Monday, 30 December 2013

Review: The Shining Citadel, (The Light Beyond the Storm Chronicles 2) by AL Butcher

This was the fantasy Book of the Month for November over at the Indie Book Club on Goodreads.

The story continues pretty much straight on from the first book (The Light Beyond the Storm Chronicles). The cast is generally the same, but there are several major additions, most notably the elf Th’alia and a chap called Marden. We also get to meet the trolls for the first time. Unlike the usual reputation of trolls, those in this book are rather civilised (and attractive).

Lord Archos and his lady wife, Dii, accompanied by various others are tasked with finding the Shining Citadel of the title. It was an ancient city of the elves, deliberately hidden away by magic when plague ravaged elven civilisation and the elves were spread far and wide. They’re assisted by the elven scholar Th’alia, but all is not quite as it seems…

Although I’ve read the first one my suspicion is that a person who hadn’t would not find themselves lost at sea with characters or story in The Shining Citadel. The basics of the world and roles of characters within it are recounted, but not at a length that would feel like an info-dump to a new reader or endlessly repetitive to an old one.

The book is an improvement in almost every way over its predecessor. The pace of the book works throughout, and I enjoyed the storyline, which rises to a nice crescendo. I sometimes felt detail was excessive previously, but here it’s pitched just right. There’s also more moral ambiguity, largely due to the new arrivals.

It’s not perfect, however. Sometimes there can be repetition of ideas in thought or speech, so that points become a bit laboured. The dialogue could be a little sharper. It never fails to accurately convey the message the author wants, the issue is that it feels a shade unnatural (perhaps a bit too formal).

Overall, I rather liked it, and I don’t think it’s necessary to have read the first book to enjoy this one.


Thursday, 12 December 2013

Mass Effect 3 (PS3) review

So, a bit later than I’d planned (been busy writing) here’s my review of Mass Effect 3.


It’s a little while after the events of ME2, and the galaxy has been invaded. FemShep just about makes it off Earth, which has been conquered. She sets about trying to unite the various races of the galaxy to see off the enemy, who have seemingly overwhelming power.

It feels rather less engaging than previous games, to be honest. Even the extended cut DLC (free) doesn’t make the ending all that good, although there are various possible endings, so perhaps I got a duff one.


I have a pretty major complaint about companions. Part of this I’ll cover in a full review of the Trilogy as a single purchase, but part belongs here. After a small but solid number in the first game, and an arguably excessive number in the second, the third has too few. After 10 hours of play I have 4. Now, I’ve checked (because I was wondering if I’d done what I do with Dragon Age games and missed one or two) and the reasons for this are:
One who would’ve joined me got killed during the final mission of ME2 (who lives and dies varies according to your decisions)
One who sounds pretty interesting is DLC (a pet hate and something Bioware should stop doing)
One who could join me is Kaidan, and he irritates the hell out of me

So, I’ve got 4 (at the time of writing: later Kaidan does join). Two technical, 1 biotic and 1 meathead who I’m disinterested in. So, really, I’ve got 3 to pick from. Whereas in ME2 I always took Miranda, the third spot was varied, with Thane, Garrus, Grunt and Tali often joining me.

The galaxy is as big as ever, but just about every sidequest appears to be a fetch quest. Annoyingly, you will sometimes get a quest to go to planet X, but they won’t tell you the system or the cluster in which it’s located. This is a letdown after ME2, which had some more varied sidequests, and even random missions from exploring planets could be unexpected and interesting.

Battles are very similar to ME2. Whether it’s the fact I played them back to back and got a bit used to it or because the ME3 battles are just worse, I found them a bit irksome sometimes. There’s a tendency to just hurl huge numbers of relatively easy foes at you, and some enemies are overpowered. Banshees were just a pain to fight, whereas Brutes were a challenge without feeling frustrating.


Generally improved from ME2, although not the large leap that we saw from the first game to the second. However, the character creator has changed significantly. This meant that, even importing my ME2 file, it was pretty much impossible to get my FemShep to look she should. The character creator seems a step backwards to me (from my limited furkling there appear to more options, but the end result isn’t as good, to my eyes, as ME2’s).

The armour looks better than in ME2 and works more or less the same, although customisation options have been improved. Cutscenes and so forth look nice and I think the texture loading issue has more or less gone.


Third instalment, so the voice acting is as solid as ever. Jennifer Hale did a great job through the trilogy, and others (Hackett, Anderson, Garrus etc) are a strong supporting cast.

Bugs and Other Issues

There’s a serious bug, but having searched Gamefaqs it sounds like a rare one (unlike the ME save problem and the ME2 Cerberus problem). Basically, the game freezes. This is quite rare, and normally it’d be no more than a mild annoyance (30 hours of play included 2 freezes). However, the console fails to shut down properly afterwards and does a check to see if it’s been corrupted. I don’t want to have to worry about my PS3 becoming a brick when I’m playing a game. After the first freeze, which occurred just a few hours in, I disabled autosave. No idea if that made a difference.

This is especially frustrating because I’d planned on playing it through a few more times, to take advantage of the German language option. However, I think I’ll probably give it a miss from now on.

On a lesser note there’s also a strange little bit of lag when changing floors in the Normandy. And halfway through floor 2 there’s a stupid delay for a body-scan, which never reveals anything and just causes a 5-10 second wait. The floor isn’t large, and this isn’t a major problem, but it’s just a needless and tiresome thing.


A good game let down by freezing, and a lack of quest variety. Enjoyable but fails to live up to the standard set by Mass Effect 2. 7/10 (score does not consider the freeze problem as, mentioned previously, this does not sound like a common issue).


Thursday, 5 December 2013

Review: Paw-Prints of the Gods, by Steph Bennion

This book was the Other Book of the Month over at the Indie Book Club on Goodreads.

It’s a sci-fi story that takes place in the relatively near future. Mankind has now colonised about five star systems but has yet to make confirmed contact with aliens.

The story follows Ravana, a young archaeologist who wakes up to find herself in a dubious psychiatric hospital. It soon emerges that the sick minds present are not so much the patients as the staff, and that she’s been kidnapped and drugged up.

The opening chapter is one of the strong points of the story, as it has a nice air of creepiness without being over the top, and is perfectly paced.

As well as Ravana, we follow Quirinus, her father and captain of a largely wrecked ship, and intrepid reporter Fornax.

The dig site is the centre of the story, as is the question of what the ruins are for, who built them, and whether it’s a good idea to go poking around there. Archaeologists, the police, and the dodgy Dhusarian Church all have their own reasons for investigating the ruins.

An earlier book involving the same characters has been written (Hollow Moon), and initially there’s a nice little explanation of what went on. However, this is repeated and referenced a bit too much, I think.

The writing style is really easy to read. The characters are all well-written and distinctive. There’s a sense of humour throughout, and it generally works well. Although most of the story occurs in space or a desolate planet the sections with civilised (well, relatively) life do feel realistic.

As the story progresses (no spoilers) the way the various threads become ever more closely entwined, up to the conclusion, works perfectly. I do have a gripe, the only serious one, which is that the pacing feels a little off. A slower pace earlier on works fine, but I wish from the mid-point to the end it had been a bit faster, with a greater sense of urgency.

The maps at the back (of two star systems) are simple but do a great job of conveying what’s where (perhaps they would’ve been better at the front).

So, if you’re into sci-fi that’s light-hearted rather than grim I’d recommend giving Paw-Prints of the Gods a look.


Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Mass Effect 2 (PS3) review

Mass Effect 2 (Shep Harder) takes place a couple of years after the events of the first game. In general, it’s an improvement. As usual with a review I’ll keep spoilers to a minimum.


After suffering a prolonged spacewalk, FemShep (or ManShep if you opt for the male version) wakes up in a Cerberus facility. Cerberus are, of course, a bad guy faction of human fundamentalists who prefer dominance to co-operation for humanity. Owing them her life, and faced with a new threat to the galaxy (and, specifically, human colonies) she agrees to work with Cerberus to protect both humanity and the galaxy.

It was pretty bloody galling not to be able to import my old FemShep directly, largely because almost every decision I made was contrary to the default setting of the game. I remember reading that the original ME2 release for the PS3 had a little comic at the start to enable Mass Effect decisions to be chosen pre-game, but that’s absent here. So, I was lumbered with almost everything being different.

[However, I have (after several efforts) since managed to save my Mass Effect PS3 file. I had to change a few settings, namely: putting autosave back on, getting rid of graphical enhancements, changing difficulty to casual, changing graphics to the intermediate setting and reinstalling the game data twice. Hard to say for certain what made the difference, but it’s a lot of faffing for something that shouldn’t’ve been a problem to start with].

There are some pretty cool moments in the game, when finding new (or old…) companions, and near the end there’s a fantastic shock discovery. The ending isn’t quite as trouser-explodingly fantastic as the climax of the first game, but it’s still pretty bloody good.


It was notable immediately that the game takes a more arcadey approach to gun battles. The skill system has been slightly rejigged but is similar enough to the first game that it won’t take a moment to adapt to. In addition, even an Infiltrator (sniper) gets to have every weapon type. I did play ‘in character’ and used my sniper rifle a lot, but it was handy being able to use heavy weapons on occasion.

Sadly, the overheating mechanism of the first game has been abandoned in favour of ammunition. I really liked the overheating system, and missed it. Ammunition is usually fairly plentiful.

Oddly, the Citadel was far smaller than in the first game. It’s easier to navigate and simpler, but it seems a bit weird. Navigating the galaxy map was slightly clunkier than it could’ve been because from each cluster a label would spring with important info (critical worlds and active quests) and they could sometimes be so close together that it telling which referred to which cluster was difficult. However, I was pleased the loading screen when flying from system to system or cluster to cluster was no more.

In addition, the Mako (a moon buggy/tank hybrid) is gone. Instead, you scan planets from orbit, plunder their resources with probes and occasionally land if there’s a mission or you pick up an anomaly. Although I was a bit rubbish with Mako-combat I did quite like cruising around alien worlds. However, the anomalies do present more interesting and varied missions than were present in the first game.

I think there’s a slight flaw with the number of companions. As with Mass Effect, your away team is just Shepard and two others. But the number of companions is about 10. It seems excessive, and also means that there’s a large number of missions that are simply recruiting them and improving your relationship with them. In their favour, the writers have done a fantastic job of making them all distinctive and interesting characters despite the large number.

One problem with gameplay is that the Cerberus Pack meant to be available for free download simply isn’t there. Neither through the main menu (as instructed) or through PSN directly.


As mentioned in my Mass Effect review, I was unable to import my FemShep into ME2 [at the time of playing] because the first game froze immediately after my glorious victory. This pissed me off quite a bit, but, happily, it was pretty easy to recreate her face to a high degree of similarity. The character creator is almost identical in structure but improved in quality. As my FemShep was quite close to the first preset (albeit with blonde hair and purple eyes) it was easy to recreate and looked significantly better.

In all areas the graphics are markedly improved. Textures sometimes taking a while to load recurs as an issue, but it’s less frequent than in the first game and still not a serious problem.

Whether in cutscenes, dialogue, or anywhere else, the graphics are a big step up.


The voice acting seems better. I really liked Jennifer Hale’s performance in the first game, and this time it seems even better (possibly due to improved writing). The rest of the crew (of which there are quite a lot) are a very strong supporting cast.

Sound effects seem to be slightly improved, and the music seems to be more or less the same.

Bugs and Other Issues

I suffered no freezing at all during the game, and no lag or hangs (a hang is a temporary freeze of a few seconds). In fact, beyond the very minor issue of textures occasionally taking a while to appear the only other problem seems to be the absence of the Cerberus Pack DLC.

After further research, it emerges the Cerberus Pack does exist. It isn’t visible from the DLC link in ME2’s menu, and it doesn’t appear on the list of add-ons, but you can see it if you search PSN for Cerberus. However, even more annoyingly, I still couldn’t download it (there wasn’t even an option for a paid download) because it claimed I didn’t own ME2.


A very good game, better even than the first one. There’s a stronger emphasis (relatively) on gunfighting over roleplaying, but it’s still got a good storyline and fantastic voice-acting. Such flaws as there are tend to be technical and minor (DLC being absent, for example) and there’s no serious issue to criticise.

I’d give this 9/10.


Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Sir Edric’s Temple, now in glorious physical format!

Good news!

Sir Edric’s Temple has been granted premium status at Smashwords, which means it’s now available from Barnes & Noble, Diesel and Apple. It should also become available at Kobo in due course.

In perhaps even more exciting news, Sir Edric’s Temple is now available in ye olde physical format (via Lulu). It will eventually (after 8 weeks or so) ship to Amazon, but do not wait for that. Not only will it take about 2 months, the cost (because of the discounting I’ve set up) will be about £2 more. It’ll cost £6.97 at Amazon, but is just £4.88 at Lulu (Lulu does charge for shipping, which negates much of the difference, but I’ll still make more per copy with Lulu than I will from Amazon).

So, if you were having difficulty deciding what to buy someone (or even yourself) for Christmas, worry no more and enjoy this rollicking tale of cowardice, adultery, and treachery!


Saturday, 16 November 2013

Review: Mass Effect (PS3)

I bought this as part of the Mass Effect Trilogy. I’m going to review each game by itself, and then the trilogy as a whole.


You play as commander Shepard, a man or woman (aka FemShep) likely to become the first human Spectre (a special operative working for the Council, the supreme and multi-species authority of the galaxy). After a prologue mission goes wrong, you’re tasked with stopping the rogue Spectre Saren, and his army of robot underlings.

There’s a colourful world with enough alien races to make it feel detailed and interesting. As well as the main villain, there are plenty of sidequests, and six distinct companions, four of whom are aliens.

I did almost all the sidequest missions and the game took about 35 hours, so I’d call it of middling size. The story offers plenty of scope to make your Shepard either a paragon, a renegade, or something in between.

Up until the very end (see Bugs, below) the story had a nice rhythm to it, and the last few scenes were a fantastic climax to the game.


The gameplay is pretty hands on, with Shepard and her two companions fighting as a small tactical unit. You can offer them basic commands, but they’re far less effective than Shepard (I suspect this is because the AI is slightly cautious and less decisive/aggressive than a real player). There’s a fair range of weapon types and a significant number of different weapons, which can be upgraded, as can their ammunition.

The overheating feature is a great aspect of the gun battles. Basically, if you fire your gun too much in too short a space of time it overheats and won’t work for a little while. There’s a meter to show how close your gun’s getting to the limit, and differing gun types have greater or lesser tolerance (so, three quick shots with a sniper rifle will cause overheating, but an assault rifle or pistol can fire far more). Ammunition is infinite, which I found worked well.

As well as battles on foot, you often roam alien worlds in the Mako, the bastard lovechild of a tank and a moon buggy. It took me a little while to adapt to that (keeping moving and mixing up rocket fire with the main gun works well), and I expended a lot of omni-gel fixing it.

In terms of difficulty, I had it on the default setting and found the combat to mostly be easy.


The sound effects and music are both functional, and work well enough, but are neither stand out good nor bad.

The voice-acting is generally of a good quality, and helped to make the game more engaging. I don’t think I can recall a single seriously duff performance, and rather grew to like my purple-eyed FemShep’s no-nonsense attitude.


The graphics could be better, but they’re not bad enough to be a detriment to the game. Textures (often on armour and occasionally elsewhere) take their time loading and there’s relatively little armour variation beyond colour changes.

The make-your-face aspect of character creation is a little below par, but the various aliens (particularly the turians) look pretty good. The general environs graphics are simple but look nice.

Bugs and Other Issues

For 99% of the game it’s bug-free. However, there are still some issues. The most common, and the only persistent one, is that textures (particularly on armour) can take a little while to load. Not serious, in my view.

I only had one freeze in gameplay during 35 hours of playing, when the menu became unresponsive and then lit up like a Christmas tree. Annoying, but one freeze within an entire playthrough isn’t game-breaking.

Worse were two instances of severe lag. Both occurred during set-piece ‘boss’ fights, and one almost cost me my life (obviously you can reload but if it’s Death By Pre-Determined Lag then the same thing could recur). This was pretty disappointing.

The worst bug was that after completing the game it decided the appropriate ending was a blank screen. I tried again, got the same result. After switching to casual difficulty and switching off graphical enhancements (thanks to a friend’s advice regarding this bug, which seems to affect the PS3 version fairly often) I did get through to a loading screen, but that too froze. So, try the fix, it may work for you.

I won’t spoil the story, but it was a climactic, exciting moment, the payoff from 35 hours of gameplay, and for it to just be cut off (and therefore also prevent me from importing my Mass Effect Shepard into Mass Effect 2) was seriously disappointing.


Generally a good game, with a few, mostly small, bugs and an interesting lore that’s compromised to an extent by the infuriating final freeze. Without that, I’d make it 8/10, with, it’s 7/10.


Thursday, 14 November 2013

Review: The Republic of Thieves, by Scott Lynch

The long-awaited third part in the Gentlemen Bastard series came out fairly recently, and I’ve just finished it.

The story tells the tale of Locke Lamora and his best friend Jean, as the latter seeks to find a cure for the former’s exotic and potent poisoning. As with the previous two books in the series, Mr. Lynch flits between the present day and Lamora’s formative experiences growing up as a thief under the wing of Father Chains.

Naturally, Locke doesn’t die in the first six minutes, and gets a cure on condition that he and Jean help his saviours rig an election. After agreeing, he discovers a childhood rival has been hired to do exactly the same thing for his opponents.

The writing remains very good, and it’s easy to end up reading rather more than was intended. The time-shifts between childhood and present day storylines is handled seamlessly, and both plots are interesting in their own right (instead of one seeming like an interval or diversion to the main event).

I felt like the pacing was slightly off. The writing’s always enjoyable and easy to read (it was even spelt in proper English [armour not armor], although someone got too excited with restoring Us to their rightful place and had ‘evapourating’ a few times), but there was a bit too much preamble before the story got going.

There was also a certain lack of tension. With the childhood storyline we know Locke et al. don’t end up dead, and in the present day there was, for the most part, little in the way of mortal danger. One or two plot twists were also telegraphed (not always a bad thing, the final one was very well-written, but one or two mid-story were easy to see coming).

However, there’s also a revelation that nobody will ever have seen coming. I shan’t spoil it, but I thought it was excellent.

It was interesting to see Karthain, which had been mentioned in previous books, and have more of the bondsmagi who rule it. Personally, I found the childhood half of the story the more engaging, and the interactions between the various (youthful) Gentlemen Bastards quite entertaining.

The above might seem somewhat critical, but it’s worth bearing in mind that The Lies of Locke Lamora is one of my favourite books. Mr. Lynch has rather created a rod for his own back by writing such a stellar first story for all else to be compared to.

The Republic of Thieves is an interesting and enjoyable read, and I’m looking forward to The Thorn of Emberlain (part four in the series).


Friday, 8 November 2013

Review: The Light Beyond the Storm Chronicles, by AL Butcher

The Light Beyond the Storm Chronicles is a high fantasy book that follows Dii, an enslaved elven mage. She escapes her slavery, but finds herself sought by a trio of very different hunters: her master’s son Ulric, the oppressive Witch-Hunters, and the mage Archos.

The initial premise of the book is one of its strongest points, as it’s impossible to tell who’s going to find her first, and exactly what each one would do to her. After this the story turns down another path, and I felt it became less engaging. The final plot twist was another highlight, and my only gripe would be that it could’ve taken up more of the book without losing anything.

The book has a fairly bleak tone, with quite a lot of slavery, some rape, and villains who are entirely cruel. It takes a black and white approach to morality, which actually reminds me a little of The Outlaws of the Marsh.

The general world-building/lore was good. There’s a slight glass dagger feel to the magic, as in mages being intensely powerful but not without vulnerabilities. It would’ve been easy to strike the wrong note there (as mages too strong couldn’t be oppressed, and too weak wouldn’t need to be).

Whilst I much prefer violence to sex (which may explain why I’m single…) I did read the first few frisky scenes in the book. There aren’t huge numbers of them, probably around half a dozen. I thought they were very well done, and are probably the best written part of the story.

There’s quite a lot of description in the book, a shade more than I’d like, but (with one exception) it never seems excessive to the point of being a fault.

I do think a mistake was made with the balance of the book. The late plot twist (no spoilers) and the initial premise of Dii fleeing and being chased by Ulric, the Witch-Hunters and Archos were both very interesting, and could easily have taken up more of the book. I felt the story lost its way a little in the middle and meandered a bit.


Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Mass Effect: Early Thoughts

Yes, I know Mass Effect has been out for ages (a quick check reveals it was out in 2007 for the Xbox 360), but I’ve just bought the Trilogy for the PS3.

At the time of writing I’ve played it for a few hours, enough time to get a feel for the basics. I’ll write a proper review once I’ve finished the whole game. It’s made by Bioware, the same chaps who make the Dragon Age series, which I rather like.

Character and Companions

The character creator (which includes a basic set of background options) is ok. I like the background option, and you also get to pick one of six classes (it was a bit hard to tell what to go for, though, as I didn’t know how important/useful the strengths and weaknesses of each would be). The make-your-face section has standard presets, including a default Shepard and a female Shepard (aka FemShep). As usual, I went for a female protagonist and fiddled to make a unique face (blonde hair, purple eyes) but it wasn’t easy making one that looked alright.

I don’t know if I’ve got the full party yet (you have two companions with you on missions, and I presently have five to choose from), but the ones I’ve got are a nice mix in terms of both character and ability. The away team mission style also lends itself to taking different companions instead of always picking the same ones (which I do in Dragon Age).


I love the lore/world-building. There’s a good number of alien races, enough to make the galaxy feel like more than humans, an ally race, an antagonist race and a few token races. Bioware have also done a good job of making them feel individual and distinctive. I wouldn’t confuse a Krogan with a Geth, or anything else for that matter. The extensive Codex (similar to Dragon Age but with a voice-over for Primary material) won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I feel it’s a nice touch and it’s the sort of thing you can ignore if you aren’t into it.


The music’s so-so, nothing’s really grabbed me so far but it’s also not bad. Sound effects are pretty good. Voice acting also seems good, and I like FemShep’s voice actress (I think she was also Naomi in the Metal Gear Solid series, amongst other roles).


Graphics are generally quite good. The faces could be a little nicer, but I really like the slight fuzz/interference overlaid on the graphics. You can turn it off, which I tried, but it makes things seem a little better, somehow. Occasionally there’s a brief loading screen going from one area to another, but it’s only a few seconds. There is an occasional wait of a few seconds for textures to come in (typically with armour) but nothing serious.


The combat and character building works well, from what I’ve experienced. The overheating effect on guns is a clever touch, and I like the fact that you can unlock and level up weapons to varying degrees, which allows for a good range of customisation of characters (likewise with other skills). I very rarely use skills. Not sure if that’s just me, but just shooting stuff seems easier/more fun. One annoying feature (I play as an Infiltrator) is the fact that the sniper scope moves around too much. It doesn’t seem to be improved by crouching (there’s no crawl option). The whole point of being a sniper is firing a small number of highly accurate, highly damaging shots.

The galaxy seems (at this early stage) to be a very big place, which is cool. There are multiple clusters to which you can fly, and usually more than one star system per cluster. Each system has various planets (and perhaps moons/spacecraft), some of which can be surveyed and some of which can be landed upon. As well as the main quest missions there’s a large number of side missions which are pretty cool. An annoying feature is that surveying element deposits requires a mini-game. I can see the logic behind a mini-game for opening locked containers and hacking computers, but it seems a bit stupid for surveying metals and minerals. Not a major issue, though.

Bugs and other issues

A gripe I have not with the game itself but with the trilogy is that there’s no manual. Yes, you can download one and there’s a manual option on Mass Effect’s starting screen but that’s not as helpful as having one to hand. It hasn’t caused me many problems (I did forget, or misread, that grenades need to be thrown and then detonated with two touches of the Select button) but it’s still a little irksome.

I haven’t come across any problems loading/saving, no freezes to date (I did turn off auto-save. This reduced freezing with both Dragon Age and Skyrim, and I’m a compulsive saver so it’s not really needed anyway) or lag. Small loading between areas is not a problem.

Early Conclusion

Overall I’m enjoying it rather a lot. I’m glad my stubbornness (I refused to buy ME2 when it came to the PS3 on the grounds that I hadn’t played the first game, and couldn’t as, until now, it wasn’t available for the console) led to what seems like a great value buy of three RPGs for the price of one.


Thursday, 31 October 2013

Sir Edric's Temple is out now!

Sir Edric's Temple, my first comedy, is out now at Smashwords for the modest sum of $2.99!

Even better, loyal readers of my blog, site and Twitter feed can benefit from a two-thirds discount (until 7 November) using the code KF49K.

It's in the pipeline to appear on Amazon and will hopefully be up tomorrow, and will, over time, be distributed to most other online retailers.

So, if you want to give yourself a treat this Halloween, buy Sir Edric's Temple and enjoy the knight's misadventures!

Update: it's been put on sale at Amazon this very evening. Huzzah! 


Monday, 28 October 2013

Non-combat classes

I was pondering the other day the classes in RPGs (in videogames). Generally, there are three types: warrior, mage and thief/rogue. All have differing strengths and weaknesses in battle, different weapons, armour types etc, and it works so well it hasn’t been significantly changed for ages.

But what about when you aren’t fighting?

In RPGs an awful lot of time is spent interacting with NPCs or in cities, buying and selling. And here, the differences between the bearded wizardy fellow, the gruff warrior and the streetwise rogue seem to melt into nothingness.

Should that be the case? Wouldn’t it make sense to have a subsidiary class to accompany warrior/mage/rogue that would determine how a character behaves interacting with others or in a peaceful city situation?

Not only would that be a bit more realistic without detracting from the game, it’d enhance the degree of customisation available.

Here are my suggested classes: scholar, merchant, craftsman

The craftsman does what it says on the tin. He or she can create and enhance armour, weapons and perhaps even trinkets whose sole purpose is to be sold for more coin.

The merchant would gain bonuses to buying and selling, be better able to steer conversations the way they like and perhaps be able to buy extra items from shopkeepers not available to the Great Unwashed.

Scholars would be able to discern more from skill books, and perhaps gain insight to unlock areas ahead of time. After all, a wise man reading a book about a great battle might reason that visiting the site could lead to some discoveries of ancient weapons and armour.


Friday, 25 October 2013

Review: Roman Warfare, by Adrian Goldsworthy

This book takes a look at the Roman army from its origins at the start of Rome through to the 6th century. That seemingly odd ending point (the Western Empire ended in the 5th, the Eastern in the 15th) is because that was the final time there was a concerted effort to try and take back Rome for the Roman Empire (which was then based in Byzantium).

I have to be honest, and say that I found this to be a quite fantastic book. Certain periods (3rd century BC and 2nd century AD) I knew reasonably well already, but the earlier form of the army and its slow transition to the ‘classic’ Roman army of later years was fascinating to read about. It was also interesting to read another view regarding the downfall of the empire and how the spiral of decline interacted with political and military changes.

Early on, the army was essentially drawn along the same lines as the Greek hoplites. Gradually this evolved into a more flexible army, equipped with shields copied from the Samnites and swords from the Iberians.

The army also became pathologically aggressive, which worked very well in most circumstances. The infantry was exceptional, and the cavalry notable for being rubbish. In later years, this was reversed, as the army became concentrated in many smaller units rather than the army-in-itself legion, and was mostly focused on fighting off raids (obviously cavalry excel at this, compared to infantry).

However, the old aggression had gone. The more effective command structures of both the Republican and early Imperial periods had fragmented into a bureaucratic mess. The army had adopted the worst aspects of both localism (making it hard to concentrate large forces) and centralism (making it hard to do anything unless the Emperor was there). And that’s without considering the regicidal habit the army had adopted.

In addition to the clear and interesting history, the book is festooned with splendid photographs of Roman artwork and engineering, from forts to aqueducts, and diagrams of various battles. It’s a great book, and I very much enjoyed reading it.


Thursday, 10 October 2013

Review: Idle Thoughts Of An Idle Fellow, by Jerome K. Jerome

Whilst not my usual fare, I was very kindly sent a copy by a friend and (once I’d finished The Hundred Years War by Christopher Allmand) gave it a go.

As suggested by the title, the book is a series of lazy musings on various aspects of life, with chapters on the weather, shyness, cats and dogs and so forth.

Being first published in 1886, it’s still surprisingly relevant, and whilst one suspects that if it were written today there might be chapters on mobile phones and the internet what has been written, by and large, still holds true. Where it does not the sentiment behind the author’s words is still easy to appreciate.

In terms of language, being over a hundred years old has very little impact on readability. It’s always clear what the meaning is, and perhaps three or four words in the whole book were new to me. The style of writing is easy to read and rather good.

Here and there the meandering approach was such that I was left a little unengaged, and I did take a short break from the book about halfway through. And whilst the use of language is generally very good, towards the end when the author was describing the ultimate fate of us all (a subject that leaves me either bored or depressed) I did skip a page or two (that’s probably a testament to the quality of the writing, though).

Despite these little gripes, overall I did enjoy the book, and it also has the financial advantage of being available for free, should you happen to have an e-reader.

It does make me wonder if the 19th century might be the perfect time for writing, as the language is modern enough to be understood with ease (I do like Gibbon but he, like Thucydides, is unafraid to use 9 clauses in a sentence) but is nevertheless rather elegant and pleasing to read.

On the other hand, Dracula is a bloody awful book. Hmm…


Friday, 4 October 2013

Radio silence

Apologies for the prolonged gap between the last post and this mini-post. Shockingly, I’ve actually been busy trying to finish off Sir Edric’s Temple. The proofreading approach I take is rather lengthy, but it worked well in Journey to Altmortis. If I can, I’ll release Sir Edric’s Temple later this month.

It’ll be my first comedy, although Bane of Souls had some comedy moments (Altmortis had a few but was a shade darker). It’s also what I’d call a short story, but as it’s around 36,000 words I think the slightly pretentious term ‘novella’ is technically the most accurate description. That might sound pretty small, but it's roughly the same size as The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

It’ll also be the first book I try and put into physical format. The electronic versions will come first (and I plan to have a first week discount code, as I did for Journey to Altmortis). Not sure quite how long or difficult/easy it will be to make the physical version but the necessary delay (I’ll need to actually check and see the cover and so forth works well in the flesh) means I’m not going for a simultaneous release.

It’s a stand-alone book, and I hope to write more of Sir Edric’s misadventures in the future. When it comes out I’ll be sure to bang on about it here, as well as posting the code and a link to make use of the early discount.


Thursday, 19 September 2013

Review: The Hundred Years War, by Christopher Allmand

A few days ago I finished reading The Hundred Years War, by Christopher Allmand.

Initially it surprised me in two ways. Firstly, it was a little shorter than I expected (under 200 pages), and it also dealt with the war according to themes rather than a chronological account of what happens. Allmand divides his book into chapters dealing with a given subject (Institutions, for example) rather than dealing with the war decade-by-decade.

It was a bit of a surprise at first, but the method worked well and enabled the author to go into some detail regarding various aspects of the period (how mercenaries worked, the importance of sea power etc).

Because of the lengthy nature of the war (the book covers 150 years or so) great detail regarding arms, armour and so forth isn’t gone into, but we do get some information about such, and more about the increasing role of cannons. These new devices altered the defensive capability of towns (reducing them, basically) and thereby fundamentally changed the way war was waged. Technological progress changed the game from raids (generally leaving alone well-protected, walled towns and cities) to siege (when the advantage shifted to the aggressor from the besieged).

At the start of the book are several maps which give a good picture of the state of play between England and France, with the area of English influence varying wildly over time.

The writing style I found pretty easy to understand, although here and there Mr. Allmand does seem to make sentences a little lengthier and more convoluted than need be the case. I never felt lost regarding time, as the author generally refers not only to whoever was king (or kings, one of each country, of course) at the time but a year or range of years.

For a broad look at how the Hundred Years War proceeded, how it affected the English and French kingdoms and how it was involved in substantial military, financial and social changes this is an excellent book. I particularly found interesting the way that cannon shifted methods of war, and how taxation changed from being temporary and for a specific purpose to permanent (and often frittered away…).

If you want further reading on this area, I can recommend Philippe Contamine’s War in the Middle Ages, and the light-hearted but entertaining and informative Knight (Unofficial Manuals).


Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Competition for a free copy of Sir Edric’s Temple

In my limitless benevolence I’ve decided to try a free giveaway for Sir Edric’s Temple. All you need do is click here, and guess the mortality rate in Bane of Souls to one decimal place. (NB do read the guidelines. They’re pretty simple but should help you guess a bit more accurately).

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Stargate: SG-1

The UK free-to-air channel Pick TV has just finished its run of Stargate: SG-1 episodes. I haven’t watched every single one (annoyingly, I missed a critical one when a certain cast member was changed, which I also missed when it was aired originally) but I have seen the vast majority.

Anyway, after many months of watching the series it seemed fitting to write a review. I’ll endeavour to keep spoilers to a minimum (incidentally, I haven’t seen the subsequent made-for-TV films that were made with the SG-1 cast).

Stargate: SG-1 followed the original Stargate film. Two characters (played by differing actors in the shift to TV) were retained, namely Colonel Jack O’Neill and Dr. Daniel Jackson, an archaeologist. Dr. Jackson’s character is relevant to a sci-fi show because a race of alien parasites known as Goa’uld pretend to be gods, and (although they use advanced, and often stolen, technology) take on roles from various mythologies. As a result, the lore of the past is relevant to the current state of play in the galaxy.

In addition to O’Neill and Dr. Jackson, the main team (SG-1) consists of Captain Samantha Carter, an airforce pilot/scientist and Teal’c, a laconic alien. The two other regulars for most of the show were General Hammond, their commander, and Dr. Janet Fraiser, the head of the medical staff.

Generally, I loathe the term ‘for all the family’. It tends to be used about children’s shows to try and make them sound less ‘kiddy’. But SG-1 actually is something anyone can watch and be entertained by. I was watching it (when first broadcast) whilst at school, and at that time a relative (with whom I suspect my viewing habits do not frequently coincide) also watched it. I’ve been watching it for months now, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

So, what’s good about it?

Humour. Whilst in sci-fi a certain suspension of disbelief is necessary, the general lack of humour (or good humour) in certain shows grates a bit. It isn’t overplayed in SG-1, and is both entertaining and well-delivered. One of the last episodes ended thus:

Great characters. There isn’t a weak link in the initial cast, and there’s a great group dynamic. Later on Ben Browder and Claudia Black both join, which I found a bit surreal because I’ve also watched most of Farscape (in which they both also star, making later SG-1 feel a bit like I’ve fallen into a parallel universe).

Good lore/backstory. The ancient myths referred to (mostly Egypt, initially) are perfect because they’re familiar enough not to need extensive explanation/info-dumping but unusual enough that they’re not hackneyed and have room for some interesting revelations.

It’s an odd feeling not having SG-1 to watch anymore. The closest comparison I can think of is when I finally finished Outlaws of theMarsh, which is a bloody enormous Chinese classic of over 2,000 pages. When I reached the end it seemed strange not to spend an hour or two a day with Song Jiang and Li Kui anymore.