Books

The Crimson Campaign Book Review [Powder Mage Trilogy, Book 2]

The Crimson Campaign is a vast improvement over Promise of Blood.  It also has its set of issues, but I found myself caring a lot more about the characters in this one than the first book.  That may be because we focus far more on the supporting cast, which as I said in my first review was far more interesting than our lead, but I just found myself caring way more about this book than Promise of Blood.  We get to see the bigger world out of Tamas’ sphere of influence, and that was a welcome surprise to me, who really doesn’t care for Tamas and the people who are loyal to him, therefore they justify his less than noble actions.

 

This book is also a slow burn, but just…more interesting than the last time.  This series, as I stated in Promise of Blood, definitely plays the long game and wants to use all 3 books in the trilogy to fully realize it’s world and characters.  I usually prefer self-contained stories per book that also pave way for the overall plot in a series, but it works in the Powder Mage trilogy far more than in other series I’ve read because this is a crazy war, and the long game is what a war is all about.  So it makes sense to have these two books be the calm before the storm that the third book is going to inevitably be.  Er Pr taks place a few month afomise of Blood, so you definitely can’t jump into this one without reading the first.  If I were waiting a year for the 2nd book in the series, I’d find that pacing to be a bit of a problem, but since I’m reading these all together with no lulls between books, it’s perfectly fine to me.  Just as a note, you’ll want to read each book right after the other, and not read another book in-between these if you’d like to get the full impact of the overall story because of the flow of the trilogy and how little time passes between each of the books.

 

With my overall, spoiler-free review out of the way, into the nitty gritty!

 

BOOK SYNOPSES

 

When invasion looms…

Tamas’ invasion of Kez ends in disaster when a Kez counteroffensive leaves him cut off behind enemy lines with only a fraction of his army, no supplies, and no hope of reinforcements. Drastically outnumbered and pursued by the enemy’s best, he must lead his men on a reckless march through northern Kez to safety, and back over the mountains so that he can defend his country from an angry god, Kresimir.

But the threats are closer to home…

In Adro, Inspector Adamat only wants to rescue his wife. To do so he must track down and confront the evil Lord Vetas. He has questions for Vetas concerning his enigmatic master, but the answers will lead Adamat on a darker journey.

Who will lead the charge?

Tamas’ generals bicker among themselves, the brigades lose ground every day beneath the Kez onslaught, and Kresimir wants the head of the man who shot him in the eye. With Tamas and his powder cabal presumed dead, Taniel Two-shot finds himself as the last line of defense against Kresimir’s advancing army.

In a rich, distinctive world that mixes magic with technology, who could stand against mages that control gunpowder and bullets? The Crimson Campaign is the epic sequel to Brian McClellan’s Promise of Blood.  – From Audible

 

PLOT

 

The plot is once again split into the three main points of view of Tamas, Taniel, and Adamat.  Once again, I find Tamas’ plot the least interesting, as it just feels like semi-filler that while interesting character beats happen to him in it, doesn’t super feel like was necessary.  I’m already reading the third book, and it doesn’t seem like it really impacted the story much other than his troops thought he was dead for a few months.  This rumor caused infighting, betrayal, and a shift in the military that was foreshadowed in the first book, so that aspect of him being split from the cast was interesting.  His actual story however, didn’t add much to the story for me and I found myself getting bored of the military battles getting done over and over again in his story.  The ending of it was interesting, and I liked that we saw that when Tamas wasn’t with people who were loyal to him, that they saw him for the terrible person he was and didn’t condone his actions.  This book doesn’t shy away from the fact that he’s just an awful person doing what he thinks is right for revenge, and since that wasn’t made clear in the first book, it made me feel justified in my feelings for his character.  Still don’t like him, but I can live with a book that calls its lead out on their garbage actions.

 

The most interesting plot for me was Adamat’s.  I really liked seeing his relationship with Ricard, and seeing all of his sleuthing finally pay off.  Getting to see him interact with Bo, and other key characters in the story was really cool, and he’s one of my favorite characters.  I don’t want to spoil anything in his plot, but it’s action packed and shows how much he’s willing to do for his family and I just found myself continuing to wanting to read his plot the most out of all 3 main points of view.

 

Taniel’s plot is…middle of the road?  I liked it when I got to read it, more because I like Taniel as a character than the actual plot.  The plot wasn’t bad, mind you:  he had to deal with trying to keep the army together when everyone was pushing against him, and trying to change the way the army was ran, and I love a good man against all odds story – but what was happening to taniel, his relationship with Ka-Pole, was really what sold his story for me.  Like I said it was enjoyable to read, and I think impacted the overall story the most, but it wasn’t the one I was most excited to read.

 

The pacing of these three stories is well done in this book.  The first book had to setup the world, and character motivations, so the plots where unevenly distributed I feel, but this one every character’s plot had it’s time to shine.  Although it was slow paced, and the last fifteen chapter or so were where the action picked up, once again like in the first book, I didn’t find it boring to read in the middle like I did in Promise of Blood.  Like I said only thing I wasn’t a fan of was Tamas’ plot, but to be expected since I don’t like him as a character.

 

The end of the book brings all of the characters together to set up for what so far is an epic third book, so fingers crossed The Autumn Republic stays as such ‘til the end.  I’m 20 chapters in and can’t put it down, so I’d say that’s a good sign that The first two books in the series, while slow at times, did their job properly.

 

CHARACTERS

 

The characters get a lot of development in this book, and side characters that seem like they weren’t going to matter totally prove you wrong, and matter a great deal.  Stand outs for me are Bo and Nila, I can’t get enough of them and I totally ship it so hope they wind up together by series’ end.  We get to see Adamat grow, Ka-Poel and Taniel grow, even Vlora gets her plot, that was introduced in the first book, resolved and becomes a pretty decent character.  Not as fleshed out as the others, but enough to be a good supporting character.

 

Tamas, we get to see more of his motivations and inner workings.  As I said it doesn’t make me like him any more, but it shows us his headspace, and I can respect an author for doing that.  I don’t think Tamas was ever meant to be this grand war hero, and The Crimson Campaign makes that abundantly clear.

 

A lot of other cool side characters introduced here, which once again if I listed we’d be here all day.  All good additions to the cast, and they only serve to make the world more interesting as a result.

 

WORLD BUILDING

 

The world gets expanded a tad in this book, as we see Tamas go through Northern Kez.  Nothing super interesting if I’m being honest:  We don’t see their culture, or any of the people other than their army and royals, so it doesn’t really serve to flesh out the world more than say, using it as a set piece.  The magic system is expanded on a bit which is interesting, but nothing groundbreaking that makes the system different enough to mention.  Just more of the same, which isn’t bad, but nothing majorly expanded on.

 

WRITING

 

The writing definitely is improved upon in this book.  It wasn’t bad in Promise of Blood, but a lot of the sparceness is gone for a more realized writing style.  It’s still got that raw and gritty style I really enjoy for this sort of genre, but it seems a lot more polished than in the author’s dayview novel.  The pacing is vastly improved as well, and that also lends to a more seasoned author.  The third book only gets better, so the author is totally coming into his own as a writer and I can’t wait to see where his writing career progresses.

 

CONCLUSION

 

If you’re invested in the Powder Mage trilogy, you’ll want to read this book.  I’m happy to say it gets better with each book in the series.  If you decided to DNF Promise of Blood because of lack of interested, then obviously you’re not going to want to read this book.  It’s good though, made me invested in the series far more than Promise of Blood did.

 

Have you read The crimson Campaign?  Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Books

Promise of Blood Book Review [Powder Mage Trilogy Book 1]

I was told by a friend to read this series a few years ago if I liked Full Metal alchemist.  While the distinct FMA vibes are there in the beginning of the story, they fade and the story becomes much more its own world and plot.  I’ll say right off the bat:  This book is definitely a slow burn.  There’s a lot of setup that is more for the entirety  of the series than the enjoyment of this singular book.  Not to say this book was unenjoyable – but there’s definitely a feeling of this book is making sure the groundwork is set for the other 2 books in the trilogy to be able to be the best they can be.  The last ten chapters were the most gripping for me, the rest was good enough to read but at certain parts during the middle of the story I found myself wondering if I was going to continue this series.

 

After finishing book 1, I instantly bought books 2 and 3.  They sit in my Kindle as we speak, and I’ve already started book 2.

 

So I’d say book 1 does a good job in the end at making you want more, and as of now I’d recommend this series if you like really well thought out plots, magic systems, and political intrigue.  If you like characters, however….

 

Well, we’ll get to that later in the review.  With my overall thoughts out of the way, let’s get more into it!

 

BOOK SYNOPSES

 

The Age of Kings is dead…and I have killed it.

It’s a bloody business overthrowing a king….

It’s up to a few….

Stretched to his limit, Tamas is relying heavily on his few remaining powder mages, including the embittered Taniel, a brilliant marksman who also happens to be his estranged son, and Adamat, a retired police inspector whose loyalty is being tested by blackmail. But when gods are involved….

Now, as attacks batter them from within and without, the credulous are whispering about omens of death and destruction. Just old peasant legends about the gods waking to walk the earth. No modern educated man believes that sort of thing. But they should….

The Powder Mage Trilogy, Book 1 – From Audible

 

PLOT

 

The plot is the most interesting part of the book.  I’ve always wanted to read a novel that takes place after the big grand stand against the monarchy is done, and the aftermath of it.  This book definitely doesn’t disappoint on that front, and we see all of the tough decisions, gritty world, and hurt people that a revolution would produce.  I will say while at times the plot tries to make this war seem more like in their own mind, both sides are right, but for the most part we’re supposed to feel like our main POV characters are the ones in the right, and that they truly did the right thing.  This doesn’t exactly gel with me, because I find the main character of the book to be a self-righteous jerk, so for all of the book in his POV I found myself just getting upset that he was tearing this nation apart with no real plan.
I mean, he had a plan, but just the fact that he thinks running a nation is going to be smooth sailing other than a few bumps in the road, and that he thinks he’s in the right really erks me.  It doesn’t make him a compelling character, and for that the plot suffers a tad.  The pacing is a bit wonky here and there, since we’re split between 3 major POVs, and 2 minor ones.  It isn’t terrible pacing mind you, I’ve read worse – but when you’re invested in one plot, and then the very next chapter hops to another plot, you find yourself wishing more time was spent with the POV in the chapter before.  This would have been easily resolved if we just spent maybe 2 or 3 chapters with one character, then were sent to another storyline.
The last ten chapters fix this problem, as all plots are brought together to culminate in the 1 plot the book was leading towards.  I will say it was worth the slow burn of the previous 30 chapters, and the 2nd book so far has a very streamlined plot as all characters have been brought together and do a bit less wandering on their own.  We’ll see if this continues, I’m only seven chapters in, but it’s a vast improvement from book 1 already.

 

WORLD BUILDING

 

The world   building in Promise of Blood is the best part of the book.  The world was based on the French Revolution, and it shows:  the attention to detail, the grittiness of the writing, makes me feel like I’m there.  The magic system is split between 3 types:  average sorcery, the powder mages, and the knacked.  Powder mages ingest gunpowder to enhance their shots, and have a sort of gun telepathy to them, and knacked just have 1 skill they’re good at (perfect memory, don’t have to sleep) – the sorcery in itself is interesting also, as they have to use their fingers to connect to what they call the else, which is basically a magical energy resource.  It’s really interesting, and lends itself to super intense fights.
We’re on the brink of industrialism in this book as well, so we still have rifles, carriages, and old technology.  But it’s on the brink of being advanced and that really adds to the world, as we’re not just dealing with medieval swords and sorcery here.  I love seeing guns vs magic, and how inventive the fights get at times.  It’s just a really fun world to sink your teeth into, and I can’t wait to sink further.

 

CHARACTERS

 

The characters are the least interesting part of the book to me.  They aren’t…bad characters persee, but they aren’t interesting enough to grab my attention.  There’s attempts at depth to them, but it’s just so overshadowed by the plot, and there honestly isn’t enough depth to want to be interested in them further than them being engines for said plot.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy reading a few of them, only a few I genuinely disliked, but they just feel like walking manly man tropes that get a little tiresome after a while.

 

My favorites are Taniel, Olem, and Nila.  Those three are more side characters, but they have enough to them to have made me excited to read their story arcs throughout the whole book.  I really don’t like Tamas, which is a shame because he’s the main character: but for the reasons I stated above, really couldn’t get into his struggles.  I will say he got…a little better by books end?  But he just seems so one note to me, hopefully he changes in the net 2 books.

 

Adamat is our last main POV character, and I thought his plot was fine.  He  was investigating things for Tamas, and the first half of the story it worked well.  The second half however, we found out the answer to what he was investigating before he figured it out, so it just seemed like unnecessary filler after a certain point.  Taniel’s story I liked the most out of all of the POVs, Tamas I liked the least.  Like I said they’re serviceable for propelling the plot forward, but not much else.

 

The side characters I enjoyed far more.  The rest of the council, a royalist laundress, a master chef:  all of them were a lot more fascinating to me, and I hope the spotlight gets shined on them more as we see how Tamas’ short sighted cu has affected the little people, so to speak.

 

WRITING

 

The writing is simple.  The writing is raw, and gritty.  There aren’t any flowery pros, everything is just stated outright as far as our characters know.  It matches the world so well, adding to the atmosphere of this sudo French Revolution setting.  It melds so well with the world, that I honestly can’t imagine it being written any other way.  I tend to shy away from the overly flowery fantasy novels, so reading this writing style was really refreshing and I’ve never seen an author know what story he’s telling, know what writing style to use, and go all in with it.  The writing is raw, just like the battles, and emotions of war, and it’s just really well done.  I’m looking forward to reading more of McClellan’s writing in the future.

 

CONCLUSION

 

 

There are definitely flaws in this book.  The characters could be better, there could be a bit more tug of war between both sides morals, showing us that just because one side thinks they’re right, doesn’t mean that they are.  As it stands, it’s more of a one sided war story where we should think the main characters are the ones in the right.

 

That doesn’t detract from the excellent world building, unique writing, and very well done plot.  I’d say at least read Promise of Blood to see if you’d be interested in the rest of the series, and be prepared for a slow burn book that amps up at the very end, prepping you for what’s to come in the next 2 books.

 

Have you read Promise of Blood?  Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Editorials/Opinion Pieces

Kindle PC App Accessibility Review

I stumbled upon this information a while ago.  I did so because I was looking into getting a Kindle tablet, and in my research, I was linked podcasts talking about Kindle accessibility.  I’m not sure how long ago this happened, but the Kindle for PC app works seamlessly with the NVDA screen reader – a free screen reader for PC, and the one I’ve used for years.  This was super refreshing, so I figured I’d download it and give it a go.  There’ve been too many times where something has been said to be accessible, and it was a lot harder to get working after actually trying it.  I’m all for trying new things, but it does get frustrating when you think something will be just out of the box accessible, and it’s harder to use than originally stated.  Sometimes I try anyway, sometimes I give up – but the fact that that’s even a problem in itself gets a little annoying a lot of the time.  Just a fact of being blind, but hopefully it changes in the future with companies like Amazon and Apple putting their best feet forward.

 

Now, how does Kindle for PC work with NVDA?  Why, seamlessly!  I honestly was pleasantly surprised to find that after I figured out I was trying a non-text to speech enabled book, and got one that was text to speech enabled, that it indeed worked just like you were browsing a webpage.  Kindle had a basic accessibility feature before, but in order to read you had to use this really annoying Windows Narrator voice to do so.  I couldn’t bare it, never tried to use it to read a book after just not being able to take the voice.

 

With the Kindle for PC and NVDA accessibility however, you’re using the voice you’re accustomed to using while doing everything else on the computer.  I read fanfics with this voice, so needless to say it was so nice to be able to read books with the voice I’m used to, at my own pace.

 

While I like Audible Books, sometimes, the narrator of a book makes me not want to read the book.  Nothing against the narrator, but some voices just don’t gel with me like other voices.  Audio books are a lot more expensive also, so unless you want to subscribe to Audible monthly, you’d be spending upwards of 20 to 30 dollars per book.  On Audible’s PC app, you can’t speed up the book, so you’re stuck reading at whatever pace the book is set.

I like my audio books, don’t get me wrong, but it is nice to have the option of reading an ebook if I don’t feel like having the audio version.  I can read Kindle books at my own pace – I find myself clearing 5 chapters in 1 hour, as opposed to 1 chapter for 1 hour or more – and the problem of possibly not liking the narrator is voided because of the screen reader.  If it’s not a book I’m really anticipating in audio book format, I’d rather just get the Kindle Book and read with the screen reader, so this accessibility is great.  I tested this with the books I’m reading right now, and I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to read the audio book because the narrator isn’t what I pictured for the book, so Kindle is already paying off.  That, plus I’ve spent 30 dollars on 3 books, instead of 1.  It makes me want to read more, and since I used to love reading when I had more vision, I’m really grateful to Amazon for taking the time to make Kindle accessible in a widely available way for the blind.  No overpriced add on, no overpriced devices – just two free pieces you can download to enjoy your books.  Never thought it’d be possible, but it is.

 

If you’re worried about a book not being text to speech enabled (they have to be to work with the NVDA accessibility) you can download a free sample of the book, and see if it works.  You also can just see if you’d be interested in the book, so I’ve totally been using this feature for every book I’ve downloaded.  Other than the 2nd and 3rd books in a series.  I find the free sample feature super useful, both to double check accessibility, and as a consumer, to see if I’d want the book.

 

I bring this up because like I said earlier, the first thing I downloaded worked with the old crappy accessibility, but it said it was text to speech enabled.  That only happened with one book I tried, mind you, but it’s something to mention if you’re worried about dropping money on a book, and it not being accessible.  Free sample is the way to go regardless for me, but testing accessibility with this as a work around to do so is just a little trick I figured I’d pass along.  The only hrmm thing about Kindle is that every book may not be accurate in its text to speech enabled status, so like I said I’d just get the free sample and double check to be sure.

 

The search functions, notes, highlighting, and dictionary all work as well.  Just Hit the applications key on a word, the definition pops up.  Shift and arrow to select a passage, right click and you can highlight.  Search, and the search function shows you possible results – like legit, everything is accessible, and it’s so great.  A lot of the time only half an application gets accessible, so once again, bravo Amazon.

 

If you can’t tell, I’m so happy with Kindle for PC, and it’s accessibility.  I heard Kindle tablets have a built in screen reader, and that’s why I researched into purchasing one, but I haven’t gotten one yet so can’t talk on how good or bad the screen reader is on that device.  The Kindle accessibility makes me want to buy a Kindle tablet more than ever however, so to me that means Amazon is going in the right direction with their accessibility.

 

I didn’t know this existed until recently, so even though it’s been out for a while, I wanted to make this post for anyone like me, who may not have known about Kindle for PC app accessibility, and would like to be able to have access to ebooks like everyone else.  It’s really good to use, and since it’s free, I’d say give it a try!

 

Books

Part-Time Gods Book Review

I really enjoyed Minimum Wage Magic, so hopped right on over to listening to the audio book of Part-Time Gods.  Is it as good as its predecessor?  Yup!  Rachel Aaron knocks it out of the park with this sequel to the story.  She does a good job of keeping this story wrapped in its interpersonal relationships, while still having a bigger picture in play with the plot.  I think Aaron does a fantastic job of showing us the multiple sides of the story in this one.  As much as I like the Heartstrikers series, there was a clear divide of who was in the right, and who was in the wrong.  Julius just had to show them there was a different way of doing things and problem solved.  But in the DFZ series, you see both sides of this problem:  I found myself agreeing with Opal’s view point, and her Mother and Fathers.  Both have valid feelings, and both have the same problems of not wanting to listen to either side.  Eventually, they’re going to have to talk it out and come to an understanding with each other.  I think it’s a really great way to show the differing lives of people who would be living in the DFZ, and the cameos we got in this book from the Heartstrikers series were great, and added to the story, didn’t feel shoehorned in at all.

 

The plot ramps up hardcore in this book, and I marathonned the 2nd half of the book in one sitting.  Like it was that good: I was on the edge of my seat, waiting to see what happened next.  I read some people saying the end of the book was a cliffhanger, but I didn’t find that to be the case.  The book had a conclusive ending, but at the same time the book was leading to a bigger plot that is going to be concluded in the final book.

 

Everything came to a head in this book, and Aaron’s previous problem of filling the book with too much exposition for world building seems to have been curved overall.  It may help that the world of the DFZ is pre-established, but either way it’s refreshing to read a concisely written story.  The last 2 books of the Heartstrikers series were a bit wordy for me, so this is a really nice change.  It’s just a fast paced, super enjoyable read, that continues right where Minimum Wage Magic leaves off, so you’ll want to read that first before jumping into this one.

 

But yeah, needless to say, I super enjoyed this book.  I regret reading them both now only because I have to wait for the third book to be released, and I’m bursting at the seams!  I can’t wait to see what happens in the final installment of the DFZ books, and what will happen to Opal!

 

 

I’m mostly excited to see how Opal and her Dad will make a mends.  Like we saw some super interesting dynamics between the two – Opal is more like her Dad than she’d like to admit – and I really can’t wait to see more of their relationship in the next book.  I also really hope we see what happens between Nick and Opal (get together please) and all in all, seeing every relationships final conclusion is something I’m thoroughly looking forward to when the third book is released.

 

The DFZ is a great series, and a wonderful extension of the Heartstrikers universe.  I really hope Aaron writes more in this universe, because she has such a good grasp of it and seems to super enjoy it.  I know I do!
I’d like to end this review praising the audio book narrator, Emily Woo Zeller.  She does such a great job voicing Opal, and all of the other characters in this book that it gets me even more invested in the story even more than just reading would have.  I do miss the previous narrator when old characters from the Heartstrikers series pop up, but that’s really just my preference because it took me a while to pick this one up because I loved the narrator for the Heartstrikers books so much.  Getting over that though, and having time away from those books, she really does an excellent job capturing the grittiness of the DFZ, and all the different facets of Opal’s character.  I’d highly recommend picking up the audio books, you won’t regret it!
Have you read Part-Time Gods?  Let me know what you thought in the comments!

Books

Minimum Wage Magic [DFZ, Book 1] Review

I have this on again off again relationship with reading.  It’s not that I don’t like it, I love it in fact.  It’s just so hard to sift through good series and books for me, and only using Audible for books can get expensive.  Luckily, I found out the Kindle Reader PC app was accessible, so here’s to hoping I read more, but still when I find an author I like I’m super loyal and read all of their books.

 

That author lately is Rachel Aaron for me.  I read her Heartstrikers series and fell in love with it:  the world, characters, and writing are all so great.  I’m not normally into urban fantasy, but this one just clicks with my tastes so much that I read the entire thing and am a big fan of the universe it takes place in.  So when I heard that a new series of books was going to take place in the world of the DFZ, I was all in.
Recently, I decided to cancel my Audible subscription just for lack of using it, so with my two remaining credits, I picked up the first 2 books in the DFZ series.  How do they compare to the Heartstrikers series?

 

That’s kind of hard to say.  They’re two completely different styles of books, and I think that was a smart move on Aaron’s part.  I like both, for different reasons, but as far as my personal preference, I like Minimum Wage Magic more.  As much as I like the Heartstrikers series, it eventually evolved into this end of the world scenario.  I like it when stories are more personal, and Minimum Wage Magic is just that.  We follow Opal, a Cleaner in the DFZ – aka, someone who buys storage units, and takes what she gets out of the units and sells them.  We find out early on that she has a big debt to pay to someone by the end of the week, and the plot only thickens when the unit she buys has a dead body inside of it.  Said unit has notes that lead her on a crazy adventure with fellow cleaner Nick, and I don’t want to say anything else because the fun of this book is not knowing what will happen next.
It has a very heist setup to it – beat another party to the prize at the end of the adventure.  There’s plenty of action, lot of flare, and most importantly, the characters we follow are really fun and interesting.  Unlike Heartstrikers, we aren’t following someone who doesn’t want to fight.  That also lends itself to making this series stand on its own, and not making it feel like a rehashed story – and, there are plenty of cameos from characters from the first series of books.  If you haven’t read the Heartstrikers series, it won’t throw you off at all, but for those of us who have it’s a really nice nod to the series and there are really fun references in here.

 

 

But as I was saying, the characters are really interesting.  Both Opal and Nick are super dynamic, both together and apart and I’m seriously hoping they’ll get together at the end of all of this because they just complement each other so well.  The book is told in first person, from Opal’s POV and it just…works.  Like it doesn’t feel like we’re getting too much into her headspace because she’s a closed off character, but we learn just enough about her and her personality to like her, and she tells us enough about the world around her to know how the world works.  Her interactions with other characters don’t feel like first person, and the dialogue has Aaron’s typical mix of humor and grounded logic that I’ve come to really enjoy.

 

And that’s the biggest thing I have to say about this book:  It’s a lot more grounded than the Heartstrikers series.  Instead of world threatening odds, we’re dealing with one woman and her life.  It’s far more personal, and throughout the story that totally gets across.  It’s a super fun heist story with a grounded sense of self, while still having magic and technology that totally makes sense in the continuity of the world.  All the characters feel real, and I’m rooting for Nick and Opal to make it in the crazy world of the DFZ together throughout the rest of this series.

 

I’m super interested after this first entry in the series, to see how Opal and Nick’s stories will end.  Aaron once again, knocked it out of the park with this one.

 

If you’ve read the Heartstrikers series, or if you haven’t, Minimum Wage Magic is worth the read.  I’m going to be starting the 2nd book in the series asap, and can’t wait to see what happens next in Opal’s story.
Have you read Minimum Wage Magic?  Let me know how you liked it in the comments!

Cartoons

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Season 4 Review [Spoiler Free]

We interrupt our regularly scheduled posting to gush about She-ra season 4.  But seriously, I didn’t want to wait to talk about this season, and in the future if I find something is too exciting to wait to talk about on a scheduled posting day, a surprise post will pop up with me talking about something new.  So this is the first post like that I guess.  Going to stay as spoiler free as I possibly can in this one, because this season was just so fantastic that you really have to experience it   yourself.

 

Before I said season 3 was the season that totally got me invested in the show.  It wasn’t that seasons 1 and 2 were bad, they just had a few things I had some gripes with, and wasn’t as fleshed out as I would have liked them to be.  Season 3 took that, and started on the road to a good show – the foundations laid in the first 2 seasons were taking fruit, and there was a clear vision for the show that made it a really fun watch.
Season 4 advances the spectacular groundwork season 3 put forward.  We got so many great character beats, a number of really fantastic plots, new characters that made sense in the show…season 4 was just a really great package that kept me on the edge of my seat.  The first half of the season was “filler” – but really, every episode counted.  Even if the plot in the episode was more light hearted and fun, there was some sort of plot or character beat that advanced the plot and character arcs forward.  This was the first time I felt the entire season was evenly paced in She-ra, and you can tell that the writers really upped their game and have a clear goal in mind for what the end of the story is going to be.  No middle book syndrome in this show – it just was such a joy to watch this season progress, and I can’t wait to see what will happen in season 5.

 

The characters get pushed to their limits in this season as well, and it was interesting seeing where situations took them, and seeing how they’d react.  Neither plot nor characters were set aside to further one or the other – it was well balanced all around.  The multiple character arcs didn’t feel like we were neglecting anyone either, and it was nice to see more spotlight on the overall universe, and on the Princesses that weren’t part of the main cast.  That doesn’t mean the main cast was set aside either:  Adora, Bo, Glimmer, and Catra all have really strong character arcs in this, and are pushed to their limits.  What they’re willing to do to stop this war is super interesting, and honestly I could write entire articles alone on Glimmer’s story arc this season.  The writers weren’t afraid to take certain character tropes and subvert or push them, and because of that the writing in season 4 is stronger than ever.

 

Some new characters were brought in that I don’t want to spoil, but they are welcome additions and I can’t wait to see what will happen in season 5 with them.  It’s more and more apparent  that our heroes are going to have to make crazy decisions to end this war, and what decisions they make are more interesting to me than the over-arching plot.  The world building was super good in this season also, and we got a lot of questions answered about an ongoing plot in the show since season 1 that is a very satisfying conclusion to the mystery given to us in prior seasons.  It also leaves it open to “What are our characters going to do now?”.  It’s just, wow, so amazing, I enjoyed it so much.

 

I keep on thinking, well the theme song says “We’re gonna win in the end” but the more this series develops, the more I get worried that that may not be the case.  That’s such amazing story telling right there:  I don’t feel like anyone is safe in this show, and just because our heroes are the heroes, it doesn’t mean their choices are necessarily the right ones.  This show truly is showing us a war story here, full of morally gray situations and I can’t get enough of it.

 

If you haven’t started watching this series, do it.  I mean, you may want to wait for the end of the show since I think the next season may be the last one, but like this show has improved so so so much from season 1.  It’s a reboot worthy of praise and attention, so I’m doing that here.  Give She-ra a watch if you like character driven, action fantasy shows.  You won’t regret it!

Anime

Violet Evergarden Review [Minor Spoilers]

I had heard so much about this anime when it had first come out, that it was at the top of my list to watch when I started to get back into anime.  While the show wasn’t bad by any means, it definitely didn’t resonate with me like it did with others, and it has a lot more problems in it than I think people are willing to admit.
This review is going to be a general overview of my feelings about the show, because honestly I can’t really put how I feel about it into categories.

 

My biggest problem with Violet Evergarden, is how much it tries to hit the viewer emotionally.  It’s not that it just happens to be emotional while you’re watching, but that the show just feels like it’s trying so hard to elicit a certain reaction from you.  The plot itself is more on the melodramatic side in general, but sometimes you’re just like ok, I get what you’re going for here, can we move on?  The theming of the show is so hard hitting and heavy-handed that after about the halfway point of the show you’re just done with it.  You get what they’re going for, it’s fine, but you’re already halfway through the show so no way you’re going to drop it right?  It took me twice as long to finish this show simply for the format of the thing:  When violet was dealing with writing the letter of the week, and we saw different characters through her perspective, those episodes were super interesting and captivating to me.  It was a nice episodic setup that reminded me very much of Kino’s Journey, and it was really enjoyable to see Violet evolve because of these one off episodes.  Whenever we decided to not focus on Violet being a doll, and actually focused on her inner turmoil, and the obligatory war plot, was where the show lost me.

 

The overall plot of the show deals with a war.  We don’t get enough details about this war to really care, it’s more of a backdrop for the story.  But for some reason halfway through the show, we decide to ignore Violet’s journey and just…go to this war plot.  Like I get war is a major part of Violet’s backstory, and if it was fleshed out more that it was effecting her and that eventually she would have to deal with that I think it could have worked.  But what we really get is them mentioning it here and there, her backstory in flashback, and then this rather hastily done resolution so we can get back to what the show really wants to be talking about:  Learning how to feel emotions, and dealing with grief.  And although I said those more emotional episodes were heavy-handed at times, that is truly where the show shines and is most engaging.  So why throw in a subplot that only partially effects the characters?

 

This lack of focus is what makes the anime a bust for me.  If we had a different format, instead of letter of the week, then going into a bigger plot, it would have been a more cohesive show.  As it stands   it just feels like the show can’t decide what tone it wants to take, or what story it wants to tell and that’s where it falls flat.  I would have much preferred a letter of the week format that was more finely woven into the tapestry of the story, and then perhaps Violet writing letters would somehow lead to this war plot that would somehow get fleshed out.  Perhaps through Violet writing letters for some military?  Who knows, I just really enjoyed the letter of the week format, and would have preferred the entire show to be that way.

 
The characters are fine, the music and setting are gorgeous.  As much as I can take or leave Violet as a main character, her storyline and coming of age story starts and ends satisfactorily.  The English voice cast is amazing…like everything about this show is really well executed, and to that end is where it falls apart.  It’s just trying so hard to be so polished, so perfect, so emotionally moving  that although I liked about half of the episodes, after a certain point I thought any emotional beat was just being forced and overly dramatic.

 

I know a lot of people like this show, and that every anime isn’t for everyone.  On paper, I should like Violet Evergarden, but I’ve seen far better anime in this genre executed way better that actually moved me to tears because of its plot and characters, and not just because it was trying really really hard to.

 

I’m glad people can resonate with this show, and I’m sure plenty of people resonate with Violet and what she’s going through.  It just isn’t the show for me.

 

That review got a little rambly, sorry about that!  I guess I had more thoughts about this show than I realized, but it’s super frustrating to me to really want to like a show and it just not click with you.  Has that ever happened to you with an anime?
Have you seen Violet Evergarden?  I’d love to hear how you feel about it in the comments!