MidJourney: Starmen of Llyrdis

The typography is very good. But it’s not the right cover for this book.

So, over on the According to Hoyt promo post, there is a link to a reissue of Leigh Brackett’s classic and excellent Starmen of Llyrdis, re-packaged by Jason Fleming and with a new cover that, not to mince words, is awful.

(This is not to say that you should not read the book, which is truly excellent; and if you’re going to do that, you might as well support a local sf author and buy that copy of it: amazon link.)

But the cover has absolutely nothing to do with the story, only hints at the genre, and in fact highlights a character that is barely in the novel and generally has an antagonistic role.

The Starmen of Llyrdis is a novel from the Golden Age of Science Fiction, by one of the Grandmasters of the genre. It’s about a sense of wonder, exploration, the boldness of explorers and the yearning of all men to sail beyond the shores they know. It showcases a cast of vivid (if sketchy) pulp fiction-esque iconic characters, very few of whom are poutingly passive space princesses. (There is an enormously wealthy love interest….who is again, mostly an antagonist. You’re not going to catch her pouting pensively: she’s too busy driving men insane for her own personal amusement and laughing at them for falling for it.) It’s full of nightmarish forbodings and blazingly-fast action.

Those are things that are not really conveyed well by having a flat-angle portrait as your cover.

So, I headed over to MidJourney and spent about ten minutes generating art, and then I went into Powerpoint and spent about twenty minutes trying to figure out fonts and such. That’s definitely the part that needs expertise.

The images are different sizes because I forgot to set the aspect ratio initially and just cropped them down to rectangles in powerpoint afterwards.

Anyhow, it’s a good book.

Drama (re)Review – An Oriental Odyssey

an2boriental2bodyssey2b0So, this one is about this girl (Ye Yuan’an) who buys a slave boy in the market to keep him from being beaten to death (Mu Le) while she’s helping this cute but uptight police captain (Lanzhi) investigate a case of opium smuggling. Mu Le turns out to have: amnesia, super strength, martial arts skills, and (soon) insane levels of loyalty to Yuan’an. And, seriously, she’s a really excellent heroine whom anyone would fall in love with. But anyhow, the plot progresses, slowly introducing more supernatural elements as it goes on. The trio next have to solve the case of the murderous skinwalker, with help from Yuan’an’s wacky mentor/inventor who lives in the basement. oriental0

Meanwhile, there’s Princess (Infanta?!) Minghui, the apprentice of the Grand Vizier, a monk who twenty years before was the sole survivor of a massacre at the temple. You see, when the Old Master died, one other monk (Tianshu) went mad and stole the Divine Beads. The Grand Vizier wants them back. And there are some rather interesting narrative choices here, because the camera flat-out lies when it’s showing flashbacks about this for the first twenty-odd episodes. Anyhow, Minghui is an interesting character, because the man she’s closest to loving is killed by Lanzhi (who happens to be his old friend for extra emotional torque) around episode 4ish, her mentor is evil and cruel to her, and she has no support team (unlike the heroes)….and yet over the first twenty episodes she flawlessly retrieves the Divine Beads. Mind, the heroes are only one step behind her at any point, but she does get them back.

Mu Le’s character also develops over this period and his relationship with Yuan’an, as well as her relationships with the other characters, and own character development, occur. The first twenty episodes are really excellent, as Minghui is focused on recovering the Divine Pearls and the plot moves briskly. After they do recover the Beads, the next ten or so episodes are a bit slower in pace, but still character-focused. Basically, Minghui’s decided that she’s in love with Lanzhi–an2boriental2bodyssey2b2bstills2b2986_83472….so she blackmails him into marrying her (wait, what?) In direct response to this, Yuan’an marries Mu Le.

But then Yuan’an freaks out, bites him on the arm, and when he runs off to blow off some very understandable steam in the woods, his former bodyguard pops up and restores his original memories…at the cost of his recent ones. Turns out, he’s a prince of Suoluo (Some Thailand-ish place where they wear even sillier hats than they do in Tang China), and his mission was to get (back) the Divine Beads to heal his father. He gets them and goes home….while the Empress flips the everliving hell out and decrees that she’s going to kill Ye Yuan’an, Zhao Lanzhi, Infanta Minghui, Wacky Mentor Tianshu and, oh yes, everyone in their families and anyone related to them, if she doesn’t get the Beads back.

Episodes thirty-ish to forty-ish follow Yuan’an as she tries to get the Beads back. But she’s in unfamiliar territory and the man she (can’t admit) she loves, doesn’t remember her. And her so-called ally…isn’t. Long story short, although she makes a good start (I was honestly impressed by how well she was doing, keeping her temper while serving as a palace maid and foiling two assassination attempts), Yuan’an still ends up having to be rescued by the team and they have to start over. (Because they can teleport, now.)

So! They can time travel now! (Wait, what?) Yuan’an comes up with the brilliant idea of traveling back in time and assassinating Mu Le (Ah Ying). The fact that it won’t work (aside from the fact that Yuan’an really obviously can’t bring herself to kill him) is finally sussed out by the team….meaning that Wacky Mentor Tianshu knew it and is allowing it to happen on purpose. Also, he’s dead. Ish. The plot doesn’t actually grind to a halt, because we get to see what happened to Prince Ah Ying’s brother, Ah Heng, who is imprisoned in the Pagoda Until He’s Sorry….but the plot basically grinds to a halt, because this section of the story is handled incredibly poorly and the pacing is terrible.

But! We get to see a little of the old Yuan’an–a generous, brave, and loyal girl who anybody would fall in love with easily–which is nice, I missed her. oriental3But mostly: Ah Heng was interested in sorcery, which is BAD and ILLEGAL. While he escapes punishment the first time, his bestest friend (Just friend. Friend! What part of friend don’t you understand?!), gets his eyes put out. Ah Heng’s next actions are to infect Ah Ying with Red Dragon Monster Blood, and then to attempt assassination of their father the King….necessitating Prince Ah Ying to go to Tang China to retrieve the Beads.

The writing during this arc is really weak.

Anyhow, by the time Yuan’an realizes that changing the past isn’t possible, time is running out back at home, so the team makes another raid attempt on the palace. This is episode forty-five or so, and it’s the weakest one yet, just because everyone is so freaking illogical, dumb, and inconsistent during it. But, anyhow, one weak arc and a bad episode in a good show doesn’t ruin everything about it, right?

So! The heroine gets turned into a blue bat. (Wait, WHAT?!) OK, I’m willing to say that the plot genuinely went went off the rails here. Long story short: using the Divine Beads to cure a king, good. Using Divine Beads to cure your country’s wounded soldiers and incidentally your girlfriend? Bad. Ah Heng makes his comeback and our hero and heroine end up tortured and in prison. The benefit of this is that Mama Suoluo is finally impressed by their devotion and decides not to kill them. The downside is: Ah Ying’s been tortured and lost his kung fu, exiled, and Yuan’an’s also kind of a wimp now, which sucks. Also, they’ve been framed for murder and treason, again.

However, at this extremity, they turn out to have an ally: bodyguard Zhenzhen, who has until now been working (reluctantly) for the bad guys. Push come to shove, she’s actually loyal to Ah Ying. She’s able to heal Ah Ying’s IMPALED SHOULDERBLADES and give him back his kung fu…and promptly dies. Welp. She was…ok, I guess. Actually, she was a rather cool character even on limited screentime, so it’s a pity she didn’t get more development.

So. Although the populace is actually very receptive to Prince Ah Ying’s side of the story, Ah Heng has soldiers and Divine Beads. Our heroes are about to be executed (AGAIN), when WAIT WHAT, Minghui and Lanzhi show up to the rescue. A flashback reveals how they survived the last raid and confirms my opinion that Minghui is the most competent antiheroine in this show.

Our heroes prepare for another, and since it’s now episode 49, you’d THINK final, raid. They have two objectives: kill Evil Sorcerer, and restore the true monarchy. So naturally they fail and then they get trapped in a magic maze. But! After they take ten minutes out of the last freaking episode to get out of the maze, they get down to business. (After another fiveish minutes of arguing about things. GUYS…)

So to wrap up the story, there is a confrontation, and a creepy reveal that would have worked better if the people who directed the earlier episodes had also been directing now, and then an epic (but unfortunately horribly CGI’d) fight scene and the good guys win….at the cost of the hero’s life.

(He comes back from the spirit world thirty seconds before the episode ends, so there’s that.)

So overall: I loved this one for the first twenty-odd episodes, liked it a lot for the next ten; but while the last tennish episodes of the series had their good points, the writing was much, much weaker–too weak to support what ought to have been a pretty damn good story, with time travel and magic and split personalities and vengeful royal twins.

The acting is a standout in this one. I’d never heard of Janice Wu, but apparently she’s got a following. And it’s well-deserved. She takes a pretty standard character–Spunky Heroine Girl–and plays it in a naturalistic way never overdoes the cutesiness, which is what tends to be the bane of most CDrama heroines. So even when Yuan’an’s character was an indecisive, incoherent mess, she was watchable.

Zhang Ye Cheng, as the main hero, was great as Mu Le and slightly less great as Ah Ying; as the naive horseboy, he was excellent with having fewer lines and using body language and facial expressions. oriental2As the prince…he lacked gravitas. And that’s fine, because our other male lead, Zhang Yu Jian, has got gravitas up the wazoo and is kind of, well, wooden. Handsome, sure, but wooden. Kiki Dong, as Minghui, has a conflicted and interesting character and does fine with it; she doesn’t seem to have anything spectacular going on.

The other standout is Micky Yuan as Wacky Mentor Tianshu, and my gosh I loved him.oriental1

Speaking of characters: while it’s sometimes hair-tearingly frustrating to see people embroiled in desperate romances and willing to die for their True Love; or when the heroes are getting praised and rewarded when you, the audience, know They Ain’t All That…Yuan’an is a heroine who men would fall in love with and whose friends would die for her…because she loves her friends, she is loyal to them, and she would die for them, too–and we are shown this, not told it. We are repeatedly shown how Yuan’an is randomly kind to people, how she helps people who need it, and how she just won’t stop if she’s doing what she thinks is the right thing–even under threat of disgrace or death. Also, she’s good at martial arts. I really, really liked her for that. Unfortunately, by episode 40 she’s reduced to a shadow of herself, but…well…

Mu Le is a good character, too. Until around episode thirty…five? Somewhere around there.

Lanzhi stops being relevant after Minghui blackmails him into marrying her…because then he gets infected with the male version of chickified….slowly falling for his, well, wife, after witnessing the depths of her devotion for him. Before that, he was only sporadically interesting when he gave the official gravitas a rest and also stopped lecturing Yuan’an about the sanctity of The Law. You’re in jiang hu China, boy; there is no freaking justice in the law.

Again, Minghui had what should have been the meatiest part–an highly competent antagonist who has nevertheless been forced into that role by an evil mentor, who is lonely, resents the heroes for their victories against her, and at the same time envies them for their comraderie, and then falls for one of them….but doesn’t at all know how to go about this whole “being good” business. Let’s just say she was doing really pretty well until she poisoned the heroine to blackmail the the second lead into marrying her. That’s the sort of thing that usually takes death to redeem, but, y’know…I like Minghui and I’ll give her a pass because she did try hard in the best way she knew how, poor girl.

Let me take a minute to say how much I freaking LOVED Wacky Mentor Monk Tianshu. He is seriously one of the best mentor characters in all fiction. A good mentor can make a hero. A GREAT mentor can make a hero gadgets, come up with cunning plans, teach them to kill enemies, console them in romantic troubles, rescue them in dire straits, and laugh at them when they get into trouble. Tianshu ROCKS. He’s the best character in the show and, well, I can’t really even be mad about how he dies because unlike everybody else in the last ten episodes, he stays largely consistent and he goes out like a (unrecognized and unremembered, sob) hero. But, man, Tianshu ROCKS.

Lets see, anything else? The fight scenes were pretty darned good and not at all infrequent for the first half, sparser in the second half, and while they did get more CGI’d and less convincing, at least they were still there near the end. So there’s that.

So overall…If they’d left the first thirty-two episodes (until Mu Le regains his memories) as is and condensed the rest of it down into, say, eight episodes, it would have been a serious contender for my newest favorite Cdrama. As is…the last ten episodes drag down the overal series…and the last five really drag. And, I literally bingewatched it for about eighteen hours. (In my defense, quarantine.)

Rated: 3.5/5

Avatar 2: The Way of Wisdom

“You promised the Na’vi–weapons?”
“Yes. They’re going to guard our borders and ensure that no hostiles go out, or in. While they think they’re keeping us prisoner, we will go about our business unmolested.”
“You gave the people who are actively trying to murder us the guns to do it with! HQ will have your head for this.”
“I’m beginning to understand why your organization has failed so completely here. What did I tell you when I let those children go? I want information. And now I have it. I offered them technological supplies. Sully jumped at the offer. What does that mean?”
“It means they’re going to have smartguns to shoot us with!”
“It means that they haven’t got the ability to make or repair their own. Everything they’ve used they’ve stolen or has been supplied to them. And now we’ve cut that supply off, except for a trickle. Which will be used, as I said, keeping us safe.”
“You believe that? You really believe that?”
“Sully might be lying. But I’m not. When I give my word, I keep it. Especially about the Rods from God.”

Just because THEY hurt you…

Larry Correia writes a defense of epic fantasy, specifically: epic fantasy series that span multiple books and haven’t yet been completed. Just because you have been burned by GRRM and Patrick Rothfuss being lifelong procrastinators who may or may not ever finish their novels doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of other authors, with good books, with good stories, who ought to be heard and read but aren’t getting the financial followthrough to make it worthwhile.

Which is a good point, and if someone did happen to have a list of worthwhile epic fantasy novels I’d gladly check them out personally. (Larry does not provide a list. Without a list, I am not going to go swimming in uncertain waters, there is your problem. Quality control varies widely in the fantasy genre, and….I dipped out because I don’t have the time or effort to waste looking for the good stuff.)

Correia’s point being shouted from the curtain wall of the bastion of the International Lord of Hate, the comment section is the kind of special to be enjoyed with popcorn and the appropriate PPE to protect your eyes from bleeding out at the stupidity. (I ducked over to make this post at about the point someone says that fantasy novels shouldn’t be longer than the Bible.)

My reviews for Son of the Black Sword here. My reviews for Peace Talks here.

QuikReview: Ondine (2009)

4c5ff60086c9bSo sometime during the weekend I watched Ondine, a 2009 film starring a young/er Colin Farrell, Colin Farrell’s eyebrows, some actress as the titular character, and a cute kid as the cute kid in a wheelchair. It’s directed by Neil Jordan, who has also directed a number of other movies you may have heard of but not seen because they sound dumb, like Interview with a VampireOndine is, however the plot description may take you, a worthwhile little movie in itself: just a little bit grounded, just a little bit mysterious, and with just enough aplomb to wrap everything up in just a satisfactory enough way.

I’m not sure how many entries this particular genre has besides The Secret of Roan Inish, but so far it seems to be a worthy one. Selkies also feature in a couple of The Dragon Knight books, though. Hm.

Anyhow, Farrell is Syracuse (nee Circus), a fisherman who pulls a mysterious woman out of the ocean in his fishing nets. She gives her name as Ondine, wants absolutely nobody to know of her existence, and Syracuse hauls in weirdly good catches when she sings her mysterious, haunting songs in an unknown language. Syracuse’s disabled but precocious daughter immediately concludes that Ondine is a selkie (and never mind that selkies are Scottish, this movie is Irish, “Ondine” is French, and the actress playing her is “Mexican-born Polish.” Nice.) In a manner which makes subsequent twists crucially obvious to students of the genre, Ondine fails to deny this, and in fact recruits young Annie’s help to conceal her seal coat, washed up to land in the form of a bundle of seaweed. Syracuse himself isn’t totally convinced, but…what if this beautiful, wonderful woman is one of the seal-women who come to land only for love of the men they have chosen and can also grant wishes….?

Annie is, y’know, eight or nine. Syracuse just isn’t very bright.

I don’t have a lot to say about this movie and probably won’t watch it again unless The Mother of Skaith has a hankering for Irish accents, but it caught my interest and held my attention. The actors have great chemistry and the script is never embarrassing.

That’s not actually damning with faint praise, I swear.

Rated: So if the Coast Guard had them surrounded, why didn’t they arrest….?

The Shadow # 241 – Vengeance Bay

shadow_magazine_vol_1_241So it’s been a little while since I reviewed one of The Shadow stories. One reason is that I haven’t been reading much of anything at all lately, and the other is that they’ve not been that great. I’ve been reading through the three hundred and twenty-six Shadow novels proper for over a year now, and this is, as the title states, number 241. Walter B. Gibson had been writing The Shadow stories for ten years at this point. The world is distinctly different: gone are the gangsters firing tommy-guns out of touring cars (and associated massive casualties), or smuggling, or racketeering. I haven’t even seen an evil mastermind for weeks and minions must be demanding. And, needless to say, it’s 1942 and there are “unsettled world conditions” making things complicated.

The sea change starts mostly in the 1941 story cycle, with noted globe-trotter Lamont Cranston grounded in New York, and thus having little better to do than hang out with his friend the Police Commissioner, or hang out on dates with his other friend, Margo Lane. (She showed up about a dozen books ago and is…an OK character. Actually she and Harry Vincent make an excellent team, but frustratingly they don’t work together that much.) And here’s the problem I have with that: the real Lamont Cranston, what we see of him, is actually a solid dude and doesn’t really deserve this treatment. I headcannon that he’s hanging out with Jim Corbett teaching jungle survival skills to army recruits in India during this time period. Gibson mostly has moved away from his earlier staples of writing from the point of view of a proxy hero (such as, sigh, Harry Vincent); and also has largely abandoned his focus on the villains.

Most of his earlier novels were written kind of in reverse, mapping out the villains’ path for victory rather than the hero’s as step one; and only then strategizing on the method of countering what would otherwise be an inevitable win for the bad guys. This also allowed Gibson to use a more, shall we say, colorful cast of characters (and then thin them out as the novel progresses.)

Another thing lost is the lack of genre shifts. Gibson used to regularly shift between gangster noir (now out of style along with the gangsters who inspired it), gaslamp fantasy, psychological thrillers, and plain murder mysteries. Now, it’s…I can’t define the genre other than to say it’s “Lord Peter Whimsy plus Batman.”–and there it stays without departure. I have nothing against Lord Peter Wimsy, but have come to regard B. W. as an ingrate imposter, so…

However, the real problem with the ’41-’42ish batch of stories is that The Shadow,  is: a) the primary point-of-view character, b) diluted. He’s much less formidable, much less powerful, much less insightful, and much, much less of an active instigator. He investigates less, shoots less, and misses more. The Shadow is no longer a personality, as in previous, early stories where the man involved seemed to be almost somehow crippled without cloak and hat, and unleashed with them; it’s a persona now, something that Lamont Cranston dresses up and does. (And the less said about Kent Allard is…very little actually said.)

Nevertheless, this book involves The Shadow commanding a cannon duel with a submarine, so it’s worth it entirely for that scene alone.

Okay, so: there’s this famous partisan refugee from Significantly Unnamed European Countries Which Have Been Overrun By Another Country, Vedo Bron. The Shadow is keeping an eye on him on the theory that he may need protecting, a theory which at first seems to not be borne out at all–and then is shown to be entirely true. Unfortunately, due to circumstances, the person whom the gutteral-voiced, stocky attackers end up with is Lamont Cranston (who was distracted lighting a cigarette with his back to a dark doorway, it could happen to anyone). Getting out of this scrape results in a rather thrilling sequence wherein crooks are astounded and dismayed to see The Shadow in one place, and hear his laugh coming from somewhere else entirely (meanwhile also, bullets. It’s understandable.)

Exactly why Vedo Bron has hired a crew of totally reformed and 100% trustworthy ex-smugglers to ship him down to Massaquoit Bay is yet unknown, but The Shadow promptly places himself and his agents Margo Lane and Harry Vincent on location to find out and help, thwart, or protect as needed. Harry Vincent doesn’t even get clobbered over the head once in this story. Unfortunately, The Shadow takes up the slack, getting heavily concussed not once but twice and almost needing outside help.


Already on the ground (water?) in Massaquoit Bay are our new characters, Judy (who owns a speedboat and is generally wealthy), and her swain Jack (who is poor and also kind of a jerk.) Jack is searching for the famed buried treasure of Blackbeard, and thinks that he has a genuine lead on it. Into this ongoing drama enters Vedo Bron, Margo Lane, shifty professional treasure-hunters, fake lighthouse keepers, and a couple of stocky little men with gutteral foreign accents.–all watched over by the sharp and unerring eyes of…The Shadow!

And so it goes…

Having listed my complaints about the last batch of The Shadow novels, I’ll say that this one went down quick and smooth as any of the best of them. It has a minimal cast of agents, but it uses them effectively; the action scenes are mostly decent except for the climactic battle, which is epic, and, yeah, this one’s good.

Rated: Do you guys know how hard it is to actually clamber in and around stuff with a broad-brimmed hat on? It’s hard.

Iron and Magic – Ilona Andrews – repost review

ironmagic-900TLDR: ….here’s the thing: books rate differently depending on what genre they are—and I can’t decide what genre this book is.

If it’s a romance, it’s a solid 5/5: it has a romance in the A-plot, but it also has an actual A-plot that doesn’t completely fall apart once the main pair start sleeping together.

If it’s a standard pseudo-medieval fantasy, it’s a 3/5: it has warlords who seem genuinely dangerous and leaders who lay plans and think ahead, act like leaders rather than 20th-century office workers.

If it’s a post-apocalyptic fantasy thriller, it’s a 2/5…because, damnit, that’s the setting, and therefore that’s the genre by default, right? But it kept slipping into stupid romance-novel cliches, or dumb fantasy cliches, or dumb Hollywood cliches, and insulting its own intelligence in the process.

Pros/Cons: My likes and problems with this book are the same as with the Kate Daniels series: it’s at its best when it focuses on the worldbuilding and characterization….and yet it resolutely doesn’t play to its strengths and eventually just gives up and coasts on a smooth lane of cliche.

Plot: Hugh d’Ambray, after failing once too many times at doing whatever he was supposed to do to Kate in the previous series (still not sure about that, and, it seems, so is Hugh), was placed on administrative leave by his ex-boss Roland (an evil demigod.) Hugh proceeds to get very drunk. Ex-boss has also decided to thin out those among his men who might be more personally loyal to Hugh than to him. These eventually get back with Hugh and demand he do something about it. So: Hugh has a small army, but no home base, no supplies, allies, or resources. Elara, leader of The Departed (no, they don’t explain it either), has a castle, farmlands, and four thousand people to protect….but somehow doesn’t have anyone to do the protecting. She and Hugh contract a marriage alliance. They also immediately fall in hate with each other (rather strangely, because there doesn’t seem to be any real reason for it….other than The Romance Plot Requires It), and spend the rest of the book bickering until they finally fall into bed.

Why does The Bailey of The Departed need protecting? Because Roland’s new warlord, Landon Nez, is expanding his territory throughout the Midwest, and small magical communities like Elara’s are his direct targets. So Hugh must fortify Bailey (his battle for use of the bulldozers is one of the most relatable…*wince*…parts) and prepare for the coming fight. Meanwhile, there’s also supernatural weirdos in strange armor systematically attacking and slaughtering the nearby settlements…who also happen to be anti-magic bigots who won’t accept the help of Them Thar Dad-gum Magical Folk, You Can’t Trust ‘Em None (Throw Some Rocks, That’ll Learn ‘Em To Stay Away.) I’m being entierly serious.

So, worldbuilding: I really liked these bits. Like, how do you dig a seventy-five by ten foot moat and make it waterfast? Well, bulldozers, and then line it with concrete. But where are you going to get the volcanic ash for the Roman concrete? And who’s paying for the fuel? And your precious moat is lower priority than our sewer system, and the concrete isn’t setting right so did you waste our money? And what, oh, you want generators now? You’re pulling people off the maintenance crew now? Where are we going to get the fuel for the generators and what if we need those men for the gardens? Yep. YYYYYUP. (I recounted this part to one of the maintenance leads at my first job. He wanted to know what the book was and why the author was mocking him.)

But then for the main conflict they use the laziest device ever: the keystone army that dissolves when you kill the queen. The authors needed a Danger to provide exciting action sequences, but needed it not to be too difficult, since the heroes have limited options and resources. Instead of spending some brainpower to come up with a suitable threat–say, roving band of warlocks from Canada; or a nearby settlement that decides Bailey is now a threat and wants to cripple them preemptively; or The Pack, or the IRS, or something–we get mind-controlled Neanderthals, from nowhere, without context, any kind of buildup or backstory, nothing. BORING. BOOOOOORING. Oh, and can you guess that once you take down the queen the rest of the threat stops in its tracks? SUUUUUPER BORING. Ugh.

Characters: I have better things to say about the characters. All two and a half of them.

Hugh has to play a double role of warlord and romantic hero; but here’s the thing. A warlord isn’t going to be a hard bastard all the time; he has to have charisma, he has to demonstrate intelligence, and he has to be able to sweet-talk or reassure the people he can’t intimidate. I’d actually say that they hit the mark with this: Hugh’s code-switching is done perfectly, and you get a man whom men will trust immediately. Also dogs and kids. (Although the little girl was a bit of an overkill). And, given his powerset–he’s an immensely strong healer, as well as a master swordsman–he’s fun to watch in a fight…theoretically. There aren’t really as many good fight scenes as there ought to be. (Post apocalypse? Fights. Thriller? Fights. Romance novel? No fights.) As far as his character arc, it’s nothing new; we know he’s going to snap out of his drunken funk just as surely as we know he’s going to shape up into the man our heroine can sleep with; and we know he’s going to protect the Bailey and not back down. This isn’t a problem. Tropes are tools, and as long as they are used right–as they are here–it’s satisfying to read.

Elara Harper is also a pretty good heroine: a thoughtful, cunning leader who values life despite the rumor that her people engage in human sacrifice and that she’s the host of some kind of eldritch abomination from the elder days that not even Roland wants to cross…and even with this, she’s hampered by, again, the romance-genre tropes. Instant dislike to her new husband? Check. (I even re-read the scene again. There really is no reason for them both to start breaking out the insults while in the middle of negotiating for their people’s lives). “Fiery” personality that engages in charged bickering with her significant other? Check. Goes to extra lengths to keep him off because she’s really attracted? Check. Actually very soft-hearted and caring underneath? Check. Is any of this a problem? No; tropes are tools. These are just a little more obvious than they should be, and I noticed them a little easier.

Minor characters, such as boisterous, blunt berserker-bro Bale (I wonder if that is exactly what the author’s notes say about him) and the deaf-mute advisor girl who communicates in sign language (because she’s a banshee), remain minor but shouldn’t have. This is where the romance-genre tropes work against the book, by focusing things too much on the main duo rather than letting others get time in the limelight.

Action: is OK. My current gold standard for action writing is Larry Correia’s stuff. Hugh being someone who can heal himself or even his opponent as he fights is something that might come in handy for writing a really brutal fight scene….yeah, no. Well, again; if we call this a romance novel and not a post-apocalyptic thriller, then this isn’t a problem. (WHAT GENRE IS THIS BOOK?! It’s so good when it’s not a romance!)

The other problem is the use of that the really stupid Hollywood cliche “only the hero can do anything heroic on-camera.” It’s a cliche that shouldn’t be here, just by the book’s own logic.–there’s quite a bit of setup of how Hugh’s Iron Dogs work, are disciplined and competent…and should be able to do things like send out patrols and investigate suspicious happenings and report back to their boss, who is having dinner with some bigwigs and should have no reason whatsoever to be wandering around outside, getting in a fight with random monster scouts.

I will favorably mention one scene I thought particularly good: it’s simple, no frills, no magic, nothing fancy…just a child, a monster, a woman, and a shotgun, in a room.

Humor: is used deftly. “You’re handsome, a big, imposing figure of a man, and um…” Lamar scrounged for some words. “And they’re desperate.” Even the slap-slap-kiss romantic bickering is more amusing than annoying. Oh, and the post-apocalyptic wedding having an official DJ, photographer, and videographer? Pretty good. Preparing to host a self-proclaimed Viking with “one of those big barrels filled with beer, trust me, it works every time?” Hilarious. Like I said, the worldbuilding is one of the strengths of this book, and that includes throwing in funny, as well as verisimilitudinous, details whenever you can. If only the authors had done it more.

In conclusion: I liked this book enough to read it in one sitting, write 1500-odd words about it, and, four years later, have not read the next one and never will unless someone pays me.

Rated: What genre is it?! Really!