BOOK REVIEW: MOON CALLED (Mercy Thompson Book 1)- Patricia Briggs

Mercedes “Mercy” Thompson is a talented Volkswagen mechanic living in the Tri-Cities area of Washington. She also happens to be a walker, a magical being with the power to shift into a coyote at will. Mercy’s next-door neighbor is a werewolf. Her former boss is a gremlin. And she’s fixing a bus for a vampire. This is the world of Mercy Thompson, one that looks a lot like ours but is populated by those things that go bump in the night. And Mercy’s connection to those things is about to get her into some serious hot water.. 

Moon Called is the first in Briggs’ urban fantasy series featuring Mercy Thompson, a ‘walker’ (were-coyote) mechanic, who inhabits an alternate universe where super naturals live alongside humans. When she discovers that a mysterious organisation is experimenting on werewolves, she finds herself thrown deeper still into the dangerous world of supernatural politics.

In this novel, Briggs manages to craft a fantasy world that is both well executed and engaging. A problem that is prevalent in many other fantasy works is that the writer will bombard the reader with numerous supernatural races at once and then fail to develop them; the result is a story full of half formed, two dimensional species that are only distinguished by one or two different traits. This is a problem that Briggs manages to avoid; instead of overloading the reader with multiple races all at once, she introduces them one at a time and gives us details about their powers and their culture before moving on to the next one. The original lore of each species has clearly been well researched, and she combines this with her own invention to create a really unique take on the different species she introduces.

She has also created a decent heroine in Mercy Thompson. Mercy is a strong and likeable protagonist who can hold her own story and keep her head in a tense situation. Unlike with some writers who must resort to having their heroines constantly breaking down into soap operatic outbursts  in order to convey emotion, Briggs manages to express Mercy’s feelings with a great deal of sensitivity and subtlety.

The world and the characters are enjoyable enough to read about. The story moves forward at a steady pace that will keep the pages turning, though even towards the end the action never really heats up. The focus of the story is on the characters and the supernatural world rather than the main plotline. The action sequences are well done and entertaining, although Briggs never quite manages to create the kind of tension or suspense that will have you gripping the edge of your seat.

When the antagonist and their scheme were revealed I was left a little unconvinced, however. The extremes they went to seemed somewhat unnecessary for what they hoped to achieve. I could not help but think that there were numerous less convoluted methods they could have used to achieve the same goal.

Although this is not a tense novel by any standard, it is a quick and enjoyable read. I would recommend this for fans of urban fantasy that want a bit of light escapism.

RATING: 3.5 / 5

FEBRUARY: BOOK OF THE MONTH

It’s already been a month and I’ve reviewed  a lot of different books. Below are just a few of the novels and short stories I’ve looked at. Most of them have been of such an excellent quality , and filled with so many great characters, that choosing my favorites was difficult. However, there were some stories that absolutely blazed while the others merely glittered, so without further ado, here’s my pick for the best stories of the month.

Continue reading FEBRUARY: BOOK OF THE MONTH

The Japanese mythology of Okami (part 1)

Okami was an absolutely brilliant game. It had a very traditional Japanese feel, and took you on an adventure through a land of asian fairy tales full of blooming cherry blossoms, Dragon kings and bunny princesses. However, to us Westerners who grew up with the fairy tales told by Brothers Grimm,Hans Christian Anderson and (more to the point) Disney, some of the references were baffling in this game. Well be baffled no more, as I’m going to explain the mythology behind the game. Continue reading The Japanese mythology of Okami (part 1)

BOOK REVIEW: THE ASSASSIN’S CURSE (THE EMPEROR’S EDGE)- by Lindsay Buroker

When outlaws Amaranthe and Sicarius chance upon spies stealing military prototypes, they immediately give chase. Well, immediately after Amaranthe talks Sicarius, former assassin and all-around non-altruistic type, into the mission. She wants an imperial pardon, and what better way to attract the emperor’s favor than by looking after the empire’s interests?

What seems like a straightforward mission develops a hitch when the spies flee to Darkcrest Isle, a forbidding chunk of land reputed to be haunted. Amaranthe isn’t quick to believe in tales of malevolent spirits, so she’s startled when the ever-pragmatic and unflappable Sicarius shows reluctance at setting foot on the island. Only when it may be too late to escape does Amaranthe come to understand why.

The Assassin’s Curse takes place in the  world of Buroker’s The Emporor’s Edge series. I have not read this series before, but I’m happy to report that this really doesn’t matter, because The Assassin’s Curse is an exciting stand a lone tale that does everything that a short story should do.

I would argue that short stories are harder to write than novels because they have to world build, create complex characters and create a fully realized plot with a beginning, middle and end in such a short space. Any weaknesses in pacing can be forgiven in novels (if it picks up later), but any failures are the death knell of s short story.  The Assassin’s curse manages to strike the perfect balance and get all these tricky components spot on.

It begins with our leads, Amaranthe (that name just makes me roll my eyes so much) being put through an intense phys session by her co-warrior, Sicarius. She hears something strange and wants to investigate purely to get out of PT. As someone who’s served in the Armed Forces, I can entirely sympathize with her motive.

The rest is a tightly plotted adventure centring around our hero’s attempt to capture the thief and uncover their motives. The action sequences are all gripping and tightly paced. The world and myth surrounding the island they had to visit was interesting, and even the exposition was fascinating in and of itself. The climax was perfect and the story ended on a bang.

The only downside is Amaranthe herself. Although there’s no explicit romance, Sicarius is clearly going to turn into her love interest later, and she falls into the depressing trend of ‘female characters who are vastly overshadowed by their male love interests’. She’s allegedly the leader of the group, but shows absolutely no leadership qualities whatsoever. Sicarius takes the lead and she follows around like an inept private to . I could start a drinking game with the sheer amount or character fawns over Sicarius saying ‘wow, you’re strong’.

She does defeat the villains i the end, but Sicarius ad to be physically removed from the picture for her to be able to do anything. Having an action protagonist enter a scenerio which you know would be more efficiently handled by their sidekick if they were there really diminishes their capability as protagonist.

Verdict: Ignoring Amaranthe lacking as a protagonist, The Assassin’s Curse is a brilliant action packed short story with a rich world and myth that begs to be expanded on.

Recommend: anyone who wants a quick, exciting fantasy.

Recommended Against: Anyone who wants a strong independent female lead. She’s not bad, but is too much in Sicarius’ shadow that she’s not really a heroine you want to be. Recommend Guardian Of The Spirit or God Save The Queen for a more independent lead.

RATING: 41/2 strikes from an invincible weapon / 5

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REVIEW: HERA- THE GODDESS AND HER GLORY (OLYMPIANS BOOK 3)- By George O’connor

The story of Hera, Queen of the Gods, and the heroes who won her favor.

Volume 3 of Olympians, Hera: The Goddess and Her Glory, introduces readers to the Queen of the Gods and Goddesses in the Pantheon. This volume tells the tales of the many heroes who sought and won Hera’s patronage, most notably Hercules.

In Olympians, O’Connor draws from primary documents to reconstruct and retell classic Greek myths. But these stories aren’t sedate, scholarly works. They’re action-packed, fast-paced, high-drama adventures with monsters, romance, and not a few huge explosions.

O’Connor’s vibrant, kinetic art brings ancient tales to undeniable life, in a perfect fusion of super-hero aesthetics and ancient Greek mythology.

Before there was the Jeremy Kyle show, there was these two: Zeus and Hera, the world’s original high-drama power couple. Zeus and Hera are well known for destroying everyone around them in their explosive marital fights; in what began as a playful debate over which gender gets more pleasure out of sex, Hera ended up blinding Tiresias for taking Zeus’ side- while Zeus in turn gave him ‘special disability powers’ to see into the future. And then there was Hera’s penchant for driving everyone mad. Continue reading REVIEW: HERA- THE GODDESS AND HER GLORY (OLYMPIANS BOOK 3)- By George O’connor

BOOK REVIEW: Guardian Of The Spirit-

You’ve never read a fantasy novel like this one! The deep well of Japanese myth merges with the Western fantasy tradition for a novel that’s as rich in place and culture as it is hard to put down.

Balsa was a wanderer and warrior for hire. Then she rescued a boy flung into a raging river — and at that moment, her destiny changed. Now Balsa must protect the boy — the Prince Chagum — on his quest to deliver the great egg of the water spirit to its source in the sea. As they travel across the land of Yogo and discover the truth about the spirit, they find themselves hunted by two deadly enemies: the egg-eating monster Rarunga . . . and the prince’s own father.

Moribito: Guardian Of The Spirit is the first in a series of nine novels (and counting) that were extremely popular in Japan and adapted into an anime. The first two books were published and translated in the West, but unfortunately the series was cancelled after that. This is a shame, because Moribito is the most engaging YA series I’ve read since The Hunger Games. Continue reading BOOK REVIEW: Guardian Of The Spirit-

BOOK REVIEW: The Experience Machine- Jason Werbeloff

The skullcap sits to one side of the chair. Its snaking wires and sensors throw a Medusa shadow against the basement wall. I touch its plastic. Stroke its wiry hair.

The Machine gives me everything I want. Or the one thing I want. Life in a woman’s body, under the tangerine glow of the Spiral Arm Nebula. But nothing remains the same for long, not even in the timeless worlds of the Experience Machine.

Fantasy; obsession; impossible desire. The Experience Machine is a brilliant dark horror/ science fiction story about living in a world that’s so cold and stifling, that building a machine that allows you to live out any desire is the only way you can be yourself. The happiness found in the Experience Machine comes at a price, however, as our protagonist finds their life in the real world slowly unravelling and each jaunt in the machine taking a dangerous toll on his health.

I think we can all relate to (the unfortunately named) Manfred, as there’s been a time in everyone’s life where things have been so dreadful that you feel like the only escape is to the world of fiction. Manifred’s desire is even more desperate because s/he’s going through the worst struggle of all- feeling like s/he’s in the wrong body and attracted to men in a dysphoria where it seems like transgender/ genderfluid and gay community don’t exist.

I’m currently using male pronouns to describe Manifred/ Mascara because male pronouns that are used throughout the story (and in his cameo in Hedon). Manifred doesn’t use the words ‘trans’, and it is not pinned down whether our protagonist is trans or suffering from gender dysphoria. This makes sense, because the world of Manifred/ Mascara is populated by strawman bigots and Manifred/ Mascara is still young and living with their bigoted religious parents, so they probably lack the freedom and language to fully explore their identity.

Our protagonist’s voice is very well done. The writing and language is very simple, flowing and engaging. We find ourselves gripped by Manifred’s struggles, and by watching him try to straddle between his two worlds- the real world of coldness and bigotry, and the fantasy world of romance and acceptance. Like with a lot of Werbeloff’s other works, the religious people our protagonist has to contend with are presented as crude, strawman bigots who vomit  homophobic bile every time they open their mouths. I might object to this portrayal of homophobia as oversimplified, but sadly, as Werbeloff lives in America- the land of Donald Trump and televangelists- I can’t criticize the portrayal because there’s sadly too much truth in it.

The best part of this story  was its  twisted, brutal and glorious ending. When I started reading this, I was certain I knew how it was going to end, but I was glad to be proven wrong. The ending went full slasher as it devolved into a delicious bloodpath that was sick, graphic and yet refreshing and extremely funny. In his other short stories, Werbeloff often stumbles to make the dismount with his finales, but here he made his landing with Olympic-level form. I have no hesitation to recommend this to anyone who wants to read grizzly sci fi horror dripping with black humour.

RATING: 5 mad scientists/ 5

BADASS PRINCESSES OF THE WEEK- MIDDLE-EASTERN CINDERELLA AND THE WOMAN WHO WOULD BE SULTAN

 

Thought Jasmine and Farah were the toughest Princesses of the Middle East? Well, think again, because after a very, very long break ( I had an apprenticeship, damnit) It’s finally time to look at another brilliant Princess from the World of Fairytales.  We’ve seen Princesses rule over ancient China, get befuddled by sexy strangers and slay dragons, but this time, we’re off to ancient Mesopotamia to visit the cunning Princesses of the ancient Mesopotamian kingdom. Continue reading BADASS PRINCESSES OF THE WEEK- MIDDLE-EASTERN CINDERELLA AND THE WOMAN WHO WOULD BE SULTAN

Best of the Best: Superheroines

Superheroes aren’t just for nerdy comic fans any-more (and as a nerdy anime otaku myself, I use the term with nothing but affection). With dozens of Superhero films coming out this year, they’re more popular now than ever. In this list I’m going to look at the most badass, complex and interesting heroines I’ve come across in comics so far.
Continue reading Best of the Best: Superheroines

BOOK REVIEW:OLYMPIANS: APHRODITE, GODDESS OF LOVE- by George O’connor

Don’t let the fact that this is a comic deceive you; Aphrodite, Goddess of love is one of the most sophisticated and engaging explorations of Greek mythology you’ll ever read. Not only does it give a faithful portrayal of the original Greek myths, but it also elaborates on the characters and explores some of the attitudes behind them.
Continue reading BOOK REVIEW:OLYMPIANS: APHRODITE, GODDESS OF LOVE- by George O’connor