Paper Plane Reviews

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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.

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.

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.

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,
Nisa.

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.
SPOILERS START
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.
SPOILERS END

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,
Nisa.

White Night by Jim Butcher

After the mind-screw that was The Automation and The Pre-Programming, it was nice to rest my brain with something a bit more familiar. And after enjoying the last book in the Dresden Files so much, I was keen to see how it continues.

White Night starts when Murphy summons him to the site of a suicide that just doesn’t strike her as quite right. When he realises that this is actually a sophisticated murder and that she was a minor magical practitioner, he finds himself on the trail of a supernatural serial killer. Which may possibly be his half-brother, Thomas. On top of that, he has a hard time getting other potential victims to trust him, when it is revealed that the murderer has been seen, an unidentified tall man in a grey Warden’s cloak.
I think this is the closest to a crime thriller that the Dresden Files has felt in a long time, and I absolutely loved it. While it does have some of the heavy political stuff that has complicated the narrative, as to be expected at volume 9 of a series, the majority of it is a cat and mouse game, trying to figure out who is innocent and who needs to be taken care of in a big ball of fire.
Additionally, there is a lot of great character stuff. Thomas gets a fair bit of focus, with Harry having to finally face the question of how his brother has been feeding without turning into a monster, or whether that is even possible. Harry’s ex Elaine turns up again, trying to turn over a new leaf by following in Harry’s footsteps as a detective and helping people with less magical potential. Molly gets a whole bunch of development as she keeps turning up at places that she shouldn’t, and having to deal with the consequences of her brashness. And, my favourite and the one that really caught me off guard, Lasciel, the shadow of a Denerian stuck in Harry’s head. I really liked this development, specifically because it answers the question of how much effort can she put into trying to tempt Harry to the dark side without it become an exercise in futility. As he says early on, she’s been trying to convince him to access the full power of the coin for years now, where previous hosts only needed a few weeks of temptation. In previous books, it had been one of those questions that was interesting, but ultimately not important in the moment, but there was only so long that you could feasibly keep the status quo going before you want some closure on the damn coin. So that was kind of answered here, which was unexpected but nice.

A thoroughly entertaining cat and mouse game with great stakes and some genuinely creepy antagonists. The character development was also on point, with special mention going to Lasciel. Really looking forward to how the series progresses from here. 5/5

Next review: The Narrows by Travis M. Riddle

Signing off,
Nisa.

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