Tag Archives: neutral

The Steel of Raithskar (The Gandalara Cycle #1)

Title: The Steel of Raithskar

Author: Randall Garrett and Vicki Ann Heydron

Series: The Gandalara Cycle #1

Ricardo is a university professor nearing the end of his life. A terminal diagnosis has led him to take a cruise around Europe, but his planned vacation ends with the fiery impact of a meteor. But he wakes up, on another world, in another body. Another life. A second chance. But living means taking on the identity of Markasset, the former owner of that body, and Markasset had problems of his own . . .

I read this once years ago and never got around to finishing the series, so I thought I’d give it another go.

The characters can be pretty thin. Illia, Markasset’s girlfriend, is probably the worst drawn of the main cast. She’s beautiful and interested in Markasset, and that is the extent of her characterization. Zaddorn, the police chief that Ricardo inadvertently crosses, is better but still fairly straightforward: he wants to recover the stolen jewel and thinks Markasset either did it or has answers about what happened. Thanasset, Markasset’s father, has the most depth. He recognizes immediately that his son is not the same, although he’s also remarkably quick to come to terms with his son’s death.

The plot is a bit better. Ricardo tries to analyze the new world in which he finds himself, piecing together what clues he notices to try to figure out who he is supposed to be, and later on, what happened to the jewel that was stolen. He can’t even say with any certainty that the body he wears now DIDN’T do it. And I liked that although Zaddorn is an antagonist, Ricardo has a great deal of sympathy for the man, as he’s only trying to do his job.

I also liked Keeshah, the gigantic cat that Markasset had bonded. In this dry, desert world, the cats are used as mounts by those who have bonded them (everyone else goes on foot). It’s a little strange to me that a meat-eater would be the largest creature in the desert, but I do like the relationship between him and Keeshah. The cat, of course, knows that Ricardo is not Markasset. But Keeshah’s trust opens a number of opportunities for Ricardo, not the least of which is the ability to get from place to place much faster than anyone else.

Overall I’m ambivalent on the series so far. I’m not particularly fond of any of the characters except Keeshah, but the plot was decent, and the book is short enough that it’s not a slog. I rate this book Neutral.

 

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The People’s Necromancer (Age of Magic #1)

Title: The People’s Necromancer

Author: Rex Jameson

Series: Age of Magic #1

Content warning: rape, incest, and violence against children

Ashton is grieving the loss of his best friend Clayton when the unthinkable happens: a hand pressing up from the dirt. Apparently his calls to Clayton to come back actually woke something up. Necromancy is only a vague legend, and Ashton has no idea why the dead respond to his call. But when tragedy strikes, his power offers the perfect opportunity to even the scales . . .

I could have done without the incest. I never liked Julian and his self-hatred doesn’t make his actions any more palatable (his sister’s even worse). Things like this are why I avoid Game of Thrones (and probably this is what prompted the comparison in the blurb.)

The other major weakness is that Ashton doesn’t actually have a method or a cost associated with his raising the dead. He can pull one person or hundreds with no effort. Speaking to them is fine, but he has no idea what in his words is actually working. Given that necromancy isn’t something just anyone can do, I would find it more believable if there was some kind of cost or ritual associated.

I did find the whole situation between Ashton and Clayton amusing. Ashton, having no idea why Clayton came back or what his now-dead friend might want with him, can only flee in terror. Which gets him into deeper trouble. And I like how this ties into the larger political situation between the two nobles, though I find their lack of willingness to be political with each other and cut a few deals a little puzzling.

Overall this was mostly entertaining, except for the incest. And it’s mostly due to that I’m not interested in pursuing this further. I rate this book Neutral.

Lioness Rampant (Song of the Lioness #4)

Title: Lioness Rampant

Author: Tamora Pierce

Series: Song of the Lioness #4

When Alanna seeks answers to the strange script on the letter she received from a dying woman, she had no idea it would point her towards a legendary treasure. The Dominion Jewel tempts her with the promise of fame and glory won by her own hand—something to prove her status as a knight. But trouble is brewing back home, and Roger’s long-laid plans are finally coming to fruition . . .

It occurs to me Alanna really fits her nickname of Lioness. She certainly behaves like a cat in heat. When last we left her, she had shifted her affections to George, but circumstances on his part and restless feet on hers pulled them apart. Now she’s met the Shang Dragon, Liam Ironarm, and pretty much immediately starts sleeping with him, even though it’s clear almost from the outset this relationship is going to be doomed. And once again, Saint George has no problems with the love of his heart sharing her bed with a different man.

Honestly, at this point George ought to find someone else. This kind of infidelity is a big red flag for a marriage (and it’s only due to the vagaries of fiction that when Alanna does finally get married—not here—she’s not cheating on her husband every time she gets bored or lonely, as she’s certainly not apologizing to George for replacing him in her affections).

I’m also still puzzled by Roger’s ultimate goals. If I’m understanding this correctly, he simply wants to tear everything down. There won’t be much of a kingdom left if he succeeds. Which makes me wonder why Alex goes along with it. The final conflict is certainly spectacular, but I can’t quiet the dissatisfaction of wondering what’s the point.

On the plus side, it’s nice to see Alanna in action again. She’s gathered a handful of new allies in her quest for the Jewel, and her traveling outside the boundaries of Tortall allows for some exploration of the wider world. I am particularly amused at her resolution to the fight with for the Dominion Jewel.

And her return to Tortall brings back characters like Raoul and Gareth, who have also grown up and taken on their own responsibilities in the years she was away. I like George’s dilemma about how far he’ll go to protect Jonathan when his code as a rogue conflicts. I like that Jonathan is stepping up to be king and struggling with the various kinds of messes his father left him.

The fight at the finale is one of the best in the series, with multiple layers and locations. And a crazy princess with an ax (even if she doesn’t last all that long against a trained opponent, I still find that probably funnier than it should be).

Overall, although I did enjoy the series well enough as a kid, as an adult it’s less easy for me to want to hand this to a kid due to the sheer amount of sex, even if all of it is offscreen. I wish the focus had stayed on the training and action and not on putting Alanna in bed with whoever caught her interest. I feel equally bad for Jonathan’s eventual wife, as he’s even worse than Alanna. He outright goes and picks up a girl to sleep with because he was mad that Alanna told him no, just to spite her. Now THAT’S a recipe for disaster when their marriage has the inevitable conflicts.

This is a stronger book than the previous, and does tie off some plot threads nicely, but in all honesty I’d almost prefer this to be a duology, as the third and fourth books introduce so many frustrating elements, and the payoff in the fourth is spoiled by the fact that Roger’s grand plans really don’t make much sense. I rate this book Neutral.

The Woman Who Rides Like a Man (Song of the Lioness #3)

Title: The Woman Who Rides Like a Man

Author: Tamora Pierce

Series: Song of the Lioness #3

Alanna had always planned to travel after becoming a knight and revealing her gender. Now that she’s killed Duke Roger those plans look twice as good. But life among the desert tribes to the south is not as simple as she had hoped. Traces of Duke Roger linger in the strangest places, and the proud tribesmen are no more comfortable with a woman warrior than the people back at the palace.

Once again I find the romantic issues my least favorite part of the book. Jonathon’s relationship with Alanna has finally come to a point where both parties are thinking hard about their future together—and reaching different conclusions (which should have been obvious years earlier). And Alanna’s quick to sleep around when things sour. I still find George incredibly unrealistic.

George is unrealistic from another angle, too. Why he thought leaving the city for a few months wouldn’t result in these kinds of problems is confusing. We’re talking about the underworld—a place often ruled by force and opportunity, as George knows as well as any of the rest.

The rest of the book is more interesting. Alanna has to take on new responsibilities, training youngsters to use their Gift, which does more to push her towards being an adult. The tribes get a lot of focus, magic finally gets some explanation, and there are hints of the larger game still in play.

I think the fact that Alanna has no clear goals beyond “stay away from the capital until everyone can get used to me” hurts the story. She’s mostly involved in small-scale events and sorting out her romantic life. If it wasn’t for the fact that this book has some important points for the next, I would probably skip it. I rate this book Neutral.

Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom (PS4/Steam)

Title: Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom

Systems: PS4/Steam

Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum is a boy preparing to become king when a strange man appears from nowhere in his room. Roland is equally surprised—one moment he was watching the destruction of his world, and the next, he was in a different one. But Roland recognizes the danger Evan is in as a coup sweeps through the palace. Together the two escape, and Evan vows to build a new kingdom where everyone can live in peace.

I’ll say up front I did mostly enjoy the game, but there’s a lot of weak points that bugged me.

I have a high tolerance for silly or nonsensical things in game stories (sometimes you just have to in order to make a game play in a more interesting fashion). That said, even though I generally enjoyed Ni no Kuni II’s story, there are a number of times it got noticeably bad. Like a man who has loved a woman for a very long time, and when they finally propose and agree to get married . . . she kicks him out of the kingdom and tells him to go away until their wedding? REALLY?

The worst example is the final boss asking Roland if what he’d done was wrong. And Roland goes, no, you were living according to your ideals, so you’re good. Despite the fact that the entire world was thrown into chaos and lots of people died. This is when the game should’ve grown enough of a spine to say yes, there is right and wrong, and you were wrong, but it’s possible to repent, rather than throw up that complete lunacy. After all, by that logic, as long as humanity’s worst dictators were true to the most important person, themselves, who cares about the people they trampled underfoot to get there?

So….. although I sort of enjoyed the story on a very superficial level, I actually don’t like the plot. Not for being too-sweet and cheesy, but for being nonsense. Roland also needed a far bigger role, since he was more interesting that just about everyone else, but the game had a bad habit of only paying attention to one person until the next thing came along, and then that person is more or less background for the rest of the game.

The gameplay is somewhat better. There’s a sim element with the kingdom-building, a real-time strategy element with the skirmishes, and the regular action-rpg gameplay. The regular fights are extremely easy, especially for those with familiarity with other action-based games, so if younger kids or people new to action games are playing it they shouldn’t have a hard time picking it up. I do really wish there was a hard mode. More than that, though, I’d like more types of enemies. Although the bosses have good variety, the regular enemies most definitely do not. This also applies to field dungeons. If you’ve seen one cave, you’ve seen them all. Same with the forest areas. They use the same area maps for the random dungeons too.

The skirmishes were my least favorite part, because it’s difficult to level up multiple units since you can only take 4 on the field at a time (so I basically used the same 4 most of the game). Also, the lack of any coherent way to organize or warp to the skirmishes makes it difficult to tell which ones you haven’t done yet. There aren’t a lot of story-based skirmishes, but since the final story boss is one of them, some optional skirmishes are pretty much required to beat the game.

I did like Evan’s character design (though I wish his tail had more animation as most of the time it behaves more like a stick-on tail than a living body part). And it’s fun to watch his cape bounce around as you run, as it looks impressively like actual cloth (some other characters like Tani also have short capes). I wish they’d done more with the concept of Roland, a president from Earth who somehow ends up here. Having an adult character crossing could have been all kinds of fun, but the majority of the game moves the focus away from him. The visuals are generally solid, and the low-stakes story was good to relax (when it wasn’t in the aggravating parts).

Overall, I mostly enjoyed my time playing, but I wish the writing had gotten another draft. My play time isn’t exactly accurate since I left the game running while I ate dinner or whatever to let the sim portion gather money for me, so I’m not sure what my actual time invested worked out to be, but I beat the final boss and upgraded the kingdom to level 4 at about 65 hours.

Between the weak story and somewhat weak gameplay, I won’t recommend the game, but if it tickles your fancy it might be worth picking up a used copy. I rate this game Neutral.

The Magic in this Other World is Too Far Behind! #1 (Light Novel)

Title: The Magic in this Other World is Too Far Behind! #1

Author: Gamei Hitsuji

Format: Light Novel

Suimei is walking home with his friends when all three of them are unexpectedly summoned to another world. As they suspected, this world is looking for a hero to defeat the Demon Lord who is bent on annihilating humanity—but Suimei wants nothing to do with it. Luckily, it’s Reiji who was the chosen hero, so even though it disappoints everyone, Suimei can try to sit this one out. But Suimei’s knowledge of modern magic is incredibly advanced in this new world, and his ambition to lead a quiet life is quickly overturned . . .

Although I liked some pieces, the overall execution left me uncertain if I want to continue the series.

I can’t stand Felmenia. She whiplashes from mature and competent to flustered and childish, and although I get the general direction the author was going, the personality shifts feel too extreme. And more than once the story tanks into fetishization, like having her trip over her own clothes just to land her in a pin-up pose that the male character can gawk at. Or the stupid, stupid arguments between the girls about whose breasts are bigger. (It always makes me want to ask, do you know any real girls? I realize this is fantasy, but it’s really tiring and insulting to watch girls behave like brainless twits.)

I actually don’t mind so much the fact that Suimei’s confrontation with Felmenia broke her. That was a fun fight, especially with the layers of magic, and I enjoy seeing her arrogance brought down to size. The whole genius-gifted-kid who could do no wrong because she was so talented getting humiliated was amusing, especially because the narrative is careful to show how the fight is working from both perspectives. She’s in this to show him up, but he’s used to people trying to kill him and is expecting her to at least attempt the same. But that kind of humiliation is based on her personality flaws, and isn’t so much intended to be exploitative.

The conversations about what happens in light novels when people are summoned to another world at the beginning is also a bit too meta for my tastes. There was some amusement at the beginning but eventually I wanted them to stop comparing the situation they were in to the books they had read and just get on with it.

The biggest plus about the book is, as might be expected, the magic. Suimei is a magician of modern Japan—a real magician, but a secret one. And his use of magic reflects various magical traditions from across the globe, from numerology to the technical details of how to create a golem and more. He’s familiar with the “elements” that Felmenia mentions, although not in the same form. His passion for understanding the how and why and not—as he pointedly accuses her—making a bigger boom has given him a wide range of skills. And those skills play out like video game spells, which makes them fun and flashy, in addition to the interesting technical underpinnings he spells out.

I also liked that the book bucks tradition a bit by having Suimei sort of caught up in this “hero summoning” by accident, as it’s actually his best friend who receives the prophesied blessings and sets out to confront the Demon Lord. Suimei is himself too horrified by the thought of going one against a million to even bother helping, except to try to make a path for all of them to get home. Given the situation overall, I’d be shocked if he isn’t eventually pulled into the confrontation anyway (against his will), but he’s certainly not going out looking for trouble.

All in all this is a very mixed bag. The harem elements take up enough of the plot to be a significant distraction, and it cheapens most of the female characters. The magical elements are much better, but I’m not certain I like those enough to get past the rest. I rate this book Neutral.

The Rising of the Shield Hero #10 (Light Novel)

Title: The Rising of the Shield Hero #10

Author: Aneko Yusagi

Format: Light Novel

The recovery of the Spirit Tortoise’s energy has given Naofumi a whole three and a half months to rest. And he’ll need it, as he, Raphtalia, and Filo are suffering the effects of his latest use of his Wrath shield. In the meantime, Naofumi turns his thoughts towards training an army to help him out, and he has just the place (and people) in mind.

This volume unfortunately slides back into a lot of the antics that I really hate. The whole scene with Keel felt unnecessary (and really, WHY did we have to go in this direction?). Instead of making Keel a girl and awkwardly making comments on sexual preferences to someone who is mentally still about 10 (and the incredibly stupid pronouncement forbidding relationships that follows), I would’ve preferred some actual character development and not a rehash of the same kind of shticks that show up in countless anime/manga/light novels.

Besides, the cast is desperately in need of males who aren’t stupid. Right now only the weapon shop owner qualifies (I’d give L’Arc more credit if he was a local, but we’re not likely to see him again for a while). I had been hoping Keel could grow up to be the male equivalent of Raphtalia, someone Naofumi can speak frankly with as more of a peer, without the romantic angle. Instead we get Keel as a girl, and the end of the book has yet another girl joining the party (and one who’s not at all shy about making her intentions known).

I did like that the immediate focus is more on rebuilding. The Coliseum ensures there will still be interesting fights even as the quieter work of setting up a new home begins. Naofumi hasn’t really had any place in this world to call home before now. Even now he’s more considering this territory a place to raise an army than a place to live, but I suspect once he has a home the way Kizuna did his attitude will start to change. The little touches of longing visible when he considered her home imply he really wants that kind of a place for himself.

The whole slavery angle is also a mixed bag. Naofumi is doing good things in questionable ways, which is kind of how he’s operated all along. Even though he’s correct that his bonuses will help everyone level better as slaves, he’s never been willing to consider releasing Raphtalia or Filo from the spells that he could use to control them. He’s likely to make excuses about releasing the others too, even though they aren’t as close. And Naofumi’s actions prop up the slave market, making him responsible for the kind of demand that caused Raphtalia to get kidnapped into slavery in the first place.

It was funny what Naofumi considers an appropriate punishment for the people who caused so much trouble to Raphtalia and her village in the first place. It is entirely fitting—those who were only concerned about the money ran into someone using their own values against them.

I also liked the small twists on the whole Coliseum trope—Naofumi’s just in this to get rich quick. Betting on his own party and then sweeping a tournament seems like the best way to get a massive return on his investment. His interactions with Nadia help expose that this isn’t going to be quite as simple as he was expecting, but it’s too late to back out.

Overall this is a quieter book, but the main reason I feel it’s a step back from the stronger arc recently is the focus on really stereotypical harem antics. If you’ve followed the series up until this point, the last book wouldn’t be a bad place to stop, at least until the current arc can prove if it’s going to get back on track. I rate this book Neutral.