Tag Archives: shapeshifters

The Harbors of the Sun (Raksura #5)

Title: The Harbors of the Sun

Author: Martha Wells

Series: Raksura #5

The Raksura are furious. And afraid. Jade, Moon, and a handful of others left the Reaches to prevent the frightening dreams and visions no one could understand—and instead may have caused them. Now on the trail of the Hians who betrayed them all, they can only struggle to recapture what was lost, and hope they aren’t too late.

This finishes out the duology that started in The Edge of Worlds, though it has some interesting ties back to the earlier Raksura books as well.

Like the other Raksura books, this one features a plethora of strange cities and alien races. I like the hints of earlier eras mingled with later, like ruins other races repurposed for their own ends. And the glimpses blend very naturally into the story. Moon is on a journey, but the story has additional threads with Jade, with Bramble and Merit, and with the court of Indigo Cloud they all left behind.

I like the characters a lot, too. It’s so amusing to see Pearl and Malachite finally meet: two feared/respected reigning queens with very strong opinions who aren’t used to anyone telling them no. It’s interesting to see how Stone and Moon, despite both being well-traveled, are so different in their approach to other cultures. And of course the half-Fell queen that nobody has any idea how to handle.

I also appreciated not only Jade’s choice near the end, but how efficiently she makes it. She knows exactly what’s at stake and acts first, knowing she’ll have a chance to think about the consequences later.

Although the end neatly closes out the duology, this is a rich world that would easily support more stories. I’ve always enjoyed my time in this world and this book continues that. I rate this book Recommended.

The Secret Country (The Eidolon Chronicles #1)

Title: The Secret Country

Author: Jane Johnson

Series: The Eidolon Chronicles #1

Ben’s plans to get himself a pair of Mongolian Fighting Fish only last as long as it takes him to save up the money. At the pet store, a cat insists on being taken home instead—and since Ben has never heard a talking cat, he gives in. Little did he suspect he had encountered the fringes of something much bigger. Another world exists alongside our own. A world of magic. A world in trouble. A world that needs Ben to help it . . .

This was a bit too young and straightforward for my tastes, but it was still a decent story. There’s no complexity to the villains or the heroes: once you’ve met someone, you can easily tell which side that person is on. (Amusingly, the only exception is Ben’s sister, but she’s not a major part of the story.)

I did like the variety of mythological creatures. There are dragons, of course, but also selkies and dryads and Gabriel’s Hounds. I particularly liked the twists in how the selkie was presented. That made much more sense than the whole sealskin thing.

I also liked that the whole destiny card doesn’t give Ben a free pass. He’s still himself, with his only real ability apparently being able to talk to magical creatures, which is something a lot of people share.

On the other hand, Ben doesn’t do a whole lot either. Mostly he’s enabling or directing others to do most of the work. I would hope a future book would involve more of his own deeds and not just the help of his friends.

All in all this sets up for a series, but the story wraps up well enough in the first book to have something that feels like an ending. I doubt I’ll continue just because it feels a little younger than the stuff I enjoy, but it isn’t a bad book. I rate this book Neutral.

A Crown of Dragons (Unicorne Files #3)

Title: A Crown of Dragons

Author: Chris D’Lacey

Series: Unicorne Files #3

Michael is no closer to understanding the mystery behind his father, his own powers, or the secret agency UNICORNE that seems to hold all the answers. But when the dragon scale his father was hunting impacts his life once again, he’s pressing for answers. Even if finding out might change his life once again . . .

I didn’t think it was possible for the book to give some answers that actually made sense of some of my more aggravating questions, but it did. For starters, why would anyone try to make Michael into a secret agent when he clearly has little aptitude for the role? Although plot-wise, I think the second book could basically be skipped as it contributed very little, and the first and third books do a better job presenting the overarching plot with Michael, his dad, and Freya.

That said, I still had to force myself to finish. Michael feels like the wrong protagonist for a story like this. He’s got fun powers, but barely uses them at all except to pull a total rewrite for the end, and that feels cheap—he’s never really controlled them, and part of the fun was seeing the unintended consequences, like his sister becoming a musical genius, that always accompanied whatever he was ACTUALLY trying to do. Add to that he’s not showcasing much except incompetence and an ability to get into trouble (and not in a particularly entertaining fashion), and the adults who know more are basically jerking him around for the most part.

It’s not really badly written. It’s just that I ended up hating the main character, who I actually liked well enough in the first book, because it’s really hard to find things to like him FOR. I did like the ideas, particularly in this book, and its take on dragons. But I can’t see myself reading these again. I rate this book Neutral.

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.

The Dark Warrior (Overlord #2)

Title: The Dark Warrior

Author: Kugane Maruyama

Series: Overlord #2

Momonga (now Ainz) is fully aware of his own lack of knowledge about the world he now inhabits. He’s still uncertain how much his former-NPC’s loyalty can be trusted, and the world contains things both from the game Yggdrasil and things he’s never seen before. So Ainz goes undercover as the dark warrior Momon. Together with one of his battle maids, they pose as adventurers in the hopes of learning more. But other plans are afoot in the city, and Ainz may have inadvertently tripped over a few of them . . .

For those coming from the anime, this novel was adapted in episodes 5-9. Again, the adaptation was faithful and the differences are minor (although my favorite addition was the extra information about just what Ainz did with that Jewel of Darkness).

Once again, Momonga/Ainz is proceeding into the world with extreme caution, even though he’s so high leveled that he can afford to seal away most of his magic and simply wave swords around and still be stronger than pretty much any human adversary. But the fun, of course, is in watching HOW everything plays out. The plot really likes putting him in embarrassing situations as well as situations where he can show off.

For example, ogres. Ainz can dispatch ogres with a single blow. His technique is terrible, but his strength allows him to ignore the basics any actual warrior would know. Ainz knows this and is uncomfortable at the amount of awe his “mighty deeds” generate, because to him, ogres that low-leveled would never pose a threat.

This gets even funnier when Ainz decides to challenge the Wise King of the Forest, hoping for a faster way to spread his renown.

Here, too, Momonga’s inner loneliness comes through a little better than the anime. He’s hurting for the friends he used to have, which he sees reflected in a small party of adventurers he teams up with for a time. Their camaraderie reminds him of what he lost and wants to have again, and spreading his name is a way of crying out for them to notice that he’s still here, waiting for them. It’s a little sad he can’t take Touch Me’s example to heart and go out and befriend others, even if they are weaklings, but his paranoia about keeping himself, his former NPCs, and Nazarick safe precludes any overtures.

I like how the game world details keep coming, and also how the various techniques and abilities that pop up show that this is NOT the game Momonga played. That leaves him with plenty to discover (and plenty of new things to embarrass himself with, I’m sure). Again, for those who liked the anime, this is a great way to dig deeper into the world, and to see some of the technical explanations about spells and so forth that never made it to the screen. The book also contains several nice pieces of art on the interior. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

The Undead King (Overlord #1)

Title: The Undead King

Author: Kugane Maruyama

Series: Overlord #1

Momonga has one pleasure in his working life: the DMMO-RPG Yggdrasil, where he and a group of friends created number nine of the top-ten guilds, which they called Ainz Ooal Gown. But that’s over now. The guildmembers themselves have mostly quit, and the game is shutting down at midnight. Momonga is the only one of the four remaining who decides to stick it out right up to the very end. And then . . . the end looks a lot different than he expected. Now he’s become his character from the game, the NPCs are alive, and their dungeon Nazarik has been transported to unknown lands. Momonga has no idea what to do, but the former NPCs are convinced he’s the Supreme Ruler . . .

First, for those who watched the anime first (or who intend to watch the anime in the future), this book was episodes 1-4, although the events are arranged slightly differently. It’s otherwise a faithful adaptation, but the book provides additional worldbuilding.

I liked this way more than I expected. Normally “trapped in a game world” is not my thing, but this series has a couple of unusual differences that made it really work for me. Momonga’s not desperate to get out, for one. Yggdrasil WAS his life, or the only part of it that really meant anything to him, and he writes off the “real world” pretty quickly. What he does want is to find his friends and former guildmates, and he holds on to the hope that some of them might have come to this world too.

Another fun subversion is his character itself. Momonga played an undead skeletal caster: an evil sorcerer. He was by no means a heroic character. And now that this is ACTUALLY him, the only morality he can hold on to is based on tenuous supports like “I don’t want to let down the memories of my friends” rather than standards like good and evil. He’s more worried about letting down the former NPCs (or losing their loyalty) and less worried about whoever gets killed or tortured in front of him or even for him.

Momonga’s sheer power also makes him a lot of fun to follow. In his heart, he’s still mostly an ordinary human (at least for now), and he’s keenly aware that he has no real backup other than the NPCs. So he reacts to situations as though everything is capable of killing him . . . only to usually find out he’s read the clues all wrong. The fight at Carne village is one of my favorites of the series so far because it does a great job showcasing both his nervous disposition and how he reacts to arrogant enemies. Momonga is big on experiments . . .

Overall, even though I’m not too fond of some of the more fanservice-oriented elements, I had a lot of fun with this. If you’re curious about the series, it may be easier to check out the anime first, as that’s available for free streaming, but even though the book covers the same material, the additional worldbuilding and character details is definitely worth it. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Alexander’s Army (Unicorne Files #2)

Title: Alexander’s Army

Author: Chris D’Lacey

Series: Unicorne Files #2

Michael was hoping joining UNICORNE would allow him to find out more of what happened to his father. But answers are few, and UNICORNE has another mystery they’d like him to investigate first. A comic shop has some weird things going on, and they want Michael to check into it. He’d rather deal with Freya, or his own powers, or his dad, but he reluctantly agrees. But he’s not actually very good at the whole undercover operative gig . . .

I finally figured out what my biggest problem was with this book: I don’t like any of the characters. Michael was fine in the first book, where his weird reality-bending powers kicked in on a regular basis, and he was being eased into a world beyond the world he knows. But in this one, he’s downright terrible at figuring out anything, his powers activate less often (and the book kind of cheats by having a different power take center stage), and there isn’t any real progress made on most of the continuing plot threads.

Michael doesn’t really WANT any of the missions or adventures he’s involved in, and he’s pretty much incompetent at running them too. Freya went from sympathetic to cold and harsh (and though she tries to explain it away, it still doesn’t make the book easier to read). I sort of get the impression the two of them are supposed to eventually become boyfriend/girlfriend for real, but there’s nothing THERE. At this point he’s helping her mostly because he’s got a giant guilt complex about how she died and he inadvertently made her live after death.

Aside from that, the plot definitely veers closer to horror/thriller territory (I was hoping for more of an adventure, because the first book set up what could’ve been a couple of different directions). Although I liked the unusual bits of the supernatural that showed up this time, I can’t help but feel there’s never going to be a point. Michael isn’t offered any kind of framework other than “stuff just happens, and sometimes it’s wacky.” Since he’s not digging into other people’s powers or his own, just trying to get out of whatever he’s been volunteered for this time, I wasn’t as interested.

This isn’t necessarily a bad book, just not for me. I’m not certain at this point if I’ll make it through the third book, but I may give it a shot since I have it on hand. Perhaps if it is the last one Michael will man up and actually do something instead of forcing everyone around him to push him forward. I rate this book Neutral.