Review: Autumn Bones (Agent of Hel #2)

[rape tw, racism tw]

Hey remember what I said last review about how it can be difficult to read an author’s other books when you’ve grown so attached to a certain book or series? Here’s another example!

Daisy Johanssen pulled the resort town of Pemkowet through a tragedy that befell the town that summer, and now she’s gained respect as Hel’s enforcer and she’s dating normal guy Sinclair Palmer, a refreshing change from ghouls and unattainable werewolves, but Sinclair has a secret of his own–he’s descended from Obeah practitioners, and they want him back in the family business. If he refuses, they’ll unleash powerful magic upon the town which could spell its end if Daisy doesn’t do something–and fast!

If there’s one thing Carey has a talent for, it’s interweaving the fantastical with the mundane in such a way that you can readily accept that supernatural tourism is a thing and those quirky neighbours next door are actually otherworldly beings. The series has a very Southern Vampire vibe. Pemkowet feels believable in ways that few urban fantasy settings have felt to me. It feels like a typical small town where everyone knows everyone and supernatural tours are a thing, oh, and the supernatural sometimes shows up for a photo op. I also liked the fact that Daisy, unlike so many other urban fantasy protagonists, actually has female friends and a loving, supportive relationship with her mother. (As explained in the last book, her father is a demon from Hell and him crossing over would mean Armageddon, so there’s a good reason why he’s absent).

That said, the talents of such a good writer are wasted on such a formulaic series. Did you think the love triangle was resolved in the last book? Oh hell no, it’s back. It’s very much back, and you get to listen to Daisy whinge about how sexy and unattainable boring werewolf cop Cody Fairfax is in between her telling you about vocabulary words she’s learned from her teacher. To be fair, however, she does spend a fair amount of time with Stefan, who I find much more interesting even though you could replace his craving for emotions with a taste for blood and end up with a vampire love interest. Speaking of vampires, one thing that really surprised me was Jen’s sister, Bethany, who Daisy constantly refers to as a “blood slut” actually getting a bit of character development. What really annoyed me, though, was that Carey had an opportunity to portray a main character in an urban fantasy with a “normal” relationship that’s also an interracial relationship, and she decided to pull the old “you’re normal and we’re better as friends” thing, not surprising but disappointing. Speaking of things that annoyed me, Daisy herself really started to get on my nerves with the way she kept talking about the vocabulary words she learned from her teacher or the way she kept exclaiming “Gah!” like a young teenager.

This book, like the last one, suffers from rapeyness and consent issues. The first case that Daisy investigates is at a gay nightclub where an orgy is in progress, where the participants are in thrall by a satyr in rut. Now, Daisy mentions that eldritch woo can’t compel true desire, but the fact that a couple characters who are freed from the satyr’s influence clearly didn’t want what happened to them inside the club is disconcerting. I also don’t like how Daisy can’t seem to let Cody go when he has repeatedly told her that things won’t work between them because he needs to have kids with another werewolf.

My other issue with the book is the way Carey uses Obeah as the “Monster of the Week” which seems like it does a disservice to the tradition if it’s not outright appropriative. The villain in this case is a judge who is rumored to have used her powers to influence people and get what she wants, you know how it is. As one reviewer put it, it’s a variant on “the Voodoo episode” (only with Obeah in place of Vodou) as in, every show or book needs to eventually use Vodou as a plot point.

In short, I feel like this series had so much potential, especially since urban fantasy is very erased. Carey could have given us a queer-friendly universe like she did in the Kushiel books, but instead she chose to do a paint-by-numbers trope-riddled mess, and it saddens me because I know she can do better. The Sundering was better than this, Kushiel’s Legacy was better than this. As much as I don’t like to leave a series unfinished, i don’t think I’ll be picking up Poison Fruit. This series, to me, represents a whole lot of wasted potential, and I would absolutely recommend The Sundering or Kushiel’s Legacy over this any day of the week.

Review: Initiate: A Witch’s Circle of Water by Thuri Calafia

I picked this up about a year ago because a friend was reading it and I thought maybe I could adapt some of the material in it to suit my own practice. It’s been sitting on my desk with part of my to-read pile, but since it’s warm enough to read outside now (Happy Solstice!) I’ve been spending a lot of time working on it. Unfortunately, I have long suspected my books are reproducing.

Initiate might seem like an odd choice of book for a Vanatruar, and it is, it’s meant to be a year and a day course of study in solitary eclectic Wicca, specifically the rough equivalent of second degree material (although each tradition has their own take on degrees). In short, this book is meant to be Wicca 201, the sort of book that isn’t geared towards beginners that folks are constantly asking for, or at least they were when I identified as Wiccan.

Initiate is divided up into three main sections: a lunar year that includes inner work and exercises over thirteen moons, a solar year which focuses on holidays and more outward expressions of the religion, and the adept initiation itself. Students are meant to use the lunar and solar lessons in tandem to get the full year and a day study experience. Much of the book is focused on energy work, chasing one’s shadows, and preparing for the service and community oriented adept path. Some topics covered in the book include examining your attitude towards money (including whether or not to charge for services), sexuality, devotion, health and healing. and more.

As someone who has read a lot of Wicca 101 books, this book is definitely one I could have used back then. It assumes you’ve read Dedicant, the author’s first book, or at least that you already know the stuff outlined in typical 191 books. This book is meant to address what comes next after initiation. This is something that is sorely lacking in the market these days. There are lots of books that tell you how to cast a circle, but few that tell you what to do when you’ve taken that big step and been initiated or dedicated yourself to a Wiccan tradition, and there is definitely some food for thought here. I think it’s important to examine one’s attitudes towards money, for instance, especially since I’ve seen some very unhealthy attitudes towards money since becoming a Pagan.

Unfortunately I felt that the book would have been way more enjoyable if the author’s voice wasn’t so prominent throughout. That sounds like a strange thing to say, but she comes across as somewhat condescending, referring to readers as “dear initiate” more than a hundred times in the book, and in some places becomes almost preachy (particularly in the section on health and healing. Other things I felt could have been worded better, such as the statement that we need to look after the mentally ill, as if everyone with a mental illness is incapable of caring for themselves. Other issues I had with the book can be chalked up to my issues with Wicca as a whole, namely gender essentialism (in particular, stating that “by nature and nurture” men naturally project energy, women naturally receive energy). I also found her “look up community things on the internet!” advice to be pretty unhelpful, as not everyone knows how to search for reliable information on the internet. This is purely my personal preference, but i think I would have preferred it if the solar and lunar years were together in one section since they relate to each other anyways, and I can see a student getting annoyed with having to constantly flip back and forth between them. The stories at the beginning of each chapter did well highlighting the major theme in that chapter but I found them to be a bit corny. The glossary at the back is a godsend because the author uses some different words for common Wiccan concepts that you might not see in other books, but I take issue with some of the entries, particularly the one for “matron” goddesses, as the author does not seem to understand why using “matron” to refer to patron deities is incorrect and potentially insulting to said deities.

Initiate is not a book that I need at this time, but it was a book that I would have loved in the past. i do think it asks some interesting questions, and for a solitary Wiccan looking for ways to deepen their practice, you could certainly do worse than this book. Unfortunately, I ultimately felt that any good advice this book had to offer was drowned out by the author’s voice. Still, if you know someone who is looking for a Wicca 201 book, they might want to check it out, and in case you’re worried that this is going to be a regular thing, don’t worry, I have a more tradition appropriate book coming up soon (it’s Norse Goddess Magic A.K.A. Magic of the Norse Goddesses by Alice Karlsdottir).

Review: Written in Red (The Others #1)

[self harm tw]

Sometimes I feel like I have this weird love affair with authors where the first time I read their books, it’s fresh and exciting, like a new relationship, but as they keep writing and sometimes branch out into other genres, it seems like that initial high was gone. There’s the sense of “it’s not like x series” or worse, it’s just a rehashing of your favourite series only the characters have different names.

This is how I ultimately feel about Written in Red by Anne Bishop.

Meg Corbyn is a cassandra sangue, someone who can see the future when their skin is cut. Meg’s Controller keeps her and girls like her isolated from the rest of the world and sells their prophecies to those willing to pay for them. She manages to escape, however, and find refuge with the Others–powerful beings who rule the world and see humans as prey–by taking a job as their human liaison, a position which puts her in frequent contact with Simon Wolfgard, the man (er. wolf) in charge of making sure life in the Courtyard runs smoothly, but when Simon discovers that Meg is wanted by the government, it’s up to him to decide whether a human who doesn’t smell like prey is worth a conflict between humans and the Others.

I’ve read a lot of urban fantasy where humans have an uneasy alliance with otherworldly entities if they’re not outright oppressing or being discriminatory against said entities, but rarely have I encountered a book where the Other rules over humanity. In Written in Red, this is not only the case, but humans also live on the Others’ sufferance. Humans survive because the Others find us amusing or useful, and they would think nothing of destroying entire cities if humans made too much of a fuss. This is one of the things that I think Bishop excels at, portraying characters who are wholly Other and yet somehow still making you care about them.

I also liked Meg in that like Bishop’s other heroines, she’s naive but doesn’t feel more like an object than an actual person (Jaenelle) or so hopelessly naive it’s annoying (Lynnea). She’s scared and doesn’t know how the coffee maker works and knows full well that she could die in the Courtyard, and yet she learns, she becomes braver, and she’s determined to avert the events she sees in her prophecies.

Unfortunately, where I feel the book falters is it’s reliance on the same tropes that Bishop’s been using since the Black Jewels Trilogy, let’s check off some boxes, shall we?

  • A central power imbalance between magical/supernatural folk and ordinary people? Check.
  • A naive heroine who escapes from an abusive situation? Check.
  • An alpha male love interest who is one of the magical people? Check.
  • The heroine gradually “taming” and turning the love interest from grade A asshole to flummoxed muffin? Check.
  • An antagonistic character who is just Too Dumb to Live? Check.
  • Blue and Orange Morality or at least a moral code that seems alien to you and I? Check.
  • A heroine who encounters and befriends isolated groups in a way that has never been done before? Check.

Now there is nothing wrong with a formulaic story or relying on certain tropes, but to me Written in Red just feels like the Black Jewels Trilogy with an urban fantasy gloss, a much less interesting world, and a focus on the minute details of sorting the mail and making deliveries. In the Black Jewels Trilogy, the more mundane aspects of the story worked as a breather to relax the reader after a tense scene, Written in Red didn’t have the kinds of dark moments that you needed a break from like in the BJT although I must say that I found she did a much better job portraying regular people this time around than, say, the landens in Tangled Webs.

Another thing I found particularly jarring was that not only is the world of Written in Red Earth in all but name, there’s a conspicuous lack of indigenous peoples (the book states that when humans sailed across the ocean, they found werewolves and vampires but no other humans) and the only person of colour I recall with any detail is Monty, a cop who plays a significant role in the story (and is also a point of view character).

As if the cliched nature of the book wasn’t bad enough, Meg’s powers are activated by cutting and throughout the book she has to struggle with the urge to cut (which is accompanied by a euphoric high if the prophecy is spoken) and expose herself as a cassandra sangue. This is probably not the book for you if you have issues with self harm. It’s also implied (though not stated) that the cassandra sangue in captivity are/were raped. Some might also be disturbed by the fact that the Others not only see humans as prey, but are happy to demonstrate that fact in detail.

Overall, if this is your first book by this author, I’d absolutely recommend the Black Jewels Trilogy over this (with the caveat that rape and pedophilia very much occur within the confines of its pages) but unless you’re looking for the same old tropes in a more modern setting, I’d skip this one. As someone who has at least attempted to read books in every series the author has written, it’s not the stellar urban fantasy the blurbs are making it out to be.

What’s Going On?

I thought I’d just post a general update because I haven’t done something that isn’t a review in some time.

Here are some things that have been going on:

  • I finally convinced the government that I have a disability, so I’ll be getting some money in each month that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. Most of it will be going to my dad as rent, but it’s money we didn’t have before and that is good.
  • I have a backlog of reviews to get to so expect to see multiple reviews a day
  • I am also working on what I hope will be a series of erotic fantastical mystery stories. I was originally going to just post them on tumblr but I haven’t posted any writing here in a long time, so I think it’s time to fix that

Review: Two Serpents Rise (Craft Sequence #2)

I’ll be honest, I don’t read a lot of books by male authors who aren’t Jim C. Hines or Terry Pratchett except on occasion. It’s not that i have anything against dudes, I’m just so sick and tired of fantasy fiction written by dudebros where every female character is either barely there or sexualized as all hell or both–not that authors of all genders are immune to this–and I just don’t have the patience for more Jim Butchers or Kevin Hearnes and the like.

That said, Max Gladstone now has a spot as one of my favourite writers.

Two Serpents Rise is the sequel to Three Parts Dead, but while it takes place in the same universe, it doesn’t share anything else in common with the previous book. Our protagonist is Caleb Altemoc, gambler and professional risk manager for Red King Consolidated, the Concern that basically keeps the desert city of Dresediel Lex running, but shadow demons infesting the city’s water supply is the least of Caleb’s worries as he is quickly drawn into a high stakes game involving ancient gods, cliff running, and complicated legal contracts.

I’m in a weird position when it comes to talking about the characters because this is one book where i didn’t particularly like the main character. Next to someone like Tara from the last book, Caleb comes across as kind of….average….even the cover art gives that impression (although I don’t know why there’s a white boy on the cover since my impression based on his father’s skin colour is that he’s either black or brown like the majority of characters in Dresediel Lex) and he spends much of the book acting like a lovesick puppy. Fortunately, the book has some great secondary characters like Teo, one of Caleb’s friends who happens to be a lesbian, his father, Temoc, last priest of the old gods and wanted terrorist, Mal, a mysterious cliff runner Caleb is trying to protect from the authorities (and the reason he acts like a lovesick puppy) and the King in Red, the imposing figure who keeps the city running after killing most of its gods. Caleb might be the POV character, but I found that the characters around him really stole the show. Even characters who only show up in a couple scenes (like Four, a Warden, or Sam, Teo’s girlfriend) manage to leave an impression.  In comparison to the first book, I found the second book had less of that “what the hell is going on?” sort of feeling, but you still might find yourself a little lost at times., and although you might see the twist coming, it’s the sort of twist where the reader screams at the characters to stop but can only watch as the narrative unfolds, so even though I saw it coming, I can’t say I was disappointed by it.

In terms of representation the dominant Quechal population in Dresediel Lex seem to be brown, although I was under the impression that Caleb’s father was black. In terms of queer representation, there’s Teo, Sam and the Red King himself, and although the main cast doesn’t really bat an eye, Teo still encounters homophobia and sexism and the Red King confronts religiously-motivated homophobia at the macro level in his back story.

In terms of triggery content there’s an instance of self-harm and as a polytheist I was a little disturbed by some of the scenes involving the old deities (when the narrative says that the Craftspeople killed them, they mean that literally) but that’s just my personal squick. The book also has a fantastical slur (“altar maid”) which is used against queer women, but no real world slurs. Some might also be disturbed by the scene discussing Sam’s art (involving snakes eating each other).

Overall, I loved Two Serpents Rise and actually found it to be superior to the first book in almost every way apart from the main character (Caleb is nice but kind of dull). If you were a fan of the first book, absolutely pick this one up. If you’re new to the series, this book is set in an entirely different location than the first book, but you might still want to pick up Three Parts Dead just to bring yourself up to snuff. I have some more reviews to get to but I’m really looking forward to Full Fathom Five.

Review: Drakenfeld

My search for a good mystery apparently continues and this is one book I’ve had my eye on for some time. The back cover text seemed to promise a locked room mystery wrapped up in a fantasy setting (complete with blurb comparing it to Game of Thrones, although I don’t put much stock in blurbs now).

I really need to stop being seduced by the back cover text.

Lucan Drakenfeld is an Officer of the Sun Chamber, a powerful organization dedicated to maintaining and enforcing the laws which govern the Vispasian Royal Union. Following his father’s death, he is recalled to the city of Tryum to make arrangements for his funeral. However, when the king’s sister is found brutally murdered in a locked temple, he quickly finds himself questioning shady senators and dodging assassins in his quest to find the killer, but, unbeknownst to him, his search for the truth could jeopardize the stability of the already fragile union between the nations.

First, something good: it was nice to see a main character with a disability (Drakenfeld has seizures, though the cause is uncertain) and Leana, Drakenfeld’s black bodyguard/assistant/confidante/resident badass looks good on paper. It’s nice to see a dude/lady pair where the lady is the muscle and the dude doesn’t get in on the action for the most part.

Unfortunately, while the characters look good on paper, the actual execution is lackluster. The writing is threadbare, and Drakenfeld has this very annoying habit of stating the obvious. For instance, stating that a senator has a low opinion of women when said senator just finished expressing his dislike for female senators in addition to saying a woman deserved to die because of her “immoral” lifestyle.This is probably one of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to fiction in general. At times, the descriptive parts are just plain awkward, like when Drakenfeld describes a stripper dancer as “moving her arms through the air as if she was swimming deep underwater” which is probably the most unsexy sexy dance I’ve ever read about. The dialogue is pretty ridiculous in general, or at least in need of a good editor. And although I said that Leana’s character sounds good on paper, her background is still incredibly white saviour-y and gross. Another thing that bothered me about the characters was the way the author seems to play up the Roman-ness of the setting only to have his main character be a thoroughly modern man. Now, there’s nothing wrong with having modern characters in a setting that uses say, Medieval technology (I do it all the time) but that doesn’t mean you should go around claiming that your work is historical fiction (not that this book actually goes that far). I can’t help but feel as if Lucan is out of place in his own world, not really out of place in the sense that he is different from other people, but out of place as in “belongs in another story entirely”.

The actual mystery is kind of eh, probably because I had a good idea who the perp was about halfway through the book. No doubt due in no small part to Drakenfeld repeating the same few facts about the case at least twice every chapter. The actual mystery itself is a classic locked room mystery, which in and of itself is not a bad thing, but like most things about this book, the execution leaves something to be desired, and despite this being in the fantasy section, there’s nothing really that fantastical about it. It’s closet to Kushner’s The Privilege of the Sword mannerpunk fantasy than a magic and wizards sort of deal. In fact Lucan even dismisses the rumors that the murder is the work of ghosts because, again, there is a Rational Explanation for Everything. There is one kind of supernatural element that shows up out of nowhere and doesn’t really do anything to advance the plot, but for the most part there’s no actual magic in sight. Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing and I love The Privilege of the Sword, but it strikes me as a wasted opportunity.

In terms of representation, as mentioned Lucan has seizures, and references to his skin colour describe it as “brown”, Leana is black. Queer representation amounts to a character in the first chapter remarking about how he wants to pick up “studs” at a brothel, the victim apparently sleeping with other women, a possible relationship between the king and a male actor, and Lucan constantly being asked if he prefers men when he states that he has no interest in being with women (he is straight he is just not interested) so….not great.

The long and short of it is that this book, like so many other books, has some great ideas but just shit execution all around. Please don’t be seduced by the back cover text, it tells a way more exciting story than the actual book.

Review: Obsidian and Blood

What’s better than buying and reading one book in a series? Buying and reading one book that contains all the books in a series for the price of a single book. I’ve been in the mood for some genre-busting lately, but I think that few books (at least, few genre books, literature seems built around this idea that it’s not in any particular genre) can pull it off in a way so that it feels like care and attention has been given to all aspects of the book. Too often, I’ve found that books that combine genres tend to sacrifice one to give more attention to the other (paranormal romance is a notable offender, sacrificing the paranormal part to go straight to the romance) and books that combine genres but don’t seem to fit into any one genre run the risk of, I think, trying to do too many things at once. A quick note before I launch into the usual dramatic plot summary and such. I could (as I usually do with anthologies) comment on each novel in turn, but truth be told, I think I have more to say about the complete series than the individual parts, and talking about the books in general will avoid spoiling the events of the individual novels.

Obsidian and Blood contains all three novels starring Acatl, High Priest of the Dead in pre-Conquest Tenochtitlan: Servant of the Underworld, Harbinger of the Storm, and Master of the House of Darts. Acatl isn’t your typical detective, in fact, most of the time he only gives dead bodies a cursory examination and then sends them on their way with the proper rites, but somehow he keeps ending up investigating cases involving murder and magical mayhem. The first book begins with a classic locked room mystery, with Acatl searching for a missing priestess that quickly becomes more personal. He is assisted throughout the series by Teomitl, who is Acatl’s opposite in many ways: more impulsive and brash while Acatl is more level-headed. Other important characters include Mihmatini, Acatl’s sister, Ceyaxochitl, Guardian of the Sacred Precinct, who basically serves as a sort of Chief of Police, and Neutemoc, Acatl’s older brother who is a member of the prestigious Jaguar Knights. I like Acatl as a character, I appreciate characters with a good head on their shoulders, and Acatl increasingly plays the role of the voice of reason throughout the series. Other characters grew on me, like Acamapichtli, High Priest of Tlaloc, who is practically a walking pile of snarky lines (especially in the third book). I didn’t feel like they were especially complex characters, somewhat one dimensional, reliable, shall we say, but I would say the focus isn’t so much on the characters themselves as the world they inhabit.

The world is very interesting. I haven’t read a whole lot of fiction set in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica and I only know a smattering of details about Aztec culture. The Obsidian and Blood series adds an element of the fantastic, with deities living in the mortal world, priests performing magical rituals, and human sacrifice that literally sustains the Fifth World. Human sacrifice is not treated as horrifying, as it usually is by the majority of media portrayals featuring the Aztecs, but as a normal part of the world, with the sacrifices themselves seeing it as a great honor. The book is also refreshingly near devoid of romance subplots, as Acatl is a celibate priest who is not permitted to have children, although Teomitl does have a bit of one. The high point of the series for me was, funnily enough, the second book. The first book did the usual job of first books: setting things up and reaching a satisfying conclusion by the end of the book, but I wasn’t really as engaged by the mystery as I was in the second book, and I felt the third book fell flat in many areas, to the point where it took me way more time to read it than the previous books. I did have two major issues with the omnibus.

The first is that I feel as if fans of fantasy will get more out of this book than mystery readers. At times it just seemed like Acatl solved the mysteries in the series by running around and talking to people until something out of the ordinary happened like he was in the average JRPG. Don’t get me wrong, the mysteries are all eventually solved and there’s usually a twist or two to keep you on your toes, but those of you expecting a bit more detective work will probably be disappointed. The other issue I had was with the writing itself. English is the author’s second language, and the books are not unreadable by any means (in fact, I’ve read way worse from native English speakers), but at times I found the dialogue didn’t make a whole lot of sense or some word choices were kind of awkward. it definitely didn’t deter me in the same way that The School for Good and Evil did, but it could get very distracting and the book could have used some more careful editing. I also found the writing very non-descriptive, more focused on the characters than describing their surroundings, which in itself is not a bad thing, it’s just very to the point kind of prose.

Diversity wise there’s really not much to say as this is set in pre-Columbian Aztec society where everyone is brown and white people haven’t yet arrived to really screw over the Fifth World. There are no queer characters to speak of but considering the little I know about Aztec society doesn’t exactly paint it as a queer-friendly society I’d almost prefer the erasure.

In terms of potentially triggery things, as I said before, human as well as animal sacrifice is a completely normal thing in Mexica culture, and animals in particular are sacrificed a lot throughout the series. There’s also a fair amount of violence and descriptions of dead bodies and what has been done to them. Overall, I liked Obsidian and Blood even though I thought it fell a little flat at the end, and I would say that all things considered it is an interesting mix of a few different genres and the premise for her new novel, involving “a devastated Belle Epoque Paris split between quasi-feudal Houses, addictive magic, dragons–and entirely too many dead bodies!” sounds like it’s definitely worth a look if you like this.

Marthese reviews The Eldermaid by K.Henderson

gefnsdottir:

Marthese at The Lesbrary reviews The Eldermaid.

Originally posted on The Lesbrary:

eldermaid

“Death is never more than a breath away”

I binge read this book in a day! I had wanted to read this book as soon as I read the blurb, but, well, I was late for my review. It helped that it was a very enjoyable story that made you want to read more. This story is short and is a mixture of Fantasy and Adventure, but not the epic kind, more like the kind where the protagonists are always curious and searching for answers.

This story is told from the perspective of Hedda and spans from her childhood onwards. In this world, most deities left the Earth, but left in their stead countless spirits with different elemental powers. There are three types of spirits: maids, knights and jacks. Hedda bonds at a young age with an Eldermaid, although not the one she thought she would at first. When spirits…

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Game Review: Life is Strange (Episode 1)

This game has been on my radar for a bit but until now it just kind of sat on my wishlist. At the time I added it, I still had my faithful old PC that ran retro games like a champ but couldn’t run anything else.

Now that I have a shiny new PC, however, I can get back to playing some more tech heavy games, and this one’s been on my radar for a bit (especially since angry dudebros seem convinced that it’s part of some feminist conspiracy to ruin gaming).

Sadly, Life is Strange isn’t the misandrist fantasy the Steam forums are painting it as (although it’s not anti-feminist by any means) but what it is is a pretty solid adventure game with interesting choices and potentially very interesting consequences. 

Life is Strange is an episodic point and click adventure game where you play as Max, a photography student who ends up saving her friend Chloe’s life by discovering that she has the power to rewind time. The pair soon find themselves exposed to the darker side of their town as they begin to uncover the truth behind the disappearance of a missing student while Max struggles to come to terms with her mysterious power.

Life is Strange is a cross between teen drama shows like Dawson’s Creek with a bit of The Longest Journey, and the game covers a whole slew of issues from teen pregnancy to mental illness to conflicts with authority figures, but the time travel mechanic adds an interesting layer of choice and consequence and turns save scumming into an actual game mechanic. Basically, you’re free to rewind time as often as you want, but when you reach a certain point (when you move to the next area) your choices are locked in and you can’t go back and change them. The game also indicates when you’ve made a choice that will have consequences later, either later in the episode and/or later in the game. For me, the appearance of the butterfly warning me that my actions would have consequences was actually kind of ominous, and unlike Telltale adventure games, you generally aren’t forced to make snap decisions (although one instance in the episode is timed) and can take your time agonizing over which choice to make. Are you nice to the girl who is constantly bullying you, or do you add insult to injury when she’s embarrassed in front of her friends? Do you warn someone when they’re about to be hit by a stray football? Do you poke around in places you probably shouldn’t be poking around in? There are many choices in the first episode alone, some of which (such as watering your plant) I didn’t encounter at all, and characters will remember your actions. In my case, I tried to be polite and helpful, but ended up not endearing myself to a character who turned out to have a pretty important role to play in the episode.

Graphically the game is pretty and the licensed soundtrack is awesome and I feel is especially appropriate for the setting.

If I had one criticism of Life is Strange, it’s that Max can come across as kind of hipster-ish and pretentious (although she herself admits that she is kind of a hipster) which might not be out of the ordinary for a typical teenage girl (it’s been a long time since I was a teenager) but in the end it didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of the first episode.

In terms of potentially triggery things there’s some violence against women, and in the second instance the perpetrator says that the victim “deserved” to be slapped, a mention of an attempted rape, and a portrayal of someone who is possibly dealing with some form of mental illness being violent and aggressive.

Overall, Life is Strange sometimes suffers from pretentious-sounding dialogue but it’s a solid adventure game with plenty of teen drama and a nice time travel mechanic to keep things interesting and choices which seem to matter in the grand scheme of things. If you like Telltale’s adventure games but which there was a bit more realism to them or you enjoy(ed) shows like Dawson’s Creek, this will probably be right up your alley. Even if you’re not a fan of the sort of high school drama I’m talking about (I wasn’t) but you want a well-crafted adventure game to sink your teeth into, I’d encourage you to check this one out.