Tag Archives: recommended

Waking (Clockwork Twist #1)

Title: Waking

Author: Emily Thompson

Series: Clockwork Twist #1

Twist is a clockmaker living in London, and perfectly happy with his life. When a woman hires him to fix a clockwork princess straight out of fairy tales, he’s reluctant to abandon his home, but determined to fix the girl. Because Twist has a Sight: he can see what’s wrong with anything he touches. So he’s sure he can do it. But pirates and other hazards threaten him . . .

I mostly loved this. Twist is so much fun. He’s grumpy about having left home, very vocal about being anti-people, and single-minded about helping the clockwork princess. I was particularly amused at how Arabel’s attempts to flirt die against his determination not to engage with her. And he’s got the crew pegged, when he rails at them about how they treat Jonas, because he’s not afraid to call out the ways they misinterpret or mistreat him.

The other really interesting thing about Twist is how his Sight has basically destroyed his life. He sees how things are broken when he touches them (or they touch him). This includes people. But whereas a machine has obvious ways to get fixed, people aren’t nearly so easy. That would be bad enough, but even machines can impart enough personality to basically take Twist over for a short while. It’s strong enough that he keeps a pocket watch with his own thoughts locked inside simply to remember what his own self is actually like.

Twist isn’t the only one with a Sight, either. The magic system isn’t explored a lot in this book, but Sights appear to be a rare but decently understood phenomenon. The Sights aren’t the only magical part of this steampunk world, either. Various creatures such as vampires, kitsune, and jinn also exist. (Props for having a male kitsune, too.)

The story never gets bogged down in one place. In some ways it barrels forward almost too fast, because I’d like to see a little more into some of the places, or get a better overview of the world and the magic in it, but on the other hand I appreciated that it never stopped anywhere long enough to get boring. (Also Twist’s bitter tirades on pirates, pirates everywhere, had me laughing hard. He has a definite grudge.)

The one thing I wasn’t so fond of was the obvious romantic overtones to the relationship between Twist and Jonas. Twist ends up falling in love with the clockwork girl, which made a second romance unnecessary. And it annoyed me because I thought Jonas and Twist would be great friends, but instead the story jumps straight to a more romantic angle, which makes some of their interactions a lot more awkward than they would be otherwise.

Overall, this was a fun little story, and I’m hoping the series drops the extra relationship as an unneeded distraction and goes with a more friendship angle (probably a futile hope, but whatever). I rate this book Recommended.

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The Blue Sword (Damar #1)

Title: The Blue Sword

Author: Robin McKinley

Series: Damar #1

When Harry’s parents die, she’s sent to the frontiers of Homeland, to Damar, to live with a family who has agreed to take her in. But as grateful as Harry is for the home, it’s also a place where she’s expected to rein in the “excesses” her own parents permitted. Being ladylike doesn’t suit her at all. Then the Hill folk native to the area, a people bearing a strange power, carry her off, and suddenly everything changes . . .

I was always more fond of The Hero and the Crown, but plot-wise The Blue Sword does feel like the stronger story. I liked that the whole “abducted by handsome barbarians” trope is somewhat turned around by the fact that Harry can’t help noticing she’s more like a problem to these people (or at least some of them). They don’t know exactly why the magic wants her, and even when they figure it out, there’s still the matter of her not actually being one of the Hillfolk.

Because Corlath, the Hillfolk King, is more concerned about saving his country (and by extension the rest of the human lands) from the weird creatures of the North. Those inhuman assailants are pressing hard again against the border, and this time they’ve got a leader who can organize them enough to be a serious threat. He doesn’t want to deal with the Homelanders. Especially since they refuse to believe him about the nature of the threat.

All in all this is an interesting book, though not my favorite McKinley. I rate this book Recommended.

The Hero and the Crown (Damar #2)

Title: The Hero and the Crown

Author: Robin McKinley

Series: Damar #2

Aerin is the king’s daughter, but that doesn’t mean much to a people who are half-convinced her mother witched her father. An awkward, plain, Giftless princess who tries to hide in the shadows, Aerin is acutely aware of her shortcomings. But her persistence in odd hobbies reaps unexpected dividends when she discovers an ointment to protect herself from dragonfire, and volunteers herself to slay dragons. Small, nasty, vermin dragons, which is a job with as much glory as hunting rats. Then the real trouble arrives . . .

I’ve liked this book a lot ever since childhood, although now, rereading it again, I can see things that just don’t seem to hang together as well. What exactly draws the cats and dogs to Aerin’s side? They just show up, and suddenly they’re allies. And the evil villain is brought up and disposed very quickly, so he never really feels like much of a threat, more of an aside to the actual plot. He doesn’t force Aerin to come to grips with any of the issues she’s been struggling with, or serve any kind of thematic climax. He’s just there. Which is kind of funny considering he’s supposed to be mega-threatening.

And it’s both puzzling and annoying that Aerin sleeps with Luthe when she does, because she is highly conscious of her duty as a princess, and that sort of thing tends to have severe repercussions on the marriageability of princesses (and depending on how soon she and Tor had a child, could cast serious doubt on the legitimacy of the heir. Which, given Aerin’s own precarious position, doesn’t seem like her to wish upon another). And it’s not very fair to Tor. The story would have worked equally well if she’d just liked Luthe, and gone back to him after Tor died.

But for all that, the story is still a good one. Aerin’s a princess without the usual princess trappings. She gets stuck with much of the duties but few of the benefits. What she earns, she earns through study and experimentation and hard work, and her victories are as likely to grant her sympathy as acclaim. Because while dragons may need slaying, no one’s overly keen on glorifying the butchery. And the courtiers turn up their noses at those who manage the grunt work, dragons or no. Aerin spends most of the book sick with one thing or another, and being a wallflower, so her eventual victories feel like great triumphs.

So Aerin is very human, and relateable. She befriends a horse, defends her country from dragons great and small, and in the end finds a place for herself, even if it’s not going to be entirely comfortable.

Overall this is a good read. The later portion tends to feel a bit dreamy because so much is happening that doesn’t quite make sense, and there’s bits of the mythic creeping in about the edges. I rate this book Recommended.

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana (PS4/Vita)

Title: Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana

Systems: PS4/Vita

Series: Ys

Adol Christin is an adventurer, but he isn’t planning to embark on his next one quite so soon. When the ship he’s on sinks, he and the rest of the castaways must survive on a deserted island. Only this island has far more in store for them—Adol’s dreams connect him to a mysterious girl, Dana, whose story has great importance for their own . . .

I have never played a Ys game before this one, but this has little enough to do with its surrounding series that it wasn’t a problem. Adol’s adventure is pretty self-contained, with only minor references to what I presume are series staples or callbacks.

The game was excellent. I loved exploring every corner of the island, unlocking its secrets one by one. The gameplay is action-based, and fights generally go very quickly, so there isn’t much grinding required (even if you’re like me and have to horde healing items for longer dungeons, the fruit regrows pretty quickly, and the ingredients for potions are easy enough to gather).

I liked how there isn’t any money in this game–you’re on a deserted island, with only fellow castaways, so what use would it be? Instead there’s a trading system that allows you to trade up or down for various materials.

And I wish the journal was something all RPGs implemented. It keeps track of the expected basics, like a plot summary and the tutorial screens that you’ve seen so far, but it also keeps track of every fish, monster, and material, which makes figuring out how to craft anything a breeze. And the menus are cross-linked, so you can start with a material, pick a monster that drops it, and go right to the screen with details about that monster. It’s such a little convenience, but one missing from pretty much every other game I’ve played.

Because of features like this, you don’t actually need a guide to get 100%. Just keep an eye on the quests in the village after every major story event and things will take care of themselves.

The graphics are admittedly dated, showing the game’s Vita origins. Still, I like the bright, colorful world, and the tropical locations are beautiful. The setting is the ancient Mediterranean very thinly disguised (Greek is the name of the country? Really? I suppose they speak Greece there).

The characters are mostly good as well. I was never fond of Laxia, who has the unfortunate distinction of being humiliated for fanservice right at the beginning of the game. It’s things like this that make it really hard for me to get non-anime fans into these games. They see a dropping-the-towel scene like that and figure the game will be smut, especially since this comes barely an hour into the game. And it makes no sense for her to even have a towel at that point in the game, much less feel safe enough to take a bath, given that she’s just washed ashore from a shipwreck and the local wildlife is decidedly unfriendly.

However, others, like Sahad, Ricotta, and Dana, were much better. Hummel is just kind of there to be comic relief.

I should probably mention the localization is getting an update, though as of my playthrough I only saw the original. It would be nice to get a few of the place names updated to something with less awkwardness in English (the Archeozoic Big Hole is probably the worst offender), but I didn’t find it a game-ruining experience.

Overall, I am very glad I picked this up (would also like to get the soundtrack, and if there is an artbook I want it, because the monster designs are awesome). I beat it in 77 hours, but that was with a lot of exploration, the final boss, true ending, postgame dungeon, and various points early on trying to subvert the need for double jump to get some chests (hint: the characters have different jump distances, and this can also be altered somewhat with moves. So Sahad, if you can get him to do his 4-swing attack in the air, has a lot of horizontal distance, or Laxia has a charge attack that can move her forward). I only missed the platinum because I decided to play on Normal and not Nightmare. I rate this game Recommended.

Hand and Talon (World of Kyrni #1)

Title: Hand and Talon

Author: Melonie Purcell

Series: World of Kyrni #1

Krea is a thief who just stole the wrong moneybag. But when she’s about to be captured, an unlikely intervention changes the course of her life. Her rescuer, Sorin, is an old caller. He tells her about the kryni, the shapeshifters, and insists she is one—and that she needs to be linked up with a caller before her first shift or she will lose her humanity forever. Krea doesn’t agree with him, but they journey together towards the capital in hopes of finding help for her. But unexpected dangers dog their journey, and what seemed to be relatively simple keeps getting more complicated . . .

The description of shapeshifters who need callers to stay human admittedly gave me pause, because I was expecting something along the lines of a cheap hook for a romance. Thankfully, this is nothing like that—and Sorin makes a few vehement points about interbreeding totally not being a thing, so at least the story quickly loses any suspicion that this is going to go in a sketchy direction.

I really liked Sorin. He’s old and grumpy and emotionally closed-off, especially to Krea, because of some things that went on in his past. He tries to do his best by her, but realizes time and again he’s unconsciously holding back.

Krea, for her part, isn’t taking anything for granted. (Actually, she’s probably taking everything anyone else took for granted.) She is a thief, through and through, and her kleptomaniac tendencies often get her far more than she bargained for. The knife is especially good. What initially looked like an amazing find becomes something she can’t even give away, much as she wants to.

And Dane plays off Krea perfectly. They’re both thieves, but their different ages and abilities lead to squabbles more often than solidarity.

All in all this was a strong story. It leaves off with a clear hook for a sequel, which I will be eagerly anticipating. I rate this book Recommended.

Freaks & Other Family (Necromancer)

Title: Freaks & Other Family

Author: Lish McBride

Series: Necromancer (set after book 2)

This is a collection of two stories. It follows the many of the characters from the Necromancer universe, but the stories don’t require you to have read them (although they will spoil some things).

You Make Me Feel So Young – An undercover mission to investigate a suspicious organization at their black-tie dinner turns crazy. It was pretty easy to see where this was going, but still fun. Sam still manages to astound those who think he ought to know better with his almost-total ignorance about magical things.

Halfway Through the Wood – Ramon has had some difficulty keeping up with family events after being turned into a were-bear. But when his abuela has a birthday party, he’s no longer able to make excuses. This is definitely the stronger of the two stories, and I like the opportunity to see a bit more of Ramon, his family, and how he’s dealing (or not) with what happened to him. It’s the little things, like massive amounts of strength or trying not to shapeshift under stress, that worry him.

Overall this is a nice treat for fans of the Necromancer books, especially those who liked Ramon. I rate this Recommended.

The Star Thief

Title: The Star Thief

Author: Lindsey Becker

Honorine is a maid for the Vidalia Estate, but her life completely changes when she discovers intruders breaking into the house. One group has curious beings like a winged girl and a wolf whose body isn’t the usual flesh and blood, and they want Honorine to join them. The other group, however, has Francis Vidalia, Honorine’s childhood friend, and many new devices that fascinate her–and the two groups are bitter enemies. All she wants is to live happily with Francis and her long-lost family, but the only way to get there is by sacrificing everything else . . .

This had some interesting ideas I wish went farther. The Mordant are star-creatures, linked to their constellations, and they have various influences and abilities related to those constellations. We meet several of them: Lux, Scorpio, Leo, and so on. Their powers are decidedly magical. On the other side we have Nautilus and his (steampunk) technology, who is capturing the Mordant for reasons unknown. Obvious logic would put Nautilus as the villain, but the Mordant’s mysterious leader, known as the Mapmaker, doesn’t exactly want what’s best for humanity, just the Mordant. So we have a situation where both sides are neither good nor evil, but it’s more nuanced.

I liked it well enough overall, but nothing about the characters or the story really stuck to me. The fact that both sides are somewhat villainous kind of irritated me by the end, because it means Honorine keeps waffling between them while she’s trying to find a way for everything to resolve without wiping out one side. (And I can’t say I think too highly of the scientists who are happy to enslave sentient beings simply because it makes them more productive.) But the Mordant are a lot of fun, and hopefully if there are future books we’ll see more of them. I rate this book Recommended.