Friday, 29 March 2013

Review: Exiles of Arcadia (Legionnaire) by James Gawley

This is a historical fantasy novella (I’d guess around 40,000 words) set in a clearly Roman(ish) world (they're called Arcadians rather than Romans). I tend not to read shorter stories, but downloaded it when it was free and I'm glad I did.

The protagonist is a youthful soldier named Primus, son of a noted officer who supported a rebellious general. The general lost, and so Primus and the army with whom he has lived most of his life are in the wilderness, far from Arcadia.

The story moves along at a fair lick, and the book has practically no padding at all. There are one or two scenes that refer to events within Arcadia, with an entirely separate cast, but I feel that these would be better either being axed or added to. As it is they feel a bit isolated and don't add that much to the story.

The author does a good job of creating problems and dilemmas for Primus that are serious, without immediately plunging head first into End Of The World territory. A few more secondary characters to back up Primus perhaps would have helped flesh him and the world out a little more.

The central storyline revolves around Primus' enemy Varro and his own promotion to the extrordinarii (must admit it slightly irked me that the A was missing). The plot is tight and cohesive, and the fast pace stops things getting bogged down. More than once I intended to read a single chapter and ended up reading two or three.

As regular readers will now I am somewhat into classical history, and whilst it's fantasy I was still pretty pleased to see that the Arcadians are close enough to the Romans that nothing seriously jarred.  

The back of the book indicates that whilst this is his sole effort to date Mr. Gawley will be writing more, and I'll try and keep my eye out for his future works.

So, to conclude: it's a good, fast story. The non-Primus part of the story could be axed, and the writing quality's pretty good.


Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Review: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (IV-VI), by Edward Gibbon

After a very long time I've finished this mighty work. The prolonged period of reading was partly due to the fact I usually read other (easier) books at the same time and mostly because I got bogged down by the tedious, boring early history of Islam. The first three volumes had a similar issue with Christianity, and although that was briefer the Islamic history did at least develop into some exciting warfare (I was particularly interested to learn of Charles Martel's contribution to history).

Gibbon, recognising that he lacked the time to continue his work in the same detail as before, does miss out most of several centuries of Byzantine history. Whilst this is a shame, there are some interesting diversions, perhaps most notable chapters on Genghis Khan, Tamerlane and the splintering and then fall of the caliphate.

The writing style remains sometimes tricky to read, but it's merely highbrow rather than Shakespearian. I was pleased to see that although Gibbon's dislike of Byzantium generally continues he was full of praise for a certain emperor (I shan't spoil it) who suffered a tragic fate.

Towards the end of the work we are taken back to Rome for various shenanigans involving popes and we hear of the final tribune of the Eternal City.

It ends with a couple of appendices, the latter dealing with a list of the Roman emperors and the former with a few pieces of Gibbon regarding the various updates and publications of his work. I must say that I was pleased to hear him refuse to correct or change his earlier work as it would offend those who bought the earlier version, and it brought a wry smile to my face when I read of his decision to retire.

Given these are the final 3 volumes of a 6 volume work you will either have disliked the first set, in which case you would be an idiot to buy this, or you will have enjoyed it, in which case I recommend buying this (although you may wish to skip the religion section).

Overall it's a masterpiece depicting the transient fragility of human endeavour and the construction of mighty edifices which the erosion of virtues and passage of time crumble into dust.


Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Review: Game of Thrones DVD (Season 2)

This review assumes that the reader has seen season 1. If not, there be spoilers ahead so you may wish to stop here. 

The second series sees a few new additions to the cast. Stannis, Davos and Melisandre are probably the most important. Happily, this trio have some very good interactions, and the Stannis/Davos relationship works well. Stannis would seem to be a very hard role to play, but Stephen Dillane manages to do it, aided by Liam Cunningham's Davos and Carice van Houten's Melisandre.

Stannis is just one of a pretty large number of contenders for the throne. Joffrey sits on it at the moment, but is challenged by Stannis, Renly, Robb and (over the seas and far away) Daenerys. The season charts their ups and downs, though the main focus is perhaps on Tyrion.

The dwarf has become Hand of the King, meaning he actually runs the kingdom, and proves rather adept at it. The little political jousts he has with Pycelle, Little Finger and Varys are entertaining, and we see more of his dysfunctional relationship with Cersei and his utter contempt for Joffrey. 

The series does slightly feel the loss of Ned Stark/Sean Bean, early on. Because the actor was so good and the character so central his death does have a significant after-effect. That may be because when he (and Robert, who died approximately at the same time) died the end of a unified kingdom and universally acknowledged king came about. From season to season Westeros has moved from peace to war.

The younger actors remain a real highlight of the show. I know I wrote this last time, but child actors can often be a bit, well, rubbish, and seeing Arya hold her own against Tywin Lannister was great. Bran gets rather more airtime, which is good because in season 1 his role mostly involved getting thrown out of a window and lying down, whereas in this season he has a bit more opportunity to develop.

Joffrey remains a brilliantly convincing bastard, and the secondary but important character Jaqen[sp] was another one of my favourites.

The extras are broadly similar to last season, although I think the total number of commentaries has increased (not every episode has a commentary but several have two). Naturally some commentaries are more entertaining than others and on the whole I enjoyed them (perhaps most especially the one with the actors and director of episode 9).

In addition to commentaries there are a few other extras discussing characters, religion, and special effects. It's also interesting to learn just how little of the wilderness Jon Snow is traipsing around in was special effects (almost none) and how much was the natural scenery of Iceland.

Magic is not used very commonly (though more than the first season) and is rare enough to have a more substantial impact. Sexposition/info-humping is probably about as common as last season, and there's probably even more lovely violence.

My biggest complaint would be the unnecessarily long delay for its release (a year). A few more extras would, of course, have been nice but there's probably more than one commentary per episode (on average) plus 4-5 others, so it's not like they've provided a bare minimum.

As regular readers will know I'm not fond of ratings. I would, however, recommend buying this (after buying and watching season 1, of course).


Sunday, 10 March 2013

Three Works-in-Progress

At the risk of suggesting I've suddenly become productive, I've got three works-in-progress (WIP) at the moment. I know the blog tends to be about reviews and musings, and more serious stuff is left for my site ( but given writing is why blogging has been lighter of late I thought I'd go into them, briefly.

First up is Journey to Altmortis. It will be a stand-alone novel of approximately the same size of Bane of Souls, and set in the same world. There will be some character overlap (mostly minor characters), and will be largely set in the Kuhrland. It has a slightly darker flavour and, because of the setting (the Kuhrisch hate magic), less magic. 

For a while now I've had the vague target of the first half of this year for its release, and I'm hopeful that it will indeed be out in the next month or two. I'm currently in the latter stages of the final 'real' redraft (after that's done I will read through it again to check continuity and for typos and the like). The maps done for the book can be found here.

The second work is something I was unsure of, at first. It's a short comedy, for which I have an approximate target of 20-40,000 words. Although still fantasy it's set in an entirely different world to Bane of Souls and Journey to Altmortis, and is currently untitled.

It's my intention to get this done and published this year. Weirdly, comedy seems an utterly different beast to serious stuff. For my other books writing can be easy or hard, but when hard it's possible to work through it. Comedy appears to only have two settings: easy and fun, and impossible.

Last, and I very much hope not least, is a trilogy which will be set in the same world as my two serious books. Building the plot, world and characters is probably going to take some time, and part of the reason for writing the comedy is to keep my writing from going rusty and to reduce the wait between Altmortis and the next book. Although I'm planning the plot for all three books together they will be released one at a time.

No date in mind, but I do plan to offer a free Regency Edition, which will include half of the first book. The trilogy will revolve around a civil war, and the Regency Edition will include all the relevant parts from the perspective of the Regent, and his allies.

So, if you liked Bane of Souls there's much more on the way for you to enjoy.


Monday, 4 March 2013

PS4 revealed (sort of)

Sony has unveiled the PS4! And by 'unveiled' I mean 'not actually shown anyone what it looks like'. [I know this news is a week old, but unexpected productivity has meant blogging's been a bit light]. They have unveiled the new controller, which looks similar to the old one with the major exception of a touch-screen strip running roughly the distance between the analogue sticks at the top of the controller.

A more serious look at what was, and wasn't, revealed, can be found here

Being able to watch live gameplay of other people isn't the sort of thing that gets me going, to be honest.

A low power state for downloads is a worthy change, but, again, it's not exactly going to make one's trousers burst into flames with excitement.

Apparently PS Vita connectivity and remote play will be enhanced. Some may like this, but it doesn't push my buttons.

Being able to play games as they download sounds good. It won't affect me, but for those it does it should cut down on lengthy waits.

The console should come out (both in a visual and selling sense) around Christmas this year.

As has become traditional, I will not be buying this at launch. I'll wait a few years for the price to drop (assuming the console is worth buying) and for more titles to come out.

Perhaps the biggest change is that it's been deliberately designed to be easier for developers, which will hopefully increase the number of games for it compared to what might have been.

There have been rumours about the next generation of consoles effectively declaring second hand games verboten by having one-time use codes shipped with new games that are required for activation (so you can sell a disc, but the code is already used up so it can't be activated and played). Hopefully that gets quashed by Xbox when they do their reveal (it won't be the case for the PS4). I don't buy many used games now, but when I was younger and played more I did often visit shops to browse the second hand games.

So, there's no big bang world-changing development like holograms or spectacles that offer 3D gaming without a TV. It sounds like a significantly beefed up PS3 with a fancier controller.

Both the PS4 and the new yet-to-be-revealed Xbox are expected to be for sale this Christmas.