Saturday, February 17, 2018

You can('t) go home again: Devlin's Honor by Patricia Bray (The Sword of Change #2) (Spoilers)

This review took longer to get around to than I had expected. Add to it that my memory is piss poor, and this shouldn't be a long review.

Devlin's Honor is the second book in Patricia Bray's Sword of Change trilogy and while a good story, it doesn't quite match-up with its predecessor, Devlin's Luck. Still, it's worth reading.

The story picks up four months after the events of the previous book. Devlin has spent those months trying to shore-up the defenses of the Kingdom of Jorsk against the threats that he feels are imminent. Unfortunately, he hasn't had that much success and every attempt at strengthening the kingdom is a struggle due partly to the usual power plays and politics you see in most any fantasy novel, but with the added invective that Devlin is still looked down upon because he's a member of a conquered people and not a Jorskian. He later discovers via one of his few friends, the minstrel Stephen, that his very status as Chosen is questioned in the Jorsk circles of power because he lacks the Sword of Light (the sword on the covers of all three books and a pretty accurate description to boot).

The Sword of Light is one of the badges of office of the Chosen, but was lost during the conquest of Duncaer, Devlin's homeland. We get a brief rundown of how the conquest happened: Basically, the Caerfolk practiced a form of elective monarchy where a woman would be elected queen for a term, then either re-elected or replaced with another queen when their first term ended. Duncaer's final queen was a two-termer who wasn't going to get a third and so she went full asshole and "invited" the Jorskian army for a *ahem* visit. It's explained that only one city, Ynnis (or Yniss, I can't remember the proper spelling) resisted the invasion. That's not because the Caerfolk were a docile people but because the rest of the country was more focused on waging a bloodfeud against this queen and her entire family tree. And man, I'm not even exaggerating about that. Caerfolk are dead serious when it comes to blood feuds and the resulting conflict really didn't end until every single member of Queen Asshole's family going as far as distant relations were six feet under.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

2017 was not a very good year

And that's putting it mildly. I read like a demon last year with a grand total of thirty books by year's end, but the number of those books that were in my beloved fantasy genre number...five. YEAH. I was fine everywhere else, especially on the SF front where fully half of that thirty was science fiction, and the rest being mysteries, thrillers, and classic lit. I can only describe it as a drought and pretty severe one at that. How bad? There's a five month gap between the second and third books. Yikes.

Here's the list:

1. Assassin's Apprentice - Robin Hobb.

Loved it and can't wait to read Royal Assassin this year.


2. His Majesty's Dragon - Naomi Novik.

Surprised me because I thought the premise - dragon-based air forces during the Napoleonic Wars - was more than a bit silly, but it turned out to be a highly enjoyable and fun book.

3. The Baker's Boy - J.V. Jones.

It was okay. It bothered me that the eponymous Baker's Boy (I forget his name) and Melisandre (I think that's how her name is spelled) didn't play much of a role in the book's plot. All of the action revolved around a few other characters and that's fine, but the boy and Meli were all but irrelevant.
4. Devlin's Luck - Patricia Bray.

One of those books that you don't think will be all that good because of the cover but turns out to be very good. Loved it.


5. Devlin's Honor - Bray.

Honestly, this was weaker compared to Devlin's Luck, but it wasn't bad. It felt more like one of those filler episodes that TV shows do sometimes. Having said that, I didn't regret reading it.

So there you have it, five books in twelve months. I have no idea why I hit such a dry spell, but it happened and I'm going to try and get around it. I'm currently reading The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin and should finish that by the end of next week, so that will hopefully get the motor running. After that, I don't know. I'm looking at The Warded Man (which I started reading last year, but never finished it) or maybe The Witcher series. Hopefully last year was just a fluke.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Devlin's Luck (The Sword of Change #1) by Patricia Bray (spoilers)

This year has been a tough one for reading fantasy. I've spent most of 2017 in a slump that for some strange reason, only dulled my interest in fantasy fiction with almost every attempt to jump back into it turned into a route. Thankfully, I've finally managed to break the slump, thanks in no small part to Devlin's Luck, the first book in Patricia Bray's The Sword of Change trilogy. I'd seen the book on the shelf at the local public library several times, but always ignored it because of the slump. Then about two weeks ago, I had the sudden impulse to take it home and damn near devoured it I would have torn through it like dysentery in a medieval army camp if not for the fact that I was reading a Jules Verne book at the same time, but once I was finished with that, I turned my full attention to this tome and finished it off in double time.

So what is Devlin's Luck about? It's a story of a man broken by tragedy who desires nothing more than to make amends for a past tragedy and die with dignity. At the beginning of the book, Devlin arrives in Kingsholm, the capital of the Kingdom of Jorsk, to take the office of Chosen One. It's a bit hard to explain what the Chosen One is, but essentially, they're the kingdom's official problem solver. If something needs to be investigated, for example, the Chosen One could be dispatched to do it. The same goes with quests and any situation that may require their services. The position itself was quite prestigious in days past, being equal to King's Champion and subservient only to the ruling monarch.

But those days are long gone. By the time Devlin arrives to take the oath, the office has declined into largely a ceremonial position so undesirable that the kingdom has to offer ten gold disks¹ in order to get anyone to take the job. Why? The office is seen as certain death because all of Devlin's immediate predecessors have lasted less than a year, each typically dying during or after their first quest.

And that's exactly why Devlin wants the job. As I said, Devlin is a man broken by tragedy. I don't count it as a spoiler since you find it out pretty early, but Dev's grief stems from his wife, their daughter, his brother and his son being killed by creatures called banecats. Even though he avenged them by hunting down and killing the banecats, he still blames himself both for their deaths and not being there to defend them. By the time he recovered from fighting the banecats and returned to civilization, he found himself named kinslayer by his sister-in-law and forsaken by all of his kin, a major thing in his people's culture. He goes into exile shortly thereafter and literally walks all the way to Kingsholm to become the Chosen One.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

To battle!

Artist: Pierre Joubert.
Found on Tumblr.
There's a lot about this that I like: The dude hacking away at the chains, the other dude who's either going to get skewered on that polearm or give its owner a good solid thwacking, the knight charging into the fray, and look of "I didn't sign up for this bullshit" on the horse's face. The weapons and clothing is great too because it looks accurate or at least what I assume to be accurate.

Great picture, overall.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Thor's got one hell of an adventuring party

Your bank account is going to hate this movie as much as you and/or your kids will love it. :P
I finally watched the trailer for Thor: Ragnarok and as soon as I saw the above shot, my mind immediately started classifying each character.

Hulk: Barbarian, cursed to transform into a monster when the berserker rage overtakes him.
Thor: Fighter. A god can be a fighter, right? He's rather miffed about having his prized magic hammer destroyed.
Valkyrie: Paladin. After all, she works in service to a deity, who presumably granted her special powers and abilities. I'm not well-versed in Norse mythology, so I might be wrong. Still, paladin feels right.
Loki: Some sort of rogue class. He's a sneaky-pete, has a preference for short bladed weapons like knives and daggers, and uses deception and misdirection.

It's an impressive party for sure, but having said that, I find the lack of clerics, spellcasters, and ranged weapons worrisome.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Your fantasy real estate: Palais de Papes

Credit: Jean-Marc Rosier from http://www.rosier.pro
I'm like a friggin' ReMax agent, showing you prime real estate for your campaigns. Just avoid Jimmy Nine Fingers; he'll sell you a subprime mortgage and homeowners insurance, then burn down your house with you in it and collect the insurance, which you so benevolently left to him.

Also don't ask him why he's Jimmy Nine Fingers.

Any hoot, the Palais de Papes was the seat of the Avignon Papacy back in the 14th century and is now a UNESCO world heritage site. What's the Avignon Papacy, you didn't ask? I'll get to that later. For now, let's ogle the pretty palace.

Credit: Jean-Marc Rosier from http://www.rosier.pro


Credit: Ingo Mehling.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

This is the only fidget spinner that I want

You won't be fidgeting after using this sucker. Writhing, yes. Being rushed to the hospital, definitely. Fidgeting? Not so much, no.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Glen Cook's Black Company getting that small screen treatment too, courtesy of Eliza Dushku

Who will be executive producing with David Goyer (among others) and starring as The Lady. If the name Eliza Dushku sounds familiar, she played Faith on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Echo on Dollhouse, and was in the 2000 classic movie, Bring It On. I have to admit, I'm pretty surprised to see her name attached and I'll freely admit that part of it is because she's a woman, but also awesome because a woman is exec producing and starring in a show based on a military fantasy series. Still, she optioned the entire entire series through her production company, so this isn't some kind of clever ploy by a group of men to try and snag media attention by using Dushku's name as a front.

Another admission: I've never read The Black Company. I have the book and its on my 'to be read' list, but I've just haven't gotten around to it yet. Still, this is good motivation to bump it up in the queue.

Like Sony's Wheel of Time adaption, The Black Company doesn't appear to have a TV deal yet. Given that the eponymous Company are a group of sell-swords who fight for the highest bidder, I think it would fit well with AMC. It depends on how expensive the show is. AMC is infamously tight wadded even when it comes to their biggest hit, The Walking Dead, which reportedly has a shoestring budget. I just hope it doesn't end up on one of the movie channels because I want to at least be able to check it out if and when it hits the boob tube.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Wheel of Time getting the TV treatment from Sony Television

And may we all hope and pray that they don't try to Game of Thrones it and add a lot of pointless sex and violence and breasts. Unfortunately, everyone wants their fantasy TV show to be the next GoT rather than let it be its own thing.

But anyways, Sony Television is producing it and a guy named Rafe Judkins is the showrunner and writer. I've never heard of him, but he's written for other shows such as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Chuck, and some show called Hemlock Grove. I guess that's good? I honestly don't pay attention to who writes what when it comes to television.

What I'm curious about is what and who gets cut during the adapting process. At 14 books, there's no way that every character and subplot is making the jump to the small screen. I imagine the main plot will be streamlined with events jumbled around for better flow. Unless whichever network this show ends up airing on plans on doing one season per book, I wouldn't be surprised either if entire books are merged.

Now that happens to be easily the most important question: where will it air? I'm hoping against hope that it won't be on one of the "premium" channels like HBO, Showtime, etc. or on a streaming service like Netflix because I'd like to be able to actually watch the damn thing.

Then there's the casting, but I don't know who should play who. I can't tell the latest Hollywood darling from Gregory Peck, so I'm useless on that front.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Your fantasy real estate: Neuschwanstein Castle

It does have a very fantastical look that would make it ideal for adventuring.
So I was farting around on Wikipedia last month and stumbled across this article about a castle in Bavaria called Neuschwanstein Castle. Built in the late 19th century by King Ludwig II as both a personal retreat and as an homage to composer Richard Wagner.

Seeing the castle immediately got the hamster running in my head and I started to speculate what this thing would be like in a fantasy setting. The first thing that jumps out at you is that Neuschwanstein is not a military fortification. There are no outer walls or any kind of protection save for the hill it's built on top of. So clearly not meant to withstand a siege or hold territory. It wouldn't need to do either if it was located within the interior of a kingdom or empire where having a military fortress wouldn't be needed.

Ludwig II, King of Bavaria.
But like I said at the beginning, Ludwig II built the castle as a retreat and that's how I see it function in a fantasy story or roleplay setting. A nice getaway place for the monarch and royal family for whenever they want to get away from the capital for a while or to hold secret negotiations with foreign powers. Even far from the borders, a castle like this could be a source of much intrigue if a GM had the mind to come up with a quest line.

Of course, it wouldn't have to belong to a monarch. It could just as easily belong to a powerful member of the nobility such as a duke or an earl. There too is a potential source of intrigue for a campaign. A castle such as Neuschwanstein Castle would be pricey to build. Indeed, Ludwig II accumulated huge debts because he insisted on funding the construction with his own money and loans. That level of expenditure could draw the attention of the monarch's court and make them very curious about where the good duke or earl (or duchess or countess) is getting the funds for such endeavors.

A castle full of mystery and intrigue.
(Arto Teräs/Wikimedia)
Campaign ideas:
  • A member of the royal court, likely through a less visible functionary, hires a group of adventurers to pay a visit to the noble and try to discover the source of their funding. The infiltration is left to the party, but discretion is preferred by their employer.
  • The noble in question is found to have been skimming tax revenue or involved in some less than legal operations. The court wants them in custody but is unwilling to go about it in public for fear of triggering a rebellion or civil war. The party is employed to find a way to extradite the felonious noble back to the capital where they can be formally charged. Alternatively, the court decides to send the party to take care of the problem. Permanently.
  • Another alternative is that the royal court decides to make an example of the noble by sending a force to seize their castle and take them into custody for a very showy trial. The adventurers are sent to reconnoiter the area for secret entrances/exits that would allow the approaching soldiers to take the castle from the inside. Failing that, they're to try and sabotage and compromise the castle's meager (because again, this thing isn't a fortification) defenses to make the royal fore's job even easier.
Of course, a GM could also use Neuschwanstein Castle as the setting for a standard dungeon crawl, but I like the three above ideas better. I'm biased in that regard, though. Any of these ideas could easily be adapted into plots for stories too, which is a nice bonus.

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