Spycraft and Romance: A Review of Capture the Crown, by Jennifer Estep

There is an art to be found when crafting a sequel, a careful balance to be struck, which I talked about in several opening paragraphs in other reviews.  When it comes to creating not just a sequel, but a sequel series, however, that requires a completely different skillset and outlook.  Sometimes, after a series has concluded the story it wished to tell, there is room for additional stories.  Many authors will shift focus to a different character or a different region of their world entirely.  Often, the writer employs a time jump, catching up to characters and worlds many years after the original ending.  When writing a sequel series, a careful balance must be struck; a balance between retaining old readers and drawing in new ones.  Tip that balance, and you risk alienating one or both of these groups.  For the perfect example, look no farther than the Star Wars sequel trilogy.  The first movie, The Force Awakens, achieved this balance easily, introducing new characters and keeping one or two old ones.  However, the final movie, The Rise of Skywalker, wrapped itself in misplace nostalgia to everyone’s detriment, creating a finale that satisfied no one.  The balance was not maintained.

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Heroes of the Ward: A Review of Realm Breaker, by Victoria Aveyard

Stopping, or surviving, the end of the world has become standard fare in fiction, from novels to movies, that it is essentially its own trope now.  A quick and easy way to set enormous stakes and justify any action set piece one could think of.  However, despite the proliferation of this plot building block, or maybe because of it, the end of the world is actually a rather difficult plot to pull off and keep your audience invested.  As seen in many movies, once the stakes become too big, too large scale, it can be hard to empathize with the widespread destruction seen on screen.  This trend is not even unique to fiction.  It is more difficult for humans to empathize with large-scale tragedies simply because they are too big to make sense of.  However, just like in real world news coverage, there is a way to keep people interested and invested when plotting and end of the world story; make it personal.

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Unending Legacy: A Review of Black Water Sister, by Zen Cho

We are all, regardless of background, part of an unending legacy, stretching back generations.  In some cases, those legacies are so intertwined with a specific place that they never branch out, never travel.  But, in other cases, those legacies spread across the globe.  Anyone from an immigrant family can attest to this feeling, of belonging to a culture or people that did not originate wherever you live.  For some immigrants, they try to hold onto this legacy and culture wherever they move, creating distinct communities within communities.  Others, however, prefer to do their best to assimilate—a process we call Americanization in this country—and allow their children to grow up as full members of their new nation.  But that does not erase the legacy that follows those children of immigrants, sometimes resulting in a situation where the children feel out of place everywhere they go.

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Thinking Machine: A Review of This Golden Flame, by Emily Victoria

One common trope in science-fiction is the existence of technology so advanced it is indistinguishable from magic.  However, the reverse can also be found in fiction whenever a writer wants to create a fantasy world, but still include a technological element that would not otherwise be possible.  Enter magical technology, or magic indistinguishable from technology aside from being fueled by magic instead of electricity or another power source.  Maybe an author wants to include an airship in their high fantasy setting, but does not want technology to be too advanced.  Or they want a medieval-like setting to have access to something like a computer or search engine.  Whatever the apparatus, this allows authors to get inventive with the magic in their book, imagining how it can fuel a society.  However, this trend can run up against the rick of breaking immersion whenever readers start to wonder why the characters just do not use the actual technology instead of magic.

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Death of the Gods: A Review of The Witch’s Heart, by Genevieve Gornichec

Norse mythology may be more popular than ever at the moment, in no small part due to the influence of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the versions of Thor and Loki we see in the movies are far from their historic portrayals.  While we call it a mythology, on part with Greek or Japanese mythology, what we know of the religion of the Vikings was not written down until after Christianity had already converted the population.  As opposed to the Greeks, who recorded their tales in the forms of poems or plays, the Norse only left behind a few glyphs or runic art pieces in their wake.  But the two written sources we do have, the Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson and the Poetic Edda by numerous anonymous authors, paint a picture of the gods unlike their modern counterparts.  Like the gods of ancient Greece, the gods of the Norse were fallible.  They were corrupt and vain and jealous, capable of great cruelty and constantly making mistakes.  These cultures worshiped gods very similar to mortals, with all of their flaws, and they were not heroes.

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Dark Heart of Sweden: A Review of Lazarus, by Lars Kepler

Ever since the series began in 2009 with The Hypnotist, the tales of Joona Linna, Saga Bauer, and the dark heart of Sweden, Lars Kepler has captivated their audience.  Swedish detective fiction is a very unique genre, one which often goes far and above the types of crimes and mysteries written about by American counterparts.  Beginning with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the world found a taste for the darkness that only Nordic authors seem capable of capturing.  Since the completion of that trilogy, Lars Kepler has kept the tradition going.  Originally published in 2018, but only recently released in English, Lazarus is the seventh entry into the newly christened Killer Instinct series of detective novels.  I have followed this series since the beginning, and each entry never fails to draw me in while making me feel slightly ill.  The best combination for a detective novel.

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Second Life: A Review of Press Reset, by Jason Schreier

The video game industry is one of the largest in the world, but it can be hard to imagine just how much money these companies make.  In 2020 alone, the global market for video games generated over 150 billion dollars in revenue, with predictions for 2021 set to increase that number even more.  Despite a measure of success which cannot be denied, the video game industry remains one of the most volatile industries of the modern day.  Few other fields rely on creating products that also need to serve as a piece of art, from the gameplay to the design to the story being told.  Even films do not suffer from the same demands or risks as games do.  One flop is all it takes for an entire company to fold in itself, and even the most successful ones perform mass layoffs without warning.  For many gamers out there, working in the video industry seems like a dream come true.  Get paid to make games?  But the reality, as in many instances, is much harsher.

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Outlaw to Sheriff: A Review of Spellmaker, by Charlie N. Holmberg

Writing a sequel is always a unique problem for an author as it is usually a self-inflicted one.  It is easy to approach a story with the idea that the complete tale will be told in one book, and most authors do choose to go this route.  But there is something about the fantasy and science-fiction genres especially that draw writers towards creating more.  Usually, this is a net win for the audience, as we want to spend as much time as possible in an author’s imagination if the first book draws us in.  I have put down many books wishing that the story had not ended with the last page.  But, sometimes, the sequel does not quite live up to the expectations set by the first entry.  A sequel needs to both provide a continuation and a satisfying payoff to elements set up by the first book.  A mystery or conflict may be enjoyable while it is ongoing, but if the resolution is not satisfying, then the entire whole can suffer.

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Betwixt and Between: A Review of Within Without, by Jeff Noon

The crossing of a border is a sacred act, a transgression representing a metamorphosis from one state to another.  To most, borders represent the barriers between nations, or states, the crossing between one civilization and another.  But there are many more borders in our everyday lives.  The crossing of the threshold from within your home to without it.  The crossing from a street to inside an apartment building to inside a singular apartment, and in reverse.  But most borders are not physical objects, until we bring them into being.  Without a human mind, there are no borders anywhere.  One world stretches and encompasses everything.  It is us who gives borders their significance and power.  Borders are not just for people either, but ideas.  There are borders of the mind that welcome you across, and borders that bar your entry.  Thoughts come to us unbidden across closed borders, but so too much mental borders be crossed in order to grow and learn.

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Suneater: A Review of Black Sun, by Rebecca Roanhorse

Epics are a form of literature as old as storytelling itself and continues to be just as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago when The Epic of Gilgamesh was first told.  Every culture has its own tales, passed down from generation to generation, and literature has continued to keep this particular genre relevant.  Even today, modern authors still write epic fiction, even if the format has changed from poetry to prose.  No one could look at The Lord of the Rings trilogy or A Song of Ice and Fire as anything other than modern epic stories, but those are far from the only ones.  All epics share a few common characteristics.  An epic will feature multiple main characters, each on their own important journey.  Sometimes this journey will take them across several locales, other times the journey will not a physical one.  Magic may play a part, but it is usually rare and, when it does appear, can be exceedingly powerful.  Often, the stakes will threaten the world, but the characters growth is just as important to the story as the plot.

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