Tag Archives: not recommended

Wizards and Heroes

Title: Wizards and Heroes

Author: Clark Graham

Jason has been summoned to be the Hero of another world—but the wizard who did the summoning messed up, and Jason only crosses over to this world in his dreams. He’s got a mission ahead of him: capture the golden orb from the enemy King, or his dreams will continue to drag him to a world that’s trying to kill him. Problem is, his real life is falling apart because no one believes him when he explains how he keeps getting injured.

This had some good ideas, but the execution fell flat in a number of areas.

The first, and most immediately obvious, is the writing style. Between the wording choices, the occasional grammatical errors, and the tone, this feels like a first novel from a high schooler. The prose is very basic, and the storytelling tends to skip over important bits like battle scenes, or summarize them in a way that’s not all that believable. Like having Jason behead a bear-sized creature in one blow, when he hasn’t been gifted any kind of super strength.

There are errors like that in many of the events. Like the ease in which various characters are getting medical information bothered me. Simply pushing over a TREE because the ground was wet (and then hacking it from its roots with swords, not axes) was another. Most of these could have been fixed with some minor changes.

Many of the characters are flat and unbelievable. I think the school councilor had some of the best characterization, but other adults like the mayor (who doesn’t even get a name, just Mayor), or the evil king, are more like caricatures. I especially disliked the romantic elements. I’m not sure why she’s STARTING off with a kiss on the cheek, or why she thinks this is an appropriate reward (and I won’t even go into the whole sunbathing scene).

And it was really annoying how much of the final battle was just skipped over. Possibly because it would be hard to explain how a bunch of average adults and kids could win just by virtue of being taller against people who presumably have actually trained with their weapons.

Overall, this feels like something that was probably a lot of fun for the author to write, but really could have used another draft or editing pass to strengthen the story. I rate this book Not Recommended.

Warrior Genius (Geniuses #2)

Title: Warrior Genius

Author: Michael Dante DiMartino

Series: Geniuses #2

Giacomo and his friends are on the run from Supreme Creator Nezzera. They have the Creator’s Compass, but they still need to find the Straightedge and Pencil. But when they locate the Straightedge in a neighboring country, they have an additional problem—all of the horse-shaped Geniuses are dying from some mysterious ailment, and Giacomo may be the only one who can stop it.

I didn’t like this book. I tried. On a technical level, it isn’t bad. The plot has good pacing, the characters grow a bit, and we get to see more of the world.

But the various twists just torpedoed all my interest in finishing the story.

Giacomo’s innocence is souring to arrogance, as when he tries to fix Zanobius by himself to disastrous results. Predictably, this leads Zanobius to abandon the party again, so rather than having the other kids work out their mixed emotions towards him, all that gets pushed off.

Zanobius aims for peace, then revenge. He’s got enough vision to see Nezzara is a huge problem, and he should be able to turn those tables. And then he gets her scrawny neck between his powerful hands and HESITATES to off her. Look, I get he has a crisis of conscience, but do it AFTER you kill her, not before. She’s already AMPLY demonstrated she’s a tyrant willing to sacrifice anyone and everyone around her (and my one small joy was watching Pietro’s attempts to reason with her fail resoundingly), and at some point someone should be asking if the number of innocent victims she’s piling up are worth the minuscule chance of redeeming her. Aren’t their lives worth anything?

Apparently not.

Enzio is the only real highlight of the book, and even he gets incredibly far only to utterly fail at the last. He’s captured, tortured, and yet holds out enough rebellion to turn the tables—but he can’t quite manage to push in the knife. And that has unfortunate consequences for everyone not named Nezzara.

So it took me a long time to finish this because I kept putting it down and dreading picking it back up because it felt like the stupidity kept piling up. If these kinds of plot twists bother you less, you may like the series more. For me, I’m done. I rate this book 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.