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Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

The Blinding Knife: Reread with The Fantasy Inn

The Lightbringer re-read is in full swing, and the fine folks at The Fantasy Inn read book #2 (The Blinding Knife) shared the full review on their website yesterday. Go forth, click through, tally ho! Or something.

Featuring covers from all 5 Lightbringer books

ALSO: Barnes & Noble had special edition signed copies of THE BURNING WHITE available for pre-order…. Until yesterday evening, when they sold out. (!!!) Stay tuned for more news on the availability of signed copies, the audiobook, and tour stops!

Meanwhile, you should go pre-order a second copy of the book from your favorite purveyor of fine literature, for that friend or family member who will flip out when they open it as their extra special Halloween present from their new favorite person (you).

This lady loves alliteration almost as much as laughter.


What I’m Playing: Sea of Thieves

Sea of Thieves is a beautiful, joyful, pulse-quickening, sweet tech demo. The team obviously spent enormous effort, skill, and time in getting the water and the wind and the sailing just exactly right—and they are marvelous! Unfortunately, after years of development, they have little game to go with them. And the game industry has seen too many games live too long in development. This is a real problem, because a game that stays in development too long dies. A novel too long in development risks being over-written, but the tech doesn’t move past it. A novel in the works for ten years may risk feeling old school, or thrillers may seem ripped from yesterday’s headlines, but most genres are insulated from the dangers of time. A game in development for a decade, however, finds that everyone else’s graphics and even gameplay have moved beyond them. The audience no longer can be wowed by a game coded on an old game engine.

So the corporate overlords have a point beyond simple greed when they push a game like this out the door. Plus, even with your overlord is Microsoft, paying the salaries of a hundred (or whatever) highly-skilled people for four years isn’t cheap. At some point, you need to see a profit. That’s not Microsoft being evil, that’s just reality. You can’t pour money into a pit forever, especially as you know what you get back will decline sharply if they take too long. (“Oh, you have HDR and 4k?” goes from a selling point to “So what? How’s the holographic rendering?”)

The game is really fun, and if you play it with a friend—or more, I guess, but I only have one, so… ya know… 😉 —it’s even more fun. Sailing is great: it feels exploratory and even dangerous. Your first storm is awe-inspiring. But after a few hours, you realize the game is empty.

The quests are all fetch quests. There are literally 3 different fetch quests, and… that’s it. There are no NPC ships. At all. So there no merchants for your pirates to… pirate. You’re only fighting other pirates–that is, exactly the people you’d avoid as a real pirate. Most of those are smart enough that when they get plunder, they take it immediately to the many and readily available ports, and sell it right away. So if you sink another ship, you get little or nothing in game terms. If you seize a ship, you might get a chest, which gives you gold that you can use to… get a cosmetic upgrade. (Or more realistically, one chest will pay for 1/15th of a cosmetic upgrade.) There aren’t enough cosmetic upgrades to make this meaningful, nor are they tied to anything you’ve done in-game. After you’ve done 200 fetch quests you can get a peg leg, or something. None of the upgrades add any function.

I understand why. Your progress in this game is simply that you learn how to do harder stuff through your own gaming skill or memorization of the map; every pirate is on equal footing in gameplay terms. That’s a really bold decision. After all, if you reward experienced players by letting them earn better guns, you open a wider gulf between them and the newbs who log on for the first time. This makes things friendlier to new players.

But it flattens out the game. There’s no progress. That makes a game that already feels purposeless feel even more so.

If getting treasure doesn’t DO anything but help you play dress-up, and the dress-up you play isn’t even meaningful, what does that encourage instead? Well, I think it encourages you to abandon the pointless pursuit of loot yourself and enjoy messing up other players’ pointless pursuit of loot instead. There’s a name for this: griefing.

There are two types of ships: big and little. There are no better ships. If you’re playing alone, you need to be on the little ship.

The death mechanic is compelling, even brilliant. If you’ve killed a hostile pirate before you die (which happens often in ship battles), you’ll find him too in the afterlife. You can talk to each other. This humanizes your opponents (which is everyone) and makes for a friendlier game experience. I think it’s awesome. (More on this in a moment.)

But—and I think this is being addressed in an update—you respawn WAY too close to your fight. If you die, you can quickly rush back to your ship to rejoin the same fight before it’s even over. So death doesn’t suck much for the person who dies. That’s nice. (Though it encourages reckless play.) But in game terms, it also means that killing a hostile pirate doesn’t mean putting him or her out of the fight. If you’re outnumbered, you’re screwed. You can’t kill opponents fast enough to win.

The same thing happens if your whole ship gets sunk. Your ship respawns within view of your opponents. I played alone one night, and took on a bigger ship that (it turned out) had four players on it. They killed me, sank my ship, killed me, killed me, sank my ship again, and sank my ship again. I couldn’t get away from them, period, and no matter how many of them I killed, they always outnumbered me because of the respawn.

This level of game design stupidity is hard to comprehend. Did no one in the many months of beta tests act like a-holes? That’s hard to believe. These are gamers, after all.

And if you’re on a ship of four players, what’s fun? Killing other weaker ships. You’re playing a pirate. That’s the whole point. The money doesn’t matter in this game, so it doesn’t matter that you’re killing a ship that doesn’t give you loot. Loot is pointless. Your own ship respawns too, so you don’t lose anything if you lose the fight, either. So the fun is in demonstrating your mastery over other players. Of course this is going to happen.

But!–and this was a unique gameplay experience enabled by the death mechanic–I told the guys killing me that they were griefers and being assholes coming after a new player. (It was the very first day the game came out, and they already had the sails that cost 70k gold—so they’d been playing a long, long time in the beta.) They were first like, “Hey, it’s a pirate game, buddy.” But then they hunted me down (a 4th or 5th time), and apologized. This doesn’t happen in online games. They gave me some chests they were carrying, and we went our separate ways.

So the brilliance of half of the death mechanic countered the stupidity of the spawn distance. (Which is fixable.)

But it all points to the emptiness of the game. After you master sailing (which takes some time!), what do you DO? The islands have cool cave paintings and are fun to explore—but there’s no one who made the paintings. There’s no quests to find out anything. No lore. Nothing to discover. Obviously, that content is planned already, but it doesn’t exist yet. Your opponents are players, or skeletons or harder skeletons. That’s it. The NPCs otherwise stay in their booths, handing out ale or one of the three fetch quests. The same 4 NPCs (with different looks but identical dialogue and functions) inhabit every island.

There is apparently an endgame (being a legendary pirate), which takes 100+ hours to get to. 100-some hours of mind-numbing fetch quests, which opens… more of the same, but with a cooler-looking ship.

I see a ton of potential here IF they reinvest their profits into developing all their ideas, and IF they move quickly to make necessary changes (realizing problems, unlike Activision/Destiny 2), and IF the player base either doesn’t drop off too dramatically or if they believe they can lure players back with additional new content (which will have to include micro-transactions so they can show an on-going profit stream), if all that happens, then in a year, this will be an amazing game.

It already is an amazing game for a few hours. I hope it survives. I hope the content that is surely in the pipeline is as good as the sailing and weather. It’s getting terribly low reviews right now because, like I did in school, you’re averaging 95%’s in with some 0%’s. Those zeroes really pull your average down! Is this game as bad as the shoddy work out there that gets a 6 or a 7 out of 10? No, not even close. But then, it’s not a whole game either.

Right now, I can’t give it a grade. It earns an


Teacher’s note: “Must work on time management skills. Not living up to potential. Please finish your project before graduation, Rare.”

What I’m Reading: Nero’s Killing Machine

I’m not sure if I should add a point or take it away for the fact that this had to be a difficult book to write. A history of a single Roman military legion is simply faced with an enormous problem: How do you make the story of what are actually many armies over hundreds of years into a unified story of an army, as if it were one living breathing beast? As one of the last chapters admits, the men of the early 14th legion would have sneered at the bearded, married, business-owning, involved-in-local-politics later legion that dared to share the same name as their beloved legion that ferociously banned all those things. This central difficulty is made worse by a peculiarity of how Rome recruited and fielded its legions: men signed up for 16- or later 20-year stints, after which they retired. Granted, some men would stay in, and be moved to the upper ranks, but the vast majority of each legion simply left. An entire new army was formed of green recruits every 20-ish years. (And you did NOT want to go into battle with that baby army for a while!) So how is this army with massive periodic turnover to be treated as the same army in one story over centuries? How do you successfully tell that story?

You don’t. At least, I don’t think that Stephen Dando-Collins quite makes the case on which this book rests: If you’re telling the tale of The Martial and Victorius Twinned 14th Legion, you’re saying there IS a tale of the fourteenth–and there isn’t. There are only tales, plural, of the 14th during certain years. It’s like talking about the Boston Red Sox. You can tell of the Cy Young years and compare them to the Roger Clemens years. At best, maybe you could structure a tale around the 86 years without a World Series win. (But really, to have the metaphor be more accurate, you’d have to have the Red Sox move from Boston every couple years to a new home city, and change coaches/generals more frequently. On the plus side, the level of looting could stay about the same.

Nonetheless, this is a reasonably entertaining and informative book of pop-history. I learned things. In fact, I learned some things that were directly in conflict with other things I’ve learned, at least one of them recently. I’d recently relayed to a friend the factoid that Roman legionaries were required to be 6′ tall–which I found remarkable! That’d be like recruiting only guys who are 6’5″ or something today, which would be pretty darn difficult, but on the other hand, I could see that recruitment strategy making a lot of sense when you’re looking to go murder people by the strength of your muscles alone. So yeah, sure, you want the tallest, strongest guys from every college sports team to go do your murder and looting work. And then one could see why armies made up of such men, also trained into believing they can kick anyone’s butt, and instilled with immense discipline would, in fact, be able to kick anyone’s butt–except this book says it’s not true at all. Crap. Sorry friend I told this factoid to. Instead, Mr. Dando-Collins says the average legionary was 5’4″, which is believable, and actually sort of remarkable in its own way. Imagine a bunch of guys 5’4″ kicking your butt and taking all your worldly goods. Plus your self-respect. Surely the Germans who averaged 5’8″ thought so.

In reading about the ancient world, I was again impressed by how fully a Judeo-Christian ethic seems to have suffused our present Western understanding of morality during warfare. War in the ancient world was incredibly brutal, and unapologetically so. Not just the fighting, but how people were treated in the aftermath, and what excuses (none) were deemed necessary to go to war in the first place. Certainly, instead of spreading the light of civilization or securing the borders so the Empire could be safe, one gets a palpable sense over and over that the men of the Roman legions just wanted to go kill people and take their stuff. (This, despite the fact that going and doing that would certainly cost a lot of them their lives.) Somehow in my mind, I’d separated the Roman soldiers from, say, Vikings. Vikings and other raiders are just thieves, murderers, and rapists, right? (Who happen to bring some good stuff along with them.) But Rome? Rome is law and order. Pax Romana, baby!

Well, that law is Roman law. Roman law provides no protection for anyone who is NOT a Roman citizen. So in the famous case of Boudica, where her dying husband Prasutagus (some say dad) tries to leave her half of his estate (the other half going to Nero, hoping that buys his good will), the law is very different from what we would think. Roman law doesn’t let women inherit, and anyone who dies without an heir leaves everything to Caesar. So to Nero, the guy tried to buy him off by… giving Nero only half of what belonged to Nero by law. It didn’t buy Nero’s good will at all–and, you know, Nero is Nero. So Nero’s little bailiffs go to evict Boudica who is “squatting” in Nero’s house with her daughters. (i.e. She hasn’t left her own house.)

She defies the bailiffs, and they beat the hell out of her and rape her daughters–and this is legal, or at least not illegal. A non-citizen has no legal protection, period. (It happens to be very unwise, but there’s no record that the bailiffs are disciplined for what will start a war.)

Boudica stokes the fires of Celtic fury at what’s been done to her–and everyone already hates the Romans anyway. (Go figure.) So they rise up, and take some towns. Now these are cities and clans aligned with Rome–which is exactly what Boudica’s clan had been, up until that month! And when Boudica’s army takes these cities, does she have mercy on the people there? Not even close.

The Roman writers, not shy about the realities of warfare, called it ‘an orgy of violence’. We’re talking non-combatants and children tortured to death literally for fun. Maybe you can try to dismiss that as propaganda, but it seems the Romans believed it was literally true. There may have been some religious significance to burning people to death and the like… but what? That makes it okay, then? Even if any of this was exaggerated, the death toll was like 70,000 in a couple weeks. Mostly civilians.

That London has a statue of a woman who murdered everyone in it who didn’t flee–meaning old people, young people, the stubborn, and those in denial that a fellow Breton would murder them–is deeply bizarre, that is, until you learn that Elizabeth I identified her as a brave figure fighting off a foreign invasion (just like herself), and later, Queen Victoria set her up as some kind of national hero (also just like herself).

Hmm, politicians abusing history to advance their own ends, how weird is that?

I guess all of us are suckers for an underdog story: brave woman stands up to defend her country against horrible guys! As far as I can tell (and I’m no expert, certainly), the real story is something like this: One, horrible men treat a woman and her family horribly. Two, horrible woman goes on to command the murder, torture, and rape of other tens of thousands of people much like herself. Three, horrible men’s army comes back, fight bravely and well, and then horribly murders the horrible murderers.

History’s awesome, isn’t it? Except where it really, really sucks.

I’m reminded of how earlier times should really be viewed as more alien than I sometimes do. People are people, sure, but culture is more powerful than we think. The Geneva Conventions seem obvious to us. They’re actually not obvious–they’re a triumph of civilization, of imposing morality on the most barbarous of human activities. (They’re often violated, sure, but they’re often upheld, too! And sometimes is a whole lot better than never.)

Excellently performed, although there was a slight technical irritant of the mic picking up the sound of Mr. Fass’s breaths, which became somewhat hypnotic: “Wow, that was a really long sentence to manage on that quick of a breath.” But this is surely a first-world audio problem–I mean, c’mon “the mic is too sensitive”? I can’t really take points off for that, can I?

3.5 out of 5.

B&N Bookseller’s Picks: The Blood Mirror!



We are so thrilled that the The Blood Mirror was selected as one of the top picks of October 2016 by the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog! (And we were pretty excited to see Blood Mirror as the first listed book, too.) You can go HERE to read the extremely positive review — and to see what other books Jim Killen suggests for your October reading pleasure.

Brent Reviews Kid Lit

children's lit collage

While Brent’s on paternity leave, we’ll be posting some fun reviews over he wrote ahead of time — reviews of children’s books! We’ve posted a few today on Goodreads and will be posting more over the next few weeks.

Go HERE to see his reviews — if you’re a Goodreads member, click “Follow” to get  updates whenever he reviews a new book!

Reviews of El Ojo Fragmentado

WEEKS_OJO-fragmentado El Ojo Fragmentado is already receiving some great reviews! Via News and Fantífica have both published their perspectives on the third Lightbringer book.

I enjoyed this quote from Via News in particular: “He disfrutado enormemente leyendo El Ojo Fragmentado, y es que a pesar de que no veamos ninguna de las muchas batallas que se referencian en el libro no es menos cierto que el lector no encontrará un momento de respiro mientras la acción salta de un personaje a otro creando pequeños cliffhangers que harán que os comáis las uñas… y que os hará llegar al hueso hasta la publicación de The Blood Mirror, un año de espera… qué duro.”

(If, like me, you only speak English, you can look at the Google Translate version HERE.)


The Broken Eye Book Reviews

Broken Eye Animated Cover

The book reviews are already coming in!

Publisher’s Weekly says: The “plot feels like an orchestrated chess match between genius grandmasters, but [Weeks] also leavens the logic with humor. His characters are charming even as they are threatened with being swept off the chessboard.”

Assistant Peter Recommends: “Books like this are why I read epic fantasy.” 

Fantasy Book Critic notes: “Almost impossible to put down… The Broken Eye starts where Blinding Knife ends and continues the story in the same fast, take no prisoners, twists and turns manner – including another jaw dropping “I can’t believe this” one… The Broken Eye is really worth reading once to find out what happens and once to appreciate its finer points…meets my huge expectations…”

Whedonopolis: “Curse you, Weeks, for your addictive, endorphin-inducing prose! …The only down side to this series is having to wait for the next installment.”

Elitist Book Reviews: “This is what you’ve been waiting for… There was tension, excitement, surprises… the conclusion, as in past books, was amazing and game-changing. I’m eagerly anticipating The Blood Mirror.”

Half a King — by Joe Abercrombie

Half a King bookcoverOpportunities to blurb one’s nemesis are rare indeed. Having been published in ye olde aught-7, Joe Abercrombie is the elder in our Sith-padawan duo, whilst I have only been in print since late, late 2008. Our careers have followed similar trajectories: each of us receiving early and effusive critical praise (oh wait, that was him), each of us selling millions of books (him more millions–or a more… ebullient publicist), each of us winning the David Gemmell Legend Award (oh wait, that was me), each of us being dubbed George R. R. Martin’s heir apparent (oh wait, that was neither of us). I taught swing dancing in college; Joe does a wicked hip-hop-folk-dance-locomotion-twist-Macarena fusion that you wouldn’t believe. As you can see, the similarities are eerie.

When I opened the package containing Joe’s book (not addressed to me), I rubbed my hands together. I cackled. I stroked my beard. I got to work.

The trick, of course, is to write something that sounds positive, but may not be. You also have to avoid fragments that can be pulled that undermine your snarkish intent:  “I love John’s frequent use of correct punctuation in his work!” could be undermined. A canny publicist will pull real praise out of a reckless phrase, like so:  “I love John’s…work.” or, stretching morality, even “I love [this] work!”

If you write something the publisher doesn’t use at all, you’ve failed. (That is, unless you can get it to stick on Goodreads or Amazon.) And if you write something amazing but not specific to the target, people will just attribute it to Mark Twain. (“Any brilliant double-edged quote from an American author will be attributed to Mark Twain.” –Mark Twain) As you can see, a daunting task indeed.


So… a quote for Joe Abercrombie, eh? *cracks knuckles*

There are myriad correct ways to address Joe Abercrombie’s work; one of them even involves praise.

Let’s just get this out of the way. The low-hanging fruit*:
Though slender, I wouldn’t call it half a novel. Half a King isn’t half bad!
Is Half a King Abercrombie’s best yet? You’ll half to see for yourself!

*reviewers punning on the Half in the titles of this series, that there is a sin of weakness–unless you can make many puns in your review or find one that others have overlooked. I know, it’s hard to resist. You’ll be forgiven the “half” puns on this first novel. Do it on novel two and three, and you’ll earn sighs and derision, respectively.

Hitting where it hurts (the wallet):

There is only one way to show how much I enjoyed this book: I scanned it and am distributing it to the whole internet for free!

Here’s a good one for readers who like to believe they don’t look down on the YA genre:

Now writing Young Adult fantasy, Joe Abercrombie has finally found his intellectual home.

The baffling, yet catchy:

This book seals it: Joe Abercrombie is the Kanye West of fantasy.

The sneaky slander:

Critics have wondered, is there a Joe Abercrombie without the f-word? Fuck yes!

The secretly snarky:**

Will this novel make shortlists everywhere? Well, I certainly wouldn’t give it the axe!

**Only works if you know a rarely-used idiom, AND that the Gemmell Award is a battle axe.

The grimdark (the challenge here being to attach the mildly pejorative label “grimdark” to Joe’s work without ever using the term directly):

Some worried that Abercrombie’s move to Young Adult novels would mean a loss of his grim, dark tone. Though the events of this novel are often grim, dark themes aren’t overwhelming. Much as in the Brothers Grimm, dark colors are used to highlight moments of humor.

The needlessly cruel (may be attributed to Mark Twain):

Definitely worth picking up from the remainders shelf.
Worth every penny I paid for it. (My thanks to the publisher for the free review copy.)
I look forward to being able to get the whole series for half off.

My real blurb:

Perhaps his most technically proficient novel yet, I dare you to read the first chapter and try not to turn the next page. Some wondered if what makes Joe Abercrombie so different would survive the transition to YA. Abercrombie fans, have no fear: Polished and sharp, the un-adult-rated Abercrombie is still unadulterated Abercrombie.

Ugh, you have no idea how my stomach sinks to write actual praise. Dammit, Joe.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound