Monday, September 28, 2015

Not Quite Scaramouche - Joel Rosenberg

   2001; 301 pages.  Book #9 (out of 10) in the Guardians of the Flame series.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Fantasy.  Overall Rating : 5*/10.

    It is a busy time for the warrior-bodyguards Kethol, Pirojil, and Erenor.  Walter Slovotsky has charged them with keeping the young Baron Jason Cullinane alive; which is no mean task, given the lad’s propensity for putting himself in noble but life-threatening situations.

    Now the emperor has called Parliament into session, and that requires all Barons to travel to the capital city of Biemestren.  The route from the Cullinane Barony to Biemestren is well-known, and there are many who would smile inwardly if Jason were to meet with an unfortunate end along the way.  So stay alert, guys.

    But hey, meals and lodging don’t come free, and the countryside inns don’t know what a credit card is.  So there’s always time to roll a couple drunks in an alley and relieve them of their assets, right?  We’ll even stash of the money away.  After all, nobody in this strange land has heard of a pension plan either.

What’s To Like...
    Not Quite Scaramouche takes place in an alternate universe that has sword-&-musket technology, wizardry, and fantasy creatures such as dragons, orcs, elves, and dwarves.  It is the ninth book in a 10-volume series, and this was one of the few times where I felt I was really missing a lot by not having read the series in order.

    I liked Joel Rosenberg’s treatment of the dragons.  They’re powerful and telepathic, but not omnipotent and are in fact on the verge of extinction.  The magic system is nicely done, and having a wizard in your midst certainly widens one’s options in a fantasy world.  But it too has its limits, and doesn’t overwhelm the medieval setting and world-building.

    The text is witty, particularly the thoughts and words of my favorite character, the Imperial Proctor Walter Slovotsky, who is one of the people who “fell through” from our world to this one.  The ending is both twisty and imaginative.  I have no idea what the titular "Scaramouche" reference means, even after consulting Wikipedia.  There is some cussing, and sexual references; prudes should stay away from this one.

    There’s a ton of intrigue, but almost no action.  Indeed, the only two bits of excitement were the rolling of the drunks (perpetrated by the good guys!), and the sniffing out an assassin-in-hiding.  I was also disappointed in the fantasy creatures, apart from the dragon.  The elves and dwarves were stereotypical, the oft-cited orcs never make an actual appearance.  That’s about it for the fantasy critters; everybody else could be found at your local Renaissance Fair.

Kewlest New Word. . .
Solecism (n.) : a breach of good manners.
Others :  Swive (v.); Kinesthesia (n.); Conoid (adj.); Geas (n.); Twigged (v.); Billy (n.; short for ‘Billycan’).

    Splitting your forces was, whether you were part of an army or just a pair of comrades, always something to be approached with caution.  At least Kethol would have Ahira to watch his back.  Pirojil would have Erenor, and while Erenor wasn’t entirely useless in everything, his swordsmanship was pitiful, striving towards weak, and not striving very hard.  He was a perfectly fine hand with a flintlock pistol, of course – as long as he had the muzzle of the weapon pressed tightly against the target.  (pg. 137)

    A little embezzlement here and there was no problem, as long as it was only a little.
    And if it was too much?  A governor could be hanged for embezzlement just as legally as a peasant could be hanged for poaching.  The trick was to hang him only if necessary, only if a governor made a pig of himself, to encourage prudence in the others.  You didn’t want the other governors spending more time fiddling with their books than watching for signs of brewing rebellion.  (pg. 164)

“... if pigs had wings, they’d be pigeons.”  (pg. 254 )
    The lack of action made Not Quite Scaramouche a slow read.  But even worse was the lack of a storyline.  Jason and his band of heroes roam around the countryside, Slovotsky contends with plots, counterplots, and courtly subterfuge, and a couple missing persons – one good, one bad – turn up at unexpected times.  But when you finish the book, you realize that it was all lint and no story threads.  It was almost as if Joel Rosenberg wanted to move some of the characters around, but couldn’t think of a tale to go with it.

    Perhaps this is because this was my introduction to the series.  Maybe the other books have more action.  Maybe if I’d known more about the various players in the battles of intrigue, I’d have a better appreciation of the subtle maneuverings.  But when I pick up a book with a cover showing three badass heroes riding atop a menacing-looking dragon, I’m going to expect fighting, bloodshed, a bunch of otherworldly creatures, and an epic storyline.

    It's also possible I picked the wrong book to become acquainted with this author.  To be fair, Joel Rosenberg’s wit, musings, and writing style save this book from being a waste of the reader’s time, but only barely.

    5 Stars.  Add 2 stars if you’re reading this series in order.  Or not.  By this time, you’re a better judge of how good it is than me.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency - Douglas Adams

   1987; 291 pages.  New Author? : No.  Genre : British Humor; Fantasy; Quasi-Mystery.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    Gordon Way has been killed.  Even he can see that.  Literally.  Because he’s now a ghost, and everyone knows you can’t become one of those until you’re no longer alive.

    Strangely, Gordon has no idea who shot him.  Neither do the police.  But they have a strong lead – Richard MacDuff.  He has a motive and the means, no alibi, and was caught acting very strange on the night of the murder.

    Richard needs to hire a Private Investigator to clear his name and determine who really did kill Gordon.  So he pays a visit to Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency?  After all, he’s met Dirk once, albeit many years ago.  And funnily enough, Reg was just asking about him at dinner tonight.

    Wait a minute.  Just what the heck is a “holistic” detective agency, anyway?

What’s To Like...
    Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency follows Douglas Adams’ (first three books of) Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy series, and simply put,  has the same captivating weirdness that makes HHGTTG so popular.  You might think from the title that it is going to be a Murder-Mystery, and both those elements are present, at least for a while.  But really the focus isn’t on the “who” and “why”, which are both revealed early on.  Instead, it’s on the “how’d this come about?” aspect.

    All the characters are well-developed and unique.  Dirk Gently may be the headliner, but he’s pudgy, doesn’t appear until 37%, and is somewhat of an a$$hole.  Still, it’s fun to watch him as he utilizes his Sherlock Holmesian logic to “solve” the case.  Richard MacDuff is the perfect schmuck of a protagonist, and it’s a blast to watch Gordon as he “learns” the physics of being a ghost. 

    Like HHGTTG, DGHDA is a geek’s delight.  There are multiverses and time travel, an impossibly stuck sofa, and a horse in a bathtub.  We learn the truth about Bach and Coleridge, and even Ginger Baker gets a brief mention.  Since it was written in 1987, it was an unexpected treat to meet up with some obsolete technology – car tape decks, telephone answering machines where you rewind the tape to play back messages, and outside public telephones.

    I liked the writing style.  Adams spins several separate (POV) storylines simultaneously to keep things from becoming boring; then gradually and skillfully brings them together.  There’s wit aplenty, lots of plot twists, and a couple cusswords thrown in to keep the prudes away.

Kewlest New Word ...
Moggy (n.) : a cat, especially one that doesn’t have a pedigree (a Britishism)
Others : Pettishly (adj.); Mazy (adj.); Dep (v., Britishism, and unclear in meaning)

Kindle Details...
    Amazon offers the e-book version of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency for $11.99, which seems somewhat steep to me.  The rest of Adams’ sci-fi books are priced in the $6.99-$7.99 range.

    By means of an ingenious series of strategically deployed denials of the most exciting and exotic things, he was able to create the myth that he was a psychic, mystic, telepathic, fey, clairvoyant, psychosassic vampire bat.
    What did “psychosassic” mean?
    It was his own word and he vigorously denied that it meant anything at all.  (loc. 603)

    “Do you know,” said Sergeant Gilks of the Cambridgeshire Constabulary, blinking with suppressed emotion, “that when I arrive back here to discover one police officer guarding a sofa with a saw and another dismembering an innocent wastepaper basket I have to ask myself certain questions?  And I have to ask them with the disquieting sense that I am not going to like the answers when I find them.
    “I then find myself mounting the stairs with a horrible premonition, Svlad Cjelli, a very horrible premonition indeed.  A premonition, I might add, that I now find horribly justified.  I suppose you can’t shed any light on a horse discovered in a bathroom as well?  That seemed to have an air of you about it.”
   “I cannot,” said Dirk, “as yet.  Though it interests me strangely.”  (loc. 2391)

 “Now.  Having saved the entire human race from extinction I could do with a pizza.”  (loc. 3519)
    The only issue I had with Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency was the ending, which was a bit of a letdown.  While it’s true that Dirk deductively reasons out the “big picture” conundrum, none of the lesser plotlines are resolved.  Gordon remains a ghost, and the misadventures of Dirk, Reg, Richard, and Susan, etc. just kind of grind to a halt, to be continued in Book 2.

    Along those same lines, the reader meets a number of fascinating characters, who enter, get developed, then exit the story, never to reappear.  Among them are Sergeant Gilks, Janet Pearce, and a precocious young girl named Sarah.  But I suppose some of them will show up in the sequel, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul.

    But this is a small price to pay for another heaping helping of Douglas Adams zaniness and wit, and it’s a pity that he passed away while working on Book 3, The Salmon of Doubt,  the unfinished pieces of which were issued in a patchwork collection of his other writings in 2005.  I borrowed DGHDA from my local digital library, which offers the other two books in the series as well.  I will probably read the second one, because I’m an Adams Aficionado, but I’m iffy on Book 3. 

    8 Stars.  Listen, the Dirk Gently series is never going to  supplant HHGTTG as everyone’s favorite Douglas Adams reading.  But it’s a fine, well-written supplement to Ford Prefect and Zaphod Beeblebrox, and it kept me entertained throughout. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Bite Me - Christopher Moore

   2011; 309 pages.  Full Title: Bite Me: A Love Story.  New Author? : Goodness, no.  Genre : Vampire Spoof; Humor.  Overall Rating : 8½*/10.

    Someone – or something – has been cleaning up the nighttime streets of San Francisco lately.  At least in the rougher, shadier parts of the city.  The daytime folks haven’t noticed it because mostly we’re talking about the junkies, hookers, winos, and the homeless; who only emerge after the sun goes down.

    But for the cops who patrol the streets during the dark hours, such as Inspectors Rivera and Cavuto, the absence of the usual denizens of the dark is glaringly obvious.  Even more so when one of their own – a parking-ticket policewoman – disappears while on duty, leaving the Emperor of San Francisco and his two trusty canine minions yabbering about a lethal mist and a badly-dressed miniature ninja.

    Oh yeah, one other thing that’s disappeared: cats.   Of all kinds.  Street cats, stray cats, tomcats, feral cats.  But who would want all these urban felines?  And why?  And how did he catch them?

What’s To Like...
    Bite Me is the third book in Christopher Moore’s Vampire series; the first two being You Suck (reviewed here) and Bloodsucking Fiends (reviewed here).  If you haven’t read those stories, or, if you have but it’s been a while, don’t worry.  There's a sparse-but-adequate backstory over the first 18 pages, culminating with a pop quiz (so take notes), which is way kewl.

    All the old characters are back, along with some new ones.  I find it amazing how Moore sculpts each one – both primary and secondary characters – into discrete and fascinating beings, even down to the dogs and cats.  The sub-chapters are (almost) all given character names, which clues you in as to whose POV will be used.  The book is told mostly in the 3rd person, but there are also some 1st person chapters, thanks to one of the characters keeping a blog.

    As always, Christopher Moore’s wit, humor and zaniness take center stage here.  The writing is simply masterful.  There’s plenty of action, a wee bit of Romance (well, the "full" title should’ve been your clue), and some ancient vampires you really don’t want to mess with.  But Moore also weaves some serious tones into the story.  The character study of Katusumi Okata is really well done.

    You learn some great new acronyms – BMLWA, FOAKES, OMFGZORRO, KTHXBYE, L8Z, etc.  I particularly liked meeting/following the Emperor, Lazarus & Bummer, Kona, Okata, Marvin the Cadaver Dog, and Chet the Shaved Vampyre Cat.  Plus The Animals, who are my kind of freaks.

    This is a standalone book, with all the threads getting tied up neatly.  There are losses suffered by both the baddies and the good guys.  The “big picture” three-book storyline is completed, but some baddies get away, so a Book 4 is not out of the question.

    What bothered Foo was not that Jared had on girl’s boots, but that he had on the boots of a girl with distinctly small feet.
   “Don’t those hurt?”
    Jared tossed his hair out of his eyes.  “Well, it’s like Morrissey said, ‘Life is suffering.’”
    “I think the Buddha said that.”
    “I’m pretty sure Morrissey said it first – like, back in the eighties.”  (pg. 62)

    “I need the words, Jody.  It’s who I am.”
    “I know.”
    “I’m not a vampire.  I’m a writer.  I want to use gelatinous in a sentence.  And not just once, but over and over.  On the roof, under the moon, in an elevator, on a washing machine, and when I’m exhausted, I want to lay in my own gelatinous sweat and use gelatinous in a sentence until I pass out.”
    Jody said, “I don’t think gelatinous means what you think it means.”  (pg. 301)

“Pelekona called Cap’n Kona, pirate of the briny science, lion of Zion, and dreadie to deadies of the first order, don’t you know.”  (pg. 240 )
    My only quibble with Bite Me – and this is minor – is that the book’s storyline is very straightforward.  Vampires get loose; heroes give chase; vampires get their comeuppance; the end.  Of course, it’s an utter delight to read how Moore gets us from A to Z, but still, I don’t recall being surprised by any plot twists along the way.

    But let's be clear: I am a Christopher Moore maniac.  He’s had 15 of his books published, and I’ve read 9 of them.  Two more are on my TBR shelf, and the other four, including his latest, Secondhand Souls, are all carried by my local digital library.  You simply can’t go wrong by reading any of his novels.

    8½ Stars.  Subtract 2 Stars if you thought the Twilight series was just absolutely the best set of vampire stories evah.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Average Joe and the Extraordinaires - Belart Wright

    2014; 340 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Fantasy; High School Literature.  Overall Rating : 4½*/10.

    Joe Black is having a perfect day.  He’s with his high school sweetie, Kate, and her younger brother, Mod; and they’re sitting in the local stadium, watching their home team play their arch rival.

    It’s a shame that something would happen to ruin Joe’s afternoon, but a huge explosion at the stadium during the game will do just that.  And in the mass stampede of frightened spectators that ensues, Joe spots security personnel shooting at a fleeing woman.

    I guess she could be the perpetrator, but hot dang, she’s gorgeous.  Joe is your average high school guy with a keen appreciation for female beauty, and in the mad rush to escape the stadium, he’s become separated from Kate.  So instinct tells him to help the damsel in distress.  Well, maybe it was the hormones talking, but same dif’, right?

    Besides, how much trouble could he get into by helping her?

What’s To Like...
    The primary storyline is great: an “average Joe” gets entangled in a much bigger set of schemes and counter-schemes, and despite his ineptitude (he is, after all, just average), he ends up playing a critical role in thwarting the baddies’ plans.

    There’s lots of action in Average Joe & The Extraordinaires, and it starts right away.  Joe is an interesting character study as his “averageness” is put to the test under heroic circumstances.  There’s some magic and fantasy woven into the story, but it doesn’t overwhelm the events of the plotline.  Indeed, if anything, there were times when I felt the magic-wielders were rather dim-witted about not using their talents more.  There’s also a mild sort of wit throughout the book that I found to be “just right”.

    The characters and setting are almost entirely high school-related, and perhaps that gives a clue as to the author’s age and writing style.  There’s too much telling and not enough showing, and the template for all the dialogue (Speaker, colon, quote) is awkward and leaves the text dull and flat.

    The high school scenes felt forced and over-the-top.  The cafeteria bullying just didn’t seem real to me; ditto for the teacher monitors who repeatedly looked the other way.  Then again, it’s been a while since my high school days; maybe things have gotten a lot tougher there.

    I don’t remember any cussing, and the romance is more puppy-love than R-rated.  There’s no drug-usage and the only alcohol passage involves the kids sneaking a couple of brewskies into the big game.  If that upsets you, you have issues.

Kindle Details...
    Average Joe & The Extraordinaires sells for $0.99 at Amazon.  Belart Wright has one other offering at Amazon, a short story called Story of K (59 pages), also for $0.99.  It appears a sequel is in the works for AJ&TE.

    “Now Modicum’s likes include pretending to be Ronald Weasley, wishing he was Fleez and Dozz and sometimes Byron, girls he can’t have, and an unreachable popularity status.  His dislikes include himself, life, not feasting on souls, you, his haircut, his evil soulless ginger body, and having friends that won’t join team Badd Azz.  His favorite date spot is his mom and dad’s room cuz that’s where all the magic happens.  On Saturday nights, he likes to make out with his elbows, which is a talent really.  You ever try that?  It’s very difficult to do.  He also builds Taylor Swift idols with his Lego collection, prays for popularity, and watches whole seasons of Glee that he’s personally recorded and sings to."  (loc. 2236)

    He took notes on his current book, A Clockwork Orange, which Mrs. Lane, who was also a Psychology major, constantly raved about.  He couldn’t make heads or tail of it.  The main character, Alex, seemed more of a bad guy than anything else.  Joe never liked to root for the bad guy, so he didn’t see the point in reading this book.  All the same, he forced himself to take notes on it.  After a few hours, he noted that the good guys seemed to be more twisted than Alex himself.  (loc. 3244)

 “If anything happens to her I’m going to find you and besmirch you.”  “Besmirch?”  (loc. 390)
    The major weakness of Average Joe & The Extraordinaires is the ending.  There is none.  The story just kinda grinds to a halt in mid-plotline.  Some damsels in distress get rescued, at least temporarily, but that’s about it.  None of the threads get tied up.  To wit:

    Why are the baddies doing their nefarious deeds?  Why’s everything FUBAR at the high school?  How does the magic system work and why is it there?  What’s at the bottom of the stadium and how’d the subterranean levels get built there without anyone knowing about it?   What’s so special about Melissa?  About Liandra?  About Dahlila?  Who are the Extraordinaires and what’s their role in all this?

    I recognize this is conceived as the start of a series, and that some of these things are to be reserved for later books.  But nothing is resolved here.  Basically, the only thing that happens is that the reader gets introduced to the various characters in the saga.

    So here’s the proffered path forward.  Cut the length of this book in half.  Add it to whatever is coming in Book 2.  Make sure one or more of the plot threads gets resolved, and wrap it around an exciting tale that moves the "big picture" storyline forward.  Scrap the funky dialogue format.  Get some beta-readers that aren’t afraid to critique.  Now that the first draft is done (which is the creative, fun part), start polishing the text (which isn’t nearly as fun).  When done, polish some more.

    4½ Stars.  Despite the weaknesses, the core concept of Average Joe & The Extraordinaires has enormous potential.  But an engaging tale doesn’t just “flow” from the pen.  It requires lots of blood, sweat, and rewrites.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Milk Eggs Vodka - Bill Keaggy

   2007; 227 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Full Title : Milk Eggs Vodka – Grocery Lists Lost and Found.  Genre : Non-Fiction; Lists; Humor.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    “You are what you eat.”

    Well if that axiom’s true, then perhaps “You are whatever’s on your grocery list” is even more valid, since it would include what you eat, what you drink, and all the grocery store-purchased stuff you make everyday use of. 

    Of course, once the grocery shopping’s done, most people just toss away those self-revealing lists – often as they leave the store, either into the trash receptacle, or onto the floor.  Because who in their right mind would want someone else’s shopping list?

    Well, Bill Keaggy, for one.  Assisted by a bunch friends who visit his website at, he’s amassed a collection of tossed lists numbering in the thousands.  And he’s put 400 or so of the best, strangest, and most interesting ones in his book Milk Eggs Vodka.

What’s To Like...
    Milk Eggs Vodka is a fun, fast, and easy read, since most of the pages consist of two images of grocery lists, a witty-but-not-snarky, tongue-in-cheek comment by  the author for each of them, and a piece of food trivia along the border of the page.  Personally, these trivia ditties were my favorite parts of the book.  A couple examples :

    It took almost fifty years after canned foods debuted for someone to invent the can opener. (pg. 35).  Butter has been dyed yellow for at least 700 years.  People used to use marigolds.  (pg. 98).  In 1956, 80% of all U.S. households had a refrigerator, but only 8% of British households had one.  (pg. 177).  And we’ll let you look up the eye-popping food fact on page 217 about insect parts, fly eggs, and maggots for yourself.

     For easy reference, there’s a Table of Contents at the front and an index at the back.  The ToC will catch your eye with chapter titles like Chides And Asides, Badd Spellrs, and Organized Lists, the latter for OCD folks like me. 

    The (2007) price listed on the back of the full-sized hardcover version of MEV was $19.99.  The present Amazon prices start at  $24.98 (used) and $26.36 (new).  There is also an e-book version, but several Amazon reviewers have noted that the view sucks on the Kindle.  As with any Humor-Gimmicky book, clever though it may be, the reread value may well be minimal.  So if $20+ seems a bit steep for a once-and-done book, you might check to see if your local library carries it.

    The Grocery List: Prozac, Kid Hair De-Tangler, Ibuprofen, Fibre-All, Sensodyne.  Keaggy’s Comment : “Wow.  Your life sucks, my friend.  Constipation, headaches, aching gums, kid with knotted hair.  No wonder you’re depressed.”.  (pg. 45)

    Grocery shopping must be pure joy for the obsessive-compulsive.  Aisle after aisle of precisely arranged products grouped into categories and neatly stacked on clean shelves.  Some uber-organized shoppers sort their lists by aisle.  Others use a pre-formatted master list so they can just check off the things they need without having to write much down.  Strangely, efficiency and laziness actually go quite well together, like pickles and peanut butter.  (pg. 136)

Making lists is a uniquely human activity, like watching pornography or Googling yourself.  (pg. 2 )
    There’s not a lot of text in Milk Eggs Vodka (I don’t count the pictures of grocery lists), but what is there is both well-written and clever.  Bill Keaggy does an excellent job of infusing wit into what admittedly is a drab topic.  My only concern when reading this book was the validity of the subject material itself, because, really now, how many times do you recall seeing (and recognizing) a used grocery list on the ground?

    I don’t doubt Keaggy himself, but I have to question whether those contributors who sent in photos to his website really spent their time combing the floors and trash bins of their local supermarkets, examining each and every scrap of paper therein/thereon.

    A lot of the lists looked suspiciously short.  My grocery lists are never less than 10 items, and often twice that amount.  Only one or two had identifying information on them (telephone numbers or home addresses); you’d think more would be this way.  I recognize some people have atrocious spelling skills, but a couple lists looked like the composer set out to misspell as many words as he could.

    Oh well, neither Keaggy nor I have any way to verify that the submitters of these lists were not their authors as well.  I guess it’s best to just accept the entries at face value, enjoy this book for its entertainment value, and not worry about its authenticity.  After all, we do that with any picture on the internet, whether it’s photoshopped or not.

    8 StarsMilk Eggs Vodka reminds me of a book with a similar template, and which consisted of photos of old and abandoned shopping carts in all sorts of bizarre places – rivers, woods, etc.  If I can remember that book’s title, I may have to see if my library has a copy of it as well.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Crimson Blade - Corey Soreff

   2011; 348 pages.  Full Title : Crimson Blade – The Wrath of the Gods, Book 1.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Fantasy; Quest.  Overall Rating : 6*/10.

    We’re off to see the Wizards!  And the Warriors, and the Rangers, the Giants, and the Magic!  It’s going to be a great tournament and the competition will be fierce.  The stands will be packed so we should get there early in order to get good seats.

    I’ll be rooting for The Crimson Tide, er, The Crimson Band, led by that legendary mercenary, Eucibous.  They’re the odds-on favorites.  It will be interesting to see who they get paired against in the first round.  And of course, who knows which of the competitors will be favored by the gods.

    But let’s not sit too close to the action.  I don’t want the view to be spellbinding.  I don’t want to take a chance of getting injured by flying objects.  Things like bats, clubs, and fireballs.  And body parts.

What’s To Like...
    The above might sound like this is a sports story, but after you meet the various “players” – orcs, goblins, mages, ogres, gnomes, dwarves, elves, and a host of dead and undead beasties – you may be thinking more along the lines of LOTR.

    But Crimson Blade is really a quest written in the style of an AD&D (Advanced Dungeons and Dragons) adventure.  There are gods, there are heroes, and there are magical, god-given artifacts dispensed by the deities to their designated champions.  The three AD&D alignments – good, bad, and neutral - are also employed here, and dead characters can be resurrected.  The author certainly qualifies as being the dungeon master.  The only thing missing is the 20-sided dice.

    The action – mostly fighting, snarling, and spellcasting – is non-stop.  The gods have their foibles just as the mortals do.  The fact that there are three alignments means this is not simply a “good vs. evil” storyline, and makes for some curious, if temporary, alliances.  I particularly enjoyed the flashback portions, which detailed how each member of Eucibous’ band of mercenaries came to join the Crimson Band.

     There is some mature language and adult situations.  But nothing lurid, and the cussing is what you’d expect to hear from any band of teenage gamers.  The writing is adequate, but not particularly powerful.  Character-development is non-existent, but in a role-playing scenario you expect the characters to conform to their prescribed alignments.  It would be a faux pas for a lawful evil warrior to suddenly start doing good deeds.  And I liked that Eucibous was not a boring lawful-good hero.  I prefer my protagonists to be “gray”.

Kindle Details...
    Crimson Blade sells for $2.99 at Amazon.  So far, this is the only e-book offered by Corey Soreff.  Four years is a long time to wait for a sequel (and this is proffered as a “Book One” in a series), but it appears the author has been busy fulfilling his military service, so we’ll cut him a ton of slack.

    Eucibous was thrilled to learn that he would have a chance to fight two of the best warriors in history in their prime.  It was hard for him to wait this long as they grew, but they would be fights worth waiting for.  He had also agreed to be Gurnac’s champion, since the God had told him he didn’t care what he did.  Representing a neutral God wasn’t half bad, you just do whatever you want.  (loc. 268)

    Kol’thakal sat atop a large wingless black dragon as he led his army forward through the forests of Adanantus.  Such beasts without wings were rare and revered in drow society.  “So many trees on this damn continent.  This place reeks of … life.”
    Lithak rode aside his King as always, atop a fine black horse.  “It won’t when we are done with it, my King.”  (loc. 998)

 “I am a fool.  I am falling for a Goddess.”  (loc. 2055)
    There are weaknesses.  The pacing is poor.  Far too much time is spent on prepping for the tournament and its opening round.  The fighting tactics and magic spells are detailed in great length, but they really have no bearing on the plotline.  The whole last third of the book is devoted the chaos that arises at the tournament and a save-the-world battle going on simultaneously.

    Okay fine.  But then the aftermath – the fall of a kingdom, the flight of the losing side, and the shake-up in the celestial pecking order, are all just hurriedly glossed over.  Should more text be devoted to these significant events?

    Eucibous and his Crimson Band may be worthy foes of the gods and their select champions, but against any creature less than that, they’re simply too overpowering to create any suspense.  I suppose this is okay when one is narrating a quest, but if the reader isn’t a Dungeons & Dragons enthusiast, then this may become a tedious read.

    In short, while we can say that the Crimson Band achieves its goal – writing an adventure that might have appeared in the magazine Dungeon – that goal will have a very narrow target audience.  Corey Soreff certainly demonstrates excellent world-building skills.  The next step is to go beyond the AD&D limitations and write an ambitious and innovative tale that any reader of fantasy would be drawn into.

    6 Stars.  Add 1 star if you still have your level-27 character’s stat sheet from all those years ago.  Subtract 1 star if you think “AD&D” stands for Attention Deficit and Disorder.