Category: Book Reviews

Domino Strays

I have been provided with an advance copy of the new Marvel Heroines book Domino Strays by Tristan Palmgren published by Aconyte Books, so here is the honest review I promised in exchange for the book.

So here is an important disclaimer which is always important to put out there first. I have a casual work contact with Asmodee to demonstrate board games for them in stores and at conventions. Asmodee being the parent company of Aconyte the publisher.

I am going to try my best to not let these things cloud my judgement in this review, but I accept that subconsciously it might.

So lets get in to it, the book as the title suggests concentrates on Domino, the mutant whose power is luck, if you are familiar with the comics, this is set in the current timeline with her being the leader of the Hotshots and contains the rest of the team in supporting roles. If you are less familiar, she was played wonderfully by Zazie Beetz in Deadpool 2.

The story revolves around the Hotshots infiltrating the compound of a cult leader in Chicago to save her clients two children. It skips between three different time periods, giving us the reasons why Domino hates the idea of people being held in cages, and why she has a particular thing for crazy zealots.

Its told from a second person point of view with Domino telling the reader the story, given how closely Domino is associated with Deadpool, I think it would have been very easy for this to go down the route of breaking the fourth wall, but I think this works way better, because they didn’t do that. Honestly it feels like we are holed up in some seedy bar as Domino relates the story to us over drinks.

You get a fantastic inside look at the Hotshots, how they work and the relationship dynamic between them, especially between the closest three of them, those being Domino, Diamondback and Outlaw.

My favourite parts of the story were those that covered Dominos infiltration of the Project Armageddon compound in the Everglades and those about her childhood in a church orphanage. The present days story for me was more of a device to tie it all together, and it was really good at that.

Another positive was that they didn’t overly play on her superpower, she rarely relied on it, and as she points out, its not something that makes her invulnerable and isn’t very cinematic, she has to rely on honed skills and experience, only relying on her superpower when she absolutely needs to.

The only real issue I have with the story is the footnotes, which are in themselves great, but they are all at the end of the chapters, which are in themselves, not that long, but its a pain to have to keep flipping through to make sure you read them when you are supposed to. I would much rather they be at the end of the page they belong with, but I wonder if this is a limitation of the ePub format.

I was a big fan of the Domino: Hotshots series by Gail Simone and this was a fantastic deep dive into that team. You don’t need to have any background in the characters as the book does a great job of giving you all the background you need, but in a natural very easy flowing way. The dynamic between the team was just perfect, with the characters balancing each other out just like they do in the comics. The relationship between the core of Domino, Diamondback and Outlaw, with the other members was just perfect, especially with Atlas Bear, who is only reluctantly a member of the team.

Footnotes aside, this is a very good read and given that the characters are very much Marvel B-List characters (Other than Black Widow), means that its accessible to those who only really know Marvel from the MCU.

In short you have a great book looking at one of Marvels more interesting characters and its really enjoyable.

Domino Strays is going to be released on October 6th.

Wrath of N’Kai

After my review of Tales from The Crucible, Aconyte reached out to set me up with a new copy of Wrath if N’Kai by Josh Reynolds.

So here are some disclaimers which are always important to put out there first. I am a friend of Josh on Facebook, and whilst we aren’t beat buds, we do interact with each other and I consider him a class person, and I have very much enjoyed his work with Black Library.

Secondly I have a casual work contact with Asmodee to demonstrate board games for them in stores and at conventions. Asmodee being the parent company of Aconyte the publisher.

I am going to try my best to not let these things cloud my judgement in this review, but I accept that subconsciously it might.

So Arkham Horror is not a game I have actually played, I fancy it, but me and the Cthulhu mythos have never been quite on the same wavelength.

I have never read any H.P. Lovecraft books, my first exposure to them was at a small convention in London when I was about 12, it was actually a convention for Corps of Drums, not even speculative fiction.

Basically an older chap was reading a book and it lead into a discussion lead by a BAME person about the issues of racism in his work, and even the chap reading the book was pretty clear that there was some nasty racism in some of his work.

As I said I have never read any, that discussion put me off, but I have read stuff by other authors, never a novel, usually short stories and played games set in the mythos. I have so many Cthulhu expansions for games that one would think I am a huge fan.

I can play all of Munchkin Cthulhu, get all the references and jokes, but as I said never read a single Lovecraft story.

It’s a gap in my knowledge that I am actually going to try and fill, I was recently gifted an audiobook of the complete fiction of Lovecraft, so am considering giving that a listen, but I will admit the racism is something that I will be on edge about.

What is Arkham Horror

Anyway that put to one side, let’s look at this book, by first looking at the game Arkham Horror which is a cooperative game, originally designed by Richard Launius, and is now in its third edition which was released in 2019.

It’s published by Fantasy Flight Games, a subsidiary of Asmodee, and is set in 1926 in the town of Arkham, Massachusetts. Each player takes on the role of an investigator, who are working to stop the Ancient Ones, eldritch horrors which lurk in the void beyond space and time.

It’s a 1-6 player game and you work together to gather clues and defeat the evil of the Ancient Ones and save the world.

As I said I haven’t actually played Arkham Horror but I do own its spin off Elder Sign the cooperative dice game.

The Story

It’s a 1920 whodunit told mostly from the perspective of master thief Countess Alessandra Zorzi who arrives in the town of Arkham, hired by a mysterious cabal to steal a newly discovered mummy.

The eldritch prologue sets you up for some occult horror, but the book largely steered clear of that, which given that the protagonist is not that familiar with the intricacies of the occult makes sense.

The setting is deep and rich, with gangsters and bootleggers, all speaking with 1920s US slang. It’s a real atmospheric period piece that evokes the days of prohibition, with just a hint of eldritch terror and added tommy guns.

Alessandra herself is a very three dimensional character and extremely well developed beyond the trope of the aristocratic thief. We see her backstory teased out over the book, learning more about her as we go though, and as I said, she is more than just the trope.

Her driver Pepper was actually my favourite character in the story, they have their own secret, although this is revealed early on. They are full of spunk and as mentioned by a gangster they deal with, moxie.

It’s a really fast paced book, that I literally devoured over two sittings, one that got me 20% of the way in and the rest in an evening that kept me reading until 3am! I was just utterly drawn in by the story with its twists and turns.

As I said I haven’t played Arkham Horror, but I have played Elder Sign and I recognised lots of elements of that games story mechanics in this book.

And given my surface knowledge of Lovecrafts work, I did recognise a few little nods to those within the story that will please those who are more familiar.

There is a bit of a creep factor in there, and there were certainly bits that had my skin crawling just a little, but not so much to put me off. It’s very light in terms of horror, which makes it very accessible.

Conclusion

Personally I loved this book, it was a throughly enjoyable story which whilst grounded in the Cthulhu mythos, did not delve into it too deeply, nor did it require me to have more than passing knowledge.

In fact I think if a layperson was to pick up this book and read it, they would get on with it perfectly fine without knowing a thing about the mythos.

This book was great and for me it was a fantastic read. I particularly enjoyed a strong female protagonist who at no point needed any romantic entanglements, and the pulpy 1920s nature of the story was just delightful.

I really hope that the countess and Pepper return to Arkham for some more adventures, this is kind of hinted at, but please Josh, do it!


Tales From The Crucible

Aconyte Books were kind enough to allow me to review a couple of books ahead of their general release and the first one I am doing is the first Keyforge book, Tales from the Crucible.

So couple of things I should get out of the way, I do have a causal work contract for Aconytes parent company Asmodee to demonstrate games, one of which is Keyforge.

I am also friends with three of the authors whose stories are featured in this book, David Guymer, CL Werner and Robbie MacNivan, but I have tried my best to not let those two things cloud my judgement.

I will start by saying that the software that is used to read these time limited books is absolutely awful on the iPhone 11, it’s very buggy, it misses off the top line of every page due to the notch, meaning you have to mess about a bit to read it, and it frequently skips forwards a few pages and very often crashes.

If you are going to buy these, do so in a format that can be read by any other program than Adobe Digital Editions.

Ok so with that out of the way, let’s dive in.

What Is The Crucible?

The Crucible is a giant word larger than the sun, an artificial planet that is constantly under construction by the the Architects.

They gather their materials by transporting them from other planets and worlds, often bringing that worlds inhabitants along for the ride.

The world contains every environment imaginable, from bustling urban sprawls, to deserts, to jungles, to meadows and everything in between.

The Architects communicate through the ethereal Archons who themselves are completely in the dark about the purpose behind the Crucible.

And so they gather bands of followers, to gather Æmber, a psychic substance that can be forged into keys that unlock the vaults if they architects.

Keyforge itself is a unique deck card game, developed by Richard Garfield, the developer best know for Magic: The Gathering and King of Tokyo.

It’s a really good game, you should go check it out, but I am not reviewing the game here, but I will soon.

The Book

Tales from the Crucible is a collection of nine stories from established authors the majority of whom have some experience writing for franchises.

The collection is expertly edited by Charlotte Llewelyn-Wells and I think she deserves a big mention here and the collection flows really well from one story into another with aspects of the universe introduced in earlier stories being built upon in later ones.

It probably does help to have a brief idea of the fluff and lore behind Keyforge, but it’s not exactly required.

So let’s take a look at the stories, we open up with Contract by Tristan Palgren and this is the tale of an elf assassin name Vira, hired to take out an Archon.

The Archons are godlike beings who are believed to be immortal so the story does touch on the contract being more trouble than it’s worth for the bother it might bring on the Shadows.

You get to see two Archons and their retinues battle it out over Æmber and the technology, magics and different cultures that make up the races of the Crucible.

This story is an amazing introduction to the world of Keyforge and the twist in the end is quite good.

I actually hope to see Vira feature in more stories as I rather like the character.

Then we have The Apprentice by Cath Lauria, which features Roz the titular apprentice to a Goblin mechanic.

Her whole purpose in life is to gather the parts and money to fix Tris, the only thing she has left of her parents, only thing is her boss has lost Tris in a bet.

This story follows her efforts to keep Tris by striking a deal with a Saurian, and her journey to get what he wants.

You get a great look at the Crucibles underworld and some of its most downtrodden inhabitants who live in an actual dump.

Personally I found this story to be the richest one in the book, the amount of world building it achieves is incredible and it’s a lovely quirky story and you can’t help but be touched with the ending.

After this we get Extermination Examination by Robbie MacNivan, who as I mentioned, is a friend.

This story follows a pair of students conducting fieldwork with the Martians, who are a fanatical, xenophobic and secretive race.

The Martians I found in the game to be a bit cliche and Robbie plays up all the cliches here, they even have heat rays! And it works, especially as he actually fleshes them out a lot and really digs into their paranoid nature.

The ending to this one caused me to laugh out loud, I was reading it in bed and it caused Megan to wake up frightened!

The Librarians Dual by M K Hutchins is about a librarian funnily enough, but she has a daughter whom is trapped in the walls of her library, and must be given books to read to prevent her from being fully absorbed into the walls.

Out on a journey one day to return some books to the central library, she encounters a gang of giant barbarian warriors and accidentally becomes their leader!

I was reading this and scratched my head as I wasn’t sure where it was leading, but oh my this story is hilarious, absolutely rip roaringly good, it kinda reminds me of Prachett a bit.

The next story, To Catch a Thief by Thomas Parrott concerns Nalea Wysasandoral an elven thief who whilst being excellent at what she does may have bitten off more than she can chew.

A notorious private detective, Talus the Thief-Taker a creature made of stone. Both of these are wonderful characters and despite only being a short story, you get to know a lot about them.

Another insight into the underworld of the Crucible and a twist at the end which was unexpected and very interesting.

The we have Useful Parasites by MK Hutchins which takes place in the Lesser Uncanny Forest and features a Taryx who is a creature a bit like an Ent, who acts as a healer for the creatures of the forest.

The story is about him taking care of a creature that crashes into his vegetable garden , whom he calls Burble, and tending it back to health for it to become a companion and assistant.

But noting on the Crucible is quite what it seems and the assistance that Burble gives him in his work to care for the creatures of the forest comes at a price.

It’s a slow story and the ending is what I would describe as bittersweet, but it’s really well written and very enjoyable all round.

The Perfect Organism is a contribution by CL Werner and this Godzilla inspired tale is about a Martian scientist called Briiilp and his efforts to make Creature 647 the perfect genetically adapted war machine.

Sending him out to face a an abomination known as the Tyrant, this tale really shows off Werners ability to write such horrible creatures and the way they act and battle and also really explores the character of the fanatical Martians.

Wibble and Pplimz, Investigators for Hire from M Darusha Wehm is a delightful story starting with the classification detective story trope of a missing person.

This most unusual story in the collection it sees the protagonist venture into the lawless zone accompanied by a classic odd couple of Wibble and Pplimz, who have some, shall we say erratic personalities.

The ending was a twist I really didn’t see coming and in a way was slightly disturbing.

I am not sure what to say about David Guymers Vaultheads, it was a really entertaining romp which looked at the idea that LARP is something that might also exist in the universes of speculative fictions.

It’s a really engaging story and I saw lots of aspects of role players, LARPers and gamers I know.

To be honest it was practically perfect as a means to end the collection as it’s kinda subversive and I liked that, and I think the ending was actually quite upbeat and emotionally satisfying.

Conclusion

This was a really good collection, I was already reasonably familiar with the lore behind Keyforge and this was a great way to explore the universe a bit further.

But now I want more, there are some characters in there that I really need to read more about, and I think that Charlotte Llewelyn-Wells has frankly done a superb job in getting the right authors to write the right stories.

I will absolutely be buying this as soon as it’s released in September.

The only reasons I took so long to read this was the dreadfulness of the software that I had to use to read it, plus during the reading of it I came down with COVID-19 and struggled to actually concentrate on reading in the way I would have liked to.

This is why I was sadly unable to read Wrath of N’Kai by Josh Reynolds, before my load of the file ran out which is a real shame


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