Tag: Robbie MacNiven

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 Gates of Thelgrim

I have been provided with an advance copy of the new Descent: Journeys in the Dark book The Doom of Fallowhearth by Robbie MacNiven, 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.

Secondly I am a friend of Robbie’s on Facebook, and whilst we aren’t best buds, we do interact with each other on occasion and I consider him a class person.

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’s is Descent: Journeys in the Dark

Simply put Descent: Journeys in the Dark is good old fashioned dungeon crawler whose linage goes all the way back to Heroquest.

Based very much on the Doom board game published by Fantasy Flight Games, you can see influences from across the gaming hobby, with bits from Space Hulk and Lord of the Rings being identifiable.

It’s set in the world of Terrinoth, a setting shared with Runewars, Runeage and a few other games and RPGs published by Fantasty Flight Games.

It’s a high fantasy universe and you will recognise many of the tropes and races seen in other similar fantasy style settings. It’s not particularly unique, but it is fairly well developed and interesting.

Descent is the dungeon crawler game in that universe, with one player being the evil overlord of the dungeon and the others taking in the tiles of the hero’s.

For a dungeon crawler, let’s be honest it’s one of the best out there, and the only reason it’s not in my collection is that Lindsay and Megan aren’t as enthusiastic about high fantasy as I am!

The Story

Like Robbie’s previous Descent novel, this is comfortable and familiar feeling whilst at the same time being interesting and exciting, which is a hard trick to pull off.

The great Dunwarr city of Thelgrim has closed its gates to all, something which is unusual and has stranded refugees fleeing the wars overtaking Terrinoth.

A mysterious patron hires three adventurers to travel to great city under the mountain and figure out what is going on. Raythen a thief and a drunkard son of the city is reluctant to go back, and the Runewitch Astarra and her polar opposite the Deep Elf called Shiver can barely stand to be in the same room as each other, but the rewards on offer to each of them, convinces them to put aside their concerns and figure out what the crack!

But there is more to this quest than they first realise, not only do they have to deal with each other but they find themselves dragged into the politics of the city and its various factions, but must also confront a growing threat beneath the city itself.

The Story

This book is very good and is an extremely engaging read, I read this and it felt like being in the middle of a Heroquest game or an RPG adventure.

The character development was something that stood out for me, the protagonists weren’t simple archetypes but were fully fleshed out personalities with plenty of backstory that’s revealed as the plot advances.

The relationship between Shiver and Astarra was a particular joy, this oil and water pair start off having an extremely antagonistic relationship, but this gradually thaws throughout the book and in the end they form a very strong bond that is extremely satisfying to see.

There are some fantasy clichés in the story, but these are less of a crutch and rather feel like they are there to make sure the story is assessable to as wide an audience as possible.

The dialogue is snappy, the banter is genuinely quite funny and absolutely what you would hear at most RPG tables, the world building is excellent and the descriptive writing is first rate, in fact the last part is so good, that in a section with a bit of body horror, I genuinely found myself feeling a bit sick.

I would very strongly recommend this book to any fantasy fan because it hits all the right notes, and is a great standalone book with little dependency on any previous knowledge of the franchise.

4.5 out of 5 stars.


You can buy the eBook now and the paperback gets a release on the 17th February.


First Team

I have been provided with an advance copy of the new Xavier’s Institute book First Team by Robbie MacNiven, 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.

Secondly I am a friend of Robbie on Facebook, and whilst we aren’t best buds, we do interact with each other on occasion and I consider him a class person.

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 focued on the heroes that attend this school and their adventures and the two books in the series thus far (disclaimer I never actually read the first one yet) 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 Story

This is not an origin story, but you aren’t gonna need to know the background, you do get a decent explanation of the characters. Speaking of which the main character is Victor Borkowski, aka Anole, a lizard type mutant who had a really good upbringing compared to other mutants, and this story sees his dad kidnaped by anti-mutant extremists known as the Purifiers.

Pretty much this whole book is about the b-list X-Men with a little bit of Cyclops and a cameo by Kitty Pryde (The best of all X-Men and I will die on that hill), with Greymalkin, Cipher and Rockside forming the titular First Team. All of these are fan favourites but haven’t really had the exposure to the wider public before.

The story is one about family, a theme familar to those who are X-Men fans, family that is biological, adopted, genetic and forged of friendship. Mutants have often been shown to be more likely to suffer abandonment, being made orphaned or just plain abused, and this really delves into that in the unusualness of Anole having had a normal loving upbringing in an acepting community, despite being both a mutant and gay.

The family bonds we have are so often more than simple blood, they are forged in love and friendship, and this book really gets to the core of that, family is more than blood, and looks at what we would give up when our families are under threat.

Conclusion

This book is a real page turner and is to me seemingly a story in four parts almost, don’t know if that’s important but it felt like the book had four acts almost in which the feeling of the book changed quite a bit, which worked for me.

The featured X-Men are well rounded, you get a good feeling for who they are and what their motivations are, except perhaps Cipher, but I think that is intentional as she is a rather caged and guarded character.

Anole is a fan favourite and for good reason, we know that he was originally intended to commit suicide in the comics whilst struggling to come to terms with his sexuality, but just like the comics quickly realised that this would be a crass and awful thing to do, Anole here is at peace with his secuality and very happy with that part of himself, which was very warming to read.

I also liked that fact that although there were two gay blokes in this story, there was no automatic coupling, they were friends and often in comics and books, where there are two gay characters, they are often forced into a relationship by the writer, but here is a rare example of two gay men, who just enjoy each others company in a non-romantic way, and that to me makes their bond all that much stronger.

The theme of family, is infused into this book so naturally and so well, that it really makes you realise exactly how talented a writer Robbie is, it would be so easy to shove it in your face point to it and make it so obvious that its painful. But instead he has written a book that does this in a subtle way that you don’t realise how much focus the book places on the concept until you get to the epilogue, in that respect its a very well crafted book.

But thats not to say its a perfect book, and my biggest critisism is the villans, although we get some chapters from thier point of view, they feel very one dimensional, they are there, there is no background, they just exist as an obsticle with no real motivation other than hate and greed.

The big bad of the book, is sort of implied to be a mutant, but this is then forgotten about and we don’t actually have an explantaion about him. I know who he is and what his background is, but its not very well explained or expanded upon, which is a shame as the concept of him is, interesting in the comics.

To be frank, he could have been any generic bad guy and it wouldn’t have made a difference to the story which is what annoyed me about this, I feel in that respect Robbie did the character a disservice.

Same with the Purifiers, an existing organisation in the 616 continuity that honestly could have been any generic anti-mutant religious group.

All I am saying is that I think that original creations would have been better, because it really felt like the baddies were sort of not really well served in the story, and that’s not a bad thing, because the focus is and should have been the protagonists.

So in conclusion I am giving this a solid 4 out of 5

The eBook is out now and the paperback hits the shelves on 27th May.


Doom of Fallowhearth

I have been provided with an advance copy of the new Descent: Journeys in the Dark book The Doom of Fallowhearth by Robbie MacNiven, 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.

Secondly I am a friend of Robbie’s on Facebook, and whilst we aren’t best buds, we do interact with each other on occasion and I consider him a class person.

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’s is Descent: Journeys in the Dark

Simply put Descent: Journeys in the Dark is good old fashioned dungeon crawler whose linage goes all the way back to Heroquest.

Based very much on the Doom board game published by Fantasy Flight Games, you can see influences from across the gaming hobby, with bits from Space Hulk and Lord of the Rings being identifiable.

It’s set in the world of Terrinoth, a setting shared with Runewars, Runeage and a few other games and RPGs published by Fantasty Flight Games.

It’s a high fantasy universe and you will recognise many of the tropes and races seen in other similar fantasy style settings. It’s not particularly unique, but it is fairly well developed and interesting.

Descent is the dungeon crawler game in that universe, with one player being the evil overlord of the dungeon and the others taking in the tiles of the hero’s.

For a dungeon crawler, let’s be honest it’s one of the best out there, and the only reason it’s not in my collection is that Lindsay and Megan aren’t as enthusiastic about high fantasy as I am!

The Story

I am gonna be upfront about this, the book is at the same time, familiar and comfortable whilst still being new and innovative. It’s contradictory but it works.

The basic plot is that a band of adventurers are reunited to try and find Lady Katheryn the daughter of the rulers of one of Terrinoths baronies. She had been sent to the northern frontier town of Fallowhearth to learn how to rule, and prepare her to take up her mother’s position.

The adventurers are three of the Borderlands Four, characters who fit common tropes, yet subvert them in very interesting ways. There is the human rogue, who just wants to go back home and sit down, the dwarven alchemist who is mainly interested in blowing stuff up and the orc pathfinder who is the levelheaded leader of the pack and probably the most sensible of them.

The tone of the story is gritty and dark, it’s a very modern take on the old sword and sorcery story from my youth. There is certainly a shared history between the characters, and some bitterness, weariness and regrets too, and whilst we don’t exactly get a full and complete backstory, we don’t need it because it feels so natural.

This story is a tale of revenge and love, and asks the question, how far would you go for someone you love, how deep would you go?

Conclusion

This is a surprisingly emotional story and parts of it literally had my heart crushed, and I was moved to tears as well.

This is generally a very by the numbers story and you pick it up and start it thinking it’s gonna be just a pulpy fantasy adventure. But it’s not, it’s deeply emotional and shows that a good writer and make a familiar and well trod genre, fresh and invigorating.

I’d also loved that we had some really good normalised LGBT representation in there, which felt very natural, very right and fitted so well with the story.

Solid 5 out of 5 stars.

The book is released out now in North America and available in the U.K. on the 26th November.


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