Monthly Archives: August 2012

Badass Decay in the Dante Valentine Series

I love these books. I hate these books.

I don’t think another series has ever left me so conflicted. No other series has made me want to reach in and slap the shit out of both the protagonist and her love interest so hard and so often….

….and yet, I still recommend them to everyone I see. I have no idea what the Hel is wrong with me. Do I recommend them because I think they’re good, or do I recommend them in the hope that someone will feel the same way I felt upon reading the last line of the last novel? (Disappointed, angry, and wanting to smack Danny upside the head screaming “WTF HAPPENED TO YOU?!”)

You see, the Dante Valentine series by Lilith Saintcrow is probably one of the most epic cases of Badass Decay ever written.

The usual caveat: There will be MAJOR SPOILERS for the entire series, so if anyone’s thinking of reading these books (link to the omnibus on Amazon here, for my friends who have a Kobo, it’s also on their site, and most likely at any major bookstores) I’ll mark off where the spoilers start so you can close your browser and come back when you’ve had enough of reading them. This post is going to be long, so I’m going to cut it here and interested parties can read the whole thing.

Continue reading Badass Decay in the Dante Valentine Series

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Best. Books. Ever!

Okay, you know what? Neither this nor the previous post’s title is accurate, because for all I know, I could read something tomorrow that I really like or really hate, but you know what? Screw it. These are some of my favourite fiction books (I should do one for non-fiction these days).  As with the last list, YMMV. These are in no particular order:

1. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

I had never heard of either of these authors until I overheard one of my classmates in high school talking about “a demon kid that has a dog that he turns into a wiener dog” and I was like “wut” and so they let me borrow this book.

Okay, I know everyone who knows anything about Norse mythology loves American Gods to pieces, but screw American Gods! American Gods doesn’t have an angel and a demon getting drunk and arguing about the size of dolphin brains, okay?

Basically, what you need to know is that according to the Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter (the world’s most completely accurate book of prophecies) the world will end on a Saturday, next Saturday, in fact, just after tea. Fortunately for all of us who like our planet to be apocalypse-free, an angel and a demon really aren’t all that keen on seeing the world end so soon.

By the way, it turns out the Earth is a Libra.

Seriously, if you haven’t read it, do it! It’s hilarious!

2. Mortal Coils by Eric Nylund

Okay, seriously now, why hasn’t anyone heard of this book? The best way to describe it is that it’s like American Gods for young adults, but even that description doesn’t do it justice.

Basically, you have these twins, Fiona and Elliot Post, to say that the two children are incredibly sheltered is an understatement. Their strict grandmother has an extensive list of Rules that govern their lives (not being allowed to play musical instruments or read any novels in the genres of science fiction and fantasy, to name two of them).

Then they find out that they’re the offspring of a goddess and Lucifer, Prince of Darkness.

What follows is essentially an epic custody battle between their maternal and paternal families (the Immortals and the Infernals). There are trials and temptations to overcome, and did I mention that the twins are woefully unprepared for any of this?

I know this probably does sound like a typical coming-of-age story, and it pretty much is, but you’ll be doing yourself a disservice if you pass up this book because of that. I’ll admit that at times Fiona and Elliot’s banter got to me (they like to pass the time by playing “vocabulary insult” which is basically insulting each other using big words which are then translated into “plain English” for the reader) and readers who know their world mythology will probably want to slap them a few times for not figuring out the obvious such as who X is or what Y has to do with anything (once again, they are very sheltered). Something I found refreshing was that of the two main characters, it’s Fiona that does most of the fighting while Elliot acts in more of a support role (that’s not to say that he’s completely useless). It’s a small thing that I doubt anyone else noticed, but I love that it’s there, anyways. (Note that Elliot does have a much larger role in the second book.)

3. Wicked Gentlemen by Ginn Hale

Remember that post I made about m/m fiction mostly written by women and how it was terrible? Pretend for a moment that I didn’t say that. Yes, this is an example of a book which depicts a relationship between two men as written by a woman, but that’s not why this book is amazing.

Let’s get the small reasons as to why this book is amazing out of the way first. The setting and the background info is interesting. Basically, a long time ago, the church persuaded demons from Hell to accept baptism. The descendants of these demons are known as Prodigals, who live in a ghetto known as Hells Below and are (naturally) discriminated against by pretty much everyone. The book is actually split into two novellas. The first one is from the first person perspective of Belimai Sykes, a Prodigal who has been tortured by the Inquisition in the past and is now addicted to opium ophorium. When Inquisitorial Captain William Harper shows up on his doorstep looking for a missing woman known to sympathize with Prodigals, guess who reluctantly comes along for the ride? The second novella is from the third person perspective of Captain Harper, and takes place sometime after the first.

Trust me, you won’t be reading this book for the sex scenes (of which there are only a couple, pretty non-explicit, and very brief. You will want to read this book for the plot and the characters. While it is true that both Belimai and Harper start off as somewhat stereotypical (Belimai has his dark and troubled past and Harper is Lawful Good to a fault) both characters do change over the course of both novellas: Belimai lightens up a bit, and Harper shows that he is willing to break the law in order to do what’s right.

But the thing I really loved about this book since I read an excerpt of it was the imagery. Go read the excerpt on Amazon if you can and tell me that you can’t see the fireflies outside Belimai’s window, that you can’t smell the night air. Maybe it’s not the greatest prose ever, but to me, if someone’s words can conjure up sounds or smells and do it in a way that I can clearly imagine the scene as if I were there. they’ve done something right.

Special Mention: Delilah by India Edghill

In all honesty, I couldn’t decide which of the two books I’ve read–Wisdom’s Daughter or Delilah was better, so I chose Delilah because it’s the more recent of the two. Before I get started with these books, yes, they’re both based on biblical narratives. No, they aren’t preachy (in fact, they are very Pagan). Wisdom’s Daughter is the story of Solomon and Sheba and Solomon’s harem of (mostly) polytheists. Delilah is the story of (who else?) Samson and Delilah (you know, the one that involves hair cutting) where Delilah is a Canaanite priestess of Atargatis. The writing is great, the prose is uncomplicated yet evocative. The only thing is you need to be in the right mood to read it. These aren’t novels for people who like books to grab them and not let go until they’re done. They go at a much slower pace, but I have to say, I wasn’t bored with either of them (except Wisdom’s Daughter near the end).

This is the abridged version of my must read books. I left out more than a few series I enjoy (because I’ve either mentioned them a million times or I want to write a whole post on them) and I’ve also left out works I like but don’t love love LOVE, or works that are very popular (say what you like about how Harry became a complete angstbucket in later books, I still love the series).

Worst. Books. Ever.

There’s a part of me (the librarian part) that didn’t want to write this post. I don’t like to tell people “don’t read this book”. I’d like for people to read books and make up their own minds if it’s worth reading or not, and I think even bad books have something to teach us even if it’s just “how not to do it”.

There’s another part of me, however, that simply relishes any opportunity to tell other people about these books and why I hated them, and since I’m still recovering from reviewing *that* book, it might be good to get these other books off my chest as well.

So, without further ado, here are Gef’s picks for worst. books. ever (YMMV on all of them).

1. Green Rider by Kristen Britain

I don’t know where I originally heard about this book, but I was hungry for a new fantasy series and this was getting great reviews on Amazon (I buy too many books because of reviews on Amazon). For those of you who have never heard of it, it’s about a girl who encounters one of the king’s magic-using messengers (the titular Green Riders) who is dying. The dying Green Rider passes on his message (and therefore, his mission) to the girl, and her job is to get it to the king before sinister forces can take over the kingdom.

Seriously, this book is so paint by numbers half the words could be missing and the reader could still get the plot. Main character is Karigan G’ladeon (here Britain commits the unpardonable sin of using random apostrophes in names where they aren’t culturally appropriate), the antagonist is shadowy and mysterious–or would be if he wasn’t introduced ON THE VERY FIRST PAGE OF THE PROLOGUE WITH NO ATTEMPT TO HIDE IT (he’s known as ‘the Grey One’ btw). We have an elite fighting force known as Weapons (because they use their bodies like weapons, duh) and so on and so forth. Oh, and we can’t forget the elves Eletians! They’re a magical, impossibly arrogant race who show up to help the protagonist out of a sticky situation with a giant crab.

In all honesty, I’ve heard it’s a blatant ripoff of Lord of the Rings, but not having read LotR, I can’t judge it based on that. I can judge it based on its terrible writing, cliches, and all around awfulness.

2. The Dracula Dossier by James Reese

Oh, James Reese, WTF happened to you? I liked The Book of Shadows (about a hermaphroditic witch who meets another witch, a couple of ghosts, and a total jerkass who is apparently a descendant of the demon Asmodeus) even though The Book of Spirits went straight into WTF territory for me, so when I heard you were doing a book about Bram Stoker meeting Jack the Ripper who is actually possessed by the Egyptian god Set (Set-as-evil-incarnate, of course), I was like “Okay, that sounds kind of awesome….”

Seriously, if you think that sounds awesome, this is not the book for you.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the book does have Jack the Ripper possessed by the (evil) Egyptian god Set, but before you get to that part, you need to slog through the first half of the book, which is basically “Bram Stoker works with his theatre company” with appearances by Walt Whitman and Lady Jane Wilde, among others.

And absolutely nothing suspenseful happens for the first half of the book.

Do you remember those ads for Pan’s Labyrinth which had all those wonderful fairy tale-like scenes, and you thought “Okay, this looks cool….” and then you went to the theater and were treated to ten minutes of fairy tale-esque animation and the rest of it was a guy getting his face smashed in with a bottle?

Yeah, that’s this book in a nutshell.

The book could have easily been called “Bram Stoker Complains About His Job and Has Tea with Famous Friends–Some Murders Happen Near the End”.

3. The Darkness That Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker

I bought this book the day the author was in town and my university bookstore was all “Buy this book, it’s awesome!”

No, no it’s not.

To say this book is grimdark is like saying that some Heathens have a bit of an issue with Loki. You know a book is grimdark when the king and queen die of plague and the bard takes the opportunity to have his way with a small boy. Yep, it’s that kind of book.

At this point (a couple pages in) I don’t know why I didn’t just stop reading there. Suffice it to say that I didn’t manage to get much farther. You see, in between grimdark and outright squick you will find pretentious philosophical discussions that would probably only make sense if you had a doctorate in philosophy (which I don’t), suffice it to say that I just didn’t care. No, Mr. Bakker, I don’t give a shit about your characters opining on the Meaning of Life (or whatever they were talking about, I honestly couldn’t tell) for multiple pages, nor do I care about prostitutes who have sex with….men….that spew black semen (seriously, that can’t be healthy) in what is probably the most un-sexy (and frankly, grotesque) sex scene ever. (I heard it only gets worse. I don’t really care about your mages, or your people who worship a tooth (tusk, actually) and your holy wars in the name of said tooth, or well, anything to do with this book.

Suffice it to say that this book left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

4. Silk by Caitlin R. Kiernan

Silk holds my personal record for shortest time I spent reading a book before I put it down (a couple pages), and I think what it’s problem was was that it was unnecessarily wordy. You know those people who take twenty words to say what others can say in a sentence? Yeah, if this book were a person, it would be that.

Now, perhaps I’m being a little unfair, because I love Kushiel’s Dart, which has the purplest prose I’ve ever seen, but I wouldn’t call Silk’‘s prose purple, I’d call it word salad prose covered with rust (or something equally industrial), because while some part of me could piece together what was going on (ie. a girl sitting on a bench drawing with a sketchpad) all these words kind of just got in the way, and I didn’t think I wanted to sit through a whole book deciphering each passage so I could figure out what the fuck was going on, so I stopped.

The “So Bad It’s Good” Award

The Passion of Mary Magdalen by Elizabeth Cunningham

I believe I bought this one in the aftermath of all that Da Vinci Code obsessing (actually, DVC should probably be on the list of “books I like in spite of myself”). It’s basically the story of Jesus and Mary Magdalene if Mary was a bisexual Irish priestess raised by multiple mothers (who was also the dove who appeared at his baptism) who was sold into slavery by the Romans and sent to work in a whore house.

To say this book is very campy is (again) an understatement. I think it’s safe to say that Cunningham wasn’t going for any semblance of historical accuracy. The major issue that I had with this book was the way modern slang would kind of just pop in out of nowhere–and, seriously, you’re telling me in Ancient Rome the campy gay male prostitute wouldn’t raise any eyebrows, really? Even when they dress him up in women’s clothing and get him to dance for the male customers? So yeah, it’s campy, it’s corny, but I can’t say I hated the book, it’s just definitely not what I was expecting.

New Deities

At that time in my life when I believed that the Goddess was going to save humanity by everyone awakening to matriarchal consciousness, I came across a deity I’d never heard of before: Lilith. In Medieval Jewish literature, she was Adam’s first wife who refused to lie beneath him “like a pinned wrestler” during sex. Of course, said the literature, Lilith was REALLY a Sumerian goddess, the “hand of Inanna” who gathered prostitutes, and those EVIL PATRIARCHAL INVADERS demonized her, because that’s what they do.

The problem with this narrative is that it’s wrong. The Alphabet of Ben Sira, which is uncritically accepted as a source for the Lilith mythos, is an antisemitic parody of Jewish literature (which also includes the tale of a biblical patriarch who is too fat to ride a horse). There is also little evidence to suggest that Lilith (as the plural lilitu or later, the demon Lamashtu) was ever anything but a child-killing, infertility-causing demon.

There’s also the issue of the Burney Relief:

The Burney Relief

This image is (again) unquestionably accepted as depicting Lilith, but even assuming that there was ever a single figure in Sumerian literature named Lilith (there isn’t) there’s the small matter that you don’t give offerings to demons who “accept no pleasant gifts. They never enjoy the pleasures of the marital embrace, never have any sweet children to kiss. They tear away the wife from a man’s embrace. They snatch the son from a man’s knee. They make the bride leave the house of her father-in-law,” (from here) let alone depict them with the shugurra crown (used only in depictions of high-ranking deities) and measuring rods. To be fair, though, scholars are still piecing together who this represents (I’ve heard a convincing argument for Ereshkigal) but one thing’s for certain: a cult object like this relief wouldn’t be depicting a demon.

There’s also this relief, which does depict Inanna/Ishtar:

She’s the one in the centre, natch.

Notice the hat, the bird feet, the folded wings, the fact that she looks almost identical to the figure in the Burney relief?

Anyways, I could go on about mistranslations, bad Hebrew, and whatnot, but I think it’s time to get to the point. The fact is, even though Lilith’s story has been raked over the scholarly coals, there are people (like Anya Kless) who have interacted with a being who goes by the name of Lilith who is definitely deity-like if not a goddess. (I absolutely recommend her devotional Queen of the Desert to anyone who is interested in modern devotion to Lilith, btw.)

So, what does one make of this? Do we assume that Kless and co. are making it all up? Delusional, perhaps? No, I don’t think its that simple. The thing is (and this is something a lot of reconstructionists miss) that when a deity comes into contact with you, you don’t say to hir “Do you have a source that proves your existence?” or ask them to hand over their papers that say they’re a deity and qualified to receive offerings. “I’m sorry, did you clear that with customs?” No, that would be like someone wondering how animals can talk in fairy tales. They just do, those are fairy tale rules and fairy tale logic.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you should run around claiming you’re a Sumerian reconstructionist and then start going on about “dark goddess Lilith” but to my knowledge, Kless is a Northern Tradition Pagan. I occasionally post at the Natib Qadish Discussion Group and this is something that makes them grumbly, and, you know, I think that they have every right to be grumbly, just as Heathens do when someone comes into their space claiming that characters from Marvel are the real deities. However, other than mislabeling, do I really have a problem with people who worship Lilith, or the Aghama, or Cthulhu? Erm, maybe that last one, but overall, no, not really. If it works for you, do it. Seriously, I do some things that are pretty non-Germanic and definitely modern. Why? They work. If it works, who really gives a shit if its older than dirt or something you invented yesterday unless you’re trying to replicate things that are older than dirt?

So, yeah, maybe Lilith was never a Sumerian goddess, but who says she can’t be a modern goddess? Maybe she doesn’t have the sort of pedigree that the very old deities have, but even the very old deities were new, once.

Review: A Companion to Wolves

The (manly) cover

I bought this book a few years ago after having a really bad day at library school. I’m a sucker for companion animal fantasies. If someone ever tells me that they’ve written a companion animal fantasy that’s like Kushiel’s Legacy,  that’s all I need to know. Here, take my money!

Anyways, you know when you read Dragonriders of Pern and you totally thought “Man, those Green riders must be totally gay with each other,” and then Ann McCaffrey was like “NO HOMO!” and you had to put up with Lessa and F’lar and fucking Robinton (yes, we know he’s amazing, Ms. McCaffrey, STFU about him already) instead?

If this describes you at all, you need to read this book.

In a nutshell, A Companion to Wolves is like Dragonriders of Pern WITH GIANT WOLVES, AND THE MANLIEST OF MANLY VIKINGS WHO HAVE MANLY SEX WITH EACH OTHER!

*coughs*

A Companion to Wolves takes place in the land of Iskryne, think Viking Age Scandinavia and you have a pretty good idea of what to expect. This is a land where humans are constantly threatened by trolls. In order to fight these trolls, men (known as wolfcarls) bond with trellwolves–giant, matriarchal wolves who can communicate telepathically with their bondmates. Our main character is a young nobleman named Isolfr who is chosen to become one of these wolfcarls, and he ends up bonding with a queen wolf, Viradechtis.

The bulk of the book depicts life in and around the wolfheall, where the wolfcarls live, with some action-y bits (especially near the end).

So, to summarize, you have a bunch of men (specifically men, as women can’t bond with the wolves for some reason that’s never really explained) all living together, who form really close bonds with giant wolves. Oh, and the mating instinct is pretty much like it is in Pern–so strong the two bonded humans need to have sex with each other.

So, yeah, A Companion to Wolves has a lot of man-on-man sex, and human society in Iskryne is as heteronormative as, well, its real life counterpart, if not more so. You can see why young men might not be so eager to join the wolfcarls. In fact, this becomes a point of tension between Isolfr and his father. It’s interesting how Monette and Bear manage to talk about gender roles when there are so few human women (non-human females are present in spades) present in this book, but they do, and I think they do it well.

Now, this book definitely isn’t for everyone. If you can’t stomach graphic depictions of m/m sex (including group activities) just….don’t get this book. Many readers have also had issues with what they see as non-consensual sex between Isolfr and the other wolfcarls. This is just my personal opinion, but while I would say that Isolfr is certainly apprehensive about having sex with his companions, I don’t recall him ever not consenting to sexual acts. Again, if what I just described makes you uncomfortable, I’d recommend not picking it up.

What else can I say about this book? The wolves are (as you might expect from a companion animal fantasy) awesome (they speak with scents and pictures rather than words) and the relationships between characters are interesting (two mature queen wolves in close proximity to each other is a recipe for disaster). One final note, the characters do change their names when they bond with the wolves, so that can get a little confusing (and the popular thing to do is put “ulf” in their somewhere). Fortunately, there is a list of characters at the beginning, which should help the reader somewhat.

So, in summary, if you were the kind of reader who thought there should be more gay sex in Dragonriders of Pern, are a fan of vikings (and giant wolves, you must like giant wolves), or maybe you’re just tired of happy companion animal fantasies and you want something that’s a bit more gritty, you might be interested in this book.

Freyr, Scorned and Other News From Gef

Remember that person from my post “Freyja, Scorned”? Well, now they’ve decided that they’re taking down their Loki shrine (because Loki hasn’t been paying any attention to them) AND possibly their Freyr shrine “because Freyr’s just as bad as [Freyja]” because they engaged in (gasp!) incest with each other!

Please, for the love of everything, do not tell this person about:

Njord and Hymir’s daughters

Odin’s various conquests (adultery is ebils, you know)

or Frigga sleeping with Odin’s brothers, for that matter.

Actually, don’t tell them about any deities that ever engaged in incest (there are a LOT) to say nothing of adultery and rape. This isn’t just confined to one pantheon, pretty much EVERY pantheon has deities that misbehave in some way. No exceptions.

Did I mention this person is now “All Allfather, all the time”? I know some of you are thinking of Odin’s various hijinks and laughing your asses off.

Oh, and something I don’t understand is why this person constantly comes to me for advice on how to deal with deities. Seriously, I have no fucking clue. They don’t talk to me. Why are you asking me? You can talk to them, ask them yourself. Honestly, it’s like my friends asking me for dating advice when:

a) I have NEVER dated anyone, EVER

b) I have trouble interacting with people even outside of a romantic context

I mean, honestly, if you wanted good advice, why don’t you just ask someone who does talk with deities on a regular basis? Don’t ask me, I’m not a priestess, or a spirit-worker. I don’t have the patience to meditate and I can’t visualize worth shit (I have trouble seeing an apple, I can, however, smell an imaginary apple). I’m not the one who goes prancing all over the Nine Worlds to get advice from Freyja about the state of my love life (or whatevers), so don’t whine at me about how “deity X doesn’t love me”, I don’t know, dude, okay? Sometimes I’m not even sure any deities exist, and TBH, I don’t know which is better: knowing for certain deities exist and having them tell you to do things you don’t want to do, or not knowing if deities exist and having to listen to the god-touched WHINE about how their god-touchiness isn’t working out for them.

In other news, if that last part sounded a little ranty, it’s because I’m exhausted from hosting a baby shower and me and my mom have been cleaning all week in preparation for it (I swear, sometimes I think mom could give Frigga a run for her money). The mom-to-be’s been under a lot of stress lately (let’s just say her mom and aunt were not invited for a good reason) so she needed this chance to de-stress.

Also, since I’ve gotten such good feedback (from all three people who responded here and on Facebook) from the story I posted, I thought I’d let you know that I’m currently writing a companion piece to my Big Fantasy Epic. So far, this story has been shaping up to be much mushier (and more sexually explicit) than the work I’ve done so far. It’s basically the story of a character who plays a minor (yet important) role in the Big Story. I know authors usually write prequels as novels when they’ve finished their first novel, but I need to write this story now. (Besides, I don’t know if the Big Story will ever be published.) Anyways, I’ll post the little story, and then if you like it, let me know, because the Big Story is set in the same universe, so, yeah, there’s more in the works.

Free Fiction Friday!

It’s technically Friday on my end, so to celebrate, here is a free short story I just finished. It’s meant to be a cynical take on vampires in urban fantasy, but I suspect it won’t make a whole lot of sense to anyone. Note that I literally finished it two seconds ago, so it’s “raw” expect plenty of grammatical errors and awkward sentences. Also note that this story contains lots of foul language and some sexual references (originally, it was going to include something a bit more explicit between the two male characters, but it was difficult to squeeze in so I just cut it out entirely). It could have been longer, I think, but I’m kind of at the point where I just want to get it out there. Also, I would have liked to have the MC’s girlfriend bust in with a shotgun, ’cause that would have been awesome, but this is a cynical take on vampires, after all.

So, yeah, read it after the jump….

 

Continue reading Free Fiction Friday!

A Concise Guide to JRPG Characters

I’ve played a lot of JRPGs over the years. The first JRPG I ever played was Final Fantasy VIII, which I bought after watching the introductory video on a show called Video and Arcade Top 10. Before watching that show, I had never heard of this series.

I had to play it on a quarter screen because my PC couldn’t handle fullscreen. I bought the strategy guide (my first strategy guide) because I couldn’t seem to kill Elvoret on Dollet, and I didn’t understand the Junction system until close to the end of the game….

….and I was hooked, seriously hooked.

At the moment, most of the games on my desk are JRPGs: Fate/Extra, Radiant Historia, Devil Survivor 2, Persona 2: Eternal Punishment, and most recently Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time (review to follow). I’ve played through most Final Fantasy games (save for the MMOGs and FF 13, because I don’t have a PS3). I go to great lengths to collect all the summons (yes, I did breed a golden chocobo, without cheating) and I’ve only beaten one Weapon monster (Omega Weapon in Final Fantasy 10) outside of battles that were required by the story. He went down in around three hits. I’ve borrowed every game in the Suikoden series from a lucky bitch friend who bought the first Suikoden game from the bargain bin at Toys ‘R Us (for those of you who aren’t familiar with the Suikoden series, it’s nearly impossible to get the first and second games for under $180). The first strategy RPG I ever played was Fire Emblem for the Game Boy Advance, and I will pretty much buy any RPG Atlus puts out because Atlus is just that amazing.

Okay, I went a little off-topic, suffice it to say that while I love JRPGs, they do have their fair share of stereotypes stock characters that get reused over and over again. So, for the newbie to JRPGs, here is Gef’s Concise Guide to JRPG Characters:

The Hero

The Hero is almost always a young man. He is most likely an orphan, or has one living parent (most often his mother) whose only function is to say: “Hi dear, aren’t you late for your adventure today?” The most common profession for a JRPG hero is a mercenary. A popular form of Hero in JRPGs is the silent protagonist, which allows the player to project mold his personality somewhat. If he does speak, expect him to be one of two types:

  • The Everyman
  • The Angstbucket The Cold and Aloof One

There are exceptions to this, of course (Zidane from Final Fantasy IX is pleasant and a womanizer, more developed than the everyman and not at all like the angstbucket cold and aloof. If this is a setting that makes use of elemental magic, expect the Hero to start with Fire.

The Best Friend

The Best Friend is typically the Hero’s childhood friend (sometimes their only friend apart from the Love Interest). Typically, the Best Friend will stick around for most of the game and will be absolutely loyal to the Hero….

….that is, unless they are the Best Friend Betrayer.

JRPGs love this trope. Chances are very good that the Hero will be betrayed by his Best Friend at some point (especially if it’s been established that the BF is jealous of the Hero). Sometimes the BF is jealous because the Love Interest seems to prefer the Hero, other times its a matter of clashing ideals, whatever the reason, players can expect a series of boss fights (usually ridiculously easy) against this friend. If a Best Friend Betrayer isn’t killed by the Villain, they usually end up rejoining the party near the end of the game.

The Rival

The Rival is the cold, aloof hero’s equivalent of the Best Friend (as cold aloof heroes rarely have any friends). The Rival’s skills typically complement the Hero’s: they may wield similar weapons or be proficient in opposing elements. The Rival will sometimes join your party, but at the very least, you can expect a series of boss fights against this person.

The Love Interest

The Love Interest is typically the Hero’s childhood friend. In the case of a cold and aloof Hero, expect the Love Interest to make it her mission to get him to lighten up. The Love Interest will typically be your party’s healer. The player better give her an entertaining name, because they’re going to be hearing it a lot, especially if she’s kidnapped at some point.

The Genki Girl on Caffeine Perky Girl

A favourite character type in Japan and the bane of Western audiences, the Perky Girl will typically have an unusual hairstyle (particularly hair colour) and an advanced case of motor mouth. She’s not usually the Love Interest, but expect any person she’s interested in to initially find her annoying (unless he’s the Womanizer). If it’s the Love Interest’s goal to make the Hero “lighten up”, the Perky Girl does this for the entire party.

The Womanizer

The Womanizer is, quite simply, the one who flirts, a lot. Expect that female characters will rarely flirt back at him. The Womanizer does tend to end the game attached to someone, giving up his womanizing ways for the sake of love, or something….

The Villain

There are many different types of villain, but here are a few of the most common:

  • The Nihilist – The Nihilist is the type of villain who is sick of war and conflict and the messiness of human existence. His solution to these problems, naturally, is to kill everyone and start anew. Sometimes this is combined with a major g0d complex.
  • The Bugfuck insane The Mad One – The Mad One is a very popular villain type, and even in games where the other types dominate, there will usually be at least one villainous character who lost his marbles years ago.
  • The Power Hungry – This type of villain wants power and is willing to do anything to get it. If this person is a corrupt official, he will likely be an early boss (sometimes even the first boss of the game). Generally, these villains serve as pawns for more nihilistic villains.

The Villain tends to be overwhelmingly male. If female villains are present, they are usually Femme Fatale types who tend to be lacking in the clothing department.

Other things you need to know:

Women are typically magic users – Sometimes she uses her fists, a bow, or an unusual weapon, but more often than not, female characters are mages, and more often than not, healers. Male mages tend to be villains or specialize in black magic. Men, on the other hand, typically use phallic symbols swords and spears in combat.

How do you spot a villain? Look at his hair. White hair (especially on a young-ish person) is a common indicator of villainy in Japan (stark white features being associated with death). Note that this obviously doesn’t apply if the protagonist has white hair.

There are a bunch of other character types I could have discussed: the Mentor, the Old Master, the Cheerful Child, but these are some of the most common.

Review: Lovers and Beloveds: An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom (Book One)

I can’t remember where I heard about this book. All I know is that people were comparing it to Kushiel’s Legacy, and, as you know, saying that something is “like Kushiel’s Legacy” will practically guarantee that I will give it a read.

So I checked on Kobo and noticed that this book was on sale in ebook format for $2, so I said “What the Hel? I’ll give it a try.”

For those of you who like to judge books by their cover, here’s a visual:

It’s ARTISTIC NUDITY!

Before I go any further, I’d just like to say that I will try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but as there are some bits in this book that might definitely be triggery for some readers, I hope you will forgive me if I do spoil it a bit, just for the sake of giving everyone a fair warning.

Our main character is young Prince Temmin, who has just reached adulthood and is attempting to navigate the political and sexual intrigues in his father’s court. His world is turned upside down, however, when he falls for a brother and sister who are the human hosts for the god and goddess of love and desire–known as the Lovers. It is said throughout the land that “when Nerr [the male half of the Lovers] gets the heir” (ie. when a virgin member of the royal family joins the Lovers’ Temple) the common people will experience prosperity while the noble houses decline. So Temmin’s involvement with the two people who embody the Lovers–called, funnily enough the Embodiments–is understandably a source of tension between himself and the rest of the court.

However, Temmin’s present struggles are only part of the equation. The king assigns him a tutor–Teacher–who possesses a magic book. The story contained within this book is Lovers and Beloveds’ story-within-a-story about a princess who is cursed to return the desire of anyone who desires her. It’s an interesting framing device, although sometimes the story within a story can drag on for longer than it should.

Before I get too deep into the plot, let me just say that this novel was originally published online in serial format, and it definitely shows. I’ve certainly seen worse, but don’t go into this book looking for ornate prose or a glued-to-the-page kind of story, because that’s not what this book is about. What you will find though, is smut.

I read a review somewhere where the reviewer said that there was no kinky stuff in this novel, and I kind of have to wonder whether they were reading the same book, because here’s a short list of kinky things you will find in this novel:

  • spanking (m/m)
  • whipping/flogging (one woman, multiple men) – Temmin expresses horror at witnessing this and is informed that the one being flogged is actually one of the priestesses, and that the experience is healing for the participants
  • Temmin expressing a desire on multiple occasions to kneel before Issak (the dark-haired man on the cover) and do whatever he tells him to do
  • the not-so-subtle D/s dynamic between one of the villains and his (male) lover
  • Algamatophilia (statue fetish, sort of)
  • one threesome
  • incest (the Lovers are brother and sister, so are their hosts, the Chase is a ritual where the the god Nerr possesses his host and chases his sister-lover Neya, also having possessed her host, when he catches her, sex ensues, you do the math)

The novel is not without its problems, however. The princess’s curse, to return the desire of anyone who wants her is taken to its logical (and horrifying) conclusion, which means that, yes, unfortunately there are erotic scenes of a non-consensual nature (although I would say the curse doesn’t make her incapable of consent). There is also the suggestion that the Embodiments were underage when they began working as prostitutes (the perpetrators are punished for this) but I can’t remember if the book went into much detail over it. What I really found problematic, though, is the suggestion that only heterosexual sex actually “counts” towards losing one’s virginity. Temmin’s first sexual experience (on the first or second page) is with his friend Alvo, who gives Temmin a blowjob (Temmin consents, but is a little confused after the encounter) it’s even said as much that “for our purposes, only sex with a woman will count towards losing your virginity”. Mind you, for the prophecy regarding “Nerr getting the heir” to come to pass, the royal supplicant is required to be a virgin, but one wonders why MeiLin Miranda couldn’t just cut out the scene with Alvo entirely instead of making a problematic statement like “only heterosexual sex actually counts”.

Another issue I had is with the world-building, well, not with the world-building per se. Suffice it to say that I feel Miranda gets it right when it comes to treating religion like its own entity rather than a “set piece”. Even though Tremontine society is at times rigidly patriarchal, the Lovers’ Temple is a very sexually open place and two of the major deities exclusively take lovers of their own sex. (Except for a couple of incidents involving Eddin, a god who can change his sex at will.) There’s so much information that the series has its own wiki, and there are hints of religious conflict that were brought up and dropped suddenly near the end of the novel. Perhaps these will be revisited in future installments (the second book “Son in Sorrow” is out now and on my ereader as I type this).

Overall, I’m not sure who I would recommend this book to. I suppose if you like smut  erotic fantasy (and can stomach everything I’ve talked about in this review) or are looking for some light reading, give this book a try. If you own a Kindle, the ebook version is only $5 on Amazon.com, and there are a bunch of different purchasing options on MeiLin Miranda’s website (including an option to read the serialized online version for free). It’s definitely not the most terrible book I’ve read, but I wouldn’t say it’s ZOMG AWESOME! either. Even so, I’m still looking forward to reading the rest of the series.