Romance Interrupted: A Review of Goodbye, Battle Princess Peony ~eternal spring~

            Not all stories are meant to be told in the same medium.  Some tales are best presented as novels, while others work their magic as a television series.  And then there are comic books.  Unlike many other forms of media—except animation—comic books are not just vessels for storytelling; they are also works of art unto themselves.  Dialogue combines with hand-drawn artwork showing exactly what emotions the characters are feeling.  Rather than agonize over how to best describe a setting, a talented artist can put their imagination right on the page.  Some comics use highly intricate details and colors to best utilize this visual storytelling, but others understand that sometimes clean lines and clear expressions are all you need to get the correct emotions across.  Color is not required.

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Land of Fabrication: A Review of The Lies of the Ajungo, by Moses Ose Utomi

            Civilizations are built on a certain degree of falsehood, shared beliefs that allow a society to function.  Laws, currency, national identify—these are all creations of the human mind that are not based as much in reality as they are in a need to keep everyone living alongside one another.  However, sometimes that fabrication is taken to an extreme in order to control a populace.  This has been a favorite subject in literature for as long as there has been literature.  We love stories where lies are exposed and truths are uncovered.  Sometimes this is a joyous occasion, but, more often than not, this type of plot lends itself to tragedy.  Either the truth is too harsh for the world, or our heroes fail to expose the whole truth, or they give their lives in the service of their mission.

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Eat. Dance. Fight.: A Review of Daughters of Oduma, by Moses Ose Utomi

            Young adult fiction is one of the cornerstones of the literary world and, too often, gets a bit of a bad rap.  At one time, YA fiction dominated the market.  Books turned into series, which turned into best-sellers, which turned into the sale of movie rights and the establishment of franchises.  But then, something happened.  The established authors lost their footing, and cast a black mark which affected new authors as well.  At its core, YA fiction simply means books that are aimed at readers between the ages of 12 and 18.  However, there have come certain tropes and plot points that readers now associate with this broad category, which can contain every genre in existence, for it is not a genre in itself: it is a target audience.  To truly succeed in this area, the story needs to be something different than what came before.  It needs to take risks, to break from the established formula, and, above all, it needs to treat its target readers like actual people rather than the bundle of stereotypes some YA stories saw them as.

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Glass Heart: A Review of I Want to be Your Doll, by Mira Ong Chua

            On the surface, romance can seem like a very simple and straightforward literary genre.  Characters meet, spend time together, and eventually (or quickly) fall in love.  Romance novels are both the source of great affection and great ridicule for readers, and the romantic comedy has become a movie powerhouse of its own right.  However, many of these stories are often criticized for following similar patterns, and can be maligned for focusing on unrealistic character pairings or even pairing the main character with someone who feels bland or boring.  However, when a good romance story comes along, it feels like a breath of fresh air.  Stories that push the characters’ emotional growth to the forefront and really allow them to examine why they are attracted to another person, and why it is alright to be a littler selfish.  Good romance does not involved complete and total dedication, but putting your own happiness first, and finding someone to share in that happiness.

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Reign: A Review of Critical Role: The Mighty Nein—The Nine Eyes of Lucien

            Critical Role, a web series where a group of nerdy-ass voice actors sit around and play Dungeons and Dragons, is a dominating force in nerdom.  It has provided hundreds upon hundreds of hours of entertainment to its fans over the course of three D&D campaigns, one-shot games, and mini-series.  It would not be hyperbole to say that the show is the face of the role-playing game for many people.  Ever since the show spun off from Geek and Sundry to form its own, independent production studio, Critical Role has been expanding into other formats aside from actually showing the cast members playing Dungeons and Dragons.  It began with a series of comic books filling in parts of the story from before the show began airing, then moved into novels, and now they even have an animated series two seasons deep on Amazon.  The ways for fans both new and old to engage with the fictional world never stop.

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Fighting for a Future: A Review of Extreme Vetting, by Roxana Arama

            One of the most popular literary genres in the world is crime fiction, and one of the most specific subsets of that genre to come out of the United States is the legal thriller.  Most readers in the United States at least have heard of John Grisham, even if they have not read his novels, and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is still taught in schools today.  Legal thrillers are a type of story focusing on some sort of investigation, with a particular focus on courtroom proceedings or the legal system of its setting.  More often than not, the best legal thrillers are also interested in examining social justice as it pertains to a legal system while its heroes fight uncover misdeeds or prove their clients innocence.  Our heroes tend to fight using legal means, working within the system with competency.  Meanwhile, villains tend to be corrupt, either working outside the legal system or taking advantage of the system through their corruption.  No matter the setup, this is a genre that is at its best when tackling real-world, timely issues.

Thank you to Ooligan Press for providing me with an Advance Review Copy of Extreme Vetting!

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Make a Wish: A Review of The Cosmic Ballad of Layla and Airy, by Mira Ong Chua

            Be careful what you wish for.  That is the lesson of nearly every story where wishes, magical or otherwise, play a central role in the plot.  Inevitably, the wish in question presents the characters with some sort of unforeseen consequence brought about by the nature of the wish.  Usually this is something the character who made the wish simply did not think of, such as missing the ramifications of wishing for a million dollars.  Sometimes stories like this lean into horror territory, such as the 1902 short story, “The Monkey’s Paw,” by W. W. Jacobs.  Other times, the story is meant as a lesson of some sort for the reader, a common occurrence in fairy tales and folklore.  Most stories about wishes tend to lean towards the dramatic, for obvious reasons.  But there is no reason a skilled storyteller cannot have a bit of fun with the concept instead.

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Postgrad: A Review of The Golden Enclaves, by Naomi NovikPostgrad:

            It can a difficult task to introduce an entire world or setting in a fiction novel, or really any fictional story medium.  We see the cracks especially in movies, when taking the time to fully immerse an audience in a world can end up slowing down the pace, while skipping over world-building can lend to a feeling that things do not make sense.  Books, on the other hand, allow for other options, specifically in a multi-book series, such as a trilogy.  Some series, such as Naomi Novik’s Scholomance trilogy, take the path of keeping the setting relatively contained at first, then opening up the world to the readers and characters as a payoff after spending so much time immersed in a single locale.

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The Cruelty of Love: A Review of Godslayers, by Zoe Hana Mikuta

            Modern day storytelling tends to embrace the model of the three-act structure.  Meaning that our stories—whether they be books, movies, or video games—have a beginning, a middle, or an end.  The first act is the establishment.  It introduces characters, their relationships, the setting, and the inciting incident that leads into the plot.  The second act is the rising action, following the characters attempting to learn about or solve the issue set up in the first act.  However, the second act cannot lead to a resolution just quite yet, leading into the third act.  This is the resolution of the plots set up, along with the climax.  The three-act structure is not a narrative structure for a single book, however.  This is the reason why trilogies are so popular in modern fiction, with each book operating as a different act.  However, this structure is not the only narrative structure around.  The duology, or a story told in two books, may be less popular than the trilogy, but can in some ways be more satisfying to read.

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The Linguistics of Empire: A Review of Babel, or The Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution

            The thing about empire is that it is one of the easiest choices for a villain in fiction.  A large, oppressive, overwhelming force for the characters to fight against.  Authoritarian by design, ever expanding, singularly focused on consuming other cultures and nations to feed its own endless hunger.  Just look at Star Wars and its evil Galactic Empire.  Right away, in the opening crawl no less, we know who the villains of the story are.  The reasons for positioning an empire as a villainous force should be obvious when filtered through the lens of history.  Empire have left a long, bloody trail, expanding and collapsing throughout the millennia, from ancient Babylon to Portugal, the last “official” empire to dissolve with the transfer of Macau back to China in 1999.  However, one modern empire rises above them all in terms of lasing cultural influence; the British Empire.

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