Thursday, March 22, 2018

Read for Fun: Magic, Magic Everywhere

"Magic, Magic Everywhere" is basically the novelization of the movie "Magic Movie Night".

It is a quick read. There is a large font so the pages go by quickly. In fact, I went through fifty of them without realizing it. Even though I had watched the animated counterpart, I had difficulty putting this one down at my first sitting. I wanted to see the differences because I heard there a couple big ones. This is my impression.

This counterpart is simplified. Books, including novelizations, typically provide more information about the story; a wider scope. This one is smaller. This goes from background details to a significant part of Dance Magic being omitted (namely, the Crystal Prep student conflict/team up storyline). It's disappointing and one would think it would make a great friendship lesson for Starlight to witness, but understandable (see below).

This counterpart is Integrated. Instead of three loosely connected storylines, this one cohesive whole. The Crystal Prep omission was probably for streamlining the narrative and making this happen. Starlight Glimmer, for instance, is present for the whole story instead of the final third and spends the middle arc tracking leaks of Equestrian Magic on Sunset Shimmer's behalf. This is something I like. Starlight vs Juniper Montage is also something I like because it shows more cunning on her part (the "flip kick" from the animated version attracted flack).

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Magic, Magic, Everywhere" a B+

Click here for the previous book review: Dungeons and Dragons Player's Manual (3.5)

Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

My realization about the pursuit of reader identification

I'm not sure why I didn't post this earlier. I guess it was because it was more of a stream-of-conscious self-reflection thing then something for my blog. However, it is something that I want to share. This self-reflection was triggered by "Canterlot Boutique", the 14th episode of the fifth season in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

The monotony of the same thing over and over again; the thrill of inspiration; satisfaction from others enjoying one's work;  trying new things; as an artist (albeit an author rather than a seamstress) I can relate to that. This could be my favorite of the season and high up there in the series as a whole. Is this the appeal of identification? It is certain relating. I could understand the joy at the start, the frustration at the middle, the shift between financial concerns and artistic direction. Yet, I didn't think that I was Rarity, in her shoes, or anything like that. Rather, it made me want to start writing. To enjoy my own craft. Yet I wanted to get my thoughts down first.

The pursuit of reader identification is a thing that has bothered me for some time. While I look through articles about writing and marketing books, I see "identify this" and "identify that". How important it supposedly is for a given reader to be able to identify with the main character (or some other prominent character) is regularly mentioned.  I saw this in a book about bats when the author spoke of the initial inspiration as if it were a self-imposed challenge. I believe the words were "could kids identify with a bat?" I see it in several places on Tvtropes, such as the tropes This Loser Is You, Audience Surrogate, and Lowest Common Denominator, among others. I even saw it in a Just For Fun page, "So You Want To Be a Voice Actor". The line was "the audience sees themselves in you". All this bothered me because it didn't make any sense.

Identify with a character? That's nuts. Emphasize with? Sure. Relate to? Yes. Understand their situation and trouble? Definitely. But think that I am the character or that the character represents me? No. I bring this up because "Canterlot Boutique" helped me achieve a moment of clarity.

A lot my own fears regarding my career as a novelist are here.
1. Someone taking over the process and taking credit for everything.

---> That's why I hesitated so long before publishing my first book. It took more mustered up courage and resolve to upload it to KDP than anything else I've done, including my driver's license test and the promotion for my black belt in Tae Known Do. It was like jumping off a cliff into cold water.
2. The fear of doing something dull and monotone endlessly; writing the exact same thing at the command of someone else (be it a publisher, agent, marketing team etc.).

---> That's the biggest reason I ultimately decided to be an independent author.
3. The fear of losing inspiration

----> ......I don't even want to go there.

There's also the joys that I experience as a novelist.
1. A flash of inspiration from a random thought or experience. A lot of ideas came that way.
2. The exhilaration of a review from someone who truly enjoyed my book. There are few bigger intrinsic highs for me.
3. The satisfaction of announcing a new book (i.e. grand opening).

It's not identifying in the sense that the reader thinks they are this character. Rather, it is a connection to them that goes deeper than sympathy or understanding. I can sympathize with and feel sorry for, say, Bill Yoast in "Remember the Titans" when he struggles between his ambition for the Hall of Fame and defending his fellow coach and players from racism but there's a disconnect because I'm not into Football (or any sort of team sport for that matter). I can relate to Ron Weasley of "Harry Potter" fame more than Bill Yoast when he's trying to make his homework report a little bit longer because I've been there and I understand the problem, but this is only a shallow thing because I am otherwise nothing like Ron. I had a bigger, deeper, more intense emotional experience with Rarity's dilemma because I felt like it spoke to me personally. I can understand why a writer would want to be able to evoke that in their audience. However, I still don't like the idea of trying to distill such a experience.

That leads to things like lowest common denominator and mass market appeal; a character generic enough to fit anyone in a given demographic doesn't fit anyone within it at all. Indeed, that was the surface conflict of the episode; making dresses that were exactly the same. Rarity has an Imagine Spot of everyone outside her shop wearing one of her dress designs and it saddens and depresses her because they are all wearing the exact same design. The idea of an assembly line making the dresses horrifies her. The satisfaction (and, yes, success too) comes from reaching customers individually. In other words, identifying them as individuals rather than a faceless demographic.

What do you think? Have you ever had a moment like this from a show/book/game etc.?

Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Read for Fun: Dungeons and Dragons - player's manual (version 3.5)

I bought this some time ago for research purposes and I finished reading it last year. Since then, I have also read "Complete Divine" and I'm in the process of reading "Heroes of Battle". For a world-building nut like myself, this stuff is like a triple chocolate sundae with sprinkles for my mind. It's not a novel so I'm not going to use my usual grading scale.

Note: I read on Tvtropes that different versions of the game have their own divided fanbases just like different volumes of a novel series. This is the only version I've read about so I don't have anything to compare it to.

There's lots of stuff here that I recognize without reading it before. Talking Is A Free Action, for instance, is a trope on Tvtropes. The idea of quests for treasure and such is much older than D&D, of course, but I see here the modern template.

Then there's influence I see in video games. I know that turn based combat in video games came from board games like this but now I see that "successful attack role" meant that out of a series of attacks, one or more or them was successful. The in-universe combat does not stop. Also, I see that consoles in video games do the dice-rolling calculations that players do. A D&D board game is like a video game without the restrictions (assuming a sufficiently flexible/skilled/adaptable DM, of course).

I quickly saw how useful this could be for creating characters in a novel. Everything one needs for player building can be repurposed for character creation: background, abilities, religion, language, naming conventions, motivations, culture, behavior etc. This is the foundation for making a character more a collection of facts just as it is for making a character more than a collection of stats.

The spell list! Wow, the spell list is a significant chunk of this manual. Lots of different spells and their uses and their requirements and limitations; a minute magic system. It inspired me. Seriously, this helped with the development of a plot.

There were a few typos here and there but those are inevitable in something this long. I count about a dozen across three hundred pages.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Dungeons and Dragons Player's Manual 3.5" a +

Click here for the next book review (for fun): Magic, Magic Everywhere

Click here for my previous book review (a request): Nosferatu Chronicles: Origins

Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Sword Art Online - Ordinal Scale review

Sword Art Online - Ordinal Scale is an amazing movie. Before watching it, I read a review that said it did a good job of using the franchise's strengths and avoiding its weaknesses. I agree with that sentiment.

The interacting of physical existence and digital existence, for instance, is well executed in the movie's augmented reality. It has many different uses beyond games like "Ordinal Scale", such as working as a GPS, counting calories in food, and staying in contact with A.I. friends. The game itself is part of this by allowing the player to be conscious while playing. This combines the appeal of games such as Sword Art Online (adventure, fighting monsters, earning treasure etc.) with vigorous physical excercise, and helps the players to stay in shape in the open air.

People who dislike Kazuto/Kirito for being an overpowered solo player will rejoice at seeing him make a fool of himself the first time he plays Ordinal Scale. Being a VR nerd, he is absolutely unsuited for combat in AR, and he doesn't become effective until his little sister puts him through a training montage. Even after that, his victories are a team effort.

I was happy to see the focus on Kazuto and Asuna's relationship. Since the end of Mother's Rosario, she has been urging him to meet her mother and the primary subplot, their character arc, is about a promise they made to each other while in Aincrad. When tragedy strikes, the depth of their bond is on full display and there are many tender moments.

The new girl, Yuna, shows absolutely no interest in Kazuto. Her character arc is entirely separate from him. He's not even the only player she asks for help, just the only one who figured out her message.

The story's villain is a quite a contrast with the usual. He is much more sympathetic in his goal and his methods show multiple motivations instead of the For The Evulz that previous villains have held.

The battles are fantastic. Most of them are against bosses from SAO that were not seen in the original cannon so there is no reptition. We also get to see Klein's guild, Furinkazan, in action. This means we see the truth of their status as a front-line guild. Their coordination is flawless.

Beyond the battles themselves the film itself looks fantastic. It is crisp, clean, bright and overall stunning.

If I had to name a flaw in the film, it is the speed by which Kazuto climbs the ranks of Ordinal Scale and becomes skilled enough to challenge its best player. It is a montage of what appears to be several days but could be longer. It's a little jarring but frankly, I see it as a Necessary Weasel based on the time constraits of the film itself.
Trickster Eric Novels gives "Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale" an A+

Click here for my review of the chronologically next story (or rather the start of it): Sword Art Online Volume 9 - Alicization Beginning

Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Answering review request: The Nosferatu Chronicles - Origins

Susan Hamilton asked me to read her book "The Nosferatu Chronicles - Origins". This is a vampire book that, as it title says, posits an origin of vampires. It has an interesting take on this that I will elaborate in this review. I will Plot, Character, and Polish, and then assign a grade.


The main thrust of this novel is an alien race called "the Vampri" struggling to survive on Earth after a natural disaster forced them to abandon their native planet. It's impressive how quickly Miss. Hamilton established the rudiments of their society while introducing her protagonist, Kevak. How their society is structured and stratified, how they live, what they eat, etc. is all established in a non-intrusive fashion. This is done via contrast with the current emergency and all within a couple pages.

As their exodus continues, one truly gets a sense of their desperation. They are starving and grieving and doing everything they can to establish a new normal. Not only do unexpected hazards keep unsettling them but unexpected positive events provide for sharp hope. This prevents their trauma conga line from getting stale and turning into a Deus Angst Machina.

There are other, minor, plot threads that appear at first to have nothing to do with this main narrative. There are a Welsh blacksmith that wants to emulate King Arthur by joining a crusade, a Turkish archer dragged into Ottoman court politics, and a herbalist from Wallachia preparing for a resurgence of a local monster. They are small digressions from the main narrative and eventually connect with it without distracting from or bloating it. Indeed, the blacksmith only has one or two solo scenes before he joins the main event. Then there's the historical Vlad the Impaler, who you KNOW is going to be important later.


There are lots of different kinds of vampires here. All of the usual myths and elements are accounted for but given a twist to fit the setting along with original stuff from Miss. Hamilton. Few stories that I have read provide such a fine in-universe explanation for both Our Vampires Are Different and Your Vampires Suck.
1. The Vampri are the original aliens. They look the most like humanoid monsters of the group but they don't drink blood because they're herbivores. They have no vampire weaknesses except sunlight because their bodies can't stand solar radiation.
2. Vampri who ingest human blood become vampri-human hybrids. They look human but have superhuman abilities. Human blood acts like a drug, explaining their traditional horror hunger. They act viciously because adrenaline helps them manage this addiction. The only way to kill them is a headshot.
3. Humans who ingest Vampire blood also turn into hybrids with the same skill set and weaknesses but are weaker as a whole than Vampri. This is why they are called "vampires" or "sub-Vampri".
4. All the other usual weaknesses, like garlic and crosses, are a result of Your Mind Makes It Real. These humans believe they have turned into a folk monster called "Stigoi" and so they also believe they have the same weaknesses. It is implied rather than stated that they are also the weakest of the lot because they were created by a human-vampri hybrid.


Despite the fact that crosses are only effective against monsters that think they are effective, there is a intriguing religious element. Kevak comes across a bible in his struggles (among other books such as the works of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle) and sees parallels between its contents and Vampri history. It helps him come to terms with his personal grief involving a tragedy that occurred during the evacuation of his planet and also his guilt about his involvement in oppression and murder.

The really interesting part about this religious element is that Vampri society is secular via Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions and even mentions that a similar belief about a deity that is friendly to the poor and downtrodden died out as technology made manual labor less necessary. Despite knowing this, Kevak converts to Christianity and is inspired to be "humanity's Good Samaritan". Furthermore, the staple of the Vampri diet, hemo-crops, are processed into two forms, a wafer for eating and a red liquid for drinking. They certainly provide a "salvation" of sorts.

Wow, that is long, isn't it? I totally didn't mean to do that. Anyway, I like the conclusion. It was surprisingly tense and gripping considering its parameters. It was this sense of "we're so close to making it but something could still go horribly wrong". It closes the book's conflict to provide for a sense of resolution while simultaneously planting seeds for future stories.




Kevak is the protagonist of this story and its hero as well. He is a Science Hero and a family man. As the story unfolds, a Real Men Love Jesus trait develops until he's basically a Good Shepherd. There is lots of personal conflict with him because he is an introspective sort. He grieves and has moments of doubt but it is not wangst.

Mazja is the closest the book has to a Big Bad, yet she's not really evil. I'd saw Lawful Evil at worst. She's basically dragged into villainy through a combination of anger, grief, accidental (and really quick) drug addiction and starvation. One can see how well-intentioned and reasonable she is at the start of things and see her morality erode as time goes on. Indeed, the Token Good Teammate considers her draconian disciplinary measures a Necessary Evil at one point.

Chaluxi presents an interesting question: how does a good man stay moral when only immoral options are available? How he copes with the events of the plot make him an exemplary foil for Kevak.

Vlad the Impaler is multi-faceted here. He is ruthless to his enemies and strict with his soldiers. He is  a caring husband, but also has a number of mistresses. He is chivalrous but is also more severe with his punishments on "fallen" women than men. I did a little research and much of his life here is accurate to real life, aside from the vampire bits, of course.


A couple errors here and there. I don't penalize for this unless it is more common.

There was an event that struck me as such a narrative weakness that I was going to mark down a full grade for it. This is because it was a coincidental and foolish behavior with so many points of failure that it broke my willing suspension of disbelief. However, I thought about it and realized that lots of moments, for and against this character, as well as other characters, occurred. This was not a one-time device to heavy-handily shift the plot but a theme of the story. Mistakes happen and random chance events occur; that's life. Or God working in mysterious ways, as Kevak would put it. From that perspective, it was not a narrative weakness at all.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Nosferatu Chronicles - Origins" an A+

This has been a free review request. Susan Hamilton wanted an honest review so I provided one.

Click here for my next book review (for fun): Dungeons and Dragons - Player's Manual V3.5

Click here for my previous book review (also a request): The Adventures of Sir Edric

Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Answering Review Request: The Adventures of Sir Edric

Thaddeus White asked me to read his novel "The Adventures of Sir Edric". It is about a knight who is far from chivalrous going on adventures similar to such a knight. I want to say it is a parody of epic adventures. It is certainly a comedy. It is also the third book by Mr.White that I have reviewed and I have thus gained a high opinion of his ability as an author. This book is no exception. I will examine Plot, Character and Polish and then assign a grade.

First, this book is actually two stories. I think they were separate at one point but now they are together in this book. They are "The Adventures of Sir Edric Volume" and "Sir Edric's  Treasure".

The first one is similar to a Redemption Quest but it is played like a stealth suicide mission. The second is more like a treasure hunt. I say it is a parody because of the motivations for these quests and dissonance between what Edric says and what he thinks.

The first is presented as a heroic adventure for king and country but Edric suspects that the king is sending him on a suicide mission in retribution for committing adultery with the queen. The beautiful sorcereress accompanying him, who would likely be a love interest (Defrosting Ice Queen style) in a straight version, is actually his jailer who maintains a low opinion of him throughout. Instead of taking action himself, he foists all the dangerous stuff on his braver and more competent manservant.

The second has the same qualities as the first but a significantly different set up, which makes it the same sort of enjoyable but a different sort of interesting because Edric is in a situation more suited to his true nature.

Much of the comedy in these stories comes from Edric talking like a chivalric and heroic knight while thinking thoughts that instead reflect a pragmatic and misogynistic mercenary. There's also Schadenfreude from the dangerous, embarrassing, or painful things that happen to him, usually as a result of his actions but also like a karmic kick. For readers like myself, there is a third source of comedy in the use of the tropes. Literary concepts like Boring Return Journey are lampshaded, examined, and/or mocked.

Both stories have an ending suitable for this story's tone. I like them. They close the conflict but they are not happily ever after sorts.


Sir Edric is a noble and used to be an active knight. Now he's more sedate, and by "sedate", I mean only rouses himself to go to a whore house. Aside from this laziness, he has about every other vice you could name: greed, snobbery, misogyny, irreverence, cowardice, lack of empathy, hypocrisy etc. There's one scene where he's pretending to be a monk as a disguise and someone asks him for religious advice, and he does so in exchange for a fee. A Nominal Hero if there ever was one, but it suits him in this world of grey and grey morality. Indeed, the only reason he's not a Villain Protagonist is because he doesn't actively do anything evil, and he usually has something, or in the case of Lysandra, someone, to keep him focused on heroic acts.

 It also makes him a comedic duo with his manservant, Dog. He is the wise guy doing something immoral, pragmatic or whatever, and Dog is the straight man who reacts to it.

 While it is easy to see him as someone who relies on Dog to do all his fighting for him, he's not incompetent. He demonstrates skill with a crossbow, a sword and in quick tactical thinking. It's just that he's pragmatic enough to stay away from immediate danger and talk or trick his way out of a fight in the first place.

Dog is described in book blurbs as "pathologically loyal", which is indeed true. The things he does out of feudal duty truly stretch the bounds of credible belief. That's part of the humor in his character because Sir Edric definitely doesn't deserve it. For instance, "Dog" is not his real name but something Sir Edric decided on because he didn't like Dog's real name. Nor does he get any credit or appreciation. Without Dog, Erick would never accomplish or survive half of the stuff he does.
He is an example of Good Is Not Soft as he is a courteous fellow that still kills enemies with little hesitation.
His past is mysterious because he has skills that do not coincide with some him being some random commoner.
Personally, I see Edric as a supporting protagonist and Dog as the hero of this story. He's much more traditionally heroic with his loyalty, bravery, and feats of daring do, etc. except he is Edric's sidekick. Yes, it is a strange blend of roles which one of the things I like about this book.

Lysander is the third character to span both stories. She is an elf sorcercess assigned to assist Sir Edirc on his first adventure, and make sure he doesn't abandon his quest. She is a Celibate Heroine who wears a Dangerously Short Skirt. She appears to follow a standard Defrosting Ice Queen arc but still thinks him a cowardly sex-obsessed jerk in the end. Her humor comes in the form of her being a sheltered academic unused to adventuring, and the banter she has with Edric over his unwillingness to aspire to noble action.


Both stories look good spelling and grammar wise. However, there is one thing in the second book that is odd.

There is this scene at the start of a chapter that comes out of nowhere. It is not connected to the previous chapter and does not connect to the following scenes. It is an argument that does not have any basis in previous conversations; "how dare you! Have you no respect?" I don't see what that refers to. It can't possibly refer to tripping over an invisible object and the response would make no sense in context. It involves a permanent shift so I can't dismiss it as a Big Lipped Alligator Moment. There is even a text-breaker area of blank space between it and the next scene that suggests it is isolated.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Adventures of Sir Edric" an A+ for Temple of Doom, a B+ for "Treasure" and an A+ over all.

This has been a free review request. The author requested an honest review so I provided one.

Click here for my next book review (request): The Nosferatu Chronicles - Origins

Click here for my previous book review (for fun): Medieval Towns - a reader

Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Read for fun: Medieval Towns - a reader

"Medieval Towns - a reader" is a book from one of my college classes. It is only recently that I've had time to fully read it.

This is a book of primary sources related to urban communities in Europe from the Late Roman Period to the Late Medieval Period. It covers mostly Western Europe: British Isles, Iberian peninsula, Italy and Sicily, and the eastern parts of Germania.

It covers a broad range of subjects: economy, religion, marriage and families, social conflict, entertainment (which is mixed with "civic ritual"). The documents available to them vary from court documents and chronicles to private diaries, and from personal letters to royal proclamations. Each one is sandwiched by a paragraph giving background information on it, which I assume to be written by the editor, and a group of questions about it. I presume these are meant to be discussion questions because the answers to many of them are not contained within the documents themselves.

I found them interesting. As a novelist, I expect to make frequent use of this book whenever my story takes place in a medieval European setting.

Something like this is too outside my standard grading system to give an official grade, so I'll just given it a "Pass +".

Click here for my next book review (a request): The Adventures of Sir Edric

Click here for my previous book review (also for fun): Sword Art Online volume 9

Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Something unusual: A Culinary Experiment

Today I'm going to share something unusual. It is a culinary experiment I performed today.

See, I keep special treats around for celebrating when I finish something exceptional, such as finishing a draft/publishing a book or completing a video game. Yesterday, not only did I finish a game but I also completed all its sidequests (there were basically two in the whole game, but all is all. It was Xenosaga Episode I for those interested). So I opened a packet of Lindt 90% cacao . It is a significantly different experience than the 76% percent with almonds that I ate previously; intense chocolate flavor. I think it would be better used as a caffeine replacement than a treat.
Then I remembered how Lindt's website talked about how a 100% cacao bar is suited only as a baking chocolate and I decided to go that route.

The recipe I planned is cacao bars (distinct from chocolate bars),  maca powder, and cheerios mixed together. I'm expecting it to be this clumpy finger-food thing. It is something like this one recipe that my Mom makes around Christmas time, which she calls "Kibbles and Bits", but that has white chocolate and other stuff. I'm going simpler for my first try. This is what happened.

Cleaning all of that up took as long as mixing everything up. I put the end result in the freezer. Then I moved to my favorite part of this sort of recipe; licking the mixing bowl. There was a faint taste of maca. I think it's because I only added two teaspoons of boiled maca to the thirteen or so squares of cacao. Perhaps I'll add more next time, or add cinnamon instead of or in addition to it.
What does this have to do with writing? I think that food preparation adds a sense of reality to any scene or culture. How they eat, what they eat, the things they do to food before they eat it; all these things inform the reader about them and influence their actions and the world around them. However, I don't do much in the way of food preparation myself. Usually, it's just adding spices to my oatmeal. So this was fun. Hopefully, it will also be tasty.
Edit: It wasn't. The water I used to boil the maca was added to the chocolate sauce with the maca. So when I mixed it with the cheerios, it made the cheerios soggy. This produced an unappealing texture.  In retrospect, that should have been obvious. Also, the maca taste was missing. I threw it all out.  
Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Read for fun: Sword Art Online Volume 9

I finished reading Sword Art Online Volume 9 recently. This is the start of the Alicization Arc, which, as of this posting, has not been adapted for an anime (although one is in the making). This was a novel experience for me as I watched the first four arcs before reading them (technically, I've only read the first two). I will examine Plot, Character, and Polish before assigning a grade.


What I like about this arc, and this volume in particular, is the three layers of plots. On one hand is the immediate plot about Kirito investigating the new world, Underworld. There's also the in-universe storyline which he himself is a part of; the history of the Human Empire within the End Mountains. The third is the most far-reaching, the ongoing conflict with Laughing Coffin. It began when he clashed with them in Aincard and continued in confronting Death Gun and now there's a conflict in real life. There are hints of something more going on in real life with Rath and the Soul Translator, but I'm not that far yet.

The beginning is kind of disorienting since it starts in what does not appear to be a virtual world or the real world but a more typical medieval fantasy setting and has a boy named "Kirito" who acts as though he is a native of this world. This is thoroughly explained after the prologue and I found it interesting regardless. It was intriguing even, whether or not this was a role play.

This arc is quite different from previous ones in that it is an ontological mystery. When the story proper starts, Kirito has to figure out where he is and what he's doing there before he can do anything else. He even considers the possibility that he's been transported to another dimension, before dismissing it as ridiculous. He has no idea what's going or what's happening so he has to figure it out as he goes. For a guy once derided as a "beater", this is indeed a new experience.

In every way, he's starting out at level 1; not even his meta knowledge about VRMMORPG in general is useful because this game features real pain, no predictable spawning points, and no level-grinding (at least, nothing that he can track; I think stat increases are based on feats rather than grinding). Criticism about how Kirito is "uber-broken" or whatever has no place here.

There's also humor here, such as jokes about Kazuto being a henpecked husband and some self-deprecation to the general shonen genre and even previous arcs of SAO itself such as Kirito trying to predict the storyline he's been flung into.

There's more focus on Kirito and Asuna's relationship as well, which I think is nice given the perception about the franchise being in the harem genre. It's an understandable misconception that stuff like this volume clears up. An exemplary moment is when, shortly after being stranded in Underworld, Kirito considers himself a "CPU that's missing half its cores" because Asuna isn't around; endearing nerdy for the VR-addict.

There is an excellent split ending - the series' conflict is set up and ongoing but the specific conflict in this volume (centered on the Gigas Cedar) is closed.


Kazuto/Kirito continues to be introspective in this volume. As in Volume 4, where he contemplates the difference between physical reality and virtual reality, in this one he thinks about the nature of existence and life itself. Part of this is that Yui, his beloved A.I. daughter, is not fully "alive" in the way he himself and Asuna are because she is mimicking human behavior based on watching the 3,000 SAO players for two years. However, Fluctlight based programs, like the natives of Underworld, are just as alive as he is because they are clearly not limited in knowledge/behavior/expressions/etc. to a limited pre-programed database. This leads to pondering if he is a Tomato in the Mirror, i.e. one of those Fluctlight based programs based on the real Kazuto.

Incidentally, he considers faithfulness to Asuna to be fundamental to his personality and identity.

Several new characters are introduced, such as Euego, Alice and Selka (though I imagine readers will see far more of the first two than the third). Euego is this Beware The Nice Ones kind of character - friendly, helpful, understanding, and also brave, solid and has a lot of practice swinging an axe. Alice strikes me as an Iron Lady in-the-making because of her determination and bossiness, but also has a mischievous streak via Loophole Abuse and some cute traits like asking her friends' opinion of her cooking (and "secretly" getting her mom's help with it).


I don't recall any technical errors.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Sword Art Online Volume 9" an A+

Click here for the next book review (also for fun): Medieval Towns a Reader

Click here for the previous book review (a request): A Change of Heart - The Royal Blood Chronicles

Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Answering review request: "A Change of Heart - THE ROYAL BLOOD CHRONICLES"

Mark Benjamin asked me to read his novel, "A Change of Heart", the first in his Royal Blood Chronicles series. I will examine plot, character and polish and then assign a grade.


The story is told through rotating viewpoints. Every chapter has a different perspective and some of these "chapters" are a couple paragraphs long and consist solely of a character's thoughts. You might need a flowchart to keep track of who is who and related to whom. I typically frown on this sort of thing because it dilutes the narrative, among other things, but this case has so many viewpoints and it rotates so rapidly through them that it crosses a kind of literary event horizon and becomes useful; for storytelling, for webs of alliances and schemes, and for Omniscient Third Person.

Assuming that one can keep track of everything, it becomes a marvelous device. There is a LOT of scheming and backbiting and plotting going on, and this rotation of viewpoints enables the reader to see all the points and developments in real time. It develops the setting and character dynamics in a way that a single viewpoint never could. It also helps to lessen the Gary Stu factor of Gabriel because he is just one viewpoint among many and doesn't intersect with the main story for over a hundred pages. This story does not revolve around him.

It has a slow pace. This is a consequence of the viewpoint kaleidoscope. Gabriel isn't turned into a vampire for many "chapters" and doesn't realize this for many more; dozens of pages. The Silver Legion drafting Gabriel and his friends, which is described in the book's blurb, doesn't happen for one hundred pages, and by then the reader will have figured out on their own all the exposition given in the draftees' orientation, which further slows the pace.

In my opinion, this book causes Darkness Induced Apathy. That's what we at Tvtropes call it when the story/setting/etc. is so grim and awful on all sides that the reader stops caring what happens to whom. The vampires are, of course, vicious monsters. Even the more sympathetic ones think nothing of torturing and killing both humans and other vampires For the Evulz or something equally petty. The Silver Legion is no better, being an equally Deadly Decadent Court which cares more for killing vampires than protecting humans from them and recruits via kidnapping and indoctrination. Gabriel is too much of a pacifist to do more than protect his friends (he doesn't even want to feed on squirrels, let alone human, even evil ones) and said friends get absorbed in the culture of this shadow war.

This book has an interesting twist to the whole "protagonist transformation into magical superbeing" thing; no one to explain. Gabriel doesn't know he's become a vampire until a week has passed because his transformation took that long. He basically has to figure everything out on his own. His initiation to the secret world of fantasy is an entirely separate event.

One flaw in the story that I noticed is an inconsistency in the Silver Legion's structure. One part says that they are a secret government agency and another part says "we answer to no one" and says that the organization is older than most modern governments.

There is an open ending but it is more sequel hook rather than cliffhanger. If one considers "the fallout of the assassination of Lucas" to be the story's main narrative thread and Darius' Evil Plan to be the conflict, then there is....not really "resolution" but more of a changing of gears.


Gabriel is kinda-sorta the protagonist. The rotating viewpoint device mentioned in the PLOT section makes this story more of an ensemble thing but he's the closest to a central viewpoint character.

He's a nice guy, a nerd and a stereotypical wimp. He's also a vessel for wish fulfillment; getting bitten by a vampire made his life better on all accounts and he doesn't have any their weaknesses. The amount of Wangst makes him even more annoying.

When he realizes that he's a vampire, he REALLY pushes the Cursed with Awesome angle. He even rejects the Vegetarian Vampire route.

Gabriel's friends are a pair of foils and a love interest. There's the intelligent rich nerd who envies Gabriel's "change" into a socially smooth hunk and there's the jock who used to protect him from bullies and now suddenly feels socially threatened by him. The love interest is basically a nice girl without much else to add. What happens when they are drafted into the secret war is where things get interesting.

The rich nerd appears primed and ready to Jump At The Call but then he gets a more complicated view of things. The jock appears to assimilate into the hyper masculine Social Darwinist of the vampire hunters (a la He Who Fights Monsters) while the love interest jumps on board with the Fantastic Racism as soon as she sees that her little sister was in danger because of the vampires.

Darius is a half-breed royal vampire, a noble. He's the one with the Evil Plan. He is Cruel, arrogant, and ambitious to the point of kin-slaying. He's also completely lacking any sort of compassion or empathy for anyone. He even wears a turtle neck to hide his bite mark and so pretend to be a full-blooded vampire. It looks like the only reason his evilness hasn't exposed him is because vampires as a whole are a nasty lot.

Vincent is one of the rising stars in the Silver Legion. Now this guy is a messed up piece of work. He acts all gung-ho for vampire slaying just like his best friend (the guy whose in love with his own adoptive sister) when he actually wants to make the vampire hunters implode because he wants to be a vampire. It's not because he thinks being a vampire is awesome but because his mother turned into a vampire and he lived with her Momma's Boy style until the vampire hunters "saved him" by killing his mom.


There were a couple of spelling and grammar problems, but those were minor. More pressing is when one character's name is used in place of another's. It's like the author got confused.

There is lavish detail on injuries suffered by the characters. It is gruesome to the point of Gorn.

This book is long and drawn out. I am no stranger to that. I've been accused of it myself. This book has Gabriel spending several pages of story (most of his time in each of his viewpoint chapters) indulging in each individual superpower as he receives it to the point that he does something like watch ants crawl from the far side of his yard. That is too much even for me.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "A Change of Heart - THE ROYAL BLOOD CHRONICLES book 1" a C

This has been a free review request. The author requested an honest review so I provided one.

Click here for the next book review (for fun): Sword Art Online Volume 9

Click here for the previous book review (request): Gama Ray Games

Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Review Request: Gamma Ray Games

Holly Rivney asked me to read her novel, Gamma Ray Games. I will examine plot, character and polish and then assign a grade.


Upon reflection, this story sounds like an episode of Star Trek; literally one episode. There's this military crew sent to investigate a mysterious incident on some other planet. The captain and two others (one of them a medical officer) investigate the incident, there's a romantic liaison, some fist fighting and ray gun shooting, and then, after a resolution, the captain leaves for another mission. I could see this happening in a 30 minute block of screen time.

As soon as Kellaam is revealed to be as Quinaal's husband, I thought I knew exactly what was going to happen. By the book's conclusion,  I was only half right.

I like the ending. Mission accomplished and all that, but there a couple threads left dangling or other, personal angles that could develop the book's verse later on, which is also nice.

Captain Thomas Jackson is a good protagonist. He's compassionate, focused, competent, doesn't angst excessively about a lost opportunity with Quinaal. I know some people would call him "bland" or "boring" and that is unfair. He wrestles with personal and galactic dilemmas which, on their own, make him plenty interesting.

Quinaal is the second most prominent character, female lead you could say. I was afraid her role would be a mere Old Flame Love Interest but she is more developed than that. She is a geologist and a medic (she uses powdered metals for healing infected wounds so they're intertwined). She is the only person suspicious of the new technology because of her knowledge of other worlds.

I can't say much of anything about the rest of cast.

There's maybe one or two errors. It was nothing worth noting while reading.

I feel I must justify and give context to the grade. Far too often I see people using a two point scale to judge things; it's either great or terrible. Thus, anything lower than a full score means bad or mediocre (which also means "bad"). I once gave a C to someone and they thought that meant that I "despised" the book. According to my grade scale, a grade of a "C" does not mean "bad". It does not mean "average" either. It can mean one of two things: 1.) That book has no weaknesses or strengths and is thus a solid, well constructed story that simply doesn't, in my personal opinion, excel in any area or 2.) a book that excels in one or more areas and also has a significant weakness or two. In this particular case, the first one is

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Gamma Ray Games" a C

This has been a free review request. The author wanted an honest look at her book so I provided one.

Click here for the next review request: "A Change of Heart"

Click here for the previous review request (a request): "My Shorts"

Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Answering Review Request: "My Shorts"

Arthur Doweyko asked me to read his short story collection, "My Shorts". Yes, the double meaning is intentional. Being unrelated, I can't use me usual method so I will instead list my impressions.

The trick with a short story is to introduce a setting, a cast of characters and a conflict and reach a resolution of some kind in a minimal amount of space. In opinion, it is variable whether or not Mr.Doweyko succeeds here.

"Harry and Harry" is definitely a success here. It is set up and resolved quickly and effectively. There is no pretentious twist at the end. Emotions are conveyed with the laconic intensity of a poem; Harry's depression, enthusiasm, relief etc. jump off the page. There is nothing to add here. It is like lean muscle.

"Andrew the Last" possesses none of "Harry and Harry's virtues. There are gaps in the setting that lead to a long line of headscratchers, (listing them all would be spoilers but the author may contact me directly if he wishes to see it) which render me unable to take the character's emotional conflict seriously. There is a perplexing twist at the end with no explanation or resolution. "Perplexing" is a word a character uses; when asked about the confusing state of affairs, he replies, "It is perplexing, sir."

"Mars I" is another one that I like. Its premise and starting point enable it to be either a mind-horror tragedy or a black comedy and a funny one at that. Its events might not have happened at all, and its reality could be something completely different.

"The Probability Machine" has a bunch of glaring holes in its internal logic. I think of it as similar to the Twilight Zone. "P'sall Senji" likewise.

"Linda" is not even a short story. It is an excerpt from a larger work. Given its content, I wonder what it is doing in this collection because it is realistic fiction (possibly even historical, but it is outside my area of familiarity so I can't be certain) among science fiction.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "My Short" a C

This has been a free review request. The author requested an honor review so I provided one.

Click here for the previous book review (a request): Gama Ray Games

Click here for the previous book review (for fun): Spice and Wolf Volume 6

Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Read for Fun: Spice and Wolf volume 6

Spice and Wolf volume 6; I was eager to start this one because it is the first volume to go beyond the anime. The anime was so interesting that I wanted to continue Lawrence and Holo's story. With their voice actors continuing to speak in my head, it was a lot a fun.

There's a radical change in status quo here. First of all, there is the introduction of Cole, a little boy who joins the main cast. He kinda-sorta becomes Lawrence's merchant apprentice but wants to study church law instead in order to gain the ability to protect his pagan village. He's an interesting addition to the duo's dynamics (I had to come up with my own mental voice for him).

Because of Cole's age, the main cast is basically a family unit now. Lawrence and Holo are more or less an official couple at this point. Lawrence's feelings are out in the open but Holo's got this Mayfly December Romance fear. The economics typical of the series take a backseat as the volume delves more into the leading couple's relationship. Prime among them is the fact that their journey will be ending soon. It's intriguing to see continuous development that is also a in-universe delaying tactic.

This is not to say that there are no economics. On the contrary, it continues. For instance, Cole's backstory leads into a discussion about the education system in this time period. There's no publicly funded school system so education is significantly different. Those who can afford to hire private tutors. Those who can't pool their money together and hire a wandering scholar.

As far plot, this book picks up directly from the fallout of the last book's climax. I.E. they are pursuing someone from the previous book. Holo sounds like she really wants to sink her teeth into "the vixen". This is the second change to status quo.

The third change is how the book starts. Usually, there is a prologue about the pair traveling in their cart to the next town. Not n this case. Leaving Lenos is the prologue. There's no more cart at all. They're sailing down a river now.

Isuna Hasekura has written another solid entry for this series.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Spice and Wolf volume 6" an A+

Click here for the next book review (request): My Shorts

Click here for the previous book review (request):From Ice to Ashes

Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Answering Review Request: From Ice to Ashes

Rhett Burno asked me to read his novel From Ice to Ashes. Technically, it is a sequel to Titanborn (which I reviewed at this link) but the two stories take place simultaneously so it is effectively a stand alone novel. I will examine Plot, Characters, and Polish and then assign a grade.


This novel has several parts to it, story-wise. The first section feels like a slice-of-life world building sort of thing. Then it shifts into a more espionage-y thing and then into something bigger; broader in scale and higher in stakes. It's like a tunnel that expands as events take place and the protagonist develops.

Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters is a huge chunk of the narrative. Considering the Fantastic Racism involved in this setting and the living conditions of most Ringers, it is easy to feel sympathy for the Children of Titan despite the horrible things they do.

It has a good beginning, well, technically, beginnings because it has a prologue. The first, and thus the official opening for the story, is the immediate aftermath of a woman shanking her rapist. Yes, it is gruesome and it is a laconic view of the setting and conflict; the rapist was the Earther captain of the ship she worked on and being marched into his bedchamber on a regular basis was an unofficial job duty of a Ringer. The second beginning follows up on this, Kale Drayton staking out his Earther pickpocket target because it is the only way a Ringer can make a living outside of menial labor that pays next to nothing. This leads into a chase scene. It is a good set up for him, his situation and his conflict.

Though it is a stand-alone novel, I feel there is benefit to reading Titan Born first. It adds a level of context and detail to events that I find valuable. It is a Another-Side-Another-Story appeal as the protagonist of that book, Malcom Graves, is an Earther collector who investigates the crimes committed by the main cast in this book, who are Titan born (a.ka. Ringers). In particular, the stinger for this book will not make sense unless the reader has read Titanborn.

The ending is strong. It is a natural consequence of the initial conflict and the actions taken to resolve it. I kind of want to call it Protagonist Journey to Villain since it involves Kale moving from a pragmatic pacifism to a more ruthless pragmatism but maybe that is more Gaining the Will to Kill mixed with the setting's Grey and Black Morality.


Kale Drayton is the protagonist (using the term "hero" is debatable but he's definitely the viewpoint character). He is an average guy in as far as is "average" for Titan Born. That is, he is cynical, a clean freak, and intensely dislikes Earthers. In fact, he's unusual in that he doesn't like starting fights with Earthers.

He's also a Momma's boy. It is fair to say that everything he does in this story is motivated by his concern for her (whether or not she approves of what he does is of lesser importance).

Over the course of the story, I would say that his essential shift in character is to a different flavor of pragmatism. He goes from a self-preservation don't-want-trouble sort of pragmatism to a more opportunistic hit-them-where-it-hurts-most sort of pragmatism, which, in the long view, is still self-preservation. The progression makes perfect sense and is well executed. The ending is a dark sort of triumphant.

Maya is Kale's cynical mentor. She makes a foil of mother-figures with Kale's own biological mother. This is highlighted at the story's close in a magnificent and gruesome fashion. She also shows the distinction between a good field leader and a good organizational leader.

Captain Sanders is quite well constructed and useful for the narrative. He's friendly to Ringers, reasonable as a captain and employer, and is otherwise a gruff but nice guy. He even hires a Ringer to be his navigator for the simple reason that she is better at it than the Earther she replaced. Yet even he is part and parcel of the society oppresses and exploits the Titan born.


Mr. Bruno clearly put a lot of thought into this story's setting and it shows in the consistency of the rules and how they affect characters and the story. The interlocked nature of this story with Titanborn also shows how they can add value to each other but not be required reading. I think I saw a couple of mistakes throughout the book but I could be wrong about that.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "From Ice to Ashes" an A+

This has been a free review request. The author requested an honest review so I provided one.

Click here for the next book review (for fun): Spice and Wolf volume 6

Click here for the previous book review (request): Tethered World: Blue Star Setting

Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Thursday, November 9, 2017

MLP: Friendship is Magic Season 5

I finished watching My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic season 5 recently. I immensely enjoyed it.

The idea of Cutie-Map-Adventures is a good one because it enables different kinds of episodes. It's a Quest narrative like adventurers from another genre, but instead of something like "defeat the evil overlord" it is "solve a friendship problem". This means that the Mane Six can help someone else with their problem, in a new setting, without having to argue with each other to provide an episode's conflict.

I also like it because it shows that the writers/directors etc. aren't afraid to change the status quo. The core of the show remains the same but the nature of some of the episodes changes, there is a change to the cast (addition rather than subtraction, which I think goes better) and progress is made on another front. I'm excited to see where this is going.

Some of the episodes have a lot of songs (so many they're practically a musical), but they're good songs so I enjoy them.

Starlight Glimmer is another example of this series finding new ways to express the same core. She is a villain with a warped idea of friendship that tries to enforce this idea on others. That is not something that has been done in the series before. Nor is she some evil eldritch monster like previous Big Bads (such as Nightmare Moon, Discord, Chrysalis, or Tirek). She's just a unicorn with power, talent, and a lot of motivation to fulfill her evil plan.

Some episodes were weaker than others. "What about Discord", for instance, is one that I think tried too hard pushing its central conflict. I still like but not as much as others, such as "Rarity Investigates". Being a novelist, "Canterlot Boutique" struck a special cord with me.

Trickster Eric Novels gives My Little Pony - Friendship is Magic Season 5 an A+

To read my review of "The Journal of the Two Sisters" click here

P.S. I ordered the sixth season soon after this and it arrived two days ago. I watched the opening two-parter and I'd say the season is off to great start.

Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).