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).

 

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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.

 

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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.”

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

Star Wars: Scoundrels Review

“It was, Han thought, a good day to make 163 million credits.

It would not be such a good day to walk away empty-handed.

It would be a really bad day to get shot.”

Han Solo’s a smuggler, not a conman. But with a growing bounty on his head and a huge score in front of him, he’ll adapt and lead a team of the very best thieves and grifters… that he could find on short notice.

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Timothy Zahn is my favorite writer, and he shines most brightly when expanding and exploring the Star Wars mythos.  In one of the last novels of the Expanded Universe before Lucsarts was bought by Disney, he presents a tale featuring the seedier element of Star Wars’ rogues gallery as Han, Chewbacca, and Lando Calrissian try to rescue someones ill-gotten gains from a neigh-impenetrable safe.

The concept Scoundrels was sold on is “Star Wars meets Ocean’s 11,” and it’s not only apt but I honestly felt Zahn was a little too tied to it in parts. I rolled my eyes when I found out Han’s team would actually have 11 members. They are all used well though and beyond the occasional heavy handed references this is a nice blending of heist tropes and sci-fi elements.

There are a lot of moving parts, agendas, and counter agendas that keep the plot compelling and mysterious until the end. Although I felt it didn’t quite come together as smoothly as some of Zahn’s other novels. The time period it’s set in provides advanced context that’s hard to shake, there are a couple of (thankfully minor) “idiot ball” moments, and at a particular part of the story there are some extremely uncomfortable implications that are totally unneeded. By and large though I enjoyed the journey, and while a couple of the multitude of twists had the edge of “trying too hard” most of them were logical, well done, and entertaining. Zahn also expertly weaves in allusions to his other books and characters without making knowledge of such necessary to follow the plot. It’s a nice treat for those who read everything he’s done but is executed in such a way not to turn off or overwhelm new readers.

I’ve read the prequel novella “Winner Lose All” (included at the end of the paperback) before. It’s a fun little story featuring a handful of characters from Scoundrels. The characterizations didn’t quite mesh between the novel and the novella, but they were still recognizable. Even though it takes place before Scoundrels and was released first to drum up interest, I’d say reading it second (as it’s presented here) is the better choice.

Scoundrels is another solid Star Wars adventure from Zahn, despite not reaching the heights of his other forays. Enjoy the ride.

 

 

 

Triplet Review

Grad student Danae Panya’s has something beyond just her research project in mind when she applies to have Triplet’s most experienced Courier guide her through the highly restricted inner worlds and their respective environments of technology and magic. But any plans either of them have will have to adapt to conflicts from both the inhabitants and environments of their destinations.

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Timothy Zahn is my favorite author, and it’s nice to have a chance to check out works from early in his career that I have not yet read.

I’ve repeatedly praised Zahn’s touch regarding how much detail to provide to make his setting’s come alive without overwhelming the reader or slowing the pace too much, and the world-building here is phenomenal. The worlds of Triplet and the unique natures of each are quite imaginative and intriguing. I actually wanted even more information about the workings and “rules” of each place, but there were reasons for some of the ambiguities.  Experiencing Shamsheer and Karyx along with Danae was thoroughly engaging and fascinating.

Unfortunately while Danae and Ravagin start out equally intriguing to Zahn’s worlds, neither they nor the story quite reach their full potential. About midway through the book the slow building suspense and atmosphere give way to a rather by the numbers action/adventure tale. It’s good, but more events driven than character driven which makes things feel just a little shallow by the end. Zahn would become masterful at balancing plot and twists with character development in later novels.

There are also characterization issues, as I feel Danae in particular never got her due in terms of growth or having her motivations given proper weight. She wasn’t quite as selfish or naive as the narrative needed her to be for certain exchanges to feel right, so the resolutions between her and other characters struck me as a bit forced.

To be clear, I enjoyed Triplet overall and do recommend Zahn fans check it out. It’s just that the sense of wonder and engrossing edge to the tale dips a bit in the second half (where it really should have been ramping up), causing this not to reach the heights it seems like it could have.

 

 

Perfectly Invisible Review

“Better some tears get shred because she was mean, than blood splashed because she wasn’t.”

A pair of national tragedies in the 1990’s has turned the US into a largely totalitarian nation. Homeland Security Services is the omnipresent but largely mysterious elite law enforcement organization that takes over when cases are too dangerous or too important to entrust to anyone else. Miracle Dunn’s first case as Krait Squad’s new investigator involves a simple looking murder which uncovers a less simple makeshift crypt in the apartment next door.

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I’m quite torn on this first novel in Michael Stackpole’s Homeland Security services series.  It takes place in an intriguing, unnerving alternate reality that displays Stackpole’s usual thorough development and vivd descriptions. Everything is internally consistent and provides a stark environment with tons of potential to frame Miracle’s story against. Heavy topics, ranging from government approved exile to institutionalized, legalized discrimination and covering a wide range in between saturate the society HSS polices and the variety of directions Stackpole could explore within this dystopian framework are extremely intriguing. 

Miracle and her coworkers are nicely individualized characters in both areas of expertise and personalities. I adore the way Stackpole fleshed them out via their approaches to their job and interactions with Miracle such that it all feels natural and the pace never slows.

However the breakneck pace is where I have my reservations. There is so much happening and so many story threads introduced in this short novel that by the end I felt like too much was left dangling. It sets up a few too many outstanding mysteries and as a result came across more like the first half of a longer novel than a standalone start to a series.

To be clear: a central mystery IS solved and by and large a complete, good story is told. But there are a couple of other important things that certainly seemed like they were going to be addressed during this book, and it was hard not to be disappointed when I realized they were going to be left obscure. Mystery series walk a fine line of giving the reader enough to satisfy during each book and keeping enough back to build to future installments, and overall Perfectly Invisible did too little of the former and too much of the latter. 

Still, there’s a lot to enjoy in Stackpole’s alternate vision of the US, and I am interested in continuing with the series. Though to be honest,  will probably wait until there are at least a couple more to read at a time to be sure I get enough plot advancement to avoid the unfinished feeling I was left with here.