Carrot’s Book Review: WTF Undead Edition

Editor’s note: Am not being paid to review and linky goes to not the Amazonian empire.

So, class. You might remember my love of necromancers, and so I finally got around to Harrow the Ninth, sequel to Gideon the Ninth.

Listening, more like. My brain has been scatter shot of late and I can’t keep my eyes on the printed word for very long, skimming like I was trying to cram before a college final. Audio books are rarely an option for me as I cannot stand most voices. I have finally found myself another audio reader that I can stand (still can count them all on one hand) and settled in for some embroidery and listening. Thank you Moira Quirk.

We shall begin. Ahem.

Whiskey.

Tango.

Foxtrot.

I had so much no-damn-clue what was going on, I checked out the first audio book for a re-listen to help me get fresher base for whatever insane bit of storytelling architecture I was subjecting myself. By the way, Sassomancers get +3 to everything when voiced in snotty English accents. The kids kept interrupting me wanting to know what I was laughing at.

While I had a better understanding of Gideon’s tale of WTF, I still had no idea what was going on with Harrow’s WTF. It didn’t mean the story wasn’t interesting, it just had less Sassomancy than the first book. I’m not even sure how to describe what was going on without giving exceptional spoilers. We do get introduced to the Undying Emperor. Some space travel. Some space bees.

I’m not kidding. Space bees. You know you want to read it now just for that.

Again, there’s some hard science to the necromancy but still no damn explanation on how the Emperor Undying became undying and no damn explanation on why they’re at war or who they’re at war with! There were times I had to stop to consider that maybe this story was being told by the baddies perpetuating a terrible and unjust conflict. It didn’t make any more sense of the tale I was being told.

Harrow’s strange little trip does get some resolution by the end. Most of her crazy little drama is made clear, but in the process of unveiling that madness, it just gives you another crate of WTF and isn’t even shy about the cliff hanger it gives you.

Bastards.

So, just the fact I listened to it on loop to make sure the WTF portion of this novel wasn’t 100% a user error (constant familial interruptions likely contributed) should be factored into the entertainment the book provided based on my Stargate Theory*. The characters were interesting, the mystery compelling, I’m dying to find out the rest of the world and the universe and am still holding out that I will have that itch scratched sooner rather than later. I suppose I need to find out if Ms. Quirk read the rest of them and hope that giving them a listen will make All Thing Clear(tm).

Still no clever undead ratings, so I’ll give it another four outta five stars just for the brain game it played with me.

Carrot’s Stargate Theory: Back when Stargate hit the theater, a knot of us nerds went to see it and debated the merits – or lack thereof – for well into the evening. Someone pointed out that we talked about the movie longer than the movie’s actual run time. It was postulated that any movie that could make you discuss it for that long was de facto a good movie.

Ergo, the fact that a completely incomprehensible book was interesting enough in its confusion to get you to hit repeat for a second ride meant that it was good.

A little called out there.

(scene opens in cluttered dinning room, merit badge work in progress)

Carrot: (typing around Delta in her lap) Okay, requirement #2b says you have to pick a book of a “best of” list that you think you’d like to read and write it down.

Beta: (unenthused)

Carrot: (after the third list heavy on the “Live, Laugh, Love” bullshit) Wow, its a lot harder than I thought to find something to read.

Beta: Try narrowing it down to just best science-fiction of 2021.

Carrot: Here we go. (starts to scroll, points to the screen) Read that one. Don’t recommend. Oh! I read the first one of this series! (camera cuts to screen, showing Harrow the Ninth)

Beta: (skeptical)

Carrot: Stay with me. It’s got a very Warhammer 40k setting.

Beta: (skeptically interested) …..yeah?

Carrot: And everyone has a different flavor of necromancy.

Beta: (explodes) What is it with you and necromancers!? First its necromancer vampires! Then its necromancer space marines! (waves arms in Muppet flail) Look over there! Necromancer ponies!

Carrot: (loses it completely, laughs copious fat tears into Delta’s moppy blond curls)

Beta: Seriously. What the hell is wrong with you?

Delta (echoing) Yeah mom! What’s wrong with you?

(Carrot laughs until it hurts, fade to black, cut to car commercial)

Carrot’s Book Review: Crime Pays

Since it was a duology, I figured I’d finish both books before I said anything.

Here we revisit the Grishaverse with Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom.

(Ed. note: I was not paid for this review and for all those that wish to avoid the Amazonian empire, links connect to an independent bookstore)

Loved! It!

It follows the heist and tribulations of a group of thieves and con-men. If you’d seen the Shadow & Bone tv show on Netflix, we’re talking about Brekker, Inej, and Jasper. I might have mentioned before that the show and books deviate a great deal by combining characters/plots, making them all one big story arc rather than separate one (there’s a duology after this one with another charcter years after the Sun Summoner drama).

I do speculate, however, with how the first season of the show ended and how Nina and her Fjerdian boyfriend came to questionable ends, I suspect that the meat of these books are what will be on the plate for our loveable thieves in the next season.

But moving on. I really love Brekker. Love me some cold and highly competent crime bosses. Thanks to having watched the show first, I envisioned the actors rather than my brain creating them from nothing. I’m not entirely sure I could see that much competence in a gang of teenagers, but then I never had to hone my wits and my skill to survive an uncaring underworld that’d chew you up and spit you out the first chance they’d get.

It was also better written, I think, than the Shadow & Bone trilogy. Ms. Bardugo upped her game. Mad props.

Even better? There was an accidental necromancer! We’ve already discussed how much I love necromancers. So it was like I got my cake and ate it too. I really hope that if there are any more novels set in this world, we get some more Brekker, Inej, and Jasper. They are really the best thing about the Grishaverse.

Except maybe the coats. I’d love a kefta.

Giving these books a Double the Pleasure.

Carrot’s Book Review: Undead Edition

We come here together to talk about Gideon the Ninth, written by Tamsin Nur.

I love Necromancers as a general rule. Most gaming systems (eventually) offer them as a class choice and I love playing them. There’s not a whole lot of variation, sadly, almost as if people really don’t know what to do with Necromancers save “raise the dead” and “summon ghost”. It means that while you get the option of playing one, you’re very limited on what you’re allowed to do. No one wants to make Necromancers more deadly than Tanks for some reason. Like its an offensive threat to the Nerd Gods to up-end some sort of classic and traditional “He-Man Protects Nerdy Weak Magic Class” dynamic. Can’t have freaky Goth Kids saving the Captain of the Football team, right?

But I digress.

The fact that Gideon the Ninth is a book entirely about futuristic space necromancers (bear with me) was a big draw. Not gonna lie. I would not be surprised to find out that the author is a closet Warhammer 40k fan. Or at least has spent a goodly amount of time flipping through lore books. There are nine – count them nine! – noble houses all with their own variation/flavor of necromancy, and they serve/worship their Undying God Emperor who apparently is battling some space war with something never specified.

Its the never-specified that gets me. Were I to go with a traditional Five Star Rating, I’ll have to go with a Four just because while I really liked it, I had no goddamn idea what was going on for the start of the book. It opens cold into this universe with no explanation and you have to scramble to fill the holes as you find them. I don’t mind scrambling if the story is good, its like a treasure hunt and the map unfurls oh-so very slowly.

Oh you terrible tease!

Once you settle in and come to terms that some things will not be explained, like most of the worlds and their cultures, you can focus on the characters, which are a delight. Gideon is a straight up Sassomancer and who doesn’t like some mouthy chick with a sword, amirite? Every house has a necromancer at the lead, and every one of those house scions has a dedicated sword master to serve them. Nice to see the Goth Kids in charge for once, even as there’s still the thug-protecting-the-scholar set up. This story centers around Gideon as the sword master (they call them cavaliers) to the Head of the Ninth House. Personality conflicts ensue.

I can only guess that there will be more explanation of WT Ever Living F (“ever living” ha ha, see what I did there?) is going on with this never ending necromantic war and why everything seems to be multiple millennia old and crumbling around them. Maybe how they got an Undying God Emperor, how you resurrect an entire solar system, and for what purpose? Where are all the regular people?

I guess this is more of my map slowly unfurling. There are four books in this run, the fourth not yet published. I only recently discovered there’s a couple Point(tm) in this series. And by Point I mean this new (and weird trend) to publish books slightly out of order and “to the side”. Example? Having just finished Book #1, I discovered there’s a Book #0.5 (which is NOT in my local library!). Book #1 was published in 2019, book #0.5 published in 2020. I suppose all the explanation I didn’t get in Gideon the Ninth was published in a later game supplement back up novel? There’s also a #2.5 novel which seemed to be published in correct order between #2 and #3. Does that mean I don’t have to read it to make the novel make sense? And if I do have to read it, why isn’t #2.5 just #3? I guess I’ll figure out when I get there.

I would like to know why this is now a thing in writing. It’s a bit aggravating.

But I digress again!

Some of it was way sciencey. I glossed over that a little bit, wanting to get back to the witty sassomancer and her necromancer. It gets a little deep with the science experiments and the alluding to previous studies. Like, the actual scientific theorems of various necromantic abilities. They put a way lot of thought into what Necromancers can/could do if given the ability to really stretch their magic class. A little hard science in your sci-fi-fantasy, I guess. Hey – DMs & STs – read these books and take some damn notes so your Necromancers can do more than just tag along behind the party to question the guy you accidentally killed.

This here book is getting Four Stars because I don’t have a witty rating for it that doesn’t somehow involve Bela Lugosi.

Moar Carrot’s Book Review

In today’s shameless promotions, we’ve got an independent author Leonard Petracci.

For those who are unaware, there is a website called Reddit and within their many forums is a Writing Prompt. People post the theme/scenario and anyone who wishes can submit their flash fiction. Sometimes they become longer, becoming mini-novellas posted under that topic in itty bitty chapters. Occasionally, the Muses take them and a novel is born from a simple prompt.

Personally, I tend to favor the science-fiction prompts as they provide entertaining escapism from the World of Today(tm) and it’s many uncertain political woes. That means you might find more of these Reddit Authors being shamelessly promoted her in the future. Who doesn’t need a good read?

So, onto The Bridge: A Science Fiction Survival Story

It only comes in Kindle format, what with that independent author status and all. For $2.99 I thought I got a good read. The concept (writing prompt) was simple – generation ship heading to a planet and over time the inhabitants lost understanding and knowledge of who they were, where they were going, and even the technology of the ship itself.

I think the main character could have been fleshed out a bit more, as most of the story was from his perspective, but you still got a real sense of his feelings an motivations throughout the story. The culture shifts on the generational ship from spacefaring to….not spacefaring…seem very plausible given the limitations of their environment and what was necessary to keep society alive. Some of it was shockingly cruel, but if it was a question of life and death, what other option would there be?

I have to admit to practically skimming the last few chapters in a desperate race to get to the ending to see how it all played out, so the minute details are lost to me, not that I would give you a detailed summary of how it ended anyway. Take the fact that I sped read it as an indication of how tightly the story had me.

I give this book a “Speculative Anthropology” – which only sounds boring to the non-nerds. I’ll add “With Spaceships” for the rest of you.

Carrot’s Book review: Surprise Edition

A week ago, no sooner I finish my glowing praise of The Name of the Wind“>, than UPS drops off a package at my door.  I hadn’t remembered ordering anything and none of my family or friends ‘fessed up to sending me anything.  In the padded envelope was nothing but a book.  No letter or invoice or anything explaining whyfor this book arrives or whence it came!  Exercising my big smarty brain, I read the label for a clue and got only that it came direct from Penguin Publishing.

Maybe I signed up for some free give away?  I have no idea, but obviously the Universe wanted me to read this book and perilous is it to ignore directives from the Universe when they are so blatant.

So the book – Alwyn Hamilton’s Rebel of the Sands.

I can sum up this book in two words –

Arab Gunslinger.

No seriously!  Stick with me on this!  It’s a fantasy novel, so it takes place in a fictional desert kingdom with a Sultan and far eastern magical myths like djinn.  It’s very careful not to imply fictional Islam, so there are no Imans or Mosques, going for Holy Men and Prayer Houses instead.  Some standard social issues are present, such as polygamy and women having little to no power in their own lives.

Which brings us to the wild west aspect of it all.  Our tale starts out in a desperate small mining town, rife with all the problems that a small desperate mining town has – scarcity of water, scarcity of options, the men give their lives to the mine and women suffer the brunt of their hopelessness in a one horse town where not even the monthly train runs through.

Our heroine is desperate to escape the gritty emptiness of life here and the awfulness of her impending future.  Dressed as a boy (naturally) and gifted with uncanny aim with a gun (heresy!), she exchanges an empty unhappy life for endless danger as she naturally falls in with the rebellion.   Because of course there’s a rebellion, all tied up with the mines, an allied/occupying foreign kingdom (that seems awfully western with their blond hair and blue eyes), and the struggle to retain the magic/identity of the kingdom/people without losing their soul.  There’s even a train heist!  Because Arab Gunslinger, duh!

I’m sure there’s a little subtext in there on the magic vs technology side of things, but the magic part really didn’t show up until later in the story and I presume it will be further explored in the following books.

Overall?  I expected it to be very tropey what with the YA label and a girl hero, but it wasn’t.  It was very engaging, handing me a few surprises along the way, making it an even more enjoyable story than initial assumption.  If ever you were looking for a book that would actually break the molds and play a strong part in that whole “Representation Matters” I couldn’t suggest this book fast enough.  Faux Arab Heroine.  What more could you want?  This should be read in school, except for the fact they never seem to offer fantasy as a literary choice.

I give this book a Make Your Kids Read It, because when I’m so delighted by an pro-active non-timid girl hero in a setting far underutilized in the writing world, then obviously my kids need the exposure as well.  Especially in this current world where women and our Middle Eastern brethren are never considered heroic.

Back later, I have to hand the book off to Alpha.  He was asking for it last night.

Carrot’s Book Club

Just finished Patrick Rothfuss’ “The Name of the Wind”. I have been trying years to get around to reading it as I had yet met a fellow book lover that did not rave about it.

I feel like any raving I might do about it is just redundant. It has been so very very long since I was at a point in my life where I looked forward to bedtime; that scheduled hour or two where I’d curl up with my dozens of pillows and viciously run through as many chapters as I could swallow before my eyes grew fuzzy and an adult’s sense of responsibility forced me to a reasonable hour’s sleep to be somewhat functional the following day. I’d think about the book during the day, trying to predict where the plot might lead based on the clues I had already read the night before.

Would I dare say lyrical? There are some books for whom the story is compelling while the writing is weak, forcing you to slog through dreary narration so you can learn what you need to learn and get closure on what could have been a far better tale. There are some books that the dialogue is witty and you enjoy the characters as you would old friends, but there is no significant adventure and you see the end coming long before you’ve even come to the middle. This book had both real people and real adventure and perfectly musically paired.

So real, I was made uncomfortable by a repeated failure to overcome something so simple as monetary debt! Perhaps that is nothing more than personal experience with the topic, but it was unsettling and made me fearful for the character. There were times I grew impatient with the character’s inability to choose the simple solution to his woes, but seeing as how at the time of the telling he was only a teen boy, perhaps that would explain overly complex solutions that only brought more hot water.

I also grew impatient as the remaining chapters dwindled and I realized that it was not a stand alone book. There would be no ending for this tale, not even in an intermission partial closure, or a season ender to tie the plots together. Not so much a cliffhanger as the commercial break with still more show to go. I had been putting off buying it – restlessly waiting for my turn at the library’s wait list to get a copy – but now I see that I can’t do that for book two and must, as soonest possible moment, head out to purchase the next one (and of course the first one so my shelf has a complete set).

I’m giving this book a Carrot Rating of Two Hands, as in it’d take that to pry it away from me.

Date Night with Diablo

Husband had gotten a copy of Diablo III for Xbox One. The last time I played Diablo, they had just come out with the expansion pack for the second one. I ended up in a lan party with not-yet-husband and friends where we played through from character creation to finally boss in a marathon 14 hr session.

You have no idea how much street cred that buys a chick. Even now.

Also, after 14 straight hours, your ears will hear the roar of monsters exploding and gold dropping for hours afterwards. Not to mention the aforementioned actions etched on your retinas making the drive home a little difficult. I’m sure that’s material somewhere for some pamphlet on the dangers of video game playing.

But onto Diablo III

The hardest part of any game, as any true gamer knows, is the character creation. I really wanted to play a demon hunter, I really did. Seemed to be a little obvious given the overall theme of the game and probably very useful. Know why I didn’t? Her high heeled boots. Seriously. I get that this is nothing more than digital escapism fighting the denizens of a fantasy hell and my suspension of disbelief is expected in the process of slaughtering the rotting undead to acquire magical loot. But I can’t suspend my disbelief long enough to envision slinking through haunted woods and cursed ruins in my perfect kitten heels. What are they, Spiked Heels of Eternal Comfort +3? Peep Toes of Never Turning an Ankle, Just Undead +2? Espadrilles of Strength +5?

So I went with the barely clothed mage. Because she had sensible footwear. It’s the little things that really speak to a character.

Oh, did you know you can customize your character banner too? It was only the ridiculousness of it all that kept me from making it magenta with hearts, but I was sorely tempted and Husband was itching to start playing. Fear me, for I am the foretold Mage of the Bearclaw Butterfly tribe and you can call me….

Muffin.

Because nothing strikes fear into the twisted souls of the undead like Muffin the Mage.

To the important stuff – the graphics are beautiful, but I expected as much. I’ve only played through a few quests (on Hard mind you, because Easy seemed ridiculous even for casual play) but the maps are nice and twisty and the undead ravenous. Not a whole lot of loot dropping – compared to my dim memories of Diablo II so long ago – but I haven’t found it to be an impediment to upgrades and acquisitions.

The skill trees are taking some time to figure out with slots for everything and the various triggers/buttons of the Xbox controller eventually getting it’s own power. I feel like I’m playing piano moving through my various magics waiting for my mana to replenish or everything to get close enough to be hit with my area affects. I’m still a little awkward on getting everything active and running, but I really like the ability to compare the items I find with the things I’m already wearing as it makes the min-maxed wardrobe easier to put together.

My favorite part of the game, though, is the fact that Husband and I can play together. Diablo on my own is kinda a mindless grind. Follow the map, slaughter, loot, repeat. With a party in play, the evil ratchets up, so it’s even harder to plow through, but a lot more fun.

Highly recommended for those Gamer Dates.

Shameless Promotions

In the spirit of full disclosure, the owner of the following company is an old grade-school chum of mine from a time long enough ago that my kids don’t believe it actually existed.  He started a company and out of the goodness of his heart, gifted me with some candles.  Not expecting this kind of spontaneous largess, I felt that it was my karmic duty to give my opinion of them.

The company is called the Wisconsin Candle Company.  They’ve got more than candles- assorted delicious looking bath sundries and beard oil for those of you who sport the glamorous facefur – but I can only speak of the delightfully smelling candles, of which I received three:

Autumnal Pumpkin: The usual fall-flavored candle, smelling of yummy warm spices oddly not heavy on the cinnamon or cloves.  Perhaps nutmeg is what I’m smelling?  It warms the room without being overpowering or cloying.

Vanilla Beans & Nectarines:   I have yet to burn this one, but just opening the tin exposes a lighter scent, more fruity than vanilla and it makes me think of alcoholic girlie drinks on the veranda.  My mouth is watering with the sweetness of it.  Again, not heavy or overpowering.

Balsam & Cinnamon:  More balsam than cinnamon, which I’m thankful for.  A house smelling of cinnamon rolls would trigger a sweet-tooth bent on carnage.  A clean scent, not as green as I would expect, but fresh.  A good one to burn if you’ve got a fake Christmas tree in the works, you can pretend you have some of that outdoorsy winter feel good smell without your carpet full of needles.

So yeah, give them a try if you are at all the candle enthusiast or need holiday and/or host(ess) gifts.  They’re very Wisconsin local, but obviously they do ship.  Thanks in advance.

wcc