Game Review: Life is Strange (Episode 3)

My review of episode 2 was very, very late, but I played through episode 3 yesterday as soon as I finished the review for the previous episode, so it’s fresh in my mind and hopefully I’ll have more to say about it.

The second episode ended with a bang, I would call the third episode more of a “breather episode” the kind of episode that gives viewers (or players, in this case) a break from the tension of previous and forthcoming episodes. Don’t get me wrong, this episode isn’t completely devoid of tense moments (a standout includes having to escape from the cops and hiding in a change room stall), but there’s also a long scene with Max and Chloe chilling in the school pool together after hours (which is definitely not loaded with subtext). You can even take it further with a choice later on in this episode (which 83% of players chose to do).

The one annoying part of this episode was the introduction of the “focus” mechanic, where you need to press A and D and the mouse buttons to focus on a picture, and then STOP when you hear voices. The instructions for explaining it aren’t very clear, and I tried and failed at least three times before consulting the Steam forums.

At this point, it would be nice if the game started explaining some things, like why Max has her powers in the first place. I’d assume that it will be explained somehow in episodes 4 and 5, but so far the game’s focus is mostly on the shady shit going on at the school and Max’s powers are taking a backseat. It’s not that I mind not having an explanation, but it would be a nice thing to have. Another thing that has been consistent throughout the series is that the lip-syncing is way off. This didn’t bother me too much in the previous episodes, but it was really noticeable here.

As far as triggery content, there’s a lot of talk about the (attempted or actual, depending on your decisions) suicide in this episode (since I saved this character, the dialogue with other characters is about visiting her in the hospital). There’s also a really unnerving scene involving a teacher and a student with the student suggesting an exchange of….favours…..in return for winning a contest, which the teacher refuses. If you’re sensitive to animal death, one of your choices could end up getting a dog killed (just throw the bone in the parking lot to avoid this) and there are dead birds on the ground (and dead whales in a cutscene).

See you soon with a review of the fourth episode!

Game Review: Life is Strange (Episode 2)

[suicide tw]

By the time this review goes up, episode 4 of Life is Strange is out and the last episode will probably be on its way any day now. Still, better late than never, right? If you haven’t read my review of the first episode, I recommend doing so, as it provides some background info on the game and this review won’t make a lot of sense.

When we last left off, Max had a vision of an impending disaster. This episode focuses on Max and Chloe experimenting with Max’s powers, leading up to a very intense climax. There are still a variety of choices to make, and plenty of consequences (whether in episode or throughout the game) to those choices. In fact, there isn’t a whole lot I can say about this episode that wasn’t true of the last episode. Max is still kind of a hipster, the writing is still great.

Any gripes I have with this episode are more personal gripes with one exception. For instance, I had trouble with the diner scene (where you had to predict a sequence of events using your power) because I couldn’t see a bug that landed on a jukebox. In another tense sequence, a tool I needed clipped through a cabinet and wouldn’t let me retrieve it, forcing me to make a decision that the game obviously considered to be less than desirable. I would assume by this writing that this issue (if it was actually an issue and not just me missing something) would be fixed by now.

The really triggery content in this episode comes in the form of a student’s suicide. There are things you can do to prevent the suicide (being nice to the character, removing text from a mirror, etc.) but the game does show the student jumping off the roof (causing you to rewind time to attempt to stop it) and hitting the ground as you make your way through a crowd of students. It’s also possible to not be able to talk this character out of jumping. I was able to do it pretty easily, and there are walkthroughs available, but as far as I know the scene cannot be skipped or avoided in any way.

Other than that, there isn’t really anything else I have to say about this episode other than to encourage you to buy this game if you are a fan of adventure games in the same vein as the ones from Telltale Games.

This is probably one of the shortest reviews I’ve ever written, but it’s a bit difficult to review episodic games without rehashing everything that was said in the previous episode.

Review: Seraphina

I originally came across Seraphina in hardcover, read a couple reviews that complained that it was too cliche, and promptly forgot about it until someone I follow on tumblr recommended it to me as “YA that does something different with no love triangles–also dragons”. I appreciate YA that does something different with dragons, so I decided to give it a shot.

The paperback edition also has a gorgeous cover with none of the stereotypical extreme closeup of a girl’s face design.

In the Kingdom of Goredd, dragons and humans coexist in a tenuous peace. Amidst tensions between the two groups, Seraphina, the newest member of the royal court, is a gifted musician with a terrible secret. When a member of the royal family is murdered, Seraphina is drawn to the investigation alongside the dashing Prince Lucian, but as she comes closer and closer to the truth, it becomes harder to keep her secret, and revealing it could cost her her very life.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A girl has a terrible secret. She meets a boy. She likes this boy, but she knows that if her secret gets out, the boy won’t like her anymore. Things happen in such a way that she eventually is forced to reveal her secret and deal with the fallout. It’s not the most original plots and characters with terrible secrets (known or unknown) are a dime a dozen, not just in books, in media in general. Although there’s nothing especially earth-shattering about the plot, it serves its purpose as a means to create tension and propel the characters towards the climax. Appropriately for a story in which music plays a significant part, the writing in Seraphina is very lyrical without crossing into purple prose. At times, I felt like the writing did get a bit philosophical (particularly during memory sequences).

I would say this book’s strengths lie in the characters and how they struggle in a society that finds it hard to accept them. In case it wasn’t obvious from the summary, Phina’s secret is that she is half-dragon, a creature that humans see as soulless and dragons see as one of their own succumbing to weak human emotions. Her love interest, Lucian Kiggs, is a bastard who came to Goredd being unable to speak the language. The dragons in the book struggle with experiencing emotions while in human form. The dragons in this book reminded me very much of the Qunari in Dragon Age, with their rigid adherence to ard (order, correctness) and their rejection of emotions as illogical (and their subsequent anxiety when they take human form and begin to experience these emotions). I would also say that while Goreddi religion isn’t the most original (it does the same thing as the Exiles books where the “pantheon” is made up of saints). It felt familiar and unlike the hagiographies of my childhood, included a same-sex couple as patrons of romantic love, not to mention a heretic saint (the hows of becoming a heretic saint is not explained). At times, the book is very philosophical, musing on the value of emotions and art. At times, many YA books, at least fantasy and sci-fi YA books, seem to never explore the implications of their dystopian societies or magic systems in favour of the all-important love triangle, and don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with pure escapist fiction, but there are times I’ve wished that authors would think more about the implications of their world-building than they often do.

I don’t have very many complaints about this book. Most of the characters didn’t really leave a strong impression on me, and the mystery plot felt like it could have had another twist or two and it wouldn’t have hurt the pacing. I also found it to be a little slow in some places.

In terms of diversity there’s Lars and Viridius, who are both gay but don’t play a huge part in the plot.  They also fall into the stereotype of “theater-loving gay men”. The one character of color of note isn’t known by his actual name for much of the book. Characters from Porphyria (Africa with elements of Classical Greece and belly-dancing) are said to be dark-skinned.

As far as triggery content, there is some self-harm in chapter 21, and a plot twist involves cross-dressing. There was also a point where the Ardmagar acts really creepy towards Phina in a way that was just….creepy.

Overall though, Seraphina was easily one of the better YA reads I’ve read this year (and that includes the ones I’ve read since and have yet to review). It might be a bit of a wait before I can read Shadow Scale in paperback but I definitely intend to do so.

Two for One Review: Tarot For Writers and Astrology For Writers by Corrine Kenner

At first I was going to review both of these books separately but now that I’ve read both, I find they work best in tandem for different reasons. So, here is my first (and possibly only) review of two books in one blog post.

As a writer, I’m always looking for ideas and prompts to enhance my writing, and as a tarotist, I’ve had Tarot For Writers on my list for the longest time. I read Tarot For Writers and liked it enough that I ordered Astrology For Writers before I’d finished its predecessor. As the titles suggest, the books are about using tarot and astrology respectively to generate characters, plots, and settings for your writing. For readers who are unfamiliar with either tarot or astrology, the books also serve as introductory material to each and suggest ways to use these esoteric disciplines to enhance existing projects and inspire new ones.

Tarot For Writers is divided into three main sections: “Tarot 101”, “The Writer’s Tarot”, and “A Writer’s Guide to Tarot Cards”. The first part is your basic “Tarot 101” crash course, intended for writers who maybe aren’t familiar with tarot. The second part, “The Writer’s Tarot” is arguably the heart of the book, and discusses how a writer can use tarot cards to generate character traits, plots, and settings, flesh out an existing character, and beat writer’s block (among other things). The third section, “A Writer’s Guide to Tarot Cards” looks at all seventy eight cards in a tarot deck individually, making note of the symbolism in each card and suggesting writing prompts if that card shows up in a reading. Astrology For Writers has a four part structure. The first section covers the planets, the second the signs of the zodiac, the third covers the houses of the horoscope, and the fourth is a quick reference guide if you just want a brief rundown of the different planets, signs, and houses. These aspects of astrology are meant to provide insight on characters, plots, and settings respectively.

Both books have flaws but there’s something to like in both of them. In Tarot For Writers I liked the fresh take on the Celtic Cross, which assigns each card an element of a “standard” plot structure, as well as the spread that combines tarot and astrology to flesh out a character by drawing cards for each of the twelve houses of the horoscope. I also found the writing prompts for each card interesting although most were pretty self-explanatory. My favourite aspect of Astrology For Writers was undoubtedly the “Twenty Questions” sections at the end of each chapter, which provides questions based on the planets, signs, and houses to flesh out a character (“How is your character’s health?” “Have they ever experimented with drugs or alcohol?”) as well as offering suggestions for scenarios you can play out with your characters “Have your character visit the doctor.” “Make your character choose the lesser of two evils.” I’m always looking for prompts or interesting questions to flesh out my characters, and there are plenty in Astrology For Writers. Each sign also has an at-a-glance chart to help you determine signs that mesh or clash, which is perfect for creating group dynamics, foils, and other relationships.

Both books are not without flaws, however. For Tarot For Writers, I thought more time could have been spent in the section on “The Writer’s Tarot” as that seems to be the heart of the book, and yet, the bulk of the book is dedicated to the third section on individual cards and their symbolism. The section on beating writer’s block really only applies to starting new projects, not breathing new life into existing ones, and there’s almost nothing about using your cards during the editing, proofreading, or marketing phases of your book, and those are definitely some areas where a divination tool like tarot cards could come in handy. My biggest problem with Astrology For Writers was that I feel like the attempts to match planets with archetypes (Venus as the Love Interest, Pluto as the Dark Lord etc.) is too constricting and simplistic. In addition, the book seems fixated on the idea that heroes are helpful, kind, and physically attractive, whereas villains are the opposite, and in general seems to conflate “hero” with “protagonist” (and assume that heroic characters are all solar characters) which as most writers can tell you isn’t always the case. The signs themselves are reduced to familiar stereotypes that you see in many astrology books: Scorpio is sexy and intense, Capricorn is a social climber, etc.  Both books rely on Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey and Gustav Freytag’s plot structure and only a few of the many conflicts that can arise in stories. In short, both books suffer from being a bit too basic to be useful to more experienced writers. There’s also a lot of gendering in both books. To be completely fair, both tarot and astrology have traditionally gendered elements of their crafts in a particular way, but occasionally I found it a bit off-putting, especially in the astrology book.

In spite of these flaws, I enjoyed both books and will add them to my small repertoire of writing tools. If you can only afford one, I would recommend Tarot For Writers if you work with tarot or if you need assistance with plots or settings in particular, whereas I found that Astrology For Writers would be more useful for character creation.  Both books touch on plot, settings, and character of course, but I think the focus makes more sense when you consider how tarot and astrology are used (tarot usually sheds light on situations, astrology is mostly used to look at individuals or pairs). If you are new to astrology, tarot, or writing, either book would be worthwhile to add to your library, but experienced writers in particular might be a little let down by the way the sections on writing seem geared more towards beginners.

This is kind of tangential but I feel like the techniques in the books (particularly the tarot book( could also be applied to Lenormand cards (particularly if you want inside into the day to day of a character’s life or inspiration for a setting). I’d love to see a book on Lenormand For Writers.

Review: The Six-Gun Tarot by R.S. Belcher

[tw: rape, sexism, racism, homophobia]

As you probably already know, occasionally I like to dip a toe in other genres, but one genre I’ve never really touched is the Western. Westerns, to me, have always seemed to be very masculine and often reliant on some pretty racist tropes, and I’m just really not that interested in the Wild West in general (Canadian frontier life played out differently than it did for Americans, is my understanding.)

However, this title caught my eye, and not just because I found the cover visually stunning, but due to a review on one of my favourite social justice review blogs, Fangs for the Fantasy, who seemed impressed by the level of diversity in the book.

The town of Golgotha is a cattle town in the middle of the pitiless 40-Mile Desert that is host to many secrets and mysterious characters. The sheriff bears the mark of the noose around his neck. Some say he’s a dead man whose time has not yet come, his deputy is kin to coyotes, the mayor guards a hoard of mystical treasures, a banker’s wife is a member of a secret order of pirates and assassins, and a newcomer, a boy with a dark secret, possesses an eye encased in clockwork that is not of this world. It will be up to them, saints and sinners alike, to confront the darkness that is spilling out of the abandoned silver mine overlooking the town, or Golgotha, and all of Creation itself, will never see another day.

The story of The Six-Gun Tarot is told from a variety of (third person) perspectives. In some respects it feels as if the town itself is a character, a place where salt circles and strange rituals exist side by side with church socials (or basically what being a closeted Pagan in a Christian family is like). The cast itself is large-ish but not so large that you need a list of dramatis personae at the start of the book, and even the characters who don’t get a lot of focus are memorable in some way. From the shopkeeper who can’t get over his wife’s death to the incredibly racist doctor (who actually isn’t a doctor, just the closest thing Golgotha has to a doctor) and they all have their own issues to deal with over the course of the book. The mayor. Harry, struggles to reconcile his good, wholesome, Mormon, family-oriented image (including juggling the needs of his two wives) with the fact that he is gay and in love. The banker’s wife, Maude, regrets losing the independence she had when she was younger by falling in love, and worries that her daughter might walk down the same road someday. The deputy, Mutt, faces discrimination from the town’s residents and ostracism from his tribe for his parentage.

I’m including this review under the tarot category not just because of the book’s title, but because each chapter title is a tarot card. Tarotists might enjoy playing “spot the way the card is used in this chapter”. Sometimes it’s obvious, other times less so. Also, pay attention to when the book uses major arcana cards vs. when it uses minors or court cards. Overall it adds an interesting layer of symbolism to the book. The mythology of the book, much like tarot, is very Christian, but eventually opens up to encompass many different traditions in the same way that tarot readers of any faith (or non-faith) can pick up a deck that speaks to them and use it.

Speaking of discrimination, 19th century attitudes towards race, gender, and sexuality are all on display (including use of period appropriate but racist language like “Chinaman”) but what sets this book apart from other books who would include it for “realism” is that none of it goes unchallenged. The aforementioned doctor who goes on a racist rant that could literally have been lifted from a book on eugenics is called on it. Mutt, trapped between two worlds, proudly claims his derogatory name, Maude figuratively and literally rescues her daughter and herself from the patriarchy. Interestingly, one might expect the sheriff, probably the most privileged of the bunch, to be the main character, but he’s actually in the background for the most part, although he does pop up from time to time to make a reference to a supernatural creature or phenomenon that they dealt with in the past. I really liked these moments, because it adds weight to the idea that Golgotha is an odd place where odd things happen.

There were a few things I didn’t like about the book. I thought the Chinese characters could have been fleshed out more, especially given how often they are put down by the white majority in Golgotha. I also thought the description of Ch’eng Huang was straight out of Kill Bill, although I’m glad the author didn’t fall back on the tired old “foreign character speaks broken English” trope. I also felt like the entire subplot with Auggie and the widow could have been cut out and you wouldn’t have missed much, although the resolution is kind of sweet (and also a bit creepy).

As I mentioned before, racism, homophobia, and sexism are very real things in this book. One important background character owned slaves, the Chinese and Mutt experience racism and the characters use terms to refer to other races that would be considered inappropriate these days. Women experience domestic abuse. Harry is called a “sodomite”. There’s also one disturbing scene involving, of all things, tentacle rape, which is the first I’ve seen of it outside of Japanese media. Other reviewers have pointed out that the treatment of Holly/the Black Madonna, a frustrated woman turned antagonist who is incredibly sexually aggressive, to be problematic, which I can definitely see.

Overall, I liked The Six-Gun Tarot despite its flaws. It read more like an urban fantasy with more saloons than what I would think of as a Western. I’m eager to see where the series goes when the sequel comes out in October.

Deck Review: The Vintage Wisdom Oracle by Victoria Moseley

I knew I needed this deck the moment the first images were posted on U.S. Games’ Facebook page. The term “vintage” is applied to a great many things these days. I’ve even seen it applied to my favourite raisin pudding recipe.

Seriously, it’s a delicious pudding.

In any case, the Vintage Wisdom Oracle is a deck that combines photographs, paintings, and drawings in collage to form its images. You might recognize John Waterhouse’s paintings or the enigmatic gaze of Mata Hari. Nymphs cavort while their mortal counterparts sit in quiet contemplation. Animals (particularly butterflies) feature in many cards, as do flowers. The colour palette is generally soft (with a few exceptions) and many of the images are sepia photographs with splashes of colour, adding a touch of the dramatic to the luscious imagery. Even the packaging has an air of luxury (silver gilt edges!). If you’re the sort of person with a more conventionally “feminine” aesthetic–flowers, pearls, soft colours, you will probably find a lot to like in this deck.

The cards measure 5 5/8” x 3 ¾” which makes them practically impossible to shuffle with my small hands. The upside is that it’s easier to make out details in the art. Each image is surrounded by a border in gray, mauve, or dark blue. The card backs have a woman’s face in the centre surrounded by a design that reminds me of an old jewelry box, which I feel is appropriate for a beautiful deck with a very old feel. The only words on each card are the card titles. They are non-reversible but the companion book indicates you can read with reversals if you find they are helpful.

The arrangement of the cards in the companion book is in alphabetical order with no images of the cards, only text. There are also a few original spreads:  the four leaf clover spread, the spyglass spread, the penny farthing spread, the walled garden spread, and the chatelaine spread, using four, four, seven, nine, and six cards respectively. I love it when deck creators make an effort to create their own spreads instead of just relying on one card pulls and three card spreads with maybe one spread that’s specifically designed for the deck.

It took me a long time to write this review because I was finding it difficult to connect to this deck. The art is beautiful, but I didn’t find that the messages I was receiving from it were relevant to the question I had asked. Today I happened to draw “Discernment” which is about not dividing your attention too much, and I would say that’s relevant to how I’ve been feeling lately.

I have two major criticisms of this deck. The first is that the characters can seem a bit “stiff” (no doubt because they are from older paintings and photographs). The lady in the “Adventure” card, for instance, doesn’t quite evoke a sense of joy or excitement. I didn’t feel like some of the cards really meshed with the description in the book. The “Healing” card features a vintage “medicine woman” (who is white, so I assume she’s supposed to be a doctor or an herbalist), but the way she is dressed (in pearls) and her expression don’t say “Healer” to me. In fact, she looks like a younger version of my deceased great aunt, dressed for a night on the town. I also felt like this is one of those decks that focuses more on, say, self-actualization than practical matters. It might be of more use to some as a tool for meditation or contemplation than an actual “reading” deck.

The other major criticism I have of this deck is that there are only two cards with characters of colour on them, all Japanese. The companion book refers to these Japanese ladies as “geishas”. I have no way of verifying if the paintings are indeed of geishas, but it struck me as potentially problematic that Japanese women are singled out in this way in an otherwise lovely deck.

Make no mistake, this deck has stunning art and I don’t think I have a more stunning box for any of my decks, but despite its beauty it took me quite some time to connect to it.

Review: The Way of the Hedge Witch: Rituals and Spells for Hearth and Home

This book was recommended by a fellow Vanatruar, Cena Nico quite some time ago, but I was never really interested in it until now. I’ve been feeling very domestic lately, and since my mother’s passing in January, I’ve been spending a lot of time in the kitchen making things that I never had a chance to make and trying new foods. I’m actually typing this from my new computer room. I still have a bit of work to do cleaning it up, but right now I have enough space to work at the computer.

The Way of the Hedge Witch is focused on making the domestic (particularly the kitchen) sacred. The title may be a little misleading, as it doesn’t focus on hedge witchery in the sense of journeying between worlds, but the care of the home and hearth (in this respect, the book could have been called “Way of the Hearth Witch” and avoided any confusion). The book covers topics like working with the spiritual hearth, hearth deities and spirits, magic in the kitchen, hearth deities and spirits, and spells, rituals, and recipes (which includes oil and incense recipes as well as recipes for stews and baked goods).

Since this is a book about home-based spirituality, it’s no surprise that the book focuses on simple rituals and practicality. It’s refreshing to read a book that doesn’t disparage modern technology and insist that everything be done by hand. Murphy-Hiscock recommends blessing the appliances you commonly use and even lists correspondences for common kitchen tools. It’s also refreshing to read a chapter on food that doesn’t preach to you about how so much of the food we eat is killing us and we all need to switch to a paleo diet or the popular diet du jour.  I also like that the language used in the book is religiously neutral, for the most part, and the author encourages you to adapt the rituals to fit your own spiritual framework. The material in this book could easily be adapted to suit the needs of Vanatruar or Heathens.

If you’re looking for information about using a cauldron in your practice in particular, you might want to give this book a look. I’ve never really considered using a cauldron as part of my practice due to not being allowed to burn incense or candles in the house, but because of this book I’ve thought about picking one up if only to serve as a reminder of the significance of the hearth (and the hearth was very significant to the Norse). Most of the material in the book assumes you have a cast iron cauldron, but the author gives correspondences for other cauldron materials as well, including brass, copper, and aluminum cauldrons.

If I had a complaint about the book, it would be that most of the material is focused on the cauldron and the hearth as the center of praxis in the home. There’s not much on the rest of the house, which strikes me as odd for a book about home-based rituals. It’s worth noting that this book started as a book on cauldrons and their use in magic specifically, so it’s understandable that it would be limited in scope. There’s also an assumption that the reader will share what they are doing with their family, which is obviously difficult to impossible for closeted readers. I would also take the chapter on deities and spirits with a grain of salt as their descriptions in this book are at best a brief glimpse of complex beings.

This is a short book and a good resource for those of you who are looking to integrate spirituality into mundane tasks like cooking and cleaning or for integrating the use of a cauldron into your practice in particular. I found it was pleasantly devoid of preachy writing when it came to the use of magical tools and in the chapter on food. It’s not a definitive guide to domestic spirituality and magic, but it’s a good starting point.

Review: Norse Goddess Magic: Trancework, Mythology, and Ritual

This review is going to be a bit short since there’s only so much i can say about this book.

This is one of those books (under the title Magic of the Norse Goddesses) that seemed to pop up everywhere on recommended reading lists but wasn’t available by the time I had the money to pay for it because the publisher closed up shop. Luckily, it’s been reprinted, so now I’m able to finally give a review of it.

As the title suggests, Norse Goddess Magic is about trancework and ritual focused on goddesses within the Norse/Germanic pantheon, particularly Frigga and her Handmaidens. The book is divided into two parts: the first part deals with mythology and how to do trancework in general, while the second part, which takes up the bulk of the book, gives each goddess her own chapter, and includes lore, the author’s UPG, and suggestions for doing a ritual to honor each goddess.

If you’re looking to connect with Frigga and the Handmaidens and you don’t know where to begin or looking for UPG regarding same, this might be a book you want to add to your wishlist. Another thing I liked about this book was that she encourages using multiple techniques to bring yourself into a trance state instead of just saying to do one particular thing, remarking that sometimes it takes multiple techniques for her to trance out and sometimes she can do it in a moment. I feel like the books I’ve read on the subject usually only have the one technique and never combine or even mention using multiple techniques to obtain a trance state if you’re having trouble. I thought some of the UPG was interesting (her gnosis regarding Eir patching up Tyr after he lost his hand was intriguing) and the discussing regarding “women’s work” back then and how essential it was to the community and our modern perception of “women’s work” today is a discussion we desperately need to have in Heathenry.

My main issues with this book is that the sources the author uses are old and probably considered outdated. For one thing, she seems to rely on Grimm a lot for her information, and the general consensus is that Grimm was great at collecting fairy tales but not so great at etymology. Although not a criticism, this is definitely not a reconstructionist book (it uses the Hammer Rite as a pre-trancework ritual, for one) although I found the author was pretty good about differentiating between what was her own experience and what was actually in the lore, although she does not use the term UPG to describe her own experiences.

This is more my personal preference but I feel as if this work could have featured more lesser known goddesses (which is the author’s stated intent), goddesses like Idunn and Sif don’t have a lot of information on them either. It would have been nice to see a book that features a variety of Norse goddesses, and I feel like the title and the back cover blurb is a bit misleading in that respect (although I understand that the new publisher probably wanted to keep the title as close to the previous edition as possible). I also didn’t agree with her assertion that Freyja is a goddess of surgeries and other “invasive” medical practices (I’ve always seen Freyja as more of a naturopath or a fan of the “whiskey and sleep cures everything” school of medicine).

I think this would be a good book for someone who is specifically looking for UPG on Frigga and the Handmaidens or as a general guide on how to make nice with the goddesses, but if you are already familiar with these goddesses and trancework, this book will be nothing you haven’t seen before, and to be completely honest, I’d recommend Trance-Portation by Diana Paxson over this for the complete newbie to trancework. It’s also important to keep in mind that this is not a scholarly or reconstructionist book and the sources it uses are quite old, so read with some salt handy.

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).