Monday, 30 April 2018

Dragon Age Delinquisition part 2: Herald of Andraste, and Still Treated Like a Damned Servant

The hole in the sky is still there, but it’s not getting any bigger, and everyone knows I’m the one who stopped it. This is perfect. Not only do I have all the credit for saving the world, but everybody’s still terrified and wants the damned thing closed entirely. And who’s the only person who can do that?

That’s right. Me. The world’s most indispensable elf. Or ‘Herald of Andraste’ as my new fan club like to call me.

Angry Cassandra and Leliana (spymaster... spymistress?) introduced me to Ambassador Josephine. Charming lady, but her sleeves are ridiculous. I think our military leader, Commander Cullen, was giving me the eye. Understandable. Everyone knows humans only hate elves so much because they’re externalising the self-hatred they feel for finding us so much more attractive than round-ears. *sighs* We’ve been doomed by our own hotness.

Speaking of which, I went to the Hinterlands (shemspeak for ‘Land of Booty’) and encountered Scout Harding. Never had a dwarf before, but that might change… anyway, the templars and mages were at war. I killed both, and got thanked for it! Yes, puny humans, show gratitude to the Shem-Slayer!

That said, humans are still idiots. In the entire world, I’m the only one who can close Fade rifts, but instead they ask me to fetch goats and retrieve druffalo. Beginning to wonder if they’re worth saving. Dopey peasants.

Dennet, the local horse-master, called me a halla-rider. Racist scum. I called him out and he tried to wriggle out of it, claiming halla are majestic. Yeah. Majestic, and too smart to let a round-ear like you ride them. That said, he did give me a nice horse. Nothing quite like a stallion between your legs to put a smile on a girl’s face.

The whole reason for going to the Hinterlands wasn’t acquiring myself a horse or killing humans, fun as those diversions were. I went there to see Mother Giselle, a priestess who might be on our side. We had a nice little chat, and she suggested I go to Val Royeaux (the ponciest city in the world). I’m a bit sceptical. The Orlesians hate elves, and the chantry there hate the Inquisition, and I’m both. They even think my nickname, Herald of Andraste, is heretical.

That said, the quest for power would make having the chantry onside really useful. Destroying it is almost as good. Either way, I went to Val Royeaux. But before that, spoke with Leliana. We agreed killing our enemies is the way to go. I like her. When the Elven Empire arises, I’ll kill her last. Or perhaps keep her as a pet.

In the end, I was glad I went to Val Royeaux. A black-hatted priestess spouted a load of anti-elven bigotry, and then Lord Seeker Lucius arrived and punched her to the ground. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t laugh my head off. It was fantastic, until he started ranting about righteous swords and how Cassandra should be ashamed (of her haircut, perhaps, but otherwise she’s ok).Then he walked off, taking all the templars with him. I took the opportunity to taunt my wounded foe, then wandered. On my way out, I encountered Grand Enchanter Fiona, who invited me to Redcliffe to discuss an alliance. Told her I’d think about it [need to decide whether trying to side with the mages or templars would harm the humans more], then went home. Odd to think of frozen, human-infested Haven as home.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Review: The Norse Myths, by Carolyne Larrington

Being into history and fantasy, the Norse myths seemed a nice blending of the two, so I bought this book.

The author adopts more traditional spellings for Viking gods (Loki is identical, but Thor’s name is spelt with the rune ‘thorn’ and two Rs). It’s more in keeping with the history, but like Greek names spelt with Ks (Hektor, Akhilleus etc) it can look a bit odd.

Like most people, I have only a passing familiarity with Norse myths (I could name maybe four gods before reading this book), and was interested to learn more. The book begins and finishes with the start and end of the world, with the intervening chapters covering the gods, their opponents, and human heroes.

Loki is the most intriguing fellow, because gods are usually good or evil with small nuance, but he’s genuinely tricky to pin down (amongst his odder feats was becoming impregnated by a giant’s horse and giving birth to Sleipnir, Odin’s eight-legged horse).

An interesting perspective was offered on Thor’s giant-killing antics, which is generally shown as being a good thing, but when he and Loki encounter a sleeping giant, he decides it’s hammer time and tries to smash the giant’s skull in, which looks murderous (and impolite) rather than heroic.

In addition to the myths themselves, there’s also quite a lot of artwork (both from the time and more recent versions in paintings etc) and some mentions of recent literary works (most famously, Tolkien’s stuff) that were influenced by Norse myths.

I especially enjoyed the author’s inclusion of commentary on the impact of Christianity and the dating of certain myths (which affects both Christian influence in storytelling and in the way the gods might be painted as inferior to Jesus). The suggestion put by several ancient writers that the gods were in fact excellent real people, whose deeds led to exaggerations and mythologising, is a neat way of wrapping together ancient Norse myths and (then) contemporary Christian thinking, without discarding wholesale the value or interest in said myths.

Downsides are minor, but irksome. For a start, CE. Common Era is a daft revisionist nonsense applied by some to the Christian calendar (BC/AD becomes BCE/CE) for reasons that are beyond me. There’s also a reference to a certain story reflecting, in the author’s view, ‘the patriarchy’. I’m not fond of imposing modern political perspectives on interpretations of ancient stories.

The book was enjoyable, and a good introduction (from my limited knowledge of the area) to Norse myths. I’d give it four out of five.


Monday, 23 April 2018

Dragon Age: Delinquisition part 1: Sent to Spy

The first part of a new comedy, intended to be read by people who have finished Dragon Age: Inquisition (both to get references and avoid the spoiler problem).


The Keeper hates me. It’s understandable. I’m younger, smarter, more popular. But this is beyond the pale. There’s a human war going on, and it’s fantastic. The dopes are killing one another by the thousand, templars killing mages, apostates murdering clergy, and the peasants getting caught in the middle. But now there’s a peace conference (they’re bound to try and kill each other), and the Keeper has ordered me to go and spy on them. All I have to do is cross the sea, hike into snowy mountains in the middle of nowhere (typical human stupidity, they’re having the meeting near a decrepit temple, miles from civilisation), and spy. Nobody will notice a Dalish elf in the midst of a load of humans, will they? Well, I’ll survive, if only to come back and spite the Keeper. One day, the clan will be mine. Oh, yes. The clan will be mine.

The snowy mountains are picturesque but bloody freezing. Anyway, got myself some dumplings, mushrooms, a little wine, and a nice hiding place. What’s the worst that could happen?

The temple exploded.

Found myself in a nightmare full of giant spiders. Unsure whether it was the Fade, or those mushrooms were dodgy. Either way, I barely escaped. To top it off, the halfwit humans arrested me for the having the temerity to survive!

Just been interrogated by the two most stupid women in the world. One asked why she shouldn’t kill me there and then (they blame me for the explosion), the other said, barely a moment later, that they need me. Naturally, the round-ears have no idea what to do, but hope that I can help them (which makes the earlier death threat all the more stupid). The angrier woman, Cassandra, took me outside. Turns out the explosion also ripped a hole in the sky, which is growing larger and defecating demons all over the valley. Apparently, a magical green scar I’ve acquired is the solution.

Cassandra took me into the valley to meet her associates. The first is a slaphead elf who makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. The other is a dwarf with a smart mouth, nice crossbow, and a penchant for exposing his chest hair. Also, my scar sewed up a tear in the fabric of reality. Turns out I really am indispensable. More surprisingly, the sexual tension between Cassandra and Varric (the dwarf) is staggering.

As expected, the humans were too busy bickering to actually decide which way to go and it was up to me, as bloody usual, to decide. We went through the mountains, rescuing a squad of hapless humans along the way. Could’ve sworn one of the lady soldiers used to be a Kirkwall guard who arrested me one time… Anyway, we reached the first rift, beneath the heavenly orifice. Long story short, visions were seen, demons emerged, and, as always, I kicked arse. And then collapsed.

Woke up in a comfy bed, in a little hut I didn’t recognise. A tame elf-servant came in and fell to her knees (not averse to that kind of thing but I was more concerned about whether or not I was about to get hanged). She told me Angry Cassandra was waiting for me in the chantry. A huge crowd was waiting for me on the walk there, but they didn’t seem like a lynch mob. Quite a lot of them were saluting me, speaking in hushed tones. Inside the chantry (an overblown stone affair within which round-ears sing to their fairy in the sky), Cassandra and Leliana (not sure if they’re sisters or married, or both, but they certainly argue a lot) told me they were breaking away from the human religion and forming a new organisation. And they want me to join.

This is perfect. The human war is ongoing, and now a new power is rising. A power led by me. Bow before your new elven overlord (overlady?), pathetic humans! [Obviously I’m keeping the elven supremacy angle on the sly. But once I’ve established my authority, it’s coming. That, and my revenge on the Keeper for sending me on what she thought was a suicide mission].

My only concern is the name. They want to call it the Inquisition, which sounds a bit tortuous and murdery to me. Anyway, who cares? My own private army sounds good whatever it’s called.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Tales of Knights and Nitwits: Episode 11

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Having rescued the probably-still-doomed Nightstalker from the indignity of being shoved up his own fireplace, Lord Grimshag is no nearer to finding the Complete Works of Shakespeare. Or is he... ?

Meanwhile, Freya is seriously reconsidering her travelling companions and Temujin is distracted by thoughts of a frisky nature.


Monday, 16 April 2018

Review: The Last Wish, by Andrzej Sapkowski

Like many people, I really enjoyed The Witcher 3, and when a fellow of sound judgement suggested giving The Last Wish (the first, I think, Witcher book, the body of which the games are based upon) it seemed like a good idea.

The Last Wish is a collection of short stories interspersed with a continuous mini-storyline of Geralt recovering from a particularly grim wound. Violence is fairly high, there’s a helping of strong language, and sex is minimal and painted in a hazy watercolour rather than the explicit detail some others prefer (personally, I think the hazy approach is better).

The short stories are often around 50-60 pages in length, covering a particular monster contract or similar. As with the game, there’s an element of complex morality woven into what might be otherwise straightforward plots, which both elevates the story above the average and helps to deepen both the character of Geralt himself and the world in which he fights.

Writing style is a little difficult to comment on neutrally because I have a lot of Witcher imagery from the game to fill in any blanks there might be. I found the writing easy to read, and also moreish, often reading rather more than I’d expected. There’s no pat on the head and slab of explanatory text, instead, knowledge about Witcher skills (for example) is conveyed through actions more than words.

It’s a charming mix of old school European fairytale and modern day grim cynicism.

The translation from the original Polish is perfectly good with only occasional slips (a U in ‘evaporate’, and one apostrophe was back to front, though I suspect that was someone else’s minor mistake).

All in all, very enjoyable and I intend to read more of this series in the future. I’d give it four out of five.


Thursday, 12 April 2018

Tales of Knights and Nitwits: Episode 10

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Through blind luck and sly scheming, the depraved journalist Temujin has managed to persuade the virtuous and brave Freya, Keeper of the Green Forest, and infamous murder enthusiast Lord Grimshag to accompany him on his perilous quest to the Abandoned Ruins of Woe and Certain Death. En route, the mismatched trio are on their way to meet an old chum of Lord Grimshag. What could possibly go wrong?


Monday, 9 April 2018

Review: The Persian Expedition, by Xenophon

[I'll also be posting this on my new blog The Wayfarer's Rest].

The story of the Ten Thousand, as told in this book (aka the Anabasis), used to be one of the most commonly taught in British schools, and it’s not hard to see why. Ten thousand Greek mercenaries are hired by Cyrus, younger brother of the Persian king Artaxerxes, to defeat his brother and put Cyrus on the throne. Although the battle of Cunaxa is won by Cyrus’ forces, Cyrus himself ends up dead.

The Greeks are a thousand miles from home and surrounded by enemy troops who vastly outnumber them. Going back the way they came is impossible because the supply situation, even with Cyrus helping, was dangerously difficult.

The Persian Expedition, written by Xenophon (one of the army’s leaders), is the story of how the army got back to safety. It’s thought (perhaps along with no longer extant versions by other writers) to have been the geographical and moral inspiration behind dreams of invading Persia, which eventually bloomed under Philip II and Alexander of Macedon.

As well as fending off some Persian attacks, the army grapples with unfamiliar territories and peoples, keeping itself fed and watered, and, perhaps most dangerously, internal political wrangling and the threat of disintegrating obedience once safety seems to have been reached.

It is not in the top rank of classical history. Xenophon lacks the rigour of a Polybius or Thucydides (although he also tends to avoid eight clause sentences...), and has a bias similar to Josephus, but not balanced by the same level of detail and insight. This may be because Xenophon wrote of the journey decades after it happened.

However, it is an interesting book. The failure of Persia (to be fair, they didn’t try as hard as they could’ve) to prevent the Greeks from leaving led those across the Aegean to believe that moral decay had made the orientals weak as well as decadent. The army hung together very well so long as it felt in danger, but as safety seemed at hand, things started to splinter and there was seemingly little gratitude to those who had helped lead the men out of the fire.


Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Coins that Laugh in the Face of Circular Conformity

Paul Kruger 1894 – meant to be circular, but this one is not

The first one confounded me utterly, for two reasons. Firstly, it’s an 1894 shilling, but it doesn’t have Queen Victoria’s face on it. Nor does it have any other identifying feature except a chap I’ve never seen before. Secondly, the shape is immensely unusual. It’s akin to a square with the corners cut deeply away, and a crown protruding from each longer side.

But it shouldn’t be. A helpful chap from Twitter (they do exist) responded to my SOS and rescued me from the shipwreck of ignorance. It’s a Paul Kruger shilling from South Africa. A quick check on Wikipedia suggests he had foolish facial hair, a nice hat, and is (perhaps unsurprisingly) a controversial figure. Why the coin was cut into such an unusual shape remains beyond me, but it’s certainly interesting. Someone spent a lot of time doing it.

Square Indian 2 annas coin 1945

I’ve got a small number of Indian coins, and chose this one for two reasons. It’s square, with rounded corners, and it’s from the rather significant year of 1945. As you’d expect, the Queen’s father, George VI, is on the front, which describes him using the rather magnificent title of King Emperor.

In addition to the English, there is some writing in an Indian language I cannot understand, though the majority is in English (as an aside, the numerals we use originate in India, so technically that’s also an Indian aspect of the coin). It wasn’t too long after this was minted that India got its independence, and the anna itself stopped being used due to decimalisation.

Wavy Hong Kong coin 1988 two dollars

Until quite recently (1997, I think) the British ran Hong Kong, leasing it from the Chinese. Apparently, the Chinese were astonished we didn’t try to extend the agreement and continue governing the place, given its extreme wealth. Of course, as the central government deepens its control, perhaps some of the people there miss the British, just a little.

The coin has a distinctive wavy pattern, which was also seen in some Indian coins (though I don’t possess any). The British coinage has been withdrawn from circulation but remains legal tender in Hong Kong.