope Ainz and the rest can grow in this new world. I’d love to see Ainz picking up new magic (although making time to study would be a problem), or Cocytus figuring out how to become an able commander as well as an excellent warrior, and so on. Either way, it’s going to be a long and impatient wait for me until the next book arrives. I rate this book Highly Recommended.