Review: New York Collapse by Warren Merchant

new-york-collapse-cover

Title: New York Collapse: A Survival Guide to Urban Catastrophe

Author: Warren Merchant (Alex Irvine and Ubisoft)

Pages: 175

Goodreads link

My rating: star1

*NERD ALERT*

I’ve been playing The Division over the holidays, as it’s my favourite Christmas-themed game (although I’m not sure there are many other Christmas-themed games out there …). Post-apocalypse + Christmas decorations. Yes please!

Anyway, I finished all the main missions but suffered a bit of Division withdrawal when I came off it. I don’t have a Playstation Plus account, so endless plundering in the Dark Zone is a no-go for me. So I did a quick search and found a tie-in book called New York Collapse: A Survival Guide to Urban Catastrophe by the pseudonymous Warren Merchant.

Now, I’m always a bit sceptical about tie-in media: films of books (we all know they rarely work), films of games (which work even less!), games of films, companion guides, books of games, etc. There’s always a bit of a sense of me-tooing and cashing in on fans. If a book carries the name of a game, it can get sales based on that and not necessarily on the quality of the book.

So with a bit of trepidation, but reassured by the abundance of good reviews, I bought New York Collapse. And I’m so glad I did!

It’s actually supposed to be the survival guide that crops up in the game. A character appears in echoes (playbacks from surveillance equipment) called April Kelleher, and you can see in the game some of the moments that she writes about in this book. The survival guide itself is a guide to surviving a TEOTWAWKI event (The End Of The World As We Know It). In the margins are the scrawlings of April Kelleher as she survives through the apocalypse in Manhatten, in parallel with the events of the game itself. Rather suspiciously, the advice centres almost entirely around an outbreak of weaponised smallpox in Manhatten. Handy, considering that’s exactly what has happened in The Division game. But that’s all part of the mystery that April is trying to work out while trying to survive in an extremely hostile environment, with the constant threat of infection, federal aid collapsing and gangs whittling down what remains of the civilian population. The survival guide is also full of puzzles that April (and you) needs to work out in order to locate the author, Warren Merchant, who is clearly trying to get her to meet him for whatever mysterious reason. He clearly knows more about what’s going on.

The book is really well produced to look like it’s been through the apocalypse and back. The cover is all torn up and there’s blood and muck all over the pages. Rather than just using a handwriting font, they’ve actually got someone to hand write the margin scrawlings so it looks authentic. On top of that, there are bits and pieces waiting to fall out, which are highly realistic apocalypse souvenirs and clues that April picks up. It honestly feels like this is April’s actual copy.

Although I have played the game, I think you could get a great amount of entertainment out of The New York Collapse even if you haven’t played or even heard of The Division. At it’s core, it’s a highly realistic, engaging and original post-apocalypse story. If you’ve played the game, this adds a little more context, and you’ll probably have a deeper understanding of some of the references, but I really don’t think it’s necessary. The only frustrating aspect is that you don’t really get an ending. If you haven’t played the game, this will probably feel like the first in a trilogy. It’s got that embellished-beginning storyline, with the ending feeling like that’s the point at which it’s all going to kick off. But alas, this is a standalone. Not being party to the Dark Zone in the game, which is where the end of the book points you, I have no idea what the outcome is of April’s story either. This vexes me because it feels a little bit like it’s pushing you to spend even more money than you already have, and when you don’t have much of a gaming budget, like me, it can leave you feeling frustrated and unfulfilled. I may never know what happens without resorting to Youtube, and where’s the fun in that?

Anyway, that’s why this has got four stars, not five. A book without a resolution and with a bid to drag more money you don’t have out of you can’t get five stars in my book of principles. In terms of production and intelligence and authenticity and the exercise for your own brain, this is a five star book. Whether you’ve played The Division or not, if you like apocalypses, conspiracies and you want to learn a bit about surviving in an urban environment, put this on your reading list.

Now I’m off to prep my go-bag.

Happy Winter Solstice

Happy winter solstice one and all!

solstice02

As a nyctophile and a chionophile, this is a good time of year for me. We don’t celebrate Christmas in my household, but because almost all Christmas traditions are descended from pagan mid-winter festivals, you’d never tell! We have a tree with decorations, and fairy lights around the house, and we have a big feast on the solstice. The only thing I don’t allow is cake with fruit in it. Because that’s just wrong.

So why do we celebrate solstice?

Well, for a start we are atheists. Of course, I don’t think it’s wrong to celebrate Christmas if you aren’t a christian, but Christmas has become extremely commercialised in recent years. Really, this is what put me off Christmas. Endless adverts programming you to buy, buy, buy or risk disappointing all the people that matter to you. I will not be dictated to by retailers and fat cats. I retain the right to control my own purse strings. It’s for this reason that I don’t engage in other commercial holidays like Black Friday. My computer and TV get turned off on those days. I will spend my cash on what I want, when I want.

So, by celebrating a commercially unrecognised holiday, I don’t have to deal with this retailer rubbish. I’m taking those sentiments that were once associated with mid-winter festivals, and are now associated with Christmas, and removing the negativity and the pressure and the Chinese container ships full of tat. It’s a much more enjoyable time then. It’s about family, friends, feasting and, of course, celebrating the turning of the year and the cycle of the seasons.

Whatever festivals you celebrate through winter, I hope you have a wonderful time. It is, after all, the most wonderful time of the year.

Review: Horizon Zero Dawn – The Frozen Wilds (DLC)

HZD-frozen-wilds-cover

Title: Horizon Zero Dawn – The Frozen Wilds

Developer: Guerilla Games

Genre: Action role playing

Playtime: 20 hours

My rating: 10/10

Here’s a nice Solstice-themed review. Solstice in that it’s a blizzard-filled new foray into my favourite gaming world – Horizon Zero Dawn.

Oh, it’s so good to be back in Guerilla Games’ post-apocalyptic Wyoming! If you’ve read my review of Horizon Zero Dawn, you’ll know how much I can rave about this beautiful world, and this snow-lined new addition is certainly no disappointment.

Although only a fraction of the size of HZD‘s main world, The Frozen Wilds is no afternoon jolly. It boasts HZD‘s strong storyline precedent and then dumps a whole load of exciting new content and challenges in your lap for good measure. Thought the thunderjaw was difficult to defeat? Those seem like easy game in the face of new machines the frostclaw and the fireclaw. At least you could shoot components off the thunderjaw and render it practically harmless. Not so the new bear machines! And just when you thought you’d sorted your combat tactics, it all gets thrown out the window with the new kind of corruption in town. Don’t think your fancy shield armour will help you here! It all adds up to satisfyingly challenging gameplay, even if you’ve thoroughly mastered the main world.

There may have been a bit of snow in the main world, but this is the knee-deep kind that drastically slows you down as you try and sprint away from your new adversaries. And when a blizzard hits, you’ll struggle to see your arrow tip in front of your face. It makes for a genuinely harsh and challenging environment. But it also makes for an incredibly beautiful one. Among my favourite moments, are forging through a sparkling, untouched blanket of snow and standing on top of a mountain at night, the sky glittering with stars and awash with the gently undulating aurora as the white world stretches out before me. This is a fantastic area for my trademark tootling around!

The NPCs are up to their usual beguiling standards. There’s a whole new host of characters to care about, and the Banuk culture and mythology is just as fascinating and engaging as any other HZD culture. Also engaging is the well-developed storyline that is no mere footnote to the story of the main world. No spoilers, but the events of TFW very much build on the HZD events, rather than just being an ignorable side note. It’s well worth playing even just for the new tidbits of information about the apocalypse. When I found out what was behind the problems in the Cut, I gasped and cried out the name in epiphanic exultation. It was genuinely marvellous!

I hope there is more HZD DLC to come. To be honest, I will lap up anything to do with this world! And I’m attempting to use the Force to persuade Guerilla Games to make another full-blown game. Who knows if I have any aptitude in the Force, but hey.

Review: Horizon Zero Dawn

horizon-zero-dawn-cover

Title: Horizon Zero Dawn

Developer: Guerilla Games

Genre: Action role playing

Playtime: 80 hours

My rating: 10/10

It’s been quite a few months since I finished Horizon Zero Dawn, but the new DLC, The Frozen Wilds, has inspired me to play again and finally write a review (I’ll write a separate one for The Frozen Wilds).

The truth is I’ve been a little bit daunted by the prospect of writing this review because I’m pretty certain I will not be able to do this game justice. I’m not exaggerating here when I say I have finally found it. I have finally found the perfect game for me. HZD embodies everything I want and need in a game for it to be a truly fulfilling experience.

It probably helps that post-apocalypse is my favourite setting for anything (books, games, films, the lot). I like to explore the human condition under adverse parameters, and HZD is a sublime mixture of the mesolithic and near future with a dash of jurassic thrown in for good measure. But it’s the way it all unfolds that is so sublime. You genuinely start off with no idea what is going on, and your awareness builds and builds with each carefully portioned nugget of story you play through. It really is like playing through a really well-written book. I know there are many different types of gamers, but I am both a strategist and a story-lover when it comes to gaming, and I find that often my story-loving side ends up less than fulfilled. I like to be fully submerged in a world with a robust story and a complex mythology, which is exactly what HZD provides. And more than that, it blends possibly the most engaging story I have ever played with some of the best gameplay I have ever played.

That’s really at the crux of why I am giving this game 10/10 and calling it perfect. Every aspect of this game has been done to the highest standard. Beyond the story is the gameplay itself. I’m quite a cautious player, lacking in confidence in life generally, but HZD is all about presenting you with challenges and building your confidence through them. It builds your anticipation with the mention of a thunderjaw, then you get to try and take one out with a helpful NPC, using an array of available combat strategies until you find the one that suits you, then you take one out on your own, and then they throw you in a pit with three of them to see if you sink or swim. That kind of thing anyway. The point is, you start off a bit wary of everything, and by the end you feel like a champion of all things, ready to take on any challenge because you have come to realise that perseverance and the dodge button really do pay off.

The RPG aspects of the game do not fail to live by this same building philosophy. The gameplay is not prescriptive, but you can choose a style that suits you as an individual player. An array of weapons offers you an array of combat tactics that you can experiment with until you find your style. You can build your skills according to your style, and chop and change outfits according to your needs. It’s a game that very much places you, the player, at the heart of the experience, and that’s the best kind of game in my opinion, the most fulfilling and rewarding.

And then there’s the world itself. I’m a huge fan of massive open worlds (as my friend puts it, I like to “tootle around” quite a lot in games, just exploring and adventuring to my own rhythm), and although this isn’t the biggest of worlds I’ve played in, it’s certainly one of the most beautiful and diverse. From snowy mountain sides to rocky deserts to steamy jungles and river glades, this land has it all. The graphics are dynamic and wholly believable and the animation is some of the best I’ve seen, with some of the most expressive faces and realistic movements. I actually found myself getting attached to NPCs, and I never get attached to those people. Normally, I just see NPCs as the facilitators of missions, but not so with HZD. I was genuinely caring about my allies and thrilled at changing their opinions of the red-headed Nora savage who was taking action to change their world for the better.

I think probably one of the best features of this world is the quality of the light. That might sound odd, but it turns a beautiful world into a truly breathtaking world. The same place can take on a range of characters depending on whether you see it by dawn, midday, dusk or night. The intensity of each phase of the day just makes the whole place sparkle. I am frequently to be found (in all my tootlings) just standing still on a cliff overlooking a river valley and watching it all in the changing light. Or taking my time surfing on the top of a tallneck because it affords the best views of the world (and a cheeky safe vantage point for picking off machines on the ground!).

The missions have a balance that few games manage to achieve, and that it the balance between challenge and frustration. It’s tricky enough that it’s never boring, but you also never reach the point where you’re throwing the controller at the screen. They are just pushing you to enable you to explore your own skills and limits. Really I feel like through playing this game, I have become a better player. It has actually upgraded my abilities as a gamer. And I’m not sure there’s many other games I can say that for.

Honestly, I could go on and on and on about how much I love this game. There are no flaws but one, and that is that it is far too short. I finished it in about 80 hours, but I could have just gone on and on for a 1000 hours and not gotten weary of it. I still get a thrill after all this time thinking about following Alloy’s red hair and clinking armour on the road to adventure through a breathtaking world. This is not a one-play wonder for me. I will be restarting this beauty again and again and again, until they make a follow-up.

And please, please, Guerilla Games, make a follow-up.

Hidden Dawn Paperback

Well, I’m dead excited because I am holding in my hands an actual ink-and-paper copy of my book!

*trumpet fanfare*

 

My old ebook distributor, Pronoun, are sadly closing down, so this has prodded me to at last join the ranks of the KDP massive. The ebook version of Hidden Dawn is now available, as it ever was, on Amazon, but I’ve also taken the plunge and used KDP’s beta paperback publishing services. I was a little bit daunted, but Amazon being Amazon, they make it very easy for you, giving you templates for internal layouts and cover design.

Previously, I impressed myself by designing my own front cover for the ebook, but now I’m positively glowing with achievement after also designing up my back cover and spine (with a little help from Photoshop!). With the Amazon template, internal typesetting was very easy in Word. You just copy and paste in your content, with a new section for each prelim/endlim and chapter. Then you just have to fiddle about with font, font size, leading, etc. until you have a viable set of spreads.

The only snag is, at £8.99, it’s quite expensive when compared to other paperbacks on Amazon. It’s about £1 more expensive than paperbacks in bookshops, but with Amazon’s loss-leading discounts, the paperback of Hidden Dawn seems uncomfortably dear. I do apologise, but as it’s print on demand (POD), you don’t get the advantage of bulk discount that traditional publishers get. £5 of that price is the cost of printing, and Amazon add 60% of that price as their pocket money, sparing me the few pennies left over in royalties after they’ve creamed off a further 40%. That price is absolutely the lowest I was allowed to go without paying you to buy it. I’m not grumbling because I’d rather readers had the option of a physical copy, if that’s what they prefer. I just wanted to be transparent and explain why it was so expensive. I’m afraid I have no control over that 😦

Overall, I’m really impressed with the quality of the printing. The paper inside is particularly nice when you compare it to the thin rag you get in a lot of mass-market paperbacks these days. The gluing is robust, just like any other paperback, and the text is pin-sharp. I admit I had a few anxieties over the quality of a POD book, and I fully expected to have to make a number of changes after I got a copy actually in my hands, but I can’t see anything that I would actually change. Colour me impressed.

Well done Amazon!

Review: Assassin’s Creed Origins

assassins-creed-origins-cover

Title: Assassin’s Creed Origins

Developer: Ubisoft

Genre: Action-adventure, stealth

Playtime: 100 hours

My rating: 8/10

*SPOILER WARNING: I won’t spoil major plotlines, but I will be discussing some content and Aya’s role*

Well fellow Creedsmen, this one has been a long time coming, and I’m not just talking about the two-year hiatus since Syndicate. I’m talking about the four-year hiatus since Black Flag. We have been faithfully sitting on our hands, biding our time, waiting for Ubisoft to come back around to the good old days of Assassin’s Creed. And I’m so thrilled to say they have finally done it!

I want to describe Origins as the first truly open-world AC game, in the sense that this is a vast land including urban and rural locations that can all be accessed on virtual foot. I know Black Flag is open world, but locations are only accessible after sailing for vast distances on an ‘open’ sea. Not that I didn’t love the sailing, but there’s only so much interest at sea. And both Unity and Syndicate were entirely based in a single city, and in my book that doesn’t constitute a world. But in Origins, AC has finally begun to reach its potential.

Ancient Egypt is not only a beautiful world, but it is an extremely faithful one. Everything has been painstakingly recreated to be as realistic as it’s possible to get. The great pyramids are almost completely accurate in terms of their internal architecture, Alexandria is the centre of knowledge and culture that it really was and don’t get me started on the languages. Having a degree in linguistics, this is possibly the most thrilling aspect for me. They actually reconstructed Ancient Egyptian for this game. Reconstructing a language is no five-minute job. You have to study its modern-day descendants and work backwards to counteract all the changes that languages go through over hundreds or thousands of years. That is seriously impressive. And not only are the locals expressing the Ancient Egyptian equivalent of “He must be mad!” and “Sunday driver!”, but the Romans are speaking Latin – yes, actual Latin – and the Greeks are speaking Ancient Greek.

And I think that’s where the strengths of ACO lie. They have taken the tried and tested Assassin’s Creed formula, set it in a beautiful open world, but crucially they’ve also upgraded all the attention to detail. Origins feels like a genuinely authentic historical adventure.

I’m not saying it’s completely perfect. As glorious a world as it is, the experience of outrunning a sandstorm in the beautifully realised desert is counteracted by the 2D vegetation. I mean, are we really still in 2D-vegetation land? And the animation isn’t great when you compare it to something like Horizon Zero Dawn. The NPCs still have cone-clothing (you know, togas that stick out like solid cones so you can see their pants when they’re lying on the ground), and their faces lack a broad range of expression. Also, for such a huge and diverse world, the main and side missions are surprisingly short and lacking in diversity. To put it in perspective, it took me about ten days to complete ACO (all main and side missions and interest points), but it took me about three months to complete The Witcher 3 and Fallout 4. I know Assassin’s Creed is all about … well … assassinating, but there’s a real lack of diversity in side activities. They are pretty much all go to a location, stab someone or clear the place out, and collect a reward. It does get a shade tedious after a while, and I found myself sighing, “Oh, another Roman camp” upon approaching a question mark.

I think the most irritating aspect of this game is Aya (Bayek’s wife). I’ve no issue with her character per se. I love a female assassin and played Evie in Syndicate at any point where I had a choice who to play. My issue is that you spend hours and hours upgrading Bayek’s skills and equipment to the point where you think you can handle the big bosses at the end of the main storyline, only to find that you’re not playing Bayek at all. You have to play as Aya, who uses the least effective weapon in the game (IMHO), has no special skills or moves and because you rarely play as her character at any other point in the game, you really have no connection to her. This vexed me greatly. I know other people have raved about how wonderful the ending to ACO is, and I know it’s a great set up for previous and future episodes, but it really made me feel like all my efforts throughout the rest of the game were completely pointless. You literally cannot prepare or give yourself any advantage for the endgame fights. As a serious strategist, this is extremely frustrating.

Okay, gripes over. The improvements to the game almost entirely outweigh the flaws. I’m just going to say one word: Senu. I’ve never been so attached to an animal in a game as I am to this wonderful eagle. She adds a dynamic to AC gameplay that I’ve no idea how I’ve got along previously without. Not only can you see the layout of tricky restricted areas from above, but you can see the whole beautiful world from above. One of the best experiences is setting your mount to follow the road and then playing as Senu, watching yourself gallop across deserts and mountains from above while spying out which resources are heading your way. In fact, I found myself rarely fast travelling anywhere because racing through the world on horse- or camelback is such a rewarding experience in itself. I’d actually be excited to discover that my next mission was 9km away!

The other marvellous addition, or I should loss, for me at least, is the removal of those stupid additional tasks to get 100% sync on missions. I was never dexterous or calm enough to achieve any of those, so I rarely had the satisfaction of properly completing a mission. No more! I can actually feel like I’m achieving things in ACO, with or without flare. I thought I would miss the minimap, but actually it’s fine without it. The only thing I do miss is knowing when I’m about to step into a restricted area. Many a time I found myself charging into a pit of Roman soldiers completely unaware. I’m also grateful that the forays into the future (as Laila) are short and sweet. I personally detest being pulled out of great gameplay to go through these laborious future episodes that could quite frankly be done away with at no great loss, but Laila seems to be quite the assassin herself and has most of the moves.

I know I was a bit derisive about the side missions earlier on, but some of them are really very engaging. I really enjoyed the more era-appropriate missions like the stargazing and tomb raiding, ones where you have to use your brain a bit more to figure things out, rather than just hide-and-stab missions. I do love a good hide-and-stab (and I realise that’s the whole premise for Assassin’s Creed) but I’m just looking for a bit more diversity to keep my interests levels from dropping off. (On a side-mission side note, I will never finish this game 100% because they want me to kill elephants. I’m sorry, I simply can’t. I know it’s very historically relevant, but it just cuts a little near for me with the current state of elephant abuse in the world. They are highly intelligent and empathetic creatures, and I just won’t do it. I can kill all the humans on the planet, but I will not cut an abused elephant to death. Just no.)

So, all in all, Assassin’s Creed Origins is a huge success for the franchise. I will say it: it is the best Assassin’s Creed game yet. There, I said it. That doesn’t mean it is without flaws, but I am entirely optimistic that Ubisoft is heading in the right direction now. They lost their way a bit, but they listened to the players, they took time off to make sure their next offering was what we wanted and they have certainly delivered. From a longtime fan to a responsive developer: thank you, thank you, thank you.

FIVE THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT MY BOOKSHELVES: #5

5. I do have multiple copies of the same book

As an appendix to my previous point, I would like to add that I do legitimately and quite happily possess multiple copies of the same book. Why? Because these books are my bestest friends of all.

You know those feelings of nostalgia and strong attachment I was talking about in point 3? They are particularly intense for these books. Usually, this takes the form of the original books that I read, most likely in a mass market paperback format that I can’t bear to part with because of the emotional attachment I have to that first reading, plus beautifully produced hardback/anniversary/celebratory reprint editions that I ooo and ahh over and have been known to stroke and reverently leaf through.

his-dark-materials

My original turn of the century paperback editions of His Dark Material alongside the delicious 20th anniversary hardback editions. I love them both dearly.

One series has gotten a bit out of hand, mind you, and that’s Harry Potter. I have no less than eight versions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Sorcerer’s Stone in the US). They are:

  1. the original hardback
  2. the Clare Melinsky cover art hardback edition published in Nov 2011
  3. the Jim Kay illustrated edition
  4. the 20th anniversary Ravenclaw hardback edition
  5. the Spanish edition
  6. the Italian edition
  7. the Chinese edition
  8. the Latin edition

harry-potter-collection

And yes, I can read it in all those versions. I also have the audiobook read by Stephen Fry, which is like melted chocolate in my ears. The long and short is, I will literally pay Bloomsbury (UK publisher) over and over and over again for the same content in a different format. And I don’t care! Frankly, I can’t get enough of Harry Potter, so I don’t believe for a second that those eight will be the limit of my collection. But like any collector, a collection gives me such joy inside, and my HP books have definitely gone beyond my usual originals plus aesthetically pleasing editions and now reside under the heading of a collection.

So there you have it. Five confessions of a proud bookaholic. My shelves bring me joy and nostalgia and thrilling possibilities, and I wouldn’t change them for the world.

I’d love to hear your bookshelf rules and secrets, so please comment! X

Five Things You Should Know about My Bookshelves: #4

Now, slight gripage here.

4. One series, one cover style

To all those publishers who decide to change the cover style of books in a series partway through the publication of a series, I both despise and admire you.

I despise you because I can’t stand having books on my shelves that are in a single series but have multiple cover styles. Puffin, you are particularly guilty of this, but the rest of you are not exempt from the circumference of my bile. What’s the matter? Too much marketing budget? Too much boredom amongst the design department? Whatever your excuse is, I’m sure it’s both lame and unnecessary. It is vexing. You are VEXING me. The sight of a line-up of coherently designed titles is internally satisfying to me and promotes healthy and generous emotions towards publishers. The sight of a mishmash of different styles and, horror, different sizes forces me to think incredibly ungenerous things in your direction. Stop it. Stop it NOW.

eon

I love this duo, Eon and Eona. But why, oh, WHY are the two spines totally inconsistent?

power-of-five

I haven’t even been able to bring myself to buy the fifth book in Anthony Horowitz’s The Power of Five series. A massive hiatus between books four and five naturally meant a total cover overhaul for book five.

dan-brown

Just no. Cover overhaul and a size difference. This makes my eyes hurt.

Amongst all this vexation, I do also have to admire your dark schemes. Because as soon as you change your cover designs partway through a series, people like me who are disturbed at the sight of inconsistency will rush out and purchase all the preceding titles again. Ka-ching! We are the cows you can keep on milking. I should point out that I admire you in the same way as I admire the devious machinations of a dastardly villain, but it is admiration nonetheless.

So, still, stop it. Stop it NOW.

Review: Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas

tower-of-dawn-cover

Title: Tower of Dawn (Throne of Glass #6)

Author: Sarah J. Maas

Pages: 660

Goodreads link

My rating: star1

I don’t think I’ve ever given Sarah J Maas less than 5 stars before, but I have to say this one just didn’t quite do it for me. I love Chaol’s character, I have from the start, but the absence of top marks is no reflection of the characters, which are always well written and consistent. The problem is that I found it quite a struggle to maintain the momentum of reading this book. Normally with a SJM book, I’m avidly ensconced on my sofa for hours at a time, but with this episode I had to actively force myself to allocate reading time to get through it.

I think the main issue is that this book very much focuses on the development of two relationships (I won’t say who and who, spoilers and all that). Now, I love a good relationship development through the course of a novel, but it must go hand in hand with action and engaging plot. Unlike SJM’s other books, these are almost entirely absent from the first two thirds of Tower of Dawn. In terms of story, it’s a bit on the glacial side, and in terms of action, there is almost none. You get little sparks here and there, but when you look overall, really not much happens except two sets of people spend time together and fall in love.

Well, great.

At 660 pages, this is one heck of a bowl of soup to get through if you’re not that into pure relationship cooking. And it’s no coincidence that SJM’s books are getting longer and longer. It’s a pretty common thing in publishing for editors to start off insisting that your novels stick to a strict maximum word count (lest potential new fans are put off by size), and then when you have proven yourself to be a best-selling author with a giant fanbase, you can pretty much get away with writing however long a book you want (because, hey, fans will buy it anyway). I’m not saying this is a bad thing – it means we get more of what we like – but Tower of Dawn could definitely have benefitted from some editorial pruning sheers.

Also, I don’t know if anyone else is feeling this, but I found SJM’s trademark slideshow writing just a little bit tiring in this one. Her choppy paragraphing is an effective method for conveying fast-action sequences and chaotic scenes, but because a lot of this book takes place in an internal, chaotic environment, there is a lot of this slideshow stuff going on. It’s a bit like when they do fast cutting of action scenes in films so you can barely keep up with what’s going on, just flashing images. It’s effective when used appropriately, but too much and the film just becomes tiring to watch. Same thing here. After chapters containing multiple pages of it, I found myself longing for a nice bit of flowing prose that I didn’t feel like my brain was hiccoughing through. It made for quite uncomfortable reading.

I have another gripe (sorry!), which has actually been simmering away through SJM’s latest books. She has a real habit of objectifying her male characters. You know, wanging on about the quality of their muscles and figures in a way that would be extraordinarily sexist if the same were done for female characters. I know she describes all her female characters as being hot (with the rare exception), but it’s never to the extent that she objectifies males. I know, I know, these books are designed largely for a female audience and I am a female myself, but I’m actually starting to get a bit uncomfortable about it. At the beginning, her male characters were all fairly distinct from one another, but now poor old Chaol has been subjected to SJM’s seemingly favourite male archetype of steamy, unfathomably fit and handsome, over-protective, possessive, brooding and thinking about nothing but the female they are in a ship with. Really? There are more types of men in the world. I know a lot of female readers go gooey over this type of male figure, but I’m afraid those qualities are really not what I find attractive in a male. I don’t mind the presence of this archetype in a book, I just wish she’d have other types of main-character men to make for a more diverse reading experience.

Okay, I’m going on a bit about the negatives here, and you’re all probably wondering why I even gave Tower of Dawn 4 stars. Despite the above, this is still a very good book. SJM is still a very good writer and storyteller. It still is very much worth your time reading it, not least because it picks up on Chaol, who was disappointingly absent from Empire of Storms. I have a great attachment to this character because he was always a bit used and abused by his fellow characters, who clearly did not take into account his circumstances, what he went through and what he was trying to do, i.e. be a good person, which should never be scorned. It also nicely ties in a minor plot line from Assassin’s Blade, and I had been wondering when SJM would tie that one off. It’s also a mildly welcome relief from Aelin, who, let’s face it, is getting a little bit bratty and unbearable (I miss Celaena so much!).

If you’re a fan of SJM and have been reading the Throne of Glass novels, you’ll love it. If you like relationship developments, you’ll love it. Just a word of warning to the plot and action fans out there: persevere to the end.

Five Things You Should Know about My Bookshelves: #3

Alright, tissues at the ready for this one. I was properly raining by the time I’d finished writing.

3. My books are my friends

Congratulations if your book has earned a permanent spot on my bookshelves. That means that I like you. Or, at least, I like your book.

One cannot be impractical about these things. There’s only so much space in my house, there are only so many bookshelves in my house. The space is limited. But there will always be room for those books that have had a profound impact on me. Usually because the characters and the stories and the worlds really resonated with me, but also because they remind me of when I first read them.

They give me a warm sense of nostalgia, like endless summer holidays or post-Christmas comfort, or books that got me back into reading after a dry spell or books that got me through tough times and illnesses, or books I devoured with my best friend at school and we couldn’t get enough of them and we couldn’t be enough like the heroes and that’s what we were going to be when we were adults.

artemis-fowl

My step mum brought me my first Artemis Fowl book (the gold one fourth from the right) when I was in hospital feeling miserable. I treasure it to this day and got it signed by Eoin Colfer.


tamora-pierce

My best friend and I were obsessed with Tamora Pierce books. We wanted to be just like Alanna.

Of course, we never did turn out like those heroes, but I remember it all, and it’s all part of my life and part of the environment that shaped me. I couldn’t possibly throw out any of these books; it would be like throwing out my friends from my heart. And that’s what these books are to me: they are my friends. They’ve stood by me through all the years of my life, through good times and bad, through times so tough I could barely make it through. I always had my books. I always had those places I could retreat to, even for just ten minutes before bedtime or for entire days if I needed it. They never let me down; they never abandoned me; they never gave up on me.

These special books, I will never throw them out. Even when I’m three hundred years old and my consciousness exists in a virtual reality, I will still faithfully dust them every week and remember just how much they mean to me.