The Witch’s Storm – by D.B. Jackson (Review)

Thieftaker #5 / The Loyalist Witch #1

Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Historical Fiction

Lore Seekers Press; May 16, 2021

105 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4.5 / 5 ✪

Contains spoilers for the Thieftaker Series Books 1-4

Boston, Fall 1770. Ethan Kaille, former thieftaker, now lives a quiet life as a tavern keeper with his wife Kannice. Once a loyalist, he now supports the Sons of Liberty following the Boston Massacre. So when the Sons stop by with a problem, Kannice practically shoves him out the door to take the case.

Lately, the Sons have been plagued with death threats, all stemming from the trial of the Captain Thomas Preston, commander of the Boston Massacre. In fact, both the prosecution and defense have been receiving threats should they continue with the trial. And lately, there have been incidents with no explanation, which can only be the cause of magick.

Luckily, conjuring is Ethan’s forte, and he jumps into the case with renewed fervor. Because, the thing is… Ethan really missed being a thieftaker. Prowling the lanes, plying his trade. On the wrong side of the law, Sephira Pryce, helping the working men and women of Boston live out their lives are well as possible. He’s just falling back into the old groove when the conjurer strikes.

And in a moment Ethan is overwhelmed. This new witch’s power dwarfs his own, and even worse—she knows who he is. But can Ethan step away from thieftaking entirely now that he’s just come back to it, and can he really give up the cause of liberty? Or will he press on, risking ending up just another corpse floating facedown in Boston harbor?

Thus begins the Witch’s Storm, Part #1 of the Loyalist Witch.

I’m honestly going to have trouble rating this anything lower than 5 stars. It was just soooo good returning to the world of Thieftaker. Even better to read something new. Nonetheless, this was a great read. So good in fact that I went through it in a day.

There were some minor inconsistencies between this and the previous stories, but nothing that really affects the story. Even though Boston seems a touch less vibrant and detailed than normal, I’d chalk it up to the novella and its length. Not that this is an adequate excuse, but just being back in 1770’s Boston was enough to settle most of my qualms. It was amazing walking the streets of Boston again with Ethan Kaille.

If you’re a fan of the series: the Witch’s Storm is a must-read. It expands upon Ethan’s saga, and tells a never-before-seen story in the Thieftaker universe. Obviously, it’s the first of a trilogy of novellas known together as “the Loyalist Witch”, but tells a complete story on its own. It does seem like it’d be rather important to read some of the Thieftaker stuff first instead of jumping right in here, but a new reader wouldn’t be completely at sea. It’s $3 for the ebook, but that was an acceptable price to pay—if you think of the three novellas of the Loyalist Witch as one novel, it’d be $9 for the book which is just about average. But otherwise I can’t recommend it enough and I cannot wait to read the next one!

The Loyalist Witch continues with The Cloud Prison, out June 22, 2021.

Beautiful world of books (and Music) – The variation of the loyalist witch

Dead Man’s Reach, the fourth—and as it stands, final—Thieftaker novel to date, was released 6 years ago, in 2015. Since then, we’ve had only one publication starring Ethan Kaille: an omnibus of short stories that had mostly been published before, but were now collected into a single volume. If (like me) you’d already read most of these stories, you’ve been over half a decade without new Thieftaker. Now, we fans haven’t been completely deprived of reading material since. Of course, there’s always something good to read if you dig a bit. Nowadays, there’s more than enough fantasy and science fiction and whatnot to dig through. But D.B. Jackson has also been busy. Since July 2015 (when Dead Man’s Reach was published by Tor), dude’s published five novels: two Justis Fearsson urban fantasy books under David B. Coe, and the Islevale Trilogy under the pseudonym D.B. Jackson. He’s also put out some other bits and bobs—just no Thieftaker.

When I interviewed Coe back in 2019 regarding the release of Time’s Demon, second in the Islevale Trilogy, I had a chance to ask him about Thieftaker. More specifically its future. He assured me that the series is far from over. That he still has plans to return to it, even if he has to self-publish.

Well, I’m happy to announce that a new Thieftaker triptych has been released, courtesy of Lore Seekers Press, a subsidiary of Bella Rosa Books—neither of which (if I’m honest) I’ve ever heard of. But that’s hardly surprising. There’re bound to be tons of publishers that aren’t on my radar—YET. Anyway, that’s three associated novellas, all best enjoyed together. Or, maybe it’d just be a trilogy of novellas, together composing The Loyalist Witch.

And, well… I say “announce”, but these have been out for more than a month already. The first of these novellas—The Witch’s Storm—was released on May 16, with the second—The Cloud Prison—out just five weeks later on June 22, and the third—The Adams Gambit—released five weeks later still on July 27.

I bring these up for a couple of reasons: 1) because I love Thieftaker, and 2) I wanted to focus on the covers for the Loyalist Witch, which are three variations of the same artwork.

You see this a lot in music, really. Indie studios will frequently recycle artwork which they’ll use for a number of different bands under their label. There’s a decent chance you’ve seen this before, depending on how many small time bands you listen to. For example, if you’re familiar will Soul Extract—an electronic metal artist that I’ve featured in some of my monthly swag posts—you’ll notice that he’s done this a lot. Like A LOT. FIXT, the label he’s signed under, has recycled multiple album covers. One in particular has been used for more than a dozen different bands. But that’s not the point. The point is a variation of the same cover, albeit with different colors. Above is an example from Soul Extract, before we get to the main attraction. That’s ten different album covers (9 for singles, 1 the main album, Solid State) out of a single picture. TEN! Comparatively, D.B. Jackson seems just lazy doing three.

Now, I’m sure there’s a term for this, but I don’t know what it is. Anywho~ back to our scheduled post:

May I present, The Loyalist Witch, a series of novellas divided into three parts. Now, since I haven’t yet read these—YET—I can’t tell you if it’s basically a novel split into three parts. But I’m leaning towards yes. I know that The Witch’s Storm, #1, is 105 pages long and The Adams Gambit (#3) is 107. I’m assuming the middle one, The Cloud Prison, is a comparable length, but I’m not sure. I don’t know how closely they relate, nor if it’s just a single story split into 3 parts. I’ll of course report after reading them—something I definitely plan to do.

If you’re interested in purchasing the novellas for yourself, they’ll run you about $9 (for the complete set) on Amazon. If you’re new to the Thieftaker universe and intrigued, might I suggest starting at the beginning? Last time I checked, the ebook of the same name, Thieftaker, was $12. But it’s been out for a decade or so, so you’ll probably be able to find a loved paperback for a third of that—or maybe even find it at your local library for free!

Voidbreaker – by David Dalglish (Review)

The Keepers #3

Fantasy, Dark Fantasy

Orbit; February 11, 2021

458 pages (paperback)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

5 / 5 ✪

Beware spoilers for The Keepers Books 1 & 2

Incidentally, maybe check out my reviews of Soulkeeper and Ravencaller before you read this one, eh?

The awakened monsters have claimed half of the Cradle, and set siege to Londheim itself. Shinnoc son of Cannac seeks to atone for his father’s death, the whole of the Dragon-sired following in his wake. ‘Men have begun to flee the city come night, leaving the city weakened and ripe for the taking. But still the monsters sit, for within the city another war rages.

The Forgotten Children have taken over a district of Londheim and driven the humans out. Here they wait while tensions grow ever higher. The dam may yet break, but not while Devin Eveson has anything to say about it. Though he is no longer the Soulkeeper he once was, instead taking a more liberal, cavalier approach to just what constitutes a “monster”. Adria—the Chainbreaker—has turned further still from the church, to the point where she is no longer sure which side of the conflict she’s on. Though it’s becoming increasingly clear that it’s a side all of her own. But when the Goddesses themselves come calling, which side will each Eveson choose? Will it be a common one, or will the siblings fight to the death for ownership of the Cradle?

Meanwhile, Dierk, Jacaranda, Tommy, Brittany, Wren, and Janus all have chosen a side, if not a common goal. Each has their own agenda independent of this war, one that will surely come into conflict with their chosen leaders. But as alliances form and shift and fade, which side will end up on top—and is there any room for the losing side in the future of the Cradle at all?

We seek peace. We seek sleep. We seek oblivion.

Voidbreaker wraps up the Keepers series, another by David Dalglish that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. While I quite liked the Shadow dance hexalogy, I have to admit its books were a bit hit-or-miss. The Keepers may only have half as many entries, but it commands way more consistency between them. Nothing under 4-stars, with both Ravencaller and Voidbreaker yielding perfect 5/5’s. I so enjoyed this series, yet I’m only slightly disappointed it had to end here. Because while I could’ve read another three or four or eight novels in the same world, Voidbreaker gives the series the end it deserves. A damn good one.

I really enjoyed how the characters of Devin and Adria evolved. Sure, there are others as well—Jacaranda, Sena, Logarius, Janus and more—but these two central figures helped guide the plot from the beginning, and as their motivations change, so does the direction of the story. At first it was Us versus Them. Then the lines began to blur. By this point in the series, I’m not even sure whose side anyone thinks they’re on—let alone where their allegiances actually fall. The thin red line has to be blurred to the size of a demarkation zone, and coated red from the blood of all that have fallen to progress this far. I’m not sure what side I would be on, let alone what the “right” one is.

I mean, Crksslff (Puffy) is on the right side. We all know that. It’s just where everyone else falls that is confusing. Incidentally, the little firkin remains my favorite minor character. It plays its part in this story, to be sure, and plays it well. Just waiting for the spinoff that’s sure to come now.

A few minor hiccups over the course of the text could not dull the majesty that chaos hath wrought. For this tells a story of pure chaos. Dark, bloody, epic, desperate, hope-inspired chaos. And it’s glorious. About halfway through, the air of tension escalates to full-on SHTF. And just keeps at it. The whole latter half of the book was a dash through fire, a desperate fight to the finish, a last stand with but the most-unlikely glimmer of hope. And it’s truly a treasure. An incredible read. One of my books of the year, surely.

Beautiful World of Books – The Song of the Shattered Sands

The recently completed Song of the Shattered Sands featured six central novels, one triptych, and a half dozen or so shorter novellas all set in the same world. Well, all set in the same desert, all more or less relating to the overarching plot. While the US covers attempted to capture an image of Çeda as the face of the rebellion against the Kings, the UK covers focused more on her essence. A more indistinct warrior bearing twin sabers, often surrounded by thorns. While the US covers were often more varied in substance, in content, and even in color, I still vastly preferred the UK ones to them. In part the reason was that I found them less cartoonish—and the US Çeda (especially post-Book 3) didn’t meld well with how I imagined her.

When I started this post, I figured I’d showcase the UK versions—my favorite—but I ultimately decided to include both, so that you can compare and come to your own conclusion. Not that I liked ALL the UK versions better, but I definitely preferred them on the whole.

Twelve Kings in Sharakai

With Blood Upon the Sand

Of Sand and Malice Made

A Veil of Spears

Beneath the Twisted Trees

When Jackals Storm the Walls

A Desert Torn Asunder

In researching this, I figured out that the US artist changed quite a bit, beginning with Adam Paquette for Twelve Kings, then to Donato Giancola for With Blood Upon the Sand. Donato Giancola returns for Veil of Spears, and Micah Epstein takes over for the final three books. Maxime Plasse has drawn all the maps needed for the series. While René Aigner handled the interior illustrations of Of Sand and Malice Made, he also collaborated with Shawn King to perfect the cover as well. Meanwhile, Laura Brett illustrated the entire series of Gollancz covers.

The Pariah – by Anthony Ryan (Review)

Covenant of Steel #1

Fantasy, Epic

Orbit; August 24, 2021

561 pages (paperback)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

5 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review. Many thanks to Orbit Books for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

Born into a whorehouse of Albermaine, Alwyn Scribe was raised as an outlaw by the infamous Deckin Scarl. Always quick with a word or a knife, Alwyn was outlaw material at its finest—something that he’d never lose even after becoming a military man. But while fighting under the banner of Evadine Courlain, a noblewoman with apocalyptic visions and the heart of a warrior, he’s seemed to find his true calling.

But that’s the thing about one’s calling: it takes time and living to find. And while Alwyn might just be better at this than he was as a criminal, can any man, no matter how talented, truly overcome life as an outlaw to become a knight? Or will he be stuck in the gutter forever; just another failure with a blade, robbing peasants in a lonely forest?

Bit of a quick recap for me, but I didn’t want to spoil too much. Thing is, despite what was spoiled by the brief—the bit about the King’s army in particular—Alwyn’s life was a mysterious delight to read about, never knowing where the former outlaw would turn next. From friends and companions, lovers and assets, rivals and foes, the people in Alwyn’s wake are what define him. The author’s ability to build deep, flawed, relatable characters pretty much paves Alwyn’s path for him.

Anyone can start in the gutter. It’s not that hard. Raising one’s self up from there is the challenge. And staying alive long enough to do so. It’s quite the journey told here—something almost up to the breadth of Blood Song, be it without all the time spent as a student of the blade. Instead of a military society, Alwyn must rely on his wit, his reflexes, his allies, and his need for vengeance to keep him going.

One of the main differences between Alwyn and Vaelin is that where al Sorna is a leader, Alwyn Scribe is not. Rebecca (from Powder & Page) pointed this out so well in her review. Of how it’s so different from someone rising to become a hero, a leader. How he plays the supporting role so well. She pretty much nailed it. So while it’s his life we live through this, the telling takes on so much of the echoes of whom he chooses to follow in it. Deckin Scarl, Ascendant Sihlda, Evadine Courlain. I mean, there’s time where he’s on his own too, but often it seems that Alwyn simply attaches himself to famous or ambitious folk. That it’s not about how he changes the world, it’s about how those around him will shape it.

”Much preferred him as a miserable sod,” Toria said, her face souring further as she emptied the purse’s contents into her palm. “Four sheks and a quartet of dice. My fortune is made.”

For a bit of the book Alwyn is alone. I mean, while he attaches himself to the infamous, he keeps only his own counsel. But for a good chunk of it he relies on the wisdom of his friends to keep him on track. In particular, of Toria and Brewer. You know how one of your friends is always the angel on your shoulder while the other plays the devil? Of course not. Because people aren’t like that. While some may be less honorable or savory than others, they’re all human. With their own faults and opinions. These two (as well as a few choice others) color the way Alwyn lives near as much as whatever mythical figure he’s following. It’s for the best then that neither one makes a very good angel—more entertaining that way.

An excellent start to what I’m sure will be an excellent new series—provided there’s no Queen of Fire in it. I want the next one so badly now it hurts! Many thanks to Anthony Ryan and Orbit for sending along a review copy!

Music Monday 9/06

Yeah, I know it’s Tuesday. Bumped this from yesterday because I generally don’t like having two posts in a day. Music Monday is a meme created by Drew the Tattooed Book Geek. It’s a way of sharing a bit of music you’re generally high on.

I just bought a Korven Kuningas/Karkelo bundle the other day—they’re Korpiklaani albums from 2008 & 2009. Paid about $12 for it new, but figured it was worth it over buying the digital versions of both for $23. Anyway, I’ve been listening to everything on them a fair amount but especially Northern Fall, the song I’ve chosen for this. No idea what it means (any of the Finnish words, or how they’re put together), but that’s never mattered much to me. They sound great together, which is what I love about music.

Okay so yeah, I understand some of the English bits about how the woods getting naked and weather getting colder means that winter’s coming—it’s quite a short song, isn’t it? Lyrically, at least. Still, I love how it sounds. And that’s the only real important bit.

September 2021

Ugh August was a train wreck. I only read 4 books, and 3 of my 9 ARCs for the month. Granted, I new it’d be a bad month, at least reading-wise. But it wasn’t a great month otherwise. Smoky, COVIDy, dealing with rude people, and stupid Montana laws.

Music

I like such a range and variety of music that I can never find releases in advance, so instead here are some recent releases I’ve been enjoying. Also I thought I’d lead with the music this month as I’ve a nice selection of six songs and thought maybe you’d like to listen to one or two while perusing the rest of the news. Or not. Not’s fine too;)

Let’s see if this mashup of Smash and Siamese gets cutoff like some of the others have.

The second album in two years from this Swedish band, and… it’s mostly good. Better than the last one, at least. Numb is a five song EP from Danish band Siamese. It’s their first album in two years, and includes five good songs (well, four and the popular yelly one featuring Drew York). Elsewhere, Finnish Folk Metal outfit Korpiklaani have released a song about drinking, Australian celtic punk band the Rumjacks put out a previously bonus-only track off their last album, Hestia. Missourian southern rock group Shaman’s Harvest have a new haunting song which definitely sounds like them, and last but not least we have Adharma with Ultraviolettheir only release to datewhich is actually a cover of a Freya Ridings song.

Glow in the DarkSmash Into Pieces

NumbSiamese

EnnenKorpiklaani

Lost Along the WayThe Rumjacks

VoicesShaman’s Harvest

UltravioletAdharma

New ARC

The Splinter King – by Mike Brooks (9/07)

God-King Chronicles #2

Goodreads

Still reeling from the events of The Black Coast, and the rise of the daemonic warlord, the political machinations, betrayals, new friendships, duels and battles continue to unfold as new characters appear and old return. 

As the quest for the new God-King begins and a deadly coup is planned, the Nardia seems to be a kingdom forever in turmoil.

I loved the first God-King book, so picking up the next one seemed a no-brainer! If you haven’t read it or heard the hype, maybe check out my review HERE and maybe it’ll convince you to go for it.

Iron Widow – by Xiran Jay Zhao (9/21)

Iron Widow #1

Goodreads

The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.

When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected—she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.​

To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia​. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way—and stop more girls from being sacrificed.

Iron Widow already has a boatload of reviews over on Goodreads, where it’s currently boasting a 4.4 rating. This, combined with Gundams, the Hyron Project, and a dystopian Chinaif anything this makes me more excited to read it.

The Liar of Red Valley – by Walter Goodwater (9/28)

Standalone

Goodreads

Don’t trust the Liar.

Don’t go in the River.

Do not cross the King.

In Red Valley, California, you follow the rules if you want to stay alive. But even that isn’t enough to protect Sadie now that she’s unexpectedly become the Liar: the keeper and maker of Red Valley’s many secrets.

In a town like this, friendships are hard-won and bad blood lasts generations, and when not everyone in town is exactly human, it isn’t a safe place to make enemies.

And though the Liar has power—power to remake the world, with just a little blood—what Sadie really needs is answers: Why is the town’s sheriff after her? What does the King want from her? And what is the real purpose of the Liar of Red Valley?

City of Songs – by Anthony Ryan (9/30)

The Seven Swords #3

Goodreads

ATHERIA—THE FABLED CITY OF SONGS THE SHINING JEWEL OF THE THIRD SEA WHERE THE MASKED EXULTIA CASTE HOLD SWAY AND VIE TO OUTDO EACH OTHER IN THEIR PATRONAGE OF THE ARTS, SOMETIMES WITH DEADLY CONSEQUENCES…

Guyime, wandering, dethroned King of the Northlands, is drawn to the Atheria by his quest for the Seven Swords, the demon cursed blades of legend. But to claim the next sword he must first solve a seemingly impossible murder—a puzzle that, once untangled, will unveil secrets so dark they could bring the City of Songs to utter ruin.

I’ve read a decent amount of books by Anthony Ryan by now, and I’ve almost forgotten the thing that was Queen of Fire. The Seven Swords is a densely-packed (if short) fantasy that’s been thoroughly enjoyable to this point. Early reviews are positive, but we’ll find out shortly if it lives up to the first two!

A Pilgrimage of Swords Review

The Kraken’s Tooth Review

Sisters of Shadow – by Katherine Livesey (9/30)

Sisters of Shadow #1

Goodreads

Alice has lived in the forest on the fringes of Alder Vale ever since her parents abandoned her. Alone, exiled, feared by all. All except Lily.

But something is stirring beyond the mountains, whispers of spectres stalking the moors, women of unfathomable power luring children into a cult that has haunted local lore for a generation.

Then, in the dead of night, Alice receives a letter promising answers to the questions that have always tormented her. And so she meets Grace. The red-cloaked cultist pledged to protect her, a scarred warrior born of storm and sea, the girl who will steal her heart.

I had high hopes for this one, but the early reviews are not good. Like, sub-3 not-good. So I’ve lowered my expectations. I’m still hoping it will overcome these expectations, though.

Purchases

Fevre Dream – by George R.R. Martin

Standalone

Goodreads

When struggling riverboat captain Abner Marsh receives an offer of partnership from a wealthy aristocrat, he suspects something’s amiss. But when he meets the hauntingly pale, steely-eyed Joshua York, he is certain. For York doesn’t care that the icy winter of 1857 has wiped out all but one of Marsh’s dilapidated fleet. Nor does he care that he won’t earn back his investment in a decade. York has his own reasons for wanting to traverse the powerful Mississippi. And they are to be none of Marsh’s concern—no matter how bizarre, arbitrary, or capricious his actions may prove.

Marsh meant to turn down York’s offer. It was too full of secrets that spelled danger. But the promise of both gold and a grand new boat that could make history crushed his resolve—coupled with the terrible force of York’s mesmerizing gaze. Not until the maiden voyage of his new sidewheeler Fevre Dream would Marsh realize he had joined a mission both more sinister, and perhaps more noble, than his most fantastic nightmare…and mankind’s most impossible dream.

Other ARC

For the Wolf – by Hannah F. Whitten (6/01)

Wilderwood #1

Goodreads

As the only Second Daughter born in centuries, Red has one purpose-to be sacrificed to the Wolf in the Wood in the hope he’ll return the world’s captured gods.

Red is almost relieved to go. Plagued by a dangerous power she can’t control, at least she knows that in the Wilderwood, she can’t hurt those she loves. Again.

But the legends lie. The Wolf is a man, not a monster. Her magic is a calling, not a curse. And if she doesn’t learn how to use it, the monsters the gods have become will swallow the Wilderwoodand her world-whole.

I was kindly granted a late review copy of this just earlier this week. Though it’s been a while since it’s been released, I’m still interested to read it. I’ve heard pretty decent/good things thus far!

Currently Reading

Bridge of Souls – by Victoria Schwab

Cassidy Blake Book Three presents the city of New Orleans, one of the most historic places on the planet. So long as one discounts 100% of the Cradle of Civilization, at least. Quite the haunted place, New Orleans is, apparently. And Cassidy aims to confront her demons from Book #2. But to do that, she’ll have to… actually, I’m not sure what. I’m not that far in. I’m sure it’ll prove a decent adventure, though.

Gaming

Since Cyberpunk 2077 is still a bit glitchy and unplayable (for me, at least), I felt like finally going in for a bit of Ghsotrunner. It’s been on my watchlist for a bit despite the fact that it’s one of those games that aims for perfection (or luck) in everything. Luckily, there’s a decently forgiving checkpoint system, and an AMAZING soundtrack. Also a very nice cyberpunk setting and feel. Plus, it’s a bit of a “story-light” kinda game, so I can read audiobooks while playing.

Life

So, August was a bit of a wash, huh? Several of my friends got COVIDincluding about half that were already vaccinated. Which, with the rates skyrocketing again, is deeply worrying. Most of them did quite badly, too. In other news, didn’t get a ton of reading done, many games played, or much else accomplished. Work sucked. The whole month. People were rude. Worse than normal. Maybe it’s our new lawwhere you can’t discriminate against people who aren’t vaccinated or wearing masks. Now that sounds great, but in my experience it mostly just exempts people from giving a fuck.

But, right. Have a lot of reading to catch up on over the rest of the year. Maybe I can find some self-control and not request a ton of books that would otherwise fill that time. I’d like to at least catch up on Shards of Earth, Bloodless, Ardor Benn, Namesake, Once and Future Witches, and The Splinter King. In practice, I might manage… half?

The last week and a half of August, then the beginning of September, I spent in Pennsylvania. Took an impromptu vacation there to visit family, but only managed to see a few of them. It was still nice. Up until my flights were cancelled and I was stuck there for most of another week because of storms and flooding. Keep in mind: it had rained in Montana twice in the last month. So I spent most of my time in the Eastern US just watching it rain. It was a nice breakplus I missed a couple festivals I’d’ve otherwise had to work, which was great. But… I kinda didn’t bring my laptop or schedule any posts, so I was just gone. But, didn’t die. Still alive. Should be able to publish something in the next month or so at least.

How was your August? How ready are you for the fall?

Paper & Blood – by Kevin Hearne (Review)

Ink & Sigil #2

Fantasy, Urban Fantasy

Del Rey; August 10, 2021

304 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

3.5 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review. Many thanks to Del Rey and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

Beware Spoilers for Ink & Sigil (maybe read this one first, eh?)

Fresh off the Case of the Trafficked Fae and Stolen Whisky, Al MacBharrais and his hobgoblin Buck are thrown into another mystery involving missing sigil agents, a rising body count, and a untracked god appearing in the south of Australia.

It all begins with a mysterious, god-level event in the Dandenong Mountains, a range just north of Melbourne, Australia. Sigil agent Shu-hua goes to investigate, only to disappear without a trace. Another sigil agent, Mei-ling, and her apprentice set out shortly after to attempt to find Shu-hua, only to suffer the same mysterious fate themselves. As folk keep disappearing Down Unda, Shu-hua’s apprentice Ya-ping frantically contacts Al, desperate for some help finding her missing mentor.

Now it’s up to MacBharrais and his wee pink hob to travel to Southern Victoria and find the missing agents, people plus whatever’s been taking them. Oh, and he invites the Iron Druid Connor (formerly Atticus)—who has taken up residence just south in Tasmania—to come along for the ride.

Thus the adventure begins, with Al, Hob and Ya-ping joining forces with Connor, Oberon and Starbuck to find their brethren and foil whatever nefarious forces are at work. There will be plenty of time for fun along the way—with a plethora of guest stars, cameos, heists, and stories to distract from all of that ass-kicking that is sure to commence when the team hunts down their prey.

I found this adventure a good read; fun, exciting, and interesting in all the right ways. As with the first book in the series, I enjoyed Al in a way I never did Atticus. Therefore I was initially disappointed when the Iron Druid showed up—but forgave the choice as he proved to be a much more mellow, far less superpowered god as I remembered. The same core characters from Ink & Sigil return as Nadia, Buck, and of course Al reprise their roles, much to the same tune as last time. However, except for a little piece of backstory on Buck, we really don’t learn anything especially new or interesting about them. Ya-ping is a welcome relief as the apprentice sigil agent is funny but deep, interesting, and relatable without being too wise for her age. I even enjoyed the Iron Druid, after a fashion. Unfortunately that doesn’t hold true for Gladys (MacBharrais’s secretary from Book #1), who returns with a bit of mysterious backstory. I found her as unlikely as she was unlikeable, and the whole concept of her surprise reveal stupid.

While it’s a good, fun read, Paper & Blood is far from perfect.

[They want to bag a druid, and not just any Druid: They want the Iron Druid.]

“Me? Why?”

“So many reasons!” Buck said, spreading his arms wide but keeping his voice low. “A Lot of human violence is committed over the idea of proprietary sex partners. Could that be it?”

“…Nnno.”

First off, as the story itself comes directly after Al’s realization that he’s the victim of not one but two curses, I really would’ve thought we’d’ve focussed on that more. But other than a little tidbit at the very end, we end back where we started. It’s like… So, the spinoff was a hit. Episode 1 ended on a high note and we’re all invested in the mystery and can’t wait to see where it leads in Episode 2. But instead of any continuation of what must be the overarching season plot, Episode 2 is a self-contained story that has very little to do with anything (although it’s all well and good and interesting in its own right), only to spend the last minute or two refocussing everyone on what happened at the end of Episode 1 and where the story’s sure to be headed now. In short, while Episode 2 was good, we made no season plot progress from #1 but end the episode assuring the audience that we’re totally going to come Episode 3.

Now I realize that this might’ve been an attempt to expand the world, the lore, or more firmly establish the connection to the Iron Druid universe. And it does two out of the three—though doesn’t teach us anything more about different sigils—the connections and lore being leaned on heavily. The lore was particularly interesting, as it expands the world, the pantheons, and their capabilities.

Additionally, within this self-contained adventure, there are a few (three) “campfire stories” that didn’t seem to connect to anything. Okay, okay—I’m sure you could come up with some connections, but they’re tenuous at best, and at worst have nothing to do with either the plot of Episode 1 or 2 and are just included to waste time. Combined, the three take up roughly 15% of the book. I found the first one (3%) interesting, the second (2%) boring, and the third (10%) especially pointless.

TL;DR

All in all, I left Paper & Blood feeling a bit annoyed, but overall pleased with my time spent within its pages. After waiting on it a few days however, mostly now I just feel that while the story was entertaining, it was didn’t leave any lasting sense of accomplishment. Nothing happens that relates to the overarching plot of the series: Al’s curse. It’s a self-contained adventure that—while interesting and entertaining in its own right—is pretty much just a waste of time. I’m not saying Paper & Blood wasn’t good—it was! It told a fun, ofttimes exciting story, but related to fuck all of the story from Book 1. If you enjoyed the Iron Druid series, it’ll probably just be worthwhile to see Atticus again. If you thought Ink & Sigil thinking that it was a lovely time, full of laughter and fun—you’ll probably like Paper & Blood. But if you like a bit more substance out of your series, you’ll likely still enjoy your time, but leave feeling a bit disappointed.

Islanders (2019) – Indie Lagoon

Islanders

Grizzly Games2019

10 hours / 54% Achievement Progress

TwitterPublisher WebsiteSteam

City Builder • Strategy • Indie • Chill • Exploration • Atmospheric

$4.99

Grizzly Games is a Berlin-based, indie publisher. They have two games to their name thus far, Superflight (released in 2017)—an open world, casual flight sim—and Islanders, a city-builder released two years later.

At the time I’m writing this, Islanders commands a 95% positive rating on Steam, and I can see why. This minimalist city-builder may not be on par with grand strategy games like Civilization, Humankind or Crusader Kings, but its unique, point-based construction system and chill, island hopping gameplay make it a must for casual fans of the genre.

Islanders is an indie city-builder that does things a little differently. Instead of resources and technology and population, everything revolves around points. When you begin a new game, Islanders will ask you to choose between one of two starter packs—usually either Farming or Lumber. These two packs will either revolve around Farming or Lumber, amazingly. But unlike something like Civ, they won’t be used to collect resources used to build and unlock additional buildings. See, you only get a set number of buildings. Thus you must strategically place these buildings in order to maximize the number of points you receive. For example, a Lumberjack has a base point total of zero, but receives an additional one point for every tree, four points for each statue and five points for every sawmill in its radius. However, it also loses six points for every additional Lumberjack nearby. So let’s say you put it near 20 trees and one sawmill, thereby earning 25 points. These points are added to your total.

For each milestone in points you reach, you’ll unlock another pack, containing more unique buildings—and even some that you might’ve seen before. While you’ll get Lumber, Farming, Brewing, Seaweed, and City packs early on, later your choices will diversify somewhat. The thing is that no matter how many points you earn, your next milestone will only unlock the choice of a maximum of two packs. It’s a gamble (especially early on) that you’ll be able to earn enough points through placing these buildings to unlock another. If you fail to earn enough points, it’s game over, and Islanders will restart. You won’t lose much (at least at first), but later on there’s more to play for and expect things to get much more strategic.

My first game ended in five minutes.

I placed the sawmill and lumberjack away from one another and not near enough trees and immediately saw the game over screen. Pressed continue and I was right back to another small, picturesque isle in an infinite sea.

My second game lasted about about an hour.

The thing is that while it looks quite simple, Islanders also holds a challenge, a complexity that actually does require some strategy to navigate. You can make one move at a time, place one building at a time—and make certain you’re happy with it. You’ll have the opportunity to undo your move immediately upon making or until you place another building. After that it’s permanent. You cannot erase or replace any buildings further that one turn back. So you better make sure you love its placement, or else that house is staying on that tiny isle for good.

On the lefthand side of the screen, you have your point total. It tracks your overall progress, as well as your progress towards your next milestone pack unlock. On the righthand side, there’s your progress toward the next island. Once this bar is filled, you have unlocked a new island that you can journey to whenever you wish. You could stay a while and continue building on your existing isle, or abandon it straightaway for the new one. Just know that once you leave for a new island, there’s no coming back.

It’s important to note that should you stay for a while and at some point fail to earn enough points towards the next milestone, your game won’t end. You’ll just have no choice but to continue on to the next island. So the game won’t end, but your time on any given island will eventually run out.

I reached this point in my third game.

I spent an hour or so pushing through the first four islands, but immediately fell in love with Island #5. It was a larger isle, full of plateaus and beaches and boulders and forests. There were overgrown ruins of a bridge that I found scenic and mysterious. And it was predominately green. A lush, lovely green. I love green.

After maybe 30-45 minutes, I’d unlocked the next island. But I was reluctant to leave #5.

In the end I built 5 cities on this fifth island. Additionally, I constructed four farming complexes, several mines and quarries, and a random assortment of huts, gardens, and other amusements. That topmost (and tallest) plateau (or tepui, if you will), I left mostly untouched, only tucking a few lumberjacks in. I tried and retried buildings, careful to conserve space, maintain the tranquil aesthetic, and maximize my points.

I spent nearly 5 hours on this island.

It was genuinely upsetting when I realized that I was backed into a corner and couldn’t earn enough points to complete the next milestone. I took screenshots of all my cities, all my favorite bits of the island and—placing my final garden—I was forced to move on to Island #6. I was crushed. I was disappointed. I was surprised. How could a chill, relaxing game that I picked up to do a bit have affected me so much? It was an interesting moment. I wasn’t sure whether to feel vindicated in my purchase or disappointed in my strategy that I’d apparently failed at.

Then I got my first look at Island #6.

And—OOOoooOOOoooo…

I haven’t yet started #6, so right now it’s just a mass of potential. It is visually as appealing as any of the other islands, as well as the largest region yet (I wonder if they’ll continue to grow the farther you go in the game?) (Also, I hope they’ll be archipelagos to build across at some point). The music is still as chill as ever. I really wanted to dive in.

But I need to unwind after Island #5. And I’ve been playing it for much of the last five hours (while also watching Taskmaster on Youtube). Also, it’s 5am. I should prooobably go to sleep first.

TL;DR

Islanders is a relaxing, beautiful game. But there’s also some strategy to it—far more than I expected. The soft, semi-pixelated graphics have a definite appeal. The soothing, tranquil music doesn’t stress you out and encourages you to take the game at your own pace. Combined with gorgeous colors and a lovely aesthetic, it’s a pretty and chill game, even if you lose right away. Even when you lose later on down the line it’s hard to get too upset, because your next island is just a click away.

You won’t fight any battles. It’s your island to colonize alone, as you will, with no opponent to compete for space. There’s no technology to worry about, nor resources, no population. You unlock buildings with points, and can’t always predict how your choices will influence what unlocks later.

There’s no saving, which is somewhat disappointing, but I can understand why it’s been left out. Your current game is preserved should you leave it in progress, and your new one won’t be too far from the one before to require a save mechanic. That’s not to say there’s no replayability, however, as the ever-changing, procedurally generated islands ensure that each game will be new and interesting, if not vastly different.

Since Islanders is a more casual, less intensive city-builder, it’s not going to replace something on the scale of Civ or Humankind. Nor will it prove a strategy game on par with Crusader Kings or Hearts of Iron. There’re no epic battles, wars; no race to explore, advance; no one to conquer or dominate; no population to control, manage, appease, or keep alive. But it’s still good fun, and I’d certainly recommend it.

Since it’s not a massive game, it won’t tax your computer. It runs on my old Mac just fine, and the thing is 10 years old. I think the install size was 100 mb or something. But if you’re concerned about that, I think Islanders also just released for console too.

All in all, I’ve enjoyed Islanders far more than I’d’ve ever expected. Completely worth the fiver in my opinion—but then I got it on sale for $2.50. Definitely worth that.

The Beautiful World of Books – 6 Crap Books with Lovely Covers

Everyone’s heard the thing about not judging a book by its cover. I have a serious problem with that. I love books with eye-catching covers—so much so that I frequently ignore all evidence to the contrary when confronted by a magnificent cover atop a less than intriguing book. Occasionally, even, there are books that actually look AND sound appealing, only to be utter shit. Dunno which are worse, to be honest.

Here are just a few examples.

Beware possible spoilers, hurt feelings, alternative opinions, exaggeration, and maybe some descriptive language.

  1. Witchsign – by Den Patrick

Say what you will about his books—Den Patrick can whip up a good cover. I mean, dude doesn’t actually illustrate his own covers, and if he did I’m sure that they’d be somewhat appealing in one corner before eventually devolving into something a child has drawn using mustard packets and human blood. A great metaphor for his books. But the point is—he really commands a great cover. From The Boy With the Porcelain Blade to the Ashen Torment series, they’re all quite impressive, really.

2. Cage of Souls – by Adrian Tchaikovsky

A rare DNF, I found Cage of Souls to be a wordy allegory for spouting the author’s political, environmental, personal, but mostly political beliefs. Over the course of 600 pages of a creative if uninventive, and frankly boring story about the last city on earth, Tchaikovsky made me regret buying this one just because it looked and sounded interesting. After only 200 or so it devolves into a rant about how Tories are the devil and climate change is bad (I mean, I agree that climate change is terrible, but this just came off as whiny). The cover is quite something, though.

3. Drake – by Peter McLean

The cover of Drake is done in a comic/graphic novel style that evokes an action-hero; explosions, dodging bullets, leaping small buildings, car chases, gun fights, etc. Too bad none of that actually happens. This is the start of a new urban fantasy series about a hitman whose one job is to kill people and who falls apart after killing one person after the first chapter. And then fails to figure out what’s going on for the next two hundred pages. He has one job, and sucks at it. There’s no plot. AND it’s boring. Cover’s easily the best part.

4. Thin Air – by Richard K. Morgan

I absolutely love the cover of this (minus the ‘Outstanding’ rating by the Times—unless they were talking about the cover as well), if not the actual story itself. As usual Morgan just throws you into the action. Throwing about the lingo and raining death from above and below and all around. And then you find out that this is about an audit. Something that remains the focus for entirely too long. My favorite part of this was the end—when it ended. Oh, and the cover. I quite liked the cover.

5. Ghosts of Gotham – by Craig Schaefer

A reporter that debunks supernatural mysteries headlines Ghosts of Gotham, a book that spends the first half ensuring us that there’s nothing supernatural or mysterious in the world… only to do an abrupt 180˚ at that halfway point and abandon that first mystery in favor of a completely different one. Honestly, neither mystery was that bad. They just had nothing to do with one another despite the author screaming that they were obviously related. Lionel denied, denied, denied—and again at the 50% mark just went “okay obviously the supernatural is real” and there we were. Love the cover! It reminds me of a ‘ghosts in the machine’ kinda thing, with the auroras and shadows overlaying a motherboard. Shame it had nothing to do with the actual story.

6. The Quantum Thief – by Hannu Rajaniemi

Jean le Flambeur is a criminal, mind burglar, confidence man and trickster. What he is not, it seems, is compelling. A book with zero exposition that reads like a drug-trip, The Quantum Thief might’ve been better—if it’d made any bloody sense. It’s like that point in the Gunslinger where you realize he’s just making things up on the fly and there’s no plot whatsoever. Just like… all the time. The cover depicts a post-human angel whisking a criminal away: an action-packed picture worth more than a thousand words—any one of which was better than the actual book itself.