Tag Archives: wizard

Review: “Down The Dragon Hole,” by Morgon Newquist

Title: Down The Dragon Hole
Author: Morgon Newquist
Series: The School of Spells and War #1
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Silver Empire, 2016

If you’re looking for a quick, fun read, might I suggest giving Morgon Newquist’s Down the Dragon Hole a try? It’s not a full novel, clocking in at only about forty pages, but it’s definitely entertaining and I plan to read the other four novellas currently in existence. You can find it on Amazon for $2.99 as of this writing, or you can sign up to write a review through BookSprout and get a free ARC copy if that’s your thing. (EDIT: This was a limited-time offer, apparently. I missed the chance to read the next several of these for free.) It’s possible that the couple typos and errors in word choice I ran into are fixed in the Amazon version, but I can’t verify that one way or the other.

Alis is a librarian in the magical side of the legendary School of Spells and War. It’s a quiet existence, doing what she’s good at and not putting her in any undue danger of adventure…until the day she tries to make an idiot warrior stop standing on her shelves yelling about a dragon. Not that Cahan hurt her – he’s far too honorable for that, or for her liking. It’s just that he was right. Before Alis can finish reprimanding him, the wall explodes in dragonfire. Alis and Cahan find themselves trapped, with nowhere to go but out the new hole in the wall. Now Alis is trapped outside the school (which has gone into bunker-mode) with the idiotic warrior who she grudgingly has to admit is not at fault for the dragon’s arrival. That doesn’t mean she has to be happy about his company…but with nothing better to do, she agrees to help him solve the mystery of why a dragon from the age of myth is suddenly flying around the countryside. Unfortunately, the dragon isn’t the only magical monster to return from the depths of myth…

This first entry in the series isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but it doesn’t have to be. The world the author creates here is as of yet a fairly generic fantasy world – there’s magic, but for some reason magical creatures have largely been relegated to the days of old…until now. Then there’s the school, old enough that it was the only school around when it was founded, not really needing a name and so now just referred to as the School of Spells and War. Bit of a trope, but these things are tropes for a reason. The noble warrior Cahan and the timid but surprisingly brave and capable wizard-librarian Alis are not at all static characters, as Alis especially evolves and comes out of her shell over the course of the story, but they are straight out of central casting. The dragon is pretty standard, though the Formless are less common. Maybe a D&D thing? I haven’t had the chance to explore that the way I’d like. Are all these stock elements a problem? Not for me. I expect to get to know these characters a bit more in the future chapters of their story, and like I said, tropes serve a definite purpose. I enjoyed this little romp, and I can’t wait to revisit this world.

CONTENT: No profanity that I can remember. Mild violence and peril. Mild sexual innuendo (Alis announces that she’s not having sex with Cahan immediately before agreeing to help him figure out what’s going on, for example). And in case you didn’t pick up on this, there’s magic of the standard fantasy variety, nothing remotely resembling the occult.

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Review: “John Constantine, Hellblazer: The Fear Machine” by Jamie Delano & Mark Buckingham

Title: The Fear Machine
Writer: Jamie Delano
Artists: Mark Buckingham, Richard Piers Rayner, Mike Hoffman & Alfredo Alcala
Series: John Constantine, Hellblazer (Volume III, issues #14-22)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Vertigo, 2012

John Constantine is at it again. You may remember I reviewed the first two volumes of the series not too awfully long ago, and wasn’t too impressed. I really like the character, but the first couple volumes left me underwhelmed. With Original Sinsthis had a lot to do with being dropped into the middle of events already moving (from the Swamp Thing book, of which this was a spin-off) and the lack of resolution (rectified in the second volume.) My issues with The Devil You Know mostly stemmed from my general dislike of stories that unfold in nightmares, astral journeys and/or acid trips (yet I think Neil Gaiman’s Sandman is some of the best storytelling in the medium, so figure that out), which comprised most of the stories in that collection. I’m in the minority, I know–Jamie Delano’s entire run on this book apparently holds legendary status among the fans, but I’ve just not been amazed yet. That said, The Fear Machine was a definite step in the right direction.

In his attempt to draw Constantine out of hiding, Nergal massacred his housemates and left them for Constantine to find in his apartment. Nergal has been dealt with, but the mess he left behind is still causing problems–Constantine’s face is splashed all over the front pages as the number-one suspect in the brutal slayings. (Apparently, this came to a head after his side trip to track down The Horrorist last volume. I won’t complain, that story was good stuff.) Dodging the police, Constantine falls in with a group of nature-loving hippie Travelers and finds something that has been in short supply since Newcastle–a modicum of peace. In this collection of hippies and misfits, Constantine finds the closest thing to a family he’s had in a long time. He should have known it wouldn’t last. When a brutal raid by a faux-police force ends in the kidnapping of Mercury, the kooky girl with special powers that first pulled him into his strange new community, Constantine resolves to find her and make things right. Of course, this isn’t as simple as it should be. Constantine soon finds himself embroiled in a web of conspiracy and intrigue that involves a secret Masonic order in control of a powerful weapon, a disgraced cop, a Soviet spy, and an old lover he betrayed. The stakes are the future of the entire world, but this time Constantine may be in way over his head. This time he may not even be able to save himself, let alone his friends….

The fact that I actually liked the story presented here in The Fear Machine is a little bit baffling to me at first glance. There’s a heavy dose of hippie free-love the-Earth-is-our-mother ideology, an unhealthy amount of drugs, not to mention the New Age/Ne0-Paganism that underlays the entire story arc. None of these are things I’m a fan of, either in person or (generally, at least) in fiction.* The plot rambled all over the place and was fairly slow to get moving. On top of that, those nightmare/acid/astral sequences I was complaining about last time were still present, center-stage even. And yet, it worked. I liked a lot of the characters despite disagreeing with nearly everything they stood for. The plot rambled, but always with it’s end in sight. It started slow, but there was a sense of rest and restoration for Constantine that we the reader got to share. And yes, the nightmares/acid trips/astral journey sequences I so dislike were still heavily featured, but unlike last volume, this time there was a point to them. They may have even have subtly pulled in the Merlin/Kon-Sten-Tyn thing with the finale, I’m not sure. Plus, we got a nod to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and Constantine’s appearance in the early issues of that book. The end result was a story that I actually felt justified the reputation this book holds, and I will most certainly keep reading this as my library gets in more volumes.

CONTENT: Profanity, everything shy of the dreaded “F-bomb,” and a lot of British profanity to boot. Strong, bloody violence, including occult ritual and nightmarish madness. Strong sexual content, including nudity–mostly of the featureless “Barbie-doll” variety, but still–homosexual content, and a discussion of rape.

*I don’t condemn the appearance of such themes in fiction, per se, and will take their presence over censorship any day, but I have zero interest in them. If you want to use them to good purpose in your story, fine. I can deal. Just don’t expect me to be thrilled at the prospect.

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Review: “The Dresden Files: Storm Front (GN Adaptation)” by Jim Butcher, Mark Powers, Ardrian Syaf & Brett Booth

Title: Storm Front Vol. I: The Gathering Storm/Vol. II: Maelstrom
Original novel by: Jim Butcher
Adapted by: Mark Powers
Artists: Ardrian Syaf (Vol. I-II) & Brett Booth (Vol. II)
Series: The Dresden Files
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Dabel Brothers, 2009/Dynamite, 2011

Okay, I’ll just say this up front and get it out of the way: you should totally be reading the real books, not these graphic adaptations. However, I’ve read the real thing, and so now have no compunctions about reading the graphic novel. To clarify, this is a graphic novel adaptation of the first novel in the series, published in two volumes and reviewed here as one unit.

When the Chicago PD have a case they don’t know how to explain, they give it to Karrin Murphy and the Special Investigations division. When Murphy thinks there may actually be something supernatural going on, she calls in the only practicing wizard in the Chicago phone book–Harry Dresden. This time, there’s a couple of corpses in a gore-splattered hotel room, their hearts exploded from their chests mid-climax. One is a high-class hooker, one of Madame Bianca’s girls. The other is the right-hand man of Chicago’s local mob boss. This was obviously the work of a powerful wizard–the problem is, Harry’s the only one around who fits the bill. Now Harry has the council watching his every move, and any attempt to recreate the spell used to kill the hitman and the hooker may be enough to seal his doom. On the other hand, if he can’t figure out what happened, the city will soon be gripped in a war between the mob and Madame Bianca’s vampires. In addition, he has another seemingly-unrelated case to distract him, and a beautiful tabloid journalist vying for his attentions. Can Harry unravel these tangled plot threads and figure out what’s going on? Go read the book and find out!

Granted, it’s been a while since I’ve read the original novel this is adapted from, but this seemed incredibly faithful. Jim Butcher seemed to think so in his introduction, anyway. The writing was good, which can partially be laid at the foot of adapter Mark Powers but I think belongs mostly to Jim Butcher’s original novel. The art, however, is the reason I picked this up in the first place–keep in mind, this is adapted from a book I’ve already read, so it wasn’t too high on my priority list. Ardian Syaf, the same artist from the prequel Welcome To The Jungle, continues his stellar work here. Characters I’ve been reading about for years jump off the page almost exactly how I imagined them, and I have to say it’s been a great experience. Where the first volume  falls short is in it’s bonus story in the back, an adaptation of the first ever Dresden short story Restoration Of Faith. It wasn’t a particularly strong story to begin with (by Butcher’s own admission), and the graphic treatment isn’t kind. It’s adapted by Grant Alter with art by Kevin Mellon, and it just doesn’t stack up. Important information is never given, a character just appears out of nowhere when it’s time for him to show up with no introduction, and the villain’s defeat is almost incoherent–if I hadn’t read the story before I would have no idea what happened in those two panels. The art isn’t particularly horrible, but it’s not good either. I would almost tell you not to bother with this so-called bonus story, and just find the original in Butcher’s Dresden anthology Side Jobs. Midway through producing the adaptation, it appears the original publisher (Dabel Brothers) either went out of business or sold the property to Dynamite. This obviously delayed some of the production, and artist Ardian Syaf got a better offer from DC. You know, one that actually involved working and getting paid instead of waiting for the paperwork to be settled. I don’t like that he left, but I can understand it. The powers that be replaced him with Brett Booth for the remainder of the second volume, and I suppose Booth did okay. Had he been on the book from the beginning, I would have been fine with it. As it stands, however, the switchover was jarring, unannounced, and a little disappointing. Will I keep reading these? Of course! It’s still Dresden….its just that Syaf’s art was what pulled me into this in the first place, and now that’s gone.

CONTENT: Mild language. Some gory violence and creepy creatures. Some non-explicit sexual content, including a set of corpses still locked in a very sexual position and some discussion of prostitution. Occult-wise….Harry’s a wizard. You know up front what you’re getting into with this one….

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