Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Answering Review Request: Holindrian

Macaulay Christian asked me to read his novel "Holindrian". It is a science fiction novel with many plots and themes but is chiefly concerned with a war of independence. I will examine plot, character and polish, and then assign a grade.


This story has many plotlines. 1.)There is the flight from Earth due to environmental degradation, 2.) the settlement of a new planet which itself has other plotlines like the growth of the Balutu and a war with the savage inhabitants, 3.) the rise and fall of human civilization four times over fifty thousand years, 4.) the Balutu taking over the world to break the cycle and finally 5.) the world-wide revolt against the Balutu, thus leading to their fall. Actually, there is a sixth plotline, which is the frame narrative of the historian talking about all the previous ones. In my personal opinion, this historian did a bad job.

All of these plotlines are interwoven with each other. Not just by the chapter but within chapters with only a little bar of blank space as a section divider. There are time skips back and forth, as well as location jumps. Different characters are involved. It's confusing. To be frank, it sounds like the abridged version of a five book epic series. If such a series existed, then I think it would be great because what is here is great.

I have never seen a better case for Grey and Grey Morality than this story. The Baltutu's justification for taking over the world is that they are saving humans from themselves. In Your Nature to Destroy Yourselves is a trope and here it is proven. The Baltutu have spent fifty thousand years watching humans drive themselves to near extinction four times and in different ways. By the time the Baltutu make their decision, humans are on the verge of wrecking their second planet. It is really hard to argue with Anshargal when he says conquest is necessary.

When the war of independence is brewing, there is a scene between two human viceroys where the loyalist is practically begging the revolutionary not to do this because they both know the war is going to have a tremendous death toll. Even as the morality scale appears to shift to Black and White with Anshargal becoming increasingly vicious and Holidrian is praised as the hero of humanity, there is still an undercurrent that Holidrian is the one making a mistake.

In fact, there is a faction in Holindrian's army that takes his "Freedom is good" philosophy further than he does and decides that all authority figures are bad, including Holindrian. Yep, Holindrian inadvertently inspired the creation of Bomb Throwing Anarchists.

The structure of Baltutu society is also something that I found interesting. The idea is to create small, self-sufficient, and subsistence-based communities. In this way, the Baltutu prevent humans from repeating previous mistakes (it is alluded that these mistakes are environmental degradation, chemical weapons of mass destruction, and over-indulgent commercialism). In order to keep them settled and content, the Baltutu ensure that all their lives are entirely hand-to-mouth. Art, literature, music, anything that is not strictly necessary to keep them alive is forbidden. They believe they have breed out violence, crime etc. by treating humans like cattle. In later scenes, the reader is shown the other side of this, and how heavy-handed, oppressive, and indeed, violent, it is.

The chief failing of this book, In my opinion, is that it is underdeveloped. As I said, it sounds like five stories smushed together. How the Balutu grew into their abilities is not shown. How they attempted to prevent humans from destroying themselves without resorting to conquest gets a single line. The conquest itself only has its end game described. There are several scenes between Enkirus, the guy who led the flight form Earth, and an alien guy who helped him, but they are so underdeveloped that I don't see the point of them. Holindrian doesn't seem to care that the humans he is freeing will likely destroy themselves again because there is no space allotted to him to either worry or prepare for it.

There's also a thing that bugs me. I'm not sure whether or not to call it a "failing". The Battle of Gathbiyya is basically a carbon copy of The Battle of Gettysburg, second day, Defense of Little Round Top. It includes the general situation of "you cannot retreat because you are the end of the line", the fishhook pattern, the bayonet charge inspired by a lack of ammo, and even the "right wheel forward" command. On Tvtropes, we call this a a Whole Plot Reference because it is far too big to be a shout out.

The ending, with this in mind, is only halfway satisfying. The premise is telling the story of "Holindrian's War" and that it does that, but it still feels incomplete.


In keeping with the book's underdeveloped nature, there are characters who could be more than what they are. For instance, Masschuel basically joins Holindrian in his war because following him is what he does. It's even on his tombstone. The Baltutu, despite a lone section describing how they all fit into their self-created pantheon, are mainly distinctive based on where they fit on the Anshargal -Holindrian scale. Anshargal is the war hawk, the oppressor, the Necessarily Evil Evil Overlord while Holindrian is the wise freedom preacher and rebel leader. Some characters, such as Oda, feel more like plot props or perhaps more like The Face of a cast herd rather than their own character.


The arrangement of the plot lines baffle me.
The spelling and grammar is ok; I recall a handful of errors but nothing major.
The language choice is pretentious. This is at its worst in the beginning, where it is describing the flight from Earth. As an example, the narration states the Earth deliberately creates a mass destruction event as an act of suicide because it prefers to burn instead of existing in such a deathly state.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Holindrian" a C

This has been a free review request. The author requested an honest review, so I provided one.
Click here for the previous book review (for fun): Fellowship of Fantasy: Fantastic Creatures

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Second Round of Edits are In! (Transcending Limitations)

My editor returned the second round of edits for Transcending Limitations. Today I started final read-through. I have this weekend and a couple days off next week so I'm confident that I'll finish in time to publish at the end of this month.

I also have the book trailer ready. It was made by Laura at LLpix Photography as well. Just like with the cover illustration, there were several things I wanted to change and she tweaked it until I was satisfied.
It's also on YouTube, in case you want to watch it there. This is the link.

On another note, I'm considering doing character interviews for the Journey to Chaos series. I have a few ideas but I'd like your suggestions as well. It can be anyone; main cast to one shots, and heroes to villains. Let me know in the comments below.

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration). 

Friday, May 5, 2017

Cover Reveal: Transcending Limitations

Here it is, the official cover illustration for the fourth book in the Journey to Chaos series!

Like the others, it was made by Laura at LLPix Photography. Isn't she talented? She's also working on a book trailer for me. I'll post that soon; stayed tuned!

The book itself is in the second round of editing by Beth from BZ Hercules. The plan is still to publish sometime this month but that depends on how long the second round takes. I will keep you posted.

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Read for Fun: Fellowship of Fantasy - Fantastic Creatures

Fellowship of Fantasy: Fantastic Creatures is an anthology put together by the members of a Facebook group that I'm part of too. This is not a review request. From what I had seen, it looked like fun, and it was.  I'll look over a couple of the stories here in a paragraph or so each.

These are the ones that came to mind first. I suppose that means I found them the most memorable. However, it does not mean that these are the only ones I liked. While looking back over the table of contents, I decided that I liked basically all of them. Out of 21 stories, there was only three or four that I didn't like, or did like but felt were too incomplete to count as a full story.

"Three Steaks and a Box of Chocolates"
This is a fully formed short story; the setting in the desert region has a tactile quality and two central characters are impressively developed in little time. The plot has a solid set up and an intriguing build up to the reveal of the creature. The nature of the conflict is funny, cute and realistic. It has a fully conclusive ending which I like.

I'd say more about it but there's a minor mystery element involved that is part of the story's charm. Suffice to say that Burt is telling the truth when he says "Fluffy" is not a cat.

"The Golden City Captives"
This one has interesting world building in its fantasy aspects. The nature and underpinning of fairy society is one such aspect and how it can be exploited by outsiders is a fine twist. Then there's the mechanic of how shapeshifters are "born". It leads me to think about the why and the history while enjoying watching it happen.

The story also provides a glimpse of the human society which influences these factors, and, in turn, is influenced by them. I want to use the phrase "overflowing climax consequences" because it develops to a grander scale than I expected. The initial conflict is completed but it flows so well and so quickly into another that I was disappointed when it ended. Kinda of like screeching the brakes; I want to see more.

"Adventurer's Heart"
I found a classic fantasy-adventure role playing game in this one. There's this hunter on a vengeance-drive monster hunt. She happens upon a quest, truly like a game, and has to complete a chain of deals and kill a monster or two for someone else before she has the proper equipment to start her own hunt. It's a lot of fun to read.

Once again, this short story feels more like one part of a bigger story than anything self-contained. It's like the first episode of a season. If the author felt inclined to make the rest of the "season" then I would be interested in reading it. The protagonist and her world is that well established and interesting.

"Destiny's Flight"
I get a "fantasy version of the Crusades" feel from this one. A knight and "miracle man"(kind of like a lay cleric) escort a messenger to her destination. The knight has his armor and sword fighting, the miracle man effectively has spells for healing/buffing etc. and the messenger has a quarter staff and her griffin. They fight an evil knight and his own mount who want to kill the messenger.

There's also a budding romance and it has a foil in a happily married couple. It's a nice narrative counterbalance to the action. An even measure of both makes the characters "pop" as human (or griffin, as the case may be).

It feels conclusive, more so than the previous two, but it also feels like this setting and its results could be used to tell more stories.


Trickster Eric Novels gives "Fellowship of Fantasy: Fantastic Creatures" an A+

Click here for the next book review (a request): Holindrian

Click here for the previous book review (request): Close Encounters of the Rubber Duck Kind

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Answering review request: Close Encounters of the Rubber Ducky Kind

Vincent Lemon asked me to read his novel "Close Encounters of the Rubber Ducky Kind". It is a science fiction story about all the universe being a reality TV show for other planets within the same universe. Yes, it is like The Truman Show, but weirder. I will look at plot, characters and polish and then assign a grade.


It is hard to say that there is one because it never settles on anything in particular. It starts off with Calzone, a little green man alien, playing god with the planet that he narrates for. That drops off after a couple dozen pages and then it shifts into a mystery where Calzone investigates the company that he used to work for to discover its true purpose. That is condensed into a couple pages. Then the "Game of Life' for gods" thing starts up and that goes on until around 50 pages and then something else starts with a new viewpoint character, a new setting and a new conflict. That drops off after a dozen or so pages and something completely different yet tangentially related starts up. This goes on and on until the book ends.

Indeed, there is a certain plot structure where the initial state of things (Calzone designing a world for fun/entertainment for others) reoccurs with different conditions. The only reason the story ends is because of a more fundamental shift in its underpinnings. I think that's the plot. For certain, one could spin a Matryoshka Doll WMG out of this or analogize the stuffing out of it, but it doesn't inspire me to do so. It is quite boring.

Though it has surprises, twists, and unexpected plot developments, the tone is so dull that I don't care. Calzone, for instance, once lists off the events that follow a world-ending meteor shower in a dispassionate sort of way that shows he doesn't really care either. For a story that is about entertaining people, the story itself does little of that. In fairness, the start of each new plot thread is interesting and one of them had me excited, but that is it.

After a certain point, the story feels like nothing more than a collection of its own jokes. The "disgustingly healthy" Universal Health Food Machines, the rubber ducks, donuts and jam, pointy sticks, etc.

It had a better ending than I was expecting. By "better", I mean more conclusive, more tying-everything-together ending. However, there is still a major plot thread that is just left hanging.


The characters, as a whole, are one-dimensional.

Calzone is a creative guy who likes breaking rules, but he is basically a plot prop for his author and rotating bosses. There is one part of the plot where he acts in defiance of his bosses (and not out of boredom or knee-jerk contrariness) and displays a streak of heroic desire but that is brief and he returns to form soon enough.

Adam stuffs himself with pastries. While he displays some fear at going mad with boredom, like Calzone, that is just one scene. Bill is Adam's evil counterpart, just replace "pastries" with "alcohol" and "fear at going mad with boredom" with "anger at Adam winning at anything".

Bob has little screen time and a good chunk of that is during a period as a blank slate where he is used for an info dump.


Grammar and spelling look good.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Close Encounters of the Rubber Ducky Kind" a D-

This was a free review request. The author wanted an honest review so I provided one.

Click here for the next book review (for fun): Fellowship of Fantasy - Fantastic Creatures

Click here for the previous book review (request): Veil of Darkness

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Answering review request: Veil of Darkness

Tim Metivier asked me to read his novel, "Veil of Darkness". It is a science fiction space opera with fantasy genre magic.


I have great things to say about this book as a whole, but not about the plot. I have nothing good to say about the plot. This is because the plot is prologue.

That's the gist of it. The most direct plotline is an assassination mission on the Coalition's leader, Rokan Sellas, and while that is well constructed, it is diminished by the larger plot structure. We get several mystic types talking about doom and prophecy and about how this secular science fiction mission is pointless and will fail. It is a Foregone Conclusion. That makes it seem pointless. At the end of the book, one of them says that the prophecy is just now starting.

Smokescreen is another term I would use. Up front there is a detailed conflict. Namely, that the Federation is facing a separatist movement from the Coalition that is based on the inequality between Federation planets and the incompetence of the Federation as a whole. There are fears that war will break out once the Coalition builds up enough strength and one of the first major scenes is a planet pondering Coalition membership that could be used as a frontline base to attack Federation heartland. This is all good and clear and focused. I like this. It is a great set up for a space opera. Except there are those mystics and an Omniscient Council of Vagueness talking about how the Coalition is a distraction, the separatist movement is not really a problem, and the true treat is some generic evil and ancient creature of darkness. Yet, the whole book is about this assassination mission. It feels like a waste of time.

There's also a thing of rotating viewpoint characters by chapter. This appears to have become a trend; everyone wants to be like George R.R. Martin. There are as many as six viewpoint characters. One of them has absolutely nothing to do with the main assassination mission yet takes up a substantial number of pages. The other two feel like they belong in another genre, let alone another story, and they only appear the beginning and end. This dilutes the effect of all of them. The potency, familiarity and immersion of each view point character is diminished by the others.

The Science fiction and fantasy elements are poorly integrated. They happen in separate chapters (until the end) and to separate viewpoint characters. The general view is that magic is nonsense and the stuff that exists is nothing to worry about. The one character who experiences both never goes beyond Aura Vision and thinks he's going crazy.

As for the ending, I can't really call it an ending. Sure, the assassination mission is over but nothing is resolved. Instead, everything is set up. Like I said, the plot is prologue.



There is fantastic character development. Five or so characters are introduced at once and while it difficult to pin them down at first, the development over the course of the story was gradual and inclusive. Backstories, mannerisms, personality, ambitions are all integrated. I could hear self-generated voices in my head during their dialogue by the end. When Fleet Admiral Drogini speaks, I hear a badass baritone. The "Black General" is more of a flat stoic tone. Roger Warbanks makes me hear the voice of MCU's Star Lord.

As an example of the masterful character development in this story is Lester, a demolition expert. He really likes blowing things up. He has extensive knowledge in his field to the point where he can go beyond "boom!" and make a subtle art of it. In one scene, he kills guards with explosions while creating an entrance, does it all silently and he does it without endangering his allies that may or may not be too close to the blast zone. He is also restless, anxious about being out in the open, and he fidgets in a way that is meaningful to the narrative. He has a My Greatest Failure that is skillfully woven into the narrative without feeling like an info dump. His desire for promotions and using unorthodox means, such as the aforementioned subtle art, is also developed. This is level is typical of many characters, which is impressive given the cast.

The setting is similarly thorough. There are a lot of species in the Federation and outside of it to which have their physiology, society, culture-specific gestures etc. I had as much fun reading the glossary at the end of the book that I did with the main story because there are details that didn't make it into the narrative. The problem I see here is that every member of a given alien species tends to have the same personality and the same is not true of humans. It is....strange considering how thorough everything else is.

The villain of this work is split in twine, maybe, and each reflects its genre. The first is Rokan Sellas, who is traitor military man and the leader of the Coalition. The second is the ancient evil of vagueness, which may or may not be the same being as Rokan Sellas. The former character is arrogant and that's about it. Their charisma is more Compelling Voice than anything else and I didn't see a motive so I'm tempted to say "Generic Doomsday Villain". I know absolutely nothing about the ancient evil of vagueness other than that it is power and evil.


Grammar and spelling are mostly clear. I might have seen one thing. Regardless, it is impressive.

Descriptions can get heavy. It's not purple prose but it is lot repetition. Some actions and some scenes are bogged down in wordiness.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Veil of Darkness" a B+

This was a free review request. The author wanted an honest review so I provided one.

Click here for the next book review (request): Close Encounters of the Rubber Ducky Kind

Click here for the previous book review (for fun): Sword Art Online volume 4

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Don't let your Brain get in the Way of your Mind

What writer doesn't want to write more efficiently? This is not about the part of actually writing but getting into the general state of being that enables efficient writing. It is similar to my old posts on inspiration but is geared more towards the physical state of the writer than their mental state. I'm talking about non-caffeine methods of gaining the energy, stamina and clarity of mind necessary for writing.

1. Water

Staying hydrated is a big help. Just plain and simple tap water can do the trick. It helps with fatigue and clears away fog. I think it has to do with blood flow. A well hydrated body keeps the blood moving smoothly instead of like syrup and so oxygen is better delivered to the brain which invigorates the mind.

2. High Energy Music

I use music that is fast and energetic. It is stimulation for my mind. I believe others call this "epic music". I find that high energy music can push through fatigue. It can clear blocks when I am "not feeling it". A few certain songs can also aid focus by acting as white noise and/or creating a rhyme.

3. Food

As Sora from No Game No Life said, "The brain can function as long as it has glucose".
Mixed nuts and granola are my writing snack of choice. Whole grains are good for sustained energy; it think its the combination B-vitamins and fiber that helps produce energy and stabilize blood sugar. Nuts are for protein, oils and stuff. Sugar is also good but in limited amounts to avoid a crash. Dark chocolate with only a little bit of sugar has worked the best for me in that case. For this to work you don't want "snicker bar level" sugar (20 or so grams per bar) but more like "Honey Nut Cheerios level" sugar (9 grams per 3/4 cup) and preferably less. This is not endorsement or warning of either product but more of an example. What you want is just enough to get that zing benefit.

4. Stand up desk (specifically how I created my own)

Standing up is great. I get drowsy if I sit too long. Seriously, ten or twenty minutes of it makes me yawn. I find that standing up enables more fluid movement while I write which then aids my thought process. You don't have to buy anything for this. I didn't. The stuff I found on the market was either too expensive or had some flaw like the keyboard tray bounces or the structure as a whole was unstable. So instead I took a cheap plastic trash bin that I had on hand, flipped it upside down and placed it on top of my desk. If I want to adjust the height then I use a couple big and thick books. For the mouse, I have a cardboard box that is placed next to the trash bin. This set up is sturdy, stable, and easy to remove if I want to sit down for some reason.

5. Activity (martial arts personally)

This is similar to the stand up desk. Motion is great for writing. It helps the blood flow, increases respiration, gets some internal chemicals moving and all of which helps with sending more oxygen to the brain. I do techniques for a couple minutes and I am refreshed.

6. Deep Breaths
From the diagram! Both during acticity and writing itself, breathing deeply increases that all important blood flow. From the diagraph to get the deepest breath until you can't suck in anymore.

When following this advice, one needs to keep them in mind holistically. The stand up desk and activity can be tiring without enough snacks and water, and no amount of high energy music is going to work if the user is sitting all day. The goal is to achieve a "whole is greater than the sum of its parts" effect.

Those are my methods. What do you use to get into a writing mood?

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Saturday, March 25, 2017

New Release: Xenogeneic - First Contact

Lance Erlick released a new book today and I offered to help spread the word.
Xenogeneic: First Contact is a science fiction thriller about first contact with an alien race that lost their civil war and wants to take over Earth.

Dr. Elena Pyetrov’s father vanished in space 18 years ago while searching for extraterrestrial life. As an aerospace engineer, Elena travels into space to search for answers and to continue his work. Her ship is pulled off course and crashes.

The alien Knoonk lost their civil war in a distant star system and fled to Earth’s neighborhood to hide and regroup. They fashion themselves as persecuted pilgrims in need of a new home—Earth. Unable to live in Earth’s toxic environment, the aliens kidnap and use humans to genetically modify their species to adapt.

Surviving the crash, Elena and her shipmates are transported to a closed cave system where the Knoonk monitor and control everything. Elena tries to make a connection with her hosts and find ways to work together, but Knoonk leaders rebuff her and force the humans to submit as slaves. The aliens use illusions, distractions, and social experiments to learn from their hostages and keep them off balance. Resistance by captive humans brings swift punishment to break the human spirit.

While Elena continues to look for ways to cooperate with the Knoonk, the aliens want to capture Earth for their species. With time running out, Elena must dig deep to uncover the alien plan and find a way to stop them before the human race faces enslavement and extinction.




Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Read for fun: In defense of SAO volume 4

In defense of SAO - Volume 4

Once, the original light novel makes clear that "OMG! Kirito is so overpowered!" complaint is baseless. This is over and beyond what the anime shows and the anime shows a lot. There's his attempt at soloing the Grand Quest at the World Tree, which fails just like it does in the anime and in the light novel we get an inner monologue of him berating himself for being so stupid and arrogant as to attempt something like that. Also, during the detour into Jotunheimen, he has to twice rely on a friendly monster to win a battle. The only way he manages to reach the top of the World Tree tower is with a lot of help from a lot of powerful people. Even then he would have failed if not for help from Yui and Asuna.

Yes, the supposed "Damsel in Distress" was instrumental in her own rescue. This is part of Adaptation Dissolution I suppose. The light novel makes clear how Asuna ended up in Sugou's bird cage and how long she's been there. Furthermore, it talks about how she's already tried everything short of the escape plan in the main narrative and the massive difference in power between her and her Game Master captor. Just because she's not a butt-kicking guild sub-leader all the time doesn't mean she's useless.

Sugou's minions using slug avatars still doesn't make any sense so that infamous scene doesn't appear to have any in-universe justification to make it any less icky, however, it is just one scene. It is not the whole novel and certainly not the whole series. Also, the novel shows how Asuna used the scene to acquire the Admin Access card critical for her ultimate escape.

There's also this theme of "real power" that I quite enjoyed. All through this volume and the previous, Kazuto has been using what amounts to a New Game Plus in ALO which gives him a tremendous advantage when he starts playing. However, he himself recognizes that this is not "real power" because it is just game code. Compared with Sugou in both the game and the real world, he can't compare because the man is a game master and an adult executive at the company hosting the server that contains Asuna's mind. Suddenly Kirito's sky high stats don't mean a thing. Then he gets a pep talk from "Kayaba" of all people on this subject and the idea of "real power" shifts; Sugou is just piggybacking on Kayaba and his "real power" doesn't belong to him. Then the theme is extended further with combat in real life and even with ALO players banding together to purchase ALO's servers from the bankrupt RECT Progress in the epilogue.

One thing I particularly liked about the 4th volume is how Suguha is viewpoint character. She gets a lot more development here than in the anime. The reader can see the "Kirito is Kazuto" reveal from her perspective and it is much more powerful than the anime, which, by its nature, is more limited in this regard. This is not to say that the anime does a bad job, but that, in my opinion, the light novel gives it greater room and weight.

The conclusion of the Grand Quest of Alfheim didn't get enough closure in the anime, in my opinion. Here we get a long scene confirming that, yes, everyone gets eternal wings as a result of the successful attempt on the World Tree. Leefa spends twenty minutes flying around at top speed. She loves flying which is entirely separate from her Kissing Cousins plot thread.

This volume marks another great entry into the series.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Sword Art Online Volume 4" an A+

Click here for the next book review (a request): Veil of Darkness

Click here for the previous book review (a request): Hidden from the Face of Humans

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Answering review request: Hidden from the Face of Humans

Susan Slack asked me to read her novel "Hidden from the Face of Humans". It is a historical fiction centering on the 30th Egyptian Dynasty (three generations). I don't want to call it a mystery because this is not really a mystery but more of a chronicle but I'll get to that later. I will examine plot, character and polish.



I like to call this a "dramatized and abridged version" of history. There aren't any dates (I had to go to Wikipedia for those). The characters and their relationships to each other are paramount here. Instead of a paragraph about, for instance, Chabrias being recalled to Athens from Egypt before Persia invades the later and the reasons why, there is instead an emotional and confrontational dialogue between Chabrias and Pharaoh Nectanebo I. If that conversation ever really took place, I don't know. I assume that Miss. Slack has done enough research to create a suitable facsimile because I doubt there was someone in that meeting recording every word. It's kind of like Thucydides. He admits to having created from whole cloth conversations between people based on the events that happened before and after the conversations that he knew for a fact took place but wasn't privy to.

The historical research aspect, as a whole, looks good. It is interesting enough that I did my own casual research and she hit every point. I found it fascinating that there was a rumor/legend etc. that Alexander the Great's birth father was Nectanebo II by way of his mother, Olympia, having sex with him after marrying Philip II of Macedonia. When I first read that in the book I was like "no way! She must have made that up" but then I looked it up and it was there. This is why I call it a historical fiction but not a mystery.

There isn't any mystery going on other than court intrigue and the reader is privy to all of that via Third Person Omniscient. Likewise, there is no investigation into Thermafi's murder. In a paraphrase of the words of one of the characters, "they just buried her and moved on". This murder happens in the first chapter but it is a disguised In-Media-Res sort of thing because the next chapter goes back decades. I was really confused when Thermafi appears later in the story. I thought she was the apprentice that was introduced at the same time. Furthermore, the murder itself takes place over halfway through the story and then the plot thread is dismissed except for one (at the time) minor character wanting revenge on someone specific. I forgot about her until the epilogue. There is no mystery.

The ending is a mixed bag in my personal opinion. There is closure on all points and some characters got surprisingly happy endings, all things considered. Although I have to wonder why it stopped where it did. After all, if this book holds that Alexander the Great is the illegitimate son of Nectanebo II, doesn't that still count as part of the same dynasty? After all, there was an "oracle" proclaiming him to be the "Son of Amun" and all that. The final ending is the second thing that I take issue with.

All of a sudden, the book breaks the Fourth the Fourth Wall. By itself this is weird and it gets more so. It talks about how, because the reader has read the book and discovered why this original character was killed, the gods of Egypt are free to leave the world so humans won't bother them anymore. This is a weird thing because the gods had been treated as fictions maintained by the priesthoods since the beginning of the story.


This is an ensemble cast. While the major focus is on the three men forming the 30th Egyptian Dynasty, it goes all over the place. There are chapters for the high priest of Ptah, for Athenian generals, for the many children of Artaxerxes I, his satraps and his various minions. To Miss.Slack's credit, I found them all to be sufficiently developed to avoid being plot props. Sometimes this can be done quickly and with minimum fuss, such as Mentor of Rhodes, and the character can go on to be useful. Other times there is a more extensive background thing or side story. In either case, it has the effect of making the story longer and expanding the scope.

In this dramatization, I have to question the intelligence of many people involved in these schemes. For instance, Artaxerxes I doesn't appear all that clever from this account. Although the "fake family" thing would be hard to discount, who would agree to a plan that says "support a rebellion against your enemy by emptying your treasury and sending it in one fleet, with a Persian messenger onboard it, to the rebellion directly, and then send your armies to another location and wait for the rebels to join up with you"? Even more so when the chief benefit for you is "once the rebels win, the country will stop invading you". I can only assume that the real account was either simplified for brevity or that this is a real life example of an Idiot Ball.

Thermafi, being absent from the historical record (i.e. an original character of the author), is exempt from most of this. She is portrayed as the wisest and most sensible of the characters to the point where she holds her own in a debate with Plato and is appointed to a brand new position "Overseer of the Throne". She claims that she doesn't have any magical spells or powers and yet she does stuff resembling a Jedi Mind Trick on occasion.

I like her character. She is not annoying like the OCs of fan fiction can be and she has flaws of her own (such as the dislike of any and all violence even there are attempts on your life and invasions of your country).  Yet, the men of the 30th dynasty rely on her to such a degree that it makes me wonder if someone like her were truly present at this time. This story would be remarkably different if she weren't. Maybe she was Unpersoned like Akhenaten.


I didn't much in the way of spelling or grammar errors. Maybe a handful, but that's all.

It is the frequent and unannounced time skips that bother me. There is nothing in the first or second chapter that IDs the first chapter as In Media Res. I think it's an attempt at Once More With Clarity. Every chapter after that seems to skip forward in time. Nectanebo I's kids grow up between chapters; one chapter he's leaving his son with Theramfi as a legal guardian sort of thing and then a couple chapters later, the kid is a grown man with his own kid. There's another chapter where this one guy is putting a rebellion into motion and the start of the very next chapter says, in an offhanded way, that the rebellion has already been crushed. Not even the aftermath is shown, just talked about. It's like the story gets stretched out the further it goes. Alexander the Great only has one major scene. The rest is summary.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Hidden from the Face of Humans" a C

Click here for the next book review (for fun): Sword Art Online volume 4

Click here for the previous book review (for fun): Tenryu the Dragon Cycle volume 2

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Organic Growth in Novels

Today I want to muse on the benefits and joys of organic growth in novels. This will be a stream-of-conscious thing so it may be a little disorganized. Anyway,

The organic growth that can occur in a novel's development is quite delightful. To find those surprises in development is like receiving a present spontaneously on a normal day. Seeing everything come's like gears meshing and creating harmonious music.

 Circumstances that I never ever expected will turn up as natural as you like. I roll with those. For instance! There was a moment in the first draft of "Looming Shadow" where I realized that there were only two possibilities going forward: 1.) Eric is killed by his current enemy or 2.) Eric defeats this enemy but, by way of Geo Effects and Dangerous Forbidden Technique, he turns into a monster.  I had already ruled out "convenient rescue by a deity" in-universe and this was an important plot point so I couldn't overrule it. Likewise, Eric's allies were either occupied elsewhere with no idea where he was or unable to help if the previous two conditions were not present. I was scrounging for a way out of this apparent corner that I had written myself into when I thought, "if the most likely outcome that still allows for Eric's survival is mana mutation, then he will become a monster." So I let the story follow its natural course and Eric transformed into a savage beast known as a "grendel". This one decision led to tremendous character development for my protagonist, splendid world building, and, most significantly, the entirety of the following book "Mana Mutation Menace".

Characters! Characters that I created to be minor expand their scope as more is revealed to me. Others that I had planned to be important, even the central villain, don't materialize. The organic progression of the story determines the characters that are important. Put into another phrase, the characters determine their importance by pushing forward the story on their own narrative weight. Another example is Zettai. When I introduced her into "Looming Shadow" it was to demonstrate Ceiha's harsh "justice" system. Then she and The Trickster bamboozled me into adding her to the main cast. Then she plays a critical role in book 4, Transcending Limitations. I even have story ideas where she has the staring role.

The prewriting sees this happen a lot. There's this one story that I'm working on (which, in fact, inspired this blog post) where I thought that the protagonist would be this character. Then, as I continued creating possible characters for this world, I thought "no, it will be that character...". Then AGAIN I notice the enticing possible chemistry between a second pair of characters and thought "I would have to make them the primary characters to fully develop this" and that's where I am now. This second pair also provides opportunities to develop the original idea for this particular story and in a richer and more direct way as well. I love it when that happens.

It's not easy. It takes many drafts to see the connections and how everything will play out. It takes an open mind and flexibility. It's fun.

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Read for fun:Tenryu the Dragon Cycle volume 2

As I said in my previous post, I enjoyed the first volume and looked forward to the next. However, this volume was a disappointment.

This time it has a repetitive plot; a revolving door of Big Bad minions trying to kidnap Ryurei in the same way and they are resolved in the same fashion. The "cliffhanger" ending to the volume lacks any and all force because of this. "This time there's nothing you can do about it" sounds like the author is self-conscious of this fact. I have no reason to believe this character.

There are three instances of Pervert Revenge Mode; it feels cliche, lame, and the third one is narm given its context. The first volume didn't have to rely on this crutch for Unresolved Sexual Tension.

The plot progression is minimal. Little motion is made towards the goal and there is little development in terms of the Big Bad's Evil Plan. The main plot for this volume is set up and then resolved too quickly to be entertaining either in a combat or world building sense. Likewise, little development is made character development-wise. Ryukei may or may have become a Shipper on Deck for his adoptive brother and Ryurei but other than that, not much.

The fight scenes are anti-climatic because Hiryu has no idea how to fight in dragon form (one assumes that this is obvious: use the teeth, claws and tail) and yet the two minions retreat despite this. They may or may not realize it but that it happens twice consecutively.

Overall, it is a let down after the promising first volume. I'm going to look into the third volume, but after this one, it is not high on my To Do list.

Trickster Eric Novels gives Tenryou Dragon Cycle volume 2 a "D"

Click here for the next book review (a request): Hidden from the Face of Humans

Click here for the previous book review (for fun): Tenryu the Dragon Cycle volume 1

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Read for fun: Tenryuo the Dragon Cycle volume 1

I found this book at my local library while browsing and decided to give it a shot.


It has a fast plot progression. Events move quickly to develop the conflict and move the story forward. Each scene is significant; little time is spent on comedy gimmicks or fan service. This makes it a quicker and more fun experience.

When I read on the back cover's premise that the two main guys were helping a princess look for a jewel, I thought it was going to be the series goal. Nope, she gets it quick and starts using it for functional magic to assist the main guys. The real plot is something else.

As far as I can tell, that plot could either be a revenge narrative or something with a grander scale. It's unclear as to what that could be. For a while, it even looked like the main cast could split because they don't have a common goal (i.e. conflict). It wavered for a while like the author didn't know what to do next.


At this point characterization is pretty standard: Kiryu is this tough Idiot Hero, Ryurei is a driven Mysterious Waif, the Big Bad is a jerk, etc. I like that. I'm not one to sardonically remark on a lack of stunning originality. Instead, I can appreciate an well-constructed archetype. I look forward to seeing the characters develop and respond to challenges in the following volumes.

The Big Bad sounds sinister and acts evil but he also has this comical crush on Ryurei. It's a funny bait and switch where it sounds like he wants her gem in the sense of an Artifact of Doom but it sounds more like he wants to use for a And Now You Must Marry Me sort of Evil Plan. That's not funny but the scene is played for laughs because the Big Bad is framed as this overly enthusiastic fan.


The art is skilled and appealing without being showy. I.e. Kiryu looks rugged and Ryurei elegant while being overly stylized as such.

Trickster Eric Novels gives Tenryu the Dragon Cycle volume 1 a B

Click here for the next book review (for fun): Tenryu the Dragon Cycle volume 2

Click here for the previous book review (a request): Phoenix Down

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Answering Review Request: Phoenix Down

Catherine Weaver asked me to read her novel, "Phoenix Down". It is a sequel to "Gold Dust" in the "Island of California" series. I have previously reviewed the first book and its review can be found here: "Gold Dust". For this book I will examine Plot, Character and Polish and then assign a grade.


The book's tone is immediately set. At the start, Alex wakes up to see a leprechaun riding a giant bunny and saying, basically, "come with me if you want to live". This leads to a new adventure and an awful lot of running.

The sequel to "Gold Dust" has a great plot. It is fast paced and follows the fallout of the previous book's climax. This makes it feel like an outgoing adventure and creates a greater sense of continuity. Furthermore, Alex's actions prove how much she learned from the previous book. Certain relationships also develop and I find it to be appropriate for their ages and experiences.

There is a good bit of world building. Phoenix Down is a magical catalyst and this develops the internal system of magic; by explaining what it can do, Miss. Weaver contrasts it with gold dust and standard magic. It's interesting stuff. Also, the previous book steered clear of population centers, so this one gives a good look at what the society on "the Island of California" is like. It's basically an Amazonian Lady Land but with some interesting nuances provided by the phoenix.

The "no-magic" effect returns and it is even creepier than last time. It is longer in duration and heavier in effect. The first chapter of it is called "we fight the zombies we've become" and shows Alex drifting in and out of Heroic Resolve and Heroic BSOD. No amount of third person description could match that; a fantastic use of show vs tell.

Finally for this section, I like how the plot develops. It holds an overall steady course but makes a number of twists and turns along the way. There are certain things that I wasn't expecting. Furthermore, I like how Miss. Weaver is able to resolve the major conflict in order to give the book closure while still leaving threads dangling for future books.


Alex Lee has transitioned from Unlikely Hero to more Reluctant Hero. She'd rather enjoy her Spring Break than go on another world-saving adventure, but she recognizes that Herman Mendez is a Big Bad and she's the one to stop him. Also, there's no more doubting her ability anymore; her actions, sometimes, but not her ability. As a result, her narration is more dry and playfully self-depreciating then panicked or truly putting herself down (although that sometimes happens too).

Ian has experienced a dramatic personality shift. His first scene in this book has him acting frigid to Alex and then going on a mini-rant about misogyny. It's like he was indoctrinated by Herman Mendenz or someone else in the pro-men/anti-amazon movement. More striking is his treatment of Celeste. The sum total of his motivation in the previous book was finding and rescuing her from Herman Mendez, and she is still being targeted by him but Ian doesn't seem to care. This happens before Dash is introduced and so I can't chalk it up to Jealousy-induced stupidity.

I like Celeste's development as well. While Mendez is still menacing her, she's stepped out of her role from the previous book; more working against him then just getting away from him. I can think of her more as "Alex's portal opening partner" then "Ian's captive cousin".
While the story doesn't specify this, I think that Celeste is more skilled with magic than Alex because she deliberately chooses to use only her singing voice when casting spells. For Alex, that is a handicap.
Third, Plucky Girl! While Ian and Alex had a break from adventure, Celeste still hasn't been able to go home yet. Both books have been a continuous adventure for her yet she's soldiering on.

The Mendez brothers continue to make great villains but for different reasons. Gabriel was previously Ambiguously Evil and now he reveals himself as The Unfettered For Science. Listening to him zealously talk about what he could do with Phoenix Down, just for the sake of doing it, is frightening. Herman, like before, is a power-hungry scumbag, and now he shows that he is vindictive as well.


The book looks good. While I still think the first person narration is odd without a frame narrative, I now get the sense that one is incoming. It's like this is an auto-biography of how she became famous.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Phoenix Down" A+

Click here for the next book review (for fun): Tenryu the Dragon Cycle - Volume 1

Click here for the previous book review (a request): Kingdom Asunder

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Answering Review Request: Kingdom Asunder

Thaddeus White asked me to read his novel, Kingdom Asunder. It is a Medieval Fantasy centering on a civil war of royal succession in the country of Denland. It shares a universe with his previous works "Bane of Souls" and "Journey to Altmortis". The latter of which I have reviewed. You can read this review here. . I will examine plot, character, and polish and then assign a grade.


The plot is fairly straightforward; Denland's regent has declared the king-to-be illegitimate for reasons of parenthood and now the kingdom's nobles, knights, etc. are taking sides. What follows is the political and military fallout of these decisions.

Despite what the Amazon page says, Karena is not the protagonist of this story. Rather, it has an ensemble cast with many characters the view point. I count at seven points with their own character arcs and subplots. Mr.White is one of the few authors that I've seen make this work. Seriously, I can count them on one hand. This is because the viewpoints overlap, they are consistent, they tell different facets of the same, immediate, story, and finally, because the narrative truly focuses on two or three of the viewpoints. One of them is Karena. The analogy I use in this case is that of threads woven together to create rope.

This is the first book in a three book series and so it is split between the series conflict, the civil war, and this book's conflict. This can be loosely described as setting the conditions of the former and the gathering of allies by both sides. Although there is plenty of action, the two sides haven't officially clashed yet. It is safe to say that this book's conflict has indeed been resolved, though the war goes on.

Related plot threads include a Hykir invasion, a shift in the balance of power between mages and mage killers (called "Hollow Knights", who are, by the way, awesome), and the experiences of Stephen Penmere (Karena's cousin) alongside the war.

One might think that it is ridiculous to start a civil war over the king being a bastard, and particularly in this case, where the usurper has been regent for ten years and practically raised the young man he's currently rebelling against but it is nuanced. There are certainly some in this rebellion for personal gain and couldn't care less about William's parentage. Then there are others who apparently take it seriously. I've read this sort of thing truly was important for people in previous time periods, and likely now as well.


Karena has a vivid Establishing Character Moment that also sets the tone for the series. She is an Iron Lady; confident, ambitious and ruthless. I quickly started thinking "this is going to be Game of Thrones level dark and bloody".
She's clever and can lead a group of commandos to infiltrate a fortress if necessary. She is an anti-hero of the pragmatic or unscrupulous variety and would easily qualify as a villain if not for the fact that her opponent started a civil war over the alleged illegitimacy of her younger brother.
There's also a running thread about her chaffing at the Heir Club for Men trope. This whole plot could have been avoided if she had been male or women could be the Denland monarch and she has to frame her actions as working on her brother's behalf in order to maximize her influence and it is still limited.
She has a couple Pet the Dogs moments, such as giving Emma a dress and the concern she shows for her brother, but, given the rest of her personality, it is hard not to see some selfish angle to these actions.

Personally, I like Stephen the most of all the characters. Part of it is being a Token Good Teammate who is largely outside the war and politics. He's going along with his cousins to write a chronicle of their war. His chapters are such a remarkable contrast in view to the others that they become foils to enrich the narrative. His Puppy Love with Emma is cute. It also spurs dramatic character development.

Villain-wise I don't see much. John Esden has a big scene at the start where he announces his intentions to his captive, Sophie. His appearance is that of Affably Evil, confidence and Well-Intentioned Extremist. She basically says that he's full of shit and I am of the mind to agree. His son, Stuart, has a smaller but wider role. I don't get much from him either. Personally, I think the Hykir make a bigger presence as a villains despite being an Outside Context Problem. However, I don't think this harms the narrative over all because there are other antagonists and other problems for the protagonists (I hesitate to use the word "hero") to struggle against.


The book looks good. I didn't see much of the spelling or grammar errors.

Trickster Eric novels gives "Kingdom Asunder" an A+

Click here for the next book review(request): Phoenix Down

Click here for the previous book review (for fun): Arrogance - Rescuing America from the Media Elite

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).