Sunday, August 20, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth #3) by N.K. Jemisin

The first two books in the Broken Earth trilogy have won the last two Hugo Awards, and deservedly so.  With The Stone Sky, NK Jemisin stands a strong chance at being the first ever back to back to back winner for Best Novel, as this book is clearly the strongest of the trilogy....and maybe Jemisin's best Novel ever.

Unlike my other favorite work of Jemisin - the Inheritance Trilogy - this trilogy does not end on a triumphant note.  This is a story of a people - even a whole world - oppressed and abused for no reason other than fear, jealousy and cruelty.  There is no way such a story could end triumphantly.  But despite this, the story ends Perfectly, on what is essentially a hopeful note, one that wraps up everything really really nicely.

Of course, as one should expect from this series already, the steps between this book and really this whole trilogy's beginning and ending are filled with heartbreaking powerful moments.  This trilogy has not been one for the faint of heart, who can't stand to see good people, even children, face tremendous suffering and abuse.  Good writing - and Jemisin is my favorite writer at this point for a reason - makes these things hard to read.  But the power of this story could not be done in any other way, and it is all worth it in the end.

More after the Jump (Spoilers for The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate are unavoidable).

Friday, August 18, 2017

Video Game Review: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel

  I don't play very many video games these days, but when I do I tend to stick to a few genres, and probably my favorite genre has been for a while the JRPG.  A good JRPG often doesn't require great physical dexterity or reflexes to play, involves tactical strategy and choices, and has a long sprawling plot that is entertaining to unveil.  In particular, I was introduced last year to the "Trails" series ("Kiseki" in Japan), a series of JRPGs popular in Japan that took a long time to come over to America -first as PSP games and then later as PC ports.

  I loved the first two games in the series, Trails in the Sky and its sequel Trails in the Sky SC, when I played them last year, with SC being a particular favorite of mine.  The third game in the Trails in the Sky subseries ("Cleverly" titled "Trails in the Sky The Third") came out in May of this year, and was also a blast to play, even if it was kind of a step back form SC.  Now, as of 2 weeks ago, the american localizer of the series has ported the second (3rd in Japan, but 2nd to come here) Trails series to PC - it was originally on PS3: Trails of Cold Steel.  If you've noticed my book reviews slowing down on this blog the last two weeks, it was because I was distracted tearing through this game in around 75 hours.

  The good news is that Trails of Cold Steel is still pretty good if you like JRPGs.  Like Trails in the Sky it is a sprawling JRPG with LOTS of minor characters, many of whom have their own stories in the background that you can discover through optional dialogue as the game goes on.  The battle system is very similar to Trails in the Sky with a few tweaks that have some pluses and minuses and the story is mostly great.  The issue for me is that the game rarely presents you with particularly challenging battles and the "free day" of school to start each chapter is kind of a drag.  As a result still prefer the Trails in the Sky series so far, although maybe that opinion will change when this game's sequel comes out for PC later this year.

More detailed review after the jump:

Thursday, August 17, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Ethan of Athos (Vorkosigan Saga) by Lois McMaster Bujold

Ethan of Athos is technically the 3rd published book in the Vorkosigan Saga, although it was really one of three books written simultaenously (Shards of Honor and The Warrior's Apprentice being the other two).  As such, it is a stand alone novel - the only connections to the rest of the series in this book are the setting and one minor character from The Warrior's Apprentice plays a major role, but she was Such a minor character there that past knowledge is not necessary.  The book chronologically takes place 6th in the timeline (not counting Falling Free) and as such, if you were reading chronologically, some of the books published later make references to things that are explained here.

But again, you can jump right in here without any prior Vorkosigan experience, and if you do you'll get a pretty fun romp.  It's not a great book, but it's certainly fun.

More after the Jump:

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Reluctant Queen by Sarah Beth Durst

The Reluctant Queen is the sequel to The Queen of Blood, which I just reviewed favorably earlier this week.  This second tale doesn't expand our knowledge of the world of Renthia very much - we are still staying in the Country of Aratay although the neighboring country of Semo does play a major role - but does expand our knowledge of the people within Aratay.  As in the first book this is still a world where the Spirits of Nature exist en mass alongside humans and want to kill all of humanity, held back only by a powerful queen of each country who can command them to "Do No Harm." This book however further deals with the other people besides the heirs and Champions in the Country - in this case, a Deadly Poisoner, a Royal Guardsman, and just to some minor extent the other Civil Servants who try to serve the Queen.

It's a tale that is still very good and I tore through this book in 2 days - Durst writes really really well and the story is a bit enthralling....but it loses a little bit of the wonder of the first book as the interactions between spirits and humans becomes a little more cut and dry.

More after the Jump, including major spoilers for The Queen of Blood:

Sunday, August 6, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst

The Queen of Blood is book 1 in Sarah Beth Durst's "Queens of Renthia" Series.  I've seen other reviews compare the book to Naomi Novik's "Uprooted" and the comparison makes sense to some extent - the book is a retelling/subversion of the classic chosen hero/fairy tale (but not "fae" - this is not a fae story) trope in a world dominated by woods (Cities are created from magically altering trees) and magic.  That said, the book is a lot more cynical than Uprooted, although it has its lighter moments as well.  But this is not a bad thing really - I enjoyed this book a lot (and just finished its sequel, review to come soon).

The World of Renthia is one in which mankind lives amongst Spirits of six different elements - ice, wood, water, fire, air, and earth - who created the world.  The problem is this: The Spirits hate humanity and one of their top two wants (in addition to wanting always to simply use their element to grow things) is always to kill/destroy humans.  In order to stop the Spirits from destroying humanity, nature seems to have evolved in the Spirits a desire for them to choose a human Queen from one of the many humans who has innate magical talent to speak/control the spirits.  These Queens, of which there are five - one for each of the 5 countries in the world, are given control of the spirits of their country and can command them to do no harm.  Should a Queen die or fall however, the Spirits would go wild and try to destroy everything.

Friday, August 4, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Throne of Jade (Temeraire #2) by Naomi Novik

I very much enjoyed His Majesty's Dragon, the first book in the Temeraire series, which I obtained a copy of in this year's Hugo Voters Packet (Temeraire was up for the trial run for the "Best Series" Hugo).  This alternate world where the Napoleonic Wars were fought between forces that included Dragons on both sides featured several great characters - not just the young dragon Temeraire and his Captain Laurence, but a cast of other Dragons and their crews.  It was a fun tale filled with some fun characters and I looked forward to Book 2.

Throne of Jade is Book 2 (of 9) and takes Laurence and Temeraire away from the cast in Britain on a voyage to China, Temeraire's homeland.  It's solid...but a step down from Book 1 as the newer characters aren't particularly interesting.

More after the Jump:

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Harbors of the Sun (Books of the Raksura #5) by Martha Wells

I'm running out of things to say about the Books of the Raksura series, which has emerged as one of my favorite series to read over the past two years (since I restarted my reading of the genre).  A reader might've noticed I haven't actually given any of the five books in this series a grade above 8.5 out of 10, which usually is my "Really good but with some flaws that make it just short of Great" rating, but the whole series somehow is better than its individual parts.  Throughout the series, Wells has crafted a cast of characters who are simply special and diverse in personalities, such that they're beyond a joy to read.  I'll miss these characters now that I've finished all the Raksuran stories (barring minor Patreon pieces) likely to come out in the near future, a lot.

But the Long Review of THIS book continues after the jump: