Tag Archives: intrigue

The Falcon at the Portal

Author: Elizabeth Peters

Amelia Peabody, vol. 11

My rating: 4.5 of 5

The 1911 season looks to be one full of drama for Amelia Peabody what with the weddings, the weird family drama between Nefret and Ramses, the political intrigue and drug dealers on the loose, the random child popping up claiming to belong to Ramses. And of course, the rash of forgeries attributed to Ramses’ best friend, David–falsely attributed, obviously, but proving that is being a bit challenging. Maybe it’s a good thing the only site Emerson was able to get this season is a bit boring on the whole.

I absolutely always love Peters’ Amelia Peabody books; there’s some great history combined with lots of thrills, good humor, suspense, mystery, and romance. Basically, they’re just good historical adventures all around. The Falcon at the Portal fills this excellently, although I do have to say that it’s just generally less cohesive than some of the other stories in this series. Honestly, there’s just so much going on that it’s hard to keep track sometimes of what’s actually important. Add to that the fact that you’ve got three separate narrators (even though I love having Nefret and Ramses’ perspectives), and the story can be a bit all over the place at times. But really, I feel like the actual mystery plot takes second place to the character development and drama in this volume anyhow, so it’s not such a big deal to miss plot threads at times. And wow is there some drama going on here! For one, we’ve got some actual development in one of my favorite (of all time, not just of this series) ships–Nefret and Ramses. Plus the whole mess with Amelia’s nephew Percy and the Americans who keep hanging around. And of course, this is where Sennia joins the family. So yeah, lots of drama, a good touch of heartache, but lots of fun, too. Recommended.

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The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.

Authors: Neal Stephenson & Nicole Galland

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience for language, violence, sexual content, and general adult situations

Little could Dr. Melisande Stokes have foreseen the consequences when she was initially approached by the dashing Major Tristan Lyons to do some obscure translation work–work that she had to sign nondisclosure agreements before she could even be told about. Certainly, she couldn’t have predicted that it would get her stuck back in 1850’s England! But then, the entire operation is full of surprises, as any government operation dedicated to reviving magic to time travel by way of quantum mechanics is bound to be. Actually, the whole thing sounds absurd, and yet, the U.S. government seems convinced that it’s actually possible . . . and they’re pouring in the funds to support their conviction. And so, armed with a research budget and their own skills and intelligence, Mel and Tristan form the beginnings of the Department of Diachronic Operations.

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. captivated me before I even opened the cover. I mean just look at the cover design; doesn’t it just promise all kinds of fun?! And the story inside does not disappoint. To start out, the whole idea of quantum theory and magic being in any way linked is just mind-bogglingly strange . . . yet at the same time brilliant. If you think about their reasoning, it actually makes sense; there’s an element of plausibility that’s brought into the whole thing. And the way the story plays with alternate timelines and the interplay of quantum mechanics and magic is just fascinating–it’s all extremely well thought out, complex, and convincing. Yet while you have this almost hard science flavor being brought in with all that, there’s also this great sense of humor and people throughout. There are a lot of strong personalities at play in this novel, and they are allowed to roam free and do what they will, which creates all sorts of interesting drama and plot in a very natural, believable manner without being overdone. I also loved the way the entire story is told in documents–the majority of it being memoirs Mel is writing while trapped in 1851, combined with interdepartmental memos, diary entries, wiki pages, etc. It’s modern, expressive, and (again) just a very credible way of presenting the story that’s also full of humor and personality. The one thing that I didn’t love about this story is that it’s essentially a military operation, one that gets really big by the latter parts of the story, and as such, our main characters (that I love) get a bit lost in the shuffle for a while. But they pop back to the surface when things fall apart at the end, so it works out. Definitely recommended.

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The Atrocity Archives

Author:Charles  Stross

Laundry Files, vol. 1

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience, mostly for language

At first glance, Bob Howard seems like a pretty typical IT guy–smart, sardonic, harried by the incompetence of the computer-illiterate in his organization and the demands of his managers. That is, until you consider the fact that he works for a secret government organization whose sole purpose is to protect the world from eldritch entities invading from alternate realities. And Bob’s life is about to take a turn for the weirder as he, bored with desk duty, volunteers to be put on active service. There’s no telling what horrors he’ll run into next.

So, I’ve heard some really mixed reviews about this book, and honestly the author in general. I have to say, for myself, I enjoyed The Atrocity Archives a great deal and plan to read at least more of this series–probably some of Stross’s other series as well. It’s this delightful cross of eldritch horror, office politics, techno-thriller, and spy story, all told with this delightfully sardonic sense of humor. Personally, I enjoyed Bob’s outlook and found him an interesting character to read. And just the ideas behind this story are fascinating . . . higher maths being summoning rituals and opening doorways into other realities, programmers accidentally stumbling on said summonings, secret organizations specifically designed to deal with these. Plus just the whole office drama of the organization and Stross’s presentation of it. I have heard some folks complain about the “technobabble” used in this story, and yes absolutely this book makes me wish I actually understood more higher math and programming . . . but on the other hand, I’m not sure how much more sense it would make even if I did have more context for all the terms. It seems kind of like magic spells used in fantasy novels; like, if you understand Latin, you’ll get a bit of a heads up on what the spell does, but it’s mostly flavor text, and even if you don’t understand, the effects will become pretty clear pretty quickly. I never felt lost because I didn’t understand a term, put it that way. In any case, I found The Atrocity Archives to be a truly engaging and enjoyable book–recommended for those who enjoy something a bit more off the beaten path.

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Solstice (Visual Novel)

Created by MoaCube

My rating: 4.5 of 5

In the far north, a city rests nestled safe in the perilous snow under a magically-created dome. It’s lauded as the Jewel of the North. But as the brash young doctor, Galen, and the mysterious young woman, Yani arrive on the last caravan to the city before the roads shut down for the winter, they find that all is not as it seems. For this is a city that keeps secrets, and those secrets may just spell the end of both the city and the lives of all its residents if Yani and Galen can’t get to the bottom of things before the winter solstice.

By the same creators as the visual novel Cinders, Solstice brings us a similar sort of visual novel. You’ve got a choose-your-own adventure sort of layout, with multiple story paths depending on the choices you make–definitely some replay value there. I haven’t managed to get all the endings myself, yet. The story is described as a “dystopian mystery thriller,” which is surprisingly accurate. You’re trying to uncover the dark secrets of the city and save it, while everyone is trying to keep secrets from you, with a limited amount of time before disaster strikes and everyone dies. It’s actually a quite well-written and interesting story, although definitely kind of dark. The characters are solid, varied, and interesting, including Galen and Yani–both of whom you get to play as at various points. I will caution that the themes and content of this game are a bit more mature, probably in the region of a T+, including murder, language, and some sexual content. As for the gameplay itself, it’s text-based–visual novel, so duh–with the written story overlaying illustration, and text-box choices that you click. The illustrations are quite detailed and attractive; a similar semi-realistic style to that used in Cinders, including small animations to make characters fidget and gesture and such. The music is also quite nice and suits the story well without being intrusive or excessively repetitive. Solstice is a visual novel that I would recommend and will likely replay at some point.

Note: I played this on Steam, and it can be found here. You can also find out more at the official MoaCube website here.

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The Grand Tour: of The Purloined Coronation Regalia

Authors: Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer

Cecelia and Kate, vol. 2

My rating: 4 of 5

Following their weddings, cousins Kate and Cecy–along with their husbands Thomas and James and Thomas’s mother Lady Sylvia–embark on a grand tour of the Continent, a honeymoon to be remembered. Or, well, that’s what it was supposed to be. And it certainly is. Memorable, that is. Nearly from the start, the party find themselves confronted with strange happenings–mysterious visitors, falling ceilings, magical illness, secret messages, and strange magical rituals performed in ancient ruins, among others. Certain that something odd is going on, they begin investigating, because really, could these people ever leave something that intriguing alone?

The Grand Tour proved a solid follow-up for Wrede and Stevermer’s first volume, Sorcery & Cecelia, although with some marked differences. If I could compare the first volume to Howl’s Moving Castle, then The Grand Tour could better be compared to one of Elizabeth Peters’s Amelia Peabody stories, just with magic. The dates are completely off, of course, as is the location, but the whole well-to-do British travelers in foreign parts getting involved in mysteries and intrigue involving some antiquity or the other? Definitely fits here. As for the writing, this volume is told more as journals or memoirs as opposed to letters, so the tone is a bit different–actually quite a bit, really. There’s a touch of dissonance at first, to be honest, like the authors are figuring out who their characters are all over again when seen in this different light. After that first bit, though, you get to see more of the characters’ individualities coming through, you get more facets to them than might have been seen if this were also told as correspondence. And the characters are, well, quite the characters. Without the decorum demanded by Regency-era society, they might be quite shocking, and even while attempting to exercise decorum, they push the bounds at times. But in a very enjoyable sort of way. On the whole, I quite enjoyed The Grand Tour and would recommend it to those who enjoy Regency-era stories, historical fantasy, and intrigue.

 

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Sorcery & Cecelia: or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot

Authors: Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer

Cecelia & Kate, vol. 1

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Kate has been dragged to London along with her (much more lovely and socially graceful) sister Georgina to be presented to Society. Meanwhile, her cousin (and long-time partner in crime) Cecelia is left in the countryside, staving off complete boredom as best she can. The two quickly begin an exchange of letters, sharing gossip and commiserating with each other’s woes. But somehow the two of them soon find themselves dragged into some inexplicable, magical conspiracy, unsure who to trust or what exactly is happening. But these two cousins are nothing if not sharp-witted, and they quickly begin putting their heads together (through letters sent back and forth) to figure this thing out before either of them ends up in true trouble.

Sorcery & Cecelia is an absolutely charming story! I’ve greatly enjoyed Wrede’s stories before, so that’s not particularly surprising; however, I don’t particularly have a great taste for Regency-era stories, and this most certainly is that. But it just has so much to offer, in spite of that, or perhaps because of. The setting causes so much of the story to be couched in politely-barbed wit, and the effect is quite delightful–reminiscent of The Importance of Being Earnest, I’d say. And the addition of magic to the setting is perfect. Between that and Thomas’s character, there are bits that almost remind me as well of Howl’s Moving Castle (the book, not the movie). The entirety of the story is told in letters exchanged between Kate and Cecy. It’s actually quite brilliant; this book started out as a role-play sort of game between the authors, exchanging letters in character, and sort of just happened to develop into an actual book. Because they’re cool like that. In any case, it works amazingly well. The story starts off a little slow at first, but I found myself quickly falling in love with the cousins’ wit and humor, and as actual plot began really developing, I found myself utterly pulled in. Highly recommended, and I am looking forward to reading the rest of this series.

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Endless Summer (Visual Novel)

Pixelberry Studios

Status: Complete (3 books)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Along with a group of fellow college students, you find yourself on a plane heading for a Caribbean island paradise. Sounds just about perfect, right? Only, before you even land, things begin to go awry. There’s an extra person on the plane, and no one can figure out which of you isn’t supposed to be here. A freak storm nearly causes your plane to crash. And when you arrive on the island, instead of a bustling tourist resort, you find . . . nobody. Eerie in the extreme, but also kind of tempting since you’ve got a huge resort stocked with food and booze, nice rooms, beaches and pools, and a fun group to hang out with. Only, how long can you have fun before the strangeness of the situation begins to have larger repercussions? And will you be able to find the clues you need and make the choices you have to in order to survive?

Endless Summer is another choose-your-own-adventure style visual novel that’s playable through the Choices app. And the first thing I have to say is, quite simply, play it. It’s a lot of fun, it’s well thought out, and it’s engaging. The art style is unique and in many places quite beautiful–especially the island scenery, of which there is a lot. This story is largely character driven, and they manage to create characters who are interesting and fun to interact with. Of note, a lot of what goes on in this story is driven by your relationships with the other characters, and those relationships are impacted by your prior choices. So choose wisely. The initial plot lands you on this seemingly deserted island with a group of fellow students, but the plot quickly spirals in an ever-expanding whirlpool of mysteries, time travel, strange people, and evil plots that somehow manages to remain unified and coherent in spite of the strange paths it takes. I also feel the need to note that this story is absolutely rife with geeky and pop-culture references–not that you can’t play without a good knowledge of these, but stuff is definitely going to go over your head. Personally, I thought this aspect of the character development was absolutely marvelous. The sole reason I don’t rate this visual novel a 5 of 5–and this is significant–is that a lot of major choices and story paths require diamonds (i.e. real money, in most instances). It’s possible to play, enjoy, and complete the story without spending any real cash–I did it and had a blast doing so. But you should know going in that there are lots of major things you just aren’t going to be able to do, or you should go ahead and purchase a set limit of diamonds before going in, if you choose to spend anything . . . otherwise the spending is just going to get out of hand. But despite that, I would highly recommend Endless Summer to anyone looking for a fun choose-your-own-adventure story that’s a bit off the beaten path.

 

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