Tag Archives: not recommended

The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim (The Story of Owen #1)

Title:  The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim

Author:  E. K. Johnston

Series: The Story of Owen #1

Owen Thorskard comes from a family of dragonslayers—the most famous dragonslayer in Canada is his aunt Lottie. After Lottie is injured, she moves with her family to the small town of Trondheim, Canada, to live out her semi-retirement with Owen and his father Aodhan protecting the town and the small towns around it. But the dragon activity is increasing, and without resources from the government, it may fall upon Owen and his friend and bard Siobhan to defend what they love. . .

This book was kind of interesting for having relatively decent prose but terrible worldbuilding and plotting. I’ve never read a story so full of gaping logic errors.

I liked that Siobhan and Owen were able to build a friendship that didn’t turn into a romance. I liked that Owen was a serious and dedicated young man who actually did have a vocation in his family’s dragon slaying legacy, and wasn’t following the typical “rebel against what is supposed to be my destiny” plotline that basically everything uses.

Unfortunately, that’s about all I actually liked.

It’s like the author couldn’t figure out what to do with Sadie and Emily, and so although they’re both kind of important, whenever one is there the other drops out of the story completely. It might have been better to make them both the same character and worked it in that way, or at least keep them both relevant once they’re introduced.

The dragons in modern day life story failed SO HARD for me. As much as I find the central conceit amusing, the worldbuilding is terrible. Everyone has cars and other modern machinery, so presumably they also have guns. Why would anyone fight dragons close-range when there ought to be something that can be fired to, at minimum, shred their wings to ground them, then turn them into mincemeat? Also it’s puzzling why gas cars are still so prominent when they attract dragons. Presumably that would be the sort of pressure that encourages adoption of electric cars even if their efficiency sucks, and electric trains to get from city to city. In other words, you can’t just throw something that major into modern life, say it’s been there all along, and assume modern life STILL LOOKS THE SAME.

Electric vehicles would likely be mandatory, and gas engines would have been abandoned for personal vehicles (and probably heavily taxed to dis-incentivize them) even if electric was only a fraction as efficient, because not dying kind of outweighs other considerations. And car designs would prioritize running on batteries even if every “car” had to look like a pickup with a back bed full of batteries to power it. And most people wouldn’t have personal vehicles unless they were bicycles because a car is an expensive thing to build and replacing it as often as it sounds would drive insurance costs through the roof, even if the small towns would only lose a dozen and not hundreds of vehicles a year.

The story makes a lame attempt to explain why no guns, but it also mentions crossbows just a few sentences earlier, so I don’t think that argument holds any merit. Honestly, I’m still stuck on why, if dragons are so easy to lure, they’re such a problem. So what if they explode when struck by missiles and other dragons come to check it out? So what if they bleed oil? That seems like the perfect opportunity to set up a purge: start a bonfire, lure dragons, explode until they stop coming. Also bullets are not missiles, and even missiles still sound good to me, provided you prepare the killing grounds appropriately ahead of time. And actually, the characters come to almost the same conclusion, which makes everyone, absolutely EVERYONE, look like a moron, because if a 16-year-old can figure this out, adults should have noticed a few centuries earlier. And hey, if dragons bleed oil, that sounds like a local source of fuel to me, as well as a great reason to put bounties on them until they go extinct.

And dragonslayers only being a family business? When people die and properties are getting destroyed? I just can’t buy it. Even if some people aren’t physically or mentally capable of combat, there’s no way small town farmers left without an officially licensed slayer wouldn’t resort to an “I’ll fix it myself” mentality. I asked a friend of mine who grew up on a farm, and her reaction to the story’s “wait for slayers to arrive” solution was to laugh as hard as I was. When something threatened their cows, her dad picked up the shotgun. There’s a scene in the middle with a barn on fire, ponies in the barn, and the dragon eating the ponies. The family is just standing there watching.

And it’s not even farmers. Anyone who’s lost a family member to a dragon would be a good candidate for “I’ll take those dragons out myself, license or no license.” The fact that there’s supposedly such a shortage, and NO ONE IS STEPPING UP, boggles my mind. We’re not talking about brain surgery. We’re talking about killing things.

How I see this actually playing out is more like this. Small town, no “official slayer”, so the farmers get together as often as they need to, set a giant bonfire as bait. Wait with loaded weapons (multiple per person) and plenty of ammo. When dragons fly in, they get shot until dead. Shoot until out of targets. Dispose of corpses. Since this is a stakeout and not a hunt, we can use really big guns in addition to smaller arms. Lots of options.

Also, if your town is getting razed because dragon slayers take 2.5 hours to arrive, people are going to be poor. They won’t have luxuries, because they’ll be constantly spending to replace the basics. Actually, they’d probably just build underground. At that point it would be more cost effective since underground homes wouldn’t attract as much interest from a dragon.

So…. this really ends up reading like someone’s personal gripes against carbon emissions instead of an attempt to build a realistic world.

The book has way more that reads like a liberal checklist:
– Capitalism is demonized (regulation/government is offered as the solution. Ironically, this is despite the fact that the government is clearly shown to be unwilling or unable to help the small towns. But don’t worry, I’m sure MORE government will fix that.)
– Carbon emissions are evil and dragons will kill you for polluting
– The Oil Watch is de facto evil because they’re conscripting all the dragon slayers for a mandatory term of service. Evil oil, yawn.
– Token homosexual character to point out that people are evil for not embracing homosexuality
– Nationalism evil, globalism good (hey, instead of getting mad that people from the first world aren’t going to the third world to defend them from dragons, how about training them up to defend themselves? They are equally capable, you know).
– The plan to provide a dragon slayer for every small town, supported by that town, is called socialism, and Conservatives are specifically called out for promising to do the same and failing to follow through. (To me this sounds WAY closer to how a church functions, with members supporting a pastor through donations. Or in other words, it’s another form of employment. If it’s not voluntary on the who-goes-where OR the donations, which would really just be taxes, THEN we can call it socialism and I would agree.) In other words, another pointless “yay socialism” moment. Actual socialism would be closer to what the Oil Watch is doing, except the towns and not the company would be paying for it.
– The shot that started all the trouble for Aodhan was fired by the Republican Guard strike team (there are no Republicans mentioned elsewhere in the story, and this is taking place in the Middle East, so I don’t see why they’re named like this except as yet another dig at Republicans. And this from a story that takes place in Canada). Also, the strike team, which was killed by Iraqis, has their deaths described as a “small solace” instead of the tragedy that the other deaths were. It’s also indirectly a dig against using guns, since Aodhan just KNOWS the gun is a bad idea but can’t get there in time to stop them.

So the book as a whole fails for me, really hard. The plot only works if you imagine everyone to be extremely stupid and willing to get slaughtered because they won’t defend themselves, and that the method of luring off some dragons to attack the hatching grounds wasn’t thought of by anyone who’s come before. Or hey, why not spoil the hatching grounds ahead of time by lacing the soil with something that will stop eggs from developing, or plant mines so that when dragons land to lay eggs they explode instead? Argh, there’s SO MANY WAYS I can think of that would have improved this. Needless to say, Not Recommended.


To The Falls (The Falls Trilogy #1)

Title: To The Falls

Author:  Heather Renee

Series: The Falls Trilogy #1

Kali has just finished her sophomore year of college when her life turns upside-down. The strange dream she’s been having was actually supposed to be a sign pointing to another world, one that she’s originally from, and she’s inherited the duty to protect the passages between worlds. But someone doesn’t want her stepping into her destiny . . .

I probably shouldn’t have finished this, but it started well, so I kept going in the hopes it would turn itself around at least a little by the end.

The beginning actually is decent. Kali’s college life (and best friend Jordan) is set up well, and the normal life feels solid enough that it’s easy to see why Kali would push so hard against everything magical that tries to reshape her predictable world. Unfortunately, once she goes home for her birthday, the problems start to surface.

First, the book is rife with run-on sentences. A handful would have been annoying, but it feels like I hit at least one a page.

Second, the characters, with the exception of Kali and Jordan, are barely fleshed out. Lucas is the worst offender. As the main love interest, I expected him to have SOME glimmer of his own personality, but his entire character was built around being in love with Kali and doing whatever she wanted. He’s got a lot of history and backstory, and very little of that comes through. I wanted to see independent thought, even if he is saddled with finally finding his soulmate.

And yes, the whole soulmate angle takes away any possible complexity to the romance. You know you’ve found your soulmate because his eyes change color to match, plus the book of your life (which the Fates write in) will confirm it.

Third, the voice is inappropriate for anything but Kali narrating for herself. Here’s a sample section of the Fates:

We know you’re struggling Kaliah, but please have faith. All of this will make sense soon and you’ll be rewarded for your efforts. Trust your instincts and everything will be okay. Not everything is as it seems right now and we need your patience. We are watching out for you even if you don’t realize it.

It’s too casual to feel like it came from some all-knowing deity (not to mention a missing comma in the first sentence). Why have books at all? Why not have the Fates directly communicate with Kali? Having books that some deity writes in feels like a really weird way to push the plot forward. They basically cheat and tell Kali things she couldn’t otherwise know, which takes away any chance of tension since everyone knows the Fates don’t lie or make mistakes.

Fourth, the actual villain side is really disappointing. We have one major villain who is basically Mr. Maniacal Laughter who has a somewhat reasonable motive but terrible presentation (and is killed by lightness and goodness. I wish there had been a different way to describe this, or do it). Then we have a possibly more interesting wrinkle with the person who helped him . . . except the Fates underline all the answers as soon as the main characters even wonder about it, so that’s no good. And this person is an even less compelling villain.

Overall, this book feels like it really needed another draft to clean up the characters, events, and grammar. Not Recommended.

The Dreamer’s Awakening (Eloik: Nightmare Fighter #1)

Title: The Dreamer’s Awakening

Author: Martin Bois and Sebastian Levek

Series: Eloik: Nightmare Fighter #1

Eloik has always let fear rule his life. But as a danger which lives in dreams reaches out across to the waking world, he’ll have to conquer his worst nightmares.

Oh good. I’m finally done with this.

I really had to force my way through this. The execution stumbles at a number of points, which took what could have been some good ideas and bogged them down in a story that had me throwing the book at the wall at multiple points.

The first problem was the opening. It begins with an essay that is dry, boring, and left me wondering if I’d actually picked up a work of fiction or a psychology textbook (I actually had to check to make sure I hadn’t pulled one of my nonfiction books by mistake). And the very first sentence has grammatical issues, which doesn’t help the case at all.

Then we get tons of landscape description followed by a scene focusing on two throwaway minions of the main villain. This has little relevance to the plot and is mostly there to showcase the big bad is very scary and Up To Something. The story in general likes to cut away to the villains, which feels completely pointless because we aren’t going back to the same villains (even the Nightmare Queen only shows up once at the very beginning and once at the very end), and everyone portrayed is a flat, cartoonishly evil bad guy. Cartoon evil can work in some cases, but given how seriously the rest of the story is trying to take itself, it really didn’t work for me here.

Then we have the protagonist. Eloik is described as having major social anxiety. Except the way he behaves in no way paints him anything other than COMPLETELY NORMAL. Eloik travels alone for over an hour on public transportation each way, regularly, to get to his mental health appointments. And the appointments themselves are in this giant facility with hundreds of other people, which he sees especially in the big lunch room where he eats with everyone (and he only feels sorry for himself because he has no friends and must eat alone). And on the way home he typically stops in a restaurant for dinner.

Social anxiety? What social anxiety? Here we have Mr. “I’m excused from school because I’m completely unable to deal with other people” . . . dealing with other people. A lot. Complete strangers, too. The only things that even makes him uneasy are a disappearing girl and a bully. THIS IS A NORMAL RANGE OF RESPONSES. So even though the plot keeps emphasizing him being hung up with fear, it’s impossible not to feel like the story is just lying to me.

Add to that the bits that actually are interesting, like his name, are never explained.

Next up was the big sphere used to project “virtual reality” scenarios. This is magic. There are far too many holes for it to work as a piece of technology, like how it creates entire interactive worlds when Eloik isn’t even wearing a headset or gloves to help him interact with it (wrist bracelets? Really?). Basically it would only make sense if it was interacting directly with the brain. It wouldn’t surprise me if the story actually meant it to be a Dream-fueled machine, but Eliok was a fool if he believed this was possible through non-alien levels of technology. I have no problem with magic, but the inconsistency in how it was portrayed bugged me.

THEN the Nazis show up. I wish I was joking.

Look, you have a great big dream world where literally anything is possible, and nothing HAS to follow the rules. You can have evil fluffy bunnies or killer clouds or a Rubik cube that eats your brain. Go wild! Instead, we get Nazis. Because apparently Nazis are and forever will be the pinnacle of evil (and let’s ignore the fact that there were other regimes that killed even more people around the same time period, because Nazis. I get that they’re evil, but I’m so, so sick of Nazis.)

And the story devolves into elaborate conspiracy theories about Nazis, WWII, secret societies, and I’m so close to the end I really want to just be done but I’m wondering if I can force myself to go another few words.

I think this might have been better as a comic, because the pictures were at least interesting, and then I wouldn’t have to put up with a lot of the prose. The prose is often clunky, especially near the end when the whole team is talking with each other. But even being a comic wouldn’t solve the more glaring plot and character issues. Not Recommended.

The Red Sun (Legends of Orkney #1)

Title: The Red Sun

Author: Alane Adams

Series: Legends of Orkney #1

Sam knows there’s something creepy about his new English teacher. She’s too interested in him, and weird things happen around her. But he never imagined the truth: he’s a Son of Odin, his parents are refugees from another world, and the birthplace he never knew needs him to break a terrible curse afflicting its sun. And his substitute English teacher is a powerful witch who wants to take over the world . . .

I never thought stupid protagonists were a dealbreaker until I read this book. Because Sam isn’t just ignorant and making bad choices based on lack of understanding. He’s walking into bad choices with both eyes open. The plot can unfortunately be summed up as: if someone is shifty, untrustworthy, outright evil, or wants him dead, he will do whatever they say. If someone has actually cared about him and put his best interests at heart, he will hide things from them and cut them out of his life.

*cue book bashing against wall*

It doesn’t even start that badly. Sam is a normal kid with a bit of a temper (and some interesting things that happen when he loses that temper). A weird new teacher shows up who has an evil interest in him, and shortly thereafter Sam finds himself in another world that requires his efforts to save. So far so good—all the bad decisions, like not telling his mom about the magical mishaps he’s run into, or trying to convince himself things aren’t really as bad as they seem, are well within reason.

Then we get to the alternate world. At that point, through the end of the book, it’s almost a comedy of “how stupid can you get?” Witches with magical powers have kidnapped his friends, so Sam wants to blaze after them—despite the fact that the few people who care about him warn him the witches are powerful, the ones eager to help him are the really shifty lot, and everyone else who depends on him to do this other quest is going to die if he doesn’t do that one eventually. So Sam goes after the witches. This goes about as well as you might expect.

And why are the witches evil? It seems to be something with their magic being intrinsically evil, which is never explained—Sam is assumed corrupted because he has witch magic, not because he’s done anything with it. But it’s not like he’s sacrificing babies to get power. It’s a combination of some internal force plus mystic words. I could write this off as prejudice against witches, except the plot enforces this by making Sam experience corruption the more he uses his power.

Moving beyond the characters, the general situation with the world didn’t make a lot of sense to me either. The sun is poisoned, which is fine, but the rate of everything dying and people starving seemed vastly accelerated to me. Crops wither and instantly there are people starving. This ignores the obvious problem that if crops were still growing, they were probably not being eaten just yet. No one kept any food? No one had dried/preserved anything in case of a drought or insects or a poor harvest? And with the threat to the animals known, no one is making any effort to keep their herds/flocks indoors during the day to graze or forage by night?

If the stupid overload hasn’t driven you off yet, the characters might. Sam has very little struggles with doing the wrong thing–he just does it anyway. The bad guys (with the High Council as the worst offenders) are ludicrously one-dimensional, with any depth sacrificed for the “everyone hates Sam” angle. Nearly every character treats him like an object and not a person, whether it’s the good guys who have voluntold him to go on this quest or the bad guys who voluntold him for a different quest. Mavery is supposed to have redeeming qualities but mostly comes off as really annoying, and Keely and Howie are almost comically helpless and unable to contribute to the plot other than being used as hostages (the final battle . . . I think I was almost laughing, which is not the effect the plot was going for).

I regret picking up this book. It looked good, started decently, but my desperate hope that it would eventually get better was completely wasted. I rate this book Not Recommended.

07-Ghost (anime)

Title: 07-Ghost
Episodes: 1-25

Teito Klein is a sklave (military slave) of the Barsburg Empire. But when he stumbles across the man who killed the only father he remembers, he’s forced to flee. Sheltering in the sanctuary of the Church, which is a neutral zone, he struggles to figure out his own mind and heart, and tries to get the power for revenge.

It’s amazing to me that I can dislike the anime so much when I liked the manga a good deal. Part of the problem is the animation itself. The fights are poorly animated, with a lot of white blur effects used to hide the fact that nobody is moving or doing anything interesting. It also feels very badly paced. Fights aren’t the only time no one is doing much—most of the anime consists of two or three people standing around talking at each other. After the action-packed first episode, the series grinds almost to a halt as Teito spends most of his time thinking about things. The anime even throws in a few extra Kor to try to give Mikage time to build up as a character before things go haywire, but since those extra encounters do nothing for the plot, it doesn’t change much.

Also, where the homosexual subtext in the manga could be subtle, the anime isn’t even trying to hide it. Every small significant encounter is overplayed. I still think that the series isn’t helped by trying to make pretty much every relationship a romantic one. It downplays what could be a more interesting web of different types of relationships, like Frau treating Teito more like a mentor to a student (which he is, most of the time, and then something will happen that reminds me Frau is probably almost twice Teito’s age).

I suppose this didn’t bother me in the manga as much because I’m used to reading books, and the walls of text were laying down interesting history, worldbuilding, or mysteries to keep me engaged. In a television show format, though, it didn’t work nearly as well (although maybe some of that could have been alleviated through better shot framing and more dynamic scenes). Furthermore, the anime cuts off right after the bishop exam—which means most of the backstory and action, as well as the most interesting revelations, happens afterwards.

I did enjoy hearing the Raggs Requiem put to music, although that’s the only part of this show I can see myself going back to. It’s actually quite a nice song, and if you only read the manga, I’d encourage you to give it a listen. A version with lyrics is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhcpDInNl0U

All in all, I’m mostly disappointed in this adaptation. Given where it cuts off, plot-wise, it can’t offer any real resolution to the partial story it was trying to build, and Ayanami, although still an evil villain, feels pretty incompetent overall, as his role is mostly just to sit and look menacing. If you’re at all curious about the story in 07-Ghost, check out the manga. I rate this Not Recommended.

The Owl Keeper

Title: The Owl Keeper

Author: Christine Brodien-Jones

Max used to have a good life with his grandma, who taught him all about the silver owls and the prophecy that one day the Owl Keeper would overthrow the darkness with the help of a silver owl. But after his grandma dies, he contracts a strange disease that leaves him allergic to sunlight. Then the silver owl shows up. Max is infatuated with the owl, but the government is trying to exterminate them . . .

This book tries to blend fantasy with dystopia, and in my opinion usually fails. From the few dates given, we’re not quite 100 years out, yet some unexplained experiment with the weather split the moon in two (now THAT would have been a story) and generally devastated the natural seasonal cycles (this would make more sense if Earth’s rotation or orbit changed, not its weather). Due to the weather issues, the government is constructing huge domed cities for everyone to live in, thus abandoning the exterior world to the various disasters and monsters that have cropped up (or were created through genetic experiments).

On the other hand, we have a prophecy, glowing silver owls that can do magic, Destiny confirmed by birthmarks, an Absolute Darkness working for evil, etc.

Personally I think this should’ve stuck with the fantasy. It wouldn’t have been hard to turn most of the dystopian elements fantastic, whereas the dystopia really struggles with the fantasy.

For example, we are presumably on Earth (simply because nothing says otherwise), yet we have magical silver owls that have been around for hundreds of years, in addition to a prophecy that’s apparently well known enough that the government feels the need to rebroadcast slightly altered versions of it to trivialize it. The genetic mutations worked for me when it was Misshapens living in the forest or creatures who have presumably been under development for years . . . but then there is someone who materially transforms instantly after only one shot. Or how one bite of a loaded muffin is enough to paralyze normal brain function immediately, but can still be shaken off a very short time later. Or how falling asleep in conditions clearly conducive to freezing to death not only has them waking up without outside intervention, but without so much as frostbite to show for it.

So the science is falling over because it’s acting more like magic. The setting is also prone to annoying conveniences like a Frozen Zone being within walking distance of a more normally temperate town. Nothing was offered to explain this other than the weather related experiment from way back when.

I can forgive a shoddy setting for excellent characters. These aren’t. Rose introduces herself by being obnoxious and a liar, and the only reason I can think for Max bothering is because he has no one but the even-more-depressing housekeeper to talk to. Regardless, the fact that she’s such a liar makes it hard for me to swallow that she’s telling the truth later, just because she says she is (Max conveniently can’t verify anything that comes out of her mouth). So when she eventually starts to have problems, I found myself less than sympathetic.

Max is better, but not by much. He suffers from extreme stupidity. I can roll my eyes and move past the fact that he never once suspected his sinister guardian was working against him, but when he has the opportunity to throw away the device he now KNOWS is bad for him . . . and takes it WITH HIM . . . The plot doesn’t even try to explain that. Max just thinks he has no idea why he’s doing it. I don’t either. It’s a really poor way to build dramatic tension in the following scene so someone can fight him for it and threaten to stab him with it all over again.

I’m not even sure if the ending was meant to tie things up or lead into a sequel, as it could read either way. I don’t care, as I have zero desire to pick up another book. The worldbuilding has too many inconsistencies and the characters make me want to throw the book at the wall. I rate this book Not Recommended.

Spirit Gate (Crossroads #1)

Title: Spirit Gate

Author: Kate Elliot

Series: Crossroads #1

I’m not going to attempt a summary because I couldn’t force myself to finish. Besides, the main reason I quit reading was because 75 pages in, basically nothing had happened yet.

I wanted to like this, and gave it a good shot. But the glacial pacing killed my interest, and I wasn’t overly fond of any of the characters either. Marit has way too much page time for being a minor character (and the way the book starts I had initially assumed she would be the main character). Joss’s main concerns are getting drunk or laid (and how often the story is going there in the first few chapters reminds me of yet another reason I don’t usually care for adult books. Even though it never gets explicit—can’t we have someone with an INTERESTING hobby/obsession for once?). Mai didn’t seem too bad, but Ti, her cousin, is so childish and annoying that was a good enough reason to quit rather than plug away hoping it got better.

The depth of detail is very good, in one sense: it’s easy to get a picture of the world. I like the reeves, and the way their partnership works. The eagles are basically eagles, and the flying contraption pictured on the cover makes a lot more sense than most renditions I’ve seen of flying on a bird. Unfortunately, it’s a world where relatively normal life is happening for an extended period of time. Joss is sent to guard a caravan of merchants—and nothing happens. Dark things happen to the side, or in the background, but Joss is concerned mainly with doing his everyday duties in his everyday manner, and . . . I lost interest. After what he discovered with the Guardians, I had been hoping he’d actually go off and do more about it (I suppose he does, but it’s explained away in about two sentences of backstory).

So this may be a wonderful book for people with more patience, but I prefer more movement in the plot. Not Recommended.