Tag Archives: urban

Archer’s Goon

Title: Archer’s Goon

Author: Diana Wynne Jones

Howard’s ordinary life is turned upside-down when he comes home from school one day to find the Goon sitting in his kitchen. The Goon claims he’s from Archer and wants Howard’s father to give him two thousand words. But the words are only the beginning. Howard’s town is ruled by seven siblings who want nothing more than to be released from their confinement here so they can take over the world . . .

This is probably my favorite Diana Wynne Jones book (tied with Dark Lord of Derkholm). I love the way she can take the ordinary bits of life and twist them around into a hysterical adventure. Howard’s home is under siege by marching bands. Road construction crews are sent to pester his family specifically. Buses are run by someone who lives 400 years ago and that’s why they’re frequently off-schedule.

And interwoven in all that, the sheer humanity. Howard’s father, Quentin, is passive until he gets his hackles up, and then nothing in heaven or earth can shake him (although many people try). Howard has a little sister Awful, who earned her nickname, yet somehow avoids being completely unlikable. And Howard himself is caught in the middle of all this drama and tries to uncover the truth—and discovers way more than he bargained for.

Basically, it’s nonstop fun. My favorite part is the chase near the end where the various siblings are being called upon to work against each other. Howard is trying desperately to figure things out, but he’s starting to see where this is going to lead, and it’s something he doesn’t want to be true, even if it were somehow possible.

Overall, this is a great introduction to Diana Wynne Jones if you’ve never read her before. It stands alone and isn’t very long, but it’s packed full of laughs. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

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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 Forever Court (Knights of the Borrowed Dark #2)

Title: The Forever Court

Author: Dave Rudden

Series: Knights of the Borrowed Dark #2

Uriel Croit has spent his entire life waiting for the Redemptress to awaken. The Croits train and prepare for the War that will come when they will take over the world. But when Uriel’s fondest dreams are realized, he finds the world isn’t as simple as he thought . . .

Denizen Hardwick is in training to become a Knight who kills the Tenebrous who invade the world from some outer dimension. Too bad he’s absolutely fascinated by Mercy, the Tenebrous he saved, the Tenebrous who granted him knowledge of ALL of the Cants the Knights use to control their magic. And when a message comes from the Tenebrous asking for Denizen by name, no one knows what to think. Could peace even be possible, or is this some elaborate scheme? And even if it is a genuine offer from the Tenebrae, will the Knights risk it, or try to sabotage it themselves?

I adored the first book, and was happy to find this one was just as good. Uriel’s sections are important, but Uriel isn’t as funny as Denizen, so I tended to prefer Denizen’s commentary about basically everything.

Like the first, this has a good dose of horror, humor, and fantasy. Denizen is exploring his first crush—and amusingly enough it’s Mercy. Which gets him into no end of trouble with everyone.

We will see each other again, Denizen Hardwick.

Denizen had assumed that was the kind of thing magical glowing girls said all the time, to promote an air of mystery. He hadn’t realized it was something she was going to go and organize.

And:

He’d read enough fantasy books to know that diplomacy didn’t mean honesty and conversation. It meant fancy dinners, watching betrayal flash behind people’s eyes, and not trusting Grand Viziers.

Naturally, the situation is way more complicated than anyone realizes. I liked the rough relationship between Denizen and his newly-discovered mother. He thought of himself as an orphan for so long he’s not sure what to do with family. And honestly, he almost feels like an orphan still, because the way Vivian runs the Sanctuary is more like a barracks and less like a home. He’s much more a novice Knight to her than her son.

It was an occupational hazard of being a bookworm. You stopped thinking in terms of reality and started thinking of nick-of-time rescues and the power of a dramatic speech. It couldn’t be over because it shouldn’t be over.

And I liked how Denizen is an absolute wildcard in this whole mess. His knowledge of the Cants makes him extremely dangerous—but he doesn’t have the training to use them properly, or the physical ability to back them up. Cants are supposed to be a last resort, because of the Cost. He’s the only one who believes Mercy is telling the truth and that peace between the Knights and the Tenebrous is even possible. But is he right about her heart, or have those older and wiser Knights who see only monsters spotted something he missed? Just because a happy ending would be a nice story doesn’t mean it’s actually the truth.

Overall, I was thrilled to finally get a copy of this in my hands, and I can’t wait for the next installment. I really need to start a quote file to save off my favorites—the above are only about half the places that had me laughing so hard I had to put the book down. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

More quotes because I can and I want to remember these:

Mercy gave a passable approximation of Frown No. 12—Here Is Some Sympathy I Am Not Sure You Deserve.

And:

Jack shrugged. “There’s no point to revenge. You either don’t get it, in which case the want grows until it collapses your world around you, or you do get it. And then you have it. Great. Show me something you can build from revenge that you can’t build from acceptance.”

And:

I want a form, Denizen thought. I want everyone to have a form, and you have to fill out your intentions and list why you’re doing what you’re doing. And you’re not allowed to lie.

And:

He’d feel like a right idiot if all this was happening and he died from smoke inhalation.

And:

Denizen didn’t think he was claustrophobic, though he had avoided small spaces up until now precisely because he didn’t want to find out. He had the sneaking suspicion he was home to a whole plethora of phobias he hadn’t discovered, simply because he hadn’t been exposed to them yet.

And:

She gave Denizen a half-smile. “Hardwicks aren’t great with emotion. We’re our own worst enemies, really.” She paused. “Which, considering our vocation, is actually rather impressive.”

Azrael’s Twins (Nearworld Tales #1)

Title: Azrael’s Twins

Author: V.J. Mortimer

Series: Nearworld Tales #1

Niamh and Grady O’Connell never expected to find out that their parents are magic-users from another world slightly offset from our own. Or that they have powers too, and an evil sorcerer is after them. With the help of a phoenix, a unicorn, dragons, and more, their lives are about to change entirely. On the other hand, school is still school, parents are parents, and sometimes things can feel a bit TOO normal . . .

I have very mixed feelings about this. I started reading for the promise of a phoenix, and because I generally like portal fantasies (all the more so because in this case, the whole family is involved and not just the kids). And I do really like the phoenix, though the dragons are mostly treated like slightly smarter horses. The magic system is messy, but not the worst I’ve read, and it supports the story well enough. The characters are generally decent, with a few more unique angles, like the were-setter.

The main problems I had were that the story gets sloppy in a couple of places, and extremely derivative in others.

First, the sloppiness. Niamh and Grady have lots and lots and lots of magic, but no training at all, and unsurprisingly find themselves having a hard time actually using it once in this wonderful new world. There’s specifically some kind of block on their powers . . . but this seems to equal not wanting it badly enough, and once given enough incentive, they unleash their full potential. This was extremely unsatisfying. The plot had been hinting it might have something to do with the fact that both kids were born in the world of deep magic (and it also feels like cheating that being born on normal-Earth qualifies you for both magics, but magic-Earth only qualifies you for normal magic). In the end, though, it’s just “try harder.” And it’s really hard to gauge what any magic user is capable of because the most we get in the sense of limits is simply elemental, but then a number of spells like transformations don’t exactly seem limited to a particular element.

Second, the derivative nature of a few key components. To be honest, the iWands almost made me quit the book. We have an obvious Apple clone, from the way the wands are named, to the way they look, to how they’re sold in stores, and even an app market. Why? Why can’t there be something magic-specific (even if it is a particular type of wand)? Why would an alternate-Earth reflect that kind of product placement when those wands are basically the only thing that does?

The school portion is obviously going to remind people of Harry Potter, and the prose makes a few digs at that (including, amusingly, a conversation about why they’re still learning ordinary subjects and not magic-specific ones). Why NOT magic classes, though, even though there’s no reason for it to be the whole curriculum? And the allowances for the “games” done over breaks and lunch is frankly crazy and I’m amazed no one’s getting killed. No one bothers to protect students like Grady who can’t defend himself, and the one instance that pushed things too far relied more on the students not seriously wanting to kill each other to work out. These aren’t little spells—people are getting transformed. So why the lack of adult interest?

And why broomsticks? Why are we once again shown someone who gets a handcrafted, high-qualify broom that’s the envy of every other kid in the school? It’s almost forgivable because their parents are royalty, and therefore rich enough to afford it, but still, it’s going to draw even more parallels to the famous boy wizard this story is trying (mostly) not to emulate. No one has bothered finding something more comfortable than a stick between your legs in the supposedly modern era in which they live? There’s no technical reason presented for why it has to be broomsticks and not a flying car, or a surfboard, or something that might actually be better suited for riding. I get that broomsticks are traditional, but if we’re going with an iPhone clone for a wand, why wouldn’t the transportation be a bit nicer?

Anyway, I could go on, but the characters aren’t particularly noteworthy, and the setting and plot are full of holes. Some people may have less trouble with the things that bothered me, but I don’t intend to go on. I rate this book Neutral.

My Hero Academia (anime)

Title: My Hero Academia

Episodes: 14-38

Izuku Midoriya has inherited the superpowers of the mightiest hero of all—but can he live up to those lofty expectations during the annual UA Sports Festival? Then, when the festival is barely over, the students get some on-the-job training from pro heros. Then again, some internships turn out to be a little more than anyone bargained for. Finally, with the end of the semester comes exams! And UA’s exams consist of both a written and a practical.

This season covers several major arcs, as detailed above. I like the tail end of the Sports Festival arc, but I’m not as keen on the beginning. Doubly so when the anime tries to cover the fact that these chapters don’t QUITE make a full episode and slap in 4 minutes of recap at the front of the first several episodes. However, once the arc gets in full swing, the physical challenges of the actual event start to mingle with the more interesting emotional and psychological challenges various characters face.

The festival also highlights several of the characters around Izuku, most notably Todoroki and Bakugou. Todoroki and Izuku make an interesting contrast: the scions of the first and second ranked heros, both expected to carry on and surpass their forebearers, but urged onward for opposite reasons. Endeavor is consumed with defeating All Might and becoming the number one hero. And if he can’t do it, his son will. All Might may not even notice that rivalry—but as a teacher, he knows he’s falling short.

The internship arc introduces a villain who challenges the “hero society” and has his own lethal way of dealing with what he considers fake heros. And the exam arc is another place where some of the non-core cast members finally get a chance to step up.

Manga readers will appreciate how the anime does flesh out several short or offhand mentions into actual fights (or in Tsuyu’s case, almost a whole episode). The pacing does suffer most at the beginning, when the recaps feel like they take up a huge part of the episode, but as the series rolls on, it settles into a more comfortable groove.

Overall, if you liked the first season, there’s plenty more to like here. The story is beginning to show bits of the world beyond the school, the world these young heros will one day inherit, and it’s not all it’s cracked up to be (just look at Bakugou’s internship). I rate this show Recommended.

Dragon Defender (Dragon Defense League #1)

Title: Dragon Defender

Author: J.A. Blackburn

Series: Dragon Defense League #1

Peter Clark is not really an adventurous sort—unless you count building robots. But when an uncle he didn’t know about shows up on his twelfth birthday, he learns his mother’s disappearance is connected to an unexpected legacy with dragons. Now he’s running around South America looking for a dragon egg . . .

This was pretty good, although it relied a little too heavily on circumstances being favorable for my tastes. Peter might be an approachable lead, but he doesn’t have a whole lot of skills to offer (the awesome car battery scene aside). He picks up two companions fairly quickly, though. I don’t care much for Xana, whose main contribution appears to be that she’s rich and has parents who don’t care if she runs around in a dangerous place unsupervised. Similarly, Mario is almost a bit too good when his introduction paints him as a kid who has had a very hard life and turned to crime to support himself.

Those are comparatively minor quibbles, though. The dragons are the main point of the book, and those are a lot of fun. I like that there are multiple types, with their own habitats, and in some cases ties to local folklore. And the particular dragon this book is tracking down isn’t exactly typical. Given what ends up happening, I am curious to see how Peter interacts with other dragons in the future.

As might be expected, the first book is in large part setting up a series to come. I am curious to see how the larger story unfolds. It would be nice if the bad guys aren’t so one-dimensional, but given everything else this book was doing there wasn’t a lot of room for that here. I rate this book Recommended.

Joss the Seven (Guild of Sevens #1)

Title: Joss the Seven

Author: J. Philip Horne

Series: Guild of Sevens #1

Joss wasn’t expecting anything strange the day he found a note in his locker. But the note led to some experiments with entirely unexpected results. Joss has superpowers. And there’s a Guild of probably-good guys and an equally mysterious bunch called the Mockers who both want to control him. Or maybe just kill him. Either way, he’s in over his head . . .

I really liked this. The seven forms of superpowers are a lot of fun, and offer a lot of potential for mischief. Ghosting through solid objects is one of my favorites (shapeshifting would be my favorite, but that doesn’t come up much in this book). Joss is in some ways blinded by his own determination to learn, as he tries to soak up everything his parents might have known but never told him.

The pacing stays fast throughout. Joss careens from one adventure to the next, and the web around him grows more complicated. We don’t get a lot of answers here about the big picture, but that’s fine, as this is setting up for future mayhem.

Overall this is a fun, fast read. I am very curious where things will go from here on out. The Guild’s next move could change a lot of things. I rate this book Recommended.