Review: The Last Sun (The Tarot Sequence #1)

[rape tw]

Never trust Goodreads reviewers. I mean, Goodreads is like Wikipedia: decent for quick and dirty summaries, but you don’t want to depend on it. You see, if I had heeded the reviews on Goodreads, I would never have read this book.

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Rune Saint John is the last scion of the fallen Sun Court of New Atlantis, along with his Companion, Brand, Rune is hired to search for Lady Justice’s missing son, Addam. Their search will take them from the upper echelons of Atlantean society to one of the lowest points in Rune’s past. Now it’s just a matter of finding Addam and the forces behind the abduction before time runs out, but in the process he may find there’s more going on than meets the eye, a truth about the raid on Sun Court that he might not be ready to face.

Gods, I love these assholes. I love the banter between Rune and Brand, I love Matthias and the way he throws a wrench in their dynamic in a “how do I take care of this kid?” way. I love how his employer, Lord Tower, is definitely two steps ahead of everyone else and also a bit shady. There’s a “realness” to the dialogue that I liked, particularly in the banter between Rune and Brand, like when Brand interrupts a thought to comment on someone’s butt (it makes sense in context).

I also found the world interesting despite being another “fantasy kitchen sink”. There are passing mentions of were-creatures, for instance. Magic is cast through spells stored in specially made objects called sigils. Antlanteans also have “aspects” a “gloves come off” form that is unique to each person.

I think the highest praise I can give this novel is that I couldn’t stop reading it and immediately bought the sequel when I finished it. I was so invested in the world and the characters (who deserve good things). Even as I write this I really want to get back to the sequel.

The reason I almost didn’t pick up this book was because a few reviewers referred to the main relationship as “rapey”. I didn’t find that to be the case at all. The only sexual activity depicted between the two is clearly with Rune’s consent. That said, Rune is a rape survivor and some may find the love interest flirting with him when he’s clearly uncomfortable rubs them the wrong way. I will say that when he is finally clued in, he apologizes and is much more careful with his words and actions. The assault itself is vaguely alluded to apart from a couple scenes near the middle and end of the book that are more specific. It’s clearly fucked him up (and Brand as well) and not something that can be “fixed” by a relationship (which, as you probably know, is a tired, gross trope). Another thing that may cause discomfort is the way Matthias (who is 17) acts jealous and possessive of Rune, but this is very firmly rebuffed by the latter (who points out that Matthias is 17 and he, Rune, is a grown man).

If I had one criticism, I felt like the portrayal of one character with an eating disorder came across as “this character is unhealthy–and that makes her suspicious” and actually, there weren’t many prominent female characters at all. There are several women Arcana, but only a couple of them are relevant to the plot, and the only woman in Rune’s household is Queenie, basically his servant.

Obviously, I wouldn’t recommend The Last Sun to everyone, but I did find it to be a compelling read with a sweet romantic subplot (or at least the beginnings of a relationship, maybe). I couldn’t stop reading it and I can’t wait to get back to the sequel.

Game Review: Atelier Meruru Plus: The Apprentice of Arland

Sometimes I like to prepare for reviews (and refresh my memory) by reading other reviews of the media in question. I just took a glance at some review scores for this game, and to be honest, I’m actually really surprised, because I think this might be my favourite game in the Arland trilogy series (it’s officially a series now that Atelier Lulua is out).

I mean, spoilers, but I like this game, enough that I technically finished it twice, although the first time was a bad ending so it didn’t really count.

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Merurulince Rede Arls (everyone calls her Meruru) is the princess of Arls Kingdom, a small rural kingdom in the north of the Arland Republic. The kingdom is in the process of merging with the republic, and Meruru is captivated by alchemy and wants to use it to improve the country. Her father, though skeptical, issues her a directive: improve the kingdom using alchemy before the merger, or give up learning alchemy altogether.

The gameplay as I see it is a fusion of Rorona’s monthly assignments and Totori’s flexibility. Your overall goal is to grow the kingdom’s population, much like Rorona’s goals but annually instead of monthly. You grow the population by acquiring Kingdom Points, which you get through completing tasks like Totori. You can use Kingdom Points to purchase upgrades for the kingdom, which might, say, expand a shop’s inventory. Some development goals change the locations you can visit, making new areas accessible. Naturally, completing goals involves a lot of alchemy, which means a lot of gathering and battling for materials.

Honestly, I didn’t mind most of the new major characters very interesting. I did enjoy the relationship between Rufus, the king’s butler/steward, and his brother Lias (the most unlucky character in video games). I did, however, really like the cameos from major characters from past games, particularly Totori, who is much more confident than she was in her own game.

Even though I enjoyed this game overall, I must confess that at some point in my second run I began to click through most of the conversations. Maybe I’ve finally reached my upper limit of tolerance for anime being, well, anime, or I just hate Astrid, that must be it.

At this point, even though Lulua is ready to go, I’d like to take a break from Arland so I think my next set of reviews will focus on the Mysterious trilogy until I’m able to purchase the Dusk trilogy that just came out.

Review: Starless by Jacqueline Carey

This will be my last review before I move to a new home this week, so it seems appropriate that my last review in this house (where I have lived for at least 30 years) is a book by one of my favourite authors.

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In the realm of the Sun-Blessed, Khai is trained in the arts of killing and stealth by a brotherhood of warriors in the deep desert, all for the purpose of serving as protector to Princess Zariya as her shadow. A truth has been kept from him, however, Khai is bhazim, an “honorary boy”, born a girl, but raised as a boy. In the Court of the Sun-Blessed, whose royal house does not age, Khai must navigate deadly intrigue and his own conflicted identity, but in the west, the dark god Miasmus is rising, and Khai, Zariya, and an unlikely band of prophecy hunters might be the only ones capable of stopping him.

I thought about how to describe this book and it’s difficult to talk about it without sounding dismissive. I suspect the story will sound familiar to anyone who has even a passing interest in the genre: you follow a protagonist as they come of age, then it is revealed that they have a Special Destiny, there’s even a Prophecy telling them about their Special Destiny, the only thing is how do they get from where they are to a point where they can fulfill their destiny? Therein lies the rest of the story. It’s a story that’s so familiar it’s become cliche, but it’s being written by Jacqueline Carey and I trust her (even if I hated the Agent of Hel books). In Carey’s hands, this typical story becomes an exploration of identity, of destiny and fate, and of found family, it’s as much about those things as it is about deities who walk the earth and near immortal royalty.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I was so engrossed in this novel that I read it over the weekend, only stopping to eat and sleep. It seems like it’s been a long time since I was so captivated by a cast of characters that I couldn’t wait to get back to the book because I had to know what happens next. I fell in love with the characters and the world, at first the world of the novel feels small, but as Khai grows, the world grows too. It’s a shame that one book can only explore so many cultures in depth. The cultures of Starless run the gamut from matriarchal, monarchist, fiercely egalitarian, warlike where leaders are chosen through trial by combat, etc. The deities also (fittingly) leave an impression. They are alien and strange: from a pillar of fire with skeletal limbs, to a many-armed construct-like entity, but also familiar in that they reflect their domains or spheres of influence.  They remind me of the deities in Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence, but not quite as esoteric.

Before I talk about the parts of the book that bothered me, I want to talk about some positive representation in the novel. Khai, the narrator of the tale, is nonbinary. The majority of characters are characters of colour. Zarkhoum, the setting for most of the book, is pretty obviously inspired by the Middle East (I’m guessing Iraq). Many other cultures are mentioned that don’t appear to or have analogues that I recognize. Princess Zariya is disabled, in the hands of a lesser writer, her disability might be conveniently forgotten until she needs to be rescued in the final battle or something, or else she would be treated like a burden until she was miraculously “cured”. This doesn’t happen in Starless. While Zariya’s disability presents certain challenges, she finds ways to assert her independence and work around her limitations.

I think my main problem with this book is how it handles Khai’s experience of being nonbinary in a very binarist culture where gender roles are strictly defined and the sexes are segregated (especially in the cities). To be clear, Khai was assigned female at birth, but raised as a boy (what his culture refers to as bhazim), and not told about this by his teachers until he reaches puberty. He starts questioning how he can be a warrior in a girl’s body. His inner conflict is only exacerbated when he arrives at the Court of the Sun-Blessed and has to endure being examined (since only eunuchs can attend the women for obvious reasons) and exposed to many naked women in the baths (which makes him very, very anxious). Even though scenes like these are part of his struggle with his identity, I can’t help but feel that many trans people would find this invasive “genital check” cringey at best and triggering at worst. I should also note that of the times he presents as feminine, twice it’s at the insistence of others, and once as a disguise. I’m not going to start policing this fictional character’s gender, but at times it felt like Khai was less accepting of his identity than I would have liked. He does also make some homophobic remarks, although it comes across as more of a product of his culture and other cultures have different opinions on sex and gender (including a race who can change sex at will). There’s also an important side Zarkhoumi character who is bisexual.

Starless is conventional. It’s a story you’ve heard before, but it’s a story told well, and sometimes that’s enough. I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re looking for something new and original, but if you want something that feels familiar and doesn’t require committing to a series, I recommend Starless.

Review: Arrow’s Fall (Heralds of Valdemar #3)

[rape mention, suicide mention]

This review has been a long time coming, a long time, but I remembered I said I was going to read the entire Valdemar series to date and it’s time to get back into it, I feel.

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Since the events of the second book, Talia has completed her year of fieldwork and returns to Haven as the Queen’s Own Herald in earnest, but she returns to a court beset by intrigue, and soon finds herself caught up in managing the kingdom’s problems, just as she’s about to unmask the force behind the plots, however, the Queen sends her on a diplomatic mission to investigate the worth of a marriage proposal from the prince of a neighbouring kingdom.

If I had to summarize my feelings on the final book in the original Heralds of Valdemar trilogy, “better than the second book” comes to mind, and, let’s face it, most of the second book is too people snowed in in a cabin having important character development happen working out their issues, so almost anything is going to top that, even a bunch of grown adults who would have fewer relationship problems if they just talked things out. As a bit of an aside, do you know how many headaches characters could avoid if they just talked things out? A lot, a lot of headaches, but as usual, if they just talked things out there would be no plot. In this case, we have people angry at each other for no reason and an Incredibly Obvious Villain who does basically nothing until the last third of the book.

I found myself agreeing with other reviewers that this is supposed to be the book where Talia comes into her own as Queen’s Herald, and instead we get “Talia is Very Busy and refuses to talk things out with the men closest to her”, everyone is miserable, and the book goes on like this until the Queen is like “Oh shit, better resolve this marriage proposal thing” and this is when Stuff finally happens.

Unfortunately, Lackey’s habit of torturing her characters returns in time for the finale of this trilogy, as, yes, Talia is tortured and raped by the baddies (you know, because they’re evil) and attempts suicide. Yay. From now on I’m going to just accept that this is a Thing that happens and roll with it.

I hate to be that person who says “it gets better” to anyone picking up this trilogy (or this series) for the first time, but I much prefer The Last Herald-Mage to this trilogy. It has a bit more going on (even though the first book’s villain made me laugh), the pacing is better. Chapter Eight is still burned into my memory. I will say that Arrows of the Queen was a great start to the series, it just didn’t last IMHO. I don’t hate it enough that I want to quit entirely, though.

Since I already read and reviewed The Last Herald-Mage, I’ll be reading Vows and Honor next (even though Oathblood was published years later).

Review: Chimes at Midnight (October Daye #7)

Welcome to what Seanan McGuire sees as the “second stage” of Toby’s journey. I find it hard to believe that I’m already seven books in, it’s been a long time since I’ve read this far in a series (most have either ended by now or I’ve lost interest).

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Once again, things are looking up for October, and once again, things go horribly wrong when dead Changelings start popping up in the alleys of San Francisco, dead from goblin fruit overdose. However, in the process of trying to do something about it, she ends up exiled from the Kingdom of the Mists, problems have followed her home again, and it turns out the Queen of the Mists might not have a legitimate claim to the throne after all. The answers she seeks can only be found in the legendary Library of Stars and the deepest, darkest corners of the Kingdom itself, if Toby can manage to fly under the Queen’s radar long enough to discover the truth.

I think the reason I’m only getting to this review now (besides the usual trying to read about five things at once) is because this book was very slow for me. The main plot hinges on one particular individual deciding to go through with main plot business, and it takes until close to the end of the book before anything is actually done. Even so, it’s clear the stakes keep rising with each book and building to something big. It feels like that moment of anticipation during a horror movie when you know something is going to happen and there’s going to be a scare but it’s just not coming.

Also can I say that I love Toby and Tybalt’s relationship? I love that Tybalt actually respects Toby instead of just forcing her to do things “for her own good” the way so many other “bad boys” in urban fantasy and paranormal romance do. I think they’re now my favourite straight couple in anything I’ve read ever. It seems like it’s been such a long time since I read a book with a straight couple who actually communicate and respect each other.

Honestly, I think my biggest problem with this book is that I was underwhelmed by key elements in this book. The Library of Stars is an interesting concept, but I guess as someone who went to library school, I was expecting a bit….more, but that’s more of a personal gripe. i did find the pie kind of ridiculous, all things considered. Also I feel like the big twist involving a character would have been more effective if it hadn’t been relentlessly foreshadowed for the past seven books, but again, my own personal gripes.

Anyways, sorry for the really short review. It’s been a busy month and I slacked for so long getting this review out I can’t remember most of it. Oops! The next review will be something more “current” I promise!

Game Review: Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments

The Steam Summer Sale is over and I have a bunch of new games to play and the sequel to the surprisingly good The Testament of Sherlock Holmes was near the top of my list (especially since one Humble Monthly bundle included a copy of The Devil’s Daughter).

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Apparently a departure from its predecessors, Crimes and Punishments tasks the player, as Sherlock Holmes, with solving six stand alone cases in what feels like more of an episodic game. There’s a good variety here, from the straightforward (murder involving a harpoon) to the complex (ritualistic murder related to the cult of Mithras with at least four different suspects). In addition to interviewing witnesses, scouring crime scenes for clues, and solving puzzles, you’ll also be making deductions based on what you find and capping off each case by making a choice to condemn or absolve the culprit.

Most mystery games I’ve played are very straightforward: there’s a set culprit and your job is to follow the clues until the game tells you how it happened. Crimes and Punishments tries to mix it up a little by giving each case multiple endings. Holmes can make different deductions based on the evidence that allow for, say, the possibility that there are two murderers in a case, or what sort of weapon was used, and can come to different conclusions that point to different suspects as the guilty party. It feels more open-ended than most other games I’ve played, letting the player examine the available evidence for themself. It makes you feel like you’re actually in the shoes of the famous detective. I also liked the “character portraits” feature, where the camera pans around a character being interviewed and you can highlight interesting things about them (like the presence or lack of a wedding ring or the state of their clothes) which reflects Holmes’ incredible powers of observation. Again, it makes you feel like you’re actually the great detective himself.

When Holmes isn’t interviewing people or picking up every object in sight, he’s solving puzzles. The puzzles can range from “follow the directions on the screen” to “what the hell am I supposed to do?” to “a fucking lockpicking puzzle again”. Unfortunately, this is where the game often faltered for me as some of the instructions for solving the puzzles are unclear and it was much easier to just look up the solution. The most frustrating puzzles for me were the lockpicking puzzles, where you have to rotate a cylinder to connect lines that stretch from one end of the cylinder to another, and the game isn’t content with just giving you a couple of them, oh no, you have to do a bunch of them. It got to a point where I sighed in exasperation when Holmes mentioned that he needed to pick a lock. I think they’re probably in my top five of “annoying lockpicking puzzles” (I’ve played enough games with annoying lockpicking puzzles that I could probably make a top ten list, TBH). Other than the lockpicking, the puzzles were generally well done and there was a good variety of them. I really liked the puzzles where Holmes has to use his imagination to reconstruct a sequence of events. The final puzzle in the game also deserves praise for being much, much easier than the final puzzle in the previous game (which was incomprehensible to me) it almost felt like a reward for having to pick all those locks. Note that while there is an option to skip puzzles, you’ll miss out on an achievement if you do.

Besides the puzzles, my one major criticism of this game is that although the premise is that each case has multiple endings, there’s really only one correct answer, and although I feel like it did capture the feeling of being a detective, it didn’t really give you a story to be invested in. I also felt that the “moral choices” could have been scrapped entirely because it didn’t seem to have that much of an impact on the game at all. There are a few references to what seems like a main plot involving a group called the Merry Men, but it’s literally brought up in one scene and then….nothing. I feel like they should have just stuck with the episodic format and not tried to tie it into a bigger plot and it would’ve made for a better game.

In terms of things to watch out for: you can click on Holmes’ telescope to view a woman in her bedroom in the next building over, which appears to serve absolutely no purpose besides portraying Holmes as a creeper. Many of the true culprits attempt to commit suicide when you catch them, you can stop them with a QTE but you can also fail (and apparently you can’t replay the scene after the fact). A couple of victims were domestic abusers and a few witnesses have bruises attesting to that fact. There is also a fair amount of blood and examining dead bodies, including one autopsy where you examine individual organs (which honestly look like plastic fruit to me but someone else might not think so).

Overall, I enjoyed this game and prefer it to Testament. Steam has me clocked at 16 hours and that’s with most of the achievements attained (it is possible to attain all achievements in one playthrough). This would be a good game to eat up a weekend or if you have a couple days before a major release. It’s a solid adventure game with some interesting mysteries.

Review: Ashes of Honor (October Daye #6)

I’ve read a ton of series over the years but I can only name a few that I’ve ever finished. Most of the time, I don’t finish a series because there’s some problematic element that is like the straw that broke the camel’s back. Sometimes I feel like they don’t have anything interesting to offer, and sometimes they just get swallowed up in the sea of other books in my ever growing to-read pile.

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October Daye is trying to get her life back in order after suffering significant personal losses. She’s been keeping busy by training Quentin, paying the bills, and, as usual, acting as Sylvester’s knight. Predictably, something once again interrupts her regular routine, and this time it’s the changeling daughter of her fellow knight Etienne who is in serious trouble. To make matters worse, there’s also trouble brewing in the Court of Cats.

At this point, I don’t need to tell you that I enjoyed this book, it’s pretty much a given unless the author pulls a Yasmine Galenorn and has some serious -isms in future books. There are a bunch of plot threads in this book. There’s the familiar “a child is missing and Toby must find them” thread, there’s “the Court of Cats is in trouble and Toby’s going to help fix it because she cares about Tybalt” thread, and related to the first, there’s “Etienne wangsting about how he’s going to tell his liege that he had a kid he didn’t know about until she went missing” thread. Naturally, there’s more faerie politics. Toby’s got a lot on her plate this book, but then again, when does she not?

Luckily, she’s not alone, and in this book she’s joined by the late Countess January’s widow, Li Qin Zhou, who is a constant presence in this book, whereas May and Jazz are more in the background. Still, some good representation in a genre that tends to be very heternormative is a good thing.

One thing I love about the series as a whole is the way it handles romantic relationships. Toby is still in mourning in more ways than one, and even though Tybalt is a classic “bad boy” love interest, he treats Toby with respect and doesn’t fall into the trap of so many characters like him who seem to confuse abusive behaviour with “romance”. I think they are officially my most tolerable heterosexual couple now.

Also the Luidaeg continues to be the best character in this series. Fight me.

There’s not much else I can think to say about this book (it’s been some time since I started this review) except that it’s more faerie goodness from Seanan McGuire, who is awesome.

Review: Fallen Legion: Sins of an Empire

I wasn’t going to review this game, and then I thought “Well, I spent a good chunk of time beating it” so I might as well say a few things about it before I head off to bed.

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The Fallen Legion saga is made up of two games: this one, Sins of an Empire, where you play as Princess Cecille, and Flames of Rebellion for Vita, where you play as the opposite side. In this version of the game, Cecille suddenly finds herself as heiress to an Empire after her father passes away, an empire that is beset with rebellion and corruption, but she also finds herself in possession of a mysterious book that claims it can give her the power to save her people, but at what cost?

I think the best way to describe Fallen Legion is that it’s a side-scrolling action RPG with combat that reminds me of Valkyrie Profile. The Valkyrie in this case is Cecille herself, and the Einherjar are the Exemplars–weapons personified as legendary heroes and conjured by the book. The Exemplars do most of the fighting with Cecille supporting them with magic, if the Exemplars fall, Cecille is basically a sitting duck, so actually it’s the opposite of Valkyrie Profile, more like a tower defense game. The combat is basically the same: your party members are all mapped to specific buttons and you attack with a character by pressing their corresponding button. The characters have a number of action points that dictate how many attacks they can do before they need to recharge, blocking refills their AP. Speaking of blocking, it’s done in real time, so timing your combos and blocks is very important. There’s also a mode you can trigger that gives the Exemplars unlimited AP for a short time. In between battles, you’ll be asked to make choices that influence how the Empire sees you and which bosses you fight.

I bought this because the founder of one of my favourite gaming news sites, Siliconera, is the director, so it’s a shame that I can’t recommend this game at all. The combat sounds great on paper, but in practice it involves mashing the buttons until you win (which I know because I did it) ans spamming the block button. The game also does a really poor job of explaining itself. Certain decisions indicate that a character shifts stances or equips something, but the game never explains what that means. There is a glossary that helpfully explains some things, like that Tributes are buffs, but overall I feel like the game could’ve taken some time in the tutorial to explain this stuff. I also didn’t feel any attachment to the characters at all. Their characterization is so inconsistent. One moment, Cecille will moan about how her talking book needs to eat souls to live, and the next she’s resigned to feeding it. The decisions you make between battles relate to a couple big decisions you can make, but more than once I found myself thinking “who the hell are these people and why do I care?” I just didn’t care.

The art and music are meh. The character portraits are nice if you like anime-style art. Admittedly, the reason I don’t care for the art so much is I had a tough time with a mid-game boss that meant I had to keep repeating the same level over and over. Even so, I didn’t find any of the tracks particularly memorable and the background art and enemy designs get reused a lot. I understand this is a small indy team so obviously I can’t expect AAA quality (although remember Dragon Age 2’s bland environments) but I don’t think bright orange makes the best background colour for a outdoor map.

I really wanted to like this game, but honestly, it’s a mess. It feels like it wants to be an epic tale of politics and betrayal but it just feels cliche and the combat gave me hand cramps from all the button mashing, and in the end I just didn’t want to keep playing once I beat it (not even to get a more satisfying ending). Play Valkyrie Profile, if you want something more recent, try Exist Archive or even Grand Kingdom, skip this one.

Review: One Salt Sea (October Daye #5)

What’s this? A new (to me) October Daye novel, but with mermaids this time? Sold. Not that I wasn’t intending on reading the whole series regardless, but mermaids. I love mermaids.

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Once again, October Daye is doing all right. She’s a Countess with her own knowe, she’s dating again, she’s even agreed to take a squire. Naturally, as usually happens, a situation arises and it’s up to her to fix things. The situation in this case is that the sons of Duchess Dianda Lorden of the Undersea Duchy of Saltmist have been kidnapped, and if October doesn’t find them in time, the Undersea will go to war against the sidhe of the land.

The world of this series grows with every book, and in this book we’re introduced to a whole other society of sidhe in the Undersea. The Undersea has a very different culture from the land sidhe, with harsher laws but, naturally, great beauty. This isn’t Disney’s The Little Mermaid, that’s for sure. The Undersea adds a whole other dimension to this world, and I hope this isn’t the last I see of it. As the Sea Witch, the Luidaeg gets a fair amount of page time as well. I’ve probably said this a dozen times already, but she’s one of my favourite characters in the entire series, and Quentin, Quentin is adorable, and I love May and Jaz. Honestly most of the characters are just incredibly likeable.

In previous books I complained that October did very little investigating. That seems to be a thing of the past now, now she examines crime scenes, gets her friends to examine evidence (and use their unique talents to help with the investigation), interviews a shady underworld contact, and attempts to escape a would-be assassin while pushing a mermaid who is currently using a wheelchair in one of the most tense action scenes in this series.

In terms of complaints, I felt once again that the villain (even the villain the reader isn’t expecting) was obvious. Once again, Rayselline and the Queen of Mists do bad things because they are nuts. The end chapters also pile on the sad moments (and in one instance, I felt it was a very abrupt “oh yeah so-and-so died”), the one good thing is these events do seem to definitively resolve some subplots so, yay? Again, it might be the fact that I’m practically reading these books back to back, but it seems as if at least one subplot could have stood to go on for a couple more books at least, especially since the character involved was mostly part of the background until now.

Also, this is random, but I think this cover is one of my favourites. It’s bright where the others were dark. It’s just a really cool cover. I really like the covers of this series in general. They avoid the sexualized, impossible poses of most women on covers in the urban fantasy genre.

I’m not really sure what else to say about this book. It seems like when I started writing this I had something much longer planned, but it is late, that might be my problem, writing reviews late at night.

Game Review: Child of Light

It’s February, the month where nothing (usually) really exciting happens in the game industry, the month of some of the fakest holidays in Canada (looking at you, Family Day), the month I just want to be over because it’s another month of snow and misery.

I’m going to put all that aside today, however, because today I review a beautiful game that reads and plays like a fairy tale.

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Child of Light is developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft. The story revolves around Aurora, the daughter of a duke in 19th century Austria. Aurora’s mother is absent, the narrator informs us, so the lonely duke marries another woman. One day, Aurora takes ill and seemingly dies in her sleep, only to awaken in the mysterious, magical land of Lemuria. Lemuria is currently under the oppressive rule of Queen Umbra, who has hidden away the sun, moon, and stars. Aurora embarks on a quest to restore the celestial bodies and free Lemuria from Umbra’s oppressive regime.

The gameplay consists of exploring 2D environments and occasionally solving light-based, switch-based, or block puzzles with your firefly/wisp friend, Igniculus. Running into enemies initiates combat. Combat is done Grandia style, where icons representing the characters move along a bar at the bottom of the screen. When your characters hit the white bar at the far right, time stops and you can choose actions. Different actions have different casting times, which affect how long it takes to move from the red portion of the bar to the end, which is when the character actually performs the action you gave them. If you manage to hit an enemy while its casting, its attack will be interrupted and it will be pushed back in the turn order. The same thing can happen to you, however, so it’s important to time your actions. Some enemies counter interruptions with attacks or buffs. To help with timing, you can move Igniculus into an enemy’s space and press L2 for him to shine his light in their face, slowing them down. If he runs out of juice, you can use the pauses between turns to touch the shining plants around the field or use a potion to refill his light meter. Igniculus can also shine to heal you or your allies. You can also craft gems, known as Oculi, so that your weapons deal elemental damage or you are protected from certain kinds of damage. Characters can level up and improve their abilities by using skill points.

Aurora assembles a quirky cast of friends on her journey, These include two traveling acrobats, a capitalist mouse, and a fish girl. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like I got to know many of these characters very well, even in their post-battle conversations. Partly that’s due to the dialogue, partly to the length of the game, even so, they all have their amusing quirks, such as Robert (the aforementioned mouse) putting everything in terms that sound like he’s playing the stock market.

The art and music in this game are phenomenal. The art has a very dreamy watercolor effect, of particular note to me are the trees. My favourite tree being the one with pink leaves. I also love the way Aurora’s hair is animated, as if it’s constantly being blown back by a stiff wind. You can spend ages just flying around in this game, entranced by the animation. The visuals are accompanied by a soundtrack which includes melancholic piano music that plays while you’re exploring the world and dramatic pieces that play during boss fights. The boss tracks are some of my favourites, where ominous chanting and an orchestra really create a sense of urgency. I’ve been playing the final boss theme constantly since I first heard the music in game.

I have two major criticisms of this game. Firstly, it only has two difficulty modes: casual and expert. I played on expert difficulty, which offered a decent challenge but could be very brutal, especially in the game’s early stages. An early boss gave me such grief I was considering swapping to casual just for that fight. A middle of the road difficulty would have been appreciated. The second criticism I have is that while the rhyming dialogue (you read that right, all the dialogue is in rhyme) is charming and fits the theme and style of the game, some of the rhymes are very forced and that broke the flow of the game for me. I love the idea and I bet it was tough to pull it off in the first place, but I still cringed at some of the things the characters were saying.

Child of Light is a beautiful game and the only reason I didn’t play it sooner is because UPlay sucks. It doesn’t try to revolutionize the genre, it’s just a well made, nice game to enjoy along with a cup of hot tea (or your beverage of choice). I don’t know how much time I spent playing it, but the average I’ve seen is about 10 – 15 hours. There are 16 collectable confessions to collect, and some of them can be in out of the way places, which will extend your playtime a little, but don’t go in expecting a 40 hour epic and you’ll be fine.