The Crown’s Game: Evelyn Skye

I’ve been trying to get my hands on¬†The Crown’s Game¬†ever since I heard about it, because 1. Russian mythology and characters, that’s cool, and 2. Magicians! Well, “enchanters,” but it’s basically the same thing. Actually, I don’t know. Magicians seem more fun and light-hearted than enchanters, because magicians are all about illusions and entertainment and enchanters are all about magic, which is darker and requires more sacrifices, usually.

Anyways.

I ended up liking this story! It was a really good read– I never got bored, and the characters were easy to keep up with. There are really only three main ones: Pasha, Vika and Nikolai, so you don’t have to worry about remembering a bunch of names. Also, they all have very common Russian names, like Sergei and Alexander (??) something like that. The tsar, that’s his name. Anyways, it’s really not bad. There are a bunch of side characters, but the only important ones are Renata, Ludmilla (sorry I’m so bad at names) and then a few other miscellaneous people like the Crown Princess, Galina, and Sergei.

Okay, so basically the story is about this game that the two enchanters of the Russian kingdom have to play. There can only be one enchanter, so it’s a duel to the death. They each take a turn casting spells upon the city to *hopefully* kill each other, but it gets more complicated as Vika and Nikolai start getting closer.
This is where it gets kind of blurry. Because I’m not really sure if they loved each other? Nikolai certainly loves Vika, and even admits it in the end, but Vika never really states outright that she loves him. She does get jealous when Renata kisses him, and she’s constantly thinking about him, so it’s basically confirmed except in words. I guess.

Anyways, things get complicated because they start getting closer and neither wants to kill the other. Meanwhile, Pasha’s infatuated with Vika, whom he caught sight of when he and Nikolai were traipsing around this island. Pasha is an okay character– I don’t hate him– but I don’t particularly like him because he’s such a… golden retriever. He’s super excitable, super enthusiastic and charming and pretty much Mr. Golden Boy, and he loves adventure and scurrying off to uncharted places, but the thing is, he’s also really idealistic. He does a lot of acting before thinking, and he’s ridiculously stubborn about things, and he basically signs Nikolai’s death certificate in the end when he demands, as the tsar, that Nikolai and Vika have a final battle.

Of course, the entire time, he’s being manipulated by his younger sister. I think she’ll be the antagonist in the second book.
The saddest thing about this one is that NIKOLAI DIED. I was really looking forward to a lighthearted read, but geez. Was not ready for that. It was horrid. He actually disintegrates and gets blown away by the wind, and Vika’s heartbroken. I’m kind of excited for¬†The Crown’s Heir,¬†though, because I really want to see her as this cold and emotionless sorceress. That one’s definitely going to center around Pavel, because, I mean, look at the title. I also kind of suspect that Ms. Skye will have Pasha and Vika fall in love, which would be a pity because I really think that they make great friends. There are those people, you know, that would be awesome friends but not be nearly as great if they were actually together. I don’t know if that makes sense. But I think Pasha and Vika would have a cool friendship, plus, they can both bond over Nikolai’s death.

I really want to see Renata in the next novel. She was featured minutely in this one– she’s the servant goal in Nikolai’s household, and she’s also in love with him. She reads tea leaves. It’s pretty cute. But he doesn’t love her back, which is sad. I thought that maybe Renata and Pasha might have a thing, and I’m still holding out hope because it would be a cool twist for her to be featured as a main character in the next novel, but I’m also 100% sure that she’s going to be entirely ignored in the next book. Except maybe she’ll show up to be like “yay, Nikolai, you’re back,” if he gets resurrected. Which I’m also holding out hope for. I don’t know, we’ll see! I really like her because she’s so brave, and she’s a really good friend to Nikolai. I’ll definitely be disappointed if she doesn’t show up at all.

This was a good book! I would recommend it, if you like¬†The Night Circus¬†or anything similar. I will tell you now that it doesn’t have a happy ending, so if you’re not looking to be like “:(” at the end of your night, maybe wait until I get my hands on¬†The Crown’s Heir¬†(coming out 2017!) and until I get to see if that one has a happy ending, to try this novel out!

Dogsbody: Diana Wynne Jones

I finished reading Dogsbody¬†over the past two days; it’s a book following the trials of Sirius, a celestial being imprisoned on Earth in the form of a dog after he’s accused of murdering a fellow luminary. He’s taken in by a young girl named Kathleen, who lives with her pretty awful relatives: an aunt named Duffie, who frankly, wants Kathleen out of their lives; her uncle, an aloof man who chooses to ignore the problems in his household; and Basil and Robin, her two cousins. Basil takes after his aunt, but is actually a little less horrible to Kathleen, while Robin loves both her and the dog. Meanwhile, Sirius is searching desperately for this tool called the Zoi, which, if he can find, will lead to his being acquitted from the murder trial.

I really love Diana Wynne Jones. She wrote my favorite book,¬†Howl’s Moving Castle,¬†which I’ve read maybe several hundred times over my life. Just kidding, maybe not that much, but my copy of the book is basically rags at this point because it’s been flipped through so much. I decided to finally branch out and read some other books by her, so I’ve also got my hands on the sort-of sequel to¬†Howl, called¬†House of Many Ways,¬†and I’ve also found¬†A Tale of Time City.¬†Anyways, since she wrote my favorite book, I had pretty high expectations for this one and to be honest, it didn’t really meet my standards.

The book is good– I won’t deny that. You get to see Sirius’s life as a luminary and also as a dog, though I think it’s divided like 20/80. So you see a lot more dog than star, but that’s okay, the dog part is more interesting in my opinion. Of course, the characters in her book are incredibly well-thought out and have not only depth, but relatability. Sirius is notorious for his short-temperedness, narrow-mindedness, and tends to act impulsively. Kathleen is a sweet, sad girl who’s lost her father in what I believe to be the 1969 Northern Ireland Riots. He’s in prison. Her mother’s gone to America without her. She suffers constant verbal and emotional abuse in the hands of Duffie, but she managed to keep on a smile and push her way through the tough times. The side characters are lovable too, like Bruce and Patches and Tibbles, Romulus and Remus. Even the shadow-king person, who only appears very briefly, manages to garner some sympathy. There’s a line of dialogue between him and Kathleen that goes like,
Master: “I want to walk Earth as you do.”
Kathleen: “I don’t think you should. Not if you’re going to cheat and muddle everyone.”
Master: “I only do that because I’m in darkness; can’t you understand?”

It’s pretty tragic. I felt bad for him. Of course, then he accidentally scares Kathleen and she accidentally zaps him away with the Zoi, and that’s the end of the Master, which is a pity because he was an interesting character.

I didn’t really understand the end of this book too much; it all happened way too fast for me. I think that there was kind of a disjoint between the “magical” and the “realistic” aspects of the story; of course, there’s always a bit of mystery about Sirius’s origins and why his eyes are green, all that kind of stuff, but for a book that has very little mention of magic in the beginning, there certainly is a whole lot of it by the end. I don’t know how else to describe it; I guess you’d have to read it to see.

I really enjoyed about the interactions and relationship between Kathleen and Sirius, though, whom she names¬†“Leo.” They’re really cute; he’s basically her only friend, and he teaches himself English so that he may better understand her, her life, and her troubles and anxieties. Sirius is constantly being torn between looking for the Zoi and comforting Kathleen, and in the end, he chooses Kathleen over all else. Or at least, he tries to, but it’s a bit too late for that. They’re split apart by the finale, but I think that there’s supposed to be a note of hope that they’ll be together again one day, because there’s a line about Sirius keeping his companion sphere empty because “you never know.” I’m not really sure. That’s what I interpreted it as.

If you like books that are from a dog’s point of view, this might be interesting. If you love stars, go ahead and try, because they talk a lot about different stars. If you’re looking for something to read to pass the time, something that isn’t intense, you can check out¬†Dogsbody. I wouldn’t read it again, but I don’t regret picking it up out of the book stacks.

Uncharted 4

Wooooow. Wow. I literally finished playing¬†Uncharted 4 and I have no words. It was one of the best games that I’ve ever played through. Uncharted 4 is chock-full of dialogue, story, and subtlety, and it’s so amazing. In my opinion, it’s definitely one of the top ten “finale” games to exist.

Uncharted 4 follows the last adventure of Nathan Drake, who has, in this game, retired from his treasure-hunting business and is, instead, working with a salvaging company. He digs things up out of water. It’s like low-stakes, low-risk treasure hunting. Nathan and Elena have settled down in the suburbs, trying to lead normal lives, which obviously doesn’t work too well considering what Nathan ends up doing. I loved this beginning of the game, because you get a lot of background on the characters, but it’s not boring. It’s actually pretty lovely, like an homage to the previous three games. Nathan reminisces over his past adventures and you can even discover little trinkets around his office and home, that belong to these other excursions. I also have always liked Elena and Nathan together, and you get to see them working as a married couple, and that’s pretty cute. They’re a good pair. But it’s easy to tell that not all is well in paradise, because Nathan’s very obviously bored with his job. He loves Elena a lot and doesn’t plan on getting back into treasure hunting, but he’s also really restless with his life right now.

Another thing that I like about this game is the flashbacks– these give us a lot of sight into Sam and Nathan’s relationship, as well as their relationship with the main antagonist, Rafe. We see Sam and Nathan as little kids (which is really cool; they were pretty crazy kids,) and we also see the mishap that led to Nathan’s beginnings. It gives you more of a foundation into Nathan’s personality and why he does what he does. You also learn that treasure-hunting runs in the Drake/Morgan family– their mother, Cassandra Morgan, was a historian who searched for the pirate James Avery’s lost treasure– and that’s what starts this whole mess.

You get a lot of story in this game. I can’t say that enough. This game is all about the story.

The gameplay might put off those who like to experience varied environments. It’s very repetitive, but I don’t mind that at all. There’s a lot of point and shoot, use the bombs, use this rope thingy that you have to swing across wide spaces, you know. The usual Uncharted mechanics.

The scenery in this game is GORGEOUS. I feel like 80% of their budget must have gone into the scenery because it is quite possibly the most beautiful game that I’ve ever played. All of the locations– the residential areas like Nate and Elena’s home, the towns that they visit, the island of Libertalia, the school that Nate and Sam attended, the Paraguayan jail– each and every single one has so many painstaking details. I’ll add some pictures below, because I really can’t describe it well enough. There were so many times that I wanted to stop and paint what was on my screen, or where I just stopped and looked around for a good ten minutes because it was so, so breathtaking.

via n4g, Kotaku, pastemagazine and fenixbazaar.

Let me be clear, here: these aren’t cutscenes or anything– these are actual screenshots straight from the game. It’s so incredible. God, I remember one place in particular– a villa you have to sneak Sam and Nate into to steal the St. Dismas’ cross. It was so, so stunning. I am so sad that I don’t have a house like that manor.

Also, the amount of time that it took for me to complete this game was great! I’m not a serious gamer or anything– I love video games, but I usually spend maybe an hour or two on them a few times a week. Even so, I tend to finish games fairly quickly, but I’ve been playing Uncharted 4 for I think, maybe three whole weeks now. For $60, it’s a really great deal. You get so many hours of gameplay and story, and the story is riveting and the gameplay is wonderful. There are so many places you can explore– the storyline is very linear, but you can go around collecting treasures or unlocking dialogue with various characters, or finding journal pages for Nathan to pencil into his little book. I hate going after treasure most of the time but the journal pages were what got to me– I love being able to read through Nathan’s private thoughts.

The characters are familiar and they’re wonderful. I can’t decide who is my favorite, because they’re all so well-written and they feel almost like real people. The dialogue between them is smooth and natural, and everyone has a part in the story. There are no random characters. The villains are perfect, the whole cast is perfect. There aren’t any awkward animation scenes and there aren’t many bugs in the game at all. It’s incredibly immersive. While you can play this game by itself, I would¬†seriously¬†recommend that you play the first three and then move onto¬†Uncharted 4.¬†It just makes everything so much sweeter. There are a ton of cameos from the old games, so it’s a lot more exciting.

I think that literally the only thing that disappointed me about this game was the lack of supernatural creatures.¬†Uncharted¬†featured those creepy demon-cursed-Nazi creatures, and¬†Uncharted 2¬†I think had the undead warriors and crazy goat-yeti monsters from Shambhala.¬†Uncharted¬†3¬†featured djinn that took over the bodies of dead soldiers and were seriously creepy and a little hard to kill. So I was waiting the entire game for something scary to pop out in Uncharted 4, but nothing ever did. I think that in this game, the shock-factor was supposed to be the treasure itself, and what it did to the pirates and colonists. They all went mad with greed and jealousy and worked quickly to slaughter each other. Even Avery and Tew didn’t survive the massacre, having murdered each other before anyone could escape with the treasure. While I kind of wish that there had been monsters, it really didn’t matter that much. The game was perfect even without them.

The ending of¬†Uncharted 4¬†was really wonderful, too. I was worried that they’d kill off Sam or something but no, he survives. He’s really, super cool, so I’m excited about that. Also, I think that there might be a possibility that they’ll continue the series with Sam and Sully, but there’s no news on that so here’s to hoping. You get to see an epilogue featuring Nate, Elena, their dog and then their daughter, Cassie (who I just realized is named after her grandma, aww,) and it’s perfect because they’re literally living their best lives. Nate and Elena have taken over the salvage crew and they’re exploring the world, finding sunken treasure. Cassie’s taking after her parents with her curiosity in adventuring, and they leave the possibility open that she might be the new protagonist for any future Uncharted games.

Anyways, my hands are starting to hurt from typing all of this. I can’t stress this enough, but if you like the series and you’ve been worried about getting the game because what if they ruin it? NO. IT’S PERFECT. IT’S BEAUTIFUL. And if you’re looking to get into a new series, Uncharted is where it’s at. Definitely, definitely, definitely play this game!
On another note, if you like treasure hunting and books about treasure hunting, try reading Dan Brown’s¬†Robert Langdon¬†series. They’re pretty intense novels that deal with all of this stuff that Nathan Drake and co. do, and they’re so much fun!

The Second Guard: J.D. Vaughn

Just finished up¬†The Second Guard,¬†a story following the adventures of Talimendra and her friends, Zarif and Chey. In the kingdom established in the story (Tequende,) the second-born child of every family must serve in what is essentially the royal army. Tali has been vying for a spot in the guard ever since she was little, determined to protect the queen and her realm to the best of her ability. While the book was a little slow, I really enjoyed it! It’s one of those novels that you can take breaks from– more of a light read than a serious sit-down book like¬†Code Name Verity.¬†

Right off the bat, I have to say that I really enjoyed the lack of love triangles in this book; the obvious one would be Zarif-Tali-Chey, but they have very obvious platonic love for each other. There’s never a question of someone falling in love with the other, and it’s really refreshing to read. I like books where boys and girls can be best friends. It makes things a lot simpler. There are several types of love, right? But books tend to focus on romantic love as much as possible, when it comes to male and female protagonists, which can really suck. That’s not to say that there is absolutely no romance in this book, though. Zarif has this burgeoning thing with the kitchen girl, Brindl, one of their fellow pledges and a very soft-spoken, kind of shy kiddo, and Tali has a pretty hefty crush on their instructor, (Comandier?) Jaden. I can’t remember his official title. ¬†Jaden is only nineteen and I think Tali is around sixteen, so it’s not as creepy as it sounds at first. I also liked that nothing really came of this crush! I’m sure that it’ll be addressed in later novels, especially with the ending to this book, where Jaden and Tali have a moment on the pier, but in this storyline there weren’t any massive moments of romantic tension between them.

Usually, I pretend that YA protagonists are older than novels claim. It’s weird to think of sixteen-year-olds going on crazy adventures and falling deeply in love with strangers– I mean, they’re just babies. I’m only nineteen, so it’s not like I’m that much older, but I think it’d be weird for me to go on a crazy adventure or fall deeply in love with someone at this age and I absolutely can’t imagine someone younger than me doing that. I usually pretend that they’re 19+ or at least 18, but in this book, Tali acted her age. A lot of authors make the mistake of making their characters wiser than they should be, or a lot more deep than they should be (ahem, John Green.) but Tali never presented that kind of sageliness. Which sounds a little bad, but no, I enjoyed it. It made sense for her to be idealistic and naive and a little petulant, because again, she’s only sixteen. She still has this unwavering trust in the world.

Lastly, I really liked reading about their adventures in Alcazar, which is basically a school for the rising Second Guard. It’s where a lot of their character development happens– speaking of which, this book has a ton of character development and establishment– and it’s also described to great detail. Alcazar is as real as Hogwarts. I feel like I’ve got a really good idea of what the place looks like, and their adventures in Alcazar provide nice moments of peace in an otherwise intense environment.

The few things that I didn’t like about this book: there was this one kid, Drygaun or something like that. He was basically a bully for the entire book, and they redeemed him in the end. It’s not that I hated this or anything, but I thought it was a pretty dramatic 180 for the character to take. They did, however, have a moment between him and Tali where they were both banished to the kitchens and had kind of a deep conversation, and then he did redeem himself right before they were all about to be imminently slaughtered in battle with the invading forces of another kingdom, so it makes a bit of sense. I guess it just moved too fast for me to really feel sorry for him. They do kill off a few characters in this book, but it’s no one that you really grow to care about too much. I think the only death that made me go, “aww,” was Saraky’s. Sarasky? I’m so bad with names.

Overall, I really like this book! It’s not a serious read. If you’re looking for something that’ll keep you happy for a bit, that has a well-established backstory and a good plot, then I’d recommend it. It’s not as intense as¬†Verity at all, nor is it written in overly sophisticated prose or anything– ¬†it’s nice on the eyes and the mind. Yeah, I’d give it a go. I’ll be continuing the series, too! Next book comes out in September. ūüôā