Tag: Cath Lauria

School of X

I have been provided with an advance copy of the new Xavier’s Institute anthology School of X edited by Gwendolyn Nix, and 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 also a, friends with one of the authors, Robbie MacNiven on Facebook, although for him that connection is probably more about interacting with fans than anything else, but I did once interview him for Edge 0f Empire!

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.

What is Marvel

Look at this point I would bore you with a bit of background to the game/universe, but lets not, you all know the Marvel Universe, if you don’t have you been living under a rock!

The Xavier’s Institute novel series is focused on the heroes that attend this school and their adventures and the books in the series thus far have focuses on what would very much be considered b-list heroes, which is good because it allows the authors to do a lot more with the characters than they would be able to do with more established heroes.

The Stories

As this is an anthology I will break down the individual stories and give a few thoughts about them.

Fifteen Minutes by Jaleigh Johnson

A story in which Goldballs and the Stepford Cuckoos get to take centre stage.

Trapped inside their own minds after movie night, Goldballs gets to act out his fantasies about being a silver screen hero, but to break out of it, he needs to get through to Celeste who is finding themselves drifting apart from her sisters.

This is a solid story, very short with barely a wasted word, really enjoyable and a great opening story.

Note, don’t refuse a Stepford Cuckoos desire for karaoke!

Call of the Dark by Robbie MacNiven

Robbie gets to revisit Graymalkin and Anole after the events of First Team, and in the aftermath Graymalkin has developed a fear of the dark.

Forced to wander the depths of the insitues lower levels, he finds himself in a tussle with his darker self, but is he going mad, or is something more sinister going on.

On this story I have mixed feelings, at times I feel its the best story in the collection, and at others I feel its the least. Its the one I have reread the most and I struggle to really figure out how I feel about it.

That’s probably a sign of good writing, but its one I cannot make my mind up over, its likely I will buy the eBook so that I can dissect this story a few more times.

Uncatchable by Lauria Cath

This is a super fun story in which Hijack and Cipher go out for a midnight illegal street race, but discover a hidden secret to the meets.

Finding themselves having to take down a criminal gang in the middle of a street race, the pair save the day.

This is a simple story, but a great one, its very much something that I could picture as a one shot issue with a great premise, X-Men have some fun, but end up taking down the bad guys!

Eye of the Storm by Amanda Bridgeman

Sooraya, Shark Girl and Rockslide get kidnapped by a cyborg who hates humans and mutants alike, they are forced to fight animal robots.

I hate to be negative, but this story is the weakest of the bunch, I think this would have worked better as an individual short story release. I can’t put my finger on it, but it feels out of place here.

Of Dirt and Bones by Pat Shand

Phoebe Stepford starts to break away a bit from the other Cuckoos, having nightmares that force her into her diamond form whilst asleep.

Traumatised by Emma Frost increasingly brutal training sessions, she is sent over the edge and cut off from her sisters.

She ends up accidently killing a goose, and wracked with guilt she buries it in the grounds of the school, but soon the area is overrun by zombie animals!

This is a great story with lots of wonderful horror inspired elements and really takes a look at the trauma that training to be a member of the X-Men can cause.

Kid Omega Faces the Music by Neil Kleid

This is a really funny story and a very different one to the others, and as the last “short” story in the book is perfectly placed.

The story telling mechanism is fantastic, Kid Omega, who as a character, I really dislike normally, is forcing the story into the head of a random person, because he can’t tell it to anyone at the school, so why not subject a random stranger to a telepathic barrage.

Its written as a conversation between Quintin and the reader, and tells how after sneaking off to a film convention, to steal Wonder Boys glasses, Kang the Conqueror turns up and sends him on a merry journey through time.

But the trip has a purpose, as Quintin sees the evolution of another Omega level mutant, Magneto, and gets a deeper understanding of his teachers journey and the evolution of his belief in mutant supremacy.

This story is one of the real highlights of this book, and to be honest makes it worth the cost all on its own!

Depowered by Carrie Harris

This is more of a novella and sees Carrie return to Triage and Tempus, who she wrote about in Liberty and Justice for All (Not yet read this, I missed its eARC on Netgallery and I have struggled with funds for new books recently).

The Schools teachers leave for an urgent mission leaving the students alone, but not for long as Polaris and Mirage turn up seeing the help of Triage and Tempus to try and regain/control their powers after the Scarlett Witch’s muttering of the words “No More Mutants”.

Unfortunately the powers that Polaris still have are out of control and in the chaos caused by a demonstration, they attract a squadron of Sentinels, who invade the school and attempt to apprehend the young mutants.

It also strongly references the time that Tempus spent in the future in which she married and started a family in the Uncanny X-Men, before being flung back to the present destroying that future forever.

This is a great story, a good mix of action, character development and a focus on plenty of characters giving good screen time to several of them.

Makes me want to go any buy Liberty and Justice for All next time I have the pennies!

Conclusion

Overall this collection is worth the money, yeah some stories stand out more than others, but that’s inevitable with any anthology.

It flows well and other than the one story, all fitted quite nicely together, with most characters making an appearance in the final story.

The ones that stand out, Eye of the Storm and Call of the Dark do so because the characters don’t feature in that last story, I can’t even recall them being mentioned in them.

And I think that’s why they don’t flow as well, the others build up to an almost Avengers style final story where most of the characters come together to face down the big bad.

But yeah this collection is solid, and I can see it as being something I could easily recommend to someone, its got a lot of characters that see less focus in the comics and other media.

I am going to give it 4.5 out of 5


School of X is out as an eBook and paperback now and you can get it right now!


The Devourer Below

I have been provided with an advance copy of the new Arkham Horror book The Devourer Below edited by Charlotte Llewelyn-Wells, published by Aconyte Books, so here is the honest review I promised in exchange for the book.

Stories in this collection are written by Evan Dicken, Georgina Kamsika, Thomas Parrott, Josh Reynolds, David Annadale, Davide Mana & Cath Lauria.

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.

Also I am friends with a couple of the authors on social media, not that we are close friends, for them its probably about connecting with fans rather than wanting to be my pal!

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

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

Like the rest of the Arkham Horror novels, its set in the 1920s, and this collection of short stories all feature characters from the upcoming new revised edition of the Arkham Horror Card Game Core Set.

So lets look at each story one by one and I will give you some brief thoughts on them.

Running the Night Whiskey – Evan Dicken

This story is about Leo, a war veteran who runs into an old comrade in arms and gets himself involved with a bootlegging run with very sinister consequences.

This story was fantastic to open the book as it really did have a loveable protagonist who whilst a bit naughty, but very loveable.

The story has hints of horror that finally culminate in an ending which is quite eldritch, and sets up the rest of what’s to come very nicely.

Shadows Dawning – Georgina Kamsika

Lita Chandler, a recent widower whose husband was murdered by cultists, is desperately trying to get revenge.

The story wasn’t big on horror as the others, but was interesting to read as Lita seemed to get more and more desperate as the story went on, there was a real sense that she had lost all control of herself in her desire for vengence.

You really do find yourself rooting for her.

The Hounds Below – Josh Reynolds

This is in my opinion the strongest story in the collection as a journalist, Holsten manages to convince the doctors at Arkham Asylum to let him interview Mr Drew, a war veteran with a particularly gruesome compulsion.

This story is very sinister and chilling as we slowly hear the backstory of Mr Drew and his decent into depravity and madness. The ending is very intense and an extremely horrific twist, a real page turner.

Labyrinth – Thomas Parrott

This is part one of a two parter and is the most unique of the stories, being the telling of a story from Greek Antiquity in a Lovecraftian way.

Joe Diamond is trying to save the life of an innocent girl and his research leads him to find a connection to the myths of the Minotaur from Greek myths, and its very horror filled.

The time jump was a bit weird, and this finish left me a little confused, but the second part resolved that issue, but it would have been nice if it was clear that this was a two part story as that wasn’t clear to me.

Its a really solid story and shows that the world of the Cthulhu mythos isn’t confined to a small part of New England.

All my Friends are Monsters – Davide Mana

This is one of my favourite stories as it sees the morgue worker, Ruth Turner find herself blackmailed into helping sinister and dark forces when her other life of cross-dressing, speakeasy visits and a queer relationship is discovered.

This is a tragic tale of how Ruth slowly finds herself getting involved deeper and deeper with the cult. Its a deeply engaging tale and you find yourself rooting for her and Charlie.

The plot is in my opinion the most engaging in the book and it got me hooked more so than the others.

The Darkling Woods – Cath Lauria

This is an okay story, but I found it less engaging than the others simply because it felt so obvious in its nature.

The characters didn’t speak to me and the plot felt rather forced.

But it was really well written and cleverly crafted story, I just couldn’t connect with it, and I felt it lacked the same horror as the other stories, but that was just me and I am sure others will feel differently.

Professor Warren’s Investiture – David Annandale

This story shows how easy it is to succumb to darkness and evil, as they say the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

In this story Professor Warren has been working on a book about the occult for the past two decades, mocked by his colleagues at Miskatonic University, when a mysterious woman approaches him at the library and offers him all the occult secrets he ever desired.

Professor Warren feelings of anger and humiliation come through quite well and this story really does show how he was susceptible to the approach of the cultists.

Its a very interesting story in the way it plays with your emotions, you sympathise with Professor Warren, but at the same time are horrified by his choices.

Sins in the Blood – Thomas Parrott

The conclusion to Labyrinth and sees Joe Diamond team up with a waitress called Agness to save the life of Nadia.

I enjoyed this one, the pacing was just right and it built upon very solid foundations from the first part with the characters involved in a race against time and cultists to prevent Nadias life being taken by a horror of the old times.

My only negative comment about this story is that Joe kind of got overshadowed by Agness, despite his being the hero of sorts, perhaps had Agness been involved in the first story that would have felt better. But they had to do a lot to shoehorn her and her story into the limited time she featured.

Conclusion

This was a very enjoyable and creepy book, a lot of emotions were played with and some fantastic characters to root for, or be horrified by.

There were of course stories I enjoyed more than others, but in general they complimented each other very well and built a general idea about the particular cult who form the antagonists in this collection.

The length of each story was just right and allowed me to dip in and out over a couple of days, making it a very very easy to read book.

Its a good primer for the general idea of Lovecraftian horror and sets up the card game very well, potentioally giving you new insight to the characters you will play with.

The editing I would add is extremely good, other than the slight confusion about the two partner, nothing feels off, and the stories flow very nicely from one to another.

A good balanced anthology that leaves you wanting more.

5 out of 5 Stars


The eBook is out on the 6th July and the paperback on September 2nd.


Elsa Bloodstone: Bequest

I have been provided with an advance copy of the new Marvel Heroines book Elsa Bloodstone: Bequest by Cath Lauria, 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 this cloud my judgement in this review, but I accept that subconsciously it might.

What is Marvel

Look at this point I would bore you with a bit of background to the game/universe, but lets not, you all know the Marvel Universe, if you don’t have you been living under a rock!

The Marvel Heroines series focuses on the female hero’s of the Marvel universe, the first two books in the series, Domino Strays and Rogue Untouched were extremly good, so I was looking forward to this.

The Story

So I think its best to introduce Elsa Bloodstrone first, she is a monster hunting heroine introduced to the Marvel universe by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. She is the daughter of Ulysses Bloodstone and follows in his footsteps of protecting the world from vampires, demons and monsters. Very much a Buffy type character.

She is British, loves her tea and doesn’t take s**t from anyone, and likes to keep people at a distance, but all that changes when a woman turns up on her doorstep claiming to be her half sister who has had her Bloodstone shard stolen, the Bloodstone being what grands Elsa her powers of superhuman strength, healing and endurance.

The core of this story is less so the adventure they are on, but the relationship between Elsa and Mihaela as they travel across thje world, investigating Ulysses old bases of operation to ensure he hasn’t left anymore Bloodstone shards lying around, lest what could happen if they ended up in the hands of evil doers.

We start off being very distrust of Mihaela, who lacks the same strength and attitude as Elsa and its very much an odd couple kind of relationship, with them constantly at each others throats, in more ways than one!

Mihaelas comments about Elsas attitude and recklessness are meet with very witty, sarcastic and snarky comebacks, even in the middle of a battle. Lauria does an excellent job of getting into Elsas head, we slowly get to see more and more about why she prefers to work alone and more about why she doesn’t want her sister in her life.

Conclusion

This book is really really good, and its refreshing to get a good book about one of Marvels lesser known heroes, and I really hope that Lauria is allowed to continue this storyline as the conclusion sets up some cool possibilities.

The backstory for Elsa and Mihaela is explored very well, so if you have never heard about Elsa before, then you will have no issues enjoying this book.

Overall its a fantastic pulpy adventure with cameos by a couple of other heroes on the trek around the world and a rather cool twist that turns everything around very nicely.

This is a brilliant book, full of background, but done in such a way as to not overwhelm and crammed full of comic book style action.

Solid 5 out of 5 stars from me!

The eBook is released on the 4th May and the paperback hits the shelves on 22nd July.


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