Showing posts with label Book Review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Book Review. Show all posts

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Raphael by R. A. MacAvoy

Title: Raphael
Author: R. A. MacAvoy
Year: 1984
Pages: 240 pages
Rating: 1 of 5 stars

This review is, unfortunately, by the numbers. 

Who is this author? R. A. MacAvoy is a wonderful science fiction and fantasy author, who by 1984 had 4 books in print. She is careful researcher with excellent storytelling abilities. 

What is their idea? In this final chapter in the Damiano's Lute trilogy, we follow the plight of Raphael as he wars with his brother Lucifer. 

How effectively does that person tell a story? Raphael is yet again a wonderfully well researched historical fantasy novel set in 12th century Europe. This time, Raphael finds himself at Lucifer's mercy in Moorish Granada. Stripped of his angelic form and powers, he is sold in slavery where yet again, the growing cast of characters bring this story to a conclusion. 

What are the book's the strengths? The main strength of MacAvoy's writing is the careful research and blending of fantasy to bring her characters to life. The details of daily life in Granada are rich and engrossing while repellant as the main topic of this novel is slavery. Djoura was a fantastic addition to the story as both a powerful heroine and love interest to Raphael.  

What are the book's the weaknesses?  Unfortunately, the book suffers from a lack of structure, where the established protagonists from Damiano and Damiano's Lute were secondary characters offered with zero development between the last installment and this one. Gaspare stands out as a very bad evolution from his prior self in other chapters of the story. 

Back in June of '85, White Dwarf Magazine offered the pronouncement that Raphael would be a Disneyfication of the series. While they probably hadn't read this particular book at the time, they weren't wrong. Many of the ideas of the series were heavily subverted by this installment and Raphael would have been much stronger had it been divorced from the rest of the series. 

What was particular terrible was the Epilogue, which closed out the series perfectly. It was five star writing tacked on to the end of a very slapdash work and accounts for much of Raphael's one star rating. If the Epilogue had been tacked on either one of the prior books, on it's strength alone, those titles would have been perfect. Even if MacAvoy simply copy-pasted it in to each preceding piece. 

Sadly, the first 435 pages were not worthy of the last five page. 

What made this ending so strong was the growth of Gaspare and the introduction of his family to the wild mix of history and fantasy. Viewed through a historical lens, many of the defining exploits of Damiano and his friends were mistakenly attributed to historical figures, which was an eye opening insight into the depth of research and planning by MacAvoy. What should be a crowning achievement was twisted into a mere after though. 

One mourning star. 

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Damiano's Lute by R. A. MacAvoy

Title: Damiano's Lute
Author: R. A. MacAvoy
Year: 1984
Pages: 254 pages
Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

In the second of three books, R. A. MacAvoy's Damiano's Lute expands in the concepts from the first book and we find our hero being chased northwards and west by Plague and the Devil. As a sequel, it breaks the mold that follow ups are afterthoughts. It is a well crafted as the first book, rich in detail and peril of the 12th century. 

From 1983 to 1984, MacAvoy had 4 books published, an incredible achievement. 

Damiano's Lute shift the story's location west and north and elevates Damiano's love interest from an Italian fantasy woman to a much more mature woman of the North. As the story evolves, many historical details pop out and lock this work of fiction into the real world settings. In this edition, MacAvoy explores not just Damiano Delstrego, but his companions Gaspare and Saara, who expand from sidekick and antagonists to fully formed characters with their own purposes and drives to be twisted by The Devil. Every character presented has a purpose and drive within the story of Damiano's Lute. MacAvoy adds characters at a frantic pace, but never leaves them hanging. Each one is added to serve the story with a graceful economy. 

Damiano's Lute stands strong on it's own, a worthy second part to the story.

Damiano By R. A. MacAvoy

Title: Damiano
Author: R. A. MacAvoy
Year: 1983
Pages: 243 pages
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Damiano is R. A. MacAvoy's opening book in her well-researched fantasy novel series. The titular hero, begins his adventures in 12th century Italy. The author shows her craft by blending historical research with a coming of age story of the witch, Damiano Delstrego. 

Delstrego defends his beloved hometown of Partestrada with an unlikely crew: a dancing thief, Gaspare, Macchiata the talking dog, Festilligambe, a feral horse and Raphael, music teacher and Chief of Eagles. They stand with honor and distinction against fear, bigotry, war and The Devil himself. 

MacAvoy's detailed research allows magic to stand toe to toe with a her chosen historical era to create an engrossing tale of drama and strife. It is rare that a fantasy novel manages to use touches history to the advantage of storytelling rather than merely remind the reader of where and when the characters are. The Devil, saints and the Pope himself are in those details. 

Damiano is a powerful start to this three book series. 


Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Build Worlds, Second Edition by Dancing Light Press

I've been looking at Build Worlds, Second Edition by Dancing Light Press for a while. It retails for $4.99 and tops out at just shy of 90 pages at 89. The cover art is excellent and the table of contents is tight. The book is divided into three main headings, Intro, Format and Elements, each one bigger than the last.

From the links above, you can see I am heavily invested in World Building for my B/X and AD&D campaigns. Back in the day, I picked a wonderful book for second edition AD&D called Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb Guide. While I had a low awareness of second edition and a slight dislike of it, this book was a revelation to me. Now, it isn't exactly built for world building, but it drags you through the process of designing the adventures within your world.

Building Worlds is specifically meant for world building and is totally rule set agnostic. That means it should rejuvenate your eyes, giving the reader fresh insight in to their current campaign or a new one they are planning.

Go ahead and give them both a try. Both are available at DriveThruRPG from the links above.



Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Minus Faction: Breakout review

Title:  The Minus Faction: breakout
Team: Rick Wayne  (Author),
Robert Sammelin (Illustrator),
Karen Conlin (Editor)
Year: August 5, 2014
Pages: 124
Rating: ★★★★

I've always loved serials. Especially the old 50's stuff. The Minus Faction: breakout is not old school, it's is in the now while hearkening back to classic serials. It's concise, fast paced, and a great story. It embraces current events and calls back to ancient mysteries.

I can't wait to read the next one in the series. Give it a try for free with your Amazon Kindle.


Sunday, January 5, 2020

Star... er Space Viking Book Review

Title: Space Viking
Author: H. Beam Piper
Year: 1963
Pages: 191
Rating: ★★★

H. Beam Piper's Space Viking inspired many idea in science fiction gaming. There is a reference to it in Traveller, in the form of the Spinward Marches' Sword Worlds.

It is somewhat a post-apocalyptic genre, all action takes place in the Sword Worlds, colonies founded by the losing side in The Big War. In the aftermath, a Federation of planets has collapsed into barbarism and is under siege from the titular Space Vikings.

 Trask, the leader of the so-called Space Vikings starts a campaign of conquest and revenge for the murder of his wife.

Space Viking really doesn't break any new ground, but all of the pieces of a classic science fiction story are there. Space Battles, check. Technology hampered by resources, check. Intrigue and revenge, check.

It's a solid read, but doesn't really soar.

You can get the paperback at Amazon for a couple of bucks. The links below are paid ads and will take you to Amazon.com.



But the Kindle version is free.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

What is Dungeons and Dragons? Book Review

Title: What is Dungeons and Dragons?
Author: John Butterfield, Philip Parker and David Honigmann
Year: 1982
Pages: 231
Rating: ★★★★★

Way back when, my dad took me to The Tek Pharmacy and told me flat out, "I don't have any extra money to get you anything." As he shopped I made my way to the book section and was perusing the Choose Your Own Adventure Books. I didn't want another, I felt like I had "graduated" from those, even though they were always enjoyable.

Back then, things were not like they are today. Being a small pharmacy, the books on the shelves would be by today's standard very old. The books were perhaps as old as 5 year since their publication date being sold as new. This is why I can't nail down the exact year of this visit. But in all likelihood, I probably look like either one of the kids on the right.

After Dad picked up his script or whatever he was buying, he found me looking at a book called: What is Dungeons and Dragons? by John Butterfield, Philip Parker and David Honigmann.

As I put it back on the shelf to leave, my dad said, "Oh, a book. I have money for a book. As long as you read it." I was probably 10 or 11. Now I am almost 48. And I'll tell you, I read the hell out that book. The pages were falling out, the spine was shattered and the cover had gone missing a long time ago. Finally, the book met it's end when the basement flooded. It was a sad day because this book has been out of print probably for decades.

As you will note, this is my second 5 gold star review. My first was Nate Treme's The Moldy Unicorn. If I had it do over again, I would make What is Dungeons and Dragons? the first and The Moldy Unicorn second. My Mom is a publisher, my Dad writes game books and I write, too. I don't go forking out 5 gold stars for shits and giggles. (Normally, I don't cuss either, but it is what it is.) The content has to be not just superior, it has to be memorable.

I've read both over and over again and they both evoke the same feeling of nostalgia. Each was something wildly different than what I had encountered in the past.

Within Butterfield, Parker and Honigmann's book, you get a ground up approach to game play. The first 8 chapters cover a massive amount of ground. Back in 1982, this was the closest one could get to "The Internet". Chapter 1 is an introduction to D&D. Chapters 2-5 walk the reader through character generation, dungeon design, an adventure with examples, and the role of the Dungeon Master in the game. Each of these topics are presented in a solid and memorable framework, with the section on The Adventure standing out. The sample adventure is not a classic in the sense of many great modules, but is a model of what one could realistically expected to produce on one's own. And that is great!

The next several chapters cover more advance details, such as figures, accessories, computers and even AD&D with the same solid reporting of the first 5 chapters.

The final chapter addresses other game systems, in a rather cursory fashion when compared to the information now available to us now. At 231 pages, some of which are maps, diagrams, and indices, there is no way for this book to rival information available on even a couple of web pages, but this is all I had back then.

This book is a treasure. At this point I am going to throw an ad at you. If you love the history of the game, go purchase this book. My link is to Amazon, but seriously, shop around and try to get your hands on one by any means possible.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

H. M. Hoover's The Delikon Review

Title: The Delikon
Author: H. M. Hoover
Year: 1977
Pages: 148 pages
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ten year old Atla, 12 year old Jason and 307 year old Varina are children in the palace at the time of the coup. H. M. Hoover likes hooks like that, and this hook is fabulous.

Not all that is described is as it is. Hoover weaves a tale of an alien teacher guarding her charges as the world turns upside-down. Her prose is sanitary, succinct as is the world these characters exist in. As a Young Adult book should be as it is meant for children.

The focus of the story is the many dilemmas faced by Varina as she tries to guide her charges to safety. Varina's people have reshaped Earth's society and reshaped Varina to navigate between these societies. This creates a number of problems as Varina protects her charges in a place between two worlds-gone-wild.

This book holds itself against progress as the technology described is either utterly fantastic or totally pedestrian, with solid plot and story reasoning for both.

The Delikon is a drama, pasted on top of a world that could be utterly violent. The reader, like Alta and Jason are effectively screened from the violence of the world, while still being touched by the urgency and import of such events.

The Delikon is a wonderful read, a quick page turner. I am sure you will enjoy it as much as I did.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Review - Magic Items by The Raging Barbarian aka Simone Tammetta

Title: Magic Items - 1d100 magic items for (almost) every moment
Author: The Raging Barbarian aka Simone Tammetta
Rule Set: Agnostic
Year: 2019
Pages: 16
Levels: Low level
Rating: ★★★★★

Oh, this is the month of reviews. I am all off kilter and not reviewing my normal fair of historical books and D&D modules. Last week, I reviewed the wonderful Moldy Unicorn by Nate Treme.

Today, we are looking at The Raging Barbarian's Magic Items - 1d100 magic items for (almost) every moment. First, it's PWYW over at DriveThruRPG and second, it is ruleset agnostic. I'm a D&D player and generally like D&D themed items, but this agnostic book is great for little details and brainstorming. As advertised, it has 100 magic items. General attributes are mentioned, such as triggering mechanism and range. Exact effects are left to the DM. All and all, it is a list of great idea starters or weird little things to inject into a game for light-hearted fun.

The book also has a cool, non-distracting series of drawings around the edge. The images are lineart which saves ink and all of them beg to be colored.

All and all, 5 out of five. It's definitely worth dropping some gold and silver in the tip jar.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Book Review - Population of Loss

Title: Population of Loss
Author: Michael DiBaggio and  Shell "Presto" DiBaggio
Illustrator: Shell "Presto" DiBaggio
Year: 2014
Pages: 46
Rating: 5 of 5 stars. 

I hate big screen or small screen characters render in novel form. It's always horrible, little better than the second Star Wars book, Splinter in the Minds Eye. I want to tell future readers that this is a mashup of comic book characters set in the science fiction worlds of 1880s and 90s.

It is, but it really isn't. The prose reminds me of the classic adventure of The War of the Worlds, which it should because it is implicitly set with in that world. Each of the four short stories captures that time period perfectly, no accidental or intentional anachronistic parts at all. The Signalman does remind me of Iron Man, but he is not remotely a superhero in that vein. In fact, I know that he should be a comic book character because that is what he was designed to be, but somehow, he isn't. Nor are any of the other characters.

Its hard to describe what the Celestial Paladin is, but I can tell you where these characters came from. There are hints of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien fused with H. G. Wells. The story "In Hoc Signo" starts in Well's world of Tripod invaders and ends with a taste of Lewis's Out of a Silent Planet. The writing is more than strong, it is powerful. Reading older works is often difficult due to the changing of styles. But Mr. and Mrs. DiBaggio do not struggle with this. They capture the flavor of these works, but also give it a style all their own. The easy comparison is to the past, but the authors manage to infuse this style with a more modern frantic-ness, in the vein of Dagberto Glib ("Love in L.A.") or Louise Erdrich ("The Red Convertible"). Perhaps it is the vignette style of these 4 short pieces that capture a tiny bit of introspection by the authors, which echos through each piece.

Regarding the illustrations, they are from a very different artist from the Shell "Presto" DiBaggio, who engages with her audience on social media. They have tiny reflection of the work of Kahlil Gibran. What is most interesting about the images of the Signalman and The Cyclone Ranger, is that they show an evolution of style over 2 years. The second is more like Mrs. DiBaggio's current artwork, but still reflecting the style of that old era. Like the writing, the illustrations have a touch of modern, frantic energy, while still embodying the works of arts from the past. Instead of being caught in between eras, they are great enhancements to the stories told. They fit perfectly.

I was only vaguely aware that the book contained artwork, and I would suggest to the reader that they obtain a paper copy as paper will always render the artwork closest to what the artist intended. It is an inherent flaw in all ebook technology.

I will give this book one more read, maybe two before purchasing the next title. It was an excellent primer for the world of Ascension Epoch.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Appendix N+ Michael Reaves' Shattered World

Michael Reaves' Shattered World

Wizards rise to battle the Necromancer and reforge the Shattered World or not. Follow the adventures of Pandrogas, the jerk-ass wizard, his girlfriend (?) Ardatha, Beorn the shapeshifter and the totally awesome, but impractical Cloakfighter as they wrestle the runestone of Darkhaven from the demon. Defective, hostile heroes make for an excellent story.

Also, who doesn't love floating island worlds.

ISBN: 0671559516
Publication Date: 1985

Appendix N+ Louise Cooper's Lord of No Time Series

Louise Cooper
The Initiate
ISBN: 1594260842
Publication Date: 1985

The Outcast
ISBN: 1594264155
Publication Date: 1986

The Master
ISBN: 1594261385
Publication Date: 1987

Louise Cooper's 1977 Lord of No Time was reworked into this trilogy. The story covers the epic battle of law vs. chaos, with Cyllan and Tarod as pawns of the gods.

Not only is the story captivating, I found the cover art to be fascinating.

Available at Alibris: Books, Music, & Movies.

Appendix N+ Terry Brook's Magic Kingdom For Sale/Sold Series.

I have decided to reformat the Appendix N+, so the first 3 entries show a post date of July 1, 2019.

The first offering for Appendix N+ is the Magic Kingdom For Sale/Sold Series.

Magic Kingdom for Sale-Sold!
ISBN: 0-345-31758-0
Publication Date: 1986

Follow Ben Holiday on an adventure to an impossible magic kingdom where none is as they seem. The series includes 6 books spanning two generations of heroes.

The Black Unicorn
ISBN: 0-345-33528-7
Publication Date: 1987

Dirk the prism cat's introduction to the series, as unicorns race through Chicago! Seriously, the best damn non-sequitur ever!

Wizard at Large ISBN: 0-345-36227-6
Publication Date: 1988

If I had magic, I'd want it to be like powers of Questor Thews. Unsure, uncertain but always on the right side.

The Tangle Box ISBN: 0-345-38700-7
Publication Date: 1994

Squick results when The Tangle Box opens.

Witches' Brew ISBN: 0-345-38702-3
Publication Date: 1995

Brookes explores Fey magic with the introduction of Mistaya, Willow and Ben's daughter.

A Princess of Landover
ISBN: 0-345-45852-4
Publication Date: 2009

Mistaya is loaded with charm and magic, but being Ben's daughter means this story isn't going where you think. It's a horrible ending to a great series, but an excellent reason to write one more book.

Monday, October 8, 2018

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon.

A couple of months ago, I signed up for Audible. My first order was Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. It's 126 hours long. I'd be lying if I said I finished it.

The audio is high quality and Charlton Griffin's narration is excellent. It's hard to believe this book is 200 years old. If you merely want to read this book, it is also available on Gutenberg. This version is also excellent.

One thing that you miss from the Audible version is the maps. Gibbon meanders through history and of course he assumed you'd be holding the book with the maps as you read. I am surprised that Audible provided a PDF for the record, but didn't include the non-copyrighted maps. It is an odd omission. I have pulled the maps from the Gutenberg copy and loaded them here. Perhaps some day I will make a PDF of just the maps for easy printing.

West East
North West of Western Empire

North West of Eastern Empire

North East of Western Empire

North East of Eastern Empire

South West of Western Empire

South West of Eastern Empire

South East of Western Empire

South East of Eastern Empire


The list price attached to the ad is for an purchase outside of your Audible account credit. An Audible account is $14.95 a month, which entitles you to one credit or book per month. Well worth the cost.

Also available for download at Downpour.




Sunday, September 30, 2018

Review of Duane Schultz’s Month of the Freezing Moon

Schultz, Duane. Month of the Freezing Moon: The Sand Creek Massacre, November 1864. New
York: Published by St. Martin’s Press. 1990. Print.

Duane Schultz meant to tell war stories. Month of the Freezing Moon was Duane Schultz’s first failure. The work was published in 1990, 20 years after it was written and was preceded by two novels and five historical titles (“Home”). Duane Schultz is a courtesy professor of psychology at the University of South Florida (“Home”) and his love of history and psychology shines in Month of the Freezing Moon: The Sand Creek Massacre.

The psychologist comes through in the first 2 pages of the narrative. The book contains no preface, introduction, or thesis. It starts with a map and the word “Testimony”. In a call and answer style, Professor Schultz uses the words provided by history to lay out his premise:

QUESTION: Were there any acts of barbarity perpetrated there that came under your own observation?
ANSWER: Yes, sir. I saw the bodies of those lying there all cut to pieces, worse mutilated than any I ever saw before—the women all cut to pieces (Schultz, p. 2).

Was there a betrayal perpetrated at Sand Creek? Were these native Americans under the assumption that they had the protection of the American Flag? Were there horrible consequences for this attack? The answer is “yes” to all of these questions.

Professor Schultz launches right into his narrative of the Sand Creek Massacre then rolls back to prior events to explain its context and the ramifications of the attack. Sand Creek was a horrific betrayal of those who were protected by the United State’s flag. How the Cheyenne came to have that flag and the aftermath of the barbaric attack led to the obvious counter attack at Greasy Grass, otherwise known as The Little Big Horn.

Schultz does more than describe the Massacre itself, he explains the milieu in which it occurred. While endless detail could be provided, Schultz’s coverage of Chivington’s life from childhood to his time in Colorado and beyond is apt enough.

As a child John Chivington was well cared for, educated and trusted by his loved ones. After the passing of his father, he stepped into the family lumber business. He found that he had a talent for marketing over woodcraft and shifted his role in the company to take advantage of his persuasiveness. Chivington continued to evolve and he found two passions, religion and abolitionism. This was followed by a firmity, a certainty of logic in these two principles.

In Missouri, during the guerrilla warfare that boiled over the border with Kansas, he gave a particularly harsh sermon against the institution of slavery. Chivington was threatened with tarring and feathering if he spoke from the pulpit again (Schulz, p. 49). The following Sunday, he entered the church to find several men with hot tar waiting for him. His answer was simple and clear. He opened his robe and pulled out two guns and placed them on either side of the bible. He announced, “By the grace of God and these two revolvers… I am going to preach here today” (Schulz, p. 49). Chivington handled everything thing he perceived as evil in the same forthright fashion. He entered the Civil War as a part of the Colorado Militia and conducted himself in the same fashion. Laws, regulations and orders were subjected to his own internal logic, which happened to be good for conducting warfare. Professor Schultz tells a good war story.

While Chivington was righteous, powerful and even very quotable, it becomes obvious how such attitudes can be less than noble and reasonable. If Chivington has journeyed east instead of west, if had not found a place in the Militia, or become interested in a “stable Colorado” (pg. 63), he would have been remembered as a different sort of man. Grandios, brave, heroic. But with his mind set on a Colorado as he desired it, this was not to be.

Very often, nations have desires as men do. And America under President Andrew Johnson had a very different idea of how Colorado and the treatment of native Americans should be conducted (Schulz, p. 163). It isn’t fair to say that Johnson’s administration has more enlightened ideas about native Americans, but the Office of the President was enlightened enough to know that it should be the sole power on this stage. Men like Chivington stirred the pot, gave Americans and natives alike pause for thought.

The Johnson administration made sure that Chivington and his allies were done. However, this was hardly the solution the country needed. Chivington and the other perpetrators, even men who refused to participate were thoroughly investigated. Not once, but three times (Schulz, p. 166). Chivington had his opportunity to address his accusers, Captain Soule in particular, who refused to attack. This led to further public disasters (Schulz, p. 167). Soule was assassinated after his testimony, which sobered many Chivington supporters (Schulz, p. 171).

As a backdrop to all of this, the actual aggrieved party, the native Americans, who were not considered Americans at this time by the Johnson administration were working to strike back. Throughout the narrative, Schulz touches on the Black Kettle and other leaders of the Sioux and Cherokee. Many of these were not footnoted and may be astute conjecture on Professor Schulz’s part. But they ring true. The last third of Schultz’s work becomes a who’s who of American history, Custer, Kit Carson, Sherman and may others come into play, attempting finish what Chivington started. And Custer is the last soldier mentioned by Schultz. He launched two important attacks on the array of native tribes and just as Chivington had flaw, so did Custer. During the Civil War he engaged an enemy without scouting first (Schulz, p. 205). Schultz describes how this flaw followed him to the end, and his luck ran out on the third time he struck without scouting.

Schultz book was an excellent delivery of both historical fact and reasonable conjecture. Where the record was accessible, he often quoted it directly with no interpretation. When describing the chiefs such as Black Kettle, Schultz did not have a written account to work from and instead filled in the blanks to stitch their history and lore into the fabric of his work. Month of the Freezing Moon: The Sand Creek Massacre, was a fast paced, informative work on a great tragedy in American history.


Citations:

Schultz, Duane. "Home." Duane Schultz. Accessed February 20, 2017. http://duaneschultz.com/.

Schultz, Duane. Month of the Freezing Moon: The Sand Creek Massacre, November 1864. New
York: Published by St. Martin’s Press. 1990. Print.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Blue Earth Remembered

I had high hopes for Blue Earth Remembered by Alastair Reynolds. This book is atypical for Reynolds normal interplanetary, interstellar romps. It is based in Africa and revolves around Geoffrey Akinya, desire to be free of his family's business ventures and intrigues. It is not to be so, a death in the family puts a blot on the family name and Geoffrey is off to the moon to clean up and prevent further damage to the clan. 

Geoffrey is in a race against time to prevent is grandmother's secrets from coming to light after her death. 

This novel is refreshing, breaking many of the science fiction tropes that are so common today. Africa is the hotbed of politics, power and science. Family politics puts the crunch on Geoffrey's dreams of studying elephants on Earth. From a very humble start, this novel kicks into high gear the interstellar journeys and technological implications that Alastair Reynolds is known for and thrives on.