Hellequin: Born of Hatred Review

This is Nathan Garret’s second adventure. It’s a complete story on its own, but does build off of events in Crimes Against Magic (book 1). Better to start there.

 

Nathan Garrett’s former identity is dead and buried. But when a case he takes for a friend recalls elements of one from his past involving an evil even Hellequin had trouble with, Nate might need the edge and ruthlessness he once had.

 

hellequin2

 

This second installment if the Hellequin series is slightly more straight forward than the first, with fewer surprises and more full blown exposition. However the disparate mythologies blend even better here and a great batch of new characters carry things along nicely. We find out more about Nate’s world, the different creatures that inhabit it, and the societal structures that go along with it all. I really like how things are developing in a world building sense.

The past admittedly still somehow drags compared to the present despite a lot of action and danger. It does pick up eventually and everything comes together nicely in the end but it is a small mark against the book as it’s roughly divided in half between past and present and one is far more interesting than the other. Overall it feels very different from Crimes Against Magic, but I enjoyed Born of Hatred just as much and it continued to establish Hellequin as one of my favorite series.

 

Hellequin: Crimes Against Magic Review

In early 1400’s France a wandering warrior with Chinese weapons faces werewolves among a massacred city. In present day Southampton a thief with no past and a secret talent for magic charms his way through heists and carefully deals with the dangerous family ties of his associates.

 

 

If it sounds like I’m describing the premises of two different books I understand – that’s how I felt reading for a majority of Crimes Against Magic. The two parallel tales are connected of course, but the general atmosphere and tone was so different the switching back and forth was somewhat jarring. The past timeline also became much less compelling than the present during the middle of the book. Despite plenty of action and solid plot progression it still seemed to primarily exist for exposition.

I’m mentioning this all up front because it’s directly connected to trying to give an idea of what the book is about and is worthwhile criticism to mention. I don’t want to give the wrong idea though – Crimes Against Magic rises above these small issues and is a pretty great read overall.

A large part of that success is due to a variety of engaging and intriguing characters, particularly our narrator Nathan Garrett. He has as much to learn about himself and the strangeness of his world as he already knows, but he’s experienced enough to make things interesting even when in over his head. McHugh gives even minor characters little touches of depth that add significantly to the narrative and connection with the reader.

Like with the characters and some general plot elements, the world building take familiar elements from various genres and combines and uses them to great effect in unique ways. Concepts and folklore are pulled from some many sources there are almost too many mythologies and creatures blended in, but as it all connects logically and is tightly connected to the plot and characters it ends up working well.

One last thing I’d like to praise is the storytelling. Mysteries are unraveled gradually and with careful precision. My favorite type of book is one that foreshadows enough that I piece together some of the major developments from provided hints but still manages to surprise me. I got both here in abundance, including a couple of wonderfully shocking turns and a strong ending that have me very excited about continuing with the series.

So while it does feel at times that the author tried to fit a little too much in one book, I really enjoyed Crimes Against Magic and it’s an easy recommendation for any fan of urban fantasy.

Prime Suspects: A Clone Detective Mystery Review

“How do you solve your own murder when you are the only suspect?”

 

15840895

 

David Bagini thinks he’s a homicide detective who just woke up on a strange planet and is not particularly fond of clones or clone contracts. It actuality he’s the 42nd clone of David, created from a sample years old, who’s been given life for one reason: to find his original’s killer.

Prime Suspects is a neat blend of science fiction, mystery and police procedural. The world Bernheimer set up is imaginative and captivating, with long lines of clones of exceptional people acting as a type of indentured servant. David Forty-Two’s struggle to learn about the society he now lives in and his expected role is wonderfully told and nicely balanced with a suspenseful, twisting investigation.

I’m a big fan of all the genres touched upon in Prime Suspects, and really enjoyed the way they were blended. Add in an engrossing story, solid writing and unique characters and ideas and it’s an extremely interesting and compelling read.

 

Hellequin: Promise of Wrath Review

This is Nathan Garret’s sixth adventure. It’s a complete story on its own, but several long running plotlines are coming together in this penultimate book in the series. Do not start here – go back to Crimes Against Magic (book 1).

 

hellequin6

 

The former and once again Hellequin, Nate Garrett, has gathered allies to respond to impending events that would threaten the balance of power in Avalon. His enemies have careful plans though, and things never go quite as Nate intends.

As usual for the the Hellequin series Promise of Wrath goes back and forth between the present and related events in Nate’s past. Various schemes of Nate’s enemies are building to a crescendo so there are a lot of important developments and reveals in all of the various times and places featured. Several long running themes and story threads come together here, as appropriate for the series’ penultimate adventure.

I found Promise of Wrath to be a bit of a return to form for the series after the last installment (Lies Ripped Open). That book was ok overall, but it felt a bit stagnant as well as ending with a development I didn’t care for at all in the context of the series. The plot recovers nicely here, with said development actually leading to unexpected and intriguing story points. I hope things continue in this vein in the final book rather than going with the climax I expected.

There are still a multitude of things to explain and deal with in the remaining book, but McHugh’s juggled a lot in each installment so far and I feel like he should be able to bring everything to a satisfactory conclusion. Looking forward to it and I hope things don’t run out of steam as this highly enjoyable series wraps up.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time Book Review

“One of Tsutsui’s best-known and most popular works in his native Japan, The Girl Who Leapt through Time is the story of fifteen-year-old schoolgirl Kazuko, who accidentally discovers that she can leap back and forth in time. In her quest to uncover the identity of the mysterious figure that she believes to be responsible for her paranormal abilities, she’ll constantly have to push the boundaries of space and time, and challenge the notions of dream and reality.”

From the title and back cover one would never know this book is a collection of two novellas. It honestly also over dramatizes things a bit.

 

girlwholeapt

 

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

The titular story is the big draw here, being somewhat famous due to inspiring a successful anime film of the same name (as well as several live action adaptations and spin offs).

I adore the anime and was interested to check out the source material. They’re a little closer than I expected since the anime stars the niece of the main character here. It’s as if they wanted to adapt the story but with the freedom to expand and change it so made it about someone else. If you’ve seen/read neither I’d recommend watching the anime first, as it achieves an unfolding sense of wonder that I think would be mitigated otherwise. The book raised some questions about the film, as a couple of details don’t quite gel with what I remember. I want to watch it again with this in mind.

It’s a very quick read, partially due to a functional, no-nonsense writing style. Not sure if it’s translation or the original text, but while not bad the style is a bit flat and the narrative would have benefitted from something more engaging. There’re also exposition dumps at times that are awkward. I liked the story overall though, and it was interesting to check out the anime’s inspiration. I think this is one of the rare cases where the adaptation far outdid the original though.

 

The Stuff that Nightmares are Made Of

The second story of this collection features a high school girl dealing with deep seated, seemingly irrational fear. This parallels with her younger brother, who’s ridiculed for being a coward and preferring to play with girls than boys. The core concept and the way everything plays out is fine, but it suffers even more from the plain writing style than the previous story and really needed a little flair to elevate the subject matter. There’s some troubling themes mixed in with the strong ones too.

I don’t have much more to say here because it’s not particularly good or bad and thus pretty unremarkable. It’s inclusion feels like padding because the first story was deemed too short to publish alone, especially since it’s not even acknowledged in any way in the title or description. Someone picking this up unaware would have no reason to believe the titular story wasn’t the full 170 pages, when it’s actually close to half that (97 pages of the 170).

 

Overall this is a mediocre collection that’s more interesting in theory than it is impressive in execution, with the presentation holding back a couple of strong story ideas. The titular story (and main attraction) is still quite decent, but if you’re only going to experience that story one way choose the anime.

 

Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers vol 1 Light Novel Review

“Seven heroes gather to save the world – but the legends spoke of only six.”

rokka

 

This first book in the Rokka series is a compelling mystery in a fantasy setting which I found captivating to a “can’t put it down” extent. Adlet is a great point of view character, and his companions are a nicely diverse bunch with backgrounds and agendas that conflict in ways to keep the reader guessing. One character in particular (who I’ll avoid naming or discussing in detail due to spoilers) had an unexpected and layered backstory that added significant depth and tension to the unfolding story.

Adlet and the other potential heroes are confined in a dangerous situation with reason to distrust each other, and that simple core concept is built upon beautifully to sustain the story right until the end. There are numerous surprising yet well developed twists intermixed with legitimate hints, and the inability of the reader to tell which was which created a wonderful level of suspense throughout. It was hard to guess exactly where things would go because several potential resolutions made sense, which is a wonderful thing for a mystery to achieve. While certain things could have used more explanation, the way the story played out was excellent overall. I’m not sure how I feel about the developments in the epilogue and what it means for the next book, but there is potential there so we’ll see how it goes.

Unlike other recent light novels published over here by Yen On that have frustrated me with the style and translation (I’m looking at you, Re: Zero), the writing in this one was fantastic. It flowed extremely well and enhanced the increasing sense of danger and suspense as events escalated.

I came into this intrigued by the premise and found something even better than I expected that’s easily among my favorites of all the light novels I’ve read. I hope the series can maintain the momentum built from this strong start.

Re: Zero vol 1 Light Novel Review

Unmotivated nobody Subaru Natsuki has somehow stumbled into another world. “Prepared” in a sense for this unexpected occurrence by a lifetime of anime, he prepares to explore the fantasy world he’s entered and any dangers it holds while wondering if he’s gained any special powers. If he has, it may not be as useful as he hopes.

 

rezero

 

I’ve hardly been so simultaneously interested and annoyed as when reading this light novel. The concept is decent, there are good action moments, and SOME of the humor works…

..but a lot of the humor is overdone and/or unfunny, the main character is generally unlikable, and the writing style is atrocious. The attempts at self depreciation, such as Subaru repeatedly commenting how he’s a disaffected youth “poisoned by anime,” is more odd and off putting than amusing.  He’s also pretty dense and it all combines to make him someone to be tolerated rather than interested in.

In the writing there’s constant redundancy of describing everything from Subaru’s point of view then summarizing the same thing again in dialog or his thoughts that’s clunky and unneeded. On top of that issue is extremely awkward phrasing that made the book a chore to get through. Whether the primary cause overall was the original text or the translation is unclear (and it’s likely to be a bit of both).

But there are obvious instances of poor translation. For example, there is an exchange joking about two characters’ ages prompted by the line “Well, it’s been a long time since anyone’s called me a girl.” Except no one did. The proceeding line is “She looks really used to fighting, despite her being a woman.” While I was able to follow the idea regardless and it may seem like a small error, using “woman” instead of “girl” there is clearly an inconsistency and there are similar things throughout the book. Writing that repeatedly draws attention to itself in such a way significantly hampers immersion. 

Capping it all off is an approach that’s the epitome of telling instead of showing (this of course likely stems from the source text). Expectation versus reality is conveyed by endless exposition, with characters’ feelings being stated and described instead of felt. Not only does this tend to flatten the emotional impact of the story, over describing insignificant things takes away from the key moments when the extensive detail is appropriate (and as I mentioned earlier there are a few such moments that are very well done).

The pacing of the book is also hampered a bit by the production. If you somehow manage to avoid the spoiler on the back cover (which I had) about something that’s not really explained until a third to halfway through the book, it’s spoiled anyway in the color pages under the character descriptions. Since those descriptions came from the original publication perhaps it was never meant to be much of a secret, but knowing more than is explicitly revealed in the book itself for so long was another aspect contributing to make reading long sections specifically building up to that realization boring.

 

It’s a shame really, as again the core premise is intriguing. The way the author acknowledges and plays with genre conventions has great potential if refined/reigned in a bit, and the cast is a reasonably interesting collection of mysterious misfits. There are some plot issues that really should have been addressed in this book, but signs do point towards them coming up in the future. The epilogue reveals more about the story than the entire proceeding book, which is another pacing problem but admittedly provides a strong hook for the next one.

Overall I wanted to like this a lot more than I actually did. I’m curious about what happens to Subaru and company going forward but can’t see forcing myself to read more. I might try to switch to the anime at some point and see if the storytelling and style feel more natural in that.