Posts Tagged ‘Serialized’

shika2

“He sleeps beneath the lake,
The dragon child,
But he will wake
And spread his wings again,
When the deer’s child comes.”

Sounds so peaceful, right? Pastoral, almost.

But the Tale of Shikanoko is a bloody game of thrones inspired by medieval Japan and told in riveting, heartbreaking fashion.

About :

If you haven’t read book I or at least my review of book I, my recap of the plot won’t make much sense because there’s sooo much going in this series. Lian Hearn’s spare style allows for constant action, and the politics of the large cast is fairly complex, so if I try to recap every important plot line, my entire review will be one long recap and you won’t need to read the book anymore!

But here’s the short version of volumes 1-2:

An impostor prince sits on the Lotus throne and the Heavens take out their vengeance on all as the true emperor hides his identity from his scheming enemies. Shikanoko, The Deer’s Child of the prophecy, retreats to the magician Shisoku to mend his broken deer mask, following a humbling magical defeat by the Prince Abbot. While there, his heart softens toward a dangerous new threat, the five Spider Tribe demon children birthed by the Lady Tora. But despite the chaos all around him, all Shikanoko can think about is the true child emperor and his guardian, the lovely Autumn Princess…Autumn Princess, Dragon Child is an adult fantasy written by Lian Hearn and published June 7th 2016 by FSG Originals. Paperback, 288 pages.

Thoughts :

“The Tale of Shikanoko” series contains four volumes, but it’s really one long story published in four installments. FSG Originals published all four in quick succession in 2016. I read the first installment back in August 2016, so I worried about keeping track of the large cast after so many months; but with a little patience and piecing together, I was able to pick up the story again. I do, however, recommend reading them all within a shorter space of time than I did.

As in volume one, the main form of currency in volume two is power. Although the women vary in motivation and personality, the men all ruthlessly take power to protect themselves and their own families and tend to blend together to some degree. (I felt the same way about the genders in Across the Nightingale Floor, Tales of the Otori #1; but my antipathy toward the bland male characters in that earlier book was much stronger. I do find the characters in The Tale of Shikanoko much more interesting, as a whole, as well as finding the larger plot and style much improved.) But Hearn has a way of changing my mind about seemingly-irredeemable primary and secondary characters. I always end up caring about them by the end.

Shikanoko’s character develops in particularly interesting ways. His defeat at the end of book one broke him, and during the course of book two, he starts to grow from used child to adult warrior/sorcerer. His new humility proves to be a strength, by the end of this volume. His character development is one of my favorite things about the story.

Each volume ends with a monumental choice by Shikanoko—usually a combination of glorious victory and terrible mistake—and each time this poignant victory/defeat has made me eager to to pick up the next installment (although I didn’t get the chance to do that after volume one). Many readers have concluded that combining Shika’s story into one large volume would have made more sense, since the four small volumes (all well under 300 pgs, extremely short for adult fantasy) have very little in the way of self-contained plots. But regardless of this publishing model, the story is just as compelling in one or four volumes.

Overall :

So far The Tale of Shikanoko series is very dark and very adult, nothing like what I remember from Across the Nightingale Floor. I’m completely hooked!

Plot: 3.5/5
Characters: 4/5
Writing: 5/5
Worldbuilding: 4/5

****4/5 STARS

Recommended To :

If you enjoy literary fantasy and Asian settings (specifically feudal Japan, in this case), I highly recommend this series. Not recommended to readers wanting fast, action-oriented or “magic-systems” fantasy; though the spare, impactful style never wastes a word, the tale’s emphasis on character and political machinations leaves little room for action or humor. And although magic exists and influences the story in interesting ways, it remains completely mysterious to readers, used for atmospheric and structural elements.

The opinions I share are completely my own and in no way compensated for by publishers or authors. Thank you so much to Lian Hearn, FSG Originals and Netgalley for my free review copy! I loved it.

BookBurners

“‘How bad can it be? I’ve never seen a demon attack on the news.’

‘People disappear all the time. All over the world…Lost legions. Lost cities. Have you ever heard of the town of Colebridge, New York?’

‘No.’

‘Exactly.’”

About :

NYPD detective Sally Brooks walks into her apartment one day to find that her techie younger brother, Perry, has come for a surprise visit—needing her help, as usual. This time Perry’s brought a strange book with him, the source of his latest troubles.

Things just get stranger when the Bookburners kick down Sal’s front door, demanding the mysterious book. They arrive too late to save Perry from opening the book and releasing a destructive power from inside.

Next thing Sal knows, her brother is hospitalized and comatose and she’s chasing down demon-possessed books of power with the same team who tried to save her brother. Her new team, the Societas Librorum Occultorum, works for the Vatican by containing the threats posed by magical artifacts. Sal wants in—if only to find some way to save her brother. Bookburners is an adult urban fantasy collection of serials, hardcover, 800 pages. Published January 31st 2017 by Saga Press. Authored by Max Gladstone, Margaret Dunlap, Mur Lafferty & Brian Francis Slattery.

Thoughts :

I first heard about Bookburners in a Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine review, and though I was interested in it, I couldn’t afford to pay $1.99 per episode (season one has 16 episodes) because I didn’t have a job at the time. But soon after that, I heard about Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence books and immediately fell hard for the humor, worldbuilding and characters. So I was pretty stoked when I heard that Saga Press was releasing a collected volume of all sixteen episodes in season one. I’m happy to report that season one easily lived up to my atmospheric expectations. If you pick up this collection, get ready to kick some demon butt with the Bookburners!

I love the premise of the worldbuilding: that books can be a window to the dangerous and mysterious world of demon magics and the Vatican protects the world from said dangers. Each episode has a full arc dealing with a new demonic or magical threats, and it never fails to deal moments of genuine urban fantasy “cool factor.” Whether it’s possessed restaurant owners, deal-making machines that steal knowledge from your mind or hand-drawn “tornado eaters” come to life, I guarantee you’ll enjoy the imagination of these four top notch authors. Some episodes also really hit home emotionally. One of my favorite episodes is Big Sky by Slattery, which is set in the US and just so moving. It feels like a western tall tale. As Sal walks through a small town Oklahoma in search of a mysterious pulse of magic, she reflects on the homey scene:

It was all so recognizable to Sal. She didn’t have a general theory about people—she’d seen a little too much for that—but if someone had forced her to give one, it would have ben that most people don’t ask that much from their lives. They want a roof over their heads, a job that isn’t too terrible, a couple of days off to relax now and again. If they have kids, they want to do okay by them. That’s about it.”

It’s an emotional moment for the cop, who doesn’t get to see this side of life in her line of work.

The writing feels a little choppy in the very beginning episodes (especially if you’re breathlessly anticipating Max Gladstone’s word perfect “Craft Sequence” humor, as I was), but it quickly smoothes out and regardless I enjoyed every episode very much.

Perhaps most interesting to me about the world of Bookburners is the debate among the characters over how to handle the magic: use it or destroy it? Magic is clearly dangerous, but what if it could be harnessed? Can it be harnessed? The religious members feel so genuine in their convictions, and the secular debaters pose equally strong arguments. It’s a hot topic in this urban fantasy world and I enjoyed seeing it bandied about among the characters.

‘Information is like a contagion. It spreads. Your employers do an admirable job controlling that, but they aren’t the only players in the game. As much as they might want to eliminate the knowledge and use of magic completely, not every vector can be silenced.’”

I love how Max Gladstone engineers all his work to be full of secrets, questions and conflicting opinions, a mirror of life itself. It reminds me of Brandon Sanderson’s Way of Kings quote, “The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.” I love it when an author can channel that into their storytelling—and make it cool! [Also, highlight to view SPOILERY discussion: Even though Sal’s new team keeps emphasizing how much they trust each other in spite of their differences of opinion, I keep wondering if any of them are going to split over the issue of whether to use magic or destroy it, perhaps with Asanti and Sal forming a splinter group. That would be nuts! But I could see it happening! I don’t know how I’m going to wait to read season two, ahhh!]

And speaking of characters, everyone gets their own full, fascinating arc throughout the season, and often an episode laser-focuses on one or two characters. I especially fret over poor, damaged Liam, a studdly gym rat with a history of demon possession and a rocky, but fervent lifeline in the church. The conflicts surrounding him have hugely personal stakes (and he does tend to attract ALL THE DRAMA, lol), although Grace, the kick-butt ninja of the team has her own crazy magical secrets and is a very close second favorite…and Father Menchú, now there’s a cool priest…you know what, they’re all awesome. Forget I said anything about favorites.

Overall :

Fantastic and I can’t wait for season 2. We will get a compilation of season two, right? Pretty please?!

Recommended To :

Readers looking for a fresh take on the demon hunters trope.

4.5/5 STARS

remade5

“Sharply told in a fantastic new format, ReMade should be on your radar.”- James Dashner, #1 NYT Bestselling Author of The Maze Runner series

“Umta walked over to the group, and they immediately grew quiet. Most of them looked away…Only May looked her in the eyes; she was that brave at least. But the look she gave Umta was loaded with the unspoken question on everyone’s mind: Where did you come from?”

Umta is different from the rest of the characters populating the YA Dystopian serial ReMade. She’s not even human–she lived during the ancient past, instead of a modern/contemporary age like all the other characters. But like the others, she was given a second chance to live, after her untimely death. Now she’s eager to protect these soft, strange children as if they were her own.

But something out there is stalking them; and this time, it isn’t just a wild animal. Episode 1.5 was authored by Matthew Cody and published October 12th 2016 by Serial Box Publishing.

Thoughts :

I took almost no notes on this story because I flew through it. Matthew Cody is a great writer. Not only is Umta the most compelling protagonist yet, but this episode finally managed some narrative tension. I think it’s tied with episode 1 (the other episode written by Matthew Cody) for my favorite.

I cheered, early on, when we got a few hints of worldbuilding:

At 22%:

The tracks run north and south, and get this—the rails are humming. Vibrating. I think the power’s still on, like it was back on the station.”

Me: YUSSSSSSSS! THINGS ARE HAPPENING, I CAN FEEL IT!

Then,

Me at 100%: Well…some stuff happened. But I still don’t know what’s going on. Gah.

Overall:

This episode frustrated me because I kept imagining I could hear the writers debating how much info to reveal during each installment. “Hey guys, you think it’s time we tell these readers what’s going on?” “Shut up, shhh, no way. Let’s just throw some robots at them, again. It worked in episode 1, didn’t it?”

When story writers are stingy with their forward motion, I start to wonder if it’s because they don’t have many more surprises to spring.

So I’m not sure if I’ll be continuing on, or not. I would have to buy my next three episodes, and at $1.99 for each 40 minute installment, the price can add up quickly. I really needed this episode to blow my mind and it didn’t quite do that.

The caretakers had shared the fruit of knowledge with Umta.”

So share it with us? Pretty please?

Plot: 1.5/5 Stars
Character: 5/5 Stars
Worldbuilding: 2/5 Stars
Writing: 4/5 Stars

***3/5 Stars

Thanks to Matthew Cody, Serial Box Publishing & Netgalley for the free review copy!

“Sharply told in a fantastic new format, ReMade should be on your radar.”- James Dashner, #1 NYT Bestselling Author of The Maze Runner series

“I’m not pretending to be a hero anymore, he thought.”

When teen gamer Loki woke up in the mysterious Dystopian world of the YA serial ReMade, he got a second chance at life—with a few strings attached. There are no parents, no video games and no modern conveniences. Instead, there are wild animals, robots and space elevators.

And while Loki can aim a gun pretty well, adapting his gamer skills to this new terrain will take every bit of his imagination. Remade 1.4 by E. C. Meyers. Published October 5th 2016 by Serial Box Publishing.

Thoughts :

In this episode, like the others, we get to know the narrator and learn about his death as he finds a place for himself in this new world—and in this case, Loki finds himself among the leadership of the teens as they battle a predator that has been stalking them. As with all of the previous ReMade narrators, Loki is phenomenally drawn and totally sympathetic; but the scenes set during his previous life (and death, although we don’t get the details in this episode) trouble me even more than the other episodes have. I won’t spoil anything for you, but wow! This kid needs a hug.

Also like the other episodes, there is action, but the plot crawls. There’s almost no real forward movement and we still have no answers about why the teens are here.

Plot: 1.5/5 Stars
Characters: 5/5 Stars
Worldbuilding: 1.5/5 Stars
Writing: 3.5/5 Stars

Overall:

I’ll round up to 3/5 Stars. I really want to see some plot progression. I understand the need to introduce characters to the serial, but I’m not enjoying the world enough to make up for the mysterious lack of information.

Recommended To :

I’m not comfortable recommending the serial until I start getting some answers. Thankfully, I suspect the next episode, narrated by Umta (the only adult among the ReMade survivors), will give us some of those answers.

Thank you to E. C. Meyers, Serial Box Publishing and Netgalley for my free review copy of ReMade 1.4!

Remade2“Sharply told in a fantastic new format, ReMade should be on your radar.” – James Dashner, #1 NYT Bestselling Author of The Maze Runner series.

“ ‘Good job saving the day!’ Jing-Wei beamed. May smiled back, then ducked her head. Never expected she’d get a turn at being an action hero. She didn’t like it much, it turned out. Not if it involved near misses with getting crushed to death.”

Premise :

May never expected to be an action hero. Allergen-sensitive and ever cerebral, her success comes from her work ethic. She’s an Ivy-League-or-bust kind of girl. Even her parents don’t seem to understand her drive.

“You don’t get to be the first Chinese-American Supreme Court justice by watching cartoons, Mom.”

Duh, mom.

But one day, despite all of May’s careful preparation, she can’t protect herself from a medical emergency, and somehow she ends up among the teenagers consigned to the mysterious apocalyptic world of Serial Box Publishing’s serial YA Dystopian adventure, Remade. Published September 21st, 2016. Available now on the Serial Box Publishing website. The pilot episode 1 is also available for free on the website! My review of episode 1 is available here .

In this second installment, written by Andrea Phillips, we meet several new characters of the story’s fairly large cast, and we get to know May in particular.

Thoughts :

May is such a great character. How is an allergen-sensitive SAT kid supposed to survive in a post-apocalyptic world? Well, basically, she never gives in; that counts for something, in this sort-of-afterlife. I love everything about her perspective—the drive, the humor and the pain. I’m definitely invested in her story.

And thanks to the great characterization by Andrea Phillips, the large cast is also coming into focus. We already know Holden and Seyah, from the first installment by Matthew Cody, and now we really get to know May. The adorable little Mormon Boy Scout, Hyrum, is easy to keep track of, as is the pseudonymous Loki. Everyone seems to dislike Wesley, right now, so that marks him out fairly well. Several other characters remain unimportant, so far, but I assume we’ll be getting to know them better later on: Cole, Niveah, Jing-Wei and Gabe.

Although I enjoyed the characterization of this second installment, the plot doesn’t progress much, and the majority of the episode feels like setup. I want more answers and more plot movement. I’m hoping for more of that in “Remade 1.3.”

Overall :

This was a short stop in the journey and so far, I’m quite intrigued.

Recommended To :

Dystopian-addicts and adults who YA. Teen readers, including boys, will love this fast-paced adventure. An audio version of the season is available on the Serial Box Publishing website, and don’t forget to check out the free pilot episode, “Shadows and Dreams”!

Many sincere thanks to Andrea Phillips, Serial Box Publishing and Netgalley for my free review copy!

****4/5 STARS

Praise :

“An ongoing YA adventure told by a team of talented authors and set in a promising future world. ReMade brings to the (e)page the kind of compelling serialised storytelling made popular by TV.” – Philip Reeve, author of Mortal Engines andRailhead.

“A thrilling, diverse, character-driven adventure—a little bit of Lost, a little bit of The 100, and a whole lot of fun.” – Cassandra Rose Clarke, author of The Assassin’s Curse.

“ReMade is like the revved-up, feral lovechild of The Maze Runner and Under the Never Sky with a sharp injection of Lost. Gripping and addictive!” – Delilah Dawson, author ofWicked as They Come.

emperor-eight“It was a time of troubles and opportunities. In the capital the Emperor was weak, his sons rivals. His brother-in-law, the Prince Abbot at Ryosonji, was regent in all but name. He favored the Emperor’s younger son and carried on endless intrigues against the Crown Prince.”

Premise :

Dark forces plot against the heir to the Lotus throne, wishing to replace him with his younger brother.

Far from this royal contention lives a young orphan named Kazumaru. After his uncle forces him from his rightful inheritance, he is used by a magician and sorceress for their dark magic, giving him a power that changes the course of his destiny. He becomes Shikanoko, “the deer’s child,” and soon inadvertently attracts the attention of a dangerous sorcerer, the treasonous Prince Abbot. But as Shikanoko learns to wield his powers, he finds that instead of giving him freedom, they put him in new kinds of bondage.

The power struggles of Hearn’s medieval, mythical Japan pose all kinds of threats to a friendless teenaged boy. Shikanoko trusts no one, but still he devotes himself to the service and care of others, giving readers hope for the development of a just warrior over the four installments of the fantasy series. Adult Fantasy, Published April 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux Originals.

About :

I wasn’t thrilled with the first Lian Hearn book I read, Across the Nightingale Floor , which to me felt underdeveloped in almost every way. But when I saw her new quartet, published entirely within the space of a year, it occurred to me that with a few changes, I might enjoy her books. So I decided to try Emperor of the Eight Islands.

I’m so glad I did.

Pride began to well up in him, sweet and seductive, telling him he deserved all things, that he was allowed all things, that he could take what he wanted, in this world and the next.”

Thoughts :

This book felt much darker and more adult than Across the Nightingale Floor. Sex plays a large role in the dark magic that binds Shikanoko to his destiny—and sex rarely means love, in this story. It means power: the power of the heir, the power of dark magic over a victim, the power of lust. Everything is a power struggle.

Thus, ambition and motivation animate the characters much more than personality, giving substance to the clashes between them and making them, at times, unlikable. But within a few paragraphs of reading from their perspective, I found myself in full sympathy with them, despite my direct opposition only pages before.

The style is very spare and active; activity, rather than thought or conversation, drives every scene of the narration. Hearn only gives us one or two telling details of everything, amidst the action, but I was never confused. Every vital piece of information stands out clearly in this concise 251 page installment.

This is the magic of Lian Hearn.

The terrible, horrible cliffhanger of an ending is only mitigated by the publication of the rest of the series in such quick succession. Emperor of the Eight Islands is more installment than standalone. Immediately upon finishing, I requested a copy of book II and started reading.

Overall :

The style of Emperor of the Eight Islands is spare and brutal, but the characters lead us to hope for the destiny of the Lotus Empire. Recommended to adults and—maybe—older teens who enjoy a more literary kind of fantasy.

Trigger Warning :

Rape.

4.5/5 STARS

Thank you so much to Lian Hearn, FS&G Originals and Netgalley for the review copy!

Remade

“The next time he opened his eyes there were monsters. They surrounded him, poked at him with spindly metallic arms. He saw himself reflected in their glassy eyes, multifaceted like prisms. A dozen Holdens all screamed at once, but someone had turned his voice off…

‘He’s awake,’ said a voice near his ear…’You shouldn’t do this to him while he’s awake. It hurts him.’”

“ReMade will premiere on September 14th, 2016. It will unfold across 15 episodes, be available in text and audio forms, and is presented by Serial Box Publishing.”

And I am so excited for more.

About :

ReMade is a serialized YA that took me completely by surprise. I originally discovered this publisher of serialized fiction because I had heard that Max Gladstone, author of the awesomely original Three Parts Dead, was writing an urban fantasy serial about magical librarians, or something. That particular serial is deep into season two.

But then I noticed that Kiersten White, author of And I Darken, a YA Historical which recently blew me away, was contributing to a brand new Dystopian/Adventure YA serial called “ReMade.” So, what the heck, I figured I’d give it a shot.

This first episode is written by author Matthew Cody.

The Opening :

It starts with this episode’s protagonist, Holden, living a relatively normal teenaged life. Or maybe not. He’s playing the only male fairy in the school play to impress a girl. Is that normal?

At any rate, I found him and his situation endearing. As he changes out of costume in his makeshift dressing room, a broom closet:

“Holden could just picture that door accidentally opening onto a crowded roomful of teenagers and their parents, and him standing there in his boxer briefs and eye shadow. It would be a Holden moment to remember.”

*snicker* I enjoyed the humor of the opening scenes.

And then things go crazy. The apocalypse. You know.

Here’s the publisher description:

“You live. You love. You die. Now RUN. ReMade.

Every minute, 108 people die.

On October 14th, 2016, from 9:31-9:32 p.m. EDT, 23 of those deaths will be teenagers.

Now they are humanity’s last hope for survival.

Awakened in a post-apocalyptic world and hunted by mechanical horrors, these teens search for answers amidst the ruins of civilization. Fate, love, and loyalty face off in this adrenaline -pumping YA adventure.”

Overall:

Standard YA Dystopian fare? Maybe, maybe not. It’s too early to tell, after reading this 45 minute episode, but there are some nice sci-fi touches that I don’t want to spoil for you. Episode one doesn’t reveal a lot of answers, but I’m hoping the next episode will. I really enjoyed Holden’s voice, and I know I will love Kiersten White’s writing, in her episodes.

That’s good enough for me to move on to episode two.

I can’t wait!

Recommended To :

Thus far, plot-driven dystopia addicts. Sci-fi lovers. Adults who YA.

Thanks to Matthew Cody, Serial Box Publishing and Netgalley for my review copy!