Tag Archives: horror

Discern (Mosaic Chronicles #1)

Title: Discern

Author: Andrea Pearson

Series: Mosaic Chronicles #1

Nicole is settling in her freshman year of college at Katon University. Despite an exemplary high school life, she’s nervous: this is a university for Aretes, those with magic, and although she’s supposedly capable, she hasn’t yet been able to call any magic. But college life throws even more surprises than she expected. Her dorm room is haunted by spiders. A magical book is determined to follow her around. And an expedition is coming up which offers both opportunity and danger . . .

This wasn’t terrible, but it has a lot of really bizarre logic near the end to make the plot work that backfired for me.

The characters were generally good. Nicole comes from a very wealthy background, but her attempts to remain independent of her controlling parents means she’s trying to get through things without them. I actually wish this had gotten a little more focus, particularly when she has to deal with her mom directly. I didn’t see the emotional upheaval I expected (having seen this play out in real life) from having to confront someone who’s trying her hardest to undercut Nicole’s independence. Because despite how much she might hate her family, that’s still a lot of baggage to overcome, and could have provided a bit more depth to the plot.

On the other hand, her struggles with finding out how to release her own power were well-drawn. Only fourth children have magic in this universe (I guess seven was stretching credibility), and although the world appears to be exactly like ours the magic is well known and generally accepted. I do wish the small hints about its origin had gotten a bit more explanation. Magic on the whole appears to be a hard career, as users are limited both by ability and by how much they train and study. Nichole has the studying side down, because that’s the only variable she feels she can control.

I don’t care for romances in general, so I skimmed the parts where Nicole is noticing the hot prodigy who refuses to talk to her. That plays out pretty much how you might expect, from the initial frustration to the growing attraction to admitting that they actually are interested. I would have preferred more of getting to know him instead of mostly being shown he’s hot and super powerful, but at least there were a few scenes that dug in, and since this is a series I expect he’ll have time to develop. I did find it odd when he revealed the big secret that it was so brutal, and he was so calm talking about it. It doesn’t really seem like he’s over it, and either way he should’ve had a bigger reaction to some of what they found at the excavation because of it.

Now for the bizarre logic. Everything up through the start of the expedition made at least plausible sense. Then we get to the “remote” expedition that’s still close enough to a town for one member to spend the night in a hotel and the days on site. So the problem is, when people start finding bodies brutally murdered, WHY IS EVERYONE DETERMINED TO STAY IN TENTS ON SITE? Tents. TENTS. And then things escalate and they’re STILL staying in tents and wringing their hands about the tragedy.

This is the point, by the way, that I’ve long since stopped being nervous about anyone and am instead laughing as each new gruesome discovery is unearthed. The police are notified about the dead body, but it isn’t being treated as a crime scene at all (no one is telling the group to evacuate until way too late). There’s a scene at the end where Nicole is expecting the authorities to arrive with backup, but she and very few others decide it’s a better idea to go after the murderers by themselves, down tunnels that the enemy knows far better than they do . . .

I actually might keep reading this series purely for the comedy value. Which is sad because the story was going for a horror vibe and ended up feeling like a campy horror B movie instead. The small details worked a lot better when it was just ordinary college life stuff, and not an archeology expedition that by the way has terrible, terrible practices (just pick up any ancient magical artifacts and bring them to us for evaluation! No need to worry about possibly live curses or keeping the site documented for actual archeologists!).

Overall this was a decent effort, but would have been better served if the expedition had either never taken place or had been completely overhauled. I rate this book Neutral.

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Attack on Titan s2 (Anime)

Title: Attack on Titan
Episodes: 26-37 (season 2)

Annie has been captured, but her existence has brought up huge questions. While the Scouts investigate what it will take to reclaim the land they lost between the walls, a new, beastly Titan emerges.

I’m not the biggest Attack on Titan fan (which is why it took so long to get through season 2), but this second season did a lot to address some of the problems I had with the first. Secondary characters, such as Connie, Jean, Ymir, Christa, etc, all got a chance to get a lot more fleshed out. Some of the origin of the Titans is revealed. On the other hand, the larger picture is unfolding very slowly, with only tiny glimpses here and there hinting at the unknown forces in play within the walls and without. We still haven’t reached the basement, there’s not really any new information about Eren’s father, etc.

One thing that’s still true is that a lot of characters show up only to die pretty quickly, so it’s hard to get invested in anyone in particular, because there’s pretty good odds they’ll die within an episode or two. But with more of a “core” cast now, that feels like less of a concern than it did in the first season.

I liked that this season did more to deconstruct Eren’s uniqueness, while at the same time highlighting him (especially the last episode). In other words, it was nice to see the various Titans all have their little quirks—Annie’s ability to make that unbreakable shield came up last time, but we see other abilities from other Titans. And it solves one of the early mysteries in an offhanded fashion that then provides the conflict for the back half of the season.

As always, the action is intense, the animation is strong, and the horror elements are well done. I do like how the series consistently shows people pushed past their limits by the terror and pain they’re facing, and who break under that pressure. I’m still not a fan of the ugly naked Titans, but at least there’s plenty of zooming around with the ODM. The last episode had some particularly good shots of near-flying battle sequences. Recommended, but you’ll want to see the first season first as this one relies heavily on everything that happened before.

 

The Forever Court (Knights of the Borrowed Dark #2)

Title: The Forever Court

Author: Dave Rudden

Series: Knights of the Borrowed Dark #2

Uriel Croit has spent his entire life waiting for the Redemptress to awaken. The Croits train and prepare for the War that will come when they will take over the world. But when Uriel’s fondest dreams are realized, he finds the world isn’t as simple as he thought . . .

Denizen Hardwick is in training to become a Knight who kills the Tenebrous who invade the world from some outer dimension. Too bad he’s absolutely fascinated by Mercy, the Tenebrous he saved, the Tenebrous who granted him knowledge of ALL of the Cants the Knights use to control their magic. And when a message comes from the Tenebrous asking for Denizen by name, no one knows what to think. Could peace even be possible, or is this some elaborate scheme? And even if it is a genuine offer from the Tenebrae, will the Knights risk it, or try to sabotage it themselves?

I adored the first book, and was happy to find this one was just as good. Uriel’s sections are important, but Uriel isn’t as funny as Denizen, so I tended to prefer Denizen’s commentary about basically everything.

Like the first, this has a good dose of horror, humor, and fantasy. Denizen is exploring his first crush—and amusingly enough it’s Mercy. Which gets him into no end of trouble with everyone.

We will see each other again, Denizen Hardwick.

Denizen had assumed that was the kind of thing magical glowing girls said all the time, to promote an air of mystery. He hadn’t realized it was something she was going to go and organize.

And:

He’d read enough fantasy books to know that diplomacy didn’t mean honesty and conversation. It meant fancy dinners, watching betrayal flash behind people’s eyes, and not trusting Grand Viziers.

Naturally, the situation is way more complicated than anyone realizes. I liked the rough relationship between Denizen and his newly-discovered mother. He thought of himself as an orphan for so long he’s not sure what to do with family. And honestly, he almost feels like an orphan still, because the way Vivian runs the Sanctuary is more like a barracks and less like a home. He’s much more a novice Knight to her than her son.

It was an occupational hazard of being a bookworm. You stopped thinking in terms of reality and started thinking of nick-of-time rescues and the power of a dramatic speech. It couldn’t be over because it shouldn’t be over.

And I liked how Denizen is an absolute wildcard in this whole mess. His knowledge of the Cants makes him extremely dangerous—but he doesn’t have the training to use them properly, or the physical ability to back them up. Cants are supposed to be a last resort, because of the Cost. He’s the only one who believes Mercy is telling the truth and that peace between the Knights and the Tenebrous is even possible. But is he right about her heart, or have those older and wiser Knights who see only monsters spotted something he missed? Just because a happy ending would be a nice story doesn’t mean it’s actually the truth.

Overall, I was thrilled to finally get a copy of this in my hands, and I can’t wait for the next installment. I really need to start a quote file to save off my favorites—the above are only about half the places that had me laughing so hard I had to put the book down. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

More quotes because I can and I want to remember these:

Mercy gave a passable approximation of Frown No. 12—Here Is Some Sympathy I Am Not Sure You Deserve.

And:

Jack shrugged. “There’s no point to revenge. You either don’t get it, in which case the want grows until it collapses your world around you, or you do get it. And then you have it. Great. Show me something you can build from revenge that you can’t build from acceptance.”

And:

I want a form, Denizen thought. I want everyone to have a form, and you have to fill out your intentions and list why you’re doing what you’re doing. And you’re not allowed to lie.

And:

He’d feel like a right idiot if all this was happening and he died from smoke inhalation.

And:

Denizen didn’t think he was claustrophobic, though he had avoided small spaces up until now precisely because he didn’t want to find out. He had the sneaking suspicion he was home to a whole plethora of phobias he hadn’t discovered, simply because he hadn’t been exposed to them yet.

And:

She gave Denizen a half-smile. “Hardwicks aren’t great with emotion. We’re our own worst enemies, really.” She paused. “Which, considering our vocation, is actually rather impressive.”

Aster Wood and the Book of Leveling (Aster Wood #2)

Title: Aster Wood and the Book of Leveling

Author: J. B. Cantwell

Series: Aster Wood #2

Aster Wood’s quest to find the great wizard Almara—and a way to save Earth—has stalled out. He and Jade are heading to her home because neither of them can think of anything else. Hopefully Almara has left a clue of some kind. But what they find is both more and less than what they hoped . . .

This is a more internal book than the previous. There’s still a fair amount of death-defying escapades, but there’s a lot more reflection and internal struggle. Because this time around, Aster’s confronted with madness that reduces people to shells of their former selves. Worse than the madness is what causes it.

With such a heavy revelation changing the stakes of his adventure, Aster feels underpowered, so I’m hoping an upgrade for his power or equipment comes sooner rather than later. He’s not particularly good at being clever, though he makes the right calls when it counts. I was disappointed that the titular book seems to be merely notes (even if he really needs those notes), but perhaps hidden depths will surface later.

It’s also interesting that Aster is the only person who seems to be wondering what’s behind the villain’s motivations. There’s plenty enough to suggest “he’s just evil” would work fine, but Aster isn’t so convinced. Right now, though, there’s no way to dig into the whys.

I hope Erod shows up again. He and his people would make interesting allies (or bad enemies). I like how solid most of the secondary characters are in these books, even if the nature of the world-hopping plot has many of them leaving as fast as they show up.

Overall, this isn’t a bad continuation, but certainly darker than the previous. I will likely read the rest of the series soon, but I needed to take a bit of a break after reading this for something a bit lighter. I rate this book Recommended.

Knights of the Borrowed Dark (Knights of the Borrowed Dark #1)

Title: Knights of the Borrowed Dark

Author: Dave Rudden

Series: Knights of the Borrowed Dark #1

Denizen Hardwick is an orphan. Unlike the stories, he’s not expecting a grand destiny or secret power to claim him. He knows where he is, who he is, and what his future is likely to hold. Then an aunt he never suspected he had shows up to claim him—and he encounters creatures of a darkness beyond this world who would destroy him . . .

This was fun on so many levels.

First, it’s incredibly self-aware of the various genre tropes that tend to crop up in books like these, and there are often little winks skewering concepts even while embracing some of them. Orphaned children discovering secret societies and great power—where have we heard that before? Right. But the fact that the story knows well enough where it’s going, and where others have gone, to poke fun at things lends an air of amusement to the whole thing. Even when it’s uncovering the fact that most of the secret world is really nasty and populated with extremely competent and deadly people who exist to stamp out the really nasty bits.

“Right,” Denizen said. “I thought this place was actually haunted or something.”
“Oh, not at all,” Darcie said brightly. “It’s just in constant danger of falling into the dark end of the universe.”
She frowned. “That’s not better, is it?”

Or bits like:

Three. Three near-death experiences. Was that a lot? How did they ever get anything done?

The horror and the humor work really well together. I can’t really read horror unless it’s screamingly funny, because something about the darkness sharpens the jokes. I loved the Tenebrae and the various bits of it that Denizen encounters. I loved the power and the Cost, and the deeper implications of it may be unstated for now but like Denizen is warned early on, there’s clearly a limit to what they can do.

“Rescue you,” Denizen said again in the same annoyed tone. “I’m here to save you from the Clockwork Three. Not”—he kicked some files out of the way—“that I’m expecting a thank-you or anything. With the kind of day I’ve been having, I expect you’ll try to kill me when I free you. Everyone else has. It won’t even be difficult. I’ve had about”—he half slid down another drift of folders, barely catching himself from pitching headlong into the circle—“ten minutes’ training since this whole debacle started.”


And the characters are so good. I liked Simon a lot, and how he proves so unexpectedly resourceful. I like his friendship with Denizen and how the two of them compliment each other. I loved Denizen’s caution, skepticism, sarcasm, and attachment to having things familiar and predictable. All of the Order that he meets is awesome in his or her own way.

It’s also well-written at a sentence level. The language is often playful, often beautiful. But the book isn’t so in love with turning a phrase that it doesn’t read swiftly. I chewed through it in one day but I think I’m going to read it again, to better appreciate the little details.

Overall this was a lot of fun, and I’m very much looking forward to the next book in the series. I can’t wait to see how Denizen’s last choices change things going forward, and what happens with certain other characters I liked quite a bit. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

The Bloody Valkyrie (Overlord #3)

Title: The Bloody Valkyrie

Author: Kugane Maruyama

Series: Overlord #3

Shalltear has rebelled? Backing up a bit, this book begins a little bit before The Dark Warrior ended, after Shalltear left Nazarick along with Sebas and Solution. Their plan is to learn more about the martial and magical artes of this world by finding strong warriors—preferably criminals whose deaths or disappearances won’t be noticed. But a chance encounter causes everything to go wrong, and Shalltear is now under a mind-control her undead status should have protected against. Ainz is furious, but also cautious, and heads out himself to stop her . . .

It says a lot about this series that the first serious threat Ainz faces is his own NPC-turned-rogue. That said, Shalltear is an NPC more or less built to attack players similar to Ainz, so he’s got a fair number of disadvantages going into the fight. Furthermore, Ainz’s paranoia about considering this a deliberate attack, and therefore possibly a trap, causes him to forgo some of the easier ways he could tackle the fight, because he’s too concerned about ambushes and the possibility of his god-tier gear ending up in the hands of enemies to properly equip.

The heart of the novel is this fight. The book does contain one significant scene with Albedo’s sister that the anime cut, but otherwise everything is by and large the same. I do like the smaller additional details, though. Sebas’s alternate form gets mentioned, and now I REALLY want to see him use it. I also like the explanations of game mechanics behind things like Ainz’s skill The Goal of All Life is Death. It feels better that he has so many huge abilities when there’s more context about how hard he had to work to get there (and, amusingly enough, that skill in particular was more of an accidental Easter egg, but still the result of fully developing a particular branch of magic). And the player-versus-player explanations are fuller in the book, drawing out more of Ainz’s experiences and strategies.

I like this a little less than the previous two books, though. Partially because I’m not as fond of Shalltear, and partially because the fanservice scene near the end has Ainz sneaking a peak at what’s physically about a 14-year-old kid. Nothing described in too much detail, thankfully, but still, did we have to go there?

All in all, though, there’s far more to enjoy than not. I like this different take on fantasy, where Ainz is almost a villain by default and not because he has any particularly bad intentions, and if Shalltear does anything really well it’s bringing out his mixed feelings at having to take down someone he sees more like his child. He’s absolutely not going to leave her in the hands of an enemy, but when he can’t cure her there’s only one option left.

I do really, really hope Ainz finds the culprit, though. He’ll make Clementine look like she died peacefully.

This is the final episodes, 10-13, of the anime (at least the first season). I think both the anime and the books do a great job, but regardless which one you like better, at this point in time the only way to get more story is to keep going with the books. And it’d be a shame to stop here, when Ainz is clearly only getting started. I rate this book 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.