Paper Plane Reviews

A Book Review Blog

The Violent Fae by Phil Williams

I’ve started the reviews a bit late this year unfortunately, mostly down to a combination of busy personal circumstances, ill health and continuing issues with my mental health. But I thought that I would start the year in much the same way as I did last year and read a book from the Ordshaw series, especially given that I was part of its book tour launch last year.

After the conflict with the grugulochs and blue screens that almost caused the collapse of both the humans’ Ministry of Environmental Energy and the Fae Transitional City, Pax is hoping to keep a low profile while she attends a high profile poker tournament and waits to hear what has become of her Fae friend Letty. But now that she’s aggravated the monsters both above and below ground, it’s only a matter of time before everything comes to a head for a final explosive showdown.
So, after Blue Angel I had some pretty high expectations about this final part of the Ordshaw trilogy, and I was not disappointed. The tone fits nicely between those set up by Under Ordshaw and Blue Angel. It returns to the higher tension of the first book, but with the additional political angle that was introduced in the second and a better understanding of what exactly it is that Pax and her allies are facing.
The main thing that I found myself enjoying was the increased focus on Fae society. Letty and other Fae that she had interacted with previously have, for the most part, been outsiders to the FTC, so it was nice to see what it is that they are in contrast to. Turns out that it’s the sort of late-stage capitalism drudgery and corruption that I love to see fall in fiction, so you can imagine that there were some good eat-the-rich moments where Letty’s sub-plot was concerned.
With regards to characters, there was some interesting progress made in character arcs, a lot of which I wasn’t necessarily expecting. Most gratifying for me was Pax, who finally gets her moment of agency and being able to actively choose to go through with the craziness. It’s kind of a small thing, but it makes everything that follows that bit more awesome. Letty is still my favourite, and she gets to be both in her element and wildly out of her depth with all the Fae politics, so that was entertaining at least. The most surprising were Casaria and Sam Ward, who have a weird reversal of roles from the last book. While I did love Casaria’s whole agent of chaos role previously, it wasn’t something that he’d necessarily be able to continue. And while there’s a part of me that’s kind of sad that it ended, I thought that his arc in this book was well thought-out and was still satisfying despite my preferences.

A thoroughly satisfying end to a very entertaining trilogy. It brings together all the big loose ends and leaves some room for possible follow-ups. But if this were the last of it, I could personally feel satisfied. A definite recommendation for some alternative urban fantasy. 5/5

Next review: The Many Adventures of Peter and Fi: Homecoming by Kelvyn Fernandes

Signing off,

Legends of the Exiles by Jesse Teller

So this review took a while to get out. Not the book’s fault, it found me at a bad time mentally again, but I’ve been neglecting the blog again. Which is a shame, because I’d been looking forward to Legends of the Exiles. A collection of loosely connected novellas about strong female characters in a neat barbarian low-fantasy setting was definitely sparking my interest.

Legends of the Exiles collects the stories of four proud exile women, each legendary in their own right within their community. The reader first follows Helena, determined to find a love as bold as she is, only for her boldness to drive away the one person she wants. Second is Jocelyn, a wolf princess with a grim destiny and the strange powers needed to make it come to pass. Third is Ellen, abandoned by her community for the misdeeds of an abuser who learns to piece her life back together. And last is Rachel, a near-feral princess who is looking for someone who she can truly call an equal, both in battle and in bed.
I wanted to like Legends of the Exiles a lot more than I did. I do have a few issues that I’ll discuss below, but I feel that I should start with the stuff that I did like. I’m still happy that I finished this because there are points throughout the novellas that are incredibly powerful and evocative, particularly in Ellen’s novella “Dead Girl”, which is by far the most interesting and accomplished of the quartet. Those moments were affecting enough that I wanted to finish reading in the hopes of finding more of those moments.
Unfortunately, now we come to the things that didn’t work for me about Legends of the Exiles, which can be narrowed to three overarching issues that affect each novella to varying extents. The first is that I’m pretty sure that I’ve dived into a load of side stories for a previously established series, because it is frustratingly sparse on certain worldbuilding details that I imagine would need no explanation for those already familiar with the wider setting. For example, there’s a framing narrative introduced at the beginning that is presumably intended to tie it all together. The problem with this framing narrative is that it’s not revisited at the end of the book, so the reader finds out absolutely nothing about who the narrator was supposed to be or what headstrong warrior-type they were apparently narrating these stories to. Another thing that strongly indicates that it ties into a series is that each skip in time is headed with “X Years Before the Escape”, which is all very well but kind of difficult to figure out the timeline of these stories on the fly, unless they directly retell scenes from earlier novellas, and doesn’t really have much impact because I have no idea what the hell the “Escape” is. The book doesn’t have much interest in explaining its significance, which is a shame because it gets to be kind of alienating. I remember hearing that one of Stan Lee’s sayings was “Every comic book is someone’s first”, and I feel that this is a good saying to apply to books in general, despite the difference in consumption. If you’re writing something new in a series, I believe that it should be as accessible to newcomers as is possible to do without repeating a previous book wholesale. Legends of the Exiles does not do that for me.
My second issue with it is that despite the novellas appearing to focus on different issues, they kind of all boil down to “The main female character is happy when she gets to be with her man”. The only one of the four women followed through the book to not get married to her true love ends up alienating him and dying horribly. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t begrudge a good romance novel, it is the highest selling fiction genre so it must be doing something right. My issue is that by trying to sell itself as something other than romance, it’s kind of shooting itself in the foot. It does also kind of undermine the whole “strong female character” thing if their character arcs revolve almost solely around their relationships with their lovers/husbands, fathers and sons. While the romance itself doesn’t bother me, I can see it getting to the wrong audience based on its provided synopsis.
The third issue is one that kind of rubbed me the wrong way even when it was handled well, and that’s the sexualised view of girls way under the age of consent. All four of the women that the book focuses on start their stories at very young ages, and their novella will each span a minimum of a decade. The problem with this is that once they hit the 12/13 mark, there’s some level of sexuality introduced into their interactions with men and boys and I am really not comfortable with that. If it were starting around the 15/16 age I could probably understand that a bit more because that’s a typical sort of age for your attractiveness to start mattering to a teenager, even if I wouldn’t necessarily be comfortable reading about them having sex. There is nothing sexy about a 12-year old girl, and to have it come up consistently is raising my hackles more than a little. There’s only one incident of it going further than heated looks, and it is treated like the trauma that it is, but the fact that this comes up outside the deliberate paedophilia plot-line leaves a really bad taste in the mouth.

While there is some good writing that is evocative and moving in places, Legends of the Exiles kind of shoots itself in the foot for me. Primarily this is due to some uncomfortably sexualised pre-teens, but the fact that it is obtuse to readers new to the previously-established world doesn’t help either. 3/5

Next review: The Violent Fae by Phil Williams

Signing off,

The Violent Fae Blog Tour

I am pleased to announce that I am taking part in the blog tour for the third book in Phil William’s Sunken City trilogy, The Violent Fae. To count down to its release date, each stop on the tour will be debuting one of twelve short stories set in the city of Ordshaw, each providing a glimpse into the city’s chaos. At this stop on the tour you can read “The Neighbours”.

The Neighbours
Number 34 opened onto a lop-sided man, legs wider than his torso and round head perpetually tilted. Capillaries showed through his patchy skin, and his teeth were a bit too big for his lips to conceal. He wore stained sweatpants and a t-shirt too small for his girth, nothing on his chunky feet. His greeting was not exactly a word.
Pritchard did not judge. It took all sorts to make a world. On Bartlett Street, a cosmopolitan bunch took advantage of the cheaper flats above stores, an affordable gateway to West Farling.
“Yes, hello, sorry to bother you – I live across the road.” Pritchard indicated her modest dwelling above the betting shop. “55a. I’ve been asking around to see if anyone’s heard these strange sounds at night.”
From the look on the man’s face, she could have spoken a foreign language. She dealt with enough oddities at the library not to let that trouble her. Some people needed a little patience.
“Strange because they’re quiet, and rather distinct, at the same time. People enjoying themselves, but I’ve no idea where. The gentleman at 32 wasn’t much help, nor the couple in 53, and I think him in 57 is away. I’ve spoken to Riley’s, under me, and the charity shop. No one else has heard these people. But you look an observant chap, perhaps you have?”
The man shook his head mutely, hand hovering towards closing the door.
“The sounds come from this direction,” Pritchard quickly pushed on, “but I’ve seen no sign of activity. Talking, laughter, music, but all rather quiet. Like it’s in the wall, almost.” She gave that an appropriate chuckle. “Quite irritating. Especially when I can’t find a source.”
The man made no comment. Waiting for her to get to the point.
“I suppose you haven’t heard anything yourself, then?” Pritchard sighed. “53 suggested someone left a radio on. A TV. I had Riley’s double-check their equipment. But the sounds aren’t like that – they come and go. Definitely people socialising. Perhaps its travelling in the pipes?”
“You work the library,” the man finally spoke.
Pritchard paused. “I do, yes, the Bolling Crescent branch. Are you a member?”
He shook his head. His watchful quiet was starting to become unsettling.
“And yourself …?”
“Drive the buses.”
Pritchard smiled politely. “Well. You must think I’m loopy, with these strange ideas.”
“Nah,” he shrugged his sunken shoulders. “Probably the sin, is what it is.”
Pritchard gave him a blank look.
“Sin rising up. They’re at it all day, after all, it’s got to go somewhere.” He pointed at the betting shop. Though a gambling house, Riley’s Bettor Off was hardly a den of inequity; they had armchairs and an oddly up-market clientele. And Pritchard quite enjoyed the quirky name. Details apparently lost on the man from 34.
“I’m not a holy man,” he assured her. “Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think sin’s all checks and balances towards some afterlife. Just that it’s got to go somewhere, doesn’t it? All the bad, people’s corruption, it has a way, seeps out, rises or whatnot. I see it on passenger’s faces, the way a little lady creases up when you’ve got a black guy sits down next to her.”
“Oh my,” Pritchard exclaimed.
“Got to be something like that. Don’t know how you sleep at all, up there, if I’m honest.”
She took a very small step back, not daring to blink. He hadn’t moved.
“Come in for a tea?”
“I …” Pritchard swallowed. Perhaps he had misspoken, and a longer chat might clarify his beliefs. It took all sorts. Or perhaps there would be worse, once the surface was scratched. Taking another small step back, she said, “Yes, well, thank you anyway.”
The man didn’t seem to notice nor mind the rejection. “Any time.”
He closed the door. The slam made Pritchard flinch.
Between that and the impatience of 32, she had little desire to continue. Ear plugs would do the trick. Yes. Better to wear ear plugs than discover who else shared Bartlett Street.

If you enjoyed that vignette, then there are multiple ways to read more about Ordshaw and its supernatural inhabitants. To ease you into it, you can read the other vignettes on the tour. Yesterday’s vignette, “The Chemist”, can be found on Bibliosanctum. Or if you’re already following the blog tour, tomorrow’s vignette, “The Artist”, will be available on Out of This World SFF Reviews.

For those of you interested in the Sunken City series proper, the final chapter will be available from Amazon, on Kindle and in paperback, as of November 5th 2019.
If you haven’t started the series yet, you are in luck as the first book in the series, Under Ordshaw, is currently on offer on Kindle on the UK and US Amazon stores until November 1st. They’re available for $0.99 and £0.99, so grab it while you can. There is unfortunately no sale for the second part of the series, Blue Angel, but it is definitely worth picking up if you’ve got the time.

Signing off,

Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett

There’s never a bad time to start another Discworld novel, so here I go with Feet of Clay, the next book in the Guards sub-series. My partner is always pleased when I get to the next Discworld, but especially so when it’s a Guards book. It’s sweet, and they’re usually right, so I tend to look forward to those ones in particular.

What starts out as an ordinary day for the Ankh Morpork Watch becomes a lot more philosophical than expected when a priest is murdered, with golems looking to be heavily involved. While the murder itself is rather mundane, golems are well known to be little more than human-shaped machinery, so their involvement makes things much more complicated. In addition to this, there is a plot afoot to try and poison the Patrician, which can only be a bad idea.
Feet of Clay is a fantastic ride from start to finish, with a cracking mystery to puzzle out, on-point lambasting of sexism and racism, and a cast that seems to get better with every book. To start with the mystery, it’s a strange sort of balance where the reader is given the majority of the clues within the third or so, but the fun comes in how the disparate pieces work together. It’s a bit jarring compared to other mysteries that I’ve read, but it does work out remarkably well.
The sexism and racism aspects of the novel intersects neatly with the two new additions to the cast, so I’ll discuss both here. The sexism aspect mostly centres around the new Watch recruit, a Dwarf alchemist by the unfortunate name of Cheery Littlebottom. The reader learns that Cheery is actually female, and follows her attempts to present as more obviously feminine, with a little help from Angua. I’ll admit, I’d heard the old nerd debate about whether all dwarfs had beards, regardless of sex, but hadn’t really given it much thought. Reading through Cheery’s gradual move from stereotypical dwarf in appearance, to her introduction of things like make-up and skirts into her wardrobe, it struck me more as a trans narrative than a purely feminine one. While there is no evidence of physical dysphoria, the decision to take on outward markers of femininity when you are a member of a species where male is the default feels more akin to a transgender person’s entry into social transitioning. Maybe it’s just that I’ve recently had some people very close to me start making that transition, but I couldn’t help but wonder at the similarity. Either way, it’s a journey that is by no means over, and I kind of had my heart in my mouth for her every time Carrot made a comment that was obviously intended to be helpful, but only makes things worse.
The racism aspect is obviously brought up as a result of the golems becoming more visible, but I’d kind of forgotten just how deep the metaphor is taken within the Discworld novels. While the Watch is now a multi-racial organisation, that has only really papered over the cracks. Dwarfs are still ignored unless they’re screaming battle cries and running at you with an axe, trolls are dumb brutes only to be commended for their persistence, and the undead mock humanity by showing them a twisted reflection of their own lives. The only thing that sets golems apart from all this is that they’re looked down on by everyone on the hierarchy, because they’re not even alive enough to get on the social ladder. It’s everything that a racism metaphor should be, real enough to make its point, but not detailed enough that it becomes a clumsy allegory for actual groups of people with blatant racial coding.

A fantastic entry into the Discworld series, Feet of Clay shows Pratchett at his best with excellent characters and a mystery that leaves the reader wanting more. I very much look forward to my next encounter with the guards. 5/5

Next review: Legends of the Exiles by Jesse Teller

Signing off,

Occultist by Oliver Mayes

I realise that it’s not been long since my last LitRPG book, but I was feeling in a science-fiction/fantasy sort of mood. The Occulist looked like a fun read from the blurb, if very similar to other books and series in the genre that I’ve seen so far.

Damien Arkwright, a teenager simultaneously studying for potentially life-changing exams and acting as a beta tester for gaming company Moebius, finds his life taking a turn for the worse when his mother has a heart attack in front of him. Desperate after hearing that she is 35th in line for a heart transplant, he enters Moebius’ new MMORPG called Saga Online to try and win their Streamer Contest with the intent to pay for her medical costs. But when the top-ranked player, Aetherius, humiliates him and dumps him in a high level dungeon for a perceived slight, Damien’s only hope lies in taking the previously unknown class of Occultist.
Despite the somewhat standard start to Occultist, I found myself appreciating the unexpected depth a lot more than I’d expected. This is down to two main factors: the real-world aspect of the plot and the intricacies of the Occultist character class.
Starting with the real world stuff, I was pleasantly surprised at how down-to-earth and believable the goal was. Compared to the previous LitRPG novels reviewed here, Battle Spire and HOPE Engine, the real-world problems impacting the stuff in the game world in Occultist were ones that I could potentially see happening in the near future. Staying out of the foster care system and getting money for health insurance are goals that are unfortunately only too real, and the potential for gaining a massive windfall through the medium of competitive gaming is becoming more and more commonplace. The only thing missing was the main character getting SWAT called on him, although I’m sure that there’s time for that in any potential sequel.
The game stuff is a bit more of a personal thing, but I really liked seeing a main character who was more summon-based. See, my main characters on Guild Wars were a Ranger and a Necromancer, and for both of them I had combat pets that would either attack alongside me or act as a constant buff. I have a bit of a soft spot for that kind of character build, but it doesn’t tend to get good press in LitRPG novels. The only other character I can think of off the top of my head is Silica from Sword Art Online, and she’s kind of the LitRPG poster child for damsel in distress. So yeah, kind of a personal thing, but it was nice to see a bit of variation from the tank/mage/healer stereotypes.

The overall story arc is not necessarily anything new, but Occultist spices up the typical genre fare by focusing on concrete, easily believable problems to deal with in the real world and by branching out the main character’s class out from the standard tank/mage/healer archetypes by throwing in pets/summons. It ends on a good final note, but I’d be happy to read more in the universe created here. 5/5

Next review: Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett

Signing off,

Therese Raquin by Emile Zola

Given that I have still been struggling with reading post-slump, I thought that I would pick out a book that I had read several times before, but hadn’t looked at since before I started this blog. Hence Therese Raquin, one of the texts that I studied for college, complete with underlined quotes that were evidently important at the time.

Therese Raquin follows the eponymous protagonist and her lover as they plot to murder her feeble and sickly husband, so that they can carry out their affair in peace. What they don’t anticipate is the dramatic effect that it has on their psyches, and how little they will be able to enjoy the fruits of their crime.
When I mentioned that I would be reading Therese Raquin to my partner, they were less than impressed. I had forgotten that they took the same class in college and had studied this text as well, and had evidently not taken away fond memories of it. Re-reading it and taking a look at some other reviews, it would appear that this is something of a love-it-or-hate-it type of book. And I think that that comes down to two things: the bleak and grimy tone, and the characterisation.
The tone is kind of interesting, as it’s produced by using very artistic language and references to contemporary artwork of the time, but with a distinctly unpleasant twist. There’s a definite green/grey/brown palette to the imagery described, like everything’s a bit dirty and waterlogged, and it influences the whole atmosphere of the novel. Even before anything bad has happened, you can tell that nothing good will come of Therese and Laurent’s actions, because their surroundings are such that it cannot come to pass. For me, the focus on murkiness and chiaroscuro is really interesting and easy to envisage, but I can definitely see why it could come across as overly oppressive and unpleasant.
With regards to the characterisation, there’s a kind of simplification going on that can go very poorly. The characters in Therese Raquin are not complex people, they are at worst caricatures and at best archetypes drawing from Hippocrates’ humours. Again this is very subjective, but I would argue that in conjunction with the atmosphere it does work in a grotesque kind of way. The side characters are frequently compared to dolls and puppets, bringing to mind jerky movements and unnatural articulation. Therese and Laurent are the most complex of the characters, but their actions are solely influenced by their assigned temperaments, making them little better than animals instinctively reacting to outward stimuli. There’s something fascinating about a collection of people that are so unpleasant coming into close contact and clashing so spectacularly. There are no good people, just a lot of individuals indulging their own egos. It’s not something you’d read for pleasure per say, but it is engaging.

Very much a love-it-or-hate-it kind of novel, Therese Raquin works best for those readers who are willing to forgo anything pleasant in exchange for watching some unpleasant people slowly fall apart at the seams. The characterisation is basic, but it combines with the tone and atmosphere to create a grim sort of spectacle that is greater than the sum of its parts. 4/5

Next review: Occultist by Oliver Mayes

Signing off,

Blue Angel by Phil Williams

This is a bit of a first for the blog, given that Blue Angel is my first sequel sourced from TBRindr, which is kind of cool. Given that I quite enjoyed the previous book Under Ordshaw, I was quite looking forward to finding out how the series continued. Spoilers for Under Ordshaw will be abound.

Following their encounter with the Minotaur at the end of the last book, Pax finds herself on the run along with Letty and the Barton family. In order to avoid detection, they find themselves seeking shelter with people that they would otherwise try and avoid. Having gotten a lot more close and personal with the Minotaur than she had wanted, Pax also seems to be seeing and feeling things that she can’t explain or understand. The bad feelings start to come thick and fast as inexplicable accidents occur across Ordshaw, coming from underneath the city.
I really liked how the plot continued in Blue Angel, with a lot more escalation that I’d anticipated. While the primary threat still lies firmly underground, the tension around not being seen and not knowing who to trust is a nice change of pace. Sort of like going from a slasher film to a thriller, it’s a different sort of feel but still nice and tense. As part of that, the reader is given a little more information about how the supernatural phenomena work in Ordshaw, but only enough that you realise just how powerful it is and how difficult it will be for it to be vanquished.
One of the issues that I had in my last review was Pax’s characterisation. While I don’t feel that she matches the whole lone wolf image that was originally projected, I do think that she comes into her own more in Blue Angel, where she manages to be both blunt enough to get things done quickly, but still being the voice of reason compared to most of the cast. I still feel that Letty and Casaria are the stand-out characters, especially given that they both get more dimensions added, which is rarely a bad thing.

Blue Angel is a bit of a tonal shift after Under Ordshaw, but not so much that it’s jarring. Instead it makes the problems presented in the previous book feel much bigger and more complicated, and I am so down for more of that. While my previous issue with the characterisation of Pax doesn’t really get addressed, she does feel a lot more believable and comes into her own as a leader of sorts. I look forward to seeing how the series continues. 5/5

Next review: Therese Raquin by Emile Zola

Signing off,

Maskerade by Terry Pratchett

When I asked my partner how to best get out of a motivational rut, they recommended reading a book that you know that you will enjoy. In fact, they specifically said to read the next Discworld on my list. Given that this was Maskerade, the next book in the Witches sub-series, it was hardly an onerous decision.

Following Magrat’s marriage at the end of Lords and Ladies, the witches are now missing the Maiden from their trinity, left with only the Mother and the… Other One. Remembering that a girl from Lancre, Agnes Nitt, had previously shown promise as a witch, and concerned that Granny Weatherwax may go Black Aliss without the right mental stimulation, Nanny Ogg decides to recruit her as their new Maiden. Meanwhile, Agnes, styling herself as Perdita, has travelled to Ankh-Morpork to try and make her way as an opera singer. Whilst at the opera house, she has to deal with providing the voice for a colleague with no actual talent of her own, and rumours of an Opera Ghost murdering members of the troupe.
It was lovely to see Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg again, and I think I need to thank my partner for pointing out the obvious for me. There was something comforting about seeing them at their best, terrifying entire stagecoaches of people and poking their noses into situations where they aren’t wanted, but soon prove to be needed. Agnes had technically been introduced in an earlier Discworld novel, but this felt like a proper introduction. While I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know her, her realisation that, while she desperately wants to be a part of the opera world, she will never quite fit in was unexpectedly difficult to read for me. It was a bit more real than I had prepared myself for, those echoes of being the fat nerdy girl at school. I’ll be interested to see how Agnes develops further down the line.
The stuff at the opera was an entertaining backdrop, with some nice nods to Phantom of the Opera, but I wasn’t as enamoured with the setting as I have been with some of his other pastiches. I think, having studied opera briefly at university and occasionally watching it, that Pratchett did himself a disservice by not going over-the-top enough. I was kind of expecting there to be more balls-to-the-wall insanity and disappointed that it wasn’t there.

An incredibly entertaining pastiche of opera and the wonders that can happen when thoroughly sensible people come along and try and make sense of things. I feel like it could have been more over-the-top, but it’s always great to see Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg cause havoc. 4.5/5

Next review: Blue Angel by Phil Williams

Signing off,

HOPE Engine by Andrew Lynch

Okay, so this review ended up being way later than I had anticipated. Unfortunately, I’ve been in a bit of an emotional/motivational slump for the past couple of months and this has impacted on a lot of my more creative and feelings-intense hobbies. Of which reading and reviewing is one. So I apologise to all of those anticipating reviews from me, they are still in the pipeline. I just haven’t been in the right headspace, and might take a while to get back into the rhythm of things.
With regards to HOPE Engine, I had been looking forward to it, given my enjoyment of my previous LitRPG book, Battle Spire. It seemed to have the sort of underdog main character that I’m fond of too, so that was definitely a plus starting off.

HOPE Engine follows Severo, a new graduate who has chosen to spend the majority of his life in the Fantasy MMO named Tulgutha, rather than face the real world on the brink of war. While he finds himself enjoying the game, he seems to have joined up at a time where an army of glitched NPCs is taking out player settlements. And their next target is his starter village. Banding together with some displaced player characters, he tries to ready his followers for war. On top of all that, strange things are starting to happen in the real world as well.
I’m not sure quite how I feel about HOPE Engine, and a lot of that is down to events about two thirds through that are a bit… spoilery. I will discuss them, but later in the review.
Given that this is a LitRPG, the actual game portion plays a big part in how it comes across. My previous experience of the genre, while limited, had made me expect something reasonably crunchy, with a lot of numbers that you could potentially lift from the book and use elsewhere. The numbers were definitely there, but they were a lot less prominent. Given that the main character is trying to speed through the whole levelling up process, it does make sense, but there are times where the combat can seem a bit arbitrary. I’ve been a low level player against enemies way above my level, and for someone who is meant to be a low level newbie he does get away with a lot more than you would expect. Some of that does get explained by the end, but it’s still distracting in the moment. The main draw for HOPE Engine‘s RPG setting was actually the NPCs. If I’m honest, the other player characters were a bit underwhelming compared to some of the NPCs, in particular Horace. Horace is the first minion that Severo finds in the game, a cultist who both believes him to be an incarnation of a dark god and is perfectly aware that he is just another player. Horace is easily my favourite part of the book, because he can absolutely be counted on to be the agent of chaos that messes up or inadvertently accelerates Severo’s plans. He tells Severo that he’ll ease up on the conversions, quite happily making alterations to new cultist robes throughout the conversation. I look forward to seeing more of Horace.
Right, so now to mention the part that has been bugging me, which is primarily related to revelations about what has been happening to Severo in the real world while he was focusing on taking down an army several times his size. As it turns out, an incident towards the beginning where he had to be evacuated from the game to prevent getting some kind of MMO-induced virus causes a shady group to take an interest in him, and deliberately trap him in the game while they carry out a variety of augmentations on him. So when he inevitably wakes up in the last chapter, he finds that what felt like a few weeks or months to him was actually 2 years. Which raises the question of how much of his interactions with the other players that he allies with are genuine, given that it should be pretty obvious when someone that you are spending a lot of time with gets stuck in a loading screen for a couple of months. With those interactions in doubt now, it sort of tempers whatever enjoyment I got from player interactions. Given that HOPE Engine ends on a MASSIVE cliffhanger I imagine that it will get tackled in the sequel, but for now it’s something that just bugs me.

A thoroughly enjoyable read, although my thoughts on the last third or so are decidedly mixed. The RPG world is a bit vague at times, but issues with the realism of it are more than balanced out by some great characters, in particular head minion Horace. The cliffhanger ending does intrigue me enough to want to pick up the sequel whenever it comes out. 3.5/5

Next review: Maskerade by Terry Pratchett

Signing off,

K-ON! College by kakifly

It’s been a while since I last read K-ON!, and after a reasonably intense book, I thought that I could do with something a bit lighter and fluffier. And there’s nothing in my library quite as light and fluffy as that.

K-ON! College follows Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Tsumugi as they go through their first year of university. Now having to deal with living away from home and being independent, they join the University’s Light Music Club in order to continue playing together. At their dorm they meet another first year band who seem to be setting up to be close rivals.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure where this was likely to go, given that the fourth volume ended on a pretty definitive note. Focusing solely on the older members of the band looked to be a good idea, as the university setting does fit well with the new theme that this volume brings to the fore. The introduction of the rival band, made up of the ultra-serious guitarist Akira, energetic drummer Ayame and shy bassist Sachi, force the group to consider how far they want to take music. Do they want to continue playing together as a hobby, or do they want to knuckle down and try to become professionals? It’s not a route that I was expecting from something that has until now been reasonably silly and inconsequential, but I think it worked well with the general growing up theme that university naturally brings. It’s not tied up by the end of the volume, but I think I’m okay with that. I certainly didn’t finish my first year of uni and know with absolute confidence where I was going, so it would seem weird if it had all been tied up.
The new characters are cute enough, although they act mainly as foils for one another. Ayame and Sachi become fast friends with Ritsu and Mio respectively, and it’s nice to see them interacting with people who are a bit closer to them in temperament. In contrast, Yui attaches herself to Akira, who can charitably be said to assume babysitting duties, although there is some grudging respect there. I think this was the relationship that I liked most, for two reasons. First, it’s always fun to see someone utterly lost for words at the chaos that is Yui. Second, Akira is just so damn sweet that seeing her come out of her shell is nice to see.

A bit more on the thoughtful side as the cast have to learn independence in their first time spent away from home. The new characters are cute enough, with Akira stealing the spotlight with ease. It’s as cute as ever and if you’ve made it this far, you’re unlikely to stop enjoying it here. 4.5/5

Next review: HOPE Engine by Andrew Lynch

Signing off,

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