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Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,689
56
2,850
#81
BOOK 80

Critical Role: Vox Machina Origins volume 2, by Matthew Mercer and Jody Houser, based on the web series.

After the first volume of the Critical Role comics, I decided to continue with the second. But how well would I enjoy this volume? Let’s find out…

Long before Vox Machina would embark on their quest to save Tal’dorei, they were a freshly-assembled group of adventurers, and not yet complete. Grog is lured away from the group by dreams of his dead father, and when the group pursues, assisted by Grog’s acquaintance, Pike Trickfoot, they stumble across a lich trying to use Grog in his foul ceremonies. Killing the lich won’t solve their problems either, with Grog having already been made a vessel for the lich’s soul, and even with the help of ruthless arcanist Percy, they may not succeed in saving their comrade…

I think part of the reason I am not enjoying this as much is that I am not quite a fan of Critical Role, so I’m not as invested in the characters. In addition, there isn’t quite as much all-round character development as there was in the previous volume. Not to mention the stakes being decidedly lower.

Still, it’s nice to see the story where the group is acting as a mostly coherent one, and the revelations about Grog and Pike’s pasts is a welcome one. So too is the addition of Pike, as well as Percy, and the story, while low stakes, is an enjoyable one. The plot certainly felt less obscure than the previous volume too, which helped, as did the frequent humour.

Overall, while flawed for different reasons to the first volume, this volume of the Critical Role comics was a good one. An enjoyable romp through the backstory of Critical Role

****
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,689
56
2,850
#82
BOOK 81

Wonders of the Solar System by Professor Brian Cox and Andrew Cohen.

Professor Brian Cox has had a meteoric rise in the realm of popular science. Hosting a number of TV shows about astronomy and astrophysics, he’s become the face of these fields for the latest generation. I decided, on a whim, to read a book derived from one of his TV shows, and time would tell whether it was a good decision…

The Solar System is one of wonder and marvels, and yet dangers and perils. This book shows how our Solar System and the planets populating it came to be, and what its features are. Through exploration of both Earth and the Solar System, we learn how lessons from one can help the other, and vice versa…

Books like this are a triumph of style over substance, and really, there is not that much here that I haven’t read in other books, so there’s not much new for me here. While it is written for a casual audience, there aren’t as many facts and data as I would have liked, and I feel that more information could have been put into the book. Instead, I was left more than a little dissatisfied.

Still, Brian Cox and Andrew Cohen’s writing style is an enjoyable one, though given Cox’s presenting style on TV, if his writing is anything like it, it’s hardly surprising, as the info is delivered in a casual, non-patronising tone that slips down easily. The book is well-presented, with informative infographics, and while I did gripe about the lack of info, including new info, it’s still presented in a relatively fresh manner, which helps. It would certainly make a great book for neophytes to astronomy and astrophysics.

Overall, while not really anything I have read before and lacking more comprehensive data, Wonders of the Solar System was an enjoyable read. Perhaps I should read more by Cox, and see if there is anything else to learn…

***½
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,689
56
2,850
#83
BOOK 82

Attack on Titan volume 5, by Hajime Isayama.

So, here I am for yet another volume of Attack on Titan. But how well would I find this latest volume? Let’s find out…

The battle for Trost may have been won, with humanity’s first true victory over the Titans, but Eren’s Titan transformation have powerful people scared. A court martial nearly turns into a kangaroo court, before Levi Ackerman proves Eren’s control in brutal fashion, thus having him assigned to the Survey Corps, particularly under Ackerman and Erwin Smith. But Titans are not the only dangerous thing Eren has to face with his new comrades, for they are something of an eccentric and dangerous bunch themselves…

I’ve brought it up before, and I’ll bring it up again. A lot of this series shows clichés in military fiction, with Eren’s court martial being a case in point. In addition, I think some deaths are done purely for shock value rather than as a logical progression of the character development. And there’s the fact that some characters (Eren and Levi in particular) look too alike given the art style.

However, the series is still an enjoyable one. This volume opens with a poignant story that raises further questions about Titans, and we get insights into the quirks of Levi Ackerman and newcomer Hange Zoe. In addition, the volume ends on a shocking revelation during a tense action scene that promises more for future volumes.

Overall, this volume of Attack on Titan has maintained the standards of the series. I’m hoping the next one is as good, if not better…

****
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,689
56
2,850
#84
BOOK 83

The Rising of the Shield Hero volume 2, by Aneko Yusagi.

Having enjoyed the first volume of The Rising of the Shield Hero, I decided to give the second volume a go. But would this continuation work well? Let’s find out…

Naofumi may still be an outcast, but he at least has one trusted ally by his side: racoon demihuman girl Raphtalia. He then gets another, hatching and raising a Filolial, a bird used for travel, which he dubs Filo. But of course, it’s still far from smooth sailing. Princess Malty still has the Spear Hero in her pocket, and the actions of the other Cardinal Heroes aren’t much better, as Naofumi will find out. Of course, dealing with a bratty Filolial who can transform into a human form is no cakewalk either, and there’s the dark power lurking within the Shield Naofumi bears…

After the groundbreaking twists in the first volume, as well as the worldbuilding, this volume was admittedly a bit of a letdown. There isn’t much plot beyond Naofumi and Raphtalia’s continuing adventures, and Filo, at least at first, is less endearing than she is annoyingly bratty. I also wish there were more machinations of Malty, but she only really makes a brief appearance during the village race.

That being said, the story is still a good one, and even with a lack of plot, there’s still much to enjoy. There’s clearly things being set up for future plot elements, like the mysterious ninjas whom Malty is forced to concede to, or Naofumi’s struggles with the Curse Shield. And Filo does grow on you, and the relationship between Naofumi and Raphtalia is rather sweet, a marked change to the previous volume’s depiction of their relationship.

Overall, while not as groundbreaking or strongly-plotted as the first volume, the second volume of The Rising of the Shield Hero was an enjoyable one. Now, let’s see if the third one is where things pick up…

****
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,689
56
2,850
#85
BOOK 84

Berserk volume 25, by Kentaro Miura.

So, after something of a hiatus, I have come back to Berserk. But how well would the latest volume of this dark fantasy series play out? Let’s find out…

Guts and his group, accompanied by the young witch Schierke, have agreed to defend Enoch Village against the trolls invading it. But the village’s priest objects to the usage of magic to even defend his charges. As the dangers mount, and more than just trolls attack, Guts and Serpico go on the offensive, while Schierke, despite attempts by the priest to stop her, embarks on a dangerous gamble, one that could cause more trouble than it solves…

Okay, so, Berserk, as I have stated before, is not for everyone, what with all the dark imagery, and certainly what the trolls do to their captives counts. In addition, there’s not much plot, other than Schierke proving the priest wrong, and then succumbing to her own lack of experience. A bit disappointing, especially considering how good the volume was.

Still, the fight scenes were pretty good, with both Guts and Serpico shining not just against trolls, but an ogre and a kelpie too. Schierke’s own lesson on her inexperience is a good one, even though it shows a spectacular use of her magic, and the reveal of Qliphoth is a delightfully disturbing one. I just wish there was a bit more to this volume than action and preachiness.

Overall, while definitely a disappointment compared to recent volumes, this volume of Berserk was a good one. Here’s hoping the next ones do better…


***½
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,689
56
2,850
#86
BOOK 85

The Hero is Overpowered but Overly Cautious volume 1, by Light Tuchihi.

Once more, I dip my toes into another entry into the isekai genre. This story appealed to me because it had a protagonist who, while paranoid and cautious, could still prove to be great. But would my expectations be fulfilled?

Meet novice goddess Ristarte. Tasked with summoning heroes from other worlds to save others, she has been assigned S-ranked world Gaeabrande. Deciding she needs a particularly powerful hero, she summons Seiya Ryuuguin, whose statistics are considerably higher than any other candidate. Unfortunately, she soon learns that Seiya is cold, rude, blunt, overly cautious, and spends what seems like too much time preparing himself. The sad thing is, his paranoid preparations may actually be necessary…

At first, I thought this was closer to a more intelligently-written Konosuba. However, reading this disabused me of this notion. Seiya is a VERY unlikeable protagonist, with only the faintest slivers of decency, and who makes Guts from Berserk, even in his initial stages, look warm and cuddly. In addition, this first volume has sod-all plot, and I honestly think Ristarte is an idiot for even being attracted to him, in spite of her frustrations with him.

The book isn’t wholly without its redeeming features. The comedy isn’t as cringey as some other entries in the genre, with less emphasis on bad sex comedy (unlike, say, How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord), and Ristarte, for all her faults, is better than Aqua from Konosuba. In addition, Seiya’s plans and preparations are actually a delight to behold in action, with his intelligence and foresight being one of the only redeeming features of the character.

That being said, this has to be one of the worst isekai books I have ever written. Little plot and an extremely unlikeable protagonist shoved this down more than a few notches, which is a crying shame, given the potential…

**½
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,689
56
2,850
#87
BOOK 86

Berserk volume 26, by Kentaro Miura.

So, here I am, about to embark on the latest volume of Berserk. But would it improve over the previous one? Let’s find out…

In order to rescue Farnese, Casca, and those abducted by the Trolls, Guts, Schierke, and Isidro venture into the dark realm of Qliphoth. Killing Trolls to buy time for escape is the easy part for Guts, for the warped realm allows Slan, seductress of the Godhand, to manifest, and she might be more than he can handle. And even if he survives, Schierke’s mentor Flora has been marked for death by Griffith, but she has a dangerous plan up her sleeve…

As I have stated before, Berserk is not for everyone, what with the gore and squick involved. I’m sure how Slan manifests herself would certainly cause more than a few stomachs to turn. What’s more, there still isn’t much plot, just a series of running battle scenes.

Still, this volume manages to be better than the previous one for a number of reasons. Guts managing to harm one of the Godhand for a change is one, and the Skull Knight revealing one of his more potent weapons is another. So too is Schierke successfully summoning the Rotting Root Lord, to say nothing of the debut of the now-iconic Berserker Armour, in one of the most horrifyingly awesome sequences ever done.

Overall, while not quite reaching the heights it could have, this volume of Berserk did quite well, reaching a key stage of the story. Here’s hoping the next volume is as good…

****
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,689
56
2,850
#88
BOOK 87

Knight: The Medieval Warrior’s (Unofficial) Manual, by Michael Prestwich.

I have to confess, medieval history does have some small interest for me. So, reading a book about knights and the like intrigued me. I just hoped it would turn out well…

So, you want to be a knight. Well, this book can help you understand what it means to be a knight during medieval times. Weapons, chivalric codes, and the like are all explained here, as well as some of the less salubrious parts of a knight’s life…

Okay, so, let’s get this out of the way: I was somewhat disappointed by this book. It could have been better if it was a bit more irreverent, enough to match the irreverent title. It also seemed to lack information, partly because it focused on a specific part of history, instead of looking at the whole history of knights.

However, for all its faults, it was still an informative book. Anecdotes from the chronicles of certain knights helped give a somewhat fresher perspective, and it was interesting to see how often supposedly chivalrous knights worked as mercenaries. I just wish there was more to it.

While a little disappointing, this book nonetheless managed to retain my interest. A shame there wasn’t more to it…

***½
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,689
56
2,850
#89
BOOK 88

Berserk volume 27, by Kentaro Miura.

Once more, I am coming to the next volume of Berserk, and after a pivotal point in the story to boot. But how well would this one fare? Let’s find out…

Guts may be able to beat back the Apostle Grunbeld with the help of the Berserker Armour, but the armour’s cursed energy may cause him to turn on his comrades. Meanwhile, in Windham, the leaders of the resistance against the Kushan occupation receive an unexpected boon, in the form of Griffith’s new version of the Band of the Hawk. Ganishka, the brutal and sadistic Kushan Emperor, has not only designs on Princess Charlotte, but he intends to overthrow Griffith, and the deity he serves, and to that end, he will fight the new Band of the Hawk…

Once more, I have to say that Berserk’s dark themes and horrific imagery will put a lot of people off. Certainly, a lot of the atrocities perpetrated by the Kushans seem more than a little gratuitous and even somewhat xenophobic, more intensely so than previous volumes. And the ending to the fight against Grunbeld seems rather anticlimactic, annoyingly.

Still, this story was better from a plot point of view. The elements showing the Kushan occupation, despite the grotesque imagery, were nonetheless meatier than previous volumes, and the battle between his forces and those of the new Band of the Hawk were good. So too is the aftermath of Guts’ first battle using the Berserker Armour.

Overall, while perhaps more filled with grotesque and disturbing imagery than the last couple of volumes, this volume of Berserk nonetheless gets to moving along the story. I’m looking forward to the next arc…

****
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,689
56
2,850
#90
BOOK 89

Reprehensible: Polite Histories of Bad Behaviour, by Mikey Robins.

I always like history books that are somewhat on the irreverent side, ever since I read Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories. So, when I saw this book, by Australian comedian Mikey Robins, I knew I had to give it a go. But would my whim be rewarded?

People have been behaving badly since time immemorial. It needn’t be anything truly atrocious, just plain disgusting, repulsive, bemusing or just plain amusing. This book looks at anecdotes and tales throughout history of the bad, the mad, and the weird, some people who are famous for other reasons, and then the infamous whose bad behaviour is what made them notable…

To be perfectly honest, this book is clearly not for everyone. More than a few of the anecdotes will squick people out given the subject matter involved, or even outrage people with some of their idols’ behaviour. And I am sure that there is more than could have been said in this compilation.

Still, this book was not only entertaining, but informative. Mikey Robins’ irreverent writing style made me laugh more than a few times, and while I had heard some of the anecdotes before, others were fresh to me. And while I do wish there was more, what was there already was brilliant.

Overall, Reprehensible, while no doubt ‘Too Much Information’ for some, would still be an entertaining if irreverent romp through some of history’s greatest howlers. If only there were more history books of this stripe…

****
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,689
56
2,850
#91
BOOK 90

Dune: The Graphic Novel, Book 1, adapted by Brain Herbert and Kevin J Anderson, from the novel by Frank Herbert.

One of my all-time favourite novels is Dune by Frank Herbert. Recently, it was adapted into a graphic novel, and in a style meant to differentiate it from adaptations both past and present. But would it do this epic justice?

In a distant future, where a feudal society coexists with high technology, the most important world is Arrakis, nicknamed Dune. For it is only on this world that the valuable Spice is harvested. The Emperor has commanded Duke Leto Atreides to take possession of Arrakis and ensure Spice production continues, after originally ruled by the vicious Harkonnens. But Leto and his family are aware that this is a trap, one that not only the Harkonnens may be behind, but perhaps even the Emperor himself. Meanwhile, Leto’s son, Paul, struggles with emergent abilities that mark him out as more than human, something that may help his future, or condemn it…

One of the problems with this graphic novel is the length. While I can understand the practicalities of adapting a book as lengthy and dense as Dune, and splitting it along the same ‘books’ structure as the original novel is sound, it does frustrate me somewhat. So too does elements of the art style, which, while mostly on-point, doesn’t quite capture the grandeur of the book. A few scenes and pieces of dialogue are removed as well, to its detriment at times.

Still, as far as adaptations are concerned, this book is actually quite a good one. In distancing themselves from the designs and looks of the characters from both previous adaptations and future ones, the artists have managed to give the book a fresh look, and this is also one of the cases where diversifying even the background characters actually works wonders. In addition, while many key scenes or dialogue have been omitted, many of the other ones have been kept or streamlined, and the pacing to suit the format is done well.

Overall, while not quite as good as I had hoped it to be, this adaptation of Dune did well enough. Here’s hoping the next volumes kick things up a notch…

****
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,689
56
2,850
#92
BOOK 91

The Planets by Professor Brian Cox and Andrew Cohen.

Once more, I’ve decided to read a tie-in book to one of Professor Brian Cox’s TV series about astronomy. But would this one be any better than the previous one? Let’s find out…

The Solar System is filled with many wonders. From the intense heat of the Sun, to the frozen wastes of Pluto, this book examines these planets through a new lens. The history of the planets, past, present and future, along with the exploration of the same, is explained on these pages…

I’ve said it frequently before, but books like these are triumphs of style over substance. They’re frequently designed for people who have only some basic knowledge of astronomy and space exploration, and this one is no exception, retreading already well-trodden ground. This does hobble the book somewhat.

However, unlike the previous one I read, this one engaged my interest more. It helps that it not only includes fresher discoveries, but approaches things from a slightly different angle to the previous book, and I felt it was considerably more informative. Plus, it’s a very well-presented book, with beautiful glossy pictures.

Overall, this was an improvement on the previous book by the same authors. Not as great as I had hoped, but still, that’s better than nothing…

****
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,689
56
2,850
#93
BOOK 92

Berserk volume 28, by Kentaro Miura.

I don’t really have any more pithy remarks to make about Berserk. So, I should embark on the next volume. Let’s see if it’s any good…

As they rest on a beach, Guts and his allies encounter some strange beings. The Skull Knight has come to deliver a warning about the Berserker Armour, while a strange young boy has appeared to Casca. But even as they resolve to track down the ruler of Elfhelm to bring Casca’s consciousness back, a group of monsters attack, and Guts is still healing from the last time he used the Berserker Armour. And even then, the darkness within him lurks, waiting to take a hold of his psyche and slaughter his comrades…

Once more, I do have to reiterate that Berserk is not for the faint of heart. While there’s no real squick, there is violence and disturbing themes, which will serve to put others off. In addition, I think both Sonia and Mule’s meeting Schierke and Isidro feel a touch contrived.

Still, overall, this volume is one of the better ones. There’s considerable character development for Schierke, plus the new enigma of the Moonlight Boy, and the beginning of fractures in the party as Guts struggles to control the Berserker Armour. Plus, Sonia’s allegoric tale has its own charm, though I also find it annoying in parts.

Overall, this volume of Berserk was an enjoyable one. Not perfect, but certainly approaching the high mark of the series…

****½
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,689
56
2,850
#94
BOOK 93

Dark Souls: Beyond the Grave volume 1 by Damien Mecheri and Sylvain Romieu.

Having recently begun to play the Dark Souls and Bloodborne games, I thought to try and read up on the Souls franchise. But would this book sate my desire? Let’s find out…

One of the greatest gaming success stories of recent times has been the Souls franchise. From Software’s series reimagined modern gaming with difficult but fair gameplay, deep if vague lore, it has been a revelation to the gaming world at large. This book looks at the first three games in the franchise: Demon’s Souls, and the first two Dark Souls games…

I have to confess to being somewhat disappointed by this book. At times, it’s written so dry as to be an academic treatise, and at other times, it’s rather overly subjective (particularly regarding Dark Souls II), leading to an inconsistent tone. There’s also a lack of discussion of the making of the games and lore, the latter of which has an analysis that is implicitly definitive, something which is most certainly not the case with these games.

Still, the books are interesting enough, and even going into the making of the games in any detail was enjoyable. So too was the analyses of the lore, even if I felt there could have been more. But it’s still a fascinating prospect to find one angle to the lore, as well as to the impact of the game series on popular culture.

While a bit of a disappointment, the first volume of Dark Souls: Beyond the Grave was enjoyable enough. I just hope the second volume is better…

***½
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,689
56
2,850
#95
BOOK 94

Bloodborne: The Death of Sleep, by Aleš Kot.

Having recently finished the game Bloodborne, I felt eager for more to do with this epic horror-action game. I came across this comic, not an adaptation per se, but a side-story of sorts. But how well would this comic do?

The Hunter, a mysterious person who barely remembers a time before the Hunt they were conscripted into, slaughtering beasts and monsters on the streets of Yharnam, and dying and resurrecting in a seemingly endless cycle. But one thing driving them was a message: Seek Paleblood to transcend the Hunt. A summons from Djura, leader of the Powder Kegs, may have provided the Hunter with a solution: a sickly boy with pale blood. Thus, the Hunter and their new charge travel on an exodus out of Yharnam, but can the Hunter escape the Hunt?

Let’s be perfectly honest, this book is designed for fans of the game. Those going in without any such foreknowledge are going to be at sea here. And in truth, there is little actual plot here, other than a pared-down version of a Lone Wolf and Cub scenario, rather like what Star Wars is doing with The Mandalorian. I have to be confessed to being somewhat disappointed.

Still, for what it’s worth, the story is actually a decent enough one. Probably the best parts are not the visceral gory horror, but the unsettling psychological horror, with the Hunter’s sanity being called into question multiple times, including by the Hunter themselves. The story, while hard to reconcile with the events of the game, is unsettlingly vague and enigmatic enough to at least fit in with the fictional universe very well, and seeing familiar characters present and acting like their canonical selves is welcome. The artwork is pretty damned good, doing well for the visceral horror and the psychological.

While not that great due to an unfriendliness to newcomers and a vague and slender plot, The Death of Sleep is still a welcome entry into the Bloodborne canon. I just wish there was more to it…

***½
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,689
56
2,850
#96
BOOK 95

So I’m a Spider, So What? volume 1 by Okina Baba.

Once more, I come to an isekai work, one of a genre that infests Japanese culture. But how well would So I’m a Spider, So What? fare? Well, let’s find out…

A clash of spells takes out a classroom of students in Japan, all of whom end up reincarnated in another world. But a girl who was a shut-in in her previous life finds herself having become a spider monster known as a Taratect. And she has little time to come to grips with her plight, for her new life is dangerous. Between her own kind being cannibals, dangerous monsters, and humans who seek out monsters to slay, she has her work cut out for her just to survive…but from little things, big things grow, and as her classmates come to terms with their own new lives, this girl is growing stronger…

One of the massive points against this story is the plot, or the lack thereof. In many regards, it’s like That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, only with far less plot, with much of it coming down to the main character’s struggles to survive. The gaming dynamics also get irritating, and there’s no hint of any real future plotline to come.

That being said, one point that this story has in its favour is that it is one of the most entertaining stories I have read. The humour is always on-point, with no cringe, unlike a lot of other isekai stories, that often have cringey sexual humour in them. Kumoko, as the main character has been dubbed by the fandom, is an enjoyable one, with her panicked thoughts never crossing the line into an annoying nature like it could have done, but actually being quite hilarious, and we always want to cheer her on, and hope she wins. In addition, we have intervals that relate what happened to her classmates.

Overall, while severely lacking in plot, the first volume of So I’m a Spider, So What? more than makes up for it in entertainment value. Perhaps it will pick up the pace in later volumes…

***½
 

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Good Omens

"Pratchett’s wackiness collaborates with Gaiman’s morbid humour; the result is a humanist delight to be savoured and read again and again."

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