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.

 

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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?”

 

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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).

 

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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.

Batman: The Telltale Series Episode 5 Review

As with all Telltale episodic games Batman focuses on a building story throughout the “season,” and this is the finale for Batman season 1. Start of course with episode 1. Also see my reviews for episodes 2, 3, and 4.

 

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There’s a a lot to wrap up in this first season finale, starting with the villain I chose not to confront at the end of last episode. I assume that first scene is reversed if I chose differently in Guardian of Gotham, which is a nice way to make the choices seem important even if the net results of everything are pretty much the same.

Of course while interesting I still have the feeling that as opposed to other Telltale games I’ve played most of the choices had a “right” answer. The statistics provided at the end explicitly show they were trying to balance things like mercy vs brutality, being pragmatic vs compassionate, etc, but it practice the harsher dialog options were too harsh and I ended up firmly in the majority on nearly every choice. Less “black and white” choices would have been nice.

The careful balance of the Batman and Bruce Wayne identities continues to great effect. There are reasonable yet escalating reveals and developments, including a suitable climactic battle with Lady Arkham and an expected tease for season 2.

On the technical side things were still reasonably solid, although loading times seemed significantly worse here. There were a lot of interruptions to action scenes where the screen would freeze frame as the next part loaded. It made it hard to get fully immersed in the flow of battle.

Strong finish overall though. Telltale’s first season of Batman wasn’t perfect and had a lot of unusual and possibly divisive elements, but overall it was a compelling story from start to finish and fun to play.

 

Batman: The Telltale Series Episode 4 Review

As with all Telltale episodic games Batman focuses on a building story throughout the “season.” Start of course with episode 1. Also see my reviews for episodes 2 and 3.

 

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New World Order (episode 3) ended with a significant reveal and things going horribly wrong for Bruce Wayne. Guardian of Gotham directly runs with those developments and the player immediately has to deal with the realities of Wayne’s new situation.

In some ways Telltale is just screwing with the players now with shocks and twists, but it remains intriguing and all fits fairly well. There is some railroading in the plot where obvious, logical arguments are suppressed or ignored for the sake of the story and the villains are losing some nuance in favor of presenting greater danger, but for the most part it’s internally consistent and the plus side is nicely escalating drama and tension. There are numerous games and schemes in play and the various plot threads weave together nicely.

The supporting cast is being slowly expanded in small doses with more familiar faces (some for those who read Batman comics), and the variations are interesting. I’ll again warn that you have to take this series as it is, and check a lot of preconceived notions at the door so to speak. Most characters still feel right, but some are completely different from any previous incarnation. There continues to be some interesting major choices that don’t necessarily change how events resolve overall but provide different ways of getting there and significantly different scenes and playing choices.

The mystery elements were one of my favorite parts of the early episodes, so with a lot of that gone this installment feels different. But it’s still quite good and the building conflicts have set up for what should be a strong finale.

 

Batman: The Telltale Series Episode 3 Review

As with all Telltale episodic games Batman focuses on a building story throughout the “season.” Start of course with episode 1.

 

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The significant choices from previous episodes are reflected in the opening story summary and the first new scene heavily depends on the major choice made in Children of Arkham. In general this series seems to have the most significant and meaningful choices of all telltale games I’ve played, but I won’t know for certain until/unless I play through again changing some things. A lot of them (and a lot of the dialog choices) seem to have “right” answers though, as Bruce’s responses and actions can generally be kind or bitter.

The plot proceeds with interesting parallel developments and threats on multiple fronts. Some of things are a bit heavy handed, but they fit the growing narrative all the same. Like the previous two episodes New World Order has a good balance of investigating aspects, story, and action.

Pretty big surprise to end here, providing a pretty good payoff to one of the main mysteries. I can imagine a fair amount of backlash, but it fit with the story they’ve been telling and raises interesting possibilities for the rest of season 1. Halfway through and this remains a compelling play, albeit with a plot and some characters majorly at odds with normal Batman canon which may bother some people. It still feels like a Batman story though, and it’s a good one so far, which is what matters most to me.