Thoughts

Thoughts #46: I Don’t Get ‘Book Boyfriends’

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Unpopular opinion time: a lot of book bloggers talk about ‘book boyfriends’, e.g. characters in books that they would date if they could. I don’t get it.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a ‘book boyfriend’. I have never, ever encountered a book character who makes me feel that strongly about them. I have characters of both genders that I’d love to meet, be friends with, hang out with, but never one I could consider a ‘book boyfriend’.

Interestingly, I do get ‘video game boyfriends’. My holy trinity of Alistair Theirin, Anders and Varric Tethras from the Dragon Age series are all perfect (damn you Bioware for making Varric unromanceable!). I get really attached to characters in video games when the story is very detailed, and you are given a chance to really get to know them.

Varric

In fact, I think I feel more strongly about video game characters than book characters in general. And for some reason, this feels like a betrayal! Perhaps because the characters are more ‘visible’: no matter how detailed an author’s description of a certain book character is, obviously in a video game you immediately see the character AND (most of the time) gain a sense of their personality much more quickly.

Both the Dragon Age and Mass Effect series have made me cry multiple times: they both contain characters I love and hard decisions I have to make regarding those characters. I think ultimately, that’s why I often feel closer: because MY decisions impact those characters. I can’t control what happens to a character in a book, it is set in stone and has already happened. With many of the video games I play, however, I can be responsible for whether someone lives or dies, and it is that tie that draws me to them.

Do you have ‘book boyfriends/girlfriends’, or are you like me, a little bit mystified by it all? What about ‘video game boyfriends/girlfriends’?

Monthly Roundup

Monthly Roundup: August 2014

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Every first Wednesday of the month, I’ll be posting a roundup of the month just gone, and writing about what’s to come in the next few weeks.

August 2014

Last month I read a total of seven books: Half A King (Shattered Seas #1) by Joe Abercrombie, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Dragon Age: The World of Thedas by David Gaider, Red Moon by Benjamin Percy, Roomies by Sara Zarr, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and Dead Angels by Gunnar Roxen.

So I didn’t have as much time to read this month, what with starting university! I’ve finished one book, and completely read another since I got here almost three weeks ago. It hasn’t been a great month for ratings; my standout book this month was We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. Not quite as amazing as people said it was, but I did enjoy it – even if I guessed the ending.

 

Challenge progress:

  • I read zero books towards the Avengers vs. X-Men Challenge. Oops. Next month’s villain is Magneto, but if we’re talking about 1970’s era Magneto then I’d rather recruit him, thank you very much.
  • I have currently read 104 books towards my Goodreads goal. I changed my goal from 100 to 125 this month.

 

Currently reading:

The Martian by Andy Weir Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas

How was August for you?

Prose & Pixels

Prose & Pixels #5: Beginner’s Guide to Video Games & Novelisations, Part 2

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Prose & Pixels is a feature that combines two of my loves: books and video games. Here I’ll discuss all sorts of things to do with the two, whether it’s recommendations, influences or just a good old chat.

Today I want to introduce some video game series, and their novelisations.

This is Part 2 of a post I did in July, and I’ll probably post on this topic several more times as there are so many novelisations! This post is mostly aimed at people who are new to video games, or those who are interested in playing but don’t know where to start. I’m listing some well-known series, as well as their novelisations, in case you want to try the books out too!

The Dragon Age series

Dragon Age Origins

[icon name=”fa-question-circle”] What is it?

A sprawling epic fantasy series, currently with two main games and tonnes of DLC plus the upcoming Dragon Age: Inquistion, where every choice you make counts. In the first game, Dragon Age: Origins, you play a Grey Warden, part of an elite force who protect the word from evil known as ‘the Blight’. You can choose from a variety of origin stories which also have an impact on the conclusion of the game, combined with the choices you make throughout. You also have the option of pursuing a love interest – ALISTAIR EVERY TIME. In Dragon Age II, you play as a character called Hawke (either male or female, but always human), who begins as a refugee in the city of Kirkwall, but gradually works their way up to become a champion. Like the first game, you have choices to make which affect your playthrough, and you can have a love interest (Anders every time!). And finally the upcoming Dragon Age: Inquisition promises to be bigger and better, where the player takes on the role of the Inquisitor and can explore a huge, ever expanding world. I can’t wait!

[icon name=”fa-thumbs-up”] Why should I play it?

Rather like Mass Effect, which I discussed last time, Dragon Age is a game where your every choice matters. Plus the cast of characters is just adorable and you really, really don’t want to lose any of them. Bioware are especially talented at creating something with a great narrative (you won’t skip a single cutscene) as well as a wonderful mode of play.

[icon name=”fa-book”] Novelisations

There are both novelisations and graphic novels for Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne, The Calling and Asunder by David Gaider, The Masked Empire by Patrick Weekes and Last Flight by Liane Merciel (novelisations), The Silent Grove, Those Who Speak and Until We Sleep by David Gaider (graphic novels).

Deus Ex

Deus Ex

[icon name=”fa-question-circle”] What is it?

The original game was released in 2000, with a sequel entitled Deus Ex: Invisible War in 2003, and a prequel (Deus Ex: Human Revolution) in 2011. I’ll just talk about the most recent game here as that’s the only one with a novelisation. Set in 2027, mechanical augmentation has just been introduced and many people have replaced or improved parts of their body with cybernetics. The player takes on the role of Adam Jensen, an augmented security consultant. The game focuses around the idea of cybernetics and control over humans through them, as well as cyber-terrorism, technology and conspiracy theories.

[icon name=”fa-thumbs-up”] Why should I play it?

Okay I have to admit, I haven’t yet played this one myself. But it’s in my Steam library and I’ve heard SUCH good things about it. I remember that we had the original on PC, and I did try it one time – but at ten years old, I didn’t really know what I was doing! It’s one of those games that isn’t afraid to explore loads of different themes, no matter how controversial, and it really makes you think. And like many amazing games, it has a gorgeous soundtrack.

[icon name=”fa-book”] Novelisations

There is one novelisation, based on the most recent game: Deus Ex: Icarus Effect by James Swallow.

The Halo series

Halo

[icon name=”fa-question-circle”] What is it?

I haven’t really played much Halo, I have to admit, so I’ve grabbed a synopsis from IMDB: Mankind is being destroyed by a conglomerate of alien races all under the flag of the Covenant. A human spaceship is under attack and has no chance to survive, and now the only hope for mankind is for the Spartan-II forged Master Chief to make sure the Covenant do not get a hold of the ship’s AI, and thus discovering the location of Earth. But the survivors of the ship are stranded on a strange alien planet called Halo, and everything is stacked against them. It becomes a desperate battle as the brave crew, lead by the Master Chief and the AI Cortana, try to survive the Covenant’s assault.

[icon name=”fa-thumbs-up”] Why should I play it?

Even if you don’t play video games very often, I’m sure you’ve heard of Halo. It’s a HUGE franchise: video games, TV shows, films, action figures and more. If you want to try out a FPS (First Person Shooter), this is the place to start. I’ve only ever played Halo with some friends, and the co-op mode was hilarious – particularly as me and one friend had never played before.

[icon name=”fa-book”] Novelisations

Novelisations include: Cryptum and Primordium by Greg Bear, Glasslands by Karen Traviss, First Strike, The Fall of Reach and Ghosts of Onyx by Eric S. Nylund, The Flood by William C. Dietz, Contact Harvest by Joseph Staten, and far too many more to list!

Are you new to video games, or have you played any of these? Have you read any of the novelisations?

Fantasy Friday

Fantasy Friday #19: My Favourite Fantasy Characters

Fantasy Friday

Fantasy Friday is my own feature, posted every other Friday. It’s pretty self-explanatory: I do a feature on something to do with the genre. Sometimes it will be a book recommendation, sometimes showcasing a book or series I’ve loved and other times it might be a discussion post. You’re more than welcome to join in with this feature, let me know if you make your own Fantasy Friday post!

Today I want to talk about: my favourite fantasy characters.

My Favourite Fantasy Characters

1. Tyrion Lannister (from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire)

I pretty much loved Tyrion from the moment I first read about him in A Game of Thrones, and that grew with every chapter, every book of the series. It’s a series without any clear-cut good characters or bad characters; everyone is pretty much in the ‘grey area’ (with perhaps the exception of the Boltons…). You might think someone is evil, but you can guarantee that a later chapter will reveal WHY they acted as they did. Tyrion seems like the lesser evil of the Lannisters, despite his own family’s attempts to portray him otherwise. He may make some questionable choices later on in the series, but ultimately he’s just doing what he needs to in order to survive. His wit and intelligence are a shield blocking out the constant insults and prejudice he’s had to put up with for his entire life – and these are the sorts of characters I like. Ones that don’t have it easy, but they push on through and make the most of a situation.

2. Frodo Baggins (from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings)

I’ve previously discussed in this feature why I have so much love for The Lord of the Rings, but I never really went into much depth about the characters. I don’t like it when people say Frodo whined the whole time, and that he wasn’t the hero of the story. Samwise may have carried him up Mount Doom in the end, but Frodo volunteered to take the Ring to Mordor – he didn’t have to. He completely turned his life on its head, going from a comfortable life of leisure to one of perilous adventure. And then, after everything he went through to get to Rivendell, he was still prepared to carry the Ring further, even knowing that the path would be much more treacherous. A wimp? No, I don’t think so. More like a completely selfless hero.

3. Luna Lovegood (from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series)

There are a LOT of lovable characters in the Harry Potter series, but Luna has got to be my favourite. She’s adorable, funny and she really doesn’t care what other people think of her. She’s totally herself, even if that means a lot of her peers find her strange, and that is something I really admire. I wish I could be more like Luna, and just not care when I think people are judging me (I think that a lot…). She’s not only honest to herself, but also her friends, and one of the loyalest people you could ever hope to know.

4. Alistair Theirin (from Dragon Age: Origins)

Ahh sweet sweet Alistair… apart from being completely gorgeous and lovable, as well as complete klutz in social situations, Alistair is someone who isn’t afraid to accept their own destiny, even if it’s not what they really want. For the good of the people, Alistair will make so many sacrifices. But actually, the main reason he’s one of my favourites is because of the romance you can pursue with him on Dragon Age: Origins… it gives me the warm fuzzies. You sort of forget he’s a video game character, because so much thought has been put into how he reacts to everything your character does. Like Luna, he’s loyal to the extreme.

5. Morrigan (from Dragon Age: Origins)

Morrigan is a bit of a dark horse. She reluctantly joins your party near the beginning of Dragon Age: Origins, and responds to most of your questions with a dry wit. She’s not exactly easy to warm to and she certainly tries to distance herself, but like Alistair, she is prepared to make some big sacrifices if it means saving thousands of lives. She’s also an incredibly skilled mage (watch her in action in the Dragon Age: Origins cinematic trailer) and is just generally awesome in every way. Earning her respect is tough, but worth it.

Who are your favourite fantasy characters?

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!

Fantasy Friday

Fantasy Friday #14: Fantasy Holiday Destinations, Part Two

Fantasy Friday

Fantasy Friday is my own feature, posted every other Friday. It’s pretty self-explanatory: I do a feature on something to do with the genre. Sometimes it will be a book recommendation, sometimes showcasing a book or series I’ve loved and other times it might be a discussion post. You’re more than welcome to join in with this feature, let me know if you make your own Fantasy Friday post!

Today I want to talk about: fantasy holiday destinations.

This is a subject I have covered in the past, but it’s also one I can expand upon – there is an endless number of fantasy worlds out there to visit, after all! Last time we visited Middle-earth, Hogsmeade and Westeros.

Thedas, from the Dragon Age series

Thedas

  • Climate: Variable. Temperate in places like Kirkwall and Denerim, arid desert in the Anderfels, a warm climate in Antiva which contributes to the wine trade, whereas the climate in Orlais is very mixed.
  • People: Humans, descended from several different tribes; elves, who are often treated as second-class citizens and sometimes slaves, those that break free from human civilisation and live a nomadic lifestyle are known as the Dalish; dwarves, who are normally only found underground, those who venture above are known as ‘surface dwarves’ and are often disowned by their family for this; the Qunari, a terrifying horned humanoid race who religious teachings mean more to them than anything. And beware the darkspawn – humanoid creatures who have been a major threat to the people of Thedas for thousands of years.
  • Language: Ander (Anderfels), Antivan (Antiva), the ‘Common Tongue’ (Ferelden), dwarven dialects, Elvish language (much is lost but they still use some words and phrases), Qunlat (Qunari), Orlesian (Orlais), Tevene (Tevinter Imperium)
  • Notable landmarks/places to visit: Well first of all, feel free to visit my castle in Ferelden. Denerim, the capital city of Ferelden, is a busy place with a lot of trade. Val Royeaux, in Orlais, is renowned for its beauty, and it is also home to the Andrastian Chantry. Within the Free Marches, you’ll find Kirkwall, home to the legendary champion Hawke. The Korcari Wilds to the south of Thedas provide a challenge for any intrepid adventurer – watch out for that sneaky Witch of the Wilds! Or for those who like a bit of history, the Tevinter Imperium is one of the oldest countries in Thedas – but I wouldn’t advise going there if you are in any way magically inclined. Bad idea.

Ankh-Morpork, from the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett

Ankh Morpork

  • Climate: A temperate zone, but next to the most polluted river in the Discworld. It is equidistant from both the tropics and frozen wastelands.
  • People: A large population of roughly one million people, including fifty thousand dwarves. The people of Ankh-Morpork are rather… eccentric. There is also a large number of witches and wizards residing in the city, thanks to the Unseen University.
  • Language: There appears to be a common tongue in Ankh-Morpork, but there are a few other languages, mostly demonstrated by Rincewind: Trob, Sumtri, Black Oroogu, Chimerian and Vanglemesht.
  • Notable landmarks/places to visit: The Unseen University, with its eight hundred foot tower, is certainly a sight to see. And why not take a tour of the library, given by the university’s very own Librarian? It’s only five bananas each! Be careful when venturing around The Shades, the slum of Ankh-Morpork… lots of shifty characters around there. And if you like history, why not visit the Dwarf Bread Museum?

Which of these two would you rather visit? Is there a particular fantasy world you’d like to visit?

Monthly Roundup

Monthly Roundup: April 2014

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Every first Wednesday of the month, I’ll be posting a roundup of the month just gone, and writing about what’s to come in the next few weeks.

booksreadapril14
Last month I read a total of twenty books, which sounds like a lot but many of them were graphic novels: After Dead (Sookie Stackhouse #13.5) by Charlaine Harris, Mass Effect Foundation: Volume 2 by Mac Walters, Red Country by Joe Abercrombie, Glow (Sky Chasers #1) by Amy Kathleen Ryan, Falling Kingdoms (Falling Kingdoms #1) by Morgan Rhodes, Days of Blood and Starlight (Daughter of Smoke and Bone #2) by Laini Taylor, X-Men Forever 2, Back in Action (X-Men Forever 2 #1) by Chris Claremont, Marvel Masterworks: The X-Men Volume 2 by Stan Lee, This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki, Civil War: Marvel Universe by Ed Brubaker, A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick, Behemoth (Leviathan #2) by Scott Westerfeld, Goliath (Leviathan #3) by Scott Westerfeld, Wolverine Noir by Stuart Moore, Wolverine First Class: Ninjas, Gods and Divas by Peter David, Wolverine First Class: Wolverine-By-Night by Fred Van Lente, X-Men Legacy: Emplate by Mike Carey, The Avengers: Volume 2 by Brian Michael Bendis, X-Men: Worlds Apart by Christopher Yost, The Kill Order (Maze Runner #0.5) by James Dashner.

I was so happy to finally finish the Leviathan series, and it’s now one of my favourite Young Adult series out there. I read some other great books this month: Days of Blood and Starlight was just as gripping as Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and Falling Kingdoms was a wonderful fantasy read. I also went crazy on the graphic novel front, ordering as many Marvel comics as I could through my county library service. And there are still plenty more to read! I also read most of Dragon Age Library Edition: Volume One, but unfortunately my ARC stopped about three quarters of the way through. I did email Netgalley, who contacted the publisher but sadly I haven’t heard anything and the title has now been archived. I will just rate and review it based on what I did managed to read.

 

Challenge progress:

  • I read five books towards the Avengers vs. X-Men Challenge, so unfortunately I didn’t do as well as last month, and I also didn’t quite manage to defeat April’s villain, Kingpin. Better luck next month! May’s villain is Bullseye, and he looks to be quite a challenge.
  • I’ve already beaten my goal of fifty books for this year on Goodreads. I’ve raised the goal to seventy-five, which I think will still be manageable – I may even reach that before August, and I can raise it again!

 

Currently reading:

>The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black The Quick by Lauren Owen

Off the blog:

The majority of April was fairly quiet, but this past week has been pretty busy. I’ve been off work since last Tuesday, although I’m back today. On Wednesday night I went to the Glamour Book Club to see Laini Taylor and Lauren Owen, and I also met up with some fellow book bloggers! I will cover the event in detail in a future post. My friend joined me in London, and she stayed until Tuesday. On Thursday night, we went to see Jace Everett in Bristol. It was a TINY event, with about one hundred people – but the venue put out chairs, so no-one was dancing and I felt like we gave off a bad impression. But despite that, I loved the music and got to meet the man himself afterwards, and get a CD signed. Then on Friday we went to see The Amazing Spider-Man 2 which I really enjoyed, Saturday was Free Comic Book Day which meant a trip to Forbidden Planet in Bristol, as well as Bristol Zoo because it was a lovely, sunny day. Oh, and a few weeks ago my Dragon Age: The World of Thedas book arrived, which my fellow Queen of Ferelden, Paola, convinced me to buy. I was just a *little* bit excited by its arrival, as you can see…

Some highlights from April 2014.
Some highlights from April 2014.

 

How was April for you?

 

Misc.

Here Be Dragons!

St. George
Image source

In honour of St. George’s Day today – the national day of England – I wanted to talk about dragons! Why dragons, you ask? If you don’t know the story of St. George, in its most condensed form it is the traditional tale of a brave knight rescuing a princess from a dragon. Of course that’s not the whole story, and if you want to read it in more detail, you can do so here, but I won’t go into it on the blog. So, to celebrate this day I wanted to talk about dragons in fiction. I’ve marked spoilers, so please only click ‘view spoiler’ if you’ve read the book (or in the case of A Song of Ice and Fire, watched past series one of Game of Thrones).

Smaug

Smaug, from The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien – Smaug is the main villain of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, a huge red dragon who captured the dwarf kingdom of Erebor, along with all of its treasure, one hundred and fifty years before the main events of the book. It is not until the latter half of the book that the reader meets Smaug – and realises just how clever he is. He toys with Bilbo Baggins, rather than killing him outright (it is for this reason that I’ve given him four for ferocity – he doesn’t just kill on sight). Like traditional dragons of lore, he loves gold and sits atop his treasures in the halls of Erebor. He is also known as Smaug the Magnificent or Smaug the Golden. [spoiler]Despite his terrifying appearance and cunning, Bilbo notices a weak spot, a bare patch on his chest, that Bard the Bowman later uses to bring the dragon down.[/spoiler]

Drogon, Rhaegal and Viserion

Drogon, Rhaegal and Viserion, from A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin – the ‘children’ of the Mother of Dragons, aka Daenerys Targaryen, these three are the first known dragons for at least one hundred and fifty years. Three hundred years earlier, dragons were used by House Targaryen to conquer the world, but were believed extinct by the time of the War of the Three Kings. [spoiler]Daenerys Targaryen, in a state of grief and after dreaming of their birth, walks into the funeral pyre of Khal Drogo with petrified dragon’s eggs and causes them to hatch.[/spoiler] They grow throughout the series but as of book five (A Dance with Dragons) are still not fully grown. They can be commanded by Daenerys, but are still wild beasts at heart.

Hungarian Horntail

Hungarian Horntail from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling – this is the dragon that Harry Potter has to evade during the first round of the Triwizard Tournament. Harry really drew the short straw here – Hungarian Horntails are notorious for their ferocity and are considered to be the most dangerous breed of dragon. It has both a spiked head and tail, able to use the latter like a club. Not only is it huge and deadly, but also very fast – proved by how easily it was able to keep up with Harry on his Firebolt.

Saphira

Saphira from Eragon by Christopher Paolini – at last, a slightly friendlier dragon. Saphira may have a human companion, and she may not attack people on sight, but in the heat of battle she is vicious and strong. Bonded to Eragon Shadeslayer, she was one of the only known female dragons of her time. Her name comes from the blue colour of her egg, and her surname (Bjartskular) means ‘bright scales’.

There are so many more dragons I could discuss – books like Seraphina, Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series, games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Dragon Age and Drakan come to mind – and so many more.

Which are your favourite dragons from fiction, video games, TV or film? How do they compare to these four?

Fantasy Friday

Fantasy Friday #9: Rinn & Paola Discuss Dragon Age!

Fantasy Friday

Fantasy Friday is my own feature, posted every other Friday. It’s pretty self-explanatory: I do a feature on something to do with the genre. Sometimes it will be a book recommendation, sometimes showcasing a book or series I’ve loved and other times it might be a discussion post. You’re more than welcome to join in with this feature, let me know if you make your own Fantasy Friday post!

Today I want to talk about: the Dragon Age series of video games, and I’m joined by the lovely Paola!

Yes! For this fortnight’s Fantasy Friday, I’m joined by my lovely friend Paola from A Novel Idea. This also marks the first time I’ve co-written a post with another blogger on my own blog. You may have seen the two of us flailing together on Twitter about Dragon Age. I bought the game when it first came out, but it sat unplayed on my PC for years. Then I finally decided I needed to play some of the games that were just sitting around (my ‘to play’ list is much like my ‘to read’ list…) – and Dragon Age was first on that list. I tweeted about it, Paola spotted the tweet and well… the fangirling began. Today we want to talk about why we love the series, and also why you should play it (COS IT’S AMAZING OKAY).

Rinn: Helloooooo Paola! I’m so glad you could join me for this post, it’s actually the first time I’ve hosted another blogger too! And we get to fangirl and flail about one of our favourite things. So… tell me – why do you like Dragon Age?

Paola: Hi Rinn!! I’m so thrilled to be chatting about DA with you! (Now is when I pretend like I haven’t played both games about 7,000 times each. Errrr.) Let the fangirling and flailing begin!

s
Wait, what were we doing again? Oh, right. Leading this army to probable slaughter in the jaws of the Archdemon. Okay, carry on then!

And as for why I love the series so much… BECAUSE ALISTAIR. I mean! Because of the immersive world and the ability to change it with the decisions I make! Definitely! That was my more sophisticated answer. Additional reasons:

  • Grey Wardens. Because they’re this crazy mix of tragedy and badassery and they get to say awesome things like, “JOIN US AS WE CARRY THE DUTY THAT CANNOT BE FORSWORN,” et al etc. But also because the lore behind their history and purpose in the world of Dragon Age is really fascinating. And did I mention the part where they used to ride griffons into battle?? SIGN ME UP PLEASE. I TOO WISH TO DO THESE THINGS.
  • Magic as controversy. I’m always really intrigued by the question of whether magic is a blessing or a bane. This is true of books I read, but also of games that I play — I love when magic itself is a source of conflict. In Dragon Age, magic is powerful, dangerous, and volatile. Those who are able to use it are considered all of these things, and more. Depending on where you are in the wide world of Thedas, they might be crowned as kings or kept captive in towers. I think it makes for such an interesting plot element.
  • The humor. I laugh a lot while playing Dragon Age. I especially love the banter between characters traveling with me. The games are written with sarcasm and wit, which helps to add a bit of levity to the darker themes of the series.
  • ALISTAIR. Wait, did I already mention him? Oh. Sorry, can’t help it. This man is adorable. (And awkward. But so adorable. *squishes him to death*)


“Oh, I wish. Don’t even tempt me like that, you minx. Eamon will have a heart attack.” You’re right Alistair. I am kind of a minx. Sry not sry~

Paola: What about you? Tell us what you love about Dragon Age! (Because everyone probs wants me to shut up now. Um.)

Rinn: Excellent answers! There’s something pretty damn cool about elite groups in video games, like the Grey Wardens – but only if you get to join them, of course. A mysterious force, sworn to protect – who are completely non-judgemental when it comes to picking recruits. PLUS GRIFFONS. And like you I really love certain things about the game that completely drew me into the immersive fantasy world of Thedas, like ALISTAIR AND ANDERS AND SER POUNCE-A-LOT- wait, what? I mean… the story is really good. Yeah.


It’s behiiiiiind you…

But in all seriousness, I absolutely love video games where the player makes all the big decisions – where your every action has some sort of consequence, where you can get to know these characters because their personalities and back stories are so well-built, and you actually get pretty emotional when something happens to them. Many times have I screamed at my computer whilst playing, because some enemy has gone after my beloved Alistair. Even though he was always the tank and supposed to take the hits – HOW DARE THEY TOUCH HIM??! There are not many games that make me gasp, or cry, or really laugh out loud (okay Saints Row: the Third might actually beat Dragon Age on the laughter front), but Dragon Age is definitely one of them.

As well as feeling completely in control and very invested in the story and fate of the characters, the actual plot and world built up around the player is just absolutely brilliant. So much detail and history, so many little facts that the developers have added in – and half the players probably don’t even read – that contribute towards this massive world. Plus, you know, it doesn’t help that some of the characters are pretty hot. [P: Pfffttt are they ever!]

Rinn: But, uhh… anyway… let’s talk about those characters. Who is in your dream team (or teams, rather), and why? Feel free to illustrate your answer with fanart or screenshots! ;D (you will be awarded bonus points!)

Paola: Okay, so I have a dream team for Origins and one for Dragon Age II.


Just (slow-motion) stabbing this ogre in the face. Don’t mind me.

For Origins, it’s me, Alistair (obviously [R: duh.]), Morrigan, and… THE DOG. Ahahaha. I have a pretty in depth set of commands used to control this particular setup. Basically, Alistair is programmed to shield bash the crap out of anyone who is even thinking about targeting me. If I’m surrounded by more than 2 enemies, the dog comes over with an AOE knockdown. As for Morrigan, her job is to inflict the enemy with the lowest HP with Virulent Walking Bomb (hands down one of my favorite spells ever. I can’t resist utility. And maybe also I am slightly bloodthirsty, who knows. Errrr) before subsequently killing it and thereby infecting all its friends. There are more commands, but these are the main ones for my favorite team, and it works whether I play rogue or mage.

Oh, also it’s important that I get all the cool slow-mo kills. I will do ANYTHING to get the killing blow for this exact reason. #Priorities [R: SUCH A SENSE OF SATISFACTION WHEN THAT HAPPENS!]


Okay, so maybe I only bothered to craft this potion because it makes your eyes glow. Don’t judge.

In DAII, my favorite group to play with is Hawke, Anders, Fenris, and Varric. This may be motivated in no small part by how funny the banter gets between the three guys. Last time I played DAII, I tried out Force Mage with Hawke and had way too much fun destroying people with gravity. Anders mostly does lots of healing and annoying debuffs. Fenris is for tanking and Varric is there just to be witty. LOL.


Carver doesn’t think very highly of Anders and his pro-mage propaganda.

There IS an exception to this team — if Carver is around, Fenris gets kicked out. Hahahaha. Because I LOVE CARVER FOREVER. HE IS THE BEST. I have an entire collection of Carver one-liners. Because lame. (Me, not Carver. Never Carver. The man has a secret tattoo of a mabari, for crying out loud.)

…Hahaha here is where Rinn popped into the Google doc randomly and saw that I was here:

R: HIIIIIIIII
R: THIS IS WEIRD
P: LOL
P: YES IT IS

Just so you can see how awesome we are. Ahahaha.

Paola: Your turn! Who’s on your dream team? And which character in the series so far do you think has been the most intriguing, polarizing, or misunderstood? (Or all of the above??)

Rinn: Okay, first of all can I just say your plan is incredibly tactical, which is basically the total opposite of mine. I probably don’t make quite enough use of being able to control my other party members – the only thing I make sure to always have set is that Morrigan and Anders (in Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II) automatically heal anyone with less than 25% health. I’m sure that I’ve commanded Alistair to do a few things (harharhar ;D) – time to open up my game and see what I have! Oh, and here’s my dream team from Dragon Age: Origins:

Sten, Morrigan and Alistair! My babies. Yes, even grumpy Sten.
Warning: many nerdy gaming terms ahead. Apparently I had Alistair frequently using Shield Wall and Taunt, to keep the enemies away from everyone else. Sten basically went all out crazy, using AOEs whenever he was surrounded by more than two enemies, keeping himself buffed up with Berserk, and also targeting heavily armoured enemies with Sunder Armour. Morrigan is basically a pure healer – Heal or Group Heal anyone under 25% (because of the cooldowns and also quite handy to keep rotating them), Drain Life for her own health, and keep Cleansing Aura up for regeneration.

As for my Dragon Age II dream team, well let me share with you this boyband-esque shot… [P: THIS SHOT IS INCREDIBLE HAHAHA]


The usual combination of Rinn & the Babes: Anders, Varric and either Merrill or Aveline.
I actually used Merrill more than Aveline, but the two were interchangeable depending on whether I needed more magic or brute power. It actually worked quite well without a tank most of the time. And yeah, I basically didn’t command ANY of them except Anders who had to heal heal heal! I went down the sneaky Assassin/Duelist route, Anders was Vengeance/Elemental, Merrill Primal/Dalish Pariah and Varric a Specialist/Marksman. I have also used Fenris a few times but… sorry Fenris. I prefer these guys.

And as my Hawke was a Rogue, I got stuck with Bethany – booooo, Bethany! I don’t like her. Next playthrough I’ll have to go Mage for Carver. I need to see that tattoo…

I think Sten is one of the most misunderstood. He seems really hard and cold, but he locked himself in that cage as punishment for his crimes. He was going to let himself die for his previous acts so he obviously has a sense of guilt, even if it doesn’t seem that way. As my Warden got to know him, he opened up a lot more and revealed more of his past. He also started showing great respect towards her, and even started making jokes! I think that, despite appearances, he is actually very thoughtful and loyal. I mean, look at his interactions with the War Dog! His early game insults turn to playful jokes and remarks as the game progresses, not just with the Warden but other characters too (like his dialogue with Morrigan about the two of them sleeping together AHHHH).

[P: AND ALSO HE LOVES COOKIES.]

Rinn: As you already mentioned the playful chat between the party members, let’s talk about the humour in the game. What are some of your favourite funny moments?


Guys. I am Hawke and Hawke is me.

Oh geez, this is difficult because there are SO MANY funny moments in the game… here are some off the top of my head!

Wynne lecturing Alistair on the birds and the bees. SO MUCH AWKS. I think all of their interactions are hysterical, though. Alistair is about 10 trillion times more awkward than usual. And that is really saying something… hahaha.

Meeting Anders in DA2. The fact that Ser Pounce-A-Lot gets mentioned almost immediately is just… perfect. His rage at having his cat taken away from him never fails to crack me up.

ALL of the trash loot. ALL OF IT. (Why is there so much???) I actually made a list once of the most ridiculous things I’ve looted from mobs in the game. Here are some of those things, for your edification:

  • Black Bile/Clear Bile/Any Kind of Bile – Um, what? Why would I want to have bile in my backpack? For what possible reason would I want this AT ALL? And why would you be able to sell bile to a vendor for any amount, low or high??
  • Fancy Poison Ring – As opposed to a plain poison ring? I mean, seriously, I want to know if it’s possible to acquire a plainer version. While playing Sebastian’s Act 2 personal quest at the Harimann mansion, I found no less than SIX of these Fancy Poison Rings secreted in abandoned bedrooms and cellars. Just how many poison rings does one family need?? [R: Sounds perfect for the Borgia family ;D]
  • Chant of Light – Now this is just funny. Lulz.
  • Empty Stained Bottle – Another repeat offender. I find these EVERYWHERE. What are they stained with? What could I possibly use them for? I’m beginning to think Hawke participates in some sort of Kirkwall recycling program. [R: Why can I imagine Alistair instituting some sort of recycling program as one of his first decrees as king??]
  • Lucky Rabbit’s Foot – I’m noting this one not because it’s an odd piece of loot per se, but because I found it on the body of a hurlock in the Deep Roads. It amused me to no end that darkspawn would be in possession of lucky charms, although it wouldn’t be surprising for darkspawn to requisition a rabbit’s foot by force for such purposes… (poor rabbit…) But I like to think that this charm was found on some unfortunate adventurer that the hurlock killed. Maybe he never had a trinket of his own before. Maybe it was his treasure~ (There’s a story in this somewhere, guys.) [R: His precious…]
  • Tainted Dwarven Jewelry – The perfect anniversary gift: jewelry made by dwarves and slobbered on by darkspawn! Corruption 100% Guaranteed! On second thought, this might be more effective than the Fancy Poison Ring for dealing with people you don’t like…
  • Rotted Wooden Peg Leg – It would be far more entertaining if you could actually equip this. Otherwise, finding these in such high volume just makes you question life. Why have all these crude prosthetic limbs been abandoned in Kirkwall’s back alleys? How many one-legged pirates are being forced to hop from place to place because their peg legs are missing?????
  • Small Wet Pouch of Incense – One question: why is it wet???
  • Tattered Pantaloons – I just like that they’re called ‘pantaloons’.

[R: PAHAHAH I LOVE THIS. SO MUCH WONDERFUL TRASH! And I love your little stories behind them ;D]

Paola: We’ve discussed how awesome it is that your decisions have such an impact on the story in both Dragon Age games. Were there any decisions that proved to be especially difficult for you to make? Are there any choices you’ve never wavered from? (i.e. “WELL OF COURSE I AM MARRYING ALISTAIR”)

Rinn: Good question! Obviously the matrimonial decision was a very difficult one. Marry the (virtual) man of my dreams and become Queen (okay, Princess-Consort), or don’t marry him and watch him get hitched to some skank and then live out the rest of my days as a doomed Grey Warden, never able to love again *plays sad music* So yes, choosing to marry Alistair was sehr, sehr difficult. NOT. [P: LOLOLOLOLOL THIS WAS MY THOUGHT PROCESS EXACTLY OKAY]

As for the ACTUAL difficult decisions… hmm. Sometimes there were some choices I had to make that I faltered over because I sort of guessed how the party would react, and I didn’t want to lose their favour. But you never can please them all… There was one where you had to either try and save a possessed child (Connor, son of the Arl of Redcliffe), or kill him – and I chose to kill him because… er, well I don’t really know. I don’t think all of the possibilities were open to me at the time (I just took a look at all possible outcomes). It’s not a decision I wanted to make, of course. And naturally the whole party got pretty angry at it… apart from Morrigan, I think. Oh, Morrigan.

I spared the mages in the Circle of course, and sided with the elves in the forest, although I convinced them to free the werewolves – those weren’t exactly difficult decisions. Choosing which dwarf to support for the throne was quite tricky, as one seemed like a ruthless but capable ruler, and the other fairer but a bit hopeless. I went for Harrowmount in the end, who was the fair but hopeless one – and I’m still not sure if that was the right decision.

And as for the big, BIG end game decisions (there be spoilers ahead) – OFF WITH LOGHAIN’S HEAD! And Anora imprisoned, whilst I sit on my new throne, mwhahaha!

Rinn: For fear of making this post super long, and also because we’ve been writing it for about three months now (yup, seriously), I think it’s time to wrap up! Do you have any last words about the super amazing series that is Dragon Age?

Paola: Yes: PLAY IT!!!! But Alistair belongs to us. Paws off.

Rinn: If you haven’t played the series yet, then take Paola’s wise advice. You won’t regret it. And now, my dear readers, I shall leave you with this beautiful image.


There is a quest where all your stuff gets stolen and your party has to run around like this. If this doesn’t encourage you to play Dragon Age, then I don’t know what will.

Are you a fan of Dragon Age? Do you understand our fangirlish ramblings? Do you too want to get into Alistair’s pantaloons? Or are you completely and utterly mystified? Share your thoughts on the series (or our thoughts…) in the comments!

Thoughts

Thoughts #11: Why I Love Video Games

thoughts_16

To me, video games come second only to books. But there are some cases where I actually prefer them over reading (gasp!), and today I just want to chat a bit about why I love them, and why I spend quite a lot of my time playing them. No matter whether you play video games regularly or not, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

They are incredibly immersive.

My favourite sorts of games are the ones that pull you right into the story: Dragon Age and Mass Effect are great examples. I think I actually get more attached to video game characters than book characters, because I feel more personally involved in their story through my character. For example, in Mass Effect I spent ages talking to my squadmates, helping them out, forming relationships with them and learning their back stories. So naturally I grew quite attached to these beautifully crafted characters – and if you know Bioware games or the Mass Effect series, you know one of the main features of the games. The decisions and choices you make can have huge effects on the lives of other characters, and when I lost a couple of them throughout the three games it actually hurt. And I’m not going to lie – the last scene between Commander Shepard and whichever love interest you pick (for me, it’s always Garrus) makes me cry. I actually care about the welfare of these fictional characters – a lot.

Commander Shepard

Plus there are games that are immersive for totally different reasons – games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, which to me didn’t have an amazing story, but is completely and utterly stunning. It is the only game I ever play with headphones on – there is so much detail to the sound and the landscape, combine that with first person mode and I can get totally lost in Skyrim for hours on end, just wondering around, not even doing quests.

 

They are beautiful.

Video games are forms of art. As I mentioned above, Skyrim draws me in with its amazing design and landscape. Bioshock Infinite, a game which I completed only recently, is one of the most gorgeous games I’ve played. The beautiful city (at least in appearance…) of Columbia, floating in the sky, is the main setting of the game and is one of the most stunning game settings I’ve ever seen. So much work goes into designing a gameLeanne @ Literary Excursion has a feature where she discusses concept art – imagine doing that sort of thing for every character and setting in a game.

Bioshock Infinite

There are so many different art styles to video games too. Realism, like Skyrim, cell-shaded like Borderlands or Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, a gorgeous hand-painted look like Bastion, or an alternate take on a typical 2D side-scroller like Fez.

 

They tell their own stories.

The story-telling and writing in some video games can be just as good as one of your favourite novels. In fact, sometimes it’s like you’re part of this amazing novel and you get to take a much more active role. One of the most recent games I’ve played with a wonderful story is Gone Home, which is rather like a visual novel. You play a young girl, home from travelling after a year – but when she gets home, no-one is there. You have to wonder around the house (in the middle of the night, during a thunderstorm), putting the pieces together to work out where everyone is. The house was really creepy at first, but as I discovered more of the story, it became a lot less frightening – and very sad. The finale made me cry.

Gone Home

With other games, like Skyrim, you can create your own stories. The player has total freedom to do what they want, which means they can create a detailed back story for their character and act it out, making decisions that their character would make, if that’s what they want to do. And then there’s games like L.A. Noire – a brilliant crime noir story that has the player identifying clues, investigating crime scenes and solving mysteries. All these small stories weave together to make up the main plot.

 

It’s fun being able to reinvent yourself.

One of my favourite things about video games? The character create screen! I can spend hours and hours making a character (even though they tend to all look pretty similar, but I have to get things just right). Detailed character creation gives me very mixed feelings – I’m happy because it means I can make a character just as I want, but also it means I have to make the character just as I want, which takes forever, or I’m not happy. Yeah. Here’s a selection of my characters from various games:

Video games allow you to redesign yourself, add things that might not be possible in this world! Want elf ears? No problem. Want to be a hobbit? Of course! Whether you play as a super stealthy assassin, a peace loving merchant, a diplomat or something completely different, it’s up to you. For example, when I play Mass Effect I often pick the choices that I myself would never make, which generally results in hilarious consequences and a badass Commander Shepard. In Skyrim I love being able to play a sneaky assassin, dispatching enemies before they even catch sight of me. In Dragon Age II my Hawke is a rogue, teleporting across the battlefield and using tactics to deal damage and then disappear. And in Saints Row III & IV – although I can’t make many choices for my character, I like to imagine her reactions to things. She dresses in a practical way (practical for things like robbing banks, massacring aliens, taking out rival gangs… you know, the usual) yet with a feminine touch, I like to imagine that she’s a woman in control of a gang who completely respect her and are perhaps a little afraid of her. Apart from her closest buds like Pierce or Shaundi. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that it’s really fun to be able to invent all these characters, with their different back stories and personalities.

Oh, and you know what else? Video game romances! Forget book boyfriends, video game boyfriends are where it’s at. You may have seen me and Paola fangirling over someone called Alistair, and occasionally Anders. No, these are not real men – they’re superhotandcoolandawesome characters from the Dragon Age series. I also absolutely love Garrus from Mass Effect

 

They are humorous.

This isn’t applicable to every game of course, but some are just crazy, wacky and totally over the top. The Saints Row series has some of the most hilarious games I’ve ever played – just take a look at these screenshots (NSFW!) –

saints row 2013-12-28_00001 2013-11-30_00008 2013-12-01_00003

Top left, was part of the Christmas DLC. You could go the easy way, or spend ages licking through the candy cane door and unlock an achievement. So of course I went for the candy cane door! Top right, you better get that reference. Bottom left, I don’t even know… and bottom right, there are twenty photo opportunities around the city of Steelport – I just happened to be streaking when I found this one, and the photographer didn’t seem to mind. The Dragon Age series also has some pretty brilliant quotes, and if you’re looking for a humorous game you can’t really go wrong with any of the Lego games out there!

 

You can socialise.

MMOs have, or more aptly were, a big part of my life for several years. I really can’t write a post about why I love video games and not include them, because they got me through a really rough patch of my life. Between the ages of sixteen and eighteen I suffered from depression, and my only happy moments were spending time with my guild on an MMO called Dream Of Mirror Online, which sadly shut down in 2009. I made some fantastic friends through the game, and although we’ve not managed to find an MMO we all like since, we’re still in contact in various ways. I even regularly play co-op games like Borderlands, Sanctum 2 (shown below) and Orcs Must Die! 2 with them on Steam. I’m super excited for the end of this year, when I’ll be FINALLY meeting up with a couple of them after seven years of friendship.

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And finally, the crazy statement… sometimes I just don’t feel like reading! Are you a lover of video games? Why do you think they’re so awesome?