Tag Archives: horror

The Legend of the Legendary Heroes (Anime)

Title: The Legend of the Legendary Heroes
Episodes: 1-24 (complete)

Content warning: somewhat graphic violence and lots of blood. Lots of people die fairly messy deaths.

Ryner Lutes bears an Alpha Stigma—the ability to analyze and create any magic he sees anyone else using. But it’s a curse more than an ability, as Alpha Stigma bearers are taboo, and hunted down, because their abilities can go out of control and cause massive destruction. Still, there are those who want to make use of that gift . . .

Sion was an orphan who attended the same military academy as Ryner, and got to know him that way. The son of a noble and a commoner, Sion was a nobody—until he takes the throne. Now a king devoted to creating a peaceful, ideal country (and drowning in paperwork), he’s confronted with a scheming nobility, dangers from other countries, and resistance from every side for the changes he wants to implement. Ryner once offhandedly proposed using the ancient Hero Relics to create this ideal world, and Sion intends to do just that. And he knows exactly who he’ll send after these dangerous artifacts . . .

I’m glad I was warned going in that this would be somewhat terrible, so I had a chance to be pleasantly surprised at how much I did enjoy the good parts.

Sion and Ryner have almost completely separate stories for much of the show. Whereas Ryner is wandering around, theoretically hunting down ancient powerful artifacts that he never quite seems to find, Sion is struggling to build a better kingdom out of the wreckage left to him by all the previous kings. That said, the two of them are foils to each other.

Ryner initially starts stuck in emotional deadness (which manifests as his desire to sleep his life away), which stems from tragedy and the tendency of people to turn on him once they see him for who he truly is. I really like the fact that his powers are only ever partially under his control. When they are, he can be an excellent mage. When they aren’t, he’s an even better mage—and everything living that’s anywhere near him is doomed. But gradually, as he finds allies who see him at his worst and stand by his side, as he allows others to see the darkness inside of him, he starts moving out of that despair. He starts valuing life again. He starts believing in the dream he rejected out of hand the first time Sion offered it to him.

Sion, alternatively, is too good for his current position. He thought being king would allow him to fix problems. He hadn’t accounted for the fact that even though he’s king, he’s got to rely on other people for much of his power. And others are taking advantage of that, from the shadowy Lucille, who put him on the throne (and constantly reminds him can take him off of it), to the amoral Milan Frouard, who offers to perform those little dirty errands sometimes necessary for the smooth running of a kingdom. The nobles still think commoners are little better than dogs, and plot rebellions and assassinations in an attempt to wrest power back. For Sion, confronted with the harsh realities of leadership, it comes down to a choice between protecting Ryner or protecting his country—and he chooses his country. (And I don’t think that was the wrong choice, either.) That led to some of the best drama the show has to offer. Whereas Ryner is walking from darkness to light, Sion is gradually sinking from his bright idealism into a cold horror of what will be required of him to build and maintain the dreams he holds so tightly.

But although those stories are the strongest parts, and something I would very much rewatch, the series is also plagued by a few things that are supremely irritating.

I didn’t like Ferris at all. If the running gag was just that she would excessively beat up Ryner for being lazy all the time, I would dislike it but ignore it. However, in addition to that, she outright lies about him being a womanizer and a pervert, and tells those lies to everyone they meet in an often successful attempt to make everyone else hate Ryner too. There’s a scene where she says, “Aren’t I… your friend?” And my answer is a pretty resounding “No, friends don’t treat friends like that.” Actually, the show was very good about the lack of fanservice or typical perv behavior, which makes her constant accusations even more grating, as no one, least of all Ryner, is actually doing that stuff.

Also, she’s basically a two-note character throughout: her dango obsession and beating up Ryner is 99% what she’s doing whenever she’s on screen. That really should’ve been trimmed back in favor of giving her more of a personality or some actual character development.

Then there’s the grade-school-looking Milk Callaud (yes, that unfortunately really is her name), who is head of a team that hunts down people with Alpha Stigmas to kill them. There is an excessive amount of screen time devoted to her, her crush on Ryner, and her squad, and most of it does very little for the plot. She’s not important to the plot. She’s barely even comedy relief. The story either should’ve done something more meaningful with her or made her squad much less important. I would’ve rather devoted half her time to developing the other taboo bearers, like Tiir and his companions, who show up too close to the end to get any decent plot.

The ending is the biggest letdown. We leave off a war that’s just getting started, a lot of dangling plot threads with Tiir, a few hints as to what Ryner really is but with little to tell us why that’s so important (the legend almost makes it more confusing as to what they want him for), etc. And the scene shifting in the final episode left me really confused—there’s one part where Ryner is in a fight for his life, and then suddenly he’s doing office work with Sion. Was that a dream? If so, was it Sion’s dream, or Ryner’s? And why just drop it in like that, so it’s impossible to tell if it’s a dream or a memory or something going on right now?

Overall, I’m actually interested enough to see if I can track down fan translations of the source novels (I don’t believe they were officially translated, but if someone can prove me wrong I’d buy the real versions instead). There is some good stuff that carries the show, and I’d like to see how it works out, mostly related to Ryner’s unusual powers, the other taboo bearers, the war, and Sion. I can’t in good conscience recommend something with this much of a non-ending, but I do feel that the strong material is good enough that I’d watch it again. I rate this series Neutral.

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Epitaphs (Echoverse #2)

Title: Epitaphs

Author: TherinĀ  Knite

Series: Echoverse #2

Adem’s switched jobs to the EDPA, but in some respects, the new job isn’t any better than the old one. His new boss treats him like crap. He’s stuck in endless newbie training hell. And then a college student who died an impossible death crops up, and life is about to get interesting again . . .

I think the reason these books are so amazing is the depth of all the characters involved. Adem and Jin have a complex relationship—which I was glad to see was clarified as being really tight friends, bound by tragedy (although we still don’t have the full story behind Jericho). Unhealthy, perhaps, in that either one of them is willing to do just about anything for the other. And Jin gets some really good moments this book. Some really funny ones too.

I also really liked the reveals about Dynara, which cleared up some practical questions from last book, and continues building the mystery of who she is beneath all the masks she wears.

And I definitely appreciated Adem being taken down a peg. His arrogance was often grating for me in the previous book, as I really dislike those kinds of characters. In this one his pride is getting ground down, both from his own mistakes and from Dynara no longer treating him like he’s special.

For all that, the story still mostly focuses on a single crime and the bigger conspiracies radiating out from it. Like the first book, the murder is not all it appears to be. Gaining some answers only leads to more questions. The whirlwind pacing means the story never drags, and because dreams are involved, the abilities on display are like magic. And the humor keeps the horror aspect in check, because even though this can get pretty dark, it can also get really funny.

Given the way this ended, I cannot wait for a sequel. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

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.

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.