Paper Plane Reviews

A Book Review Blog

The Yoga of Strength by Andrew Marc Rowe

I’ll admit, I wasn’t really all that sure what I was getting into with The Yoga of Strength, as I couldn’t quite reconcile the Hindu-influenced title with the European Medieval fantasy blurb. So this was as much to satisfy my curiosity as it was to provide a promised review.

The Yoga of Strength follows Sir Andrew Cardiff, the son of a noble and newly knighted member of the Yellow Order of the Kingdom of Thrairn. Despite his cowardice and certainty that the only reason for his knighthood was nepotism, he journeys with his order to defend a neighbouring kingdom. But a strange encounter with a mystical jaguar and an enigmatic witch doctor puts him on a path that threatens to destroy his life as he knows it.
I am somewhat torn about The Yoga of Strength, because while I did like it overall, there are a few aspects that I feel could have been executed better. So I’ll start with the positive, which is the character arc for the main character, Andrew. When I was checking the blurb before I started reading, I noted that a few people had identified Andrew as a weakness with the book, due to his generally unlikable nature, and I can definitely see that at the beginning. Initially, it’s pretty difficult to identify good qualities in him, because whatever talents and positive personality traits he has are smothered by his persistent self-pity and envy of anyone who seems to be better than him. But, having finished the novel, I would argue that it’s a necessary evil, as his self-improvement over the course of the story becomes a lot more evident. Rowe names Hermann Hesse as an influence in his acknowledgements, and I can definitely see that come through in this journey to self-actualisation.
That brings me onto an aspect that I think works out overall, but might make The Yoga of Strength something of a hard sell. If I were to describe the novel succinctly, it would be Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha meets Lord of the Rings. That is, if nothing else, very niche. Like, I’m not sure who in my immediate circle is going to be totally on board for this combination. I personally find it really interesting and unusual, but I know that there will be plenty of fantasy fans wondering why there needs to be Hindu spirituality in their Medieval fantasy novel, and presumably vice versa. Apologies to the yoga enthusiasts, I have yet to meet you and so can only speculate.
My main issue with The Yoga of Strength is the treatment of one of the characters, Simon. So Simon is established early on as one of Andrew’s only friends, who bonds with him over shared feelings of inadequacy caused by their lack of physical fitness. They joke, as some male friendships are wont to do, about being homosexual. So far not really my thing, but it fit with the taboos of the world that they grew up in, so whatever. Then there comes a moment where Simon is discovered, incredibly drunk, in the company of a male prostitute. And later the reader finds out that any and all homosexual tendencies Simon had started after he was sexually assaulted by the head of his platoon in the Yellow Order. That is not how being gay works, that is not how being raped works, and I am really not okay with it. The narrative does start to salvage it towards the end by implying that he may be bisexual and that he may have some room to start exploring those feelings, but there’s only so much that you can recover from “I’m gay because I was raped”. I wanted to be able to recommend this book for anyone willing to try something a bit niche, but I am unable to do so wholeheartedly knowing that this whole homosexuality/bisexuality subplot has been handled so clumsily.

An unusual mixture of Medieval fantasy and ideas from Hindu scriptures which could prove to be an interesting series, if a little clumsy at times. My main issue is a very poorly handled attempt at an LGBT plot-line; while I want to believe that Rowe’s intent is to explore male bisexuality, its introduction to the plot and explanation in-story is clumsy at best, but could be pretty harmful to the wrong reader. A tentative recommendation. 3/5

Next review: The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

Signing off,
Nisa.

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

Okay, so it might be a bit weird reading a Christmas-themed book in the middle of spring, but it’s been so anxiety-inducing out there that I wanted to read something that would be a bit comforting. And that ended up being Discworld. So I’m not sorry, just a bit temporally confused.

It’s the night before Hogswatch, and a jolly man in red is making his way around the Disc, delivering presents to all the good boys and girls. Except that this year, the Hogfather has been temporarily replaced by Death, and his granddaughter Susan is determined to put a stop to such foolish behaviour. Elsewhere, an unnerving assassin by the name of Mr Teatime (pronounced Teh-ah-tim-eh) has been given a truly bizarre target for inhumation, and seems to be only too happy to give it a go.
So this might be my new go-to Christmas story. As the book can largely be split into three main plots (Death, Susan and the Unseen University, and Mr Teatime) I shall focus on each of them briefly.
There’s something absolutely wonderful about watching Death trying to get into the spirit of the holiday with great enthusiasm but not much understanding. From what I’ve seen of other people’s reactions, this is most fondly remembered in the scenes where he has gatecrashed a posh toy-shop’s “Hogfather’s Grotto”, and that is entirely understandable. There’s something magical about Death giving a small child a sword with the justification that it’s educational. What I kind of wasn’t expecting were the moments that were unexpectedly touching, that really question how charity is approached at Christmas and how little it is shown at other times of the year. It was more sobering than anticipated.
Upon finding out that her grandfather a rather unexpected side hustle this year, Susan is determined to figure out what is happening and decides to investigate, which involves the wizards at some point. Susan continues to be an odd character for me, as she doesn’t quite mesh with the Discworld as much as other characters with similar qualities, and this is highlighted very much when she stands in contrast to the insanity that is the Unseen University. She is cynical and practical, much like Vimes or Veternari, but these qualities only serve to make her feel a bit inhuman. Her desire to be perfectly normal and inoffensive is a bit too laser-focused, especially in the Discworld where their baseline for normal should be compared to real life. I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the point, but it still bothers me when I read her. The wizards are, of course, thoroughly entertaining and more than happy to just kind of roll with the various shenanigans that pop up during the narrative. It was nice to have some more development for Hex, which I hope to see more of as the series progresses.
Mr Teatime is genuinely unsettling, and should be held as an example of how masterful “less is more” characterisation can truly be. I will say that after a little while, before all three plots can come together near the climax, his plot-line can get a bit on the repetitive side, largely due to how few concrete details the audience have to work with about what is actually going on. Other than the odd pacing issue though, it does have some truly unsettling moments that will stay with me.

Hogfather is largely carried by the absurdity of Death trying to emulate a Santa-type figure, but the inclusion of Mr Teatime is a masterstroke that proves just how skilled and subtle Pratchett’s writing could be. The pacing could have used a little tweaking in places and I’m still a bit on the fence about Susan, but otherwise this was thoroughly enjoyable. 4.5/5

Next review: The Yoga of Strength by Andrew Marc Rowe

Signing off,
Nisa.

The Many Adventures of Peter and Fi, Volume I: Homecoming by Kelvyn Fernandes

Apologies again for the delay, still working through some personal issues that I’m hoping can get on top of soon. And given the increased likelihood that more of us need to self-isolate in the coming weeks, what better opportunity to read more?
With regards to my latest book, I wasn’t sure how I’d find this, given that it looked to be aimed at a slightly younger audience than I was accustomed to, but given the generally high quality that I’ve gotten from my indie fantasy I was more than happy to see where it would go.

The Many Adventures of Peter and Fi: Homecoming follows the eponymous Peter, a magic user known as the Bubble Mage, and Fi, an illegal chimera, as they travel across several magic kingdoms in order to get Fi back home. On the way, they will have to deal with dangerous beasts, the fickle whims of nobility, and the daunting nature of their ultimate goals.
So we’ll start with the good parts, first of which are Peter and Fi themselves. Peter is a mage who appears to have a real talent for pissing off the people he works with, despite having the seemingly weak power of creating and manipulating bubbles. As such, he’s cunning and creative in order to get the absolute maximum out of his power set, which is a lot of fun. To contrast Peter’s caution, you also have Fi, who is by far the most entertaining of the cast. Combining cuteness with an aggressive streak a mile wide, she is the kind of chaotic live-wire that adds a much needed kick. Their personalities are just opposed enough that it adds complication without making their relationship non-stop fights.
The second thing that I really liked was what I saw of the worldbuilding. It was unusual enough that it stood out from a lot of traditional fantasy, but not so unusual thing that it required extensive infodumps to explain an element that may never come up again. For the most part, the explanations that were included were succinct summations of political situations and individual mages’ power sets. I especially liked the magic system, which appears to be more like divinely-appointed mutations than anything that can be taught. Volume I focused primarily on Peter’s power set, but I hope to see some other mages in more detail if the series is continued.
There was one thing that I wasn’t quite sure about, and that was that I’m still not sure which audience this was aimed at. So initially I assumed that The Many Adventures of Peter and Fi was aimed at a pre-teen audience given the kind of language used and the overall tone that it seemed to be going for in the early chapters. And then a man’s face was melted off in fairly graphic detail, which I feel might be a bit much for pre-teens. The problem is that similarly graphic and violent moments continue to pop up throughout the book, but the language never seems to change to suit an older audience. It felt off to say the least.

The Many Adventures of Peter and Fi, Volume I: Homecoming is an entertaining fantasy novel with a really interesting magic system that I would really like to see more of. The only real issue that I had with it was an uncertainty about what age group it was meant to be aimed at, given the largely pre-teen feel to the language versus the scenes of graphic violence. 3.5/5

Next review: Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

Signing off,
Nisa.

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,
Nisa.

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,
Nisa.

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,
Nisa.

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,
Nisa.

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,
Nisa.

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,
Nisa.

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,
Nisa.

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