Of Goals

Last year I started my blogging with a list of goals, both for my book and in my personal life.  I would like to do this again, and also having a list really helps keeps these goals in the back of my mind.

  • Getting my story out to an editor and get a cover artist:  These goals depend on my financial situation, but I would like to do this in March, pending the goal below….
  • Pay off my car:  This actually has a bit of a priority over the above goal, but I plan on paying off my car by June in the latest.
  • Reviewing one book a month (or more):  I’ve been reading a lot more lately, and my focus is on indie authors who write fantasy.  I’d like to keep this focus going year round, not only to get the word out about more authors but because I really enjoy writing these.
  • Organize my recipes:  I have hundreds of recipes in print format, and I’d like to consolidate these into a digital file.  Honestly, I don’t even go through my recipe books or magazines much anymore – if I need a recipe, I get it online, but I’d also like to keep a record of what I use and don’t use.
  • Finish my nanowrimo novel:  But not during nanowrimo – just whenever I get the chance to write a few words here and there.
  • Get started on my second novel:  Maybe I’ll send it out to a beta reader or two, but I hope to start this in October/November.
  • Work around the house:  We don’t have any big renovation plans this year, but rather a bunch of little things – new blinds, finishing details in our bedroom, gardening, etc.  We will likely make a list (much like this one).

I’m sure there are more goals, but I think this might be good enough for now.  February should be an exciting month for a special reason I’ll share when the time comes. 🙂

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Book Review: Faith and Moonlight Parts 1 and 2

Book Title:  Faith and Moonlight Parts 1 and 2

Author: Mark Gelineau and Joe King

Pages: 116 (Part 1), 97 (Part 2)

Release Date: December 2015 (Part 1), May 2016 (Part 2)

Author Website: https://gelineauandking.com/

Purchase Link: Amazon

 

Spoilers.  Duh.

 

Plot:  The plot of Faith and Moonlight is straightforward:  Roan and Kay, seemingly inseparable orphans whose orphanage burnt down, want to become Razors, elite fighters who ‘pierce the veil’ in order to gain supernatural powers from fallen Razors before them.  In order to do this, they enroll in a school called Faith, but their chances of becoming Razors are slim due to their older age (14), since most recruits begin their training as young as toddlers.

That’s it.  That’s the story.  What follows is a series of subplots as to how they accomplish this and the consequences of their choices.

Both Roan and Kay become Razors by the end of Part 1, but they both take morally opposite paths to get there.  Roan trains with hard work and determination, aided by a natural affinity with the veil that doesn’t go unnoticed by an elite group called the Royals, particularly Gideon.  However, Roan will only stay at Faith if Kay succeeds at becoming a Razor as well, much to the chagrin of the Royals.

Kay, on the other hand, is failing miserably, even with the support of experienced Razors Erik, Sabine, and Lillarn.  Desperate, she takes up an offer from Gideon and cheats by stealing a piece of an ancient sword, effectively making her a Razor.  This is where Part 1 ends.

Part 2 picks up right where Part 1 ends, but there really is no plot or end goal in Part 2.  Instead, it’s mostly conflict and sub plots involving Roan’s mundane discovery of what being a Razor really means (tournament fighting for top positions among kings’ guards) and Kay’s struggle with the consequences of cheating.  They diverge their paths, straining their relationship as they find cliques better suited to their talents.  This is where Part 2 ends.

There is supposedly a Part 3, but I’ll discuss it later.

Overall, there really is no main plot in this book – no world to save, glorious battles to fight, friends to rescue, or treasure to discover.  I’m a bit disappointed in the lack of buildup, particularly in second part, and at times the story got a bit boring because the characters didn’t strive for anything outside of themselves.  There is a bit at stake in the story – namely Roan’s fear of his past, and Kay’s violent change in nature – but it’s inconsequential outside of the characters.  The revelation Roan discovers is anti-climactic, and seems an afterthought rather than a focal point.  Also, it turns out that their concern about age was for naught, as it had no effect on either of their outcomes.

The subplots, as strong as they were, don’t make up for a lack of actual plot.

 

Characters:  Roan and Kay are supposed to be the main protagonists – you experience the struggle of becoming and maintaining status as a Razor through their viewpoint.  Unfortunately, while I liked their characters and they defined their personal ambitions early on, they were a bit shallow personality-wise outside of each other.  I never really got a solid definition as to their idioms or traits, or who they were.  They each have thorough backgrounds and history, both on their own and with each other, but I couldn’t differentiate between their personalities.  They acted entirely exchangeable until towards the end of the Part 2.  Unfortunately, the reason for the personality twist in Kay is due to her choice in cheating, effectively ‘forcing’ her to change, rather than a ‘natural’ approach.

Erik, Sabine, and Lillarn surround Kay with encouragement, acting as optimistic, surrogate siblings to help her succeed as a Razor.  While they’re good supporting characters for Kay to have, three is too many, and their consistent pampering towards Kay gets a bit annoying.  Erik is the only one with an actual background, which is strongly written, giving him a bit of history for the reader to sympathize.  While not as much in the spotlight as Gideon, I felt Erik was a solid character whose character continually developed over the story, and that Sabine and Lillarn were dead weight.

Gideon turned out to be my favorite character.  His bold honesty and rigid confidence with Roan is upfront and immediate.  He is so desperate to keep Roan in the Razors that he offers Kay a way to become a Razor, albeit by cheating (whether he knows the consequences is not addressed).  Throughout the second part he stays by Roan’s side, always there to explain things in his cold, not coddling, manner.  He’s a refreshing character that stands out against the smothering group surrounding Kay.

Dreah is the antagonist of the story, but she doesn’t really proclaim this until the second half of Part 2 (I don’t think she’s even a character in Part 1).  In fact, she really serves more as Kay’s foil.  Dreah is obsessed with Roan, which feeds Kay’s jealousy, which fuels the core of Kay’s increasingly violent nature.  However, Dreah is also clingy, obnoxious, and more of a stereotypical ‘mean teenage girl’ than need be.  Her unfulfilled desire for attention and haughtiness almost makes her a character you ‘love to hate’ or a true antagonist, but she lacks any redeeming values to cover the gap.  Not even her backstory was convincing enough to make me pity her, and I sincerely thought she deserved what she got at the end of Part 2.

Essentially, I enjoyed the supporting characters more than the main characters, mainly due to their backgrounds and stark character traits – Erik is loyal to Kay and Gideon is brutally honest with Roan.  Everyone else, unfortunately even the main characters, fall into a fog of blandness which holds characters back rather than develop them.

Setting/World Building:  This was one of the story’s main strengths.  For how short of a story Faith and Moonlight is, it packs a prominent punch in terms of world building.

The setting is pretty par for the course – a mythical land of magic, set in a typical time of fantasy, complete with steel weapons, uniformed soldiers, and mystical architecture.  It fits the story just fine.

The world building goes deep – beyond the characters.  The idea of calling on spirits of dead Razors is well-constructed and gives a sense of history to the land without divulging into a chapters-long explanation.  Several of the characters also discuss things and places outside the school, widening the world a bit without veering outside of what’s important to them.  The main focus stays in the school, but you do get a sense that there is something else beyond the walls.

The school itself is rife with mantras, characters and rivalries (both within the schools and other competing schools), which comes to life during competitions called Ascension and, more importantly, the Ladder.  The Ascension and Ladder both provide a bit of culture to the school and characters, and is brought to life by the characters, who put time and effort into proving themselves to their superiors.  In between the competitions, there’s enough character engagement to build conflicts, all centering on ‘piercing the veil’ which is the crux of their abilities and honor.

There were a couple loose ends – I was wondering if the students study anything other than fighting (history, literature, science, etc.) and also how they earn money to buy the food they eat.  However, it was not enough to draw me out of the story’s atmosphere

Grammar/Misspellings & Flow/Syntax:  Another major strength in this story is the lack of grammatical errors and smooth flow of the story.

I found a couple grammar errors and misspellings, more towards the end of Part 2, but not enough (and too late) to find frustrating.

As for the flow and syntax, Faith and Moonlight is so easy to read that it makes me wish the stories were longer.  The natural engagements between characters, the fluidity of the fighting and piercing the veil, the ease of scene changes, and the overall presentation to the elements of the world make it welcoming to get lost in the magic system, the struggle of Kay and Roan, and the overall environment in which the story takes place.  Nothing is too complex, no explanation too long, no scene out of place or order, and no fight too arduous to lose track as to what is happening.  The writing is pointed and focused, as well as consistent and inviting, making these short stories a breeze to read and move on to the next in the series.

Overall Recommendation: Gelineau and King definitely have a talent for novellas.  Their quick-to-the-point stories, fluid writing, and expansive world-building events and magic make for wishing the stories lasted just a ‘little’ longer, but at the same time get you excited for more of their writing.  Faith and Moonlight isn’t their first story I’ve read, and while it isn’t as good as Reaper of Stone, I do want to find out what happens next and look forward to part 3, even more so knowing that the story will be a short, easy read.  I can only hope that there will be something of a plot, and that Roan and Kay get their share of character development – which they should, given how Part 2 ended.

Unfortunately, is seems as though Part 3 isn’t happening anytime soon.  Part 2 came out May 2016, and there hasn’t been an update on their blog in over six months.  I may be left hanging for a while…

…But I still recommend reading Faith and Moonlight.  While I think the price is a bit steep for such a short story, and that both of the stories could be combined into one novella, I find the world enchanting, engaging, and full of life.  I will certainly be reading more Gelineau and King in the future (although probably not reviewing them here).

The Last Guardian Review

I’ll admit it:  I cannot let this game go.  I’m not ready to get over it yet.  I have to write something about it.

The Last Guardian has been in development for nearly a decade.  Like its predecessors, Shadow of the Colossus and Ico, it challenges what a game should be and what to expect.  When the game arrived, I never considered playing it.  But as I watched my husband play the game here and there, my curiosity flourished.  I felt like I needed to play the game, and I’m so glad I did.

Image result for the last guardian

(Image from Gamespot)

I don’t think there are any major spoilers in this review, but as always read at your own risk.

Pros:

The Story:  At its base, the story is about an unnamed boy (hereafter called ‘The Boy’) who wakes up in an unfamiliar ruin next to a giant, injured feathered beast called a trico (who is also called ‘Trico’, kind of like calling a dog ‘Dog’).  They work together to explore the ruins to find out why The Boy is there and how to escape, and over the course of the game develop a heartwarming bond with one another.

The best part about The Last Guardian’s story is what it doesn’t tell.  So many stories these days rely on extensive world development and rich histories to set the stage, but The Last Guardian gives you almost nothing to work with and gets away with it.  Its open-ended culture allows you to insert almost any theory you want about the ruins as you discover the area, and at the end draw your own conclusions.  And the main crux of the story is between Trico and The Boy, which you get to witness at every stage from uncertain trust to unbreakable friendship, as you strive to find the meaning of the ruins while simultaneously trying to get out.  The emotions you experience as they bond cover a spectrum, ranging from calm to depressing to edge-of-your seat thrills to tear-jerking elation.  It’s a simple story, but provides enough engagement to make it feel more meaningful than more complex games.

The Graphics:  While not the prettiest game of the PS4 I’ve ever seen as far as first impressions, the game goes to no end to immerse you in a mystical realm.  The dilapidated ruins and caverns cast shadows to the atmosphere, giving any outdoor area you enter that bit of extra brightness you have to adjust to – kind of like walking from a dark basement into direct sunlight.  It could be slightly better at parts (such as water and trees), but the details you do see give the impression that something huge once happened at the ruins.  It’s also a vertical-based layout, and amazing to look down from high above and recognize places you once were, or look above to see your destination in the distance.  While the saturation takes a bit to get used to, the lighting and somewhat cel-shaded design suit the story perfectly.  It’s as though the developers didn’t want you to get distracted by pretty graphics, preferring a simpler style to enhance the world rather than striving for details to draw you in – and it works.

Image result for the last guardian

(Image from GameSpot)

The Characters:  When all you have is two characters, they better have a relationship on a level few people can ever experience.  It needs to be something legendary, and the relationship between The Boy and Trico is not just epic, but shatters just about everything you knew could develop between man and animal.  I don’t want to reveal too many spoilers, but if your eyes are dry at the game’s ending, then you’re probably not human.

Trico is a feat in of itself, and is likely the main reason the game took so long to develop.  You only play as The Boy during the game, giving commands to your cat/bird/monkey/dog/everything beast in hopes that it does what you want.  And it does…some of the time.  Having lived with cats, birds, and dogs for most of my life, I’m amazed by how lifelike Trico acts – at times I forgot that it is an AI in the game because it acted like a real animal.  It learns what words and gestures mean, but doesn’t always understand why you’re commanding it.  Trico is supposed to be somewhat wild, not exposed to human interaction and training, so The Boy is Trico’s first experience with this sort of contact.  It hesitates, is wary or even scared at times, gets distracted or curious, wants to play, gets hungry and tired, and sometimes even refuses the orders you give it.  In other situations, Trico does what it wants to do – it will jump to platforms and ledges regardless of what you command, or won’t move until you entice it.  Just like real animals, Trico requires time, patience, and incentive, and you can’t help but love its inquisitive charm so it’s easy to forgive when it doesn’t obey you.

Image result for the last guardian

Seriously, how can you stay mad at this face?  The developers really played into peoples’ love of cute creatures.  (Image from Sony Interactive Entertainment)

Trico (that is, the AI) comes, on its own terms, to treat The Boy as one of its own, making their relationship even more impactful than the ordinary ‘boy and his dog’ adage.  Some pet owners treat their pets as they would another human, but rarely does the animal treat its human owner like a fellow animal – dogs don’t play with their owners as they would other dogs, and cats rarely meow at other cats.  Domesticated animals show us love and respect and allow us to interact with them, but they recognize we’re not the same species, and thus our communication with them is very limited.

Trico, over the course of the story, treats The Boy as it would its own kind, not as a human, even though it recognizes The Boy as human (or at least, not another trico).  Its instincts don’t interfere with protecting and bonding with The Boy.  One thing I believe as evidence of this is, whenever you’re grappled by a guard, Trico will always attack that guard first, regardless of how close or far away you are taken or if it’s the nearest enemy or not.  It won’t just fight, but it will save you first.  Again, I won’t spoil too much, but Trico’s immersive, animal-like AI is really what makes the relationship with The Boy come alive, and playing as The Boy allows you to experience this relationship first-hand at the risk of leaving you misty-eyed a few times.

Image result for the last guardian

(Image from Game Industry News)

It reminds me that sometimes the simplest relationships between characters can have the deepest impact on a story.

Cons:

Controls/Cameras:  If there’s anything about this game that brings it down, it’s the controls and camera.  If not for the frustrating, wobbly awkwardness of The Boy’s movement this game could have been one I play again and again.  But now every time I think of playing the game, the controls come back to haunt me.  It isn’t as though there are a lot of controls – there’s no inventory, upgrades, or stats to monitor and scroll through.  But the controls change depending on what you’re standing next to and how the camera is angled, which means they change often and are therefore difficult to execute what exactly you want to do.  There was one point in the game I had to take a break for a bit because the controls got the better of me.

As for the camera, it ‘black outs’ and auto-focuses when the view is ‘stuck’ in a corner, so there are times when the scene fades to black for seemingly no reason.  You almost get used to this, but then there are times when camera doesn’t do this, and stays black until you manually move the camera back around – if you can.

Its infuriating to see such a wonderful game faulted by a relatively simple technicality – more complex games have better streamlined controls that this one.  Every game has its faults, but the controls shouldn’t have been one of them for this game.  I might be more forgiving of the camera, but it’s because of the camera’s interface with the controls that make routine platforming a nightmare at times.

Puzzles:  This game is a combination of platforms and puzzles, but the puzzles are so easy they’re really not, well, puzzles.  They’re more like obstacles that have fairly straightforward solutions – pull a switch, move a box, climb a tail, or entice/command Trico.  The most frustrating puzzle came from the times when you had to find food for Trico (in the form of barrels), but moving these barrels from one location to where Trico was waiting often involved tossing barrels – which meant dealing with the damn controls, so they weren’t so much challenging as they were frustrating.  I also hate it when a game – any game – attempts to makes a simple task a puzzle.  Getting out of a room, progressing to the next area, and manipulating Trico in the right way should be puzzles, but finding barrels to feed Trico is something that should take no more than a few minutes, not a half-hour of barrel tossing across gaps and gates (again, no thanks to the lumbering controls).

Another thing I noticed is that many of the ‘puzzles’ come in duplicates, which isn’t so much a problem as it is lacking in ingenuity.  Is there a room in which you have to avoid guards in order to proceed?  Expect two in a row.  Need to find a switch to open a gate for Trico?  Expect two in a row.  A room with a pool puzzle?  Expect two in a row.  Climbing towers while destroying stained glass eyes which otherwise frighten Trico?  Expect two in a row.

Overall

As I stated a few times throughout this review, sometimes simplicity is the best form of story-telling.  There’s no need of complex backgrounds, multiple character dynamics, or plot-moving drama.  The Last Guardian is about two unlikely friends who find each other at just the right time.  They overcome communication gaps – one is an animal after all – and soon learn that they not just need each other in order to escape, but need to trust each other in order to escape.  And what develops between them is put to the test again and again which, in the end, blossoms into the tightest friendship between man and beast I’ve ever seen in a game or any other story-telling media.  It’s not only awesome to be a part of this, but almost addicting, because their relationship is something that most of us only dream we could have, even with our fellow humans.

Image result for the last guardian

(Image from GameSpot)

It’s a relatively short game – around 10 hours, so despite the controls it’s worth playing once.  I would play it again if not for the controls, and will likely do so in the future, but right now I’d rather not experience the frustration again.

I could go on and on about my own theories regarding the ruins too, but I don’t think now is the time/place for it.

In short, if you don’t have it in your collection, get it, or plan on getting it.

Last Entry of the Year

So just before my time zone sets into the new year, I’m thinking back to the goals I made at the beginning of the year.  I pretty much met most of them, or at least all of them most of the way.  I did 50 blog entries including this one (out of 52), bought a new vehicle (though I went over my budget, I am still in love with my new car and do not regret the purchase at all), and was able to secure five beta readers (the last two are in submission, with a due date of January 29th).

So for next year, I’ll probably reduce blog entries to 40 rather than 52, but be more focused on the entries rather than have every other one be a ‘hey, I’m here!’ type of entry.  I’ll also stick to random days, rather than ‘one per week’.  I like doing book reviews, so I will have a goal of one per month.  I plan on sticking to my favorite genre of fantasy, preferably by indie authors.  I may also do a game review in between, though I only play about 3-4 games per year.  However, I just finished The Last Guardian so this will likely be my first entry of the new year.

For my story, I would like to set a goal of editor and cover artist for the year.  This is going to depend on finances, so this goal will have a few more strings attached to it.

Happy New Year!

Book Review: The Servant Lord by Aneeka Richens

Stats:  The Servant Lord (Chaos Gods Book 2) by Aneeka Richens

281 pages

2014

$3.99 on Amazon for Kindle

I did not write a review of the first novel in this series, The Wanted Child, mainly because I was reading it among about seven other novels at the time.  I overall enjoyed the story of the first novel, even if the writing was a bit clunky, and wanted to read the second one.

Spoilers.  Duh.

Plot:  The plot of the story directly continues from the last novel.  De strives to prove himself to both mortals and gods that he will live up to his title of prophesied Hero (despite him being born a boy instead of a girl) through his inventions and ingenuity, proving his worth to be told in legends for eons.  He does this by using his inventions to reform Gates that, if melted, would unleash demons (and the main villain, a god named Rising Chaos) onto the lands.  While it works, it isn’t successful without the help of magic from his fiancée, Maggie, a girl who rose from servant-hood to Blessed and will do anything to stay that way.  She is also at times mistaken to be the prophesied Hero, much to De’s distress.  De also wants to prove himself to his trainer Ki, the main character from the last novel, who is also the foretold Wanted Child he is prophesied to kill (though he doesn’t know that bit about her yet).

In the previous book, Ki gave up her human-ness to save him from a demon monster, and is now a demon herself, capable of killing anything she touches.  All throughout the novel, De’s obsession with her is the driving force of the plot.  He wants to please her, make her happy, and prove that her sacrifice didn’t go to waste on him.  Of course Maggie isn’t keen on his fixation with Ki, and makes this very clear throughout the novel (though not nearly as much as the previous one).  This love triangle takes a plot turn when, during the Binding ceremony, De is ‘accidentally’ bonded to Ki rather than Maggie.

This bonding somehow makes her a Servant Lord, and forces her to flee to the Fallen Lands were demons reside.  Somehow this also makes the Gates collapse again, and De must kill the Wanted Child if they are to stay intact.  De and Maggie hurry off to the Fallen Lands in hopes of finding the Wanted Child and killing her.

This is about 40% into the novel.  The plot, unfortunately, doesn’t start picking up again until about 80% through.  The middle 40% is almost entirely a pure mess of exposition, ranging from how magic works (or doesn’t work), mental battles against demons for control of a body, eating demons for energy, balancing the Binding energies between Ki and De (if one dies, both die), explaining the hierarchy of the demons (it turns out Servant Lord isn’t all that imposing of a title to have), how prayers work, how gods and lords work, and typical teenage whining about wanting a happy ending for everyone and insisting there has to be a happy ending for everyone.  Sometimes the rules are discovered during fights, but the action scenes aren’t very memorable and since they’re all ‘mental’ fights that get repetitive after about two.  There really is no other action in the story.  And while the explanations continue until the very last chapter, at least in the last 20% they’re weaved into the story a bit better rather than just characters talking.

Eventually De finds out Ki is the Wanted Child and must either kill her (which means killing himself thanks to their Binding) or sparing her but condemning the planet.  There is an underplot to this story, but it isn’t really revealed until, as mentioned, about 80% into the novel.    Now I usually love scheming underplots, but the gods responsible for the underplot – Tavk and Sister Chaos – don’t seem to care too much about their own plan, the details of which aren’t revealed until the last 5% of the story.  They tend to be dismissive of their own nefarious trickery, which is too bad because that’s what these gods were known for.  And if they don’t care, why should I?

Overall, there’s a solid plot for about 50-60% of the novel, mostly at the beginning and some at the end.  The middle 40% is nearly pure elucidation on things you’d think would be important to understand for the plot to work, but come off as more a school lecture than a storyline and is at times so complex and unnecessary that it is easily forgotten.  It is unfortunate, because the plot is there, and it is unique and good, but it’s bogged down by rules, rules, rules.

Characters: There are two main characters in the story, De and Ki, and the perspective of the story changes between them, though De seems to be the more prominent of the two.  Which I wouldn’t have much of a problem with…if he wasn’t a giddy, one-track minded, blindly shallow pest.  He makes it very obvious that he’d rather be with Ki than Maggie since the beginning…so much as even going and narrating things such as:

A Hero, he reminded himself, would not throttle his fiancée [Maggie] three days before their wedding. (Side note:  There is never a good time for a ‘Hero’ to throttle his fiancée)

He usually forgot other people were terrified of demons.  So what if they [demons, like Ki] could kill in an instant?  (This is a good enough reason to be terrified of ‘anyone’)

De rubbed a hand over his eyes.  This was going to be a long night.  How he wished he could be with Ki instead [of Maggie].

He does this throughout nearly the entire novel.  De’s obsession with Ki actually blocks him from maturing, which makes it seem all the more bizarre when he chooses to kill her over saving her during their confrontation.  I get that there’s a point of conflict here, but he was so blindly obsessed with Ki that it doesn’t seem like he’d chose the planet over her.

He’s also obsessed with himself, and wanting to prove himself over and over again through use of his inventions.  He constantly daydreams about being a Hero in the most grandiose fashion, even during the worst of times and darkest of situations.  If he did it rarely I’d consider him an optimist, but his fantasy is to the point where he acts delusional.  There are a couple instances when he realizes the grim situation that he’s in and puts his whims on hold, but these are few and far between and rarely last long enough to weigh on him.  He’s supposed to be the Hero character that saves the world, but doesn’t even realize the gravity of what’s placed on him.  This might be okay for a 13-year old, but he’s supposed to be 17-18.

Ki’s role in the second story is much less than the first.  While she tends to mope a lot, I’m a bit more forgiving because of her transformation from human to demon.  Unlike De, she’s actually had bad things happen to her and is trying to figure out what to do next.  However, like De, she’s obsessed with everyone having a happy ending to the point where she doesn’t grow.  Again, she has her instances of growth and coming to terms with the darkness that is surrounding her destiny, but doesn’t actually consider the darkness as an obstacle.  She more or less plows through anything, unfettered by the consequences of her actions.

Maggie is the only other character really worth mentioning, but she loses consciousness around 60% through the novel and becomes dead weight for the rest of the book.  She pretty much retains her role as in the last novel, as the spoiled, jealous girlfriend type who is always berating Ki and De’s relationship with her.  Like the other two characters, her obsession holds her back.  De is the sun and moon to her, and she can’t let go of him long enough to realize the danger of the situation and to mature into someone that has the potential to be a very powerful character thanks to her exalted status as a Blessed.  Out of all the characters, I wish she had done the most maturing throughout the story, but like her peers she falls far short.

There are other minor characters – Tavk, Sister Chaos, a floating cape demon with no actual name – but they have such scattered, minor roles that I hardly consider them substantial in any way except at the very end.  As mentioned earlier, Tavk and Sister Chaos are the two gods who are revealed to have an underplot in the works, but at the end almost admittedly don’t care about it.  They act like puppet masters who, if their puppets (De and Ki) break, they’ll just get new ones.  Essentially, they’re scheming because they want to, not necessarily need to, so the stake in their plan is inconsequential.

I liked the floating cape at first, but even he got a bit boring after a while.  He was supposed to be a smarmy ‘guide’ for De while he was in the Fallen Lands, but he came off as an obnoxious jerk more irritating than entertaining.  His actual identity is revealed, but by the time it is he’d become such a snob I didn’t care.

In short, any character development that the first book took time to build was shattered in this one.  All of the main characters are, throughout most of the novel, whiners obsessed with their ‘one size fit all’ view on life.  Characters that have the same personality cannot grow off of each other.  They need conflict, more than what the love triangle tries to establish in the novel, but falls short.  There are some pockets of development, but the characters, being as one-track minded as they are, forget their lessons quickly.

Another quick note…there are no true adults in the novel.  The main characters are around 15-18 years old, and everyone else is either a god or a demon.  While not necessarily a flaw, the immaturity of the characters made it a rather odd group to set out and save the world.  It could also very well explain why no one really gets reprimanded for their childish behavior and, thus, don’t mature.

Setting/World Building: The setting consists of four different Lands:  The Rising Lands, The Fallen Lands, The Sister Lands, and the Mutual Lands.  No actual names are given.  Each Land (except Mutual) has three gods – High, Low, and Rising – and different groups of people that form their society and/or denomination.  The Rising Land has Geniuses, the Fallen Lands have Fallens and/or Servants, and the Sister Lands have the Blessed.  Each groups have their own specialties – the Geniuses invent technologies, the Fallen and/or Servants can have several various abilities (thus the long explanations), and the Blessed have magic voices used to manipulate people and technologies.  They all seem to be lands of both magic and science, so there’s some interesting technology that exists in the world…but it doesn’t always work between the land, and the book takes a heavy chunk of text to explain some of these lands, and which magics can or cannot be used.

There are a few other hints of world buildings, such as colors and shapes that represent each of the gods and/or lands.  These are rather consistent and prominent in the presence of their respective connotation, so it’s easy as a reader to know when, say, Tavk is around or when the characters are in the Mutual Lands.

The bulk of the story takes place in the Fallen Lands, which is a dead land with no sun (which brings up a myriad of questions itself, but I won’t get into that here), hungry demons, and rare spots of hospitality.  The description of the Fallen Lands is very consistent throughout – I never felt like any details were out of place, and there is a bit of eeriness in the writing at times that makes the place come alive.

In all, like the plot, the setting and world building are there, and they are good, but again are weighed down by explanations.

Grammar/Misspellings & Flow/Syntax:  Grammar issues and misspellings were few and far between.  I caught a few, but not enough to make it irritating to read.  There were some inconsistencies as well, but these occurred in minor situations and, while confusing, were nothing that had any impact on the plot.

Flow and syntax, on the other hand, were a nightmare to read through, and really the downfall of this novel.  The similes themselves were so numerous and, at times, ridiculous that I felt like someone was constantly poking me as I was reading, irritating me into what to imagine while I was reading.  From beginning to end, the narrative was heavy with…

Over her pale skin streaked thick black lines as if a lion had torn her asunder and the wounds had healed into solid, black scars…

…excited energy burst out like streams of frosting…

Something hungry surged out of the hole in his soul and snatched the cackling energy like a hawk scooping up a mouse.

Its power was huge, like a giant banquet filling three great halls to the brim.

Questions bounced in his head like giddy rabbits

They looked old and worn, as if she’d scrounged for the oldest outfit from an even older attic somewhere.

…Ki entered a wide plain with tall mesas, randomly placed like dough that fell out of a basket from the sky.

It [a building] leaned to the side as if contemplating whether it should lie down and rest.

Ki gasped as power – old, musty power like a billion tons of ancient dirt…

Frustration like steaming, rotten onions pressed down upon her.

Tavk mused as if discussing about the loss of his favorite snack.

De yelled, rushing after the demons.  But it was like a snail chasing a horse.

These were just a handful I picked out, but the novel is littered with them.  Some are well-placed and make sense, but most are not.  As I noticed these more and more, it became pretty obvious that striking out the actual simile in each sentence did not, in any way, lose the point of the sentence.  Read these and see if there is any difference in the narrative:

Over her pale skin streaked thick black lines as if a lion had torn her asunder and the wounds had healed into solid, black scars…

…excited energy burst out like streams of frosting…

Something hungry surged out of the hole in his soul and snatched the cackling energy like a hawk scooping up a mouse.

Its power was huge, like a giant banquet filling three great halls to the brim.

Questions bounced in his head like giddy rabbits

They looked old and worn, as if she’d scrounged for the oldest outfit from an even older attic somewhere.

…Ki entered a wide plain with tall mesas, randomly placed like dough that fell out of a basket from the sky.

It [a building] leaned to the side as if contemplating whether it should lie down and rest.

Ki gasped as power – old, musty power like a billion tons of ancient dirt…

Frustration like steaming, rotten onions pressed down upon her.

Tavk mused as if discussing about the loss of his favorite snack.

De yelled, rushing after the demons.  But it was like a snail chasing a horse.

Other times, the explanation of the senses didn’t make, well, sense.  There were times a character would see things before smelling them (humans tend to do the opposite, like in the case of dead animals or rotting food).  Other odd descriptions included an ‘oily tone’, ‘it smelled weird, like rotting goo or something’, ‘a mountain of ill-pleased power’, and ‘The circle didn’t look impressed’.

I also noticed several instances in which a character would take an unusually long time to respond to a greeting or question.  There’s at least one instance where Ki, greeted by a demon lord who exalts her as a Servant Lord, takes over 300 words to respond.  Why?  Well, that’s where the 40% of explanations come from – in this case, she spends 300 words wondering why the demon lord greeted her in such a fashion.  It seems as though every time someone learns something or comes across a new bit of information, no less than several paragraphs are tagged on to explain to the reader what these mean and how they work.  As mentioned before, this really extends the story much, much longer than it needs to be, and the flow of the plot gets lost.

While the last bit of the novel had some reveals in it, many of these were revealed too late.  They could have come quite a bit earlier and would have allowed more excitement for the reader to continue, rather than having several rather huge reveals for the last 15% of the novel.

Overall/Recommendation:  I wanted to enjoy this book.  I really, really did.  The first book in the series, while suffering from some of the same flow/syntax errors as this one, had much fewer chunks of exposition and more action, character development, and plot.  While bogged and clunky at some parts in the story, the plot kept moving, the characters growing and relating, and the technologies almost self-explanatory.  I was actually curious to see what happened next, to see the characters mature, to see how things worked themselves out in this unique land and destiny.  So you can imagine my disappointment with The Servant Lord, which felt like it took everything I enjoyed about the first book and shattered it.  Not necessarily in the plot, but in character and syntax.  It overall made the book a drag to read and frustrating that the characters never seemed to learn anything during their world-saving endeavor.

I’ll just mention this now – the third book was supposed to be released in 2015.  It is now almost 2017 and, according to the author’s website, the next in the series is on an indefinite hiatus due to the book ‘refusing to come together’.  This is probably a good thing, given the confusing and exposition-heavy word salad that this book was at times, so I can only hope that when/if the third book comes out, it more than makes up for all the shortcomings of this book.

That being said, while I still recommend The Wanted Child, feel free to skip The Servant Lord.

 

What a long review, huh?  I might have to think how I’ll do these in the future.

I’ll be writing a post on Friday or Saturday to summarize this year and lay out some goals for 2017.  Ciao!

Uhg! Busy!

Late this week!

I had an unexpectedly busy week at work, at home, and I decided to re-read my story for errors this week before I send it off to my last two beta readers.

And I’m glad I did.

I found quite a few consistency errors, and also an additional number of ‘weird word choice’ and ‘this doesn’t make sense…why did I write this?’ type of errors.  It’s amazing how you can never ‘truly’ be done editing a story, just satisfied with where you’re at.

I will be editing the story this weekend, and next week I plan on submitting it.  I will likely not be receiving the story back before the end of the year, which is fine, as I’ve never really been in a rush to publish my story.

One thing I still plan to do is another book review before the end of the year.  I’m busy with ‘typical holiday stuff’ this weekend, plus I’ll be busy on Sunday shoveling the 6-10″ of snow we’re supposed to be be getting, but I plan to start reading the book next week.  It’s a sequel to a book I read earlier this year that I enjoyed, but never wrote a review for, but would have liked to in retrospect.  Maybe I’ll write a mini-review of the first book in with the second.

Well, off to start my busy weekend.  Ciao!

Thanks, NanoWrimo (not really)

I now have a half-finished manuscript on my to-do list…thanks NanoWrimo! </sarcasm>

As if being sidetracked from my current project wasn’t enough, I now have another manuscript to finish added to my plate…but I guess I only have myself to blame.

And now, I’m stuck between Do I finish the editing for my first novel and Do I finish writing this manuscript, even if just to get a first draft down?

Finish editing my first novel:  It was my goal for the year to have 5 beta readers read my first novel.  I’ve gotten 3 done, and it’s been sitting on this since September.  September/October were busy months for me work-wise (and vacation wise ;D), and then NanoWrimo took up all of November.

Taking a bit of time off from my first novel is actually a positive, as it gives me a break from reading the same thing over and over again, and now I can come back to it a bit refreshed.  However, because of all the changes I made based on feedback from the other three beta readers, I have to re-read my novel and make sure that all those changes I made were consistent.  I still have December to re-read my novel before submitting it to my last beta readers, but with the holiday season coming up I’m not sure if anyone will actually read/finish before the end of the year.  It’s a busy time for everyone, so the only thing I can really do is submit it.

Finish the NanoWrimo manuscript:  Hey, I wrote half of it in one month alone, so it wouldn’t be too out of reach for me to finish the entire manuscript within another month or so.  It would get the story out of my mind, and allow me to go back to focusing on my first novel with no distractions come the first of the year.

Or…would another manuscript to edit just be another distraction?

I’ve been sitting on my first story for a long time, now, and I really don’t want to wait any more.  If I have another manuscript ready for editing, I might be tempted to just start editing that and put off my first novel for even longer.

This is something to mull on for sure.

My opinion of NaNoWriMo:  This was my first NanoWrimo, and will likely be my last.  The main reason I haven’t done NanoWrimo before is because in the past I’ve finished my manuscripts by the month of November, and by that time I usually need a break from writing.  My feelings about it are rather mixed, but overall the cons outweigh the pros.

The Pros:  As stated above, it felt good to get a story out of my mind and onto the screen.  It was fun too, but honestly only for about three weeks.  And I figured it takes me an average of about 2 hours to write 1667 words, so long as I don’t need to research in between and I know where the scene is going.

The Cons:  NanoWrimo is, well, not going to make me (or anyone) a better writer.  It might make you a more efficient writer time-wise, but not necessarily a better one.  I don’t think it’s exactly the goal per se either, but it’s important to not conflate the two.  Next, if you’re like me, and you enjoy writing long-ish epic fantasies, then 50,000 words is simply not enough to flesh out a story, so, as mentioned above, it just adds another item to the list.  Last, by the end of the month, NanoWrimo started to feel more like a chore than fun, which isn’t how I want to write.

Sean Munger wrote a pretty good summary of my overall feelings of NanoWrimo, so instead of rehashing what he wrote, I’m going to paste my most agreed part:

You’ll note, if you browse the NaNoWriMo webpages, that there are no badges for, say, coming up with a compelling character, or working out a satisfying plot twist, or communicating an emotional idea to a reader. Coming up with the perfect ending or figuring out a character’s motivation don’t result in badges or get writers on the little map that fills up day after day on the webpage showing participants’ progress. What is measured? Word count. Word count. Word count. That’s really all that matters.

The entire blog is here.

So, unless I have absolutely no other projects (manuscript edits or otherwise), I will likely NOT be doing NanoWrimo again.

Now, because didn’t do NanoWrimo through the official website, I don’t have a word counter.  Instead, I’m going to keep my 50,000 word draft as is, and not change it save for a few consistency/spelling/grammar edits.  I will copy the content to a new file and continue that instead.  One day, whenever this book gets published, I will then release the first 50,000 words I wrote along with it – allowing one and all to see the horror that is the first draft.