Tag Archives: steampunk

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 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.

Granblue Fantasy (Anime)

Title: Granblue Fantasy

Episodes: 1-13

Gran longs to travel the skies, following the path of his father, an adventurer who found a legendary island—or so claims his letter. The man himself never returned. Enter Lyria, a mysterious girl who falls from the sky escaping the Empire. In helping her, Gran ties their fates together, and the two of them set off on the adventure Gran has always wanted.

This isn’t going to be for everyone, but anyone who likes older JPRGs about amnesiac heroines and kind heroes is going to feel right at home. Personally, I loved it. The style is very reminiscent of a game, but it doesn’t often get bogged down in callbacks to its game. For example, some extra characters show up for the final battle in episode 12 that are almost certainly game characters, but there’s no need to know about them to appreciate a few hard-hitting nameless characters who want to spice up the final battle.

The cast is good, too. Katalina is a lieutenant in the Empire who helped Lyria escape. She’s a strong and capable woman, but doesn’t begrudge her need of others to help her with the impossible task of protecting Lyria from the rest of the Empire. I liked Rackam too. He’s a more technical guy who likes airships, but isn’t all that interested in anything more complicated than an engine problem until the Empire drags him into the whole mess. The only one I didn’t care for as much was Io, but that was more because I found her voice annoying in Japanese.

The story in these first twelve episodes doesn’t wrap much up. It’s more a gather-the-crew series of missions that drops a bit of backstory or worldbuilding here or there. I do hope the series continues (I believe a second season is likely, although I don’t see an official announcement yet.) Episode 13 is completely skippable, although possibly fun if you wanted to see a beach episode featuring the female player character Djeeta instead of Gran (it’s mostly an excuse to get all the female characters in swimsuits).

All in all, I think the first episode or two should be a good indication of whether or not you’d like the series. I enjoyed it and am hoping there will be more episodes in the future, long enough to get to the island and whatever final boss will reveal itself. I rate this show Recommended.

A Legend of Starfire (A Sliver of Stardust #2)

Title: A Legend of Starfire

Author: Marissa Burt

Series: A Sliver of Stardust #2

Wren still has nightmares about the land of Nod, the evil Boggin she so narrowly stopped, and the horrors at the gate between worlds. Unfortunately, it looks like her contributions to the peace aren’t over yet. When some work on the gate goes wrong, she ends up on another adventure, one that will determine the fate of both worlds.

I wasn’t as engaged by this one as the first book. Wren’s still struggling with the aftermath of her actions in the previous book, which was nice. But the plot tries really hard to introduce a lot of content, particularly in the latter half, and it feels like a lot just got skimmed. Take the mechanical animal hybrids. There’s certain twist, but there’s almost no time in the story to actually dig into that or what happens as a result. So it ends up feeling really rushed. Or Wren suddenly having a crush on a certain guy, which seems to consist of finding him cute but not much else, and no time at all to act on that. Not that I mind as much on that, since one thing that aggravates me is breakneck pace adventures slowing down for a lot of romance. But I do mention it because it was another area that felt underdeveloped.

That said, I did like the end. The Ashes and the Crooked Man were interesting, particularly with the conflicting information Wren has about them. Jack, particularly, was a star of the book for me. He’s not at all who he was in the first book, but he’s not entirely free of his old self either. I wish we’d had more of a chance to see how he’s changed and how he hasn’t, and walk with him through the major decisions he makes and the way they impact him.

Overall, this is still a good cap to the duology, although not one I liked as much as the predecessor. If you have more of a liking for dystopias some of what goes on probably won’t sit as badly. I rate this book Recommended.

The Masked City (Invisible Library #2)

Title: The Masked City

Author: Genevieve Cogman

Series: Invisible Library #2

Irene is enjoying her post as Librarian-in-Residence. She’s been able to collect books for the Library, heal, and–if not take it easy, exactly, then at least settle down to one place. But then Kai, her dragon apprentice, is kidnapped by the Fae. In the interests of preventing a war between the dragons and the Fae, she has to get him back. Even if it means traveling deep within chaos-controlled realms . . .

Like the first book, this is full of crazy twists and a lot of fun action sequences. Irene, who struggles to be competent and professional and above all, grounded, finds herself in a place where story is more important than reality. Stories are reality to the Fae. The question, as Irene continually asks herself, is which kind of story has she stumbled into? One where the prince is rescued and everybody goes home more or less okay? Or one where the clever Fae stumble across the antagonist out to ruin their grand plan and do away with her?

I liked the chance to dig deeper into both the dragons and the Fae. Irene’s starting to pick up on the fact that the Library is probably playing some game of its own, but that takes more of a backseat to fleshing out the various sides outside the Library. Irene herself is for humanity, but it’s Vale who is the actual human involved in this mess. Vale takes Kai’s kidnapping personally, not in the least because of what the Fae do to try to distance him from solving the case. I did wonder towards the end why Vale did better than Irene in a certain area. It would be interesting to know if the reason was merely personality and experience on his side, or if something else was going on.

Once again I wasn’t all that fond of the sexual tones of certain parts. Pretty much every powerful male except the adult dragons tries to seduce Irene, or at least would like to sleep with her (though Vale would probably prefer marriage, and I like him best just because he’s the only one who isn’t PUSHY). This is personal preference, but is one reason I like reading books for kids more; I find the constant repetition of that theme really boring. Although once again Irene actually says no to all of them (and her point about Silver in particular was illustrating… he literally can’t stop himself, even if his life is at stake).

All in all, this was an interesting follow up to a strong first book. Given the hints about some of the deeper games in play, there’s plenty more material to fuel an ongoing series. You could technically start here, but it would spoil some good twists from the first book, so I’d encourage reading them in order. I rate this book Recommended.

The Invisible Library (Invisible Library #1)

Title: The Invisible Library

Author: Genevieve Cogman

Series: Invisible Library #1

Irene is a Librarian for an unusual Library, one that exists outside time and space and worlds, in its own reality. Mostly she infiltrates alternate worlds and collects unique books for its collection. But her latest assignment reeks of secrets and politics, and may be rather more dangerous than she’s been told. She’s supposed to train a junior assistant, the book she’s looking for has already been stolen, and the Library’s greatest enemies also want what she’s after . . .

This was mostly fun, with a few places where I just had to roll my eyes. Fun stuff first. Irene is a very likeable lead. She tries hard to stay cool and in control even when the situation has exploded away from her. She’s aware of what being a leader entails, and she tries to be responsible to that ideal. Kai’s presence tends to exaggerate that in her, too, as she both wants and needs to be a good superior for him. I was particularly impressed that she refuses to bed him after his explicit invitation (although other aspects of that scene were part of the eye-rolling bits). It wouldn’t have been a good idea, but I can’t say I remember the last book where that actually stopped the characters.

The world she ends up on has a lot of steampunk with a dash of mad science. Mechanical creatures! Zeppelins! Victorian fashion sense! Also werewolves and vampires and Fae (who are creepy, dangerous, and strongly magical). And I really liked the detective she meets, and how he engages the mysteries before him with his own skills, even though he’s got no idea of most of what she’s caught up in.

I wasn’t all that fond of Kai, though. His character is all over the place (although to be fair, Irene notices this too and remarks on it). Once more of his secrets come out, some of his behavior makes even less sense.

And the few personal nits: why does Kai have to be devastatingly handsome, with perfect looks, perfect voice, etc? I’m getting tired of “perfect boyfriend” type characters. (Irene subverts this somewhat by falling for the detective instead of her trainee, which made me very happy.) And the scene where he invites her to bed involves the two of them comparing the amount of sexual experience they’ve had, which also makes me roll my eyes. For one, it absolutely doesn’t suit Kai, whose nature is order, whose firm commitment is to family no matter what, to be such a player he might have spawned half a hundred offspring without knowing it. And then just moved on. Because the family he’s so emotionally invested in apparently doesn’t include people he sleeps with and definitely doesn’t include himself as a possible father. Does this strike anyone else as a total betrayal of the character’s deepest beliefs? The alternative is that he’s lying about said experience, which I don’t really buy either, or he wouldn’t have been so casual about asking Irene. And the way the whole scene plays out feels really pointless, except to have both the characters bragging about how much sex they’ve had, as if that somehow makes them better people. It has nothing to do with the story.

Overall this was a pretty good adventure, and although things wrap up in one sense, the deeper threads point towards a series. I rate this book Recommended.

Lost Odyssey (XBox 360)

Story: Kaim Arganor has been alive longer than he can remember. An immortal wandering the world of mortal men, he’s seen too much of life and death to care much about the machinations of any one nation. But when he’s sent on a mission to investigate a facility that generates magical energy, the past he can’t remember becomes vital to stopping an ominous future slowly unfolding. Mortal nations rise and fall, but when an immortal goes rogue, it will take someone with Kaim’s experience to stop him.

The story does a generally excellent job of avoiding too many cliche elements. I was especially impressed with how well the rift between mortal and immortal was highlighted, particularly through the various dreams you can unlock throughout a playthrough. These vignettes are snapshots into Kaim’s past, showcasing various aspects of life and death he’s lived through in his long wanderings. These short stories have textual effects to accent the words, like slowly fading in or bouncing around.

The characters, too, were great for the most part. Jansen was the biggest surprise. I didn’t really care for him at first, but his consistently humorous quips soon had me laughing almost every time he opened his mouth. (Listening to him mock the final boss was also hysterical.)

Gameplay: Lost Odyssey is a turn-based RPG, although turn order depends on what you’re doing in a given turn. Characters have a base attack speed that applies to physical attacks, but skills use a different speed stat (and also can depend on the skill you’re trying to activate), and each magic spell has its own casting speed.

Enemies are encountered randomly on the map, and although the random encounter rate was generally good, I did really want a way to tweak it to make it easier to grind for SP (eg, getting a late-game character who has loads of skills to make up on) or avoid battles (TEMPLE OF ENLIGHTENMENT, I am looking at YOU). The battle load time was rather bad, with several long background and character pans before the enemy is ready to fight, although some of that may have been because I did not install the game to the hard drive.

Attacks are modified by rings. I remain confused on how to visually tell the difference between a Perfect and Good ring, but I eventually got the hang of timing it to be able to get at least a Good every time. My eyesight isn’t great, and the ring is a small white ring around a smaller black ring, which on some backgrounds (most notably the last boss fight which has a bright light behind the boss) can make it nearly impossible to tell where you’re striking. However, the additional effects mostly just speed up your battles. A small hint: the most effective rings are the type-targeting ones, followed by the elemental, followed by the generic damage increases (I wasn’t good enough at Perfects to get much of an increased Critical chance even on the best Critical-enhancing rings). Status effect rings are virtually useless since with rare exceptions any fight that takes long enough for a status effect to be useful is a boss immune to all of them. Rings can be crafted fairly easily, although late-game rings have much more annoying requirements, but it’s perfectly possible to play through endgame with only the level 2 rings, which can be crafted through buyable items. Also, on the plus side, rings can be changed on the fly in battle, so it’s easy to swap things around for maximum damage on any given foe.

The main frustration I had with the gameplay is that enemies will only ever give you one item. Since an enemy can have a common steal, a rare steal, and four drop items if it’s fully loaded out, getting what you want can be a real hassle. If you steal either of the items, the enemy won’t drop anything. And there’s no way to increase drop rate or influence which drop you get, either, so if you need a particular item, it’s best to look for something you can steal it from, and then try to get lucky finding it in random encounters. I usually like to max out my endgame gear, but in this particular game decided it just wasn’t worth the effort.

Overall this is a great game, with solid visuals and excellent music backing up a strong story. I beat the game in roughly 70 hours and did 100% of the available content and learned all the skills (though I didn’t bother to platinum the game due to one particular fight sequence that is designed to make getting the treasure trophy next to impossible). There isn’t much benefit in the New Game+ offered, so I doubt I’ll replay it anytime soon, but it was a lot of fun going through the first time. I rate this game Highly Recommended.