October 16th, 2007

Pretty Words

In a Nutshell: Books (First three Rachel Morgan books)

This review covers:

Dead Witch Walking
The Good, The Bad, and the Undead
and
Every Which Way But dead

by Kim Harrison

For some reason I've been on a total supernatural-urban-fantasy kick lately, and the Southern Vampire books didn't scratch my itch due to their flaws, so I figured I'd try again with Rachel Morgan.

These books are yet more in the same... er... vein, if you pardon the pun, following characters involved in a mostly-present-day setting, but with "outed" supernatural beings of various flavors. In this particular case, the main character is (surprise surprise) Rachel Morgan, a witch of the earth magic variety, and the action quickly widens to include a pixy, living vampire, and various other characters - a few of them even human.

If I had to rate these books, I'd probably put them above the Southern Vampire novels - I'm enjoying them more so far - but probably below the Mercy Thompson books (which I haven't actually reviewed, although I believe desdenova did at one point). The characters are fun - Rachel's talented, but definitely not perfect, and the supporting cast is a lot of fun. There are also more than enough plot threads - some stretching through all three books so far without being totally completed, some lasting throughout one book only, some for a couple - to keep up my interest and keep me guessing.

The world is also interesting, with witches being slightly different from humans (and considered a separate species), with earth magic witches using potions and amulets made with plants for their magic, ley line witches taking power directly from ley lines themselves, and each having white and black varieties that can be a bit blurred if the magician isn't careful. Vampires can be either "living" or "undead," and various other supernaturals exist and seem to be pretty well-defined within Harrison's world, which gives the books a surprising amount of depth at times for the genre. They're not epic fantasy, but it definitely feels like the world has been carefully crafted, rather than thrown together as a backdrop for some Mary Sue fan-fiction.

On the down side, the book still manages to fall into some typical flaws of the genre. In two of the three books at least, we seem to have to get into the "oh, time out, gotta have the wild sex scene" mode that it seems is required for authors to keep their Club Undead cards up-to-date, since the advent of Anne Rice and the Anita Blake books (the latter of which I haven't even read and have heard more than enough about). And really, I'm no prude (as y'all might have noticed at points), but it does really feel like that at times, and it's frankly annoying. It's like "plot plot plot, oh, totally random thrown-in sex scene because it feels required, and now... let's get on with the actual story." Gah! The other related flaw of the genre that this book is guilty of is the "every supernatural creature must be dead (no pun intended) sexy, and described in lustful detail to make sure everyone knows this." And as you may also know, I'm not exactly the type to turn my nose up to a pretty guy, but after reading many books of this genre that all seem to fall into this camp, it can make you wince a bit.

There are a few other flaws as well, albeit minor ones. For instance some of the things that Harrison throws in are just glaringly wrong, although I suppose I'm probably being anal about them. Minks, for instance, are not rodents. And throwing a fish into plain untreated water is just asking for a dead fish. But hey, possibly nitpicking here. Also, as I mentioned Morgan is flawed enough to escape Mary Sue-ism, but at times she possibly goes a bit too far in the other direction - I want to pick her up and smack her around for being too damn stubborn and temperamental, to the point where I'm ready to throw the book at something. But those are flaws that I can live with, honestly, and on the balance I'm enjoying the books.

So, long story short (too late), I'll at least give the next book in the series a read, and am more likely to continue on than I was with the Southern Vampire books. I actually already have the fourth book of this one ready to be read, as soon as I'm done with some other things, and will dive into it soon. So if anyone else is looking for something of this genre for some reason - you could do better, but you could also do worse. You might wanna give them a try.

*****

At least, on the bright side, it looks like a new Mercy Thompson book is actually coming out in a few months. Woohoo! And in a slightly less-related note, who the hell said that they could release another Dick Francis book a month ago and not inform me? Y'all are slacking off in your duties people! Let me know these things!
Vincent

Final Fantasy Tactics: The Lion War (first impressions)

Not really doing an "In a Nutshell" entry for this, since it's not full impressions by any means. (I suppose I always might later down the road, but for now...)

For those who don't know/care, Squarenix just released a new version of Final Fantasy tactics for the PSP, called, well, see above. This just came out in the U.S. last week (Tuesday release, Wednesday getting into most stores I believe, as usual), and I got my copy today. (Er, yesterday I guess, since it's technically early morning Tuesday when I write this.) I honestly haven't kept up-to-date on all the changes/updates to the game since I knew I wanted to get it anyhow and wanted to leave some surprises, but the game is mostly a port of the original Playstation version, with a few new jobs, at least one new character, a new localization, and some new spiffier cut-scenes. At least.

So what can be said about Final Fantasy Tactics? I mean, it's been an awesome game ever since it first came out. One of those holy PSX games like Final Fantasy VII, Suikoden II, and Vagrant Story that really made the Sony console The Place To Be for great games of this general flavor, and that are still looked back on with fond memories even two game generations down the road. So obviously, given that I feel that way, I'm going to tell you that the port of the game is also shaping up to be amazing. Because... duh.

That said though, I'm on the fence about some of the changes. The new cut-scenes are definitely nice... hell, Ramza has a voice! Who knew? Still has no nose, but has a voice. Go figure. And some of the jobs (and the one character, if I ever get to meet him, *happy wiggle*) also look promising. But the new localization... enh.

Okay, granted, the original localization of FFT was... less than stellar, given the general quality of games that Square was putting out even at the time. And some of the grammar and more blatant oddities could definitely use some polishing up. But I'm not necessarily a fan of going back in and drastically re-writing *everything* just to make it supposedly fit in better with some of the other Ivalice games now down the road. Especially when just about EVERY character now apparently speaks fluent Ye Olde. I mean hell, even Gaffgarion (a rugged, rude, take-no nonsense, impolite type) says "mayhap" instead of "maybe" or anything similar. And Sand Rat Sietch? WTF? Have the FFT characters suddenly been reading up on their Dune?

Apparently though I'm in the minority from what I've seen so far, as far as the localization goes. Other people I've seen have been applauding it. I dunno, maybe I'm too harsh on it due to it just being different from what we've had for about a decade now. And at times it is nice, when it feels more mature and realistic... but in general, I still just think it overdoes the flowery feel and could be a bit more down-to-earth.

Oh yeah, and the slowdown. For some reason, porting the game to the PSP added a lot of slowdown to some parts of battle (notably spell effects, a pause after each character attacks, and similar). From what others have said it's now better than it was in the Japanese version, and it's not game-breaking, but it IS annoying. *le sigh*. But oh well.

All that out of the way though... the game's definitely got my attention again, so we'll see if I can manage to get through another full playthrough of the game and see all the new stuff it has to offer before I lose interest and get distracted by the next New Shiny.

I should really get my PSP on the net as well, since there are some competitive/cooperative modes that you can play in the game now, but I don't know if anyone else I know even has the game and is playing it so... well, we'll see.
icon

Bitty bit of Beauty and the Geek

I wasn't sure if I'd watch this week or not, so I sorta split the difference. I ended up forgetting about the first half, and catching the second. Partly because I'd be watching Reaper, anyhow, so... might as well. (Although I did want to see their reactions to Will and Rebecca being gone, and how Sam coped with it all as well.)

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