Tag Archives: highly recommended

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).

<blockquote>
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.
</blockquote>

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.

<blockquote>
“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.”
</blockquote>

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.

Threshold short story roundup

Author: Christa Kinde

Series: Threshold

Due to the shorter length of most of these, I’m lumping all the reviews together. Several of these are currently free to read on Amazon and/or the author’s website. I tried to put them in roughly chronological order, but several of them have overlapping time periods.

Tried and True

Taweel is a Guardian who lost his charge to the plague that devastated Egypt, killing all the firstborn. Grief casts him away from his fellow Guardians, away from any purpose or healing. But the Weavers who shelter him slowly become friends, a yahavim has taken a personal interest, and two young Guardians may break through his sorrow . . .

I dislike the 100-word-chapter format, as every fragment feels far too short, and I would rather have fewer chapters but more length so that the longer scenes don’t keep getting interrupted by breaks. That said, the story itself is good. Guardians prepare and train and devote themselves to a charge, so when Taweel loses his, he’s unable to see a future for himself. He doesn’t INTEND to Fall, but he can’t forget.

This one is also available to read for free on the author’s website (mostly; if you want the epilogue then get the paid version). Recommended.

Angels on Guard

Tamaes has taken his mentor’s lessons to heart, except for the most important one: allowing himself to care for the little girl under his watchcare. But his concern for his own faithfulness could lead to the very outcome he’s trying to prevent . . .

This is a good story, but won’t make much sense without the context of Tried and True. Tameas’s reluctance is entirely based on Adin’s taunts to him about loving his charge too much (and Adin’s Fall happening in part because his charge died). So Tameas is determined not to repeat the mistake.

This is also the story behind Prissie’s lifelong fear of heights, and snippets of it were in the main Threshold series. I liked this fuller treatment, and getting to see exactly what was going on behind the scenes. (Although I would have also loved to let it go a little further to see Tames awkwardly working his way into the role he should’ve had from the beginning. But I can also reread the later interactions he has with her in the books for something similar.) Recommended, but be sure to read Tried and True (and probably the Threshold main novels) first.

Rough and Tumble

Ethan is a Guardian in training, but his Sending comes well before he feels ready for it. Still, he goes eagerly to his charge: Zeke Pomeroy.

This is another 100-word-chapter one, and again, I’m not too fond of the format, but the story is amusing. Zeke Pomeroy was born wild, and for all that Ethan loves him, he really struggles to keep up. Although this is another story about Guardians, Ethan has a much different perspective on the role than Tameas (I also thought it was cute how Jude’s Guardian has a lot in common with Jude). Recommended.

Angels All Around

Milo is excited to begin his time as a Graft, an angel who lives a human life among humans (at least, when he isn’t called on to resume angelic duties). But the Messenger’s plans fall apart as soon as he walks out the front door. . .

This is another one that tells an event from the main Threshold novels from the perspective of the angels instead of Prissie. In this case, it’s the incident where Milo and Prissie first met in the gazebo in the middle of town. It’s funny to see Milo’s take on the whole thing, because there’s a battle going on all around that he has to pretend he can’t see, and Prissie isn’t at all what he expected. This story is also free. Recommended.

Angel on High

Among the stars, a new angel comes into being. Koji is full of questions, eager to learn and understand. But not all new knowledge is pleasant . . .

This is my favorite of the shorter works (so far, at least). Not only does this story touch on the very beginnings of an angel’s life, the angel in question is Koji, who can’t help trying to figure everything out. Some of his questions go deep, and some are just funny.

The end of this overlaps with the beginning of The Blue Door, retelling his original encounter with Prissie from his point of view. Prissie was annoyed to find a possible trespasser, but Koji is panicking because he never expected to end up interacting with humans, and has no idea what he should do.

I wish this had been novel-length, because it felt like it ended way too fast, but what’s here is sweet and hilarious. Highly Recommended.

Angels in Harmony

This is basically a two-part short story. The first half covers how Baird and Kester first met, and the second half takes place shortly before Christmas and covers a holiday challenge between the two Worshipers (and actually fills in a missing piece from the Threshold novels, mainly, what Prissie ended up giving all her angelic friends for Christmas).

Like all the shorter pieces, this was a good look into the more personal side of some of the angels. Baird’s mostly enthusiastic in the novels, but here we see another side of him: someone whose mood can swing down almost as far as it goes up (Kester, in contrast, is extremely steady). Between Ephron’s capture and some of the hazards of life on earth, Baird can’t always maintain a smile. Kester, in contrast, is longing for a chance to be a mentor himself, but he takes his current apprenticeship with good grace, and aims to support Baird as best he can.

The second half can be a bit jerky due to the quick transitions, but all in all this is still a really fun piece. Currently this one is also free. Recommended.

The Garden Gate (Threshold #4)

Title: The Garden Gate

Author: Christa Kinde

Series: Threshold #4

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The angelic battle Prissie alone could see tore up her bedroom, her family’s orchard, and her father’s bakery. It destroyed much of what she treasured about her home—and to make matters even worse, although Ephron was finally rescued, her own Guardian, Tamaes, was captured. How can she move forward? How can she trust? But Prissie isn’t facing anything alone. . .

This was just the perfect cap to an already amazing series. Not much worked out how I expected, but there were plenty of surprises and laughs along the way. Beau, Prissie’s brother, is now in on the secret (at least some of it). I thought this would be a bigger thing, was surprised it wasn’t, and then realized that fits perfectly with the kind of story this has always been. Angels are here. It isn’t some big flashy fire-and-lightning, prophecies-from-heaven event, but something that fits so well into the ordinary everyday that it’s hard to draw a line between the natural and the supernatural.

That’s not to say there aren’t battles aplenty. Tamaes is suffering. Adin is scheming. More is happening in heaven and on earth than Prissie has eyes to see.

[Beau said] “Running is . . . not my gift . . . gimme books, Lord . . . keyboard . . . comfy chair . . . and an angel on my fridge. Any day of the week.”

But the heart of this book is the relationships. I was very surprised at how things ended up with Prissie’s former friends . . . they all moved on. Separately. The same way they’ve been drifting apart for the last three books. Even though Prissie could wish it were otherwise, no miraculous change of heart occurs, and the rift between them by now feels rather final. Perhaps one day it will turn around again, but that was not this book.

In their place, she has a growing friendship (despite her best efforts, and because of his) with Ransom. Ransom feels like the real hero of these stories, to me. He’s been far better to her than she deserves, and his persistence finally bears fruit.

There it was. Prissie dared to ask, “Are you lonely?”
“Nope. I’ve got friends.” Ransom took the topmost box of leftovers from the stack Prissie carried and peeked under the lid. “There’s still an opening if you’re interested.”

And of course, Ransom provides so many laughs.

“They say this is a dream, and I’ll forget everything in the morning.” Ransom edged closer to her. “Never had a dream that came with a disclaimer before. Should I be worried?”

(What happens after this had me laughing until I cried. . . Ransom decides to go for broke because he won’t remember any of it anyway, so why should he care?)

And I grew to like Marcus more and more over the series, but here he’s just perfect. I love how his character develops from barely-talking tough guy that Prissie writes off as bad news to someone she trusts with her life.

“This round, I’m demoted to hand-holder.” Without a trace of irritation, he admitted, “There’s a decent chance I’ll be hiding behind you. But it sounds better to say I’ve got your back.”

I’m so glad we finally get to see Ephron, and that he’s finally in a place where he can recover. I liked Prissie’s conflicted emotions around him. It was her prayer that helped set him free, and it was a prayer she put off making for a long time. Yet how the angels deal with the situation and how Prissie deals with it are totally different. She has a lot of trouble with him because of her own guilt, and because she’s not comfortable being confronted with real suffering and its aftermath.

And Koji has been a faithful friend, but as the year turns, his time with her family is coming to an end. The anticipation of loss is something both of them have a hard time bearing. I really liked how that played out too.

One final quote, because this is totally me too and made me laugh:

“Which do you think—a whole bagful of cheap chocolate, or a little box of the good stuff?”
Prissie shook her head. “Depends on if you’re asking me or Neil. I prefer quality over quantity.”
“Don’t underestimate Neil. He just prefers quality in quantity.”

All in all, these are delightful books. I read this one twice in quick succession because I happened to discover a couple of free short stories on the author’s website, and a few of them give so much context to certain characters that I just had to read this again to catch some of the deeper implications of certain scenes. Highly, highly recommended.

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.

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.

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.