Review

Review: Dragon Age Library Edition (Volume 1) by David Gaider

Just like when I spot a Mass Effect book on Netgalley, I can’t help myself if I see anything related to Dragon Age either! This book is actually a collection of the three current graphic novels, with extra notes and annotation. I’m going to split my review and discuss each chapter separately – but firstly I have to say how much I LOVE the cover. It’s so wonderful seeing those familiar characters in a different style of media, particularly as when I imagine them in my head, all I can see is their pixelated selves. And not only that, but I would happily frame and display the full page art in between chapters on my wall, it’s so gorgeous.

The Silent Grove

Firstly, THIS BOOK CONFIRMS KING ALISTAIR AS CANON. YES. GET OUT, ALORA. That’s the only way it should go. Narrated by King Alistair of Ferelden, a character who should be familiar to anyone who has played Dragon Age: Origins, the story follows our bumbling former Grey Warden as he investigates a rumour. Except he’s not so bumbling any more. He’s quite a different character from the one in the game, but I interpreted that as having to adapt once he became king – and losing his lover. He mentions something about how he shouldn’t ‘be here alone’, which was a nice little nod to all who chose the route of marrying Alistair, and then frustratingly found out in the epilogue that their character ‘disappeared’ months later… There is one event in particular that truly confirms how much Alistair has changed. He’s still a gentleman, shown by a moment where he gives Isabela his cloak to keep her warm, but he is now rough and rugged, and has lost his baby faced looks.

But Alistair is not the only character in The Silent Grove! He is accompanied by Varric Tethras, a party member from Dragon Age II, and Isabela, who makes an appearance in both games. The dynamic between the three was pretty great, particularly Varric and Isabela’s friendship. There was one scene where the two dismantle traps together that clearly shows how easily their friendship comes to them, despite appearances. There are also references to other Dragon Age characters, for example Alistair noting how he is unable to buy a Qunari off with cookies – a direct nod to Sten.

Those Who Speak

Those Who Speak is the turn of Isabela, who narrates the events of this particular book, which immediately captures her character. She’s a tough lady with a hidden weakness, who doesn’t find it particularly easy to make friends. She’s comfortable with her sexuality, and also comfortable flaunting it. She even likes to tease, making regular digs at Alistair’s weight (I guess he did get beefier…), which shows she is at ease with him. However, she also has a dark side that she keeps hidden from sight.

This chapter involved a ball, which was a chance to show off some formal outfits – and truly wonderful they are too. Isabela’s in particular was a fantastic design, and I just cannot emphasise how much I absolutely LOVED the artwork of this entire book. It was consistently beautiful and detailed, even in action sequences and very brief shots.

It was actually particularly interesting to read about Isabela for me, as she’s never been a character I really connected with. I turned down her ‘offer’ in the first game, and actually killed her in the second after she betrayed me… so now I feel I know her a little better, and should perhaps give her another chance during my second playthrough of Dragon Age II.

Until We Sleep

Unfortunately, my galley copy actually stopped halfway through this chapter. I did get in touch with Netgalley, who contacted the publisher for me, but they never heard anything back which is a shame. So the rest of my review is based on what I could read – I do plan on buying this book one day, so I’ll finish the story off some time! Until We Sleep was narrated by Varric Tethras, another one of my favourite characters. This story revealed a transgender character, and the situation was dealt with well – no-one batted an eyelid at Mae’s decision or lifestyle, and neither should we.

If you know Varric, you know Bianca, his beloved crossbow. This story reveals the origins of Bianca, a sad tale that I’d like to read more about – even if it makes me sob! It was nice to see the back story of someone who might be considered a less major character (although Varric will be making a reappearance in Dragon Age Inquisition, yay!). Unfortunately, it didn’t feel as well ‘held together’ as the other two, and I don’t think that had anything to do with the fact that I only read half of it. That doesn’t mean it was in anyway bad though!

Overall

This is a series that is not afraid of showing its protagonists doing bad things or making bad choices – and for that, they seem all the more real. In true Dragon Age style, it features characters that you can’t help but feel attached to, and this time we get to learn even more about them. It tips its hat to the series in every way, making frequent references back to various parts of the games (“No-one flirts as badly as Alistair!”). The extra annotation and notes in this edition add a lot of depth to the creation of the series, and I can truly say it is an absolute treat for Dragon Age fans – highly recommended. Now roll on Dragon Age Inquisition!

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Review

Review: Mass Effect Foundation (Volume 2) by Mac Walters

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3 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

You know the drill by now. I saw a Mass Effect book on Netgalley, so I requested it. I am an unashamed fangirl of the series, and will read everything and anything I can get my hands on, despite not being overly impressed with the books so far. However, I enjoyed the first volume of the Foundation series more than previous series, so was looking forward to reading the next volume.

This particular chapter of the Mass Effect story is set between the events of the Mass Effect 2 prologue and the main story, when Commander Shepard is presumed dead after the attack on the Normandy. It brings in plenty of familiar characters: Miranda, Jacob, Thane, Jack, Kai Leng and the Illusive Man. The reader learns how Jacob came to be a part of Cerberus, and how Shepard’s body was found. It also introduces a couple of new characters, but to be honest I was more interested in learning more about my beloved squad mates from the games – and it didn’t disappoint.

I’ve always seen Jacob as a truly nice guy, although he’s never been a favourite character of mine he was always someone I felt my Shepard could rely on, someone who was utterly loyal. In Mass Effect Foundation he is shown as the soldier out to protect civilians and friends, at any cost – fitting my view of him. And as ever, Miranda is loyal to the job, despite the consequences. Oh, and it’s not just cameras that linger on a view of her rather full derriere, apparently…

With some truly gorgeous full pages of art, this is definitely a lovely collector’s item for Mass Effect fans – particularly one of Jack and Jacob fighting a group of Batarians. The colour scheme is also definitely very fitting, including subtle shades of greys, oranges and reds, with the added neon colours of the various bars and establishments of the Citadel, Omega and Illium.

However, some of the panels just felt really lazy, as if they were almost just the original sketchy ideas, rather than the finalised drawing. One section of the story featured a lot of ‘faceless’ panels – I could understand this if the characters were far off in the distance, but this was even when they were the main focus of a panel. In one chapter, the features of Jacob’s and Miranda’s faces varied wildly, and in Jack’s chapter some of the art was just so unpolished to the extent of looking unfinished.

I have to say though, my absolute favourite part of this new addition to the Mass Effect universe was the bonus story at the end. It’s a 40’s style crime noir, featuring a brave Hanar (yes, you read that correctly) and his attractive Asari companion. It’s everything you could ever want in such a story: a Hanar solving crimes, mowing down hordes of Krogans effortlessly with eight pistols at once, and of course our hero gets the girl. Plus this quote:

‘”This one thinks the Krogan scum must ask the question – does it feel fortunate? Do you, scum?”

Overall, an interesting addition to the Mass Effect universe, but sadly let down by some of the artwork. However, it’s work it just for the bonus short story at the end.

Past Features

Turning Off The TV #13: Heroes

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Welcome to my regular Thursday feature, Turning off the TV! In this feature I recommend books similar to TV shows or films you may have enjoyed, both series and specific episodes.

The TV series this week is: Heroes

Heroes

After a total eclipse casts its shadow across the globe, seemingly calling forth a multitude of everyday men and women with special powers, Dr. Mohinder Suresh, a genetics professor from India, continues to champion his father’s theory that there are people with extraordinary abilities living among us. Heroes follows those people and their fight to save the world…

Heroes is another one of those shows that I started watching when it was first aired, then missed a couple and never caught up – despite the fact that my family owns all the DVDs and I could watch it on Netflix at any time. I’ve always been quite squeamish and that scene where Claire has to basically put her chest back together was a bit too much for me – although I think shows like Game of Thrones have desensitised me lately! Maybe I should give it another try, and just add it to my ever growing list of shows to watch and/or finish…

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

I’d always heard a lot about Brandon Sanderson, but I didn’t read any of his work until the end of last year. I’ve only read two of his books so far (Elantris and The Final Empire) but I loved them both. Whilst he tends to write fantasy, Steelheart is something quite different – a story of normal people, granted superpowers – and a desire to take over the Earth. The ‘Epics’, as they are known, are almost unstoppable, and only one force dares to stand against them – the ‘Reckoners’, normal people without super powers, who study the Epics in order to assassinate them. Ugh, I just want this book NOW. But it’s only out in large paperback at the moment – I’m waiting for a Kindle sale, or the smaller paperback.

Vicious by Victoria Schwab

Vicious by Victoria Schwab

Vicious is one of those books that I’d heard absolutely nothing about – until suddenly ALL of my blogger friends starting reading and talking about it. It’s about two young boys, college roommates, who discover that under the right conditions, gaining superpowers is possible. But things go wrong when it comes to the experimental stage, and ten years later the two boys are no longer friends – but enemies. Goodreads claims that Victoria Schwab ‘brings to life a gritty comic book style world in vivid prose’, which sounds totally my kind of thing. Also, I don’t know if it’s just me – but when I look at the thumbnail of this cover, all I can see is Gru from Despicable Me looking down from that balcony!

Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman

Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman

Unlike the previous two books, Soon I Will Be Invincible is not one that I’ve seen all over the blogosphere. I found it whilst browsing Goodreads, and thought it looked pretty perfect for this feature. It sounds like a bit of a typical superhero story (an evil villain called ‘Doctor Impossible’ determined to take over the world, a ‘new’ superhero who will go on to prove themselves), but it also sounds pretty fun.

The H.I.V.E series by Mark Walden

The H.I.V.E series by Mark Walden

Because we can’t forget the super villains! I’ve seen the H.I.V.E series around a lot – it’s mostly aimed at middle grade audiences. The series follows a young boy called Otto who is picked from his orphanage to become part of the Higher Institute of Villainous Education, where young children are trained to become super villains. However, Otto soon realises that it is a six year program and he doesn’t want to stay. With the help of his genius friends, he begins formulating a plan to break out. There are currently eight books, with a ninth on the way.

As well as these novels, there are so many different graphic novels and comic books relating to superheroes to check out. I’m currently working my way through various Marvel (mostly X-Men, Fantastic Four and Avengers) storylines, but other great publishers include DC and Dark Horse.

Are you a fan of Heroes? Do you have any recommendations to add?

Review

Review: Mass Effect Foundation (Volume 1)

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

If you know me, you know the Mass Effect series of video games is one of my favourite things. You may also know that I’ve been slowly working my way through all related books and graphic novels, and so far have been sadly disappointed. So it is with great delight that I proclaim this particular volume my favourite Mass Effect related book so far!

This is, in a similar way to Mass Effect: Homeworlds, an origin story. Whereas Homeworlds focused on Tali, Garrus and James Vega, Foundation takes a look at the original companions of Commander Shepard: Ashley Williams and Kaidan Alenko, as well as featuring other well known figures such as Kai Leng, the Illusive Man and Wrex (Wrex, I’m so sorry…). Continuing Mass Effect‘s brilliant streak of tough, bad-ass female figures, Foundation opens with a mysterious red-head (yay!) who is not quite as she seems – but neither is her young companion. A shocking and surprising first chapter sets up the rest of the book.

One thing I really liked about Foundation was how it tied into the first Mass Effect game. Remember the very first mission on Eden Prime, where you find Ashley? On the way you encounter some of her team – well here you find out exactly how they managed to get themselves into that situation. It was really fun recognising all these minor characters and tying the plot pieces together. The artwork was generally of a great quality, although there were a couple of frames where I had to wonder whether the artist had really considered the angle – the character faces looked a bit odd. Ashley didn’t look quite like her virtual counterpart, although admittedly her image does change a little between games – but she was wearing her classic pink and white armour! The full pages at the beginning of the book were absolutely gorgeous, wonderfully dark and fitting for the series – and to me the characters even looked like they could be a variety of Commander Shepards (for all that have not played Mass Effect: you can customise Commander Shepard to look how you want. Also, for all that have not played Mass Effect: do it NOW!).

Overall, definitely a recommended read for fans of the Mass Effect series. I always love reading origin stories, and Kaidan’s even made me feel a little sorry for him – and normally he’s one of the characters I don’t really care about all that much. The artwork was generally of a very high standard, with some really standout pieces and perfect colour scheme.

Back in November, as part of Sci-Fi Month, I wrote a post about my love for the series, and also featured a guest post by Mass Effect Story Doctor John Sutherland.

Review

Review: Mass Effect Homeworlds (Mass Effect Graphic Novels #4) by Mac Walters

I’m a little bit of a Mass Effect fangirl. Which is something, since I never even finish most games that I buy, but I’ve completed and replayed all three games and I never get bored of them. I’m trying to read all the novels and graphic novels, since the trilogy is now over, so I grabbed this one from Netgalley when it appeared.

It covers the back stories of James, Tali, Garrus and Liara, which should potentially be fascinating for any fan. And whilst James’ story captured his character slightly, and Garrus’ covered his relationship with his father, I felt Tali and Liara’s stories were a bit flat. Tali’s ends very abruptly, and overall they don’t explain much. 

The images in between each story were beautiful though. The art of the comics wasn’t quite as pretty, but caught certain scenes well – although I felt there were some issues. For example, James really doesn’t look like himself. Quarians look pretty out of proportion, even for them. There is also one scene with a turian, where he looks really chunky – I know they are big creatures, but they have broad shoulders and narrow waists, and this guy was just built like a barrel. Of course, these sort of things don’t necessarily detract from the enjoyment of the story for everyone.


At one point during his story, James is being pursued and stops to help out an old lady – which I thought really captured his character well. He may be a bit of a beef head, but he’s got a good heart. It was also really great to see Garrus as a young turian, and learn a little about his father and relationship with him.


If Garrus, Tali, Liara or James are one of your favourites, then I would read this. I wouldn’t say it was a great read for all fans, unless it covers the background of a particular character you like. I feel that it doesn’t go into enough detail for the majority and leaves a few things unanswered. Personally, I enjoyed the story of Garrus’ background the most – not only because he’s my favourite character, but because it is also the one that felt the most linked to the games, as it is set around the time of Archangel.

Review

Review: House of Night – Legacy by P.C. Cast, Joelle Jones et al

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3 out of 5 stars

I have read the first three books of the House of Night series, as my sister owns them – I think I actually read them all in two days. They’re very easy reads, but the characters are so vapid, shallow and frustrating that this series is often the target of snarky reviews. So even though the series had not previously impressed me, I wanted to give the graphic novel a try because I love the cover art, and I like graphic novels.
My immediate thought was that it wouldn’t be fair to rate this book on the story, since I didn’t enjoy the books too much – but actually, it’s not too bad and isn’t just a graphic novel adaptation of the first novel. Somehow the characters are different, although we barely see the personalities of anyone but Zoey, and she’s lost her bitchy, hypocritical ways.
Anyone who has read the books will remember the opening scene – some random guy just appears next to Zoey at school, points at her and BAM! She’s a vampire. Seriously. I’m so glad this just skipped straight over that part and starts about a month into the school term. This also means it skips the slut-shaming and various other frustrating things about Zoey.
The basic story covers Zoey trying to fulfil five tasks set by Nyx, and involves her and her friends reading through their Fledgling Handbook, which recounts stories of previous famous vampyres and the elements, all of them historical figures. These historic narrations were really interesting – the Odysseus one even has a completely different art style which is really lovely and abstract compared to the rest of the book. However, there were a couple of issues with these scenes. One is about Boudicca and is set in ‘Briton’… that’s the people of Britain, not the country itself. It also claims that Boudicca travelled to the West Midlands after laying siege to Londinium, but she in fact moved on to Verulamium which is in the east (yeah, my ancient history nerd is showing…). On a more serious note, I would say that the novels are suitable for young teens, but the graphic novel has some more disturbing scenes which may make it only suitable for older readers.
I enjoyed the use of several different illustrators throughout the book – the main story was drawn by one artist, whereas others contributed full page drawings between chapters. However, this means that the story art looks nothing like the cover art, which is a shame. That’s not to say it’s bad however – it uses an interesting mix of bright, bold colours in contrast with the ‘dark’ story matter. The characters have striking, angular features which work very well, but some of the panel backgrounds are a bit plain, and there’s a lot of empty space.
Overall, I was quite surprised by this book – Zoey is practically a different character, the art style is lovely, but the characters honestly fall a bit flat and the stories are rather disjointed. There’s not much to connect them together, just Zoey and her friends going ‘Oh, let’s read more of the Handbook’. If the House of Night series was a disappointment to you, but you still read more than one, I think you’d be surprised by this graphic novel. It feels more like a side story than part of the main plot, but then I’ve only read the books once, and it was a while ago.

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