Monthly Archives: April 2015

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.

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Marthese reviews The Eldermaid by K.Henderson

Marthese at The Lesbrary reviews The Eldermaid.

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.