Tag Archives: fantasy

Dragon Lost (Dragon Thief #1)

Title: Dragon Lost

Author: Lisa Manifold

Series: Dragon Thief #1

Aodan just wants to complete one final job, get paid, and get out. Unfortunately, a heist with a reward this lucrative is bound to have a catch. He just didn’t realize the catch would be his own unusual ties to these events. Like him turning into a dragon. Now he’s determined to do whatever it takes to get away from all the drama . . .

I liked this a lot, although I think it’s a little hampered by the way the end kind of drops off. It feels like just the end of one chapter, instead of the end of the book. Basically there’s not enough sense of conclusion. (This would bother me less if the next book was already here so I could just keep going.)

Aodan was a fun character. I liked how he reacted (badly) to his new ability to shapeshift. He likes being good at what he does, but he likes even more having as trouble-free a life as possible. And being a dragon, and having mystical bad guys after him, is way more trouble than he ever wanted. But since he’s stuck with it, he’s trying to figure out the best and fastest way he can deal with it and get out.

I liked Margrite too. I liked that she and Aodan are best friends without a trace of romance (former siblings, even if not by blood). I liked the way they understand each other, and can communicate without talking, and how they’re always on each others’ side.

I also really, really liked the dragons. Their culture is in ruins, thanks to a war that wiped most of them out, but they’re an interesting species. There’s a lot of little details I appreciated, like how color works, or the way mental speech plays into who they are.

I didn’t really care for the psychic reading, though. That whole scene felt like an extended hint about what’s going to happen, and an obscure way to express some of Aodan’s backstory.

Overall I’m looking forward to the next book, and I hope it comes soon. I rate this book Recommended.

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Never: Prequel to the Amber Isle (Book of Never #0)

Title: Never: Prequel to the Amber Isle

Author: Ashley Capes

Series: Book of Never #0

When an attempt to earn some money via forgeries goes bad, Never finds himself caught in other people’s schemes. All he wants is answers about who—or what—he is. Since modern knowledge has drawn a blank, he’s turning to ancient history. But the types of relics he’s going after have attracted more than just his interest.

This novella is a better introduction to Never than the first book. It showcases what little he does know about himself, his abilities, and shows how he ends up in the situation that started the first book.

I enjoyed the caper because Never isn’t quite in control, even when he tries to be. Despite all his attempts to stay on top of things, life keeps throwing wrenches in the works. And it was nice to see how he reacted to one boy with kindness, and how that ended up blessing both of them.

All in all, this is a good one to check out if you were curious about the series. I rate this book Recommended.

Overlord II (Anime)

Title: Overlord II
Episodes: 1-13
(Second season of Overlord)

This second season covers novels 4-6 and has two distinct arcs.
The first arc covers the lizardmen villages, which Ainz has decided to wipe out (he needs resources for Nazarick). Cocytus is in charge of this. The lizardmen, only aware a new enemy is threatening their very existence, struggle to band together in the face of this overwhelming foe.

The second arc covers Sebas and Solution on their reconnaissance mission in the capital of the Kingdom. When Sebas intervenes to save a dying girl, he earns the enmity of the Eight Fingers, the criminal underworld. Solution can’t see the point of saving humans, but what Ainz thinks is the real question . . .

I like Overlord because it diverges pretty widely from standard “transported to another world/a game world” tropes. One sign of this is that nearly this entire season doesn’t feature Ainz himself, the supposed main character, and instead dives deep into exploring this new world and some of the lesser-known characters of Nazarick like Sebas. (But don’t worry, Ainz shows up at the very end and has some good scenes.)

The season stumbles a bit at the start, as the first episode made the choice to adapt all of the various intermission chapters which have little immediate relevance to the plot but hint at several things in the wider world. There’s so many characters and ties to the first season it’s a pretty bad starting point. After that, though, the series dives into the thick of things.

I liked the lizardman arc in the books a lot, and the anime captured most of it well. Zaryusu is an outcast among his own people because he travels to the world beyond, but it’s that very experience that makes him recognize the danger they’re in when undead minions show up to harass his people. Desperate to unite the lizardmen tribes to give them a fighting chance, he travels from tribe to tribe, hoping to convince everyone to set aside old wrongs and face this new foe.

The lizardmen are a lot of fun to follow. They have their own body language, a strong tribal culture, and a history of violence against each other. As viewers knowing they’re going up against Nazarick, though, there’s a backdrop of tragedy for the whole thing, as there’s no way the strongest lizardman could even dent one of the guardians, much less Ainz. But Ainz isn’t coming himself, and he’s refused to let Cocytus use any of his good forces, so as odd as it seems, the lizardmen have a chance.

Sebas, on the other hand, operates under different constraints. He’s the sole member of Nazarick with a strong inclination towards good, which rubs up against the callous evil of most of his fellow NPCs. So when he saves Tsuare, he doesn’t want to report it because he’s hoping the whole thing can just stay under the radar. But while Tsuare herself isn’t that important, the brothel she was imprisoned within was illegal, so the Eight Fingers have a vested interest in removing the evidence. And since Sebas defied them, they’d like to take him down too.

I do regret the anime trimmed out a few fights I would’ve liked to see—Sebas’s role in the brothel raid, and the end of the fight with Entoma—but overall this was a lot of fun. Sebas, because he has a conscience, can be caught in ways none of the other denizens of Nazarick can. He recognizes he’s different, too, and can’t help but wonder if this is a curse. But Mr. Perfect Butler is just as overpowered as the rest of Nazarick, and when he finally goes to town on the security division of the Eight Fingers, the results are as hysterical as you might expect. The ten second fight he promises actually does clock in at under 10 seconds. (“It seems I was a tiny bit stronger,” indeed.)

It’s also interesting to see how characters like Brain Unglaus have continued to stick around and grow. He began as a cocky bandit lord that barely escaped from Shalltear with his life (well, that’s more than can be said of the rest of them). In this season we can see how badly that encounter broke him. I love how his old rival Gazef Stronoff (who was the better man in a lot of ways) tries to get him back on his feet. Even the try-hard Climb, who lacks enough talent to be better than “average”, spurs on Brain to move forward. And the last episode throws out a surprise that gives a nod to all the progress he’s managed to make.

Overall this was a solid dose of fun every week, and it’s great they announced a third season is happening so soon. Overlord has its flaws but I really like the different ways it branches out, from having nonhuman characters that are more than just regular people with ears and tails to being willing to shelve its protagonist to go focus on building up equally compelling secondary characters. I rate this show Recommended.

The Hidden Fire (Knights of the Flaming Blade #2)

Title: The Hidden Fire
Author: James R. Sanford
Series: Knights of the Flaming Blade #2

Kyric is discouraged from his failure to reach the castle, to start down the path to becoming a true Knight of the Flaming Blades. But Aiyan reappears in his life, and offers a chance at a new adventure: finding the Spice Islands that were marked on the map Aiyan stole previously. And, possibly along the way, Kyric might learn a little more and get one step closer to his dream of Knighthood . . .

This was kind of odd, because I liked the dream portions much better than the waking portions. The whole book, Kyric is following a series of dreams that are part adventure, part danger—and enough of it follows him to the real world to be concerning. He isn’t sure what they’re about, or where they’re leading him, but there’s something about them that captures his attention.

The waking adventure isn’t bad, just not as bizarre as the dreams. I don’t like how the introduction of the book is Kyric falling into a slump and deciding to lose his virginity with a random girl. He seemed to have more sense than that in the previous book. Similarly, his attempts at relationship later feel like they move really fast.

Action-wise, both segments have some good moments. Aiyan starts to show more humanity in the way he deals with some old comrades. The journey may be long, but most of the story doesn’t take place on the ship.

Overall this was a decent followup to the first book, although I wasn’t quite as fond of it due to Kyric messing around. I rate this book Recommended.

The Amber Isle (Book of Never #1)

Title: The Amber Isle

Author: Ashley Capes

Series: The Book of Never #1

Never is searching for answers—about his mother’s refusal to name him, about the strange curse on his blood. Having recently come into possession of a map of the Amber Isles, he sets out. Unlike the other treasure hunters, he doesn’t want gold, just answers. Ancient ruins may be the only chance of a clue, when modern libraries have failed him . . .

This was good, although it was lighter than I liked on character development. It’s mostly how Never gets to the island and then navigates through the ruins depicted on his map. The end doesn’t tie anything up conclusively, so it’s on future books to push the adventure forward.

I liked Never as a character. He’s a bit snarky, but also clearly desperate. He can’t just accept the mysteries in his life. Given how hard it is for him to avoid accidentally killing people, though, it’s not hard to see why. And the curse backfires on him in some ways, besides the obvious.

The problem for me, though, is that this is such a small fragment of the adventure. The action is nice but it would’ve been good to get either character growth or some solid answers and not just teases. It was a nice read but I finished feeling ambivalent about continuing.

Given the shorter length, I would recommend reading this as part of a collection with the first couple of books. That way it won’t feel like it ends when it’s just getting started. I rate this book Neutral.

Katsugeki Touken Ranbu (Anime)

Title: Katsugeki Touken Ranbu
Episodes: 1-13 (complete)

Members of the Time Retrograde Army are out to disrupt Japan’s history. Standing against them are the famous weapons of Japan given human form. These warriors are sent back in time to preserve history, whatever the cost.

To be honest, the plot for this is a complete joke. The TRA only exists to give the pretty-boy swordsmen some generic zombie enemies to beat up at various points in Japan’s history. There’s some information about a few historical events, and the famous blades involved, but the main draw of the series is to watch nicely-designed characters having awesome-looking fights.

On that front, it succeeds pretty well. The majority of the story follows a newly-formed Second Unit (with a brief detour to the First Unit), and how the team starts to come together. The blades tend to take on some of the personalities of the masters they spent so much time with, which can cause some tension when we have Shinsengumi blades and Imperialist blades on the same team. But the blades are supposed to be beyond whatever old life they had in favor of wiping out the TRA. Unfortunately those emotions can linger and make life harder.

The strongest part of the story happens when three of those blades run across their former master. For one, it’s a mostly happy event—the mission and his desire to protect his master line up. For the other two, it’s not as happy. They know his death is coming, and it won’t be pretty, but preventing it will change the history they’ve been charged to protect.

Visually it’s a pretty series. Character designs for the blades range from traditional Japanese clothing to more modern clothes, which makes it kind of funny nobody in the historical times seems to notice. The action scenes are typically animated well. One of my favorite characters uses a spear. It’s nice to see spear-users get more representation, as their fighting style differs a lot from a sword.

Overall this is mostly something to watch for the eye candy. If you don’t like the designs or the prospect of a disappointing plot, then this is an easy pass. I enjoyed it well enough, but there wasn’t any sense of urgency about finishing it (I started this back when it was first airing, got distracted, and only now finished). I rate this Neutral.

The Ancient Magus’ Bride (Anime)

Title: The Ancient Magus’ Bride
Episodes: 13-24

Chise is growing used to life with Elias, the inhuman mage who bought her for her unique gifts. But the magical world they inhabit is full of both strangeness and danger, and Chise often stumbles into both.

This is more of an update to my original review, as not much about the overall situation has changed. We get a few more small stories about things Chise gets into, whether by accident or on purpose, and then a longer final arc where almost everyone we’ve met bands together to try to rescue two kidnapped dragons.

One of the big weak points of the series as a whole is that the sense of danger to Chise lessens as time goes on because she manages to get herself nearly killed on a very regular basis. The dragon arc is the only one that left her with some ongoing consequences, and even that kind of feels hard to care because it’s hard to tell the difference between “killing you faster” and stuff that’s already been going on. She never did have long to live, but the show was always vague about exactly how long she would have left, so after a while I stopped caring much about her life being in danger. (Besides, she’s the main character. It’s pretty much a given she’ll survive until the final episode, at least.)

On the plus side, the magical world on display still has a number of really neat things. Whether it’s a fox skin that allows Chise to shapeshift or finally visiting the land of Faerie, almost every episode was still introducing new wrinkles of powers, places, or people. My personal favorite was really just a footnote–Shannon’s husband is a dog-centaur who used to be human but was taken to live in Faerie and ended up that way. Not only do I find nontraditional centaur forms really awesome, the fact that he was formerly human makes it all better. And he’s all puppy-friendly about meeting new people and really upset that she’d spent three whole days away from him. I really hope he comes back at some point because I could totally watch an entire episode following his antics.

The ending feels a bit rushed, as a lot of plot points come up and get dealt with in the last few episodes, and the last episode was just odd. It tried to tie things up while not closing off anything the manga might do in the future, but I’m not sure the final bits of imagery really fit the mood of the two up until that point. They’re going to work through their first real fight like that?

Overall, if you liked the first half, you might as well finish it out. There’s still some really beautiful scenery, and some neat magic, but the latter half of the series isn’t as strong as the first. I rate this show Recommended.