Tag Archives: neutral

Dragon Born: Chronicles of Dragon Aerie (Plague Born #1)

Title: Dragon Born: Chronicles of Dragon Aerie

Author: Travis Simmons

Series: Plague Born #1

On the night a slit-eyed baby was born, the dragons returned. Ravaging towns with their breath and their claws, slaughtering the people—and cursing many of the survivors with a disease that, if not fatal, might grant some the abilities of dragons themselves.

Wylan knows the events that surrounded her birth, but she’s still curious about dragons. She and her adoptive parents make a living scavenging, a life grown harder because the dragons are driving everything to ruin. But when she finally sees a dragon up close, it isn’t the encounter she imagined having . . .

This would have worked a lot better as a part 1 to some longer book, although even then there were pieces that would puzzle me.

The story opens—not with Wylan, who the summary would have you believe is the main character—but with the midwife who births her. Millie Bixby is as much a main character as Wylan is in this short piece, and the initial return of the dragons (along with their wreckage) gets a lot of detail. I thought the story went a little far here trying to humiliate Millie, mostly with the description of her pissing herself. I have no problem with the reaction, but the way it was described felt off, like the text was delighting in the fact rather than sympathizing with her. And Millie returns later on, to give a view of what’s been going on in the last remaining human towns while Wylan grows up.

I don’t really buy the way the wyverns have integrated into the town’s defense system. Unless I misread something and they are the majority of the town, in which case the setup makes a lot more sense. Millie’s drastic timeskip means the story loses a lot of interesting things, like how she determined she could shapeshift/had powers/was connected more to dragons, and how she reacted to that. Or how ordinary humans reacted to this. And are there other countries beyond the desert that people could run to, or is there some reason they’re stuck where they are? The story didn’t have time to introduce enough of the world, but even what’s here left me puzzled about certain bits.

Wylan’s story is fine until we get to the pivotal event, which goes by too quickly. I could write off her reactions as shock but her story basically ends right there, so there’s no sense of actually dealing with the event. Boom, it happens, and the next instant she’s vowing revenge, and then we swap back to Millie until the story finishes.

Speaking of, there isn’t much of a sense of cohesion to this. We have Millie’s story, which is basically entirely different from Wylan’s story, and there isn’t any kind of thread tying them together beyond the overall world and the fact that Millie happened to be there for Wylan’s birth. The end just stops—it doesn’t feel like an ending, just a chapter break. We don’t really get rising action, or any kind of payoff for reading just this segment. Again, this wouldn’t be an issue if this was just the first part of something else, but the fact that it’s treated like its own book makes me want something that feels like a cohesive story.

Overall, although I really like the idea of wyvern shapeshifters in a world with dragons, I’m not sure what to do with this. There’s a lot of solid writing on the bits that do work, but this feels more like bonus material than a story by itself. Wylan didn’t grab me with her personality, her story, or her decision, so that leaves reading a sequel solely based on enjoying her abilities . . .  and I’m not sure I want to do that. I rate this book Neutral.

Thorn Ogres of Hagwood (The Hagwood Trilogy #1)

Title: Thorn Ogres of Hagwood

Author: Robin Jarvis

Series: The Hagwood Trilogy #1

Gamaliel Tumpin is pudgy, clumsy, and terrified of taking the class that will teach him the secrets of his race. The werglings can change their form into birds and mammals, but Gamaliel is certain he won’t do well. But the forest where they live borders a much darker wood, and it won’t be long before the thorn ogres are unleashed on the land . . .

I liked this quite a bit, but I’m tempering my rating and enthusiasm based on the depressing fact that this is clearly setting up a sequel, which has had years to fail to materialize. So it’s hard to recommend something that only resolves a small part of the bigger issue and doesn’t work all that well as a standalone.

All of the characters are well-drawn, but I liked Finnen, an older student with precocious gifting, much better than any of the kids. In a way this book is really more Finnen’s story, as he sees in his mentorship a chance to give Gamaliel what he lacked as a student, and possibly turn Gamaliel down a different road than the one he chose. And when his choices are revealed, and he has to bear the consequences, he still chooses the hero’s path to combat the greater evil. Even if he has to do it all by himself. Where Gamaliel’s character arc is retreading a familiar path, Finnen’s isn’t as clear, so it was a lot easier for me to get involved with Finnen’s struggles.

Really, the lack of a sequel is the biggest downside. The world teases some interesting bits of magic and mystery, which would presumably reveal more later. Gamaliel and those who survived have drawn the ire of creatures much larger and more powerful—but like the thorn ogres, not without their weaknesses. And if the characters continued to mature and grow into their strengths, it could easily surpass this book. But again, this is just the beginning of a quest that never quite takes off. I rate this book Neutral.

Attack on Titan (Anime)

Title: Attack on Titan

Episodes: 1-25

Content warning: People die in somewhat graphic ways pretty much every episode. Eaten, stepped on, ripped apart, etc. It doesn’t go much for gore, though, just blood splatters.

Humanity has nearly gone extinct under the assault of the grotesque Titans. These giant humanoids only attack humans, so to defend against them humanity built three walls each 50 meters tall. But the area those walls enclose is the only safe space left for humanity. Eren is a young man frustrated by the necessity of living in such a small part of the world, and after the wall near his home is breached, he vows to slaughter all the Titans and take back the world for humanity.

I was late to this show for several reasons, most of which still hold true now that I’ve seen it. I don’t like the Titans themselves (ugly and naked giant humans, bleagh). And Eren isn’t as compelling as a lot of other leads, because he spends most of his time angry and juvenile, and even 25 episodes doesn’t grow him up much (actually, it doesn’t grow him up at all). It’s pretty hard to care about any of the characters, because the cast is massive and the story spends most of its time killing most of them off.

But, they have zipline belts (aka Maneuver Gear in the Crunchyroll subs and ODM in the official disks). And I am shallow enough to enjoy the show solely based on watching people zip around pulling crazy stunts. And the music can be really good too, which makes those action scenes stand out even more.

Animation-wise it can be a mixed bag. There are a ton of still frames used to compensate for good-looking action scenes. This was really noticeable in the first few episodes. I also wasn’t that fond of the really thick outlines used on characters. However, I did like the towns, houses, and backgrounds.

The characters are by and large forgettable, because most of them die too fast to have any kind of arc. It was interesting to see most people’s responses to war are basically to break down in fear, and struggle to overcome their reluctance to actually go against an enemy very likely to kill them. And I liked Armin, who unlike Eren can’t just use the magical power of “I want this really badly” to get himself out of trouble. Misaka is too dull, as her role appears to be “silently menace anything that harms Eren”, although I do like watching her fight. (Although I will admit the flashback to how she met Eren had me laughing hysterically. He was ALREADY screwed up as a nine-year-old.)

The plot is a little better, but where the first 13 eps are throwing out twists and revelations, the second half of the season feels more like aftermath. The female Titan there is a single obstacle they have to survive, and the end of the season doesn’t provide a lot of new information or a good sense of closure. It’s also really frustrating to see Armin’s big encouragement to Eren is “the bigger monster wins”—those who can abandon their humanity the most will triumph. I think that misses the point in a big way, although at least Armin seems aware he might be inviting in more trouble than the Titans themselves if this philosophy actually wins.

Overall, I don’t regret watching this (zipline belts!!) because I did enjoy the action sequences (and that first opening song in particular is worth listening to; the first ending is also good). That said, since the zipline belts and the music are the only two things I really LIKED, I’m not going to bother with the manga. I will probably watch the currently-airing second season after it’s over, since this series has a penchant for really long multi-part arcs. Recommended if the slick action/horror combination appeals to you, otherwise Neutral.

The True Meaning of Smekday (The Smek Smeries #1)

Title: The True Meaning of Smekday

Author: Adam Rex

Series: The Smek Smeries #1

Gratuity is a precocious 11-year-old who happens to get a first-hand look at the alien Boov takeover of the planet. Little does she know a chance encounter with a Boov mechanic on the run will pull her into a war that’s spanned the galaxy. All she really wants, though, is to find out what happened to her mother (preferably while not being shot at by aliens).

The writing on this is strong, with a good sense of voice and engaging main characters. Gratuity (Tip) is independent enough to tackle her problems herself, even when it involves a long drive cross-country through alien-occupied territory. But she still wouldn’t get very far without a Boov who calls himself J.Lo, whose mechanical genius is matched by his appetite for toxic substances.  And the humor is also pretty strong, much of it in Tip’s wry observations about her circumstances.

But I found myself losing steam as the book progressed. The literary style started into a lot of literary tropes I’m tired of seeing. Oh, here’s a homosexual who got beaten senseless because people are nasty to homosexuals (this is one sentence and feels more like trying to check an Issues bingo card). Here’s how the greatest problems with sticking the entire country into one state are mostly people of different races devolving into bouts of racism (personally, I think the far, far, FAR bigger problem that wasn’t addressed was the severe lack of bathrooms. You can’t just stick millions of people into Arizona and expect to have enough toilets for everyone. And that’s discounting the fact that Arizona is kind of noted for being rather dry, so are the aliens running the plumbing systems now too, so that everyone can afford to flush? What about toilet paper? My thoughts go here because a large portion of the plot does get spent in bathrooms. But you could make the same argument about basic shelter or hygiene or medicines. But the story never talks about people dying left and right, unless they’re shooting each other.)

There were others, but it was in the same vein. The second big thing that bugged me with the end was Gratuity’s mom. The beginning paints her as lovable but not quite all there, easy to manipulate, easy to take advantage of. Given that, I never could believe what she ended up doing (trying to avoid spoiling anything, but it was before the Gorg).

So . . . nice prose, sure. But not for me. I kept fighting to suspend disbelief with the setting, and I didn’t like how the whole book felt like a Message about certain Issues in addition to a story. I rate this book Neutral.

St. Griswold College for Abandoned Boys (Xavier #1)

Title: St. Griswold College for Abandoned Boys

Author: E.M. Cooper

Series: Xavier #1

Xavier never suspected life wasn’t going well—until his parents dropped him off at St. Griswold College for Abandoned Boys, and never returned. Now more or less a prisoner at the school, which is surrounded by high walls and a deadly forest, he dreams of escape, rescue, anything. But the purpose of St. Griswold is more sinister than he knows, and if he can’t get out soon, he might lose more than his life . . .

I really wanted to like this one more than I did. Angels are hit-or-miss for me (I prefer general people with wings over the various things angels bring into the picture), but I didn’t mind them here. There’s a fair amount of flying, certain fun powers, and hints Xavier is growing into something more than anyone really knows (JUST BE ABLE TO FLY, is all I ask).

The biggest problem with the book for me was the fact that I spent the entire thing really confused about the big picture. It would have helped to have the map on the front page instead of at the very end (I only noticed it after I finished the book). By default, I’m going to assume a book is set in the present-day on Earth unless informed otherwise—and the beginning of the book appears to support that. Except then we get a creepy school in a haunted forest, which turns out to be supernaturally infested with a lot of things, and a wider world where apparently telephones and computers aren’t all that common anymore. If I had to guess, this is Earth after some sort of world war, but even THAT only came up very close to the end. And the story doesn’t help by completely glossing over anything big-picture-related, which makes the very detailed focus on the immediate environs frustrating.

What HAPPENED? Is this Earth after a war? The kids are in school—can’t their history class (or memories of a history class outside) just say so? Why are the people outside apparently used to actual demons running around, when Xavier is shocked to find out they even exist? Same with magic. Some people shrug it off and some act like they’ve never heard of it before. Which would be fine if I had more CONTEXT.

And the plot is a mess of cliches interspersed with more interesting original ideas. St. Griswold is stereotypically evil in a lot of ways: bad food, poor clothing, prisonlike atmosphere. Introducing Gabe into the whole mess helped liven things up a lot, because when someone born out of a stroke of lightning shows up things are bound to get better. And I’m definitely going to pay attention when people with wings start appearing.

Things went reasonably well (except for the whole being-totally-confused-about-what-year-and-country-this-is bit) until the escape. The boys have a lot of close calls, and for a while are managing on their own, but eventually they have to turn to other people for help, and this is where I hit the second bit cliff of disbelief. Pretty much everyone Xavier turns to for help does help, very nicely, with no payment required and no questions asked, up to and including a random guy who shows up one page and dies the next. And this after all the talk about shapeshifters and spies. (Yes, yes, there was that one incident, but technically Xavier didn’t fall into that, Gabe did).

And the END . . . made me so angry. It felt like the entire journey had basically been pointless. I am curious about seeing Xavier with full-fledged powers (and hopefully some wings sooner or later), but I’m not sure I want to go through another book to get there.

Overall, the inconsistent quality of the writing bogs down what could have been a much better story. Big details are skimmed or nonexistent while little ones get tons of focus. This especially hurts towards the end, when the story tries to widen to include more of the country. I’m only rating this slightly higher because I feel like it could possibly get better. I rate this book Neutral.

Hounded (The Iron Druid Chronicles #1)

Title: Hounded

Author: Kevin Hearne

Series: The Iron Druid Chronicles #1

Atticus O’Sullivan is a 21-centuries-old Druid who would prefer to be left alone. But a sword he happened to acquire in his younger days is still being sought by its original owner: the Celtic love god Aenghus Og. Atticus has been on the run for centuries, but this time, when the fight comes to his doorstep, he might be ready to try to end this for good.

This urban fantasy contains a lot of the usual suspects: vampires, werewolves, witches, gods and goddesses. And a few of the not-so-usual in the form of the main character, a Druid (who conveniently avoids most of the less savory things historical Druids have been known to practice in favor of a more earth-worshipping religion). It was also a nice change of pace that most of the gods showing up were Celtic.

The story moves quickly, as Atticus finds himself at the center of a storm of attacks designed to either steal the sword or kill him (or both). I did like his lawyers, and how all of them are deadly in their own ways. And the dog is a lot of fun.

Mostly I wasn’t too swayed one way or the other by this. It’s a decent urban fantasy, but nothing particularly grabbed me and made me want to keep going with the next book. The worldbuilding is probably the best part, but the “everything goes” mindset was annoying because it fails to provide any context for how wildly disparate belief systems can all be equally true. I would have preferred some kind of baseline that could then show how various things worked within it. I rate this book Neutral.

Beast Master’s Ark (Beast Master)

Title: Beast Master’s Ark

Author: Andre Norton and Lyn McConchie

Series: Beast Master

Storm has better things to do than cater to the egos of the scientists on the Ark. Some unknown thing is stripping living things down to the bone overnight, and if it isn’t stopped soon, the humans and the natives of Arzor might end up warring each other. Tani, a scientist, dislikes the Beast Masters because she thinks they kill their teams. But her help is vital if they hope to stop disaster.

A number of things broke the story, for me. Punctuation was one of my more minor quibbles, but cropped up often enough to be aggravating. Characters would ask each other questions, that are clearly questions, and not use question marks. Some of the dialog felt stilted. The story awkwardly sets up Storm and Tani for a couple well before either of them want anything to do with the other, with even the animals asking if they’re going to mate right after she arrives.

And I found Tani extremely unlikable. She’s supposed to be 19 but her behavior is really childish. Giving her a tragic backstory is almost an excuse not to think. She’s lived through a war: she ought to understand, at the very least, there are two sides, and sometimes choosing not to fight means getting run over. (I have no problem with extreme pacifists who are willing to stake their own lives on that philosophy. It starts becoming a problem when they want to stake everyone else’s lives on it too.) This is a big problem with the potential romance angle, because now I’m actively rooting against them getting together.

For something so intrinsic to her character and her upbringing, she changes her mind remarkably easily. The character just never felt right to me. The tragedy felt rather tacked on since once the decision is made that’s it.

Other than that, this is a decent enough read. I just couldn’t get over how much I hated Tani, which spoiled everything. I rate this book Neutral.