Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Death of Promises: The Half Orcs Book III

Book Three of the Half-Orcs brings us up to The Death of Promises. Written by David Dalglish, this volume brings a lot of the Paladins work into the Half-Orcs in a much fuller manner than previously.

Before I ramble on too much though, let me just point out that the cover featuring one of the two paladins of Ashur left alive, whose divine power comes not through his sword, but through his shield, is facing off against the magic-wielding half-orc and his unnamed flaming whip. It's a fantastic piece. The necromantic presence of the undead behind the half-orc, the clash of contrast of the warm colors off the whip against the cool colors of the shield. It's a great piece.

The cast of characters and the world building continue to grow.Quarrah Tun and his insane lover Tessanna, who it turns out is essentially an avatar of the Earth Goddess of this setting, decide the best way to move onto their next steps, is to steal an ancient tome and learn it's secrets.

That tome is being held in a church of the 'good' god of the setting, Ashur. So doing what any good necromancer would, Quarrah raises the dead of that god and attacks the church leading to some epic combats between one of the last paladins of Ashur and the necromancer, as depicted on the cover. The nice thing about the Paladin here, Jerico? Despite his holy power being unique in that it powers his shield, he does have a magical mace, 'Bone Breaker', which would make a great magic item in any fantasy RPG. (Personally, I've used something similar in 1st and 2nd Edition D&D just used a Sword of Sharpness rules but instead of cutting the limb off, it breaks it.)

The second half of the book takes place in the siege of the city of Veldaren. Here the 'good' half-orc, Harrauq and his wife, along with their mercenary comrades, are still dealing with the aftermath of losing those dear to them from the last volume and finding new friends. Among these friends is another paladin of Ashur whose 'friend', Mira,  is another avatar of the Earth Goddess.

Turns out these avatars of the Earth Goddess are only supposed to show up once every blue moon and there have never been two around at the same time and it's usually not a good sign if there are two around at a time. An imbalance of sorts eh?

The brothers come back together in an epic clash as all the horrors of the world, various beast men ranging from birds and wolves to orcs and undead, assault the city. This isn't some random assault. It's not some attack against the city merely for the sake of bloodlust. Rather, the city is built upon the entrance point of the two gods to the world.

That's a clever bit of world building that leads back into how young the setting itself is.

Part of the problem the series suffers is that there are so many 'unique' and special characters. Jerico and his unique shield of faith. The Half-Orcs themselves being half-orc and half-elf pulling in massive amounts of power from somewhere. Velixar the reborn face changing creature who rises again and again. The two avatars of the Earth Goddess. I could go on but that small list in and of itself should be sufficient to note that we're not dealing with small matters here.

By the end of the novel, things are not looking up as a new, more powerful antagonist is introduced. It's a good way to end the novel and set up for the next book with the various forces in the setting that are waging war getting larger and the stakes themselves getting larger.

If you like quick moving high fantasy with high-powered heroes and villains, The Half-Orcs should scratch that itch.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Cost of Betrayal: The Half Orcs Book II by David Dalglish

David Dalglish's tale of the twin half-orcs, one muscular swordsman who wields two sabers, Salvation and Condemnation, and his punny, raspy-voiced spell casting brother with a flaming whip, continues in The Cost of Betrayal.

Unlike the first cover, I'm not a fan of this one. It's not the structure, but rather, the winged demon woman's feet. Their too elongated or too wide or just out of step with the rest of the illustration. Outside of that critique, it's a solid piece and another fine example of Peter Ortiz work.
Having lost their master, Velixar, an ancient nearly immortal being who serves a dark god in the last volume, the twins, now with the elf wizard Aurelia in tow, return to their home city. Valderen is a city that they were banished for originally because they had elf blood. Velixar managed to stir the pot between elf and human.

But with Aurelia with them, she's able to illusion them into the city. Where they are promptly attacked by a group of adventurers! This small guild of allies is known as the Eschaton, named so after the brother and sister duo's last name.

Folks, I'm telling you, if David Dalglish isn't a role playing or doesn't play role-playing games, or isn't a huge fan of fantasy, he's writing sure reads like it.  These mercenaries take the trio in and act as a patron, mentors, friends, and allies. During that time, Aurelia and Harruq declare their love for one another and even marry,

Qurrah on the other hand, well, he's not quite as happy. While he's glad to not be eating the lowest of the low foods, and he's pleased to have a roof over his head, and even more, to be with his twin again, he finds himself not quite as pleased as his brother.

This leads him to wander the city of Valderen and find Tessanna. If Aurelia and Velixar were powerful characters than Tessanna is literally on another level. She's a self-harmer with numerous psychotic breaks but thanks to her charm and her power, she easily wraps Qurrah around her finger.

Plots build up and more background of the setting comes forth. The different relationship between Harruq and Aurelia is played against that of Qurrah and Tessanna till eventually the brothers part on less than ideal terms.

I haven't read too many other books by David, but from rumblings, it seems that the thieves war bits in this volume run into another one of David's series, the Shadowdance series, which would make sense as Harruq's teacher is Haern the Watcher, another high-powered individual in a world of high-powered individuals.

If you're looking for a quick high action read, The Cost of Betrayal is better then the first volume and expands the setting considerably while setting up the third volume.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Weight of Blood: The Half-Orcs Book I

David Dalglish brings two new creations to fantasy with the Weight of Blood, Book One of the Half-Orcs.

Readers are introduced to street raised Harruq and Qurrah Tun. One of them is a warrior, healthy, strong, and blessed with a great endurance. The other is hunched, whispy, and weak with a croaking voice. Oh, and their twins.

Remind you of anyone?

But these twins story is a bit darker. They are individuals who live in poverty and misery set up their initial vile activities including murdering of children. They go to serve a dark priest-wizard who fought at the dawn of a great war between two deities who are also brothers, Velixar. Velixar is an interesting character in that he's old, he's scared, and while his red eyes remain constant, his face ever changes.

David shortcuts the quest for power in some ways. The twins are given items, iconic items, by their master. Harruq, the warrior, is given two red sabers, Salvation and Condemnation. His brother, Qarruh, a whip that can ignite into flame. 

The story is fast paced and moves quickly. The characters initially are roughly hewn and seem to come off as being deliberately stupid at times, especially Harruq's love interest, the elven wizard Aurelia. 

Love interest? Oh no man, is that going to test the ties of the brothers?


Things move quickly but by the end of the book, alliances are tested, trust is broken, and the setup for the next book is in play.

Things that the author nailed?

He got a good cover artist. Peter-Ortiz has his own section of Deviant Art and I suggest you take a look at his work. By giving the characters iconic weapons, he allows them to be easily identifiable. 

Giving the mage a flaming whip instead of a staff? Different enough to be notable.

Bad things? Well, look at his website and how he describes it "The first four books have been in the top 100 Kindle list for Epic Fantasy. No Mary-Sue characters. No long-winded descriptions or delusions of being the next Tolkien. Just a powerful, character driven story following two half-orc brothers, their descent into darkness, and their long, bloody road to redemption." 

The twins are Mary-Sue characters. In this world, the elves who sided with a faction in the original war became orcs. Some of the original weapons can only be used by someone who has both orc and elf blood.

These half-orcs? Oh yeah, their father is an elf. It's not enough to be a half-orc you see, you have to be a unique half-orc and half-elf. It's one of the reasons why Quarrah has such potential as a spellcaster despite being raised in poverty. This makes them... yup, Mary-Sue.

Velixar, their mentor? The guy from the original war that almost broke the planet? Mary-Sue.

The friend of Aurelia, an ancient elf protector who rides around on a magical pegasus and can actually fight Velixar? Mary-Sue.

Now there are no long-winded descriptions and I'll agree that their no delusions of being the next Tolkien. The setting is new, humanity is a race that's only been around for something like 500 years. The story is very character driven.

And the good news? It does get better as it goes along.

The Weight of Blood isn't a great start but it is a start and it gets better.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Adversary by Erin M. Evans

The Adversary is the first book I've read by Erin M. Evans. I went in with no expectations. I knew the 'Sundering' was one of those mega-events in the Forgotten Realms like the Avatar series and others but wasn't sure how they all tied in together or what the overall themes and arcs were.

The book is packed with numerous characters and factions that lends a bit of depth to the setting that can be confusing for newcomers, but most things are explained succinctly enough that readers shouldn't be too lost, even if this is their first Forgotten Realms novel. Mind you, the 'attachment' that long term Forgotten Realms readers will have will be missing from such as the novel does make use of many familiar organizations ranging from the Harpers and the Red Wizards of Thay, to the Netherese wizards and more.

The Adversary is also volume three in the Brimstone Angel Series.

After reading the Adversary though, I'll probably wind up hunting down the other books.

We have interesting heroes like Havilar and Fariden, twin tieflings. Tielflings are descendants of evil outsiders. Outsiders in this case being devils.

The girls were orphans, raised by Clanless Mehen, a dragonborn. It was great to see a dragonborn as this race gets little play. Dragonborn are reptilian humanoids from far away lands in the Forgotten Realms and having one inhuman raising two more inhumans of a different species was an interesting twist on things.

In the cast and parade of characters, we have Fariden's patron, a cambion, a half devil, who provided her initial set of powers. That character has sisters who are not fond of him. They all serve various patrons of their own and have various alliances that must be followed.

There are things I was not a fan of mind you. Perhaps because it's in 'the Sundering', there was a time skip although only of a few years. Richard Baker's character suffered such to get him to the new Forgotten Realms timeline, Paul S. Kemp's character had a son who was 'pushed' into the future, and other bits have happened that seemed forced in the Forgotten Realms. This bit was one of them.

Because it wasn't a huge push forward in time though and it wasn't a gate popping open or a magical trap, the twins, Fariden and Havilar, wind up in a bit of an off situation. The world has moved on without them in its own way. Mehen, their father, is pleased to see them. Havilar's prince is pleased to see her, but he is also engaged to be married. Such events as this provide nice complications to the characters so that they don't just get to step back into their lives.

The second bit I didn't enjoy was the 'Chosen' factor. Now mind you, the book has Fariden herself as the chosen of Asmodeus. I'm fine with that. She's one of the main characters of the book. The main thrust of the story though is that Fariden is among the Netherese to find the Chosen so that their divine energies can be harvested. On one side, the Netherse do this for Shar, on the other, those allied with the Netherse do this for their patron, Asmodeus, so that the king of devils can secure his place among the divine pantheons.

Having so many Chosen reduces what it means to be a Chosen. If Elminster and the Seven Sisters are some of the better known Chosen of the Forgotten Realms, what does it mean when dozens or more are similar? It reduces the unique factor, it reduces the whole point of being Chosen.

Given the scope of the book and the setting it takes place in though, these are minor complaints. The Forgotten Realms, much like Marvel Comics or DC comics, goes through upheveals often enough that either you get on for the ride or you stop reading them or you shake a fist in the air going "Damn you publishers!"

While the main plot of the book is wrapped up, the end leaves the reader prepared for the next novel in the series. While there are many questions answered, there are other elements set up for future novels.

Erin M. Evans wasn't a name I was familiar with before, but it's one I'll seek out again.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Logan Tries To Be Unforgiven Yet Falls Far Short

When I first heard about Logan and it being Hugh Jackman's last performance as Wolverine, I was intrigued. Numerous news bits indicated it might be going the way of the graphic novel, Old Man Logan.

I was dubious. It's not that Old Man Logan isn't worthy of screen adaptation, but if you've read it, it ties directly into the bones of the old Marvel Setting which the film company producing Logan have no access to.

I was hopeful and curious. When I saw the first trailer, I was impressed. The use of Johnny Cash's version of Nine Inch Nails 'Hurt' as well as seeing the world tired and wasted and the characters tired and wasted, well, that looks like something I could get into.

The second trailer added to that hope.

And then I saw the movie.


So many of my movie friends were like, "It's the best super hero movie ever! It's way better than any other super hero movie that's come before!"

I wasn't impressed. It's not that the genre hasn't been done before. Unforgiven is one of my favorite movies and heck, it's not the only movie that Clint Eastwood himself has done featuring this type of tired old soldier whose got one last fight left. With the whole Expendables series, there's even a genre of sorts for it. Those who read fantasy fiction like the old David Gemmell's Legend, know it's an old series.

So there are some great stories of the old soldier, the old hero, with one last battle.

This isn't one of them.

I'll be hitting spoilers real quick and discussing some of the things I enjoyed and didn't enjoy so if you don't want to be spoiled on this movie, read no further.


First off, let's talk about the cultivated look.

It looks like it's run down not because it's a dark and broken down future. It's because those scenes that are shown are where Logan is hiding Professor X, which happens to be a rusted out junkyard in Mexico.

So that ambiance shown is a trick, a trap. It's there to create a false "bad times."

It's the year 2029 and Wolverine has not aged well. This is because his skeleton is bonded to the metal and it's poisoning him. The older he gets, the more his healing factor has to deal with the poisoning leaving less time to deal with, oh, say getting shot. 

And it's probably painful.

And this is something perhaps I take with experience as I know people who are in chronic pain and they drink not because they're bitter. They drink not because they hate everyone. They drink because they are self-medicating themselves to cover the pain. 

So that ambiance of Wolverine being all 'drunk' is another false flag.

The movie's R rating is earned. It's violent. There is swearing. There's even a brief bit of nudity. But mainly the rating is for the violence.

The theme of old and faded does have one actual point, and that's mutants aren't born anymore. This isn't a bad idea or a bad seed, but as the movie goes on, even that little bit of information has to be spoiled and spelled out. See, it's not some natural thing that happened, but bio-engineered!

Sigh. Lame.

And then there's the 'big bad.' 

From all the previews we've seen, Logan and friends are being hunted down by trained killers lead by an experienced soldier. Pierce and his Reavers. Pierce comes across as confident and sure-footed, but he is punk'd over and over. The first time being knocked out by a child from behind.

The actual 'nemesis'? The main foe that returns to hunt Wolverine and his prodigy?

It's a younger wild clone of Wolverine.

Go back and watch the videos. That's not really something that comes through right? 

They hide that because it's lame.

If someone is going to tell me how Hugh Jackman playing 'X-24' is the best movie ever when The Dark Knight gave us Health Ledger in an unforgettable performance as the Joker, I'd love to hear it.

I appreciate that memory is short. I understand that the 'now' is 'hawt.' But no, Logan, for all it's well-filmed action sequences, and it's earning of the 'R' rating, it is not better than Captain America Civil War or even Dr. Strange. 

But serious themes!

Okay folks, here's the serious theme.

From the background we get in the movie, Professor X as an older person, had some type of seizure and with vast power blew up the X-Men and killed I think they said six or seven of them. So Wolverine's big plan isn't to be a drunk and be edgy and be hateful and all alone as so many people latch onto.

It's to get Professor X to an uninhabited body of water and kill him and then blow his own brains out with an adamantium bullet.

Yea, that whole "don't show a gun in act one unless you're going to use it in the final act" are in full evidence here.

Because see for whatever reason, a bullet of adamantium can blow Wolverine's head off. Now aren't his claws made of the same metal? Wouldn't he be able to slice through the limbs of say, another Wolverine? Well, let's not go thinking that way...

There's also the problem of Wolverine being flat out stupid. To humor Charles Xavier, Logan allows Laura and Chuck to rest for the night at the home of a family who they help on the side of the road.

Which of course gives the bad guys time to catch up to Logan and wipe out the innocent family.. because, in all his years of being an X-Men, Wolverine would've never thought of that I guess?

There's also the unreliability of Professor X's own power in all situations. It's the same problem you have anytime you watch a movie where the character could easily escape if they did the most basic of things but hey, for whatever reason, they don't do it.

Using his power to communicate with the apparently 'mute' Laura? No problem. Using his power to actually do anything useful? Can't have that happen.

And then there's this weird part towards the end where it's like the film company is setting up the sequel. See, in my ramblings, while I've mentioned Laura's name a few times, I haven't actually talked about how she fits into things.

It seems instead of going with anything resembling Old Man Logan, the writers decided to make Logan old and use that to introduce X-23.

Now I like X-23. I liked the origin, I like the growth of the character, the mentorship with Logan in the comics, and the eventual replacement of Logan as the Wolverine.

This isn't a bad way to introduce a character to a series. 

But there are about another half dozen children who are clones of various characters I'll let interested readers Google.

It is these kids who help Wolverine, who in fact, wind up killing Pierce.

But apparently, all of their unique abilities are no match against X-24! Who by the way while being younger than Logan, is much older than Laura so forced growth or some other unexplained bits?

So, of course, Wolverine has to go all out against his evil younger self, and this gives Laura the opportunity to use the magical adamantium bullet because Wolverine's own claws or her own claws aren't made of the same material...

My ramblings don't even cover the theme of Cracked, and it's a bit about this being a poorly veiled rip off of Children of Men...

If Children of Men doesn't get some rentals out of Logan just to see the comparisons, I'd be surprised. It's a good movie on it's own rights and in my opinion, superior in many ways to Logan.

So do Logan have no redeeming qualities?

I know I'm hacking a lot at it here, but it's mainly in disbelieve over all the praise it's been getting. Wolverine being a loner and helping a young girl is almost literally the playbook of Logan's character growth in the very first X-Men movie with Rogue.... okay,  rambling again.

Positive bits.

Action sequences are all out and pull no punches. If you're the type who always wanted to see the Hulk punch through a man but were left hanging by the PG-13 ratings, well, limbs are severed, heads are decapitated, and action aplenty fills the film. If you're an action buff, there are several scenes to enjoy. Even the car chase scene is robust.

Professor X is played to great effect by Patrick Steward. I've loved Patrick Steward ever since seeing him in Excalibur and man, I'm not saying he's done no bad roles, but he nails it as a semi-lucid Professor X here. 
Mind you, half the time I think he's missing the point of not getting that Wolverine is literally dying with such brilliant phrases as "Logan, you still have time." but there are interactions between Professor X and X-23, as well as between Professor X and Logan that click and add much-needed humor to the film. The history between Logan and Professor X is so thick you could cut it with an adamantium knife. 

Some future bits that are coming up, seem well timed. There are trucks with no human drivers. There are drones in use. There are robotic limbs on active soldiers. I know some may feel that the last one is pushing it, but man, 3-D printing and the whole field of what can be done to replacing missing limbs has come a tremendous way since even the first X-Men movie came out.

Hugh Jackman's 'presence'. He plays an old dying Logan well. He's got a lot of gravitas in his interactions with others and comes across as someone waiting to die and does it well. In many instances, unlike some fiction works I've read, Logan is older. He's probably not a fit a fighter as Laura even. And he's sick. And he's bitter. And he's got a duty to kill one of his oldest friends before that brilliant brain goes off in a populated area and then to kill himself with his magic bullet. And he's ready for that.

But in his interactions with the world itself? Some are like, "He's a father figure! They are a family!" and I'm bliking wondering if they saw the same movie I did. Like the touching scene from the trailer where Logan violently shakes her hand off? Or where he continually tells her to get away from him? Or that he only originally helped because of money? That he knows he's dying and like a sick animal, wants to be away from others so muh that he's practially unbearable to be around and in that same vein, to be the main character of the movie?

Logan is a fun action flick that earns it's rating but all this talk of "best super hero movie" ever tells me that either the branch of best is a low held title or that Christian Bale's Dark Knight trilogy is already so out of modern memory that real villains with real actors need to make a come back.