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Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,506
27
2,850
#41
BOOK 40

Berserk volume 15, by Kentaro Miura.

So, here I am again, reading the next volume of the Berserk manga. But how would this new volume turn out? Let’s find out…

Guts may have saved the village from the Apostle Rosine and her elf-like minions for now, but the villagers’ fear and the monsters reverting to the bodies of children force Guts to flee, taking Jill as a hostage. But Guts’ brutal attitude may show that the escape she desired may be lethal, between Guts’ ruthlessness and Rosine, who has plans for Jill. Meanwhile, the Holy Iron Chain Knights arrive at the village, pursuing Guts, believing him to be responsible for all manner of calamities, not knowing that he is hunting monsters, though he is becoming one himself…

Berserk is not for the faint of heart. I’ve said this before, and this volume still shows this to be still very much the case. Between Guts’ brutality and lack of moral scruples, as well as the grotesque imagery of the ‘human playing’ the fake elves go through, will turn many people off.

However, we start to have more examination of Guts’ morality, with some hints of it beginning to re-emerge, as well as the consequences of his actions. In addition, the interaction between Rosine and Jill is actually kind of sweet, even if it does become nightmarish in short order. And their past is also both lovely and tragic.

Overall, this volume of Berserk does pretty well. It would put off many with the grotesque imagery, but there’s more to it than that…

****
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,506
27
2,850
#42
BOOK 41

Sword Art Online: Fairy Dance volume 1 by Reki Kawahara.

Sword Art Online is a considerably divisive franchise for a number of reasons. While I had enjoyed the books of the franchise I have read so far, I knew I was embarking into controversial territory with the Fairy Dance arc, which is contested for a number of reasons, especially its treatment of Asuna. Would these fears be paranoia, or would they be realised?

It has been two months since Kirito beat Sword Art Online, but he is far from happy. His physical health needs recovery, he’s struggling to rebuild his relationship with his stepsister, actually cousin, Suguha, and Asuna is yet to wake up, along with a number of players of the death game. What’s worse is that a rather smarmy executive called Nobuyuki Sugou is going to wed Asuna, despite her being still comatose. When one of Kirito’s friends discovers that Asuna seems to be in ALfheim Online, a supposedly safer successor to Sword Art Online focusing on PVP combat, Kirito is galvanised into action. But in a world where conflict between magical races is encouraged, is there any hope of finding Asuna?

Okay, after all the entertainment value of the previous volumes I have read…this one falls somewhat flat. Leaving aside the oft-trodden criticism of Asuna being made into a stereotypical damsel in distress, the stakes don’t seem quite as high, and while changing them should be a good thing in theory, in practise, it just doesn’t work. Sugou doesn’t even really seem that interesting as a villain, and most of the other new characters are fairly forgettable.

Still, for what it’s worth, this book is not without its good points. Yui’s reunion with Kirito is heartwarming, and Suguha, while a bit too much of an Asuna substitute for my liking at times, still is interesting, though the focus on her can be disconcerting. In addition, the ALfheim Online worldbuilding is actually not too bad, with some intriguing concepts put in for the game.

Overall, the first volume of Fairy Dance was a sharp decline in the standards Sword Art Online had set for itself. Maybe the next volume would change that…but I doubt it…


***
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,506
27
2,850
#43
BOOK 42

Berserk volume 16, by Kentaro Miura.

Another book, another volume of Berserk. But how would the next volume of this dark fantasy manga turn out? Let’s find out…

Guts has stormed the inner sanctum of the Apostle Rosine, hellbent on putting an end to her reign of terror. But it will be a hard-won victory, even if he can prevail over Rosine, and he shouldn’t celebrate too soon. The Holy Iron Chain Knights are catching up with him, and worse, his own inner darkness is starting to truly take on a life of its own…

Berserk, as I have stated before, is not for the faint of heart. The graphic violence and disturbing themes will no doubt turn off many, along with Guts’ current ruthlessness. And by this point, if you’re not into it already, you probably won’t be.

But finally, at long last, we have some more positive development from Guts, with his “There’s no paradise for you to escape to” speech to Jill being the turning point for his character to become better than he was before. In addition, Rosine’s end is perhaps the most sympathetic of all the Apostles seen so far, and we have some intriguing new starts for the next story arc. Overall, it did very well.

The sixteenth volume of Berserk is one of the best ever. Despite the darkness and violence, it marks a major turning point for the series…

****½
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,506
27
2,850
#44
BOOK 43

Storm Front by Jim Butcher.


The Dresden Files is perhaps one of the more popular fantasy book series of recent times. Set in Chicago, and involving the PI wizard Harry Dresden, many have enjoyed this series. But would I be counted amongst them when I start the first book?

Harry Dresden is a wizard for hire. That doesn’t mean children’s parties or trivial issues. He’s basically a private investigator who investigates the more supernatural side of Chicago’s seedy underbelly. Hired to search for amateur magician Victor Sells by the man’s wife, Dresden also find himself roped into the police’s investigation into a seemingly impossible series of murders…murders that both the police, and the White Council that governs magic users, believe him to be the prime suspect of…

Okay, let’s get to the crux of it. The story isn’t quite as interesting as I would have hoped for a paranormal mystery book. In addition, although it may be that I missed such details due to my reading style, I feel like I missed a number of details that would have helped me comprehend the story…or that these details were left out.

For all that, though, Dresden himself is an interesting character, with his narration full of weary snark that you’d expect from a story like this, and the villain’s plot, while rather mundane, is still perversely interesting too. There’s some nice moments of comedy and levity that help lighten the novel when it needs it most. And it’s clear Butcher is setting things up for later instalments.

Overall, while not as good as I hoped, Storm Front was enjoyable enough. I just wish it was more so…


***½
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,506
27
2,850
#45
BOOK 44

Berserk volume 17, by Kentaro Miura.

Once more, I come to the infamous manga series Berserk. But it is now embarking on a key story arc that will mark Guts’ development. How well would this volume do?

Captured by the Holy Iron Chain Knights, Guts is freed by Puck, and during his escape, he abducts Farnese to use as a hostage. Farnese endures a disturbing night that shakes her belief, and afterwards, Guts leaves for Godo’s, intending to visit Casca. But she has escaped, and Guts realises that he had forsaken her, and everything he held dear, in his pursuit of vengeance. Meanwhile, ominous visions and events herald the death of the King of Midland, and an invasion by the Kushan Empire, while Griffith seems about to make a comeback…

Okay, so, let’s get the bad stuff out of the way. Quite a bit of what happens in both the violence and the more sexual things are pretty gratuitous. Case in point being Farnese’s actions while possessed, as well as the rather gory debut of Mozgus and his personal torturers, and, of course, the infamous horse scene.

However, the story shows Guts coming to an epiphany about his mission and what it has cost him after Casca has escaped, courtesy of Godo, Rickert and Ericka. And Farnese struggling to come to terms with her own inner darkness is also good, as are the portents of things to come. Finally, we have considerable hints of how competent Serpico really is in a brief clash with Guts.

Overall, this volume of Berserk managed to be as good as the last one. Here’s hoping it stays that way…


****½
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,506
27
2,850
#46
BOOK 45

Sword Art Online: Fairy Dance volume 2 by Reki Kawahara.

Sword Art Online is a franchise that provokes mixed emotions, even in its fans. I found the Aincrad-set books to be entertaining, if flawed, but the first Fairy Dance book had me disappointed. But would the second half of this storyline redeem itself?

Kirito is desperate to try and find a way to rescue Asuna. Helped by his step-sister and actual cousin Suguha under her online alias of Leafa, Kirito tries to find a way to ascend the World Tree. But even if he does succeed, he has Nobuyuki Sugou and his sadistic designs to contend with…

Ugh. I thought the first volume of the Fairy Dance books was disappointing enough, but the second…we have more of Asuna being a damsel in distress, Suguha’s attraction to Kirito is disconcerting, there’s not enough real actual plot (seriously, the Jotunheim segment feels like padding, to say the least), and Sugou is a disappointing villain compared to Kayaba and Laughing Coffin. And that’s to say nothing of the rather contrived ending involving Kayaba.

Still, enough of it was entertaining. The reunion between Kirito, Asuna and Yui was heartfelt, and the final coda involving the SAO survivors is an enjoyable one. I just wish there was more to this book.

Overall, the conclusion of the Fairy Dance storyline was a disappointing one. Hopefully, it’s uphill from here…

**½
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,506
27
2,850
#47
BOOK 46

Berserk volume 18, by Kentaro Miura.


So, here I am with the next volume of Berserk. But with the previous volumes reaching something of a high, I have to wonder, would they maintain it? Let’s find out…

St Albion, where the Tower of Conviction resides. The fanatical Inquisitor Mozgus, aided and abetted by the Holy Iron Chain Knights, searches the surrounding area for heretics ruthlessly, not caring about the resentment it’s stoking amongst the refugees present. Meanwhile, in the shadows, a heretic cult goes through dark ceremonies. While Guts makes his way to St Albion, pursued by an ambitious boy called Isidro who wishes to be a renowned swordsman, Guts’ own target is in danger. Casca, reduced to an infantile state, is wandering St Albion, and she may draw unwanted attention to herself…

After the last couple of volumes actually getting some good story and character development going, here, it seems like we’ve had a return to too much gore and grotesqueness that really drags the quality of the volume down substantially. The torture chambers of Mozgus and the heretic orgy are cases in point. Plus, we have the debut of Nina, perhaps one of the more contemptible characters in the series who isn’t evil or, for that matter, even remotely interesting, just being an inveterate coward, to say nothing of the very awkward spanking scene involving her.

Still, despite this, we’ve had some interesting characters. While Luca may be a clichéd character archetype as a hooker with a heart of gold, she’s also one of the nicest characters in the series without being part of Guts’ crew, and there is more to Mozgus’ character than meets the eye as we learn, even if he’s a rabidly fanatical SOB. Plus, we have the debut of Isidro, who is showing himself to have more than a little comic relief to him.

Overall, this volume of Berserk, while dragged down somewhat by too much horrific imagery, still managed to keep my interest in the series going…

***½
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,506
27
2,850
#48
BOOK 47

Sword Art Online: Phantom Bullet volume 1 by Reki Kawahara.

After the disappointment of the Fairy Dance arc of Sword Art Online, I hoped for improvement in the next story arc, Phantom Bullet. But would I get what I wanted? Let’s find out…

Kirito might be forgiven for not wanting anything to do with VRMMORPGs after his experiences with Sword Art Online and ALfheim Online. But he’s running, albeit reluctantly, errands for secretive government official Seijirou Kikuoka, who has a request for him. Two players have seemingly dropped dead within the post-apocalyptic firearms-based game Gun Gale Online due to the actions of a player calling themselves Death Gun. But Kirito’s investigations will lead him to Sinon, a ruthless player with a dark past, as well as a spectre from Kirito’s own…

Okay, so, let’s get the bad stuff out of the way. There really isn’t much plot in this volume at all, just what appears to be setting up for the next volume and the meat of the plot, introducing new characters and concepts. And I feel that Sinon, in her online persona, is too antipathic at times. And there’s not enough rollicking adventure as in previous volumes.

However, the stakes are suitably high, as they were in the Aincrad volumes, so that helps elevate things above the Fairy Dance stories, and the Gun Gale Online MMORPG is a good concept. A few missteps with her online persona aside, Sinon and her real life persona of Shino Asada is actually amongst the most fleshed-out of the heroines of the franchise thus far, with her struggling to overcome her real life traumas. You just want to give her a hug, and we have Kirito’s own traumas of what he did in Sword Art Online as a parallel.

Overall, while not quite as good as the Aincrad-based volumes, this volume of Sword Art Online is promising. I just wish it was better…

***½
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,506
27
2,850
#49
BOOK 48

Berserk volume 19, by Kentaro Miura.

So, here I am continuing on with Berserk. But how would this volume of this infamous dark fantasy series do? Let’s find out…

Guts arrives at St Albion’s, but Casca has just been taken away by the cowardly Nina, only for the heretics to intercept them. Conscripted into a vile ceremony, both women are in very real peril, but not just from the heretics. The Holy Iron Chain Knights, tipped off about the heretics, have begun a raid. And the mysterious watcher has its own plans. Can Guts save Casca from the mess about to unfold?

I know I’ve said it a lot about Berserk, but I have to reiterate it. It’s most definitely not for the faint of heart, with the violence and sexually transgressive stuff being very off-putting. And, of course, there’s the rather contemptible character of Nina, who’s basically not even interesting enough to be a villain in the series.

That being said, this volume is something of an improvement over the previous one. We have some good fights, including an intriguing one between Guts and Serpico that showcases the latter’s intelligence, skill and cunning. Plus, Isidro is no slouch either, and the running battle against the heretics is an enjoyable one.

Overall, this volume of Berserk was a good one. A shame it’s so dark and horrific, as there’s some good story and concepts behind it…


****
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,506
27
2,850
#50
BOOK 49

The Nostalgia Nerd’s Retro Tech: Computers, Consoles and Games by Peter Leigh.

The history of video games is of some interest to me. So, I happened to obtain this book to read. But would it tickle my fancy?

The Nostalgia Nerd’s Retro Tech is a look at the computer and video game hardware of yesteryear, from the 70s all the way up to 2001. From the Magnavox Odyssey all the way to the Microsoft Xbox, a large variety of consoles are examined and discussed. In addition, games that are exemplars to the consoles and the times are either recommended…or disavowed…

Okay, let’s get the bad stuff out of the way. Honestly, this book seems like there was too much quantity and too little quality, with each console having about four pages dedicated to it. It feels rushed rather than informative or comprehensive, as each console has its own story to tell, and yet, those stories have been heavily abridged.

That being said, it’s a very well-presented book. In addition, the stories and anecdotes, as truncated as they are, are still interesting. So too are some of the recommendations…and disavowals of certain games.

Overall, this book was a disappointment. Not a truly bad one, and it certainly has a few things to commend it, but I wish there was more to it…

***
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,506
27
2,850
#51
BOOK 50

Berserk volume 20, by Kentaro Miura.

Well, I don’t have anything pithy to say about the latest volume of Berserk. Instead, let’s just get on with it. It should still be good…

A massive mass of malevolent matter has materialised within the Tower of Conviction, and as Mozgus and his underlings prepare to hold it off, they are transformed into Pseudo-Apostles by the mysterious watcher. While Guts takes on the transmogrified inquisitor and his underlings, Luca soon finds herself meeting not only the Skull Knight, but the mysterious watcher, who reveals himself to be a Behelit-like Apostle known only as the Egg of the Perfect World. But things are galloping towards a brutal climax, where the Godhand’s machinations will culminate with calamitous consequences for the world…

Okay, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Berserk’s dark imagery and themes are most definitely not for everyone. And at this point, there isn’t much plot, with most of the volume taken up by Guts’ fight against Mozgus and his underlings.

That being said, the action scenes are very well done, and you certainly feel some small sympathy for at least two of Mozgus’ underlings at the end. In addition, the backstory of the Egg of the Perfect World is a rather sad one, while Luca’s perspective on these brutal events is wonderfully done. And things seem to be coming to a head for this arc, at long last.

Overall, this volume of Berserk was a good one. I can’t wait for the conclusion to this arc…

****
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,506
27
2,850
#52
BOOK 51

Sword Art Online: Phantom Bullet volume 2 by Reki Kawahara.

So, here I am, reading the second volume of the Phantom Bullet arc of Sword Art Online. But after the disappointment of the first volume, despite its promising nature, would it turn out better? Let’s find out…

Kirito has learned that the mysterious killer known as Death Gun is a former member of Laughing Coffin, the Player-Killing group back in Sword Art Online. In order to find out how Death Gun is killing his victims in reality as well as Gun Gale Online, and to protect other players, Kirito once more ventures into the post-apocalyptic VRMMORPG. However, the one person he might be able to count as an ally is someone he has alienated. Sinon has her own inner demons, and thinks she can exorcise some of them by defeating Kirito. But they soon realise they are more alike than they thought. Can Kirito and Sinon reconcile? What is Death Gun’s secret? And can Kirito and Sinon figure it out before they become Death Gun’s latest victims?

Okay, so, let’s get the bad stuff out of the way. Some parts of Sinon’s characterisation don’t quite sit right with me. I understand her anger at Kirito being an idiot and unwittingly deceiving her, but still…it undermines what is one of the better-developed characters in the franchise. Plus, I wish some characters from the series like Asuna or Yui had more to do. Not to mention that one of the antagonists motives seem more than a little petty.

Still, the stakes are suitably high, and the reveal behind Death Gun’s plot is interesting. Despite some hiccups, Sinon’s character development is handled pretty damn well, as is her growing strength and the ending. To say nothing of the comparisons between her and Kirito. The action scenes are suitably thrilling, both inside the game and out.

Overall, this volume of Sword Art Online was a return to form. Still, maybe I should bow out gracefully while I can…


****
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,506
27
2,850
#53
BOOK 52

Berserk volume 21, by Kentaro Miura.

At long last, I have come to the conclusion of the Conviction Arc of Berserk. But will it provide a satisfactory conclusion? Let’s find out…

The mysterious monstrous globs of blood consuming everything in sight, and the fanaticism of Mozgus, has whipped up the refugees and populace of St Albion’s into a frenzy. They believe killing Casca will save them, but Guts won’t let them do so. But even if he can save Casca and prevail against the transformed Mozgus, Guts and his comrades have a long night ahead of them. And with the Godhand’s plans coming to fruition, the dawn may not necessarily bring relief, but something darker…

There’s not much real plot here, to be honest, just the ending of the current story arc. Plus, the fact that Nina gets off scot-free with a bare minimum of character development is annoying. And there is, of course, the horrific imagery Berserk is infamous for, which I have discussed before.

Still, the final battle against Mozgus is a great one, and Guts’ rant against God and religion strokes a chord. Plus, the denouement of the arc was a pretty satisfactory one, even if it’s not exactly the happiest of endings. In fact, it promises much for future arcs.

Overall, this volume of Berserk was a good ending to the story arc. Here’s hoping the next one continues the same quality…

****
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,506
27
2,850
#54
BOOK 53

Warcraft: Behind the Dark Portal by Daniel Wallace.

The Warcraft games are perhaps one of the more famous gaming franchises in the world. Not long ago, a film was made that attained some small success financially if not critically. So, when I had the opportunity to read a book about the making of the film, I took it…

Warcraft: Behind the Dark Portal is a making-of book that examines the making of the film. From its origins in the video game franchise to post-production, this book examines every facet of the production. We see how the peoples of Azaroth and Draenor are brought to life, and what efforts were put into the process…

For a making-of book, it was disappointingly brief. I say that such books are triumphs of style over substance, and I do feel a lot more could have been put into this book, what with the lore behind the film and the making of the film itself. Instead, we got too much brevity, even with the book split along Horde and Alliance lines.

Still, for all that, it’s still a well-presented book, with plenty of concept art and behind the scenes photos. In addition, the information given here, while brief, is still fascinating. I just wish this book was somewhat more substantial.

Overall, Warcraft: Behind the Dark Portal was disappointing. It was decent, but it could have been so much more, much like how many viewed the movie…


***
 

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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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