Friday, 29 June 2018

Review: Musashi, by Eiji Yoshikawa

Musashi is the tale of the eponymous historical figure’s early life, beginning with the aftermath of the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. This was the tail end of the Warring States period in Japan, which saw the Ashikaga shogunate totter and fall beneath the widespread warfare between daimyo (powerful noblemen). Sekigahara saw the forces of two of these, the Houses of Tokugawa and Toyotomi, clash. Tokugawa won and claimed supremacy, although the remnant forces of Toyotomi holed up at Osaka and dreamt of returning to glory.

In this world, there were many masterless samurai, called ronin, and Musashi was one of them. Early on he’s little more than a strong and energetic fighter, but over the course of the book he dedicates himself to the Way of the Sword and mastering himself. His wandering takes him from place to place, and the book’s POV sometimes switches to other significant characters, such as Matahachi (his comrade-in-arms at Sekigahara), and Otsu (a childhood friend from the same village). Various places are visited, including Kyoto, Osaka, and the rapidly expanding city of Edo. Coupled with smaller villages, this presents the reader with an interesting cultural backdrop including schools of swordsmanship, pleasure houses, and temples.

The book is large at 970 pages, but I read it faster than most things because I found the plot intriguing and the writing style easy to read. It perhaps also helped that the world of early 17th century Japan was interesting to read about.

The cast is not as large as might be expected of such a big book, but the author’s style of drawing together and then dispersing clusters of characters, interweaving their own personal stories so that every character has different relationships with one another was very well done. It led to natural conflicts, allies of convenience, and explains how Musashi, despite doing his best to act honourably, managed to accrue quite a number of enemies over the years.

Other characters are three-dimensional, not merely reacting to Musashi’s own doings as background to his tale, but striving to achieve their own goals, whether that’s revenge or achieving success for oneself.

I tried to think of downsides, but it wasn’t especially easy. The size may put some people off. There is occasional sexual content but it’s the haziest of hazy watercolours you can imagine. Violence is a feature, of course, but far less frequent or visceral than in, say, Outlaws of the Marsh.

It’s a very enjoyable book, in short.


Thursday, 14 June 2018

Review: Red Sister, by Mark Lawrence

I nabbed this during a discount for just 99p, having previously enjoyed the author’s Broken Empire trilogy. It’s first entry in a new series, the Book of the Ancestor, set in a different post-Apocalyptic world.

It took me a fair while to read, not due to being badly written or anything, I just incurred some moderate pestilence which, at times, stopped me from reading.

The book follows the difficult and bloody childhood of Nona, who ends up in a convent where, alongside spirituality, the novices are also taught delights such as combat skills and how to poison people.

She’s rescued into the nunnery by Abbess Glass, who saves her from hanging for crossing a powerful nobleman (who thoroughly deserved it). Whether or not the convent will prove sufficient protection from said noble family’s wrath remains to be seen, but it’s certainly safer than not being there.

Alongside Nona are a number of friends/rivals, my favourite being Hessa, a lame girl nicknamed Hop Along who is perhaps Nona’s truest friend. Besides the novices there are several sisters of importance, and I enjoyed the Poisoner quite a lot, due to her mixture of mischief and toxins. Giving girls a truth serum then asking them who they have a crush on was entertaining.

The classroom politics and scheming blends nicely with wider conspiracies aimed at disrupting life in the nunnery, with Nona sometimes struggling to know who to trust. In terms of writing style, it’s easy to read and quite moreish. It’s not a soft book but it’s not as brutal as Prince of Thorns either.

In the middle there could perhaps have been a touch more pace. Shan’t spoil the ending, of course, but I liked the late twists and the conclusion of the story.

Overall, I enjoyed Red Sister a lot, and definitely felt invested in the story’s end. I’ll probably buy Grey Sister (the sequel) when it’s on sale, as the current Kindle price is £9.99. Which is more than the listed (currently unreleased) paperback, and barely less than the hardback.


Sunday, 10 June 2018

Three drawings: two gingers and a dragon

Suddenly struck me that the two (coloured) drawings of cartoon characters I really liked from my childhood (Tygra from Thundercats and Maid Marian from the animated Robin Hood) were both gingers. Maybe I’m a closet gingophile.

Anyway, I have done some drawings. It was really surprising how quickly I did my attempts at Tygra/Maid Marian (each pencil sketch was begun and done in one session, often it takes me a lot longer). Colouring naturally took longer, and I brightened the Marian colours (the scene from which the screenshot I used was at night so everything was subdued).

Fairly pleased with both of them although there’s still many things to improve. One that might not be obvious with the Tygra drawing is that I started it too high up on the page, so the forehead/hair aren’t quite as high as they should be, which has the knock-on effect of pushing the stripes closer together.

For Marian, the headgear is too high. I also found her eyes very tricky (pleased with his the fur turned out, though, especially as I haven’t done much of that).

Both drawings, as indicated, were just me copying screenshots.

The dragon, currently uncoloured/unshaded, is a different kettle of monkeys. It’s part of a lesson included in Steve Beaumont’s How To Draw Fantasy Worlds, which is perhaps a little above my head. The scan I’ve posted is not the end of the lesson but I wanted to get it scanned at this stage, before any shading occurs (I haven’t done much shading and I’d be loath to bugger up a drawing that, at this stage, looks mostly ok).

I haven’t drawn many monsters/animals, so this was an interesting challenge. I didn’t stick completely to Beaumont’s guidance (I’ve made the wings folded, added a small number of spiky bits, and not included the skull at the foot of the page). Whilst mostly happy with it at this stage, it’s clear my eye/hand is a bit lacking when it comes to fine detail, and I find the male figure a bit tricky. The dragon’s head looks reasonable although I got the proportions a bit wrong (it’s meant to be a little longer/more crocodilian).

Unlike the ginger cartoon characters, it took me a long time to get to the current stage of the dragon drawing. Have to see how the shading turns out.


Monday, 4 June 2018

Sir Edric and the Tale of the Discounted Book

Good news!

The Adventures of Sir Edric, the first book about the eponymous knight, which is replete with five star ratings, has been cut to just 99p for a week or so.

It’s a cracking good read, a rollicking adventure that mines heartily at the rich seam of British comedy. Aided by Dog, the world’s trustiest manservant, Sir Edric embarks somewhat reluctantly on perilous quests, alongside companions ranging from a foxy elven sorceress to a ten foot cyclopian nun.

Reviewers (UK and US Amazon) say:

"I can only recommend that everyone who likes British humour and fantasy buys this"

"Spewed Coffee on the Screen I Laughed so Hard" [note: the author accepts no liability for hardware costs incurred thusly]

"this book is ideal for both fantasy fans and booklovers in general looking who are looking for something different"

Take advantage of this fantastic offer to get yourself a fast-paced and witty book for less than the cost of a cup of coffee.


Friday, 1 June 2018

Some videogame rambling

Blogging’s been a touch light due to actually getting some work done (huzzah!) and being mildly pestilent (buggerydoo).

Anyway, there has been some recent videogame news that caught my eye and I thought was worth a quick ramble. So ramble shall I.

Fallout 76 is to come out. I imagine a proper reveal and launch date will emerge during this year’s E3, but the murmuring at the moment suggests it’s not a ‘proper’ Fallout (ie a single player RPG along the lines of Fallout 4, or New Vegas). Instead, it sounds like a (primarily, at least) multiplayer online tosh pit, probably including at least some element of base-building.

I rather liked the building in Fallout 4, although I didn’t like Garvey being a nag (and a layabout, why did *I* have to save every damned settlement whilst he frolicked through the streets, whistling and doing nothing?) or the paid DLC nonsense. However, with Fortnite, PUBG and perhaps now H1Z1 dominating the time, and wallets, of millions of gamers it’d be unsurprising if there were a battle royale aspect.

I’m not a fan of multiplayer gaming, and not just because I’m a misanthropic monster who dwells in an isolated cave on a remote North Sea island and whose only human contact is when the local villagers annually deliver me seven redheaded maidens to appease my wrath. It’s quite remarkable, really, given how much time I’ve sunk into Skyrim (much, much more than Fallout 4) how Bethesda have managed to announce various releases since, only one of which I’ve bought, and none of which I’ve played for even 10% of the time I put into Skyrim. But, gaming is a business. If you can make eleventy billion dollarydoos with Elder Scrolls Online *makes the sign against evil* and it takes less time than creating The Elder Scrolls VI: Your Grandkids Will Be Dead Before This Comes Out, it makes financial sense.

Will I be getting Fallout 76? Well, let us imagine a lovely world in which time and money were no object. In that marvellous realm of fiction, the answer would be: almost certainly not.

A more tempting prospect would be the forthcoming Tomb Raider, the third entry in the reboot of the mega-series. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is pencilled in for the middle of this September which really isn’t that far off now. I’ve played both immediately preceding instalments, as well as perhaps a third of those preceding the reboot, and have high hopes this will live up to the standards recently established.

It’s also being touted as completing the ‘origin trilogy’ which will see Lara Croft emerge from the cocoon of ordeals as an arse-kicking heroine. Although she did seem to be there by the end of the second game, if not the first… Anyway, it’s set in South America, with jungles and incredibly steep pyramids all around. This means both camouflage and never skipping leg day will be vital if Lara is to survive this particular adventure.

We are not yet certain what endangered species Lara will be murdering, or what priceless artefacts and/or cities she’ll be wrecking, but I’m sure that’ll come out in due course. Camouflage does play a role, though whether that’ll be just mud and leaves, or something akin to Metal Gear Solid 3’s approach, I don’t know. (As an aside, if you haven’t played Rise of the Tomb Raider yet, you can get it on Amazon for the PS4 for £16, so it’s worth a look).

One thing I will say against Shadow of the Tomb Raider is that the fancier ‘Croft Edition’ comes out 48 hours earlier. That kind of thing is just nonsense, in my eyes. Bonuses in swankier editions should be limited to cool extras like maps, posters, that sort of thing. Getting to play earlier because you’re Captain Moneybags does not sit well.

I’ll probably end up getting this, but not at launch.

On the new games front, this last is a ‘sort of’ entry. The Banner Saga Trilogy Bonus edition for the PS4 comes out towards the end of July (£30). The first game was the first, and so far only, game I’ve ever bought electronically. I have to say I liked a lot about it. The art style is interesting, I liked the strategic combat, and the element of uncertainty/deceit with the characters was intriguing. I also liked the ending a lot. However, I never got around to buying the sequels. Hard to say if it just slipped my mind, my dislike of electronic stuff got the better of me, or what. It’s not the best game ever made but it is a good game and well worth considering, particularly if you enjoy tactical combat, Viking(ish) settings, and tough moral choices.

Speaking of electronic stuff, I still plan on getting Blood & Wine DLC for The Witcher 3 at some point (this may seem like I’m absentminded, but given at least 16 years elapsed between me buying the first and second entries in the Death Gate Cycle, this is a small delay). I might also see about getting some XCOM 2 DLC at some point, but less sure about that.

On a wider note, rumours abound that the PS4 is drawing towards the end of its life cycle, although that still means going on to 2021. Given the bullshit pulled with the PS4 Pro, I shan’t be in a hurry to throw hundreds of pounds at Sony next time around. I’ll wait a few years, and see if they pull the same nonsense again.

And don’t forget, if you enjoy fantasy (serious or comedy), do check out my Amazon author page and the lovely five star reviews: