Daughters of Ruin: K.D. Castner

I recently finished up Daughters of Ruin, the debut novel of author K.D. Castner. It’s the story of these four princesses that grow up in a Protectorate Treaty; three of the princesses  (Cadis, Iren, Suki) are from countries that have been conquered by the fourth princess’s (Rhea) father (King Declan). They all live in Declan’s kingdom of Meridian, being raised as sisters. Obviously, this doesn’t work exactly how Declan had hoped– the girls seem to despise each other and as the story develops, you really are able to appreciate the depths of their disjointedness. The four girls are thrust into chaos when someone attacks Meridian castle, sending them on separate paths.

I liked that this novel keeps the goodness of each character relatively neutral. You can’t really tell who’s going to betray who, or when. You can’t tell if any of the characters are actually honest. For example, Rhea seems to be a sympathetic character from the beginning: her story begins with grief over how much her sisters despise her. The book teases that perhaps their disdain is just in her head but when you move on to the next few chapters, it becomes clear that Rhea wasn’t just worrying over nothing– her sisters really don’t like her. They believe that she is the weakest of them all, and furthermore, that she cannot be trusted in the future to rule Meridian fairly. Each girl wants to get back to her own home; Suki especially despises that’s not actually a strong enough word. Suki downright hates Rhea for 1. being chummy with the boy that Suki has a massive crush on and 2. for being Declan’s daughter and 3. for being Rhea. Suki’s hatred is both unparalleled and nearly psychotic– she despises Rhea for existing. Every one of Rhea’s moves is some kind of attack, and Suki feels the need to defend herself. Of course, everyone runs to her side in a fight because she is the youngest and she’s not Declan’s daughter, leaving Rhea very much alone.
Then, in the last chapter, Rhea reveals the truth of her personality: she’s actually been manipulating the playing field. She has known the outcome of this fiasco for the entire duration of this story, or at least, that’s how I interpreted it. Like I said, this book is kind of ambiguously worded

The character I disliked the most was Suki. She’s fifteen years old, precocious, rude, and gives off villain-y vibes. I don’t think that last one was an intended effect of her character. I think that we were supposed to kind of like and sympathize with her, but it was hard to when even her point-of-view is so bratty. By the way, this book revolves through four points of view– Rhea, Cadis, Iren, and Suki. I don’t find these annoying to read but I know many people who hate this sort of format, so be warned.

The plot of the story was… I’m not sure what the plot was, actually. Iren and Cadis flee to Cadis’s home, and Iren plans to go back to her mother’s kingdom soon afterwards. Suki, Rhea and the boy whose name I can’t remember decide to flee as well. I guess that the goal of the characters’ was to find out who attacked the castle and is revolting against the king. Is it Suki’s kingdom? Cadis’s? Iren’s? It turns out that the attack was planned by Declan and his advisor, Hiram (by the way, that is just a bad name. Hiram Burrows. Hiram the advisor. Just evil people all over the place) and that they hope to bring the four nations to war. Why? I don’t really know. It was pretty heartbreaking for Rhea to find out that her father has hated her since the second her older brother died, and to have found out because he screamed it at her before trying to kill the girl. Poor Rhea. But this is the reason why I’m not sure if Rhea has been manipulating people the entire time, or if, after learning the aforementioned facts, something just snapped inside her. I don’t know, there’ll probably be a sequel because by the end of the novel, all four girls hate each other and all four countries are on the brink of war.

This is an okay book to browse through if you’re ever bored or interested in the whole kingdoms/no-one-can-be-trusted/evil-queen scene. I became sort of disinterested by the end of the book. The biggest problem for me was that there wasn’t a single character that I felt I could root for; everyone was a downer. Don’t read this if you’re looking for a solid ending or a happy story. It’s more of a “I-hate-the-world,” kind of story. Gotta say, I love the cover, though the saying holds true: don’t judge a book you know you know.

 

Dishonored 2: First Impressions (and Spoilers!)

I caved and bought Dishonored 2 for the PS4 this last weekend; I had been planning to buy it later on in the year, maybe when the price fell a little… I rarely pre-order games or buy them fresh off the shelf, but I just couldn’t stop myself this time. I’ve been looking so forward to Dishonored 2 ever since completing the first game and its DLCs over the past few months. Due to academic stuff and just the amount of work that I have, I’ve only been able to put in about 2-2.5 hours into the game, but so far, I’m completely blown away!

Right off the bat, you notice that the environment and the world are so painstakingly crafted. It’s gorgeous—Dunwall is tall and gloomy and exactly what you would imagine. You can see the cityscape in the beginning and little people milling around like ants among the streets; you see the whalers’ boats coming into the harbor and docking at the ports, massive, dead whales strung along their decks… it’s incredible to see just how interactive everyone is, and the amount of detail etched into every single one of these interactions is thrilling.

I would recommend starting off with the tutorial—it’s a separate option on the start menu, but even if you click on the campaign it’ll offer you the chance to play through the tutorial before you begin the story. The tutorial, unlike many other games, counts as “Mission 0.” It features Corvo and Emily (AND YOU GET TO HEAR CORVO TALK FOR THE FIRST TIME!!) practicing all of her physical skills: jumping, running off of roofs, climbing, sword-fighting and choking people out, sneaking up and pickpocketing, etc. It’s useful, but it also provides a unique window into Corvo and Emily’s relationship—which really tugged at my heartstrings, especially since you play this level from Emily’s point of view. He’s such a proud father and you can tell through their conversations that they share a very close bond. Of course, the Royal Protector is still tough on his little ward—but he works really hard to keep her safe.

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Speaking of voice actors—I love most of them. Corvo and Emily’s voices, Stephen Russell and Erica Luttrell respectively, nailed their roles. Russell keeps Corvo’s voice gruff and appropriate for a man of his age and with his experiences. He sounds dangerous, like you wouldn’t want to mess with him. Luttrell’s pitch and nuances bring a new dimension to Emily’s character; you can really hear every emotion that Emily experiences. She’s portrayed as tough and perhaps a little bad-tempered, but earnest in her actions. She really takes her roles as the empress seriously, but as a young woman of twenty-five, she’s also curious about the world and shifting from that stage of naïve innocence to the ethereal and absolute dignity of an older woman. She’s quick-witted, reactionary and full of anger, but she’s also a meticulous planner. Luttrell embodies Emily flawlessly—I don’t know if anyone else could have done it.

The only voice actor that I really, really hate is the new voice of The Outsider. For some reason, Arkane decided to get rid of Billy Lush—who was incredible as the Outsider in the first game—and replace him with Robin Lord Taylor. First of all, I want to say that I don’t despise Mr. Taylor or anything, and I don’t want to be mean— he’s an actor that I really appreciate. His role on Gotham as the Penguin, Oswald Cobblepot, is admirable, and he portrays the villain with gusto. In fact, he might’ve been a great Outsider if Billy Lush had not done the role first and so perfectly. Lush’s voice was what made the Outsider such an incredible figure. He maintained this cold and aloof distance; he was detachedly amused by everything and didn’t care in the slightest how the story turned out. He wanted to be entertained. The fact that he was replaced was crushing—one of the best things (at least, for me) about Dishonored was the existence of the Outsider. He was this figure of mystery and enigma, and I wanted to know more about him. I wanted him to pay attention to me, and tried my hardest to do right by him. From things I’ve read about Dishonored 2, it seems like you interact with the Outsider a lot—but I’m not looking forward to it. I rarely ever dislike things about games—if you’ve read my other reviews, you’ll see that I’m fairly easy to please—but I just cannot stand Robin Lord Taylor’s voice. Not in this role. The thing that made the Outsider so beguiling in the first game was his quiet malice. He always spoke slowly and so pensively, like he wasn’t even really talking to you but himself. He was the embodiment of aloof, terrifying and intriguing, and he seemed to personify all of Dunwall in one character. Mr. Taylor speaks way too quickly, with too much enthusiasm and earnestness. His version of the Outsider is more of the hyperactive, wheedling God-child that wants to be involved in your journey and won’t take no for an answer. He’s too invested in everything that happens, and it’s so dissonant from the first game that after my first interaction with the Outsider, I had to stop playing and reevaluate whether I wanted to go on. It was massively disappointing; whenever I do find the Outsider in D2, I try to get through the actions as quickly as possible, and it detracts so much from the game.

I seriously hate it.

The worst thing is that I would understand if Billy Lush had been busy with other commitments, as Harvey Smith claimed on Twitter. Unfortunately, Lush has rebutted these statements on the Dishonored subreddit, explaining that, “ My schedule was wide open. They never called me!” and that he, Did the trailer and was waiting to do the actual game. I didn’t find out they replaced me until I saw an announcement of the new cast members. Up until that point I was expecting a call any day to go in because I knew it was coming out soon.”
I honestly hope that Arkane provides an explanation for all of this… or at least rescinds their statement about scheduling clashes. I don’t have any expectations, though.

One of Lush’s speculations on his failure to be rehired is that, “I honestly never heard anything. When I did the trailer for 2 I did some voice work on some test material where the outsider was talking about how he became the outsider. My guess is they didn’t like it. The new outsider sounds more fragile. Maybe that’s what they wanted?” And, speaking of which, that was another disappointing thing—he voiced the trailer and it got me so excited for the game. When the Outsider started speaking during your first encounter in D2, I couldn’t help but stare at the screen. He sounds so wrong. They tried to overlay Mr. Taylor’s voice with all sorts of special effects to make him seem more mystical, but it just sounds like he got too close to the microphone. I just don’t understand why they’d try to fix something that wasn’t at all broken. Maybe to get some more attention from the public? I don’t know.  I hope that, if there are future games, they rehire Billy Lush—no one could do the Outsider’s voice better.

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Okay! Enough about that. I’ve ranted about my disappointment for the last three paragraphs, but I’m going to move on to things that I enjoy. So far, the story is so intriguing. Delilah Copperspoon, AKA the Brigmore Witch that got tangled up in business with Daud during the events of the Dishonored DLCs, has reappeared. Claiming to be the Empress’s older sister and therefore, the rightful heir, she boots Emily off of her throne and takes over. She also accuses Emily and Corvo of being responsible for the Crown Killer Killings—the Crown Killer is this mysterious force that has ended the lives of anyone who criticizes Empress Emily Kaldwin, who obviously isn’t responsible for the acts of terror. Either way, no one protests much when Emily and Corvo are arrested. The character that you choose not to play with ends up being “out of commission” for the events of the game, which is a cool twist. I won’t say exactly how—you’ll have to watch the game for yourself to find out. But you know immediately that the replay value of D2 is going to be amazing, because you’ll experience a vastly different story from the eyes of the other character. I chose to play as Emily first, but I’m already eager to play as Corvo.

Emily’s powers are super cool, though I’m still getting used to them. Her far-reach ability is tangentially related to Blink, and involves more of a grappling motion. If you ever played Arkham City as Catwoman, it feels a bit like grabbing onto buildings with a whip and pulling yourself up. She also has a sort of Dark-Vision that makes pulsating purple waves roll across the map, and enemies show up in bright orange. It’s more difficult to use than Corvo’s Dark Vision from the first game, but it provides an additional challenge. Also, the AI in this game is infinitely more sophisticated—civilians can be alerted to suspicious behavior, and it’s so much easier to catch a guard’s attention now. This is terrible, because you have to try very hard to stay out of their view, but again—more of a challenge.

The game utilizes a lot of music straight from Dishonored, which was really cool because the first time I heard strands of familiar music I was washed over with a wave of nostalgia. It’s very atmospheric and makes the experience even more immersive. Also, though the new visuals are much more realistic than the old world of tiny heads and big hands, the distinctive style of Dishonored is still present in smaller ways, such as in advertisements and artwork and even in the characters themselves. Speaking of visuals, Emily’s hands make brief appearances through the game, when you’re running or picking something up or climbing, but they’re really long and slender and pretty. It’s funny to think that someone was trying to figure out what Emily’s hands should look like.

This game takes place in Karnaca, which is to the south of Dunwall. It’s described of smelling as strange spices (and seawater? I think?) and has a story of its own: the businesses of Karnaca are looking for workers. They’re suffering from a bloodfly infestation, and being terrified of bugs, this was really, particularly awful. Instead of suffering from swarms of rats, you have to creep through occasional bloodfly-infested houses, where massive nests filled with buzzing, deathtrap bugs wait for you to wander inside. Bloodflies lay their eggs in dead bodies, and as a result, any bodies in quarantine zone looked like they came from The Walking Dead or something of the sort. They don’t attack you outright, but will start glowing and getting aggressive if you move too quickly or get too close—and by moving too quickly, I mean if you are pressing on a joystick with more than the barest amount of pressure, you’re going to get caught in a swarm. I don’t even know how you’d deal with them with a keyboard. Luckily, the bugs aren’t impervious to fire—and you can often find flammable, high-quality liquor sitting around quarantine houses, waiting for you to hurl them at nests.

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Dishonored 2 presents a wide range of new enemies, new environments, and new experiences. The story is fascinating and the characters are strong, deep, and easy to grow fond of. Erica Luttrell and Stephen Russell have breathed life into Emily and Corvo; many of the voices are perfectly matched to their character (except, of course, The Outsider,) and each character seems to have some sort of underlying story to be discovered. I can’t wait to delve more into this game and explore Karnaca—and see Emily’s, and later Corvo’s, revenge on Delilah Copperspoon play out.

The Darkest Magic: Morgan Rhodes

Last night I finished The Darkest Magic, sequel to A Book of Spirits and Thieves by Morgan Rhodes, which I’d reviewed earlier. TDM follows Cryst and Becca Hatcher, their dysfunctional family, and how they tie into Adam and Farrell Grayson as well as the mysterious Hawkspear Society. And, of course, there are appearances from the enigmatic Markus King, leader of the Hawkspear Society and a very bad man; also, we go back to Mytica to recoup with Maddox, Barnabus, and the newly-introduced Leina and Al.
Al is a talking head.
I’m getting ahead of myself. There’s quite a bit to discuss about this novel.

So first off, I want to say that this book was a little slow. I got distracted a lot while reading it and kind of had to force myself to keep turning pages, but this seems to happen a lot with Ms. Morgan Rhodes’s books. They always pick up at the end, and this one delivered as well—the ending was a lot more interesting than the beginning, which is a lot of building up to a climax point, but very slowly. You have to suspend your disbelief while reading about the stories of all these characters though, especially with the ones that are in the real world, modern day Toronto. It’s kind of strange to think that there’s this entire secret society made of the rich and cultured, and they murder people, and no one has caught onto them yet… and also that no one has witnessed rich, famous kids like Farrell Grayson murdering people… and also how every crazy action scene in this book takes place in the same city. You’d think that the cops would have them on some kind of radar, right? Because so much stuff happens to the rich in this city, and I mean, if there’s anyone you want to protect it’s the rich people. But cops are nonexistent in this universe. Also, in this book, there’s a scene where armed gunmen storm a charity event that’s being held by the Grayson family, attended by a bunch of important people, half of whom are members of the Hawkspear Society… but there’s no security? Or their security is at least, super-sub-par, because this group of gunmen just waltz right in. Although the main gunman is revealed to be some kind of ancient mythical person that is even older than the immortal Markus King, and he’s powerful enough to kill people by looking at them, but you have to wonder how no one noticed this guy living in the city. He claims that he’s been around for long enough to watch Markus and know what he cares about so that he can complete his goal of destroying everything Markus loves—and no one’s realized that he’s here in all this time. I mean, the guy’s got eyes that are completely black. I would think that this would warrant some suspicion or concern from anyone but… nope.

Okay, but I think I’m nitpicking. It’s important to remember that this is the same universe that has mythical planes of existence parallel to the real world, and there are doorways between our world and Mytica, and there are gods and goddesses and all kinds of crazy powerful people traversing between the two worlds, so it’s not out of the question for all the stuff that I mentioned above to be happening. It’s just funny to me that Toronto, Canada is this hub of magical conquistadors.

What did I like about the book? There were some really good things. The story of Crystal Hatcher and Farrell Grayson was interesting; he’s bound to Markus King, who gives him the order to kill Crystal. Obviously, Farrell doesn’t want to do that—he claims that she doesn’t deserve to die, but we all know that there’s a lil ~something~ brewing between those two. Ms. Rhodes seems to have a fondness for hate turned love relationships; if you can recall, Magnus and Princess Cleo have a very similar relationship in the Falling Kingdoms series. There’s this theme of the bad boy turned good and the sacrificial, pure-hearted heroine falling in love—not that it’s a bad thing, just interesting to note.

Anyways, I liked the twist that Leina was actually Goddess Cleiona. She and Barnabas fall for each other as the spirited witch and the roguish mercenary (?? I’m not really sure what Barnabas is) but as her trickery comes to light, things collapse into a downward spiral. Barnabas hates her with supposed magnification, and Cleiona is aloof and indifferent. You can tell through various interactions, though, that she still holds some feelings for the man—and it seems that these are reciprocated. The final twist was really unexpected though; the discovery that Cleiona has possession of Eva’s body, untouched by decay or time, and carefully preserved within her castle. Maddox has the ability to bring her back—but of course, this is where the book ends and we’ll have to follow the sequel to see what happens from there.

I think the last character that I want to cover is Maddox. To be honest, I skimmed through a lot of the story that took place in Mytica; it didn’t interest me. The adventures of the Mytica crew isn’t nearly as detailed in its treachery and emotional appeal as the story taking place in Toronto, and the characters seemed pretty flat and uninteresting. Besides that, Maddox and Becca’s love story is really basic and one of those typical “love at first sight” situations, so I felt like I knew exactly how it was going to end. I have to admit that I was starting to get tired of this crew when in the final pages of the book, Maddox witnesses Goddess Valoria’s man, the same assassin who murdered his mother, snapping Becca’s neck. In his fury, he murders the thousands of soldiers that Valoria has stormed Cleiona’s castle with, simply by using his necromancer magic. Apparently this is a Really Big Deal, because Valoria immediately begins to beg for her life.
This is when Maddox gets interesting.
Something happens when he kills all those men; Barnabas and Cleiona claim earlier in the book that magic has corrupting qualities, and it appears that for all intents and purposes, Maddox has been truly corrupted. His eyes are as black as the night sky and, since we’re reading from his point of view, we can see that he feels indifferent to everything that’s happened. He resurrects Becca Hatcher but without all the relief that we would expect, simply offering her a small smile and mentioning that he’s glad that she’s alive.

I like this Maddox.

Everyone’s kind of antsy around him after that. He just drifts along like a god, blank and emotionless and wondering why he feels so cold. I’m going to state that I probably have a biased interest in him because this version of Maddox reminds me of the Outsider from Dishonored, the game. The Outsider is an immortal creature that exists before eternity and through eternity, one of those mythical curiosities that can see into the past and the future and simply watches from above, once in a while meddling with the affairs of mortal men to cause chaos for his own entertainment. I wouldn’t be upset about an Outsider-inspired Maddox; in fact, I think that I’d look forward to that in the next book.

So in conclusion, the book was slow but it was okay. It seems that with Morgan Rhodes’s books, you have to struggle through a few dragging parts to get to the really good stuff. She makes you work for the entertainment, though I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. On the other hand, the events that take place in her stories are spaced really well; it doesn’t happen all at once, nor does it take forever for the next major part of the story to advent. I think I’ll probably read the next book if I happen upon it, whenever it comes out; this is the kind of series that I would read on my downtime and keep up with casually, which is probably a good thing.