Mass Effect Andromeda: Nexus Uprising by Jason M. Hough and K.C. Alexander

Mass_Effect_Andromeda_logo

Before I even start this review, be forewarned: I am going to talk about Mass Effect like you already know exactly what I’m talking about. If you’re not a gamer, my apologies. I live in a weird bubble where I just assume everyone passionately loves the same things I do.

I'll meet you across the sea, Thane.

I’ll meet you across the sea, Thane.

Okay, so… You know me, right? Chances are, if you’re coming to this blog to read something I’ve written, you know at least a little something about me. If that something isn’t the fact that I’m a gigantic Mass Effect fan, I feel a little ashamed because my fan love for that franchise is more epic than my love for the Dragon Age franchise, and that love is pretty solid. I have played the original Mass Effect trilogy more times than I can count, I still cry at all the right parts, I love my imaginary drell boyfriend deeply, and I showed up at Gamestop at 8:45 the night before ME: Andromeda released wearing an N7 hoodie to pick up my pre-ordered, super duper fancy deluxe copy of the new game the minute they were ready to hand it over to me. I came home, started building my Sara Ryder before the game even finished installing, and was on Ark Hyperion faster than you can say, “NORMANDY!” Basically, this review is going to be me going on for a thousand words about how much I love space and aliens and Mass Effect, so fire up your jump jets and let’s leap into this thing.

Of course I was going to read the books they put out to coincide with the new game, the Dark Horse comics, too (keep an eye out for my review of the full collection once it’s done running). I rushed out on release day to pick up Nexus Uprising because after finishing my first playthrough of the game, I wanted to know more about how the Andromeda Initiative wound up in the state it was in when Liam, Cora, and I docked with the Nexus that first time.

A little background to set you up: About fifty-thousand colonists drawn from the major races who comprise the Milky Way Galaxy have decided to explore and settle beyond our home galaxy. Five arks are set to travel millions of light years to the Andromeda Galaxy, cryo-sleeping through the journey and waking to settle seven golden worlds large enough for all the species to thrive and grow. The Andromeda Initiative will be the Milky Way’s legacy, the first seeds to spread across the universe and make a new life, a new mark outside the home galaxy. They will leave all their old grudges and prejudices behind and start anew. Sounds great, right? When you look at the specs, it sounds damn near perfect, but since they made an entire game about it, and there are plans for at least three books and a comic series, it’s totally not going to go anyway at all like they planned. It never does.

mass-effect-nexus-uprising_470716The Nexus is a central hub, a space station meant to arrive several months before the arks so its staff can set up to welcome new colonists and get them ready to explore their new galaxy as they’re woken from cryo. The thing is, if the Nexus can’t get itself together before the arks begin to arrive, there’s gonna be trouble. Big trouble. I imagine you can already guess how this book is going to go… The Nexus totally isn’t going to be ready, and this book explores why.

Immediately upon entering the Heleus Cluster in the Andromeda Galaxy, the Nexus station takes heavy damage from an unknown force that will become known as The Scourge. No one quite knows what The Scourge is because getting close enough to study it is damn near impossible, and it’s already taken out more people than anyone ever imagined they’d lose in the moments after they were woken from cryo.

With the head of the Initiative and several other important players killed before they’ve even had a chance to rub the sleep from their eyes, it falls to Security Director Sloane Kelly to maintain order as the Initiative dream crumbles all around them. With the line of succession hacked down to the bare minimum, it falls to Deputy Assistant of Revenue Management for the Nexus, Jarun Tann, to take the reins as Director. As Tann’s ego clashes with Sloane’s desperate attempt to restore order, alliances form that promise to tear the very fabric of the Nexus to pieces. All those prejudices they were meant to leave behind rise like cream to the surface, curdling and festering until nearly everyone who’s been woken to help rebuild the Nexus is at each other’s throats. Mounting tension and drama mingle with secrets and lies to create a volatile cocktail guaranteed to explode in the very faces of the leaders meant to hold the organization together.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book because we really got some insight and perspective into a character from the game I wanted to know more about. Sloane Kelly, as much as I loathe her in-game, is an intense and dynamic woman who found herself at odds, her leadership and her and her morals called into question, with a leadership that never should have risen to power in the first place.

Very well written, this was a great prequel and introduction to Andromeda. Hough and Alexander touched on all the right issues, and developed Sloane in a way that made it harder for me to hate her. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I still think she’s scum, but I know what lurks under her layers now, and I sometimes feel kind of guilty about hating her.

I gave it four out of five stars, and definitely recommend it to players of the game who’d like to know exactly how the Nexus wound up off the rails long before you even arrive. If you’re not familiar with this franchise, but you love space and sci-fi, what are you waiting for?

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

norse mythologyFor the first time in a really long time, I was disappointed in a Neil Gaiman book. Usually, I am that person standing strong against the howling naysayers who cry things like, “This book is the worst book ever written. Neil Gaiman has disappointed me for the last time!” I am a devout Gaimanite, and like to believe I will remain so until the day I die.

As one of my writing heroes, there’s a strong possibility I will adore nearly every word that pours from his pen, but not so much with Norse Mythology. And I don’t the reason had to do with Gaiman himself, so much as it had to do with the fact that in my lifetime I have read so many Norse mythology books and stories, I already knew every single story he decided to retell in this collection. There are plenty of stories that don’t get lumped into those collections, and honestly that is what I hoped for with this book because Neil Gaiman has an incredibly creative mind. Even if there aren’t a ton of details to those lesser known stories, I feel confident he could take them to the next level.

That being said, the writing wasn’t poor. It was about what I’d expect from a Neil Gaiman book, though his own voice didn’t seem to shine through even half as much as I’d hoped it would. I did hope for a bit more dialogue, considering I knew so many of these stories, flesh them out a bit, I don’t know. Give those of us who already love Norse mythology something we haven’t already sunk our teeth into.

I gave the book four stars, which probably doesn’t seem low enough, considering the amount of complaining I’ve done in these four short paragraphs, but like I said, the writing itself wasn’t bad. And though I’ve read them all many, many times over the years, I do still love the stories he retold. I just hoped for something more than I got, which seems to be one of the things a lot of Gaiman naysayers chant these days. Odin’s missing eye, I hope I’m not becoming a Gaiman naysayer!

Four out of five stars. I suppose I’d recommend it to someone who has never read a single Norse mythology book in their life, and then I’d tell that person not to stop with Gaiman, but go deeper and explore the mythology that inspired him to retell these stories in the first place.

The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks

the broken eyeBy the time I got to The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks earlier this year, I was fully immersed in this world and on a MUST KNOW basis with the characters and their states of affairs. Any reservations lingering from my slow read of The Black Prism were extinguished somewhere near the end of The Blinding Knife, and made obsolete by the reading of this third book in the Lightbringer series.

The Broken Eye begins in chaos, as you might expect. With Kip and Gavin both tossed overboard and left for dead at the end of the previous book, a great deal of fretting was done over the state of their life threads. Had they been snipped? Were they drowned? Dead? WHY WAS THE BOOKSTORE TAKING SO LONG TO GET A COPY OF THIS BOOK FOR ME TO READ? I was completely at the mercy of my imagination while I waited for the third book in this series to arrive at my local Books A Million, who seem to get only the second book of most series, completely disregarding the first and any others that might have followed in its wake. Needless to say, it was an exercise in patience, but I finally got my hands on the book and dove in to find out what fates were doled out to characters I was deeply concerned for.

The Chromeria has been led to believe by Andross Guile that Kip and Gavin are dead, a new Prism must be chosen, and in the interim he assigns himself as promachos. Meanwhile, out to sea, Gavin is taken captive by pirates, and fat, flailing Kip is picked up by his nasty half-brother, Zymun, who believes the only way to get what he wants is to wipe out all who stand in his way, including his brother. In the meantime, the Color Prince continues his efforts to overtake the seven satrapies, having already swallowed two into his ranks. As Kip escapes Zymun’s clutches and makes his way back to civilization, Andross’s claims that the Prism is dead find themselves contested when Kip returns and claims his father is still alive. But until Gavin is found, the Chromeria must have a new Prism at its head. Andross begins priming Kip for the position, promising to raise him up if he hands over the Nine Kings cards that were stolen from him, and pitting against his half-brother in a deadly game that promises to end Kip’s life if he doesn’t comply.

The thing about Kip the Lip is that he’s come face to face with death so many times since the world around him started falling apart, he’s not nearly as terrified as he should be of the future. And to make matters that much more confusing, his Blackguard brethren have begun researching The Lightbringer, several of them whispering behind their hands the one thing every boy daydreams about: What if Kip is the Lightbringer, if everything he’s suffered and endured has been preparation for his rise to messianic greatness? As the pieces begin to fall into place, it seems more and more likely, but seeing that nothing in his life has ever deigned to go right, Kip isn’t sure he can allow himself to believe the truth.

Meanwhile, Gavin’s losing his colors one by one. Blinded by his own secrets and lies, and destined for execution, nothing can save him now but the truth he’s buried so deep inside him even he no longer knows what’s real and what’s false. Add to the mix Karris’s precarious position within in the Chromeria, and Teia’s troubles with a secret guild of paryl-wielding assassins, and you’ve got an action-packed read that’ll leave you breathless right up until the last page.

I have come to love this series more than I can express. The character struggles, their trials and triumphs, have endeared me to this imaginary group of people in ways I never anticipated while reading The Black Prism all those moons ago. And I’m dying to lose myself in The Blood Mirror, the fourth installment, but I have to wait until July to read it because it’s only out in hardcover right now, and all my copies are paperback, and OCD dictates all the books are in the same format on my shelf, or it’ll be chaos.

The Broken Eye is the first Lightbringer book I gave five out of five stars without the slightest hesitation. I am fully invested in these characters now, and I cannot wait to see where Weeks takes us next. Hopefully I’ll have a review ready sometime in early August for The Blood Mirror because I cannot wait to read that book.

The Blinding Knife by Brent Weeks

the blinding knifeWhile I did enjoy The Black Prism to an extent, I remember feeling as though something was missing from the Lightbringer series, some kind of connection I felt instantly while reading Weeks’ The Night Angel trilogy. I often share the books I read with my best friend, and as I recall she came away feeling the same way, a part of her wishing there’d been something more to that first book to make the time investment feel worthwhile. I took a break from the series, but deep down I had hope for The Blinding Knife.

One of the issues I had with the first book in this series was how much terminology Weeks introduced. When your book’s glossary is larger than many of the chapters in your book, that can be a real issue, but the thing about all that terminology was that it paid off to a certain extent. I didn’t need a glossary to immerse myself in this world again, and the concepts felt immediately familiar from page one. The characters had also started to grow on me a little, so as he reintroduced them in the early chapters of The Blinding Knife, they felt like people I’d met before. By the end of the book, they came to feel like old friends. I guess we could say it was a slow warm up to more comfortable relationships.

I really didn’t care much for Gavin Guile in the first book. He was trite and egotistical, but as the story expanded, so, too, did his character. Unraveling the intricate relationship he had with his brother did wonders for strengthening him as a character I originally felt very little for. Discovering near the end of the first book that Gavin wasn’t even who we thought he was at all was one of the only things at that time that kept me intrigued with him, and Weeks really rewarded that fascination in this second book, fleshing Gavin out in ways I honestly didn’t expect. Gavin knows he’s dying, knows that he’s already long outlived the ruse he’s been performing for years, and it’s only a matter of time before the people around him begin to recognize him for what he truly is: an impostor, a liar, a fake.

Kip Guile was my favorite character from the first book, so I was eager to see him continue to grow and explore his new surroundings. He went from sniveling whiner with no hope for a future worth living for into occasional whiner who all but refuses to just lay down and die, no matter how many times you try to kill him. He is the underdog, the hero you long to see come up because maybe he’s just as insecure and self-deprecating as you are, and if he can rise to the top with the cream, maybe you can too! He endures so much between these first two books, it’s almost impossible to image what he will become before all is said and done. He’s still ‘fat’ and at times that’s all he really thinks about, which makes his internal dialogue sad but genuine. The things he’s been his entire life hold him back now that everything’s changed–even him.

The full introduction of Andross Guile, Gavin’s awful father, makes from some very interesting interactions, pushing Gavin to take matters into his hand he might not have otherwise pursued, while also pressuring Kip to become the man he is obviously meant to be. The sessions during which Kip and his grandfather play Nine Kings are as terrifying as they are exciting because Andross’s entire life has seemingly revolved around mastering Nine Kings.

Kip is also introduced to a number of other students as he trains to become a Blackguard, and as he makes friends the narrative includes an interesting new character, a slave named Teia, whose adventures and peril (if you’ve already read these books, you’ll think that was the worst dad joke ever) coincide with his own. She almost began to outmatch Kip as my favorite character, if that tells you anything.

The concept of magic in this world is unique and intriguing, with each chromatic color only allotted so much power they can expend before they go rogue and become wights. Their belief system is built around this concept, with people offering themselves up at the end of their lives peacefully before they become wights. The opposition they face believes there is nothing wrong with breaking the halo, that becoming a wight is only the first step on the ladder to greater power than any of them could possibly imagine. And that opposition is just as invested in tearing the world apart as Gavin is invested in holding it all together–even if holding it together is a sham, a lie, a smokescreen.

By the time I reached the end of this book, I was more than eager for book three, the review for which will be forthcoming shortly. I gave it four out of five stars and definitely recommend it for readers who love relatable characters and intricate fantasy plots that grow more interesting as they advance. I’d say if you read The Black Prism, but felt lukewarm about it, definitely give The Blinding Knife a chance. It was well worth it.

Tyrant’s Throne by Sebastien de Castell

Isn't it beautiful?

Isn’t it beautiful?

This year’s birthday brought with it one of the most bittersweet gifts in the world: Tyrant’s Throne, the final installment in Sebastien de Castell’s Greatcoats series. I received this book (signed by the author) as a birthday gift from one of my musketeers (who is super awesome, btw, and you should totally go follow Shiri on Twitter because she writes some pretty excellent stuff for nerds like you and me!) It was a fitting gift, you see, because Shiri actually turned me onto the Greatcoats a couple of years ago, a recommendation I have been eternally grateful for because I adore this story and these characters more than you can even imagine. Every year when a new book came out, Shiri ordered a signed, hardcover edition from the UK because they always seem to get the these books about two months before us. This year, she ordered one for me as well because the release just so happened to fall around my birthday. I have the most amazing and thoughtful friends, seriously!

Of course, on the day it arrived I dropped everything else I was reading and dove right in because I knew this was it… the grand finale, and I was anxious to see how this story ended. We followed Falcio Val Mond, Kest Murrowson, and Brasti Goodbow through a great many terrible things, and I was beginning to wonder how de Castell could possibly make their lives any worse. I never doubted him, honestly. He is an authorial mastermind, and he did not disappoint.

Squeeee!

Squeeee!

After years of hardship and more near-death encounters than one man should ever be forced to endure, Falcio Val Mond continues to hold true to his king’s plan: put Aline, the king’s heir, on the throne and restore law and order to Tristia. Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong! The nobles, who’ve dominated the kingdom since they dethroned and killed King Paelis, follow their own set of laws. They have no love for the peasantry, and even less for the Greatcoats. It’s no surprise to discover they will stop at nothing to prevent the child who would be queen from taking the throne. To make matters worse, the trio’s longtime nemesis, Trin, has been stirring trouble. Sent to capture and bring her back for trial, Falcio not only uncovers Trin’s next plot, but what happened to the missing Greatcoats he’s been searching for, and they’ve got plans of their own.

As powers collide, the fallout is enough to destroy a kingdom that’s been on the verge of collapse for years. For once, Falcio’s skills as a lawful orator committed to his king’s vision don’t seem as though they’ll be strong enough to hold it all together. As everything he’s worked for crumbles through his hands like so much dust, even Falcio has no idea how in the world he’s going to save Tristia this time.

As far as final installments go, this was an incredibly satisfying read. Adventure, swashbuckling, justice, hardship, and joy… I used half a box of tissues during the last half of the book, but I used them gladly. Tragic, beautiful, gripping… I was sad to see the adventures of my three favorite Greatcoats come to an end, but a part of me is hopeful we haven’t seen the last of Falcio, Kest, and Brasti.

Five out of five stars, I highly recommend this entire series to lovers of adventure, fantasy, and outstanding storytelling!

If you’re interested in my thoughts on the overall series, check out my reviews of the first three books here:

Traitor’s Blade

Knight’s Shadow

Saint’s Blood

Homeland: The Dark Elf Trilogy Part 1 by R.A. Salvatore

homelandThe words below will likely fall into the realm of unpopular opinion. Be that as it may, they are an opinion. My opinion is my own, just as yours belongs to you, and I don’t dispute that there are people who love these books and this character. I simply do not think this series of books is for me. That being said… on to the review.

A lot of years ago I read a bunch of R.A. Salvatore books because I love fantasy, and it seemed like the thing to do. They were okay, and I remember enjoying them well enough, though I also recall thinking they weren’t “spectacular,” just sort of average.  I read books with Drizzt Do’Urden in them, but I never got around to reading any of The Dark Elf Trilogy. Recently I thought to pick up Homeland and see what I’d been missing, because obviously I was missing something since everyone and their mom seems to love this character and his many, many books.

For starters, this was a relatively short book, and yet it took me about a week and a half to muddle through it because try as I might I just could not get into the story.

Drow society more or less devours and destroys itself, backstabbing, murdering, lying, and cheating their way to the top of the hierarchy. Sounds exciting, and in some instances it sort of is.  You have a massive collection of powerful dark elves run completely by the matriarchy–super empowering for women, right? Yeahhhh…. not so much.

The houses of Menzoberranzan thrive based on their favor with Lolth, the Spider Queen, which means if you fall out of favor, you’re pretty much screwed unless you can convince (with generous sacrifices,) you’re worthwhile. The matriarchy holds all seats of power, including the coveted priestess position, and the men of the Underdark are considered idiot fools good for little more than fighting, breeding, and playing the role of sacrifice. So many of the female motivations within the society, and the story itself, felt petty. It’s how the society is–petty, underhanded, backstabby, cruel–and I get that, but I kept asking myself while I was reading how it could be made better. How they could still be powerful, evil even, without seeming so ridiculously narrow-minded, self-defeatist, and trite. Why must powerful women in positions of dominance be… awful? There was absolutely nothing redeeming about any of the female characters at all, and for me that’s often a deal breaker with books. Give them something, even a reason for their utter hideousness, and I can be a little more forgiving, but as it was there was no established reason for their evil. They were just… evil. Meh.

I do give the book a little slack, considering it was published over 26 years ago, and a lot has changed even in this last 26 years, but still… It was disappointing for me, to say the least.

The character of Drizzt Do’Urden felt a little lackluster. He was the proverbial diamond shining in the darkness, the incorruptible slice of light that refused to give into the blackness of his inborn nature. That is a great lesson if you dig deep:  No matter what you face in life, it’s up to you to stick to your guns and stand against the darkness that would devour you. I took that away from the story, so it wasn’t all negative.

On the other hand, the writing wasn’t as polished as I expected it to be. More than once I found myself skimming back over a sentence and trying to make sense of the word order, looking for a pause that was absent, and wondering how the problematic nature of a few of these issues allowed the story to thrive as it has for more than two and a half decades. I guess it doesn’t matter, because for some people Drizzt is/was a necessary character to help them through whatever darkness they faced, and I respect that, but for me personally I just didn’t get it. To each his/her own.

Overall, I gave the book 2.5 stars and will likely not continue the trilogy unless I find myself stranded in a library during an apocalyptic event and I’ve run out of other books to read.

The Black Prism by Brent Weeks

the black prismAfter falling in love with Brent Weeks’ Night Angel Trilogy, I was eager to dive into The Black Prism. A world dominated by magic crafted through light spectrums, pistols, musketeers, war, and right at the center of it all a powerful magic user the world reveres called The Prism. And he’s not just any powerful magic user, Gavin Guile is the most powerful man in the world.

The problem with power is that it never lasts. The ruling cycle for a Prism expands seven year periods, and Gavin is currently in the third seven-year period of his cycle. Time is running out, and he has a list of the amazing things he’s going to accomplish during his rule, but when word reaches him that he fathered a bastard during the war he fought against his brother, Dazen, Gavin doesn’t know how to feel about this news.

Sixteen year old Kip is a fat bastard, literally. He’s fat, he’s a bastard, and his addict mother’s more or less spent the duration of his life making sure Kip knows just how worthless and pathetic  and unwanted he is. He’s a burden, good for next to nothing… Even as a self-proclaimed king burns Gavin’s town to the ground, and his mother is dying, she’s sure to tell him how much he’s ruined her life and let her down just before thrusting a priceless treasure into his hand and taking her last breath.

As Kip narrowly escapes the blaze of his burning city, it’s happy circumstance (a little too happy for this reader,) when his estranged father happens along to save the day, whisking him away to Chromeria and claiming him as his nephew in public. It’s here things started to get interesting and we discover Gavin’s entire life is a lie, and the prison he keeps chained beneath Chromeria holds the key to exposing that lie. Meanwhile, a war brews on the horizon, Gavin’s love, Karris, has been taken captive, and the only people it seems he can count on to aid him are the mages who’ve grown too old and wild to control their magic and a host of enemies who once served his brother Dazen during the Brother’s War that secured Gavin’s rule.

I wasn’t sure how I felt about this book at first. Weeks crafted a unique and intriguing world, chock full of so much terminology and vocabulary they had to include a glossary at the back of the book to make sense of most of it. To a degree it was self-explanatory after a while, but diving straight in without that glossary could seriously deter a less-determined reader. The plot was intriguing, but at times the character development was skewed. There were some seriously well developed characters, and a few who fell a little flat, balancing the story in a way that kept me reading, even at times I didn’t know if I was going to stick it out.

I did struggle with some things, namely the ease with which certain instances transpired without much explanation. For example, Kip’s first meeting with Gavin is completely random. You have this boy standing amid an army about to destroy him because he is the last remaining citizen of the city they just burned to the ground, and in swoops Gavin and Karris (rather literally,) to save the day. The thing that made this sort of ridiculous for me was they had no idea who they were saving, but after a moment of (not-so-careful) consideration, Gavin determines this lone survivor of the still-smoldering city must certainly be the bastard son he only just found out existed a few hours ago. Too random to be believable, and as the story continues to unravel there are moments I kept coming back to that, not only because it felt ridiculous, but because the ease with which everyone just accepted this random boy Gavin said was his ‘nephew’ as they brought him into the city and began testing his ability to wield magic.

Overall, the good outweighed the questionable, and I enjoyed the story. I docked a star for those moments I found hard to believe and gave The Black Prism, the first book in the Lightbringer series, four stars. I will definitely pursue the next book in this series after a little break to read something else.

Dragon Age: Magekiller (1-5) by Greg Rucka

magekillerWhen I first heard Dark Horse was releasing another series of Dragon Age comics, my response was so high pitched and piercing people in South Dakota thought it was the apocalypse. Hearing Magekiller was meant to begin shortly before the Inquisition and coincide with the vast organization’s inception only increased the volume of my fangirl screams. I love Bioware’s Dragon Age universe. Thedas is one of a very tight handful of imaginary places I would give anything to transport myself to so I might spend the rest of my days hunting Fereldan Frostbacks and Abyssal High Dragons and trading their scales and horns for heavy sacks of gold.

Magekiller… With a title like that I had no idea what to expect when they launched issue one of this glorious comic experience, but I was excited to dive back in and delve deeper into a world I spend countless hours of my free time exploring through all mediums available. The story revolves around a pair of mercenaries, Tessa and Marius, who earn their coin tracking down and exterminating magic users. Told from Tessa’s point of view, her wit at times almost rivals that of Kirkwall’s own Varric Tethras, while Marius remains mysteriously silent and solitary at the center of the story. Even Tessa doesn’t know all there is to know about Marius, but she trusts him with her life. She knows the reasons he does the things he does are rooted deep within, and he may never expose them to her, or anyone else for that matter. The one thing she does know for certain is that his deep distrust when it comes to magic drives him in everything he does, and no amount of begging or pleading on the mage’s behalf is going to change the way he feels about it.

dalish magekillerMagic is not to be trusted. It is dangerous and all too often cruel in its nature, and as the story unfolds we learn Marius was once a Tevinter slave, bound by heart to Venatori leader Calpernia. As the story delved a little deeper into Calpernia’s character, I found myself regretting all those times I sided against the Templars in-game (which was pretty much every time because mage rights, yo,) and launching a new game so I could finally finish a play-through where I sided with the Templars. I wanted to learn more about Calpernia, persuade her to do the right thing, something impossible to do with Samson, the Red Templar.

Over the course of the five comic arc, Marius and Tessa’s actions take them from Minrathous to Ferelden, eventually turning the eye of the great Inquisition. Once Charter recruits them we are given further adventures with a few treasured Inquisition allies, including Dorian and Bull’s Chargers, which was so glorious I actually screeched like a pterodactyl.

The thing is, even without those familiar characters to seal the deal and keep me grounded in the tale, Magekiller was a wonderful story arc that made me fall in love with both Marius and Tessa before all was said and done. As always, the story centered around something Bioware prides themselves in when building their games: the power of true friendship. The bond between Tessa and Marius often feels stretched because of how private and solitary Marius is as a person, but deep down Tessa knows no matter what anyone says he will always have her back. Always.

I sincerely hope Rucka and Bioware continue to expand the adventures of these characters. The artwork was as beautiful and compelling as the story, and it was delightful to have this opportunity to spend more time in my imaginary home world of Thedas.

5 out of 5 stars for the entire 5 comic arc. If you love Dragon Age, the lore, the cities, the history, the people, you will definitely want to check this out.

Blood Mage by Stephen Aryan

bloodmageUnlike the first book in this series, Battle Mage, I came into Blood Mage by Stephen Aryan with a few expectations. The war that took place in Battle Mage was wrapped up with a smoldering black bow, a world ravaged left in its smoking ruins, and while it was the combined efforts and sacrifice of the land’s battle mages that ended the war, the people now fear magic and all its implications. This makes life difficult for a magic user like Fray. Before the war, he could openly practice his art without much derision, but now he must hide in the shadowy cracks for fear of persecution. He barely earns enough in trade goods to survive, so when his father’s old partner, Byrne, arrives to ask for Fray’s assistance in catching a strange, magic-wielding serial murderer, Fray knows he can’t refuse. Despite is stubborn refusal to follow in his father’s footsteps as a Guardian of the Peace, his father’s death left Fray feeling detached, and perhaps the similarities between the case Byrne needs his help with and the case that took his father’s life will bring the young man some closure.

For me, that was the core plot of the book. The story of the “Flesh Mage” serial killer. However, much like Battle Mage, the story was separated by character perspectives exploring several aspects of life in the city, including a crime syndicate preparing to collapse in upon itself on account of the “Flesh Mage’s” careful ministrations. Aryan also returned to the underground spy network, combining the overall plot with an assassination attempt on the queens of two nations. The politics tend to overshadow the actual magic in these books, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but for me I wanted far more magic and fantasy than I got with this book. A little balance and more emphasis on the actual magic would have been nice. Maybe I’ve spent too much time in Thedas over the years, and my expectations of blood magic is way too specific; I don’t know.

This is not to say it isn’t well-written. Stephen Aryan develops his characters really well. He takes a lot of time to get inside their heads and hearts, and works hard to make them believable people–something a lot of other authors skimp on, regrettably–but at times the characters feel like they overshadow the story itself. After the time spent developing the magic of the world in Battle Mage, I expected a little more about the actual “Flesh Mage,” perhaps more time in his head might have provided the balance I was personally looking for. There was mention of an end goal, motivation for these “Flesh Mages,” but it wasn’t explored as deeply as I would have liked. Instead the story kept returning to the crime families and the assassination plot, so the actual magic didn’t feel like it was done nearly as much justice as it was in the first book.

Which leaves me torn about whether or not I want to finish out the series in October when Chaos Mage releases. As I said above, Aryan is a decent writer. One of my favorite things about his work so far is the attention to character building he pays. This is only his second book, and on that account it is very well done, I’m just not sure the series is meeting my personal fantasy and magic needs at this time. I think I’m going to sit with it for a couple of months and make my decision about finishing out the series closer to release date for the final book.

I give Blood Mage three out of five stars, and recommend it to fantasy readers who find themselves slightly more intrigued by politics and intrigue than magic when it comes to their fantasy.

Saint’s Blood by Sebastien de Castell

Saint's BloodI can’t believe a year went by since I began my epic tantrum over the seemingly endless wait for the next book in Sebastien de Castell’s Greatcoats series. I think having so many Robin Hobb books to read spoiled me a little because I wanted to read Saint’s Blood the minute I blubbered over the final word in Knight’s Shadow, and couldn’t imagine how I would possibly last the year. I did make it, though it was a burden every time I remembered it wasn’t April yet, and found myself scrabbling to NetGalley the moment I knew it was being offered by the publisher to reviewers. That being said, I received my electronic copy of Saint’s Blood from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. It’s time for me to hold up my end of the bargain, so onto the review.

Falcio val Mond is tired, and honestly, who can blame him? It’s been a long life tempered by loss, brief stints of madness, and a seemingly endless fight for a country that doesn’t seem to care enough about itself to rise to join the battle. As a Greatcoat, one of Tristia’s legendary law enforcers, the very people Falcio continues to sacrifice himself to protect despise his very existence. Trattari, Tattercloak, and just about every other foul name they can muster is thrown at the feet of all Greatcoats who walks Tristia–given all that’s happened over the last few years there aren’t exactly many left.

While the nobility split hairs over their agreement to support young Aline, the only surviving heir of King Paelis, as she ascends to the throne, an even graver obstacle looms on the horizon. Someone has discovered how to kill the Saints that walk the land, and their first victim is a close, personal friend of the Greatcoats. Arriving at the ducal palace shortly after an exhausted Falcio nearly loses a duel, a strange madwoman clad in a horrifying iron mask breaks through, and it’s almost too late they realize she is no enemy, but a beloved Saint whose offered aid and comfort to the trio in the past.

Killing a Saint isn’t something anyone ever imagined possible, but as they offer their friend comfort in her final hours, the Greatcoats learn she is not the only Saint to fall to the darkest curse to touch Tristia pretty much since Trin’s birth. Saints are disappearing all over the land, and rising in their place a whole new evil: the God’s Needles. Mad with power, nearly unstoppable in their violent assaults, Falcio, Kest, and Brasti must discover who’s behind the this wretched plot, and time is of the essence because one of their beloved Greatcoats falls victim to the iron mask.

I don’t know if you read my review of Knight’s Shadow, or not, but I noted within I am in love with the noble ideal that one man, no matter how exhausted or pained, no matter how broken and distraught, no matter how blind and foolish, has the power to make his world a better place.  Falcio is exhausted, he’s ready to throw in the towel at times because no matter what he does, someone is always standing in the way of his making the world a better place, and the toll it has taken on his soul is as painful as it is brilliant.

duellingThis book… I swear there are no words to describe how much I enjoyed every word of this book. The writing is clever and exquisite, each character voice unique and vibrant, and the relationships between the core characters is absolutely brilliant. Characters we’ve known since Traitor’s Blade have become precious imaginary friends, and when bad things happen to them (because, come on, if you’ve ever read these books you already know bad things ALWAYS happen to the people Falcio surrounds himself with,) it feels like a dagger jabbing into my heart.

I took my time with this book because I know another’s coming, and I know it will probably be at least another year, maybe longer, before I can read it (I’m dying inside, seriously,) but there were moments while I was reading that completely sucked me in and I couldn’t stop because I had to know my beloved imaginary friends were safe.

Highly recommended if you like adventure, dueling, tension, dueling, and wit with a twist of fantasy, oh and did I mention there’s some fabulous dueling. I give Saint’s Blood 5 out of 5 stars and find myself hoping de Castell decides he can’t possibly end this story and continues writing about the Greatcoats forever.

Saint’s Blood is currently available in the United Kingdom, and will release in the U.S. on June 7, 2016. I cannot wait until this is available in the U.S. so I can add the physical book to my collection and devour it all over again.

P.S. I think I might be in love with Kest, and I don’t care who knows it.