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 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.

PLOT

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.

CHARACTERS

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.

POLISH

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).

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Answering review request: Tethered World Blue Star Setting

Gregory Faccone asked me to read his novel, Tethered World Blue Star Setting. This is the second book in the Tethered World series. I reviewed the first one here.
 
PLOT
 
The first thing I should mention is the very long prologue. There's like 40 pages of recap and people reacting to the events of the previous book's climax.  It is framed by a long training exercise for our protagonist, Jordahk. This is a significant contrast to the previous book, which boasts of not only a In Media Res but also being headlined by a piece of in-universe propaganda, so the reader has no idea what's going on or why. For a while, I thought this book was going to be more of an anthology than a single story given the title (i.e. more "setting" focused than character). The pace picks up after this point but this is still representative of the rest of the book.
 
With this book, "Mystic" level technology has basically become "space magic". I feel justified in calling it that because the author's own page says that he is influenced by Arthur C Clarke's Third Law: "sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic".

I have no problem with Magitek. I like that trope. My thing with it is how it doesn't appear to have a Magic A Is Magic A nature. Perhaps I missed something, which is certainly possible given how much thought Mr. Faccone put into world building, but it appears to me that the only rule Mystic tech follows is the Rule of Drama. Mystic Tech will always work always but it will just barely work, just barely be what you need and getting it that far is difficult, painful and risks a Heroic RROD.  On the other hand, it is always awesome.

There is one Beam-O-War scene featuring Jordahk that is worthy of epic music as a background theme. Then there's the climax, which rates high on the Holy-Shit-Quotient and is fully deserving of its dramatic buildup.
 
This book has plotlines which, in my view, are not strictly necessary for the book. This includes Pheron Xammetrix's subplot, which is basically a Humiliation Conga all the way up to the climax. It has only a small effect on the main plot (important but small). I like this side plot. I find it interesting and it adds circumstantial stuff to the initial mystery that leads to the climax but it is curious on a first read through.
In retrospect, there are two plotlines. One is recovering Aristhal's old mystic ship and the other is investigating the strange behavior of the Perigeum starmada in order to stop their next encroachment.
 
Through out both plotlines, there is a strong message of "people in government are, with rare exception, greedy and lazy morons". It doesn't matter if it is Perigeum or Cohortium. The narration calls this the fallen nature of man. It makes sense and fits with the tone and setting but there is more than a whiff of Author Tract.
 
I think that the author did a much better job with the Perigeum this time. In the previous book, the characters of the Perigeum were flat and monolithic entities with lots of off-screen villainy. Here we see individual bad guys that are distinct from some "evil military officer" or "evil politician/bureaucrat" archetype and how they work against each other as much as enemies outside the Perigeum. We also see exactly what the Perigeum does to worlds under its control, retroactively spelling out what could have happened to Adams Rush in the previous book. Beuker is like a space-age "1984" hell-hole.
 
My opinion of the ending is as follows. It is bittersweet, its conflict closed in a satisfactory manner, and there's a good sequel hook. I have only one complaint. There is a Disney Death that zigzags so much that I don't know where it landed. It is frustrating, disappointing and leaves me feeling like They Wasted A Perfectly Good Character.
 
CHARACTERS
 
Technically introduced in the previous book, only now does she have a significant role.  Khai-aLael Khrais has several layers to her personality. She is cute and innocent but also reliable in all situations and skilled in combat. Her backstory is interesting. She reminds me of Nia from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, only more stoic.
 
It's nice to see the senior Wilkrests doing important stuff, both off-scree and on-screen. Usually in stories with kid or teen protagonists, adults are useless but that is not the case here. In fact, Jordakh prevents Khai from aiding his parents in a fight by basically saying "watch and learn".


Jordakh himself is still developing. He lacks the confidence that his elders possess but pushes on anyway out of duty, heroism, and perhaps desperation. He is an uncertain Determinator.
 
There is also a backstory/flashback for Aristhal, Jordakh's grandfather. It shows a glimpse  of the Sojourn's Crusade. It was interesting to see him before he became a grandfather and a mysterious mentor.
 
The villain this time is Prime Orator Janus (orators are kind of like senators in the Perigeum government). He is a despicable sort and thus a much clearer villain than Pheron. While Pheron was definitely a bad guy, he had Villainous Valor. It's this sense of "I will accomplish my mission to the best of my ability" and "I am proud of the skill and intellect that I worked hard to cultivate". He did not display selfishness or pettiness. Janus is nothing like that
. In addition to his Evil Plan, he has an odious personality; petty vindictive, gleefully wastes taxpayer money, and even ignores a diplomat to consider ways of "acquiring" the guy's wife. There are other villains but this guy is the Big Bad (considering the ending, maybe Arc Villain is more appropriate).
 
POLISH
 
A couple of spelling or grammar errors. They happen in large works.
 
Trickster Eric Novels gives "Tethered World Blue Star Setting" a B+


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

Click here for the previous book review (for fun): The Journal of the Two Sisters

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

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, October 14, 2017

Read for Fun: The Journal of the Two Sisters


The Journal of the Two Sisters is a companion piece to the Friendship is Magic main series. I bought it for the glimpse into the show's backstory. It definitely delivered on that.

This is backstory specifically for Celestia and Luna. It starts when they were first crowned princesses of Equestria, shortly after its founding. Their half of the book records their activities from that day through officially taking up their duty of raising the sun and moon. It fills the gap between the Unicorn Tribe doing it in the origin story, "Heartwarming Eve", and Celestia and Luna doing it in the story recounted in "Mare in the Moon". (Small note: The journal ends before Discord's reign of terror).

It is a fun read. The journal is written in-universe (what the human reader holds is a defictionalization) and so the personalities of the two princesses show in the first person narration. As it turns out, Pinkie used the Organ-to-the-outside exactly as Luna designed it. Fans rarely get to see Celestia and Luna interact as sisters and this has a lot of that. They fit the mold of the Foolish Sibling-Responsible Sibling dynamic; Celestia is a polite princess and a book nerd while Luna likes adventure and pranks.

There are lots of adventures within this tory. They range from befriending a manticore in the Everfree Forest to negotiating peace with the griffin kingdom. Also, there's something with the ROYAL CANTERLOT VOICE that is too awesome to spoil here.

It's not just the royal sisters. Starswirl the Bearded is also an important character here. He was basically Merlin to Celestia and Luna's King Arthur. No wonder Luna could recognize Twilight's Nightmare Night costume and praise it for accuracy. 

The second half of this book is the full version of the Mane Six's journal entries from Season 4 of the main show. It was fun to read those too but there was nothing new there.

POLISH
 
Celestia and Luna have alternating motifs of sun and moon and warm and dark colors for their pages. The art style is similar to fairy-tale recounting in "The Mare of The Moon". The Mane Six (and others) also have distinct backgrounds. This adds to the emotion of the book.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Journal of the Royal Sisters" an A+


Click here to read the next book review (a request): Tethered World Blue Star Setting

Click here to reach the previous book review (a request): Light of the Radiant


I reviewed season five of the main series as well.

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, October 3, 2017

Movie Review: Legends of the Hidden Temple

Legends of the Hidden Temple began as a TV game show on Nickelodeon. When I was a kid, it was among my favorites. I loved watching it, especially the Temple Runs at the end of each episode. Now, imagine my delight when I discovered that there was a movie about the show that was basically a one-hour-long temple run!

This movie does a splendid job as an adaptation of the TV show. The idea of the challenge, the traps and puzzles of the rooms, the temple guards, the time-limit, Olmec as a guardian etc. all of it is translated into a "this is the real deal" adventure from the game format. Kirk Fogg is here too as a theme park tour guide.

Frankly, it's amazing how they fit parts of the show into this adventure. The team names were animals that lived in the temple, one of the kids is given a helmet by his parents just in case he jumps into something dangerous and needs it, the three minute count down, and, of course, Silver Monkey Shrine jokes. This is only a small sample. Fans of the show will love spotting these. I did, obviously.

Furthermore, it is not just a translation of elements. There is a cohesive narrative here. There's backstory to explain the purpose of the quest (for once, Olmec's stories include himself). The three siblings have character development (mostly the elder two). Yes, the plot is simple and straightforward, maybe even "bare boned" but it is solid. It has just enough to support the main event.

Trickster Eric Novels gives Legends of the Hidden Temple an A+

Click here for the previous movie review: Assassin's Creed (2016)

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

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Answering Review Request: Light of the Radiant

Light of the Radiant by Matthew Ward. I very much enjoyed the previous book in The Reckoning series, Shadow of the Raven (you can read that review here) and I eagerly waited for the second book to come out. I even jumped on a short prequel as an appetizer ("A Matter of Belief"; it was also really good). Did these two build up my hype too much? Nope!

It has an engaging start using In Media Res. Edric, Cal and Jamar are investigating a cult but got caught instead. The reader joins them as they are being escorted to a sacrificial alter. Everything flows smoothly from there to the very end. It's remarkable how what can look like a Deus Ex Machina is actually a heavy clue to The Reveal.

Indeed, there are a lot of hints about The Reveal before it comes out and even before it becomes obvious. It's a "snapping into place" feeling meant to be shared with the protagonist.

Whereas the previous story was heavy on mystical mystery, stealth, and fighting Things-That-Go-Bump-In-The-Night, this is more of a political conspiracy story. There is a lot of wheeling n' dealing; "political theater" is what Edric calls it. Investigation is here too but it is more uncover-corruption than find-the-arcane-secret. Indeed, Edric treats Azyra more like the mortal/human ruler of a foreign country than some fey overlord. Certainly, he does it more for her than Malgyne or Jerrack.

I find the Serathi's society and history interesting. The world building of it and how it relates and interacts with what is known from the previous book has this wonderful building-up effect. This rich mythology is one of my favorite parts of this series.

Overall, I would say this story is a different experience from the previous one. There are mysteries and narrative twists but it feels like the world has been sketched out; the highest level borders are in place. More than that, the story is more....straightforward than the previous. The bulk of the plot concerns the Serathi and their preparations for The Reckoning. Perhaps what I mean to say is that there are fewer factions and the motivations between each faction is less opaque. There are lots of factions but they have more minor roles. SERATHI is everywhere in a way neither the trees nor the ghosts of the last book were.

The ending is fantastic. It is a neat trick to close one book's conflict and threats while simultaneously shifting weight to set up the next with a sequel hook.

CHARACTERS

Edrin has much lasting great development. Most importantly, he is no longer a depressing mope. Now it's more like snark and Heroic Self-Depreciation. The relationship upgrade with Arianwyn has done wonders for his mood and outlook. His character arc has moved on towards the future instead of dwelling on the past but it is clear that the past still influences him.

Also, he is moving towards Seen It All. The events of the last book have left him unimpressed by further supernatural happenings. For instance, when he meets the Serathiel, the ruler of Sky Haven and leader of a race of angels, he interacts with her like he would any human ruler (i.e. politely but suspiciously).

Arianwyn is now a Defrosted Ice Queen. The couple-y scenes she has with Edric are cute and romantic but not overwhelmingly so. She has a new character arc as well, and also rooted in the events of the previous book. Namely, it is a tug between doing what she can for the people of the republic, which she wants to stay a republic, and resisting the urge to become queen so she doesn't have old and stubborn upper class twits sitting on their hands and obstructing her. It contrasts nicely with a Scared of Her Own Strength subplot regarding her magic.

Calda has a more substantial role in this book, and, wow, it is more dynamic than Edric's. There's enough fuel for an interquel. She is the one who thought up the idea for the misadventure that became the Media Res start, something big happens to her and then she goes drastically off the rails. In some ways, it is a foil for Edric's response to the same, and underscores how different they have become culturally.

Azyra the Serathiel. She is Imperial, Proud and Mighty. She's also not as clever as she thinks she is. It's basically favorable circumstances (i.e. she is The Spook and has a Bigger Stick than anyone else). What likes Beneath The Mask is both egoistical and tragic.

Elynna is adorable. I'm not sure if this is accurate, but I picture her as this little child-like cherub. She's likely much older than that but that's the impression I get because she's so friendly and cheerful and lacking in guile.

Elspeth is another new character. Her introductory big moment was executed well. I also liked the Fair Folk part of her personality. It is clear that she is not human but equally clear that is she human-like, if that makes sense. I loved her banter with Edric. In retrospect, it makes the bombshell she dropped make perfect sense. The way she describes her connection with the Palace of Dreams was interesting world building.

POLISH

It looks good. I think I saw a handful of errors over the course of the book. It happens when books are of a sufficient length.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Light of the Radiant" an A+

This has been a free review request. The author requested an honest review of their book.

Click here for the next book review (for fun): The Journal of the Two Sisters

Click here for the previous book review (for fun): Doctor Who - The Secret Life of Monsters

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, September 13, 2017

Read for Fun: Doctor Who - The Secret Life of Monsters

This book is half in-universe bestiary and half behind-then-scenes extras. I mean that literally. Half of each chapter is one and half the other. Each chapter focuses on one species: Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels, Judon, Sontarans, Silence, Silurians. It looks as though all of them are New Who species or ones that were carried over from the classical series to the revival.
 
The framing device for the first half is that someone in the Doctor Who universe put together information on the species in question and their encounters with humans. This takes the form of publicly available information, observation from eye witnesses, hacked documents from UNIT or Torchwood etc. It presents an outside and rear-view-mirror of the events, like someone investigating after-the-fact. This includes "speculation" that is often correct and used to contrast the official/cover up story. There's also a running gag of the person doing the investigation failing to recognize the importance of the Doctor. It's interesting to see this perspective because we, the viewers, have a front-row seat that someone else in-universe would not.
 
The behind-the-scenes stuff talks about the creation and conception of the aliens and monsters. This involves how the props are made, the real life circumstances that affected their portrayal, and excerpts from scripts saying how the writer wants the creatures to move and appear.
 
This is definitely a book written for fans because there's jokes/references/bonus understanding for those that have seen the episodes alluded to here. I've only seen part of the First Doctor's run so much of the Classic Who stuff went over my head.
 
This kind of book is further outside my norm than I usually go so I'm not sure what grade to give it. I'll just say that I enjoyed reading it and I'm going to keep it and let you decide from there.
 
Trickster Eric Novels gives "Doctor Who: The Secret Life of Monsters" a +

Click here for the next book review (a request): The Light of the Radiant
 
Click here to read my previous book review (for fun): Assassin's Creed (2016 movie Novelization)
 
Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Read for Fun: Assassin's Creed (2016 movie) novelization

I watched the Assassin's Creed film shortly after it came out last year (you can read that review here). Amazed, I bought other Assassin's Creed media, such as the first game and the first movie's novelization. After reading the latter, I'm off the opinion that the movie is an adaptation of the book instead of the other way around because it provides the kind of context and character information that is typically excluded from movies that are made from books by nature of the medium. Whether this is a good point on the book or a bad point on the movie I'm not sure. Perhaps it's both. In any case, this is a great book.


It provides a great deal of backstory to the characters that would have been difficult to put in the movie for reasons of pacing and length. Sofia Rikkin, for instance, is apparently a Friend To All Living Things as she has flashbacks to how she adopted an utterly filthy and flea-ridden stray dog and takes great care of it and also tried to befriend a squirrel by sitting outside with nuts in her hand for a prolonged period of time. This feds into and validates the compassion she shows to the "patients" at the Abstergo Rehabilitation Facility; she sincerely believes that they are patients and not "prisoners". She is not the only one to get this treatment and this adds a good deal of emotional heft to the storyline.

 
There are a number of viewpoints in this novelization, rather than focusing on Cal/Aguilar's point of view like the movie does. I typically don't like this technique because it leads to a bloated narrative and less development, but in this case it works. Why? Because everyone is in the same location and everyone is viewing the same events. This has a concentrating effect. It also helps to flesh out other characters because they get the sympathetic POV and internal narration. Moussa, for instance, has this scene where he messes with a guard using a shell game that provides info on him and the state of the proto-Assassin Cell inside the Abstergo Facility, and what he intends to do about the new "pioneer".


Another thing that I like about this novelization is that it fills a vexing narrative hole that the film doesn't address. While it doesn't provide many details, it confirms how many allies and resources Cal has going into the final scene which implies why he took the action he does.


Also, there are bonus chapters at the end of the book. Each one focuses on one of the other Assassins and their ancestor, framed as one of their Animus regressions that took place before Cal arrived. All of them fill in information from characters that were introduced in the games. For instance, Nathan's ancestor is Ducan Wapole, an Assassin turncoat from "Black Flag" and it shows the moment where he decided to become a turncoat. It is a nice treat.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Assassin's Creed (novelization" an A+

Click here for the next book review (for fun): Doctor Who - Secret Life of Monsters

Click here for the previous book review (for fun): How To Cheat Your Friends At Poker

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

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Sassy Saturday: Final Showdown with Gruffle


Sassy Saturday!  Every week will be an excerpt from one of my novels showcasing a kick-butt heroine. If you want read about the original blog hop the link is here.

The previous Sassy Saturday post can be read here: Young Blood vs Old Spirit

 The context for this post: Gruffle has gone One-Winged Angel. It's time for the final boss fight. Eric's party members include Annala, Kallen, Perrault and [[ SPOILER! ]]]

Special note: This will be the final Sassy Saturday until I publish another book. I'm thinking about doing a different excerpt series. This one will be about magic in fiction having rules, i.e. it is not a story breaker concept if an author thinks it through. Instead of just excerpts, I will use those excerpts to illustrate the point of a specific rule. 
If you like the sound of this, please let me know in the comments.  

Second special note: Outside of anything to do with video games, there is something here that references the inspiration for the scene. Can you find it?

__________________________________________________________________________

Annala intercepted him with a jab to the stomach, and just as quickly, he flew in the opposite direction. Then she turned and blocked Samael’s Reaper Cleave. The Right Hand of Death pressed down with all her divine might, and Annala grunted with the effort required to hold her back. Her body trembled but ultimately held firm. Samael and Gruffle disappeared, and she and Perrault became golden blurs as they fended off attacks too swift for mortal eyes to follow. Five seconds later, all four reappeared and Annala was only slightly winded.

“I just shared a special moment with my boyfriend, no, my fianc├ę,” she declared. “My love amplifies the divine chaos within me, which has already been amplified by direct contact with Lady Chaos herself. It would take a million reapers to challenge me now!”

Gruffle snarled. “A million? A million! A MILLION! A MILLION! A MILLION!”

He raised his scythe high and it fired a necrotic beam into the sky. At its highest point, it stopped and sent out a pulse. Then it fired a new beam southeast. There it connected with the Grand Obelisk in Latrot’s capital.

“Execute Reaper Command: Royal Rite of Annual Decimation!”

“Wish Reaper Gruffle!” Samael shouted. “You are not permitted to use such authorities until you have formally been sworn in as this world’s resident reaper. Either refrain from this action or renounce your Final Wish. Persisting on this path will violate your probation.”

Gruffle didn’t look at her. He didn’t acknowledge her. He only had eyes for his scythe and the action he had primed it for.

REMOVE ONE-TENTH OF THE POPULATION!

The Grand Obelisk released a pulse that combed the country. Every city, town, village, farm and hermitage was analyzed to account for every living thing within its borders be it animal (human or otherwise), plant, spirit, or bacteria. It calculated how much each area could lose before its local stability was affected. Then one-tenth of them fell dead immediately. Their kon and paku traveled to Gruffle and flowed into his scythe. From the scythe, it coursed into Gruffle himself. The look on his face was euphoric.

“Mom!” Kallen shouted.

Nunnal stepped out of Albatross IX. “Yes, sweetie?”

“Grab Emily and fly as fast as you can. She will not survive being near this fight.”

Nunnal nodded. Transforming herself into a dragon, she grabbed both Emily and the wrecked airship and flew away at the speed of sound. The sonic boom she created rattled the stone pillar, and a bigger wave was incoming.

The numerous lives augmented Gruffle’s power far beyond anything he’d ever dreamed of. The total number of stolen years reached the thousands. The teeming souls melded with his own spiritual body and transformed it.

It grew fourteen times bigger. It grew more limbs in more places and all of them as rotten and decayed as the original pair. It grew more wings, each as ratty and bat-like. It grew two more heads; one at the front center of mass and one in the back. Gruffle roared like a monster and his Divine Presence rippled through the area on seven planes of existence. The monstrous reaper faced down the trio of chaos warriors, who braced themselves against its power.

[[[SPOILER! ]]]

Tasio played a brief tune on his ocarina. “Final Boss Fight: Gruffle the Rogue Reaper!”

By the time Tasio finished speaking Gruffle had regrown all his limbs, and this time, each of them was curved like his scythe. With them, he attacked all four of his enemies at once.

They dodged, deflected, and blocked, but the sheer number of attacks made completely avoiding injury impossible. They took damage at an alarming rate. If this continued, then, godhood or not, all of them would die.

“Annala!” Eric shouted. “Medic duty in the rear!”

“Got it!” She dashed to the far end of the platform away from Gruffle and prayed for the good health of her companions. Immediately, their wounds healed and their stamina rebounded.

Eric thrust forward his right hand and created a dark fire wall to burn away limbs that tried to entangle him and then flew away from Gruffle’s scythe combos.

“Perrault! Cover me!”

“If you insist...” She reverted to her wolf form and watched for attacks on Eric instead of opportunities to strike Gruffle. Spotting seven, she lunged so quickly she appeared to teleport as she bit through them.

“Kallen! Attack from the other direction to split his attention.”

“So this is teamwork...” she muttered as she teleported to Gruffle’s back side. Once there, she alternated between white fire blasts and mana bolts tainted with chaos. She kept her distance so she would have plenty of room to dodge his counterattacks.

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Transcending Limitations, and the rest of the Journey to Chaos series, is available for purchase at Amazon as an ebook. The series is also available in Kindle Unlimited. The paperback format is available at Amazon and also at Createspace.

To learn more about the heroines of Journey to Chaos, visit the Tvtropes character sheet.

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

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Read for Fun: How To Cheat Your Friends At Poker

I picked this up on a whim a bookstore one day. I thought it would be about harmless tricks to prank one's friends during a friendly game. I couldn't have been more wrong. See, the title is not accurate. This book isn't about "cheating" but "making money", it doesn't involve "friends" but "con marks" and it doesn't really have much to do with poker either. Poker just happens to be the medium that the first two work through. I would call this book "How to make money by scamming strangers who play poker".

Pen starts this book by talking about the book's supposed real author, "Dickie Richards" who is a professional poker con artist. Whether this is true or a literary agent hypothesis I do not know for sure but either way it definitely shows that Pen, who usually embraces controversial topics with enthusiasm, felt a need to distance himself from this book's subject matter. It is easy to see why.

The first section written by "Dickie Richards" is called " You Are Not Playing A Game". This is part of his refreshing frankness that is maintained through most of this book. There is no romanticism or rationalization in this first part and it sets the tone for the rest. This book is about stealing money from people through poker tricks. He calls himself a cheat, a crook, and other things. At one point, he even advises aspiring poker crooks that if they can steal the game's money box or a player's wallet then they shouldn't even bother playing; just grab the money and run.

This is likely why the book doesn't actually teach any poker tricks. Indeed, Dickie Richards refers those looking for the nuts and bolts of such tricks to another author. Instead, this guy talks about the other parts of his craft - how to find marks, how to get invited to their games, how to hide one's cheating, when to "burn a game" and what to do if caught in the act of cheating. However, this book is more than just instructions, it's also an exercise in ego stroking.

Dickie Richards brags about how much money he makes. He compares himself to a god in how he controls the poker table. He regularly reminds the player that he doesn't have to work a "real job" because he has poker cheating. He even brags about how he seduces the wives of the people he scams and then has the audacity to say he improved their marriage by making the wife feel guilty. I suppose this makes for more lively reading but it has its flaw. Namely, it is a contradiction of the real author's "I am a crook" frankness.

There are sections where he complains about people looking down on him because he cheats. He argues that controlling the table makes for more interesting hands, rewarding people who had bad days, punishing jerks, and generally making the evening more fun for everyone. He even says that taking someone's money teaches them a lesson about not playing with money they can't afford to lose, which is something he specifically debunked earlier in the book. This makes him sound like a hypocrite trying to have it both ways and thus also makes him sound pathetic.

One more thing: there is a section where he gives tips on how to make one's poker game cheat-proof. Then he says he included that section just to appease the publishers and goes on to say how all those tips are either useless or helpful to cheaters. Ironically, he does actually advise how to make one's game cheat-proof. He talks about how much work it is find games and get himself invited to them, and also how much time goes into practice to make his moves seamless. Because of these factors, he says that as much as 200 dollars "isn't worth bending over to pick up". Thus, the method to make your game cheat proof is simple; don't play for stakes. If you do, keep them low or make them something that a nomadic card shark can't use, like I.O.Us. Dickie Richards specifically said he doesn't like those.

Bottom line: treat it like a work of fiction (like it just might be anyway) and it is an entertaining read.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "How To Cheat Your Friends At Poker" an B+


Click here for the previous book review (also for fun): The Italian City Republics

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

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Short Story Submitted!

I just submitted my short story to an anthology. It is Dragons, Demons and Djins, organized by Rhonda Parish (you can read about it here). It was a fun and strange experience to write in short story format because I'm used to going much bigger. The limit was 7,5000 words. My piece ended up as than 7,000 words and fit within 12 pages.

There are four characters in the entire cast (five if you count the golems as a collective character). Everything takes place in one or two locations, although there are several areas within one of them. There is very little exposition about magic or the local society. I could definitely expand it if I had a mind to but the initial conflict has been resolved.

Now I wait to see if it will be accepted into the final project. That's another reason it is an unusual experience. Being an independent author, I don't have to worry about approval periods. Amazon's KPD, Smashwords, etc. accept anything that doesn't violate their policy standards (not getting into that debate right now) so when I submitted it I only had to wait for to appear on the site.

As for my main project, I am on chapter 12 of the first draft.

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

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Read for fun: The Italian City Republics

This is another textbook I kept from a college course. It was about Europe's Medieval Cities and specifically about the development of urban cities in one part of it. "The Italian City Republics" was one of them. It focuses on the "communes" developed in Northern Italy during this period.

Subjects are their origins, how they functioned, how they developed over time, and how they related with other governmental entities in comparison to their own inner discord/harmony. The last chapters focuses on all the vulnerabilities that ultimately lead to many of them failing in one way or another.

I found this book to be quite useful and informative. It has a focus on the structure and function of the various forms of governments (consul, podesta, Captain of the Pololo, etc.) and provides much in the way of details and examples of them. Other areas, such as the social or cultural aspects of the communes are only included insofar as they effect and are effected by the government

The organization of the book itself is well thought-out. For instance, putting a chapter about "External relations" back-to-back with one about "internal Divisions" was useful for easy compare/contrast. This, in turn, aids understanding and retention for the next chapter, the tendency for communes to fall. After reading about all the points of failure, the sharp rivalries and general commotion that could take place, the reader is primed to learn how fragile the communes could be.

Much of the information is pulled from historical documents and official government stuff, which is certainly relevant. However, there is also helpful input from another angle. For instance, several lines from Dante's "Divine Comedy" are used to illustrate Florence's habit with re-writing its constitution.

Photographs of buildings, locations, paintings and statues are also included. I enjoyed looking them over and relating them to the subject, such as the fortified towers that were built by factionalism and conspicuous consumption.

I'm definitely keeping this as reference material.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Italian City Republics" an A+


Click here for the next book review (for fun): How to Cheat Your Friends at Poker

Click here for the previous book review (for fun): The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan

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

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Sassy Saturday: Young Blood vs Old Spirit

Sassy Saturday!  Every week will be an excerpt from one of my novels showcasing a kick-butt heroine. If you want read about the original blog hop the link is here.

The previous Sassy Saturday post can be read here: "I don't want to hurt you" Mutual Threat

 The context for this post: Zettai has come into conflict with Omnias, an immortal cleric has spent thousands of years gaining power and combat experience. How does she win?
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“I know what you are planning, little girl,” Omnias said, “and it will not work.”

“Oh? Why not?” Zettai asked without lifting her eyes from the pages.

“Because I could kill you before you finished.” Omnias kept his eyes and spiritual senses on the Dragoness. She could kill him if he let his guard down for even a moment.

“I’m not worried about that.” Zettai still didn’t stop reading to reply. She used one hand to turn pages and the other to form the magic gestures pictured on them.

“Oh? Why not?” Omnias asked in deliberate mockery.

“Killing a necro penitent is itself a death violation. With Neuro’s blood on my face, my entire person is inviolate. You don’t want to dodge reapers forever, and especially when you are this close,” she held up her thumb and pointer finger for emphasis, “to reaching your goal.”

She gripped Neuro’s scythe with her right hand and placed her left flat on the Book of Death. She closed her eyes and began to chant. It wasn’t smooth and it wasn’t steady, but Omnias recognized death speech when he heard it.

“Here’s what’s going to happen,” Zettai said with her eyes closed. “You are going to leave us all alone and you will do so empty handed.”

“Why would I do that?”

“Because you are afraid of death.” A necrotic aura bloomed around her. “As of this moment,” she opened her eyes and pointed her finger at him, “I have become death.”

A tiny sliver of necrocraft generated in Neuro’s former scythe and fired at Omnias. He used Chameleon Leap to avoid it, and in the process, gave up his position at Eric’s throat. Ridley dashed into the void he left and her guarding stance was not something Omnias dared to test.

“Just like I thought,” Zettai said, smiling smugly. “Immortals fear death just like everybody else. No, they fear it even more, because for them, death is something avoidable. They’ll do whatever they can to keep it away. It would take years of constant effort for me to kill you with necrocraft.” She laughed. “I might die of old age before I drained it all, but you still couldn’t let it touch you.”

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Transcending Limitations, and the rest of the Journey to Chaos series, is available for purchase at Amazon as an ebook. The series is also available in Kindle Unlimited. The paperback format is available at Amazon and also at Createspace.

To learn more about the heroines of Journey to Chaos, visit the Tvtropes character sheet.

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

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Read for fun: The World of the Shining Prince - Court Life in Ancient Japan

"The World of the Shining Prince" is a book I kept from a college class. It was a history course about the Far East. Between all the reading assignments, I didn't have time to read all of it (or even most of it) so I kept it. Only recently did I finish it.


This is a broad look at the Heian Era of Japan, and specifically, the court life at the capital. It covers many subjects from the structure and function of the government, religion, literary culture, taboos and superstitions, relations between men and women and, of course, the history of the period and some other things.

This is not a novel so I cannot use my usual method of critique. Interestingly though, one of its major sources is indeed a novel, "The Tale of Genji" by Murasaki Shikibu, one of the capital's court ladies in the tenth century.


It's interesting stuff. It starts with an argument about how creative and sophisticated Heian high culture was, not a copy of something else. Rather, that after a period of importing stuff from China, it spent another period, for lack of a period word, "Japanizing" it to create something new that worked for them. The author argues that this is a parallel to a more recent copy-and-transform period that took place after WWII.


The following chapters give focus to the areas mentioned earlier. The source of this information is primarily literary records and other written works. Murasaki's "Tale of Genji" and her diary are the most prominent. Second is the "Pillow Book" by Sei Sh┼Źnagon and many others are quoted or referenced. Indeed, the author states that Japan's Heian Era has unusual riches for the historian when it comes to written records, but certain sectors of the society are much better covered than others due to most of the writers being court ladies.  This reliance is balanced with evidence from other sources and a mindset that makes allowances for poetic license, exaggeration, etc.


One of my favorite sections was about the Fujiwara family and the methods they used to stay in control through the period. This included the many ways they used imperial power such as making the emperor himself a figurehead and making their own offices the only ones with de-facto power. It is my favorite because I find it interesting, it contrasts with the government in place in my time and country, and also because it had the side-effect that the imperial family outlasted the period and became one of the longest reigning "ruling families" in the world because they didn't actually rule.


I enjoyed reading this book and I found it informative. I don't have any other book on the period to compare it to and its methods seemed sound to me. That's what I'm judging it on.
 

Trickster Eric Novels gives "The World of the Shining Prince" an A+


Click here for the previous book review (for fun): The Book of Wizardry

Click here for the next book review (also for fun): The Italian City City Republics

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