Where We Find Acceptance

If it seems like this blog has been a dumping ground for reviews this year, that’s because I’ve been spending a lot of time on Tumblr, and don’t feel the need to repeat what I say on Tumblr over here because, let’s face it, I’ve probably said the same thing five times already. Also I’m trying to play catch-up with my reviews. I have only a couple comics left and some games and then there will be less reviews as I finish the books I’m currently reading.

Anyways, back to Tumblr. Tumblr’s “pagan” tag is a very strange beast. It’s about 80% unsourced vaguely Pagan-ish art, 19% Pagan holiday memes that are grossly inaccurate (the whole Ishtar = Easter thing was either born on Tumblr or spread from Facebook to Tumblr) and 1% useful information. There’s at least one outbreak of “drama” per week. One week it’s because someone got on the wrong person’s bad side. Another week it’ll be because Pop Culture Pagans are wrecking polytheism. The week after that, Christian Witches are the target. It goes in cycles. Something different will probably crop up next week.

The thing is though, as much as Tumblr gets made fun of by “serious” practitioners for being fluffy central and Headquarters for the Social Justice Warriors (which is often true) Tumblr has been, in my experience, a place that is much less tolerant of bigotry and assholetry as some of the other social networks I’ve been to.

It’s no secret that Heathenry has issues with racism, but it’s also true that a sizable portion of Heathens have issues with other “isms”: ableism, homophobia, transphobia. These people are not card-carrying neonazis. They’re running respectable Heathen websites. For some examples, check out my posts “Stay Classy, Asatru Lore” and “Moderates” among others. I have seen too many people on Tumblr say that they are interested in Heathenry, but are absolutely not okay with the kind of dickishness that gets passed off as “being blunt” like it does in some Heathen circles. If you’ve read the posts above and you don’t think this is an issue, it might be a sign that you’re a part of the problem.

These people find acceptance on Tumblr when they wouldn’t find it anywhere else.

Tumblr may not be perfect. Tumblr may earn its reputation on occasion. Tumblr may be a source of drama, but Tumblr will not tolerate your hate. (In fact, there’s a rule about tagging your hate.) It’s not perfect, there’s the odd person who thinks the Wiccan Rede applies to everyone, and some portions of the community are more vitriolic than others, but overall, compared to some of the Facebook groups I’ve been in, Tumblr is not interested in your shit.

Review: Rat Queens (Vol. 1)

My friend told me i had to read this comic. “You’ll love it,” she said. “It has badass queer ladies and badass POCs and ladies who drink and swear and it’s awesome.” To be honest, I was intrigued but skeptical. Parodies of the fantasy genre are so numerous that they might as well be their own genre at this point. “Hey, we’ll have an atheist Cleric! Har har!” “Let’s be sure to put in a joke about dwarf women and beards because no one’s ever done that before!” It’s been done so often that it’s just tiresome.

In that light, does Rat Queens have the most original story and setting?

No, not really.

Is it still awesome?

Yes.

Rat Queens stars the titular Rat Queens, an adventuring party made up of four women: Hannah, the “rockabilly elven mage” who takes no shit and gives zero fucks, Violet, the “hipster dwarven warrior” who shaved her beard back when it actually meant something, Dee, the atheist human cleric whose parents worship a giant squid, and the hippy halfling thief Betty, whose idea of a good meal is drugs and candy. The series follows their exploits in and around the town of Palisade. The paperback edition collects issues 1-5.

The setting will be familiar to anyone even passably familiar with the Standard Fantasy Setting. There are adventuring parties made up of various classes who go around slaying monsters and stuff, and yes, there are references to dwarven women having beards and atheist clerics. It’s the Rat Queens themselves that make this comic special. They’re a quartet of badass ladies who drink, swear, kick ass (in ways that are frequently bloody) and are loyal to each other.

The characters are what makes this comic great for me. I love how Hannah takes no shit at all and the way Dee acts during a party (with her nose stuck in a book avoiding all opportunities to socialize) reminds me of me at parties. I love how Betty constantly provides comic relief with references to drug use and innuendo but isn’t just a comic relief character. She’s sweet and, like the rest of the Queens, perfectly capable of kicking ass when she needs to, even Violet’s firm rejection of dwarvish cultural traditions struck a chord with me. None of them  annoyed me and I didn’t think one received more characterization than the others.

At first I wasn’t too thrilled with the art. It’s a very cartoonish style that wasn’t really doing anything for me. I think the best part about the art is the facial expressions. The characters are so expressive. You can see their emotions written all over their faces. The art style did take some getting used to (especially since I don’t read a lot of comics) but it can’t be said that the characters aren’t expressive.

Yes, Violet, yes she did.

It’s also pretty diverse. Dee and Sawyer (who is Captain of the Guard in Palisade) are both black and there are characters of colour in the other adventuring groups as well as in the background. Betty is a lesbian and gets an on-screen kiss with her ex-girlfriend. There are also a pretty good range of body types from the short and svelte Betty to the heavyset Braga (Braga is awesome, btw). Some of the outfits are kind of fanservice-y but interestingly enough, the outfits on some of the male characters are no less impractical and characters like Violet are actually wearing practical clothing that suits the type of job that they’re doing.

Rat Queens doesn’t away from being violent and bloody. There’s no nudity but there are some revealing outfits, and sex is not shown at all. Women also tend to throw misogynistic insults at one another, and of course there are the drug and alcohol references. As I said, these ladies aren’t afraid to cuss up a storm when shit hits the fan.

Along with Saga, Rat Queens is definitely a comic I’ll be following. The setting might not be the most original but it’s made me laugh more than once and I already can’t wait to read the next few issues. (The next trade paperback is out in January). If you want a fun (if times dark) fantasy adventure with a crew of badass ladies, go check out Rat Queens.

Review: The Stone Prince

[tw: emotional abuse]

Look it’s another one of those books that I got months ago and I’m only getting to review now because my to read pile keeps growing (seriously though it’s been a hard month or I would have finished it sooner). I’m actually more familiar with her partner’s (Tanya Huff) work, which are very hit or miss for me. I loved the Blood books, hated the Smoke series, and was meh regarding The Enchantment Emporium.

For centuries, the royal line of Branion has possessed the power of the Flame, a powerful magic that can rain destruction down on one’s enemies if it doesn’t drive its vessel mad or consume them as easily as their enemies, you know, standard magical stuff. Crown prince Demnor has other things on his mind, however, foremost among them having to deal with a formidable mother who only seems to want to berate him for not being strong enough, when neighbouring Scotland Heathland rises up in rebellion against Branion, Demnor will find himself embroiled in a struggle that might tear the realm apart.

My favourite thing about this book has to be the world-building. Everyone uses masculine titles and women are just as likely to serve in the army or run towns as men. There are a ton of fantasy novels that either present themselves as egalitarian with every prominent position being filled by men or stick all women in homemaking and support roles out of a sense of “realism” (which isn’t all that realistic, when you think about it). Not so here, there are a great many female characters who are kind, cunning, and every bit as ruthless as any man in a similar position in a dime a dozen fantasy novel. I wish more authors would get this, but I digress. The world itself is nothing you haven’t seen before, Branion and the surrounding areas are basically the U.K. with slightly fantastical names and the major religions are both Crystal Dragon Jesus traditions with the Essusiate religion having a literal dragon as the companion of Jesus Essus, and they also have nuns and a Pontiff (who can be a woman, in case you’re wondering) and the Triarchic faith worshiping a trio of deities known as the Triarchy as well as the Living Flame, which is embodied in the ruler, the Aristok, in addition to having Mass-like services. It doesn’t exactly score originality points in the religion category, but I’ve seen some really half-baked attempts at writing religion in fantasy novels. However, religion does occupy a central role in the major conflict in the book, so i can forgive a lack of originality.

Unfortunately, I initially wasn’t too impressed with either Demnor or his love interest. Demnor just rubbed me the wrong way, and it took me awhile to warm up to him and realize that the emotional abuse he suffers at the hands of his mother would mess up any kid. I can’t say the same for his love interest, Kelahnus. He’s set up as a hyper competent spy and courtesan with combat training (top of his class, in fact) and yet, when push comes to shove, he hides in the corner. I just found it kind of ridiculous how he’s supposed to be top of his class in an organization of powerful information gatherers who are loyal to their Guild first and use the nobles to advance the Guild’s position and he never really demonstrates that he is.

Speaking of Kelahnus, in Branion it’s common to have relationships with one (or more) Companions of the same sex. This is apparently to cut down on the number of bastard children. The Companions, however, are not permitted to reciprocate their client’s feelings, as nothing is to come before their loyalty to the Guild; the fact that Kelahnus does reciprocate Demnor’s feelings is a major part of the plot. At the same time, Demnor being forced into a politically motivated unwanted marriage complicates things, and to be honest, the unwanted marriage thing got on my nerves, like why couldn’t they just be a couple without dragging out the unwanted marriage trope? I know this book is a bit old now, but it’s still frustrating. I did like how, unlike in almost every other book I’ve read with a central m/m romance, the women aren’t completely ignored or treated with disdain, Kelahnus in particular has a good relationship with Tania, Demnor’s intended’s Companion, and although Demnor would rather not marry Isolde, they get along well enough. Although, in my opinion, I think referring to Demnor as “gay” is a stretch, because he certainly spends a lot of time admiring how Isolde looks and stuff like that. He read more as bisexual to me but his first love will always be Kelahnus.

The other frustrating part about this book is the flashbacks. The flashbacks are very lengthy and tell of how Demnor and Kelahnus met and elaborate more on the tension between Demnor and his mother. The flashbacks take up such a big chunk of the book that you could almost say it’s telling two stories. Now I don’t mind flashbacks, but I felt like the ones in this book might have gone on a little too long.

As much as I find the way this book handles gender to be refreshing, I’m not sure if I want to read the other books in the series. (Note that the other books in the series are actually prequels and The Stone Prince is a self-contained story.)  At this time, I’m interested in continuing with this series but I think I’ll hold off a bit before ordering the next one. I didn’t hate this book. In fact, as of right now, I actually prefer her writing to Huff’s, but  the issues above just leave me uncertain about this series.

Game Review: Hatoful Boyfriend

As you probably already know, I love dating sims. There’s something about pursuing a relationship with a fictional character who is actually a bunch of ones and zeroes that is just so…I don’t know the word, satisfying, maybe? I don’t think that’s the right word. The point is that I really like it when games give me a chance to set my character up with another character (or two) and there aren’t very many options if you’re looking to play a dating sim in English (well, Other Age is pretty cute).

Hatoful Boyfriend isn’t your average dating sim, and, well, just check out the logo:

 

http://pixelperfectgaming.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Hatoful_Boyfriend_New_Full_Logo.jpg

In Hatoful Boyfriend, you are the only human student (default name Hiyoko Tosaka) at St. PigeoNation’s school for gifted birds. As Hiyoko, you’ll attend classes, meet new friends, and find romance.

You know, with sentient birds, you’re dating birds, you, the player. Birds.

If this sounds like complete WTFery, that’s because that’s exactly what it is. It knows its premise is absolutely out there and it runs with it, but it still manages to be a competent parody of dating sims. You have a range of personalities that you would expect from any dating sim: the boy next door/childhood friend, the jock, the snobbish aristocrat, the quiet and aloof one, the flirt, the bad boy, all present and accounted for with a few interesting twists (you know, besides the whole bird thing). From the get go, it’s apparent that all is not as it seems, whether it’s your homeroom teacher mysteriously smelling of bleach or disappearances connected to the infirmary.

The thing is, Hatoful Boyfriend isn’t a very good game.

Hiyoko only has three stats she can raise: vitality, charisma, and wisdom. Each guy has the one stat they prefer, and as long as you always attend a particular class, you’re pretty much guaranteed to get their ending provided you joined the right club at the beginning. The script is also full of grammatical errors. One of the most annoying things about this game for me was that they didn’t capitalize titles, so you’ll see a lot of “miss Tosaka”, I don’t know if this is due to translating honourifics literally or if they just didn’t care but in any case it was really annoying.  The individual routes also generally lack substance and “subtlety” is definitely not in its dictionary, although, considering that this is an indie title that began as a joke, that’s not surprising. Another annoyance is the fast forward function, which does its job a little too well in that if you’re not careful it will fast forward through scenes you haven’t read yet. The graphics amount to stock images of birds, although the background images are nicely done (they were redone for the Steam version). The music is mostly Christmas tunes mixed in with some forgettable and some tracks that are just epic (my favourite has to be the “battle” theme, if you heard it you would understand). The new Azami route that was added to this version was amazing but it was more like a mini-route in that you don’t have an option to date her instead of the boys, which is disappointing. I would have liked to have an Azami Christmas event or a message from her during Tanabata.

Ryouta, your childhood friend, a rock dove.

In fact, arguably the real meat of the game is in the route you unlock after unlocking certain endings, with an extended epilogue if you complete all the routes. This route, the Bad Boys Love or Hurtful Boyfriend route, explains just what the heck is going on with the birds and the general state of the game’s world. It’s basically a visual novel, to say anything more would be spoiling things, but this route is much more substantial and a radical departure in tone. The wacky dating sim is really only the tip of the iceberg.

It’s almost sad that some people are going to look at the premise, raise an eyebrow, and miss a great story under all the weird, whereas others will probably play it for a bit, get bored with it, and, again, miss the entertaining story behind it.

In terms of triggering content, the game contains references to suicide and one of the dateable characters is a serial killer and, as you might expect, his route gets very, very dark very fast. Fortunately, he’s easy to identify. There is a little bit of blood but what gore there is in the game is purely text-based. While the Bad Boys Love route isn’t “scary” in the sense that it has jump scares, it definitely has elements of horror (which includes violence against children) and can get very creepy (and also very sad). One character is also racist towards Anghel, who is Filipino. Unfortunately, in order to get the very best ending in the BBL route (and you want to play it, trust me), you need to get all the endings.

So which love interest was my favourite? The first route I completed was Kazuaki’s route, but I also like Shuu, Yuuya, and Anghel. Anghel’s route in particular needs to be experienced to truly appreciate how epic it is. Even Okosan, a character type I usually hate, was a riot despite his obsession with pudding. The game’s script may lack subtlety but I found myself liking all the characters. The main character, Hiyoko, isn’t your typical dating sim protagonist, she’s a tough hunter-gatherer girl who can’t relax without red meat in the morning.

If you like dating sims, Hatoful Boyfriend is certainly an interesting addition to the small collection of dating sims that are available in English. It’s a game that is pretty much nothing but Narm Charm and to be honest as a game it’s really not that great. However, if you’re willing to put up with the lackluster writing and overall bizarreness, there’s an entertaining story beneath it all. Steam indicates I’ve played it for ten hours, and at the current price of $9.88 I’d probably recommend waiting for a sale.

Hatoful Boyfriend is a weird game that somehow manages to be terrible and awesome at the same time. It’s terrible in the sense that it is very simplistic, but awesome in the way that it deconstructs common dating sim tropes hides a really interesting story under what is just, well, absurd. There’s just no other way to describe it.

Game Review: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies

I have a confession to make. I actually completed this game ages ago and for some reason I didn’t review it right away. Now that Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright is coming out in North America in September (my copy just shipped actually), I figured I probably should get around to doing this review.

By now, especially if you’ve read my previous reviews, you should know what to expect from this series. The basic gameplay hasn’t changed: you’ll still be investigating crime scenes and interrogating suspects and witnesses on the stand during trials. Unlike in previous installments (apart from Trials and Tribulations) you won’t be controlling a single lawyer for the whole game. A second new feature is the ability to analyze crime scenes from all angles, and, of course, the graphics are now in glorious 3D.

The game introduces a new defense attorney, hotshot Athena Cykes, a new prosecutor, Simon Blackquill, and a new police contact, Detective Buzz Lightyear Bobby Fullbright (“In Justice we trust!”). Thus far, we’ve had prosecutors who were obsessed with perfection, coffee, and rock and toll; this time around, Prosecutor Blackquill is a condemned criminal who has a thing for bushido. Unlike previous installments, you won’t see many familiar faces in this game, and as usual the cast is the kind of quirky you would expect from an Ace Attorney game: really, really quirky. However, this game also has an overall darker tone to it, and by “darker” I mean it starts with domestic terrorism and goes downhill from there (and it does end up getting bloodier than previous entries in the series). The game may not be as violent as your typical M-rated shooter but trust me, it earns its M rating. I can’t really say anything without spoiling it but if you’re sensitive to bloody crimes involving minors the last case is not your friend, at all.

If you’ve played any of the previous Ace Attorney games (and you should, especially since the original trilogy is being updated and re-released for the 3DS) you should be very familiar with the gameplay by now. Investigate crime scenes, interview witnesses and suspects, point out contradictions in the courtroom. However, crime scenes aren’t just static backgrounds this time around, you can actually rotate crime scenes to get a better view of hidden objects or interesting points you have yet to investigate. The game also cuts down on pixel hunting by indicating places you can investigate with red circles, and checking them off when you’re finished with them.

Trial segments have a couple of new gameplay elements. The first is the Mood Matrix system. Like Phoenix and Apollo, Athena also has enhanced senses (well, one sense, hearing, in her case). Using the Mood Matrix system, she can “hear the testimony of the heart” and analyze a witness’ feelings, which are then visually represented as different emoticons (happy/sad/angry/surprised) and images. As the player, your job is to find contradictory emotions within the testimony. Is a witness feeling happy when you would expect them to be scared our of their minds? Why are they surprised at that particular moment? The game also throws in a couple twists, such as one of the witness’ emotions overwhelming the others, requiring you to “probe” the images to find the source of their distress. It’s a more versatile mechanic than previous systems and it works really well (although I still love the Perceive system so, so much). The second new gameplay element (which actually isn’t that new) is Revisualization, which is a much more simplified version of Edgeworth’s Logic system in Investigations. Essentially, it’s a review of the facts of the case where you answer some multiple choice questions in order to reach a breakthrough in the case and finger the guilty party once and for all. Much to my delight, the Perceive system makes a comeback, and the animations for it are much more fluid as a result of the upgraded hardware.

As you might expect with the change from 2D graphics to 3D the game looks great. The animations are smooth as silk (in fact, it was kind of weird watching the characters since I was so used to the DS animations). The game also sounds great, with a dramatic fully orchestral soundtrack. There are also animated cutscenes and even a little voice acting.

The one issue I had with this game was that it was just too easy. The areas you can investigate are highlighted for you, and the game only really penalizes you for failing to point out contradictions in spoken testimony. You can (usually) fail as many times as you like in the Mood Matrix and Revisualization sequences without suffering a penalty to your life bar. Compared to Justice for All, Dual Destinies is a walk in the park, seriously. On the plus side, that makes it very accessible to newcomers to the series, but veterans might just find it a little too easy for their tastes.  As much as I love this game, there were times where I felt like it was holding my hand way, way too often. Another thing I didn’t care for was the DLC case (which I bought so that the game would feel “complete”) which took me a long time to finish, not because it was hard, but because I just can only take so much pirate-themed stuff before I turn the 3DS off. I’m just not a pirate person. The DLC case isn’t like Dragon Age or Mass Effect DLC where you miss important plot points by not having it though, so it’s not a great loss. I recommend playing it early on to get the most out of it though.

Despite the hand-holding, it’s not a horrible game by any means, and if you’re an Ace Attorney fan, well, you’ve probably already played it. For me, the enjoyable new gameplay elements (as well as more refined familiar elements) outweighs the hand-holding. It’s no Trials and Tribulations, but it’s still pretty good.

Review: Arthurian Literature by Women

Last winter I was in the mood for Arthuriana, so I asked for this book for my birthday. As usual, the Pile ‘o Books kept piling up and guess what I’ve only just finished reading today?

I love the cover.

Arthurian Literature by Women is, as the title suggests, an anthology of Arthurian poems, stories and plays by women, especially stories that innovate on Arthurian tradition. In this volume you will find a disabled Lady of Shalott, Sir Dagonet (King Arthur’s Fool) as one of the knights who obtains the Holy Grail, and peasants who accomplish tasks even the bravest of King Arthur’s knights are loathe to do.

The editors point out that even in courses that focus on women in Arthurian tradition, most or all of the works studied are by men. Rather than publish excerpts from novels like The Mists of Avalon, however, the editors chose to publish lesser known works by women. The vast majority of the texts are from the 1800s, although there are a couple stories from the 12th century and texts from the 1900s up to the early 90s as well.

The most interesting thing for me is the way that these women have taken the Arthurian tradition and done something different with it. In Avillion; Or the Happy Isles by Dinah Maria Craik, for instance, Avalon (or Avillion, in this case) is but one step on the path towards what New Agers might call spiritual evolution. The Feasts of Camelot by T.K. Hervey is a series of stories that wouldn’t seem out of place in a Medieval Arthurian legend. These stories feature unlikely heroes and redemption for characters that are often cast as villains (like King Mark and Morgan le Fay). Some even paint a not so flattering picture of King Arthur himself. There are more than a few scathing critiques of male writers like Tennyson in here. It would be impossible to go through every entry and review them separately, but my favourites were “Lanval” by Marie de France, and the excerpts from The Feasts of Camelot, which seemed to be the closest to Medieval literature on the subject. Some entries have a happy ending, others (such as the one play in the collection) are very melodramatic. Some pieces touch on issues like poverty or loss of a child. Some are contemporary pieces, others are set in the distant past. There’s even a piece that’s a bit of a precursor to modern urban fantasy.

My one issue with this book is the lack of footnotes. The introduction is pretty good at summarizing each individual piece, but I would have liked to see some footnotes as the authors were often fond of referencing events and characters that might be lost on the modern reader. I also would have appreciated it if the entries were in chronological order or separated by theme. It’s not a huge deal, it’s just something I would have liked to see. Even with the lack of notes, however, this is a really interesting collection and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in Arthurian literature that is by women and not just about women. It also includes bibliographies of fiction and poetry and drama by women, so if you wanted one of the better known books that aren’t in this volume, you’ll probably be able to find it there.

This has been a short review but if you’re interested in Arthurian literature by women I’d check this one out. Since it is a bit pricey, I’d check and see if your local library has it.

Deck Review: Attuned: A Moon Cycle Deck

[The following review may be triggery for tokophobia, nudity, and some images are NSFW]

It’s been awhile since I did one of these, hasn’t it?

File this one under “I shouldn’t like this deck so much but I do.”

I’ve been interested in this deck for a long time. I really loved the bright colours and the way the images seem to flow like water. It reminded me very much of my Mythical Goddess Tarot (NSFW). But I didn’t pick it up because I thought it was out of print and therefore expensive.

However, I found it on etsy and it was actually reasonably priced. (I was actually expecting to pay twice that for a self-published oracle deck) and it was like I fell in love with it all over again. So now here it is in my hands and I’m ready to tell you about it.

Let’s get the obvious points out of the way first. This deck is very New Agey and Menstrual Moon Mysteries-centric. Well, actually not so much about periods, but as you can no doubt tell from the deck’s name, there’s a lot about moon cycles. In fact, the deck is designed for daily contemplation over a 28 day lunar cycle (as there are only 28 cards). The cards are large and a pain in the ass to shuffle, but that makes them ideal to prop up and use as focal points for meditation or to decorate a shrine or altar. The only issue I really had with the cards themselves was that the card stock is very flimsy, not paper thin, but definitely not up to rough handling. The cards came with a nice bag and a leaflet with meanings for each card.

The selling point for me was the art, however. I love the art. This deck has some very vivid colours and a very curvy, flowing art style. The figures on each card seem to gently sway to music only they can hear. It’s also very brightly coloured which also brings to mind the Mythical Goddess, which has the same kind of flowing art style and bright colours.

The “Gemini” card from Attuned: A Moon Cycle Deck

This deck is best used for meditation but I have had some success doing one card readings with it. (Although I did find parts of the paragraph for each card irrelevant to the readings.)  I wouldn’t say it’s really a reading deck though, it’s best used for meditation and contemplation. The creator recommends drawing a card starting on the first day or your menstrual cycle (if you menstruate) and drawing a card each day until you’ve gone through the whole deck. Alternatively, you could just draw a card on the new moon and do it that way.

One thing to keep in mind is that this is a very, shall we say, “feminine” deck. There’s only one figure I can see that seems a bit more “masculine” and few card images look androgynous. There are plenty of breasts on display but others are covered by the figures’ arms. One image, the “Birth” card, actually startled me when I came to it, as it shows a woman giving birth to the moon in a patch of red. I would say if you’re tokophobic that you might want to skip this deck, because it certainly gave me pause when I saw it. This is definitely one of those decks where I’d say you pretty much have to be in the intended demographic (in this case, cis women who menstruate) in order to get a lot out of it, but your mileage may vary.

I like this deck. I’m not sure what it is about this deck that I like exactly. It’s yet another deck that I shouldn’t like for a variety of reasons but I like all the same. If you would like this deck for your collection, you can buy it off etsy.

Review: A Study in Ashes by Emma Jane Holloway

[Note: The following will contain MAJOR SPOILERS for the entire trilogy.]

I have a really bad quirk. Once I pick up the first book in a series (unless I decide I don’t like it within the first few pages) I can’t not finish what I started. Even if the series isn’t one of my favourites, I need to know how the story ends.

When I first picked up A Study in Silks, I wasn’t really expecting anything particularly innovative, and I enjoyed it for what it was. romance tropes and all. I eagerly began A Study in Darkness, and was ready to give up on the trilogy entirely. However, telling myself that it was just the Second Book Curse, I picked up the third book….and I let it sit there for ages.

The final book in the trilogy opens with Evelina being sent to attend the Ladies College of London, only the academic institution is less a center of learning and more like a prison for her. Forced to wear bracelets that suppress her magic, she’s utterly at the mercy of the Gold King. Meanwhile, war is looming as tension builds between the Steam Barons and the rebels, the Baskervilles, start gaining more support for their cause. Magic, murder, and mayhem is the order of the day.

The final book in the trilogy has a ton of different plots going on at once. Besides Evelina attending college and trying to escape the Gold King, Imogen’s soul has been trapped in a clock and she needs to find a way out, Tobias and Alice are occupied with their son, Jeremy, Lord Bancroft comes face to face with his past sins and the rebels, led by the mysterious Schoolmaster, are running all over the place trying to muster their forces for a final confrontation with the Steam Barons, who are, as usual, plotting and fighting amongst themselves. There’s a definite sense of things moving around, shifting, alliances being made and broken, that sort of thing. We also get a glimpse of other members of the Steam Council besides Gold and Blue, with the Violet Queen especially getting a little more page time. There’s a real sense that things are on the move and tensions in London are about to reach boiling point. This is something that I felt was missing from the last book, which just seemed like Evelina running around not doing what she was supposed to be doing until her deadline forced her to do it.

Let’s start with the stuff I liked about this book. The book has some surprisingly good action scenes and moments which I thought were just begging to be played out on the big screen. I also liked that there was overall less time spent pining for a love interest and more time getting stuff done. without spoiling anything, the book also neatly ties up most of its plotlines. There was a thread or two that I thought was left hanging a little, but it’s always nice to end with many questions answered. I also like how Evelina challenges the sexism of one of her professors while at college.

As for what I didn’t like, well, it’s still slow in places, but nowhere near what it was in the second book. Imogen’s scenes were, funnily enough, some of the slowest scenes for me. You would think considering her situation that it would be a bit more exciting but I didn’t find that at all. There was also a bit near the very end where I found Evelina’s reaction t9 a group of Wraiths kind of ridiculous considering all that she’s been through, but not enough to cause me to put the book down. There’s a certain Holmesian nemesis that I thought didn’t really play as big a role in the plot as he should have, overall disappointing. I also thought that there was a bit of an inconsistency re: Evelina’s “dark power”, particularly how lethal it actually was, I guess maybe I expected more from it than what I actually got, but that’s been true for the entire trilogy, honestly.

All things considered, it’s nothing particularly earth-shattering but it’s definitely an improvement on the second book. If this review seems rather sparse it’s because I really don’t have that much more to say about it. For me, it’s definitely a case of So Okay, It’s Average.

Visions of Vanaheim 2nd Edition Out Now!

This is just a quick note to let you know that the second edition of Visions of Vanaheim by Nornoriel Lokason (who previously wrote as Svartesol) is out now.

Paperback: CreateSpace, Amazon.com

Ebook: direct from the author’s etsy shop.

The first edition of Visions of Vanaheim is probably the most comprehensive book on Vanatru. The second edition includes information on the tribes, culture, and history of Vanaheim (something that was mostly absent from the first edition). If you have any interest in Vanatru, I would encourage you to get this book. It’s info on Vanatru from the perspective of one of the forefathers of the movement.