Tag Archives: recommended

Knights of the End (Knights of the End #1)

Title: Knights of the End

Author: J. D. Cowan

Series: Knights of the End #1

Teddy MacIsaac dreams of heroes in a world where heroic ideals have succumbed to world-weary pessimism. Undaunted, he follows his dreams and a voice calling inside until he discovers a golden coin with mysterious powers. It grants him what he always wanted: the chance to be a hero. But no hero stands unopposed, and the general evil that’s haunted his world is about to get a lot more personal . . .

I really liked this. I found it based on a blog post by its author, and the comment that it had been written for his (her?) 13-year-old self immediately grabbed my interest, as the summary promised an actual light-versus-dark conflict that’s becoming increasingly hard to find.

And we get lots of awesome. Transforming superhero powers, secret identities, magical powers strong enough to change the world, and a colorful cast of friends and enemies. I particularly liked what happened with Rock, and how Teddy’s relationship with him changes over the course of the book. Bits of this read like an old comic book or cartoon drawn in greater detail. And I mean that as a compliment—the bombastic fights, the witty exchanges, the soaring imagination, the love of what it actually is to be a hero.

There are a few minor typos and errors that detracted a bit, but overall this was a solid book. I do hope the series continues, and continues to explore more of what it actually takes to be a hero who holds on to right no matter the cost (along with increasing the superhero cool moves and powers). Teddy takes a few knocks this time around, but certain events seem to be setting him up for a much deeper conflict between who he is and who he wants to be. I rate this book Recommended.

Pursuing Prissie (Pomeroy Family Legacy #1)

Title: Pursuing Prissie

Author: Christa Kinde

Series: Pomeroy Family Legacy #1

Ten years have passed since Prissie began seeing angels. Many of her old friends have moved on, but she’s still in West Edinton. And after a stint in college, Ransom is back and ready to stay. His feelings for Prissie have only grown . . . but she’s content to see him as a friend. And Prissie is distracted by a demon who has taken a particular interest in her.

I would recommend reading the Threshold books before this one, as it will provide a lot of context to the story and the characters. This takes place ten years later, and it’s a lot of fun to see how everyone’s grown up. I do miss the exuberance of the younger Ransom, as his uncertainties (as well as his goal) make him more restrained than he was previously. But Prissie mellowed out a lot, and as usual surrounds herself with a diverse crowd. I think I was most surprised with Margary, her former best friend, and seeing not only how far their paths have diverged, but how Prissie is mature enough to recognize the real needs in her former friend’s life and tries to meet them.

The angelic side is as fun as ever. Tameas and Ethan are surprised to find their charges swapped for the time being, although some of the angels eventually guess the reason. I wonder if Ethan ever figured out his main qualification was looking like a teenager. . . but he does get a level of encouragement from Prissie that Zeke doesn’t provide, simply because Prissie can see him.

I think my favorite line in the whole book was this exchange between Tamaes and Jedrick.

Tamaes sagged to a seat beside Jedrick, who smiled sympathetically. “How fares your new charge?”
“I used to laugh at the stories Ethan shared.”

I also think it’s funny how much Beau and Prissie rely on Marcus, which drives Ransom crazy because he can’t help interpreting this from a human perspective and feel left out, not understanding that they tend to turn to Marcus for issues more demonic in nature. And Marcus is always in full agreement with them about “we’re just friends.” I wonder, given Prissie’s comment in Ransom’s new house at the end, if she’s told him a bit more of her strange life. Not telling her brothers is common sense, but Ransom has a better reason to know by the end.

Overall, I liked having this followup to the main story to see how everything came out. Recommended.

Threshold short story roundup

Author: Christa Kinde

Series: Threshold

Due to the shorter length of most of these, I’m lumping all the reviews together. Several of these are currently free to read on Amazon and/or the author’s website. I tried to put them in roughly chronological order, but several of them have overlapping time periods.

Tried and True

Taweel is a Guardian who lost his charge to the plague that devastated Egypt, killing all the firstborn. Grief casts him away from his fellow Guardians, away from any purpose or healing. But the Weavers who shelter him slowly become friends, a yahavim has taken a personal interest, and two young Guardians may break through his sorrow . . .

I dislike the 100-word-chapter format, as every fragment feels far too short, and I would rather have fewer chapters but more length so that the longer scenes don’t keep getting interrupted by breaks. That said, the story itself is good. Guardians prepare and train and devote themselves to a charge, so when Taweel loses his, he’s unable to see a future for himself. He doesn’t INTEND to Fall, but he can’t forget.

This one is also available to read for free on the author’s website (mostly; if you want the epilogue then get the paid version). Recommended.

Angels on Guard

Tamaes has taken his mentor’s lessons to heart, except for the most important one: allowing himself to care for the little girl under his watchcare. But his concern for his own faithfulness could lead to the very outcome he’s trying to prevent . . .

This is a good story, but won’t make much sense without the context of Tried and True. Tameas’s reluctance is entirely based on Adin’s taunts to him about loving his charge too much (and Adin’s Fall happening in part because his charge died). So Tameas is determined not to repeat the mistake.

This is also the story behind Prissie’s lifelong fear of heights, and snippets of it were in the main Threshold series. I liked this fuller treatment, and getting to see exactly what was going on behind the scenes. (Although I would have also loved to let it go a little further to see Tames awkwardly working his way into the role he should’ve had from the beginning. But I can also reread the later interactions he has with her in the books for something similar.) Recommended, but be sure to read Tried and True (and probably the Threshold main novels) first.

Rough and Tumble

Ethan is a Guardian in training, but his Sending comes well before he feels ready for it. Still, he goes eagerly to his charge: Zeke Pomeroy.

This is another 100-word-chapter one, and again, I’m not too fond of the format, but the story is amusing. Zeke Pomeroy was born wild, and for all that Ethan loves him, he really struggles to keep up. Although this is another story about Guardians, Ethan has a much different perspective on the role than Tameas (I also thought it was cute how Jude’s Guardian has a lot in common with Jude). Recommended.

Angels All Around

Milo is excited to begin his time as a Graft, an angel who lives a human life among humans (at least, when he isn’t called on to resume angelic duties). But the Messenger’s plans fall apart as soon as he walks out the front door. . .

This is another one that tells an event from the main Threshold novels from the perspective of the angels instead of Prissie. In this case, it’s the incident where Milo and Prissie first met in the gazebo in the middle of town. It’s funny to see Milo’s take on the whole thing, because there’s a battle going on all around that he has to pretend he can’t see, and Prissie isn’t at all what he expected. This story is also free. Recommended.

Angel on High

Among the stars, a new angel comes into being. Koji is full of questions, eager to learn and understand. But not all new knowledge is pleasant . . .

This is my favorite of the shorter works (so far, at least). Not only does this story touch on the very beginnings of an angel’s life, the angel in question is Koji, who can’t help trying to figure everything out. Some of his questions go deep, and some are just funny.

The end of this overlaps with the beginning of The Blue Door, retelling his original encounter with Prissie from his point of view. Prissie was annoyed to find a possible trespasser, but Koji is panicking because he never expected to end up interacting with humans, and has no idea what he should do.

I wish this had been novel-length, because it felt like it ended way too fast, but what’s here is sweet and hilarious. Highly Recommended.

Angels in Harmony

This is basically a two-part short story. The first half covers how Baird and Kester first met, and the second half takes place shortly before Christmas and covers a holiday challenge between the two Worshipers (and actually fills in a missing piece from the Threshold novels, mainly, what Prissie ended up giving all her angelic friends for Christmas).

Like all the shorter pieces, this was a good look into the more personal side of some of the angels. Baird’s mostly enthusiastic in the novels, but here we see another side of him: someone whose mood can swing down almost as far as it goes up (Kester, in contrast, is extremely steady). Between Ephron’s capture and some of the hazards of life on earth, Baird can’t always maintain a smile. Kester, in contrast, is longing for a chance to be a mentor himself, but he takes his current apprenticeship with good grace, and aims to support Baird as best he can.

The second half can be a bit jerky due to the quick transitions, but all in all this is still a really fun piece. Currently this one is also free. Recommended.

The Bloody Valkyrie (Overlord #3)

Title: The Bloody Valkyrie

Author: Kugane Maruyama

Series: Overlord #3

Shalltear has rebelled? Backing up a bit, this book begins a little bit before The Dark Warrior ended, after Shalltear left Nazarick along with Sebas and Solution. Their plan is to learn more about the martial and magical artes of this world by finding strong warriors—preferably criminals whose deaths or disappearances won’t be noticed. But a chance encounter causes everything to go wrong, and Shalltear is now under a mind-control her undead status should have protected against. Ainz is furious, but also cautious, and heads out himself to stop her . . .

It says a lot about this series that the first serious threat Ainz faces is his own NPC-turned-rogue. That said, Shalltear is an NPC more or less built to attack players similar to Ainz, so he’s got a fair number of disadvantages going into the fight. Furthermore, Ainz’s paranoia about considering this a deliberate attack, and therefore possibly a trap, causes him to forgo some of the easier ways he could tackle the fight, because he’s too concerned about ambushes and the possibility of his god-tier gear ending up in the hands of enemies to properly equip.

The heart of the novel is this fight. The book does contain one significant scene with Albedo’s sister that the anime cut, but otherwise everything is by and large the same. I do like the smaller additional details, though. Sebas’s alternate form gets mentioned, and now I REALLY want to see him use it. I also like the explanations of game mechanics behind things like Ainz’s skill The Goal of All Life is Death. It feels better that he has so many huge abilities when there’s more context about how hard he had to work to get there (and, amusingly enough, that skill in particular was more of an accidental Easter egg, but still the result of fully developing a particular branch of magic). And the player-versus-player explanations are fuller in the book, drawing out more of Ainz’s experiences and strategies.

I like this a little less than the previous two books, though. Partially because I’m not as fond of Shalltear, and partially because the fanservice scene near the end has Ainz sneaking a peak at what’s physically about a 14-year-old kid. Nothing described in too much detail, thankfully, but still, did we have to go there?

All in all, though, there’s far more to enjoy than not. I like this different take on fantasy, where Ainz is almost a villain by default and not because he has any particularly bad intentions, and if Shalltear does anything really well it’s bringing out his mixed feelings at having to take down someone he sees more like his child. He’s absolutely not going to leave her in the hands of an enemy, but when he can’t cure her there’s only one option left.

I do really, really hope Ainz finds the culprit, though. He’ll make Clementine look like she died peacefully.

This is the final episodes, 10-13, of the anime (at least the first season). I think both the anime and the books do a great job, but regardless which one you like better, at this point in time the only way to get more story is to keep going with the books. And it’d be a shame to stop here, when Ainz is clearly only getting started. I rate this book Recommended.

Overlord (Anime)

Title: Overlord

Episodes: 1-13

Momonga has been a long-time player of the DMMO-RPG Yggdrasil. But the servers are shutting down, his guild has more or less dissolved, and he’s left to wait for the end alone. But the shutdown doesn’t work the way he expected: he’s now living in his undead avatar, with the NPCs turned sentient, and an actual world that only somewhat works like the game he used to know. In Yggdrasil, Momonga had max level, great items, and a solid team at his back. Can he continue as the Overlord of his guild in this new world?

I’m not a big fan of the “trapped in a game” scenarios (it’s just a halfhearted attempt at “transported to another world” to my mind), but this is the second show I’ve gotten into solely because I liked the opening song. “Clattanoia” is a lot of fun. And I was surprised that the story was actually a lot more to my interests than I had expected. Momonga isn’t some upstart with something to prove, or a man desperate to return to his former life. If anything, he just wants his old guildmates to join him, and he works hard to protect the place, NPCs, and memories they left with him. It’s really fitting that he’s an undead, as I think that’s another symbol that he can’t move on (it’s also hysterical that he completely breaks the convention of being handsome, and has to hide his real face in public lest people flee in terror).

Part of the fun is the intersection between the gaming world and the “real” world. There’s a good dose of gaming humor thrown in, like a guild member named Touch Me (who has a much better reputation than his name suggests), the names and types of some of the spells cast, or how HP and MP apparently are still a thing, at least for the formerly-Yggdrasil entities, and so on. And Momonga isn’t coming at this as a newbie, either—as the title implies, he’s starting from the top. It’s kind of a fantasy-flavored One Punch Man, although Momonga actually does have one opponent that can put up a decent fight. And if other players came along, which seems very likely given the end, then he’s likely going to be dealing with them at some point in the future.

I laughed pretty hard at most of his earliest encounters with outside people because he’s repeatedly toning himself down and still overwhelming everyone (this is almost funnier on a re-watch, when terms like fifth-tier magic have enough context to be meaningful . . . Momonga complains people die to “only” a fifth-tier spell when the maximum level humans can cast is third-tier). Or Momonga being embarrassed by things that others find amazing, like the Wise King of the Forest. And the scene where we finally get to meet the NPC Momonga himself created . . . (I do wonder what kind of powers it has, since most of the NPCs seem to be full of their own flavors of nasty surprises…. but that seems to have been a guild trend).

Yet Momonga’s tremendous power is balanced by his (completely reasonable) caution. I think the last fight actually did a great job of demonstrating why: even though he’s strong, he’s still got the class limitations he would’ve had in the game, but he no longer has others of different classes but similar level to watch his back. So running into another player or even just a high-level item in the hands of someone hostile could put him in danger (I do wonder what will happen when his cash shop items run out, since there’s no way he’s going to be able to restock some of the tricks he needed to use pretty liberally to win that encounter).

The art is pretty good but not amazing, and the CG is pretty noticeable. I didn’t think it detracted much from the show, though, as most of the CG is reserved for the undead, so it wasn’t as distracting as it would have been on characters. I’m also not fond of some of the shenanigans that went on with Albedo (Momonga changes her programming in the last minutes of the game so she’s deeply in love with him), but Momonga taking on more and more of his undead persona quickly kills the lust on his side, so after the first episode, he doesn’t do much to encourage her. It’s also fascinating to watch the slow shift in his personality—from someone who thinks mostly like a human, to someone who can casually kill people just for being in the way (and then take their corpses back to practice necromancy upon).

Overall I had a lot more fun with this than I expected. I watched both the sub and the dub and both are solid performances. I honestly don’t even have a favorite—Momonga’s voice in particular is great in both (he’s got a trick where his “official” voice is a lot deeper than his “normal” thoughts). I do hope a second season shows up soon as there is a lot that could be done yet with the characters and the world. I rate this show Recommended.

The Hidden Deep (Threshold #2)

Title: The Hidden Deep

Author: Christa Kinde

Series: Threshold #2

Prissie Pomeroy is still getting used to the fact that she knows several angels. But her life has been changing in other, not-so-welcome ways. Her best friend has found a new best friend, and that person hates Prissie. Ransom, the boy she can’t stand, is also someone she increasingly can’t avoid. Ephron, the missing angel, still hasn’t been found. And the enemy is certainly up to SOMETHING . . .

Most of what I said about the first book is also true for this one. It’s more of a quiet story of everyday life with angels. This book continues to progress through the year: the start of school, the apple harvest, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and so on. It’s fun to see the Pomeroy traditions for each of those, and a few extra events like dinner with all her angelic friends. That’s not to say it’s entirely without action, but the battles clearly aren’t the heart of the story.

I like how the story also isn’t shy about presenting Prissie in all her flaws. Ransom continues to be the most compelling human, someone who would dearly like to know why Prissie is dead set against him, yet not all that interested in being either her friend or her enemy. He just wants to have at least a tolerable relationship so that his employment with her father won’t cause them to butt heads.

And I was very happy the guess I made about a certain character from the first book turned out to be right. Angels aren’t the only ones interacting with Prissie on more than one level . . .

All in all, if you liked the first book, this feels like the next couple of chapters for that story. I rate this book Recommended.

Seeker (Riders #2)

Title: Seeker

Author: Veronica Rossi

Series: Riders #2

Daryn is haunted by her greatest mistake: the conflict that severed Gideon’s hand and thrust Bastian into a world that only she can enter. She has to go back. Has to make things right. But she’s totally unprepared for what’s waiting . . .

Gideon is frustrated at Daryn’s reclusiveness. ALL the Horsemen want to go after Bastian (and messily dismember the demon who went with him), and Daryn won’t clue them in. But they’re searching for her. And once they find her, they’re going after Bastian.

As much as I loved being with these characters again, this felt like a necessary conclusion rather than a story I liked as much in its own right.

The first book was a big favorite, so I’ve been looking forward to the sequel for months. I didn’t want to believe Bastian was doomed to “probably dead in a horrible way” as part of the bittersweet ending to the first book. And I wanted to see more of the Horsemen being awesome and wrecking stuff, or otherwise goofing off with each other, or digging into their personalities more. There was a little of that, but most of the book was so heavily focused on hooking up Daryn and Gideon, and the rest of the plot didn’t go far enough into some of the more interesting ideas it started to explore.

This was still funny. Well, Gideon’s portions were funny. He’s still got that bit of a smartass to liven things up, and there’s some great mini-stories about various misadventures he had with Bastian. Which is a great contrast to the general heaviness of the overall book. Daryn is more depressive, but sometimes she’ll observe something hilarious that the others are doing or saying, but I definitely preferred Gideon’s point of view.

And there were still interesting bits. I found it fascinating how Gideon refers to being War as a VICE, something he has to struggle to overcome. At the same time, I thought the pocket world could have done more to push them through that. As it was, the only character growth I could see was what had happened in the first book (I’m not counting him and Daryn staring intensely at each other and being swept away by “I want you.”). Daryn has a lot more development, for sure, but I felt a little let down by her wanting to go back home to her family. That needed to happen to close out the threads from the first book, but I didn’t care for how it actually worked out (although the aftermath was plenty amusing).

*** SMALL SPOILERS***
The fact that the actual going home was skipped, as well as it being such an easy reintegration, bothered me.
*** END SPOILERS****

I didn’t like how the pocket world limited everyone’s abilities. It helps add to the tension, but it takes away a ton of the fun. Rather than have a scary world where their powers are matched by equally scary Harrows, we get a bunch of restrictions on what can and can’t be done that make them little better than well-armed ordinary humans.

The romance, too, was kind of there for me. I really don’t care for these types of relationships, where it feels a bit more like two people crushing hard on each other, but at least there are things each of them can notice and pull out of the other. So there’s at least something of liking each other as people, and being a decent fit for each other. I did prefer the first book, though, since this one reverses the balance. Here, romance is a much stronger focus than the rest of the plot.

Overall, I was still happy to read this to get more of an ending, but I found myself frustrated at a lot of the directions the story went. I wanted more Jode and Marcus. I wanted more wrecking stuff in huge ways. I wanted Gideon to be more effective, and to be able to use his leadership. That said, this wasn’t bad, just not all I wanted it to be. Be sure to read Riders first, though, as this heavily depends on the previous book. I rate this book Recommended.