Paper Plane Reviews

A Book Review Blog

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The Automation by B.L.A. & G.B. Gabbler

The Automation and its sequel The Pre-Programming were sent my way by the publisher S.O.B. Publishing, to try and drum up a bit of publicity for the second book in the series. Given the interesting premise and the unusual mythpunk genre, I was more than happy to oblige.

The Automation follows Odys Odelyn, a reclusive young man whose only real company is his twin sister Odissa. One day his life as he knows it is shattered after a stranger commits suicide in front of him, bequeathing Odys a tarnished penny as his last act. Odys soon finds that the penny is actually an immortal called an Automaton that runs off of a human host’s soul, and is quickly embroiled in the complex conflicts of other Automata and their masters. Throughout the book, the Narrator (B.L.A.) is simultaneously attempting to convince the reader of the story’s truth and embellish it to fit within the Epic genre, while their Editor (G.B. Gabbler) can only try and curb their wilder narrative flares.
I don’t know quite how to feel about The Automation, because while there is a big part of me that was thoroughly entertained by reading it, there was also a large part of me that was thoroughly irritated by it. And I can’t really untangle the two from each other. For example, let me talk about the single worst character in the book, Mecca. He’s one of the other masters introduced in the narrative, stuck in childhood for at least the next century or so, speaks about himself in the third person, and is a thoroughly nauseating blend of childish and perverted. Every time he turned up in the narrative, I wanted someone to punt the little fucker into traffic. But during his original introduction, there was a little aside that has confused the matter somewhat for me, in which the Editor states that they too hate Mecca and only allowed him to stay in the narrative because he plays an important role in the second book. On the one hand, I kind of feel vindicated, like my rush of ill feeling towards the character is justified and shared by others. On the other hand, the writer and reviewer in me is stuck asking “Well, if he’s that important to the story, why make him so intolerably fucking aggravating?”. This keeps happening throughout the narrative, and I still haven’t made up my mind which emotion should be the prevailing one.
There are two other things that I would mention that people may want to consider before picking up The Automation. The first is that it ends on a cliffhanger, one that you are literally taunted with at the end of the book, so those looking for a one-and-done sort of book should look elsewhere. Second is that the plot, while engaging, is mostly people talking. It’s especially odd considering that the narrative keeps making reference to Greek and Roman epics, in particular those of Homer, which I seem to remember being just a smidgen more violent. Not necessarily a bad thing, but after a pretty dramatic beginning, it does slow a fair bit.

The Automation is a book that entertains and vexes me in near equal measure. On balance, I think I like it enough to look into its sequel, but I would advise that this is for readers who are looking for a bit of a challenge and something a bit different. 4/5

Next review: The Pre-Programming by B.L.A. & G.B. Gabbler

Signing off,
Nisa.

Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett

Returning to Discworld for this review, I was somewhat torn. On the one hand, it’s Discworld, so it’s going to make me laugh and probably think as well. On the other hand, Interesting Times is part of the Rincewind sub-series, which is by far my least favourite. So the question was more how it stacked up against the other Rincewind books, rather than would I enjoy it.

A strange message arrives in Ankh Morpork, originating in the insular and secretive Agatean Empire of the Counterweight Continent. In the note, a plea is made for the Great Wizzard to travel to the Agatean Empire is made, to save the country from a terrible fate. So of course, the Unseen University send Rincewind, the only idiot to misspell it like that. And so the least magical wizard on the Disc finds himself running away from power-hungry warlords waiting for the current Emperor to die, and a polite if incompetent revolutionary group who believe that he can lead them to successful political change.
So I can say for certain that Interesting Times is by far the best of the Rincewind books so far. This is mainly due to two factors. The first is the conflict that Rincewind finds himself inserted into this time. An obvious fantasy analogue to the Chinese Revolution, minus the child emperor that they had in the real world, there’s a nice black vs grey morality going on. Because while Lord Hong and the other warlords are obviously evil and perpetuating a broken system, the Red Army who aim to be rid of them aren’t necessarily all sunshine and rainbows. There’s a section that I really loved, where the Red Army have an opportunity to assassinate the Emperor and Rincewind is dead set against it, because of course it’s a trap. When he argues that there’s a high chance that they’ll die, there’s a revolutionary who retorts that the cause is bigger than their lives or the lives of their countrymen. And it really stuck with me, because of course Rincewind is horrified and can’t understand why you’d value a cause above people’s lives. Considering the times that we live in, where there are whole countries who are divided along ideological lines, I feel like this should be an attitude that is taken to heart more often.
The second factor is Cohen the Barbarian and his Silver Horde, a group of barbarians who are firmly in old age. They were absolutely hysterical every time they appeared, especially considering that they were apparently trying to learn how to be civilised in their old age. They were the exact counterpart needed to balance out Rincewind’s cowardice and made up for the Luggage not being as big a part.

A pleasant surprise considering how much my enjoyment of the Discworld books has always been tempered whenever Rincewind was involved. But with Interesting Times, I think Pratchett finally got all the elements together to make Rincewind’s adventures actually work. The conflict at the Agatean Empire is more nuanced than expected, and the Silver Horde are a fantastic way to invite chaos into everyone’s nicely planned coups. 4.5/5

Next review: The Automation by B. L. A. & G. B. Gabbler

Signing off,
Nisa.

Never Die by Rob J. Hayes

After a brief rest with K-ON! I was ready for something a bit darker. Enter my next TBRindr book, Never Die, which promised to be both grimdark and part of a cool looking Asian-inspired world. A bit of a mood whiplash, but I really liked the sound of it.

Never Die follows Ein, a small boy who is on a mission from a god of death to kill the Emperor of Ten Kings. Alone, he has no chance of reaching the Emperor, let alone killing him, so he decides to recruit legendary heroes that he read about growing up. The only problem is that to recruit them to his cause, they need to die first.
There’s a lot that I liked about Never Die, so I’ll start with that. The main strength of the book is the characters, in particular the heroes recruited to Ein’s cause. There’s Whispering Blade, a swordswoman of few words and a strict code of honour, wielding two blades but only ever drawing one of them. The second to join is the Emerald Wind, a selfish and cowardly bandit who can teleport and leave copies of himself behind. Iron Gut Chen is a braggart only concerned with glory and a good meal, his skin impervious to damage. And the Master of Sun Valley is an honourable Wushu master, unbeaten in battle but rarely venturing outside of the confines of his valley home. Tagging along is Death’s Echo, a mysterious assassin who is convinced that Ein has the power to cure his leprosy. It’s a good mix of characters, with a nice balance of honourable and selfish characters. Their varied battle styles are fun to watch interact, which is a good thing considering the regularity of the battles that occur.
The plot is pretty damn strong, managing to be both action-packed and yet filled with subtle details that end up being more important than initially expected. There was one aspect of the plot that didn’t quite work for me though, and that was the ending. While it was very subtly signposted in the narrative, the ending kind of left a bittersweet taste for me, because while it made sense from a plot point-of-view, it made a lot of the character interactions feel a bit futile and sad. Not enough to invalidate the high quality of what went before, but enough that it marred what could have been a higher score.

A really strong story with an interesting world that I would like to see explored further. The characters and their growing camaraderie is the best part of the story by far though. The only thing that bothered me was an ending that felt a bit too bleak for my tastes. I would definitely look into Hayes’ other works, should the chance arise. 4.5/5

Next review: Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett

Signing off,
Nisa.

K-ON! Volume 4 by kakifly

It’s been a while since I read the last volume of K-ON!, and after an intense few books, it seemed to be the right time to finish off the main bulk of the series.

K-ON! Volume 4 follows the club members in their last months at high school. Now that the older club members have to focus on studying for university entrance exams and class activities, Azusa has contend with the fact that they’ll soon be graduating and leaving her alone.
This volume definitely felt more poignant compared to previous volumes, given the emphasis on partings and new beginnings. In particular it was good to see Azusa given the space to grow and try feeling things out. Related to that, Ui and Jun are featured a bit more as they look to continue the club after Yui and the others leave for university.
While I’m looking forward to the epilogue volumes looking at the older cast members at university and the new blood continuing the club at high school, K-ON! Volume 4 feels like a good place to end the series. It’s looking forward to a bright future and it’s maintained its warm and fuzzy feeling through to the end. I don’t know that the epilogues will add anything that is absolutely necessary, but K-ON! isn’t a series that you can get truly tired of.

A cute place to end the main bulk of the series, K-ON! Volume 4 continues to do what the series is good at. Not sure what the last two volumes will add, but I’m hopeful. 4.5/5

Next review: Never Die by Rob J. Hayes

Signing off,
Nisa.

Night Huntress by Mak Long

So Night Huntress is a bit of a departure for me, as it’s the first book that I have received direct from the publisher since starting on TBRindr. Intrigued, I took a look at the publisher’s WordPress to see what they specialised in. I wasn’t expecting fantasy and science-fiction erotica, that’s for sure. It was a niche that I wasn’t aware was filled much outside of fan-fiction, especially when the focus was queer relationships. Colour me interested.

Night Huntress follows a talented airship pilot, Ailrun, whose ambitions to pilot a vessel of her own are stymied by her place of birth, despite living and working within the Free Cities almost her entire life. Persuaded to take on a contraband run, she soon discovers that there are some unusual aspects to this particular run. First is the highly advanced engine that powers the boat she’ll be piloting. Second is Fia, an escaped Asura slave, bred specifically to maintain these kinds of engine. On their run, a faction from the Free City of Pollenza and an elven warrior-queen both aim to bring Fia and the engine under their influence.
As this is an erotica book, the first that I’ve reviewed on this blog, I feel that I should start with that. I was really expecting more of a build-up to the sex scenes, but then along comes chapter 2 and there’s a woman wrist-deep in someone else’s vagina. To say that it was a shock may be a mild understatement. I think the issue is mostly due to my previous experience of sex scenes, which was through romance novels. In that genre, the build-up is paramount, so sex doesn’t tend to show up until at least the half-way point. Evidently not so here. After the initial shock though, I found myself appreciating the sex scenes more than I would in a romance book. In romance, it’s almost always an affirmation of a couple’s love and can’t just be a thing by itself. In Night Huntress, there are a multitude of reasons to have sex, from just being in the right mood, to a religious ceremony, to sealing a diplomatic treaty. And there isn’t much of the toxic possessiveness that you see so often in romance. Here the characters change partners frequently and the number of participants change from scene to scene, which makes for a refreshing change. I guess that it’s nice to see characters who aren’t insecure about their partner’s affections and to see sex that isn’t inextricably bound with romantic love by necessity.
As for the plot, it’s a decent set-up for what looks to be an unexpectedly political series. There’s intrigue set up about the ancient technology that is so coveted, but as yet unmatched. The treatment of the elves is unusual, as they’re seen to be little more than savages by most of the human Free Cities. And while there isn’t much concrete said about either human or elven societies in this regard, there is a definite matriarchal trend from what has been shown thus far. I’d definitely like to see more of this world, so if another book is announced in this world then I would be more than happy to pick it up.

The plot is an interesting introduction to a political and backstabbing world. I’d love to see more of the weird magical engines and find out more about them. The sex is well-written and varied, although there is less build-up than I was expecting. 4.5/5

Next review: K-ON! Volume 4 by kakifly

Signing off,
Nisa.

The Blighted City by Scott Kaelen

As if the continued adventures of Harry Dresden weren’t grim enough for me, my next book was The Blighted City, a dark fantasy novel dealing with a legendary city of the undead. Since it’s been a little while since I’ve read a proper dark fantasy, so I was definitely looking forward to it.

The Blighted City follows three mercenaries, Oriken, Jalis and Dagra, who are given a job to retrieve a burial jewel from Lachyla, a city known only in stories. Supposedly the city’s king angered the goddess of Life and Death, who cursed the city with a blight that converted the citizens into the undead. Dagra, who is a great believer in the gods, is dead-set against going, convinced that they’ll be cursed if they set foot in Lachyla. But his friends convince him to go, against his better judgement, and they soon find that there may be more to the stories than they first assumed.
It took me a while to really sink my teeth into The Blighted City. I’m not sure what it was, but it wasn’t until the narrative had really entered Lachyla that it picked up for me. While there’s a lot about the story that I liked, primarily some interesting worldbuilding around the city of Lachyla, I found some of the pacing to be a bit off. Like I said, the stuff in the city was great, but the sections covering the journeys to and from there could possibly have benefited from being less detailed. While the travelling covered some nice character interaction between the members of the mercenary party, the narrative spent long enough on the outward journey that it started feeling repetitive and claustrophobic, and then the journey back perhaps wrapped things up in more detail than I am accustomed.
With regards to the city itself, it looks into an interesting variation on how the undead work in this world, especially the origins of said undead. It’s certainly a world that I would be interested in returning to and see how Lachyla has changed.

The Blighted City is a cool variation on your standard fantasy undead lore, and a fun adventure while the characters are in the city of Lachyla itself. I personally found the build-up and wrap-up were a bit over-long and over-detailed, but that might not bother you so much. 3.5/5

Next review: Night Huntress by Mak Long

Signing off,
Nisa.

Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher

It’s been a long while since I read a Dresden Files book, and I was quite looking forward to it. While I’ve been really enjoying the stuff that I’ve gotten from TBRindr, it’ll be nice to get to a book that I’ve chosen for myself that I actually finish now.

Proven Guilty starts with Harry attending an execution as part of his duties as a Warden of the White Council, a situation that disgusts him whilst still being the necessary course of action. Whilst in attendance, he is given two tasks by members of the Council. First, by his former master Ebenezer McCoy, he is asked to look into why the Sidhe aren’t reacting to Red Court vampires trespassing in their territory during raids on the White Council. Second, by the mysterious Gatekeeper, who gives him a general hint to look out for black magic. Whilst looking into these, he is dragged into looking after his friend Michael’s daughter, Molly, while she is at a horror movie convention and perhaps persuading her and her mother to make up after a series of blazing, teenage-rebellion-fuelled rows. But Molly may have some link to the black magic, as a series of magical attacks start befalling the convention attendees.
As you can probably tell by the time it took to finish Proven Guilty, this one was a bit of a slow start for me. This is most probably not entirely down to the book, but also down to the time since my last foray into the Dresden Files. It took me a little while to get back into that mindset and remember what factions are in play, who is feuding with who, and how many of them want Harry’s guts for garters. At the eighth entry, the Dresden Files is a fairly complex series which, judging by some of the conclusions reached at the end of Proven Guilty, is only going to get more complicated. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be a lot to take on initially. By the end I was absolutely devouring it, so it’s certainly not a huge impediment.
So there are two big changes, both to previously established characters. First of all, and most prominently, is Molly, the daughter of my least favourite character Michael Carpenter. Whereas in previous entries she was an adorably precocious and cheeky pre-teen, she’s almost grown up now. And boy did she hit the teenage rebellion button like it had personally offended her. She’s now pierced and tattooed in places her parents would rather she hadn’t discovered, with hair dyed in shades of cotton candy, having also dropped out of school and hanging around with the wrong crowd. It’s an entertaining shift to say the least, and not entirely surprising given the oh-so-holy nature of the family before now. It was, however, the second change in character that caught me more off-guard and I was really pleasantly surprised. Charity, Michael’s wife, had up to this point been more of an annoyance than anything, providing little more than unprovoked aggression towards Harry for little things like breathing and existing. Well, turns out that she had a reason and goddamn if it doesn’t make you reconsider all her behaviour until now. And she gets a chance to kick ass and take names, nailing it with far more aplomb than I could have expected.

After seven entries, there is a lot to remind yourself of when you start Proven Guilty, but it shouldn’t be a big issue. The stars of this entry into the series are Molly and Charity, who outshine Michael by absolute leagues. And the hint of something much bigger in the background is intriguing. 4.5/5

Next review: The Blighted City by Scott Kaelen

Signing off,
Nisa.

Sorcerous Rivalry by Kayleigh Nicol

At the moment I seem to have hit a bit of a low point with the books I’ve chosen for myself, so it was with a fair bit of relief that I returned to a TBRindr pick. The fact that the blurb for Sorcerous Rivalry was promising both mage battles and some LGBT romance was all the prompting I needed, even without the colossal misstep that was Confessions of an English Opium-Eater.

It’s a dangerous world for a mage in Sorcerous Rivalry. In the years after a Great Mage Hunt, the King’s long-time mistress and the seven children that she birthed are discovered to be powerful mages. Reshi, the youngest of those children, has managed to hide well enough that the kingdom still has no information on him. But when a Mage Hunter turns up in his small village asking inconvenient questions, Reshi finds himself running to ally himself with his scattered siblings. But while some of his siblings will agree to ally themselves with him, others are more interested in a familial battle royale.
I had a pretty good feeling that I would enjoy this, but I hadn’t expected to be quite as engrossed as I ended up being. Let’s start with the characters since they are probably the strongest aspect of the book. There’s the narrator, Reshi, a shapeshifter who just wants to be able to drink and dance the night away. He’s the kind of charming rogue that I can’t help but love, especially when he’s as damn flirtatious as he is. Then there’s the other main male lead, Kestrel, the mage hunter who scares Reshi from his chosen village of hiding. Kestrel, in contrast to our narrator, is stoic and serious, as dangerous as he is alluring. And of course, both of them have a whole bunch of trauma that they have to work through. As it so happens, this is exactly the kind of romantic pairing that ticks every box that I have. So as soon as the chemistry started to kick in, I was a goner really. The six siblings are all very well written as well, with most of them falling into some category of terrifying, but I won’t go into their pros and cons because that will lead to some major spoiler stuff.
The world looks to be pretty interesting too. While it doesn’t go super into details, there are some cool variations on standard fantasy tropes. For example, Reshi establishes pretty early on that his magical energy doesn’t replenish upon resting as you would expect it would. Instead, he must recharge by siphoning off energy from sleeping people, weighing up the risk of drawing attention by draining too much energy versus not draining enough and risk not being able to shapeshift. There are other details like that that get sprinkled throughout the narrative, which is a nice way to gradually learn about the worldbuilding.

I could never resist the romantic combination of incorrigible flirt and super stoic, so Sorcerous Rivalry was always going to win me over with the main characters. The rest of the cast is equally engaging and the world is enough of a variation from the standard fantasy setting to be interesting whilst still being reasonably familiar. I absolutely love this book and will definitely be looking at the sequel at some stage. 5/5

Next review: Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher

Signing off,
Nisa.

Confessions of an English Opium-Eater by Thomas de Quincey

I vaguely remember picking this up as part of a sale on Wordsworth Classics, along with Wings of the Dove. After the disappointment that I had with my last classic pick, I was hoping that the unusual subject matter of opium would hook me better than Henry James would.

Confessions of an English Opium-Eater is an account of Thomas de Quincey’s experiences with opium. Addicted after he treated himself with laudanum as a painkiller, he decided to recount the surreal visions that it caused him.
I was actually looking forward to reading Confessions of an English Opium-Eater because what’s a more stereotypically Victorian drug than opium? I figured it would be interesting or at least a laugh. That is if it ever got there. I got through the updated introduction and part way through his explanation of how he got hooked on opium, and I had to stop because I was literally falling asleep at my desk trying to read it. He’d start talking on a point and go on a completely unrelated tangent that is of absolutely no interest to the reader. Like when he stated that he was first introduced to opium as a painkiller, he wraps that bit up nice and quickly, only to whinge for several pages about how another author slandered him and his opium usage. And it just wasn’t a fair representation. And it’s not like the other guy can talk, considering that he also uses opium. Stuff like that, that would just drag the pace to a complete snail’s crawl. I know that my pledge when I started this blog was to complete books if at all possible, but there comes a point where it just isn’t worth it.

I wanted to like Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, but the only thing I find myself able to recommend it for is as a sleeping aid. 1/5

Next review: Sorcerous Rivalry by Kayleigh Nicol

Signing off,
Nisa.

Battle Spire by Michael R. Miller

I’ll admit that I was rather looking forward to Battle Spire, given that the blurb was seriously reminding me of Sword Art Online, an anime series that my partner and I have always thoroughly enjoyed watching together. So a book that looked to be a mix of Sword Art Online and Die Hard was definitely going to catch my interest, especially if I could then recommend it to my partner, who is a lot more particular about their reading tastes than I am.

Battle Spire follows a college student, Jack Kross, who is logging back into a VRMMO after a year’s abstinence from gaming. Aiming to legitimise his hobby by making money as a gold farmer, he picks the Scavenger class, which is really not intended to be used in combat, but will increase the number of interesting and expensive things that he can sell to other players and NPCs. Unfortunately for him, just as he’s finished the starter quest he finds that a group of hostile players have taken over the server and prevented anyone logging out. To make matters worse, if he’s killed in-game the VR headset will either give him severe brain damage or kill him. Faced with the prospect of either slowly dehydrating and eventually suffering organ failure in his hotel room or being killed by hostile players, Jack finds himself teaming up with the game’s AI to try and take down the players holding the server hostage.
The comparison to Die Hard was a particularly apt one, considering that it’s one person trapped in a tower taking out opponents through traps and subterfuge. And it was a thoroughly enjoyable read because of it. Given that he is a very low level, he can’t engage in any direct combat, so he has to come up with a lot of out-of-the-box, game-breaking strategies to beat all of the high-level players pitted against him. I think the primary strength that makes all of the game-breaking stuff work is the depth with which the game world is described. Everything comes into play, from character stats to how the server deals with NPC respawn rate to NPC behaviours, and that level of detail really pays off. I will say that the level of detail was, at least at first, kind of disconcerting. The thing that comes to mind is when Jack is first creating his character. At this point, he has already explained to the reader what character and class he will be rolling up, so I thought that the character creation process would be more or less glossed over. Instead, all the different options that the game made available at each stage are detailed for the reader to look over, and damn if they don’t genuinely sound like something you’d get in World of Warcraft or Guild Wars. There was a part of me that worried that this might get a bit overbearing, because that level of detail is present throughout the book, as it appears with every level-up and change of weapon. I personally found that it helped with immersion, but I could possibly see people who were hoping for something a bit lighter on background flavour.
In terms of characters, the main two that the reader gets are pretty good. There’s Jack, also known as Zoran, a hardcore gamer who loves the rush that he gets from an MMO, but isn’t sure that it’s healthy for him in the long run. He kind of starts out as the kind of player that I avoid in MMOs, but has a decent character arc that addresses those sorts of issues. Then there’s the game’s controlling AI, dubbed Ellie by Jack for lack of a better name. She’s probably the more interesting of the two, alternating between emotionless robot, concerned server mum and shifty, untrustworthy frenemy. I loved the interaction between the two of them, and how both keep surprising each other.

I was a bit predisposed to like Battle Spire, since it promised a lot of things that I loved about Sword Art Online. While the stakes don’t necessarily feel as high in Battle Spire, I was still thoroughly gripped and entertained by the story. The game world that has been created is interesting and definitely somewhere that I would like to see explored further. The features that define it as a video game are used really cleverly, much more than I’d expected. And lastly, the characters are solid and reasonably likeable. Overall, a thoroughly entertaining read. 4.5/5

Next review: Confessions of an English Opium-Eater by Thomas de Quincey

Signing off,
Nisa.

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