The Lessons Never Learned (The War Eternal #02) by Rob J. Hayes – Book Review

The second act of a fantasy trilogy is the one a series lives or dies by. A first impression is important, but following up on the promises the opening of a series makes…well, many a novel has faltered there. The Lessons Never Learned, however, does an admirable job of following up on the threads first […]

The Lessons Never Learned (The War Eternal #02) by Rob J. Hayes – Book Review

The Faith Machine by Tone Milazzo — Book Review (Storytellers On Tour)

The Faith Machine is one of the strangest, most bizarre books I’ve read in recent memory, and no less fun for it. With spies, psychic abilities, tons of action and betrayal, Milazzo’s novel channels Cold War thrillers mixed with almost Marvel-scale superpowers in a juggling act that was consistently entertaining throughout!

Where shall I begin? This novel follows a three-act structure, the first taking place in Africa, the second in America, and the third in North Korea; each one takes about a hundred-and-something pages of this 392-page novel, and each has enough going on to make for its own tiny novella, if the author had so chosen.

There are plenty of laughs to be had in The Faith Machine, based on all kinds of hilarious situations and exchanges between characters, as well as plenty of pop references. The novel is hilarious enough to make you forget all about the fact that this is an “ESPionage” story, unafraid to pull its punches, willing to go in some dark, disturbing places. Some of the imagery is downright shocking, and the trials some of the character

And the characters are a likable lot, all eight of the ensemble. There’s Dr. Park, the leader of the team, a Korean-American psychologist tasked wtih the enormous responsibility of keeping seven Cards (psychic spies), unstable one and all, together, as they . I won’t go over each and every one of the Cards, but I thought they made for wonderful characters. They’re bursting with personality from the very first time you come across them on the page:

A dusky young woman in an AC/DC belly shirt came running down the drive, swinging an ax after a man in a dirty T-shirt and boxers. “Jacob! I told you I didn’t wanna be on the internet!” Her unkempt brown hair bounced with her wild gait as she closed in.
Gabby stopped trying to kill Jacob whe she sawPark and Ainia. “Oh, hi, Park! What are you doin’ here?” She let the ax hit the ground.

Few things better than ax-wielding ladies in AC/DC shirts, I always say. I appreciate how divergant the cast is — these are folks from all walks of life, and the author does an admirable job of giving them unique, nuanced voices. For the most part — occasionally, a line read across as unpolished or as the author’s unbridled commentary, but that was a very, very rare occurance indeed! Further, I would’ve liked some more time spent with the leader of the ensemble, Dr. Park, whose last stretch of development I can’t help but feel didn’t conclude so much as stop in place.

The twists and turns are a delight — so many red herrings, very well executed. I did sense the last big twist coming, but a few of the smaller ones along the way blindsided me, which is something I am all for!

I admired the prose — it nails that pulpy feel of Cold War-era spy thrillers. The style is clear, exact, always directing the reader into any given scene with precision.

I will say, I’m glad I did not read the entire blurb on Goodreads before I picked this one up, because it spoils the first third of the novel. Bit of a strange choice, that.

My score for The Faith Machine is 4/5 stars! It had some elements I wasn’t sold on, but make no mistake, this is a solid sci-fi thriller, one well-worth your time.

Catalyst by Tracy Richardson – Book Review (Ultimate Blog Tour)

DNF’d at 45%.

Catalyst is one of those rare books that I just couldn’t continue on with — I found very little that worked for me in this piece of paranormal disaster fiction.

The prose is servicable — neither complex nor beautiful, it does provide crisp, clear description of what is going on, of who is speaking to whom, and of any details that need the reader’s attention drawn. The main characters are teenagers and university students, all of whom have individual traits but all, except one, have the same ideological background and share in each other’s beliefs to such an extent that I often found myself unsure which character corresponded to which name tag. I cannot, for the life of me, picture how any of them look — which speaks to me of descriptions that lacked that extra something that makes characters memorable and easy to visualize. The dialogue was good — it wasn’t stilted, the conversations were written well and the back-and-forth was believable.

I didn’t like the protagonist — her point of view failed to suck me in, I found her inner monologue hard to believe and, frankly, obnoxious.

Now, about the environmental issue at hand here, and how it is discussed. I’ve been reading a lot of climate change/disaster fiction of late — just yesterday, I wrapped up a Disaster Studies course at uni, and I’ve realised there are two kinds of disaster fiction books. The first makes its points with eloquence and style, introduces not just one side of a given argument but both of them, and offers a weighed argument towards the dangers of climate change and humanity’s central part in causing it — one example that does admirable job at it is Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver.

The second beats you over the head with its messaging, without bothering to dig in real deep in what drives the everyday proponents of fracking in the USA. Yes, one of the characters talks non-stop about how fracking “will make America energy sufficient and get those Arab Muslims off our back” or something along those lines, but that’s surface-level reasoning; the author could’ve, should have, dug further into the other side’s argument. And hey, maybe she did — there’s over a hundred pages left of this book, but those are pages I won’t ever read. From what I did read, Catalyst leans more heavily towards this second kind of disaster fiction than towards the first.

There’s little of substance here — not the kind of substance that could make someone who does not believe in the environmental dangers of fracking to buy into them. A book like Catalyst seems to alienate precisely the people who most need to be convinced of the massive environmental dangers of fracking, and that is a shame.

Maybe you’ll like it — if you enjoy talk about the Fifth Dimension and living energy that can be created through meditation and communion with nature. Perhaps you’ll like the characters, or you won’t take the same issues I did with the environmental issues and how they were covered. For me, however, this just did not work. My score for Catalyst is 2 out of 5 stars.

DOOM Eternal Review: Nearly a Masterpiece

Here it is, my latest gaming review/essay on Doom Eternal’s design! Take a look, I’m happy how it turned out.

DOOM Eternal is the most intense first-person shooter I have ever played and would’ve been a masterpiece, if not for a few strange, bizarre, and downright bad design decisions which take away from the experience. Which is a shame, because the underlying design philosophy of DOOM Eternal is excellent.

There’s also a story! I don’t think anyone much cares for it, so I spoil it a bit — but this is Doom, you really shouldn’t care about the story.

Update on the Denuvo Anti-Cheat Software I speak about at video’s end: Over the last few days (as of 25.05.2020) DOOM Eternal’s executive producer Marty Stratton announced that the software will indeed be removed come the next patch of the game: “Despite our best intentions, feedback from players has made it clear that we must reevaluate our approach to anti-cheat integration,” Stratton said. Good riddance, I say.

Blight Marked (Ethereal Earth #3) by Josh Erikson: Book Review Excerpt

Hullo, everyone! I got a gig as Assistant Editor for the Fantasy Hive, which means that I’ll be posting plenty of fantasy reviews over on the site. I’m beyond excited to get started, so without further ado, here’s the link to the first one, my review of Josh Erikson’s Blight Marked!

Below, of course, you’ll find an excerpt of the review:

“Josh Erikson continues to astound in Blight Marked, the third outing of the Ethereal Earth series,” is how I began writing this review. Then, I realized I’d said something almost exactly the same in my review for Josh’s previous book, Fate Lashed. I hate to repeat myself – it would be nice, JOSH, if you screwed up once in a blue moon. (!) Would make my job a lot EASIER, Josh!

But no, Josh Erikson does an excellent job indeed, chronicling the continued exploits of former con artist Gabriel Delling in his boldest adventure yet. Never have the stakes been as high as in Blight Marked, with the Darkness that ends universes encroaching on our own. Gabe and his allies, armed with guns, pointy things, and a dash of magic, find themselves racing against the literal End Times in their attempt to collect the only magical items in the world that may hold the Darkness back from ending reality. Ambitious lot, Gabe and his pals!

Unfortunate, then, that their efforts have not gone unnoticed. As a result of Gabe and Heather’s activities during the climax of Fate Lashed, everyone who doesn’t know our protagonists well enough to trust them has it in mind that Gabey is up to no good. That means a whole slew of new enemies making the life of our charming leads harder. Templars, pointy-eared fae, the bloody sasquatch, Blight Marked has it all!

Read more at fantasy-hive.co.uk!

Sunday Star Wars: Darth Maul by Cullen Bunn – Graphic Novel Review

I enjoy works set out as prequels to the prequel trilogy – Master and Apprentice is one of my most favourite reads. I didn’t always like Darth Maul, but catching up on the Clone Wars series has warmed me up to ol’ Red’n’Spiky! And if I needed another reason, just look at that cover. It would make for a great effin’ movie poster in its own right. To make things better, the internal art is no less impressive from the get-go:

What’s this graphic novel about?

Darth Maul grows restless as his master bides his time and weaves his web, awaiting for the opportunity to strike. So restless, in fact, that when Darth Sidious sends him on a task to aid the Sith’s allies in the Trade Federation, the dark apprentice jumps at the mention of a Jedi Padawan caught and held for sale to the highest bidder by a criminal, Xev Xrexus, on the planet of Nar Shaddaa. Maul’s help to the Trade Federation, for the record, is offered by way of executing dozens of aliens unhappy with the illegal operations the Federation deals in. Just in case you thought he was a good Samaritan or some such nonsense.

As you plainly see, Maul is all too happy to help his friends and allies at the Federation.

His first appearance on the very particular hive of scum and villainy that is Nar Shaddaa is stylish:

The Sith definitely have a stylistic edge over the Jedi. Might that have something to do with how Palpatine got one over that little green muppet?

Of course, criminals don’t like the kind of questions Maul asks, and before long, he’s fighting a good half dozen of them. Enter a few familiar faces from Season 2 of the Clone Wars!

I never was a fan of Cad Bane but plenty of folks out there are. Don’t get me wrong, I can see the appeal – he’s very much the kind of character that draws inspiration from the Western aspects of the Star Wars Saga – the kind of mercantile villain riding from one town to the next, caring precious little about the moral hue of his actions, long as his pockets line up. Something always bugged me where he was concerned. Aurra Sing is more my speed – she’s observant and has fine intuition.

There’s a tragedy to Maul, too. Stolen from his birth mother by Palpatine, fed the worst of his poison, taught only to hate and to destroy — there’s plenty appealing to the Zabrak warrior. As the result of the training he has received, his philosophy is very different to that of Sidious:

These panels, digging into Maul’s way of thinking and revealing aspects to him hitherto unseen are likely my most favourite element of this entire graphic novel. The parallels he draws to his Master, the differences he sees, make him an awful lot more interesting a character:

Eldra Kaitis, the Jedi Padawan captured, makes for an excellent foil to Maul. He wants her to fear him, yet she does not; he seeks vengeance for past wrongs but she has little interest in them; The conversations they have in issue four are only equaled by their excellent duel in the final issue in this volume. From her first appearance to her last moments, she encapsulates some of my favourite elements about the Jedi Order.

Also, she’s a very hot twi’lek, and y’all know I can’t say no to that.

Every page of the duel between Maul and Eldra showcases the finest in the art of Luke Ross. Listen to Duel of the Fates while you read Issue #5, I promise, you will not regret it.

I cannot heap enough praise on that last issue, in fact. It does so many things right – as does the entire volume. The consistent art, the excellent characterization, even the bounty hunters’ side adventure; these make for an excellent, self-contained story that I won’t soon forget.

And here’s one of my favourite quotes, on a panel that isn’t much to look at (one of those panels that set up location, I don’t mean that it’s drawn badly or anything of that sort):

My Master…
If he knew about my plans…
Would likely find this amusing.

Like the very best Star Wars comics in the neo-Marvel era, this easily fits to the Clone Wars animated format – it reads much like It’s solid work, and one of my favourite graphic novels in the Star Wars universe. I’m happy to give it a score of five out of five stars on Goodreads!

Join me again next week for another dose of Sunday Star Wars!

Sunday Star Wars: Doctor Aphra, Vol. 04 Catastrophe Con by Simon Spurrier and Kev Walker

Some spoilers ahead.

This is the most conflicted I’ve been when it comes to poor, tortured Chelli Aphra. On one hand, some of the dialogue in the second and third issues of this volume make for a downright gag-inducing reaction. Some of the jokes are bad, owed to the kind of self-referential humour you’d get from someone who is all too-aware of the Star Wars franchise, rather than from someone who lives and breathes in the universe.

On the other hand…in the later issues, some ridiculous awesomeness transpires, courtesy of everyone’s favourite Dark Lord of the Sith, Darth Vader!

What I expected to be little more than a cameo turned into a full-blown appearance which, as always, had lasting consequences for our favourite evil archeaologist. He’s such an enormous part of Aphra’s identity in the Star Wars universe and whether by his absence or his presence, Vader’s shadow defines Aphra’s status quo and shapes her actions.

Speaking of, Aphra’s voice remains consistent with what the ever-brilliant Kieron Gillen set out in the first edition of Darth Vader and again in the first two volumes of this run of Doctor Aphra. The moments when Aphra goes to absolute insane degrees of singular purpose just to enrich herself and satisfy her curiosity…these are when this volume and run both are at its finest.

‘Sir’ knows Aphra so well.

Despite my complaints, some of the issues click and come together exactly because of Aphra’s personality, as well as thanks to the drama some of her supporting characters (Magna, in the picture above) bring to the table. The conflict is solid and the emotional highs are quite high.

I saw one of the two final twists coming a mile away, and I really wish the author hadn’t gone with what he did — but I’ll admit to being morbidly curious as to how Aphra will get out of her latest gauntlet.

I find that I’ve gotten exhausted by evil C-3PO-alike, Triple Zero, as well as by his little astromech helper. Though that problem is somewhat addressed, I’d gladly see the once-amusing droid come to an unfortunate end in the next volume. He’s overstayed his welcome as is.

My score for this is a very tentative 3.5 out of 5 stars – I wanted to go higher, I wanted to go lower. I hope the next volume doesn’t suffer from some of the problems of this one. If you’ve stuck around for this long…Catastrophe Con still makes for an engaging Doctor Aphra story, despite some issues.

I read this through Comixology’s Unlimited Subscription – sweet!

Month-in-Review: April 2020 At the Grimoire Reliquary

April was a great month for the blog in terms of views, my best to date! I had over seven hundred views which, granted, is what anyone who is anyone gets in a microsecond – but I’m well-pleased with it. What do I owe that to?

I Experienced A New World With The Girl and the Stars by Mark Lawrence

Mark Lawrence shared and retweeted my review of his latest release a bunch of times, and that seems to have done the trick! I appreciate the eyeballs – The Girl and the Stars is one of those fantasy books that awakened in me a sense of wonder and excitement. Its protagonist, Yaz, is a survivor and a fighter, and a decent human being faced with enormous hardship.

You can read the proper review here.

I Found True Joy with Giant Days Volumes 01 and 02

Ah Esther. Esther, Esther, Esther. It’s so rare that I find a fictional character who I can crush on because of how bloody similar I am to them. But I have found you, Esther, and nothing will tear us apart!

Giant Days by John Allison is comedic slice-of-life gold. The heroes are the trio of friends, Esther, Daisy and Susan, whose University adventures make for some of the funniest, most adorable everyday adventures I’ve come across in recent memory. I’ve spoken about the first volume at length here, and about the second one here. Both are so frickin’ goooooooood!!!

A Whole Bunch of Star Wars Nonsense

Well, to be fair, I have my work cut out for me, having written a post whose sole reason for existing is to remind me that I’ve got plenty of stuff to catch up on. The catching up has begun with the two volumes of Star Wars: Rebels’ Kanan. I should warn you: The Last Apprentice is better than First Blood. Just by a little, but it’s noticeable enough.

I Inspected the Mysteries of the Ancient Greeks in my Essay on Medea!

Vengeance, Bloody Vengeance…In Medea, the tragic could not be of a more personal nature. This is a tale of a woman scorned, a wife betrayed by the father of her children, for whom she’s spilled the blood of countrymen and kin alike. Medea, child of king Aeëtes of Colchis and granddaughter of Circe, grew up in the territory of present-day Georgia. The easternmost shores of the Black Sea were, to the Hellenistic people, a “wild place” (Paul Roche, Introduction to Medea). Though she bears the blood of the sun god Helios, she is foreign to the inner world of Ancient Greece.

To read the whole essay, click here.

Last but not least…

I Caught Up on Reviewing One of My Most Fun Reads of Last Year – Traitor’s Blade by Sebastian de Castell…

…Even if I didn’t give it five stars, I enjoyed it plenty! Fun book, and I’m looking forward to listening to the rest of the tetralogy.

It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences by June Casagrande – Book Review

It’s rare that you find a book on sentence construction that has so warm a tone. June Casagrande’s It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Longest of Titles is an excellent guide on writing, chock-full of common and uncommon issues that plague the amateur and the intermediate writer alike.

“A writer’s guide to crafting killer sentences,” the cover quips at you, and with good reason — why, only yesterday I wrote a sentence so sharp, my fingers are still bleeding. Casagrande offers so much in this tiny 220-page package; her half-amusing hatred of semi-colons alone makes the price of admission well worth it.

What topics can you look forward to reading about? Murderous conjuctions, unparalleled parallels, gerunds to dream nightmares of, and my favourite – short versus long sentences. Plus, appendixes full of well-explained grammar, punctuation and more. It ain’t Tolkien-level extensive but it’s English, not Elvish.

A small complaint – as someone who has studied English for a long time now, plenty of the grammar explanations were at a very basic level. If you’re a grammar noobie, though, this might offer some extra value!

Jokes aside, I learned a lot from this one. Some of the concepts introduced in the chapters, I knew at an intuitive level. Others were familiar. A few surprised me. Either way, I’m glad to have a deeper understanding than I did before, thanks to Casagrande’s approachable book. I’ll be coming back to it time and again. In fact…

I’m planning on writing a post for each chapter of the book over the coming weeks – I’ll need something to do come summer!