Tag Archives: vampires

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 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.

Hounded (The Iron Druid Chronicles #1)

Title: Hounded

Author: Kevin Hearne

Series: The Iron Druid Chronicles #1

Atticus O’Sullivan is a 21-centuries-old Druid who would prefer to be left alone. But a sword he happened to acquire in his younger days is still being sought by its original owner: the Celtic love god Aenghus Og. Atticus has been on the run for centuries, but this time, when the fight comes to his doorstep, he might be ready to try to end this for good.

This urban fantasy contains a lot of the usual suspects: vampires, werewolves, witches, gods and goddesses. And a few of the not-so-usual in the form of the main character, a Druid (who conveniently avoids most of the less savory things historical Druids have been known to practice in favor of a more earth-worshipping religion). It was also a nice change of pace that most of the gods showing up were Celtic.

The story moves quickly, as Atticus finds himself at the center of a storm of attacks designed to either steal the sword or kill him (or both). I did like his lawyers, and how all of them are deadly in their own ways. And the dog is a lot of fun.

Mostly I wasn’t too swayed one way or the other by this. It’s a decent urban fantasy, but nothing particularly grabbed me and made me want to keep going with the next book. The worldbuilding is probably the best part, but the “everything goes” mindset was annoying because it fails to provide any context for how wildly disparate belief systems can all be equally true. I would have preferred some kind of baseline that could then show how various things worked within it. I rate this book Neutral.

Storm Front (Dresden Files #1)

Title: Storm Front

Author: Jim Butcher

Series: Dresden Files #1

Harry Dresden is a wizard and PI in Chicago. When a pair of people are found dead—and the method looks like magic—he’s pulled into the case. But even figuring out that kind of black magic is going to get him on the bad side of the White Council, if not outright pegged for the murder himself. Still, he’s the only one who could help. Except now everyone seems to want him dead too . . .

I generally like urban fantasy like this, but Dresden Files never clicked for me. Frankly, I found Harry’s bits of backstory more compelling than the present-day story. The magic and creatures tends to only get introduced as they comes up, which makes for a better story, perhaps, but a rather haphazard magic system. I would’ve much rather read a book about Harry’s younger days, when he was first introduced to real magic, and the sequence of events that led to him having all the baggage he starts this story with.

The murder mystery isn’t the strongest. It was fairly easy to guess early on who would be involved, and Harry burns a lot of bridges with people he should be respectful of as contacts (or employers). I also wasn’t a fan of the sheer volume of nasty stuff that worked its way into this. Blowing up hearts, fine. Demons, fine. But I’d rather skip the people blown up in the middle of sex, and the orgies, and all the naked bodies (including, actually, Harry, who has a shower scene that goes bad). It just felt like mystery by shock factor rather than actual puzzle.

Overall, even though I’ve been told the series gets stronger, this book confirmed my disinterest in reading the rest of it. (Sorry, friends-who-recommended; I gave it a shot but I’m not going to keep going.) I rate this book Neutral.

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.

Pure Magic (Black Dog #2)

Title: Pure Magic

Author: Rachel Neumeier

Series: Black Dog #2

Justin is wandering on a road trip while mourning the recent death of his mother. But an unexpected encounter with stray black dogs propels him into a terrifying world he never envisioned. Dimilioc offers him shelter, but they also aren’t very willing to let him refuse.

Natividad is growing used to life at Dimilioc, but she’s still stubbornly independent. And when she’s told to stay at home for her own safety, the order doesn’t go over well at all. She knows they need her help. Dimilioc’s enemies are multiplying. But when she takes matters into her own hands, everything falls apart . . .

I liked the first book a great deal, but I think I like this one even better. The beginning with Justin had me intrigued where this might be going, and when I found out, I had to laugh. The Pure are always, always girls . . . but he’s Pure and very definitely male. Even Ezekiel is thrown off-balance. And Justin, of course, who never, ever suspected he might be anything but ordinary, is finding the extremely violent black dogs a very hard sell.

I like how similar Justin is to Natividad, and yet how different. I like how NICE the two of them are, which is unfortunately not a trait I see often in characters. They’re both strong-willed, independent, but still gentle, compassionate, encouraging. And they might not be the ones ripping off heads or tearing out spines, but they’ve still got a lot of fight in them (and Natividad, at least, is pushing her gift into territories Dimilioc has never seen—although there are also hints it may not all be good).

This book picks up some of the troubles from the first book and widens the world yet again, as we finally meet some of those other black dog houses. It helps give the sense of how Dimilioc is rather different even from its own. And since not everything wrapped up by the end of this story, I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot more of certain characters in the future.

All in all, this is an excellent sequel that doesn’t lose any steam. If you haven’t read the first book, this one is probably still readable, but you’ll spoil yourself on a ton of things, so go back and read Black Dog first. I rate this book Recommended.

Night Runner (Night Runner #1)

Title: Night Runner

Author: Max Turner

Series: Night Runner #1

Zach has lived in a mental ward since the death of his father. He’s mostly there because he has a lot of unusual health problems that leave him unable to function well in the normal world—like an allergy to sunlight. But he doesn’t mind his sheltered life . . . and has no idea why strangers keep barging into it, insisting he’s in danger and has to escape. Something dangerous stalks the night. Something inhuman. Something that knows him . . .

It will be fairly obvious to readers even marginally familiar with the genre that Zach’s “symptoms” are really traits of vampirism. That said, I really like where the book goes with it. Zach is in many ways not much more mature than the second-grader who was first admitted to the mental ward. He has a refreshing innocence, combined with moments of blunt honesty about what he sees in himself.

I fed like a predator. And I had no remorse. None.

I look back at this moment with a mixture of sadness and something else. Understanding, maybe. Or acceptance. I’m a vampire. Sometimes I wish I could live on tofu and alfalfa sprouts, but I can’t. And I understand I’m not consistent. I don’t always act the same way. I’m a nice guy as often as I can be. As my Uncle Maximillian said, I have a choice. And I choose to be good. Until I get hungry. Then I’m something that is less than good. Then I’m a killer.

The story has a few expected twists, and a few nice surprises (especially the end). It’s also clearly the setup for a series, so it will be interesting to see how Zach’s actions at the end echo into future books. I rate this book Recommended.