Book Review: Red Hot Steele (Daggers and Steele Vol. 1)

 

Cover Steele

But the book on Amazon HERE!

Things here have been a little bit crazy as of late, so I haven’t had a lot of time to write.

I have, however, had a lot of time to read. So, I grabbed up my tablet and looked through for something fun but different. The cover for this one caught my eye and it was on a promotion for $0.00 so I downloaded it.

It’s a crack!

This is a detective story that is playing with all of the tropes of a detective story while throwing in elements of fantasy. Apparently there is a movement towards fantasy-crime novels (something I didn’t know) and this was my first full dip into it.

The plot is, pretty much, a standard NCIS, CSI, etc plot. Someone’s been murdered and Jake Daggers (our narrator) has to solve the mystery. Unfortunately (at least according to his perspective at first) he’s just had his long time partner replaced with a newbie fresh from the academy. To make matters worse, the newbie is a woman and an elf. So he has to deal with the newbie and a murder. Lots of fun.

The plot is pretty much straight out of those style outlines, but that’s to make room for the characterization. Daggers is clearly the focus and it shows. He has a fantastic characterization and reading him is just like reading the old detective serials that used to be on the radio. I can hear Howard Duff’s Sam Spade as I read the novel and it’s fantastic. Daggers is not a fantastic role-model – some of his views and perceptions are out of that same era and it makes for him to be very much a throw back of the era. This is particularly true regarding his partner, Steele. And while his view of Steele changes over the course of the story and becomes somewhat better, that doesn’t happen for women in general. It’s a part of the character and the setting, so it makes for good characterization. Daggers has faults – lots of them (women just being one), but he is overall a likable character with a strong voice.

Steele, his partner, does a fair job of standing up to him and its pretty obvious that the rest of his team (there are four total agents on Daggers’ task force) don’t share his archaic views. She even calls him out a few times but, unfortunately, they don’t stick. The rest of the team just let it pass, so it Daggers does come off as a bit of a bully that the reader is expected to excuse. For the most part, I am a forgiving reader and I am anticipating that this will change over the course of the series. It’s an easy place to have character growth and development and I cannot imagine that the author won’t take advantage of it.

But back to the team. The team is interesting, though most of our experience is with Daggers and Steele (imagine that!). Steele gets some screen time and it becomes clear that she’s not going to take Daggers lying down – yet she sometimes lets things slide that make this inconsistent. It’s a significant flaw, and, again, I’m assuming the author is going to fix it eventually.

The answer to the puzzle becomes a bit obvious as the novel gets close to then end, but its still a good solution and fun to reach. The ‘getting there is half the fun’ trope really holds sway through the novel, and the novel is a lot of fun to read.

Despite the flaws of the story, this is a fun book to pick up and read if you enjoy shows like NCIS or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. For the price of free, you really have no excuse not to.

Characters: 4.5 / 5
Plot: 3.5 / 5
Action: 4 / 5
Value: 5 / 5
Writing: 4 / 5

Overall: 4.2 / 5

 

 

 

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Book Review: Fantasy Flight Games Force and Destiny

Buy the book HERE

Or, better yet, support your local game shop. I know it will be more expensive there, but those small businesses can really use it.

ANYWAY

I know this is a bit different from my usual reviews. However, I haven’t had a lot of time to sit down and do any major reading as of late (I’ll be getting back to that once the school year kicks in) with Camp and work all summer. However, I did have a chance to look at a new game system for playing with my friends and I really wanted to share it. So, I’ll be talking a bit about the new Fantasy Flight Star Wars RPG system (and particularly the ‘Force and Destiny’ rulebook.

First and foremost, you should know that this is one of three Core Rulebooks.  The others are Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion. A LOT of the material in this book is repeated material from those two books (I only have the sample game from Age of the Empire but I do have the Core Book for Age of Rebellion). The combat system, the character creation (largely) and the narrative aspects are largely repeats with a few small bits and pieces of change that, if given the money, I would bet are simply corrections from Beta tests. The unique aspects of this book are related to the Force and the character classes available. Obviously this means one big thing: JEDI

(C) Peter Oritz http://peter-ortiz.deviantart.com/
(C) Peter Oritz http://peter-ortiz.deviantart.com/

Like Age of Rebellion and Edge of the Empire, it also adds a unique aspect to this books focused characters called the Morale system (Age of Rebellion has its Objective system as a counterpart; I don’t know Edge of the Empire’s) where a characters actions influence their location within the Force. A character can fall to the Dark Side depending on the actions they take and the desperation therein.

(C) Scott (Guardianoftheforce) http://guardianoftheforce.deviantart.com/
(C) Scott (Guardianoftheforce) http://guardianoftheforce.deviantart.com/

Like all Star Wars RPG’s, the Jedi are a key element to the mythos and the fiction. Creating a balance between the Jedi and others within such a setting is a difficult task. Go watch the movies – there is a reason that the Jedi are so powerful in most systems – they stand up to hundreds of droids and stormtroopers at a time and survive. Regularly. They ARE that powerful and creating a balance with those kinds of innate talents and abilities is difficult mechanically and realistically. The setting holds that they are that strong and few can stand up to them. It took Order 66 AND the clouding of the Force by Emperor Palpatine to kill them off – that wasn’t easy.

However, Fantasy Flight seems to have done a good job. You can create a Han Solo and still have them contribute just as much to the adventure as a Jedi Character with little, if any effort.  The balance comes from the way the trees are arranged and the way conflict and combat work in the system. My blaster can do just as much as your lightsaber AND your powers need to be fueled by the Force (or you risk corruption).

It’s a fun system that has a lot of positives and I strongly encourage folks to go and check it out. The custom dice are a bit of a pain at first, but once you get used to using the system it is incredibly easy to work with and VERY streamlined.

Summer Stress and Writing Success

70 pages.

70 pages for my camp this summer.

28746 words (according to the word count tool in Google docs.)

It doesn’t sound like a lot, given that it was over a summer, but in all reality it was over approximately 72 hours.

It was a lot of work, but it proved to my brain that I can still get through my meds and do some writing when I need to. Given the changes coming down the pipeline at work, I should have more ability to get to writing than I did in the past.

I’m looking forward to that aspect of it.

Anyway, I’ll be putting some of it up soon. If I was not tired right now, I would put some stuff out at the moment, but I wanted to point out that it is possible to get over 7000 words a day if you sit down and use some of the writing techniques that many of the strategy guides put out there. I’m going to share some of the scenarios over the next couple of weeks and share my thoughts and get back in to updating this blog when I have a chance.

Until then, thanks for your views and notions! 🙂

BOOK REVIEW – FIERCE: Sixteen Authors of Fantasy

A Short Review of This Excellent Collection

 

BUY THIS COLLECTION. IT REALLY IS THAT SIMPLE!

uy this collection. At $.99 it is a steal and contains some excellent ‘firsts’ of several wonderful series.  At $.99 you are saving more than $20.00 just to buy these e-books. GET THIS COLLECTION.

Below are some short reviews of the individual stories and pieces:

Mercedes Lackey – Moving Targets 4.5/5 stars.

 

The book possesses typical Mercedes Lackey voice – fun characters in an interesting setting. At least, I think it does -it has been a long time since I have read any of Lackey’s work, so I don’t know if there is a larger continuum that the story fits in to, but it stands just fine on its own if it does.

Essentially, this is a short mystery that, very quickly, evolves in to a classic ‘Scooby-Doo’ style hunt – right down to the talking pet and ridiculous conclusions. It is a lot of fun and makes an excellent opening for the collection. There are a couple of confusing notes, but for the most part this is a fun and simple story.

Michael G. Manning – The Blacksmith’s Son – 3.5/5 stars

 

The book starts out slow, but picks up pace after 75-100 pages. The descriptions and characters are enough to keep someone reading, but if they aren’t given a chance the book may come off as somewhat lackluster. Fortunately I found the descriptions of the conflict and Mordecai’s motivations to be a lot of fun and well worth the wait. I especially liked when he finally gets to working against the antagonist (who’s a tad two dimensional) and how he tries to play off of the others idiocy. On the whole, a solid first effort.

K.F. Breene – Chosen 4.5/5 stars

I haven’t read any of Breene’s work prior, but a quick amazon search reveals she has a lot of work out there. That library of work shows in the writing of Chosen.

The hook is a typical one for the fantasy genre (it’s almost a trope!) but Breene plays it quite well. There’s a prophecy that says that a warrior will rise to free the Shadow Warriors to freedom. Typical fantasy, right?

Breene plays with the trope quite well and shows that it doesn’t have to be boring to follow through on such a hook. Her characters are very three-dimensional. Shanti, despite being a bit of a prodigy, comes off as very human. Her concerns are real and her history/backstory actually does come in to play in a reasonable way. The conflicts are not forced for her and they play off as very real as Shanti learns what her role in the future of her people is to be. Or at least is offered some good examples and reasons to consider how she is going to use her skills.

There are some hints of the authors other line of work with romance novels leaking in as well. These characters get naked an awful lot. It’s not a bad thing, but it does seem a little…weird given the conflict that Shanti is supposedly on the run from.

There are a couple of odd moments and some weird language that breaks the immersion of the story – phrases that just feel out of place.

On the whole though, this is a fun read and one you should check out.

Morgan Rice – A Quest of Heroes – 2.5/5 stars

This is one of the few let downs, I felt, in this collection. Compared to other works in this collection, it’s just not up to standard.

We have a boy who wants to serve the king in the way that the rest of his family (all brothers) do – guarding and protecting a powerful artifact (the series’ Sorcerer’s Ring) in the service of the King. Thorgrin is, of course, the youngest son and feels he has a lot to prove to his father and his mother, who largely don’t want him to serve anyhow.  This of course leads to his rebellion and leaving.

It all feels very typical and, while there is some world building and characterization, it never really stands out or makes a major impression. Maybe it is the​ lack of significant development on the characters. They all feel very two dimensional and fairly straight forward. The other problem is that the book is short. You reach the end and go …wait? What? What happened? It leaves a dissatisfied feeling. I know there are more in the series – it consistently appears in my ‘More from Kindle’ feed of recommended reading, so it’s probably a set up for more books, but I can’t help but feel it was a bit of a let down.

Michael James Ploof – Whill of Agora 4.5 / 5 stars.

So, we have the titacular Whill and his party of companions – a dwarf, an elf, and a justifier.  No, seriously, it’s a fun party with a lot of dynamics to it.

In all reality, this book feels like the beginning of an ‘epic’ series – there is a lot of world building. We have remenants from an old war -5000 years ago – and a country long at peace since then. Similarly, we have a king who wants to change that by invading another continent. At the same time we have a dark elf with some half-dragon hybrids who also want to cause trouble.

Will and Company have to stop it. There is a lot of world building in this novel which makes it a LOT of fun. I enjoyed reading and the one trouble I had with the novel came in the characters. While the world takes a lot of detail and complexity, the characters were very easy reads. Someone is either GOOD or EVIL. There is no in between and there is very little examination of the morals of their decisions or character.

Daniel Arenson – Requiem’s Song 4/5

Had a chance to read this one while on a trip in the car. Glad I had my tablet.

Requiem’s song is an excellent mix of detail and character. Here we have a world where we have a group who can transform in to dragons that are in hiding. We get through a lot of gory detail and precise description of the oppression the dragons have experienced. In very specific detail.

But, the world is compelling and the characters complex. I had a lot of fun reading this and enjoyed having a lot to mull over as I read. It helps that the story is interesting – I like their rise up and the ‘rebels’ recognizing that their actions will have actual consequences. My only qualm with the story is that I sometimes lost track of who was who and the person I was supposed to be excited for in the shifting mass of characters that were thrown at me.

Kate Sparkes – Bound 4/5

An interesting, if used premise with some well done characters.

In this world magic is banned and hunted down. One of our main characters hunts magic users, the other is a young lady who has always had a fascination for magic but knows better than to trust it. When she manages to save a sorcerers life things get complicated.

The fun part of this story comes in the characters. You’re going to get images of the tragic parts of Romeo and Juliet when you get to know Rowan and her betrothed – and not in a good way. It becomes clear that this is a central plot element and you get to ride out the shifting pulses of Rowan’s feelings as she tries to make both her new perspective and her old fit in to one unified vision.

It’s a fun romp, if a bit predictable. I wish there had been more world building, but the author was focusing more on relationships and character than on the environment in my opinion.

David Adams – The Pariahs

This is still on my to read list, but if it is anything like Adams’ other works, I am certain it will be excellent.

Amy Raby – The Fire Seer  4/5

I read this and had flashback to NCIS. It was GIBBS. If Gibbs had magic. That’s a good thing.

We have our main character, Taya , who is sent to investigate a series of murders. The trick? Her old nemesis, Mandir, is her bodyguard. To her it feels rather like a setup. Despite this, she launches her investigation and starts to discover things about her companions, and her world, that she just wasn’t prepared for.

The Fire Seer is a lot of fun and it’s the characters that really sell it. I love a good mystery and this story has all of the elements – suspense, curiosity, a believable ‘bread crumb’ train. But most of all we have a charming and charismatic narrator who sells us on the story. Taya is a lot of fun to read and to follow and she is what makes the Fire Seer a joy to read.

  1. Greenwood – Magic of Thieves3.5/5

This one shows up in my ‘You might also like’ feed a lot as well. I love the cover.

Anyhow, we have a decent opening – magic has been banned and Ilan has been born with the gift. To keep from being prosecuted and killed, she hides with a group of thieves lead by the brigand Rideon.

There is a lot of potential in the story. It opens up fabulously with a lot of excitement and interesting detail. Then it just…kind…of…peters off. It’s not that it is a bad story. There just isn’t a lot to keep you reading and certainly not enough to make me want to go back to the story and re-examine it. I like Ilan OK, and the plot is similar. It’s worth a read, but I don’t know that it’s one that I would go back to on a rainy day when the kid is asleep.

There is a lot of potential and I know there are some sequels out there. Grab this one and treat it as an introduction. If this is the first part of a greater world, then that world definitely deserves a chance.

David Dalglish – The Weight of Blood 3.5 / 5

There is a lot here that could have been great, but the devotion to violence and gore sort of lost me.

I love the concept of the story – a pair of half-orc brothers want to escape poverty so they join up with a powerful mage who makes him commander of his undead legion. They get their wish – but with a twist! It could make for a lot of fun given that the protagonists  Harruq and Qurrah are half-orcs – a traditionally evil race in most fantasy fiction.

Which proves to be its downfall.  Harruq and Qurrah are definitely protagonists, but they certainly don’t feel heroic. And their motivations and thoughts don’t really pull them in to anti-hero either. No matter how I looked at them as I read, I never really felt connected to them (Heroic) or understood their plight and sympathized (anti-hero). Maybe it was because I was busy counting femurs and gallons of blood – I’m not sure.

I do like that there is a conflict set up and that the brothers, ultimately, are faced with coming in to conflict with each other. It would have been nice if there was some more development there but it felt kind of rushed and a little bit too ‘simple’ initially. This is clearly set up for a series, so I see why it is ‘simple’ initially – I am sure there are more layers for later, but there should have been some more focus here in novel one to keep a reader interested. The concept has a lot of possibility in it – there’s no reason to hurry through and ignore the potential.

K.J. Colt – Bear Heart 5/5 stars

OK…it’s Klawdia! One of my favorites from Concealed Power and the Meligna series.

Once I realized that, I was super excited. I won’t say this is an unbiased review because Klawdia is a fun character that I enjoy in Meligna. That we have a story explaining her origin and some fun details of Meligna was enough for me.

Even without that though, we have a fun story with some interesting details about a complex character.  Again, I can’t be sure how much of this comes from Meligna and how much of it is straight from Bear Heart, but Klawdia as the protagonist sells us on this tribal world. That she is forced in to a conflict that relates to her personal honor and passage is fitting and her feelings regarding the help, and cheating, she is offered are complex but understandable. I thoroughly enjoyed this story and strongly recommend it.

Shae Ford – Poison 4/5

An interesting concept – I like how the title sort of wraps everything together.

This is a prequel to a larger world that I have not heard of, so I apologize if I miss some of the details.

Our protagonist is Olivia who doesn’t quite work with the rest of her people. She is separated by her powers as well as her personality – as I read her I kept having flashbacks to Hotaru Tomoe from the Sailor Moon franchise – which doesn’t help matters as the situation within the kingdoms devolves.

I find her inner conflict to be the central ‘villain’ of the story and Ford, through Olivia, makes a good battle of it. There are several forces on the outside as well, but they don’t play up as much as the Olivia vs Herself conflict does – and it is a fight she is slowly losing.

Which, while it is the central conflict of the story, feels a bit predictable. I never got the sensation that Olivia would ever be able to win the fight against ‘the Poison.’ Usually in a story like this we are given some inkling of hope – and indeed Ford does place a few inklings like this – but none of the proposed solutions ever comes off as possible or even truly considered as options through Olivia.

Having a protagonist lose is fine – it can make for a fun and interesting conflict, but the conflict felt so pre-destined that I didn’t really believe any of Olivia’s attempts or other items. Which is a shame, because Ford clearly likes his character and was having a fun time trying to create an interesting protagonist. It just doesn’t come off as something that ultimately was going to work out.

Endi Webb – The Maskmaker’s Apprentice 3.75/5

We have a rebel, Elu, who pushes against his role in his community and ultimately plunges the world in to danger. Majora’s mask style.

And really, I could have swapped Elu in with Link and his companion Thora in for Skull Kid and we’d have the basics of the plot. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and the added elements to it certainly make this a better story than Majora’s Mask (please note – I am not someone who enjoyed Majora’s Mask. I was a Skyward Sword fan – yup I’m *that* Zelda guy) was. That I am comparing this to a Zelda game is a compliment in and of itself – there is no franchise in gaming I enjoy more than the Legend of Zelda.

The trick here is that there wasn’t enough development to the world to make me care that Thora was going around destroying things and unleashing evil. I wasn’t attached to the setting or the characters and that made it a less interesting book.

One big saving grace is Elu and Thora though – they are interesting and Elu’s personal considerations and conflicts are a high point of the storytelling here. They make the story interesting and sell it even with its weaker world development and lack of sympathetic population.

Michael Wallace – The Dark Citadel  3.75/5

There are wizards, griffins, and bad guys OH MY!

No, seriously. That should sell you on the story right there.

The Dark Citadel is a grisly fantasy with a huge cast of characters. Which is probably its greatest strength and its biggest failure. There are a number of protagonists and the antagonists they deal with only make it harder to track everyone. It’s kind of like Game of Thrones, only not as compelling. The violence combined with the sex and grisly scenes just are not my cup of tea.

This book was not designed for me as a reader. It’s not something I would grab off of the shelf, but it is well constructed and there is a lot of good character development if I could just keep the characters straight and the violence down. While I did not enjoy it immensely, this is a big genre at the moment and something there are probably a lot of readers out there for.

Terah Edun – Blades of Magic 4.5/5

The story is fairly simple – we have Sara, the daughter of a disgraced imperial commander. Her father was killed for deserting and, given what she knows of her father, this has always bothered her. This leads her to develop her sword skills and make some living wages to support herself and her mother for much of her early life.

When she comes of age, and a few tragedies, she finds herself working with the Mercenary Guild and beginning to unravel what really happened with her father and the Emperor. There are a number of sub plots and loose threads introduced and expanded on and it’s well balanced between resolution and mini-mystery.

I’ve always enjoyed Edun’s work and this is no exception. Sara is a fine main character and fun to follow along with. I also enjoyed Ezekiel as a bit of a challenge to Sara and her developing skills. That a `Battle Mage’ can transform in to a Berserker – like a classic Berserker – is also interesting and makes her accessing her abilities feel like there is some actual consequence to her magic use.

The other secondary characters felt a bit more static than I generally enjoy, but it comes off to me more as her getting things established than any kind of laziness on her part. To put it simply, this is a new aspect to her world and she is getting it prepared for the future. That static-ness makes it so that she can focus on Ezekiel and Sara and the mystery of Sara’s father while introducing elements that can grow in the future. Sara and Ezekiel are charming enough that I’m willing to be patient with those characters and I look forward to grabbing the sequel when I have a chance.

The world and society that Edun has built is interesting. It appears to be linked to her Courtlight series (which I am a huge fan of (I still need to finish the last book)), but this area and part of the world feels unique and distinct in comparison to what we read in the other series. It’s much more Roman/Greek-ish (for lack of a better phrase) over in these cities and for Sara. I also like the Mercenaries and their role and reaction to Sara. I don’t want to spoil it, but it makes significant sense given the world and the way Edun has established their purpose.

On the whole, this is an excellent new world from a great author. I encourage everyone to give it a shot when they have a chance. It’s completely worth the price asked at $2.99. I see there is a print price and, if Edun ever comes to my area for a convention or something, I’ll probably grab a print copy to get it signed.

 BUY THE COLLECTION HERE!

Book Review – Sworn to Ascension

Sworn

Click HERE to buy a copy of Sworn to Ascension on Amazon.com

Please note, I was given a copy to read on my Kindle for a Review

Book Six of Courtlight continues the drama and characters that we have grown to love.

So, I won’t bore you all with character details or bits and pieces on the major trinity. If you’ve been reading Courtlight, then you know the three major names and the secondary characters as well. So I won’t go through the introductions of everyone and assume you know them by now. If not…maybe you should check out a different review. I have reviewed them all so far, so feel free to check mine! 🙂

Anyway, this picks off almost immediatly after Sworn to Defiance. Ciardis Weathervane is struggling to balance out the bond she has formed with her two significant males – Imperial Heir Sebastian and Kith daemoni Thanar both of whom she is soulbonded to. One soulbond is rare enough but two of them is starting to strain Ciardis’ abilities. Given that Sebastian and Thanar both want her attentions and cannot manage to agree on much doesn’t really help matters. The struggle within the trinity is the major character conflict within the story and Edun does a fantastic job of using it to add stress to the characters and allow for growth as the three explore their limitations and understandings of each other.

Outside of the three is the mission to the fabled city of Kifar – a city lost to the empire in that no one goes there anymore. It doesn’t help matters that it is on the other side of a desert and that, within that desert are marauders that, you know, murder imperial citizens to keep them away from the city (or so it appears). Add in a rather irate dragon and the fact that the ‘Emperor’ wants Sebastian dead (or so it is speculated) and you have a setup for a good plot.

And Vana has a major appearance in the story. As I said in a previous review, I really like Vana and the growth she causes in Ciardis. Sworn to Ascension is no exception to that rule. Vana provides some excellent insight for Ciardis to consider AND moves forward several elements from previous books that were left unresolved. And, you know, she gets to be Vana and that’s just awesome.

It is clear that Edun has some very detailed ideas of where she wants her characters to be within the plot and the events. Furthermore, it is also clear that she is having a *lot* of fun playing with her characters and allowing them to bounce off each other in unique and interesting ways. The main trinity (Ciardis,Sebastian, and Thanar) are all given excellent opportunities to grow by the secondary character trinity of Terris, Christian, and Raisa. The interactions within the characters are more complex than in previous novels, but it doesn’t feel forced. Terah Edun seems to have a real talent for characterization and interaction and it is in full force for Sworn to Ascension. I often didn’t realize how far I had read in the book until after I turned off the app to go to bed – that’s how much fun I was having with the characters.

The only major flaw in the story is that it doesn’t feel like much is resolved. The conclusion is a bit weak in that it doesn’t feel like there was any major progress on the ‘outside’ conflict related to Kifar. We get several major details dropped (I won’t spoil them) and then a big ol’ smasher and the story ends. It practically screams ‘SEQUEL COMING’ – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it falls under the flaw category because it does feel more ‘hanging’ than any of the previous Courtlight novels.

Still, Sworn to Ascension is an excellent book with some amazing character writing. I was swept up in to it and lost track of time so well that I had to brew 3 cups of tea and only drank one of them hot – I’d forgotten the other two times. Grab this baby up.

Characters – 5.5/5
Plot: 5/5
Action: 3/5
Value: 5/5
Writing: 5/5
Total Rating: 4.7/5

Book Review – Concealed Power

Concealed Power

Click HERE to buy Concealed Power on Amazon.com

K.J. Colt’s premier novel in the Healers of Meligna is a solid start with a few hiccups along the way.

You have to give the protagonist Adenine credit – if I were thirteen and had to deal with the series of tradgedies that she faces at the beginning of the novel, I think I would have lost my mind. Add on to it that I’m blind (or at least treated that way – more on this in a bit) and I have full justification for curling up in to a ball and crying. Adenine, however does not do so and, instead, manages to find ways to adapt as life throws curve ball after curve ball at her. I won’t spoil too many here as the curve balls make for the majority of the fun of the story, but make sure you’re thinking and being as suspicious as our protagonist.

The world setting is, unfortunately, somewhat generic. We have a town that doesn’t especially stand out in terms of fantasy literature. We’re in a nation recovering from a war and a death plague, but there isn’t a lot of detail given to those events to make them stand out from other such starters. If there is any weakness to this story, it is that the setting feels generic for a good 1/2 the book. We start to see some unique details begin to emerge, but the story finishes (I won’t say ends as there are a pair of sequels) just as we begin to get in to the uniqueness of the world.

Fortunately the characters make up for it. Adenine herself is a round and fully developed 13 year old and entirely believable in that role. Similarly, her broken mother, her Doctor, and her friend/Dr’s assistant, are all given opportunities to develop and be explained. Each of them has a unique personality and, more than that, are given opportunities to screw up/make significant mistakes that Adenine is able to pick up on that first alert the reader/Adenine that something funny is going on. These hints all cascade around you and when the puzzle finally breaks your brain goes AH! and wants to re-scan it to see if it was really set up that far back. You’re even more satisfied when it turns out that “Yes, yes it was.”

The characters are the selling point here, and the major tool that the author uses to engage the reader. There are some graphic scenes and some parts that are a bit scary (13+ please, at the minimum) but, on the whole, this is an enjoyable piece of fiction/literature that you should enjoy especially at the ‘free’ price it is currently listed.

NOTE: This story is also available in a pair of bundles linked at the end of this review.

Characters – 5/5
Plot: 4/5
Action: 3/5
Value: 5/5
Writing: 4/5
Total Rating: 3.95/5

Click HERE to buy it as a part of the EPIC Bundle (14 Fantasy Novels for $.99)

Click HERE to buy it as a part of the Healers of Meligna Boxed Set ($5.99)

White Tower

Click HERE to buy The White Tower from Amazon.com!

I bought the paperback version of this novel from a local vendor (sorry Amazon. I love my little stores too) and finally had a chance to sit down and read it. On the whole, this is a good story with a lot of fun elements to it.

The story opens in a classic fantasy opening with Damion being tasked by his father with a quest that, at 11 years old, he doesn’t really understand. However, that there is terror and Dad involved, he commits to the promise of delivering ‘The Key’ to the White Tower.

Jump forward and Damion is now a young man working on a farm when his promise to his father comes back to his mind, setting him off on a quest to finish what it was he was supposed to have done more than a decade ago. Unfortunately, things don’t go especially smoothly as a number of complications arise. For one thing, the farmer’s daughter has a son who decides to follow Damion. For another, he has absolutely no idea where the White Tower is. Add on to that a rather sinister figure hunting for him and a little bit of young adult attraction and you have all of the elements of an excellent story popping up.

Damion is an interesting and fairly well developed character, especially for a premier novel. Some of the ‘first’ books that I read on my Kindle forget that ‘first’ is often ‘last’ and will forget to have an identifiable protagonist. Not so in The White Tower. Damion is a pretty well rounded character who reminds me, more than anything else, of Peter Parker – he is determined but flawed with a great deal of heart and concern for others. He’s not an excellent swordsman or a lone-wolf adventurer; he is an every man with the flaws that entails. And those flaws do actually matter – the cost him opportunities and respect in many cases when he meets someone with a greater skill set than his own. Damion recognizes that and works with what he has. His determination to ‘always keep his promises’ is noble, but also comes in to conflict with the story as well and creates for some good character dynamics.

The secondary cast, on the other hand, is a bit less rounded. The Princess and her bodyguard are memorable, but not as well developed as our protagonist. She reminds me far too much of Princess Leia in ‘A New Hope’ when Luke and Han show up and she doesn’t really move on from that state very well. There are some moments of character development, but they feel a bit forced to me. Our main antagonist (I won’t spoil the book with specific names here because it is somewhat important to the plot) is similarly evil. How do we know he is evil? Well, he uses mind control and crushes windpipes right at the get go and only gets worse from there. So, he is easily identifiable as evil and we know not to like him.

The world, on the other hand, is very well developed. It appears to be a sort of post apocalypse world. There are instances of the old world occasionally – broken down roads, some bits and pieces of electricity, even a minor villain named Holland – to hint at the fact that *something* happened in the past that resulted in the downfall of humanity that has left us in a sort of lurch. There are hints and some good revelations in the story (again, I try not to do plot spoilers in reviews) but that really only deals with the layout. The culture and societies all have unique elements and interact believably. There is a lot of the depth to this world and I look forward to reading the sequel.

Given the ending, I am assuming a sequel at least.

On the whole, this was a fun read. I strongly encourage readers to pick up a copy of ‘The White Tower’ for an excellent Holiday read. 🙂

Characters – 3.5/5
Plot: 4/5
Action: 4/5
Value: 4/5
Writing: 4/5
Total Rating: 3.95/5

Book Review – Blades of Magic (Crown Service #1)

Book Review – Blades of Magic (Crown Service #1)

Blades

By Terah Edun

Click HERE to buy it on Amazon.com

I grabbed this book as a part of the promotion when book two launched. The author had it up for free as an enticement to check out the sequel. I’ve been busy with my students and conferences, but I managed to find some time to do some reading and this is one of the books I was determined to get through. Of course, that meant that I missed the sale and grabbed it at $2.99.

Totally worth it.

The story is fairly simple – we have Sara, the daughter of a disgraced imperial commander. Her father was killed for deserting and, given what she knows of her father, this has always bothered her. This leads her to develop her sword skills and make some living wages to support herself and her mother for much of her early life.

When she comes of age, and a few tragedies, she finds herself working with the Mercenary Guild and beginning to unravel what really happened with her father and the Emperor. There are a number of sub plots and loose threads introduced and expanded on and it’s well balanced between resolution and mini-mystery.

I’ve always enjoyed Edun’s work and this is no exception. Sara is a fine main character and fun to follow along with. I also enjoyed Ezekiel as a bit of a challenge to Sara and her developing skills. That a ‘Battle Mage’ can transform in to a Berserker – like a classic Berserker – is also interesting and makes her accessing her abilities feel like there is some actual consequence to her magic use.

The other secondary characters felt a bit more static than I generally enjoy, but it comes off to me more as her getting things established than any kind of laziness on her part. To put it simply, this is a new aspect to her world and she is getting it prepared for the future. That static-ness makes it so that she can focus on Ezekiel and Sara and the mystery of Sara’s father while introducing elements that can grow in the future. Sara and Ezekiel are charming enough that I’m willing to be patient with those characters and I look forward to grabbing the sequel when I have a chance.

The world and society that Edun has built is interesting. It appears to be linked to her Courtlight series (which I am a huge fan of (I still need to finish the last book)), but this area and part of the world feels unique and distinct in comparison to what we read in the other series. It’s much more Roman/Greek-ish (for lack of a better phrase) over in these cities and for Sara. I also like the Mercenaries and their role and reaction to Sara. I don’t want to spoil it, but it makes significant sense given the world and the way Edun has established their purpose.

On the whole, this is an excellent new world from a great author. I encourage everyone to give it a shot when they have a chance. It’s completely worth the price asked at $2.99. I see there is a print price and, if Edun ever comes to my area for a convention or something, I’ll probably grab a print copy to get it signed.

Characters – 3.5/5

Plot: 3.5/5

Action: 4/5

Value: 4/5

Writing: 4/5

Total Rating:  3.75/5

Gaming and Gamers – Some Definitions and Observations (2 of 4)

I find it interesting that in examining online gaming culture, there is no one definition that anyone seems to be able to agree on. Some people will tell you that Console Games should be excluded, others insist that a console based game is the only one that counts. Some will say that Nintendo’s Wii is not a proper gaming console; others point out that portable games such as Angry Birds should not be considered a part of gaming.

With no one, solid definition of what Gaming Culture is, I find it interesting that there can be a cultural clash or hashtag even created for this ‘GamerGate’ controversy. If you can’t define the limits, how can you define where it begins or ends.

So, before I write this, I’m going to go ahead and throw up some definitions so that I am clear in my explanation:

Core Audience (Pre-2000) – the Core Audience prior to the year 2000 for video games were males aged 15-32. This is, in general, the audience that most people picture when they think of a ‘gamer.’

Core Audience (Post 2000) – the shifting demographic that advertisers and programmers are now trying to bring in. This is largely due to the rise of mobile gaming brought about by devices like smartphones.

Core Gamer – a person who plays games at least 20 hours a week and purchases titles regularly (1)

Casual Gamer – a person who plays infrequently and purchases titles less often (1).

So, even in my definitions, it is clear to me (and a number of actual online journalists and reporters) that there has been a significant shift in the gaming audience and its marketing appeals. There are now more people playing games than there have ever been before (2). Regardless of the platform that you prefer your gaming on, you are getting consistent new content and experiences at a pace almost unheard of in older gaming times.

This massive explosion of population has thus called in to question: is gaming’s culture keeping up with its audience evolution.

The Legend of Zelda Protagonist Link (1986)Zelda_Ocarina_of_Time_CastSkyward

Different Zeldas, Different Casting

The answer to that question is long and complicated. It is, unfortunately, almost impossible to find any neutral information on the subject, but I’ll try and share what I have found along with my opinions mixed in.

The short answer is a simple ‘no.’ To put it bluntly, we have not seen a significant change in the social demographics presented in video games. A simple trip in to Wal-Mart to look at the covers of the available titles shows that the common protagonist in major studio efforts remains white males (3). You can also load GameFaqs.com and look at their top 10:

Top 10

 

Wow, I wish I had a better screen cap grabber…

Anyway, if you follow through on those titles, most of them feature primary protagonist characters that are white males (or, at least, based on white males for games like The Elder Scrolls V or League of Legends) with casts to match. This is consistent regardless of platform and game sub-genre. The previously defined core audience is still the target of most major publishers and the advertising backs that.

Which is all just fine if the numbers played out in favor of that group being the one that is the most marketable and has the most success for publishers.

But it’s not. The casual gaming market is exploding and making a mega-ton of money.

Consider the following chart

TRYBG(4)

To put it bluntly, console sales have been dropping. Meanwhile, mobile and casual games are going up (I could not find comarable or reliable numbers for PC sales)(2). There are many reasons for this that have been examined and questioned a lot LOT by those who have far more industry knowledge than I do, so I won’t go in to it in much more detail except to say that it is clear that console gaming is dropping away.

FF7
Seriously, how many re-releases do we need of Final Fantasy 7

Yet, in gamer culture, console games are a significant part of the ‘core gamer’ assumption. Even as that market shrinks, developers scramble to grab on to it and try and grab that smaller audience. They do this in many ways. There’s the nostalgia factor where developers re-release old titles that were extremely popular on the hope that you will still think the game is as awesome as it was a decade ago (looking at you SquareEnix and Nintendo). There’s the competetive factor – where you are in competition with yourself/others to climb a digital hierarchy to reach the top (Halo, League of Legends, etc).  And there is the completeness factor – think Pokemon or Trophies among many others.

All of these items are combined to make it so that the player feels as though they are a part of the elite group of ‘core gamers.’ And this is an elite group. Go check out many major gaming sites and you will see instances of conflict between this ‘core’ group and other groups. The most significant division in the group is between console and PC gamers, but they all will rally around their territory in an effort to protect it.

What I have to wonder, then, is why do game manufacturers pursue the market so heavily. The definition above is one big reason – 20 hours a week of time and regular purchases means you have a reliable customer. In today’s fluctuating market conditions, that kind of loyalty and reliable revenue is hard to come by and a valuable commodity. Going after these guys creates reliable income and that’s invaluable. When its expected, you can plan against it.

But, if the data above is true and console sales are dropping, even reliable revenue is going to dry up. Thus, you market more heavily to grab at those that are left. Because console manufacturers and developers are fighting to get their share of an increasingly smaller pool, we are not seeing demographic changes to reflect purchasing trends and social trends that are beginning to show in other media. The Wii bucked this trend a bit by bringing in a lot of new players and families to gaming, but it doesn’t appear that the audience that came in is really transitioning significantly in to the market.

So, these developers are struggling to hold on to a market that is, increasingly, shrinking. That’s probably why all of the current gen consoles (Wii U, XBoxOne,PS4) have so many ‘other’ features. I know that my Wii U is used for a Netflix box for my wife and daughter almost as often as I am using it to play Video Games.

Admittedly, there are far more developers in the causal and mobile markets. This slew of different developers, inherently, means a larger pool of talent and ideas to draw from, as well as differing objectives in game creation. For every 1 major publishers for the PC/Console market, there are thousands of  ‘micro’ developers in the mobile/casual market (3)

Given that, is it any wonder that they don’t want to try and compete with all of that? You’re surrounded on all sides and have been holding out. Why switch tactics in the middle of the battle – even if your soldiers are bleeding out?

That’s not to say that we haven’t got some positives up in there, however. Even with that shot, I will point out that in at least 5 of those titles you have the option to build your character and create it how you want. And in those options, there is,invariably a female option. Many of them also offer other racial options to allow for greater depth of character representation (though some of Skyrim’s options are impossible in the real world). (4) This was unheard of until more recent console and PC developments. While part of that the fact that older mediums could not support more complex graphics and store the data required for a great deal of building options (not to mention there were far fewer titles that allowed customization period), the ugly other half of it was that there was almost no market approach to consider other audiences.

Now, though, the games are starting to flip in the other direction. Customization and unique experiences are the name of the game in the gaming market OUTSIDE of major publishers. To some extent, it is starting to leak in to the ‘Big 3’ (Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo), but mobile games are dominating the scene right now and they are offering an increasingly diverse and customize-able experience for end users.

What does this mean, then? It means that the recognition of ALL gamers, and not just core audience, needs to be established for developers. Similarly, the media and culture of the United States (and any other country, really) needs to accept and understand that this change of audience and demographic is both a positive item AND a potential for profit. Current ‘core’ gamers also need to recognize this shift and stop fighting against it. It would be, in my opinion, far better for them to accept it and try and re-classify their purpose in the system. Instead of being the major ‘go to’ for marketing and targeting, incorporate their experience with games and their appeal by working with the industry in it moving forward instead of fighting against the progress.

 

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1 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamer#Casual_gamer

2 –  http://www.theesa.com/facts/pdfs/ESA_EF_2013.pdf

3 – Schick, Shane. “Evans Data: Mobile Developers Now Number 8.7 Million Worldwide.” Fierce Developer. FierceMarkets, 20 June 2014. Web. 29 Oct. 2014. <http://www.fiercedeveloper.com/story/evans-data-mobile-developers-now-number-87-million-worldwide/2014-06-20&gt;.

4 – “Game Console Sales Over Lifetime.” 1 May 2014. Web. 29 Oct. 2014. <http://www.statista.com/statistics/268966/total-number-of-game-consoles-sold-worldwide-by-console-type/&gt;.

3 – “Wal-Mart Video Game Homepage.” Wal-Mart.com. Walmart Stores Inc, 29 Oct. 2014. Web. <http://www.walmart.com/search/search-ng.do?ic=16_0&Find=Find&search_query=&Find=Find&search_constraint=2636&gt;.

4 – Pyre, Andrew. “Bungie Talks ‘Destiny’ Playable Races, Character Classes.” GameRant. GameRant LLC, 1 Jan. 2013. Web. 29 Oct. 2014. <http://gamerant.com/bungie-destiny-player-races-classes/&gt;.

GamerGate, Feminism, and a LOT of Nasty Words (pt 1 of 4)

I spent much of the weekend examining the supposed ‘Gamergate’ issue. Here’s a link to the Wikipedia entry on the subject which, more or less, boils down to:

A group of media outlets have, apparently, been examining gaming culture. One particular person, Zoe Quinn – an independent game developer – was accused by an ex-boyfriend of sleeping with/having a relationship with a Kotaku gaming journalist in order to get a better review. This broke down in to harassment from the online community including threats and revelation of personal details. Some, apparently, even went so far as the threaten her with personal violence and death. The result is an examination of internet social norms as perpetuated by a relatively small few. If you want more details, I suggest you start with the Wikipedia article.

The first bit I am going to look at, at least for today, is the increasing examination of the world, and particularly gaming, through independent eyes. These eyes call themselves journalists, but I would hesitate to call many of them as such. This is not exclusively limited to online journalism, though I see far more questionable journalists online than I do in mainstream media(1). When I am talking about a journalist, I am talking about someone who does their homework and has researched the facts before reporting. They do this with an open mind and a respect for finding what truth they can rather than evidence only supporting their own/corporate vision (2). I’m talking about Clark Kent and not Rush Limbaugh.

Because, let's be honest, who would ever trust Clark Kent.
Because, let’s be honest, who would ever trust Clark Kent.

There is a certain expectation of journalists to display integrity and care in their reporting. I’m not going to argue the point that many journalists do not maintain this code, and that some barely hold to it, but the expectation is there. That expectation leads people to trust them more implicitly. Unfortunately, the rise of the internet and social media has pushed at those expectations and trusts (I can’t say that I blame the public for that one) and made it so that information on the ‘Net is almost as trusted as our former sole sources of information are. This is considered a problem by many bloggers and journalists (3)(4)

The rise of social media and the internet has made it extremely easy for information to be passed around. Unfortunately, the information that gets passed around is rarely fact checked. In the race to get clicks and hits, social media will often publish anything it can get its hands on.   Quite often it is messy, inaccurate, or outright misquoted. The need to be the first site with a link or a piece of information leads to people jumping the gun or, in some cases, outright ignoring the truth. Satire articles posted on websites like The Onion or The National Report get shared on Facebook and Twitter. Their incredible sounding headlines are attractive and pull people in. These articles then get shared and the misinformation spreads(5).

One of the most significant social media sites, Facebook, has recognized this problem and is attempting to create algorithms and other items that will sort out click bait articles, but it’s tricky going. Take, for instance, the Ebola outbreak that is occurring. This article sums things up nicely. And, while it is nice that sites like Snopes.com have risen up to combat this, they are fighting a war against an enemy that does not stop, does not get tired, and does not get any smaller regardless of how many of its minions it takes down. It is extremely easy to set up a website and make it look like a professional source of information.

What, then, does this have to do with Gamers and gaming in general. In short, it has lead to the war of Gamergate and the continuing evolution of the media landscape regarding gaming. In particular, the role of the female character and whether or not it is good for young females to observe (or play as in relatively rare instances) in their development for society and the world at large.

So, we’ll examine the issue of online journalism and it’s rush, a bit about females in gaming, and then look at some solutions that I see. Hope it’ll be fun! 🙂

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1 -Please keep in mind – I am well aware of the difficulty in generating content through major news channels and in getting in to those coveted spots; similarly I am well aware that these major news networks have their own agendas and requirements.

2- I know, I am dreaming.

3 – Sasseen, Jane, Kenny Olmstead, and Amy Mitchell. “As Mobile Grows Rapidly, the Pressure on News Intensify. Pew Research Center. Web. 24 Oct. 2014. <http://stateofthemedia.org/2013/digital-as-mobile-grows-rapidly-the-pressures-on-news-intensify/&gt;.

4 – Moressey, Brian. “These Guys Hate Clickbait, so They Did Something That Will Blow Your Mind.” Digiday. 14 Jan. 2014. Web. 24 Oct. 2014. <http://digiday.com/publishers/clickbait-headlines-against-humanity/&gt;.

5 – Bilton, Ricardo. Thanks to social media, fake news draws real audiences. http://digiday.com/publishers/fake-news-site-national-report-public-service/ . Last retrieve October 24th, 2014.