Tag Archives: highly recommended

Shadows (Shadows #1)

Title: Shadows

Author: Sam Blood

Series: Shadows #1

Griffin has spent most of his life trying to forget the non-human friend he had when he was little. Before the accident. Before he lost his mom and his brother turned into a stranger. But a moment of rebellion sends him straight through a portal into another world—a monstrous world where none of the occupants are humans, but they have a mysterious connection to humans. Just what is the relationship between Shadows and humans? Why do so many want to kill over it? And what will become of Griffin, who has inadvertently stepped in the middle of all of this?

This was amazing. First, I just love the concept behind the Shadow world. Every occupant is nonhuman, and they range from familiar mythological creatures like satyrs and phoenixes to more unusual creatures like the half-parrot/half-dragon Cirrus. These all come together in a civilized society very like ours, with some adjustments for things like aerial traffic. And that’s before the story even gets into what, exactly, the Shadows are and why that matters.

I like how this book handles soulmates. Too often it’s a solely romantic relationship, or one free of the most serious problems. Griffin and Cirrus have a soul-deep connection, but it’s one that freaks both of them out, and as much as they both want it at some level, they’re also running from it. Watching their friendship blossom was one of the best parts of the book.

The humor is also extremely good. It felt like every few paragraphs I’d stumble over something else that cracked me up.

“I don’t want to die. And if you died, I’d probably feel like, slightly bad about that too.”

And:

“That was awesome! I thought you were as uncoordinated as I am.”
“Lots of laser force practice. You know, a shooting game back home.”
“You played this with your friends?”
“I was a bit of a loner. I just turned up and shot strangers.”
“This explains so much,” Cirrus says.

I seriously need to reread this and pull all my favorite quotes.

The characters are another strong point. Griffin is an interesting choice of protagonist, because he’s not a hero. He sort of wants to be. He deludes himself into thinking he will be. But in the end, he’s a single person contributing to both sides of a conflict that’s much bigger than himself, and his decisions, good and bad, hurt both sides. In other words, he’s a normal kid in way over his head.

Cirrus, of course, is just awesome. Awkward teenage boy, even if he is a different species. I love his snarky conversations with Griffin, and the way he’s struggling to handle his own heart. He wants his best friend back, but what happened ten years ago impacted more than just Griffin, and now Cirrus is unsure how to approach Griffin.

Hanna is another interesting addition. She’s lust at first sight for Griffin, but even he has to admit she’s got some issues that could seriously complicate their relationship.

“My Mum used to tell me something,” Cirrus says grimly. “She said be careful when trying to put a broken person back together, in case you cut yourself on the pieces.”

Which is why I liked how it worked out in the end.

Overall this was a lot of fun, and I’ve already bought the sequel. Highly Recommended.

(And one more quote, which contains small spoilers)

“Oh, and for the record: high-jacking the laboratory filled with my life’s work and trying to crash it into my place of residence: not appreciated.”

Advertisements

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.

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime #5 (Light Novel)

Title: That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime #5

Author: Fuse

Format: Light Novel

Rimuru is off on his tour of the surrounding nations, so Benimaru and the other residents of Tempest are doing their best to run everything like normal. Only there are various plots afoot, and without Rimuru, Tempest is poorly equipped to manage them . . .

It’s really hard to summarize this without spoiling some of the best twists. This book covers some of my favorite material in the overall story.

The prologue alone sets out the more ambitious scope of this book: the Beast Kingdom allied with Tempest is under attack . . . by Milim? But explanations will have to wait for much later.

Mjurren, a magicborn working to carry out some of those plans, gets a lot of focus. I actually like the love triangle that unfolds around her because it’s so silly—one of her would-be suitors is determined to win by waiting for the other one to age to death. For her part, she views Yohm and his comrades more like a babysitting job, where she’s the only adult in the room.

And I love watching Rimuru break down and go more than a little crazy when he finds out what happened when he was gone. It’s all the little things he does that betrays his raging heart. And then he decides he’s putting his foot down. No more pretending the world is full of nothing but people with good intentions.

Raphael is another favorite. “It’s just your imagination.” The snarky little quips go almost entirely over Rimuru’s head. I love how Raphael is developing as a character, and the conflict between emotions and logic as sentience grows where no personality should even exist.

Overall this is a very solid continuation for the series, as it provides a lot of character development for everyone around Rimuru, introduces interesting new characters (and brings back one welcome old friend), and paves the way for a rather unexpected journey. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Dragon Maken War

Title: Dragon Maken War

Translator: NaughtyOtter

Chapters: 220 (Ongoing)

https://www.wuxiaworld.com/novel/dragon-maken-war

For seventeen years, humanity fought the Dragon Demons over the right to choose their own future. Azell ended that war by killing their king, but was cursed in return. In an effort to defeat the curse, or at least buy time for his friends to discover a cure, Azell chose to go into a dragon’s hibernation. But he woke much later than expected. 220 years later. Now he’s adrift in a world he barely recognizes, but the Dragon Demon King’s followers are stirring once again . . .

This was AMAZING.

For as long as it is, the story is very tightly woven. Nothing feels wasted. We begin with Azell choosing to hibernate, and when he wakes his complete disorientation to the world at large makes an excellent starting point to exploring the wider world.

I really like the sense of history in this story. The story bounces back and forth, from Azell’s original lifetime to the present, to the great figures that were only legends in Azell’s day, if they were known at all, to the consequences of the war that worked out through over 200 years. Azell might have been a hero, but that just meant his mysterious disappearance had severe consequences for the lands he was supposed to govern.

One more amusing consequence of the time gap is that Azell can’t find anyone who will believe him when he tentatively floats the idea that he’s actually THE Azell known for killing the Dragon Demon King. He has to pose as his own descendant.

The characters are very good. Azell’s struggles go much farther than his need to rebuild his body into something approaching what he had back in the day. In what was to him no more than a moment, everyone he knew was relegated to the pages of history. Some of the longer-lived races actually did survive long enough to meet him again, which is its own kind of awkward, especially when that two-century gap brought major changes in personality. But he never gets bogged down in that contemplation. Character moments are there in spades, and noted, but the focus is first and foremost on the action/adventure.

The friends and comrades Azell picks up are also well-drawn. From the arrogant princess Arietta whose attempted abduction drives much of the early plot to curiosities like Yuren, a human who betrayed the organization that tried to brainwash him and turned terrorist against them in response, everyone has their own struggles and history that drive them. Even people like Carlos, Azell’s friend from the original war, still has a significant role even though most of that is Azell’s memories, or the traces he left behind.

It also delves quite deeply into the villain side. Atein is a wonderful villain. He’s complex, having been revered as a hero before his role in the war—someone so old his ideas of morality are quite questionable by anyone else’s standards. I love his reasoning, and how Azell correctly spots that he’s turned into just the sort of being he used to suppress for being “too dangerous.” Which is Azell’s accurate evaluation of Atein. Powerful, immortal, and trying to bring about a perfect world by various means . . . and his only gaping blind spot is the fact that humanity is not perfect, or perfectable. Any problems must mean the experiment was flawed and something different will need to be tried, because this time it might work and people will live happily and peacefully.

But Atein being off screen for much of the plot means we get plenty of time with the members of the organization he left behind. Old Dragon Demons that Azell remembered, and the newer recruits from children or grandchildren or even humans enlisted to the cause. But every character brings something meaningful to the story, so that contributes to the plot feeling focused despite the length.

Another highlight is the fight scenes. As might be expected, Azell is in conflict from nearly the moment he wakes up (which, honestly, isn’t that much different from before he went to sleep). I love that Azell relies heavily on technique, tricks, and skill over power, because even when he regains much of his power he’s still barely even with many of his enemies. And these techniques work at a level I rarely see described in fiction. Azell’s fighting is heavily biased towards senses—using his own to their fullest and confusing or blocking his enemy’s. Even more intriguing to me, a battle between top-level magicians looks like basically nothing from the outside, because both of them are working on cutting off the other’s spells before they can even start. Actually needing to defend against the spell means that mage has already lost ground.

So the fights are tense, thrilling, and frequent, but rarely repetitive. It’s not unusual for things to turn completely on their head during a battle, with a massive reversal sabotaging a previously predictable or close fight. Honestly this is one of the best books I’ve read period for fight scenes. It’s also good at imbuing a lot of heart into those fights. Some fight for the love of fighting, some for petty status squabbles, some for ideals, and some of the best for the hope and trust they put in another while making the ultimate sacrifice.

Overall this is a very good book I would encourage anyone to read. The translation can be a bit rough in the beginning, but it soon smooths out, and the story is compelling from the first chapter. First thing I’m doing after finishing it is going back to read it again, because WOW. The only downside is that it isn’t finished yet, but at the rate the plot has been going, I’m optimistic that the author has already planned everything out and it’s just a matter of getting there. Highly, highly 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.

The Death Mage That Doesn’t Want a Fourth Time (Web Novel)

Title: The Death Mage That Doesn’t Want a Fourth Time

Author: Densuke

Translator: Yoshi

Chapters: 1-178 (ongoing)

Location: https://lightnovelbastion.com/project.php?p=248

Amamiya Hiroto has had a terrible life followed by a senseless death when terrorists bomb his school field trip. Then a god intercepts their souls and offers them the opportunity to be born again in another world, with powers and everything. He accepts. And the god mistakes him with another student who has nearly the same name, so Amamiya gets a second life even worse than his first since all of his powers and good luck went to someone else. All he has is a gigantic mana pool, but no ability in magic; he ends up as an experimental test subject until he dies. Now on his third life, and under curses with the intention of making him die quickly, he’s determined to live as long as possible and carve out happiness for himself.

Of course, now that he’s a Dhampir called Vandelieu in a world where most people consider Dhampirs to be monsters, he’s not going to have it easy. The only things he’s got going for him are an absurdly large mana pool, the possibility of re-acquiring his unique death-aspect magic, and the memories of his previous lives.

This was amazing. The story undoubtedly has dark moments, but it’s also packed with humor, so it’s not this grinding horror story about all the awful things Vandeleiu suffers in his various lives.

At a high level, I adore the humor. Vandeleiu is mostly like a normal lonely kid who just wants people to stop picking on him, and to make lots of friends. But he’s also going more and more insane, because he’s completely out of touch with “normal.” It’s so bad that the various races that live in the city with him all get along very well because “compared to him, we’re all normal.” His friends put up with his eccentricities. But his enemies, who don’t have the full picture and refuse to talk to him or try to see it his way, see this as signs he’s dangerous, so they push harder, which makes him do even more to protect himself.

Those other races are a high point. From the very beginning of his third life, Vandelieu finds more welcome from the monsters and the half-monster species than he does the humans (Vampires excepted, as they see Dhampirs as something to eliminate), so he’s got a very open mind towards thinking beings. So the story really digs into culture and lifestyle of various races, and Vandeleiu’s interactions with them. This is also somewhat contributing to normal humans thinking he’s insane, as the cultural standards for these races tends to differ quite a lot.

But I like that the differences are more grounded than “Ghouls sleep around a lot.” There are valid biological reasons why their culture built up that way, and when Van finds a way to address some of those biological issues, their culture starts changing as a result.

It’s also telling that for everything that he’s suffered, Amamiya/Vandelieu never completely breaks. His first life had him in an abusive home and a situation that basically never allowed him to make friends, but he still impulsively sacrifices himself to try to save a classmate who can’t even remember his name. His second life is spent deliberately crippled by the scientists who treat him as nothing more than a lab animal with a unique magic, but when he breaks free at last he only kills the researchers and guards, and frees and heals the other experimental subjects. And his third life, which begins with curses intended to make him die or commit suicide, also has a caring mother and then lots of friends who unconditionally support him and give him the strength to keep going.

The chapters where some of the other students are digging into his background are really powerful, as they’re finally realizing why he was the way he was and realizing it may not be too late to try to reason with him—but they can’t find anyone who treated him kindly enough to send to have that discussion. They’re also too paranoid to recognize that he’s only targeting people who are actively trying to kill him in the current world, so any messenger is actually likely to work as long as they aren’t hostile.

I also really like how the chapters will occasionally break away from Van to show the lingering impact of his life on Origin (the second world) or the perspective of various gods who are tangled up in this. Unexpected consequences arise, like the Eighth Guidance, a terrorist organization/cult formed from the experiment subjects he freed, who recognize that he was the only person they can trust, and have devoted themselves to carrying out what they think was his will.

There is a harem aspect to this story eventually, but this is one of the few books I’ve read where I’ve felt that aspect is well-done. Vandeleiu himself is too young to really be interested in girls, and he’s grateful to anyone who wants to be friends. In fact there’s a hilarious sequence when he meets his first Arachne (a woman with the lower body of a spider) and tells her she’s beautiful . . . because he really, really likes her biceps. Having been on the smaller, weaker side in all his lives for various reasons, Vandeleiu appreciates muscle. He completely ignores curves. (The fact that he implements a bodybuilding contest later on—for both genders, since he just likes muscle—was a lot of fun.) And all of the women so far have been people first, and potential wives second.

Speaking of beauty, though, I also like that Vandelieu himself comes off as more creepy than beautiful. His face is expressionless and he has eyes like a dead fish (it’s unclear if this is because of his race or his trauma, but indications are more on the side of trauma), waxy skin, and a small build. Combined it means many people mistake him as a doll instead of a person. And this is before he does things like use his astral body to grow extra heads because that’s the easiest way to cast dozens of spells at once. (And the insanity is probably why he doesn’t just stop at one or two extra heads—when each head can cast a spell, and you have THAT much mana, why not make a few dozen? Watching his enemies freak out is hilarious.)

Overall this is a very good read, and I hope it one day gets officially licensed so that it will be easier to support the author. Chapter 178 basically finishes off a book (minus appendices) so at least I’m at the end of the major arc while waiting for new chapters to arrive. I rate this Highly Recommended.

God of Crime

Title: God of Crime

Author: Han Yeoul

Translator: Rainbow Turtle

Status: 165 Chapters (Complete)

Link: https://www.wuxiaworld.com/novel/god-of-crime
(Please note the site is temporarily taking this novel offline, but it can likely still be read at web.archive.org)

Seo Tae-hyuk was framed for murder, convicted, spent the last ten years in prison, and is now about to die. He has no idea why, but he’s angry he never got a chance. Now that chance has come in the form of a demon. Tae-hyuk wakes up fifteen years in the past, with all the memories of his future life and an opportunity to actually become the God of Crime that people called him . . .

This was amazing. It’s mostly a crime drama, with a very tiny amount of magic that drives the entire plot. Because Tae-hyuk returns to his past self in possession of a mirror with demonic powers, a mirror that gives him the ability to acquire any and all criminal-related skills and apply them at superhuman levels.

Of course he never INTENDED to become the very thing he raged so hard against in prison.

It starts with accidentally learning a Robbery skill. From there his unintentional kleptomania expands into things like forgeries, disguises, violence, and so on. And the list. The list of criminals Seo Tae-hyuk met in prison (or heard about on the news while in prison) and the crimes they committed. He can stop them . . . but his methods decidely lean towards less legal methods.

It doesn’t take long for his moderate goals of getting his family out of debt and giving them a happy life snowball into something he might not be able to stop.

I love how it wraps up at the end. The revelations about why he had been framed, and what that murder was about fit in much better than I expected. I love how he keeps progressing into ever more ridiculous powers, but hesitates at the very last, as he finally sees in himself an emerging person he’s not sure he can live with. And then what he ultimately decides to do with his life and his abilities.

If there’s any weak point, it’s that his brother feels totally unnecessary to the plot. His sister’s ongoing development are a nice foil to the increasing darkness of Tae-hyuk’s life. And it’s fun how some of the more obvious twists are handled, like his sister falling in love with a detective who’s desperate to learn the real identity of the Phantom (who is of course Tae-hyuk).

Overall if you’ve got any interest in crime dramas crossed with a bit of fantasy, I would suggest giving this one a go. I rate this book Highly Recommended.