Thursday, June 29, 2023

6 Books with Kemi Ashing-Giwa

Credit Ivy Tran
At 22-years-old, Kemi Ashing-Giwa is a PhD student at Stanford University. She earned her undergraduate degree at Harvard University, studying integrative biology and astrophysics, both of which play a role in her stories. Her short fiction has been published in Tor, Kaleidotrope, and Anathema: Spec from the Margins. Today she tells us about her Six Books.

1. What book are you currently reading?

I usually like to finish one book at a time, but two of my buddy-reads ended up overlapping, and several library holds became available all at once. As a result, I’m hopping between four books at the moment: John Scalzi’s The Human Division, which is likely going to be my favorite of his books; F.C. Yee’s The Rise of Kyoshi, which has turned out to be unexpectedly and pleasantly dark; the last entry in Richard K. Morgan’s A Land Fit for Heroes series, The Dark Defiles; and Alan Mikhail’s God’s Shadow: Sultan Selim, His Ottoman Empire, and the Making of the Modern World. This is my first time reading several books for fun at once, and I’m having a blast.


2. What upcoming book are you really excited about?

Oh, that’s tough. It’s a tie between Shelley Parker-Chan’s He Who Drowned the World (sequel to She Who Became the Sun) and Ness Brown’s The Scourge Between Stars.

3. Is there a book you’re currently itching to read again?

No, but only because I never reread books. If I did, I’d never make any progress on my to-read list. That being said, I wouldn’t mind going through Martha Wells' The Murderbot Diaries again. It’s probably my favorite series, in any genre.

4. How about a book you’ve changed your mind about – either positively or negatively?

Kate Elliott’s Black Wolves—very positively. Typically, my enjoyment of the beginning of a book aligns closely with my overall impression. Not so here. I tried and failed to get past the first hundred pages of this doorstopper four or five times before finally breaking through, and I’m so glad I did. There’s a reason the first chapters take place forty years before the real story begins, and readers will find their patience richly rewarded. Black Wolves is incredible, easily one of my favorite fantasy books of all time. 

The things I’d do to get my hands on the sequel…

5. What’s one book, which you read as a child or a young adult, that has had a lasting influence on your writing?

N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, absolutely. I read it during the middle of quarantine, and it’s one of the books that got me back into reading for pleasure in college. The characters feel so heartbreakingly real; the world is fully-realized on every level, rich and deeply lived-in. This book changed my life in more ways than one; I don’t think I would’ve ever pursued publishing if it hadn’t convinced me there could be a place for my stories on shelves. Anyone who reads my longer fiction will likely find my admiration for Jemisin’s work obvious.

6. And speaking of that, what’s your latest book, and why is it awesome?

My latest book is also my debut! It’s called The Splinter in the Sky, and it’s a spy thriller space opera about a tea specialist-turned-assassin who embarks on a quest to rescue her kidnapped sibling. But doing so, she soon discovers, might require taking down an empire. This is a story about the far-reaching effects of imperialism, as well as the simultaneous commodification, absorption, and erasure of culture. It’s about how systems of oppression—and the beliefs sustaining them—rise and fall. But most importantly, it's a story about family, friendship, and the necessity of hope. 

Thank you, Kemi!

POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.

Review: The Book of Rain by Thomas Wharton

A symphony made of successive voices, some as elegy, some as warning

A little Canadian town surrounded by forest, some distance off from the beaten path, sits on the world's biggest deposit of the world's most potent hydrocarbon fuel. A volcanic island in the Atlantic Ocean matches Plato's description of Atlantis, and might sink for real any day now. A thirsty world builds nanobot clouds to bring rain back, but the clouds reject human control and fly away to make rain where they please. A wounded biosphere shouts its pain in a language no one remembers. A rip in the stitches that keep reality in one piece leaves wrinkles in people's memories, and each time the anomaly seems to calm down, they can't be sure that they're still in the same world. A random family that was just passing by is pulled into the center of the anomalies by one too many bad rolls of fate's dice. All over the world, species are disappearing. Life is still so plentiful in its beauty that it takes deliberate attention to notice how quickly it's fading. There are no heroes, but that doesn't mean ordinary people have no effect. Rescuing even one endangered egg may not only ensure there will be a future, but earn enough goodwill to make a place in it for us.

What I'm describing is one of those precious instances when literary and speculative fiction hold hands and trace a passionate tango on the page. Such embrace between narrative forms that needn't be rivals is not a novelty in Thomas Wharton's writing career, but in the larger publishing ecosystem it's still infrequent enough to merit celebrating each occurrence of it. The Book of Rain not only draws from both traditions, but integrates their respective techniques to create an outstanding consonance of theme and form.

Like many of its animal characters, who make repeated attempts to communicate with humans and can only be understood in tragic hindsight, the fragmented, nonlinear text of The Book of Rain abounds in scattered clues that may not click together the first time, but neatly cohere once the full story is apprehended. This novel is a generous rewarder of rereading. Fittingly for a work of climate fiction, the experience of reading it and failing to catch all the little interconnected facts brings to mind the accumulated negligence of a civilization that chose to ignore the little signs of coming disaster until they piled up into an undeniable colossus. Fittingly for a novel so concerned with what birds think of human actions, its meaning can't be perceived in the details, only from a bird's-eye view. This is a book that asks you to trust it with your continued curiosity. It won't impart the answers to you; you have to reconstruct them from the multiple accounts contained in it.

There's the perpetual wild child who feels more at home in a paranormal disaster zone with a propensity for reality-warping accidents than among the mundane motions of small-town life; there's the globe-trotting secret agent who smuggles rare animals out of ruined habitats while pretending to write tourist guidebooks and is one day visited by a miracle; there's the exhausted game designer who dreams of impossible worlds where he wishes he could hide from the terror of living; there's the doomsday cult that waits for a divine sign about the end times while guarding their sacred place with hunting rifles; there's the underground geothermal laboratory that looks for a way to replace the universe with a marginally less unfavorable one; there's the assembly of birds unexpectedly burdened with deciding whether there's anything worth preserving of humankind; there are the nameless scholars who patiently compile the ancient tale of how the world was saved from final silence. There are the places where lifepaths briefly meet before diverging in irreversible directions. There are the unsuspected consequences that cascade from those chance encounters and are dragged downstream to a realm that from here looks like eternity. There are myriad novels within this novel, their stories incomplete memories that emerge and vanish in endless iterations, their characters a mass of lonely souls facing the blurry, foggy outline of posterity and stumbling confusedly toward it.

Maybe I'm not making much sense. One is supposed to provide an appetizer, a truncated plot summary, in a book review. Trying to do so for The Book of Rain would be beside the point. Each of the main narrators is introduced to the reader in the middle of a search for something crucially valuable, but this is not the story of how they find it. Although the conventions of the novel as a mode of writing were developed in tandem with the cultural shifts that led to the rise of the individual as a psychological and moral fact, here the form of the novel is stretched to encompass the long course of time, a torrent that can be diverted but not stopped, one where the pressing worries of individual lives don't amount to a drop. The Book of Rain is a story about the place that ordinary people occupy amid events that overpower and exceed them. It's a lament for the world we're killing, but its fatalist prediction of inevitable catastrophe doesn't lead to nihilism. This world will end, but another can be built after we pay for our mistakes. That opportunity is not a given: we won't deserve the grace to try again without accepting a position of equality with our fellow creatures. Their voices carry no less weight than ours; their needs are no less urgent. After this world is forgotten, those of our descendants who remain will still have a chance, if they learn the required humility, to share with the rest of nature a common memory. And if they attain such fortune, maybe one of them will read The Book of Rain to the birds.

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10.

POSTED BY: Arturo Serrano, multiclass Trekkie/Whovian/Moonie/Miraculer, accumulating experience points for still more obsessions.

Reference: Wharton, Thomas. The Book of Rain [Penguin Random House, 2023].

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Review: Season of Skulls by Charles Stross

Completing the Eve Starkey trilogy, the sorceress finds that following the dictates of the New Management will lead her into a perilous trip back into the Ghost Roads lurking in her family home.

Over the first two novels of the Eve Starkey trilogy, Dead Lies Dreaming, and Quantum of Nightmares (the 10th and 11th books in the Laundry Files-verse), Stross gave us a view of life in England after the apocalypse from a perspective far removed from the titular Laundry Files organization. Eve and Imp Starkey, heirs to magical power and influence, over the first two novels dealt with Eve's boss, and the legacies of her boss, trying to escape the traps on several levels that Rupert has left his former assistant. Through these novels, we get introduced to a host of ideas, ranging from the mysterious Ghost Roads lurking in Eve's house, to the worst supermarket deli section ever committed to media

Now, in Season of Skulls, a capstone to this trilogy within the Laundry Files-verse, Eve must deal with the wishes of the New Management directly for the first time. And what they want is deceptively simple. They want the head of Rupert, who is not dead, but very much alive.

The problem is, to stop Rupert's latest schemes, Eve will have to reenter the Ghost Roads and face him and his plots in a 19th century England that never was, but could very well influence the present. And try and escape a geas that Rupert puts on Eve. Rupert is a planner and has been planning things for a very long time. He is totally a Leverage style Mastermind and Eve will have to gain allies and use all of her cunning and dare to stop him from...

--record scratch--

While the first two novels had a balance between Eve and Imp in terms of screen time and narrative, Season of Skulls is very much Eve's story. Fans of Imp and his little gang of supervillains are not going to find much traction here. On the other hand, this novel's much more precise focus on Eve and her travails  gives the author a chance to really develop her as a character.

The heart of the book, where most of the action takes place, is in the Ghost Roads first seen in Dead Lies Dreaming. Eve does not go to Whitechapel 1888 London in this venture into the Ghost Roads to stop Rupert and his schemes (and the whys and hows she chooses to go there and her gambits, are secrets for the reader to uncover (quaerendo invenietis!). But once she is there, Stross introduces a kaleidoscopic magical alternate version of 1816. Some of it is really clever on its own, with motifs and references and ideas taken from a variety of genre ideas and being mixed together wonderfully.

But the real piece of invention is The Village. Yes, THAT Village, the one with the big weather balloon and Patrick McGoohan trying to escape from a succession of Number Twos. What in the world is The Village doing in 1816? That WOULD be telling. Stross is a clear fan of the series and not only uses the setting, but also happily lifts dialogue and imagery from the series. (what the fantasy version of Rover is, in this Village is BRILLIANT and I want to steal it for a RPG scenario somewhere). Our Eve is of course dubbed Number Six.  As far as who Number Two is, much less Number One, the answers will not surprise the clever reader. But they are...

--record scratch--

And then there is the other mainline of this 1816 ghost road dreamverse, the Regency Romance portion. As longtime readers of the Laundry Files are well aware, Stross introduces a variety of subgenres and tropes into the various Laundry Files novels. It's a way to keep things fresh, its a way to allow him to write different books in the same universe, its a way to explore an ever more complicated and complex universe from a perspective far beyond the original concept of a IT nerd getting roped into facing Cosmic Horrors.

So the Laundry Files has had, by my reckoning, done spy novels in a couple of different flavors, vampires, superheroes and supervillains, corporate dystopia, and straight up Urban fantasy sorcery in the Eve Starkey books themselves. Here, in this Ghost Road 1816, Eve finds herself in a narrative, in a story, one she recognizes and has to fight the conventions of, and work with the conventions in order to stop Rupert.  I am not a heavy reader of Regency Romance, having read only one example of a pure Regency Romance book (and it is itself a deconstruction of some of the tropes), although I have read authors who have borrowed from those tropes before, notably Mary Robinette Kowal. Here, Eve's immersion into those tropes comes with her recognizing and commenting on the tropes all along the way, so that even the most casual of readers can recognize what is going on, with the meta-commentary running in Eve's head.

There are lots of fun references and ties to the other novels, including a return of one of my very favorite secondary characters in the entirety of the Laundry Files-verse, Persephone Hazard. Persephone is basically Stross' tribute to the character of Modesty Blaze. (Persephone's former code name was Bashful Incendiary (get it?)) and a potent sorceress with her own agenda that also made me think a bit of McGoohan's David Jones. In this novel, under the New Management, she has been given a title and no little responsibility under his dread Majesty. She's doing well, as well as anyone can in this new Britain, anyway.

In terms of worldbuilding, Stross has a lot of fun and expends a lot of energy on not only the 1816 Ghost Road-verse, but the whole concept in general. The idea was sort of there in the first novel and we get Eve, Imp and company delving into the dangers of that place. But aside from places to hide dread books, what GOOD is the Dream Road-verse? What can it be used for? Stross explores these ideas winningly here, and I was reminded in many ways of the work of Borges, and of William Gibson's The Peripheral, among others. Even if the realm that Eve and Rupert are contending with is not the "real world"  but does it have potential impact on the real world? Absolutely. It helps make what Eve and Imp have been doing as caretakers of the House (and their entrance to that world) all the more important and serious for the potential for mayhem and mischief if a sorcerer of power, such as Rupert, might get up a scheme to go into the past via the Dream Roads. What Rupert winds up trying to do, as mentioned as a Mastermind, makes him a well rounded villain, with quite a scheme up his head. A scheme that will not only involve Eve but also...

--record scratch--

There is also more background to the entire universe, that helps clear up the whole timeline of why The Magic Went Away and how The Magic Returned. With this volume, the sequence of events from about 1800 to the present is now very much clarified for those who really are curious about the grand arching history of the Laundry Files universe and how it got to be in the shape that it is in. 

Does the Eve Starkey Trilogy end with a HEA (Happily Ever After) for Eve, as is the convention for many Regency romances? Remember that in the end, this is Britain after the apocalypse under the New Management, and no one is ever truly in a secure situation. Eve does go through a lot in her face off against Rupert, and even if she doesn't get all that she wants, she gets what she, in the end, earns, and perhaps more so. While I initially found Imp and his gang of supervillains more interesting in the first novel, this third novel really does reinforce that this series of book is Eve's story, and ends it rather well. Even within the narrowed expectations of a long series such as The Laundry Files, Stross continues to try and innovate and explore subgenres and ideas and this novel, as the third in that trilogy, winningly accomplishes that.


  • Persephone Hazard is back!
  • Great use of a new subgenre to explore the Laundry Files-verse
  • Lots of clever worldbuilding
Nerd Coefficient: 9/10

 Stross, Charles, Season of Skulls, [Tordotcom, 2023]

POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

When Charry Met Soggy

Pixar's latest production boasts the usual artistry you know to expect from the studio, but the story it tells is generic and forgettable

As anthropomorphized allegories go, it's hard to do better than Inside Out or Zootopia. Their capable handling of theme, characterization, tone, pacing, worldbuilding, humor, dramatic stakes and background design set a standard of excellence that Disney/Pixar are now cursed with having to live up to every time. Their newest film, Elemental, is the quadrillionth romantic comedy about star-crossed youths from incompatible families, and feels like an unambitious retread of better movies. Although its message of love and unity is sorely needed in these divisive times, the execution fails to satisfy.

It's not impossible for a story to be about many things, but Elemental struggles to integrate the various points it wants to make. It falls into the all-too common trap of focusing on an individual happy ending that makes no difference in the existing social structure. One woman made of fire and one man made of water manage to unlearn the usual stereotypes about each other's people and form a successful couple. But the rest of their community doesn't benefit from their example. Prejudice against fire people stays unchanged, the fire neighborhood is still neglected by the municipal authorities, and the derelict infrastructure that causes massive damages each time a ship sails by is still not fixed. Even more damningly for a movie that wants to address xenophobic segregation, the details of the allegory fall apart. There are very logical reasons why anyone would be wary of people made of fire; a plea for mutual acceptance rings false when one of the parties is an ongoing menace to everything they touch.

Ember, our protagonistic fire lady, might as well have been a redhead for all the tired stereotypes written into her: she's short-tempered, energetic, volatile, and dangerously unstable. Her character arc reduces to admitting that she's lying to herself about her true aspirations, and until she achieves that goal, she'll continue to be a literal walking timebomb. Not a bad concept in general, but we've watched enough romantic comedies with the trope of the overemotional woman who needs to calm down. Her romantic plot, which is sold to us as the focus of the movie, isn't as touching or believable as her relationship with her parents. She's a doting daughter, mindful of her responsibilities and appreciative of the effort her parents have made to rise above hardship. The inner conflict between her sense of duty and her need for fulfillment mirrors every second-generation immigrant story ever made, but would have made for a more interesting movie than the watered-down romance we got.

The emotional flow of the movie is hindered by the very strange rhythm it follows. The first scenes go by at breakneck speed, as if desperate to get past the infodump. This is not like the opening montage in Up, which does cover decades in minutes, but treats each emotional beat with respect. Here the montage is edited as if it were a "previously on" segment that needs to mercilessly cut inessential seconds to get the story proper going. This tendency to avoid lingering, to not let the audience breathe, reoccurs at key moments of the story, causing a whiplash effect when a thoughtful scene is instantly followed by action. On the other hand, the rhythm of quiet but intense scenes is interrupted by badly misplaced flashbacks that hit like a digital glitch in a song. There's no acceptable excuse for a narration done in fits and starts to extend well into the second act.

Although the city where Elemental is set harbors a fabulous variety of creatures, we don't get to know them outside of short, groanworthy gags. The different buildings, streets, houses, public squares, shops, and vehicles hint at fascinating divergences in usability needs depending on whether the user is made of, say, air or earth, but the richness suggested by the setting is relegated to quick glimpses. The animators created a vast, elaborate space that the story has no time to show us. This kind of oversight is a headscratcher, especially coming from the same artists who lovingly boasted every corner of Zootopia.

And yet, the part of the story where the movie focuses the most attention, the boy-meets-girl drama that upends the whole worldview of its society, is the least interesting thing about it. Bland, predictable and shamelessly derivative, this romance has all the spark of water thrown over fire and all the spice of wet ashes. That this civilization took so many centuries until someone finally figured out that personal contact was possible between fire and water people is an unintentional but clear sign of how little thought went into the writing of this story. A much better movie could have been made in the same setting and with the same characters, but the script of Elemental gives them too little to do that is worth watching.

Nerd Coefficient: 4/10.

POSTED BY: Arturo Serrano, multiclass Trekkie/Whovian/Moonie/Miraculer, accumulating experience points for still more obsessions.

Monday, June 26, 2023

Review: The Shadow Cabinet by Juno Dawson

The sequel to HMRC unfortunately lacks the punch of its predecessor, but promises good things for what follows next.

It was always going to be difficult, coming after Her Majesty's Royal Coven. Not just because it was a pretty solid book (although it was), but because of how it ended things - it left us in a position with no Niamh as a viewpoint character, and, at least for me, she was one of the most useful viewpoints we had. Maybe not the best, maybe not the most sympathetic, but the most useful - she was a voice of insight into what the eponymous HMRC itself was doing, while being outside enough to be involved in all the action, the bridge between the worlds of the story. Leonie may be the more sympathetic, more morally laudable one, setting up a coven for minority witches who feel the government backed stuff is full of problems, or maybe Theo, about whom all the trouble of the first story revolves, and who feels often to be the true heroine of events. But Niamh is involved in everything, talks to everyone, has a reason to be involved on all sides and so is the great facilitator of the story, all while being still plenty sympathetic enough, with her heart in the right place and sufficiently strong morals that you're on her side, even if she's not all the way up the scale. In purely story logistical terms, she's critical.

So, when you cut out one of the most important voices of your first book, how does the sequel work? You have to replace her. And Dawson does do that... but none of the replacements are really satisfactory.

Most prominently, Ciara, Niamh's evil twin, is inserted into the story and she's really just... not as good. She's less sympathetic (though not completely without her pull - she's hardly had an easy life, as we soon discover), less involved, less knowledgeable (being in a coma for a decade will do that), and just less pulled together. She's someone the story feels like it happens to, for the most part, rather than someone who really has much deliberate effect on the turn of events. I'd say the majority of the chapters are told from her perspective, and by the end it definitely began to feel claustrophobic for it, just because she's so walled off, so hidden from so much of what's going on with everyone else, it's hard to feel like what she sees and does is totally connected to the rest of them.

Is this deliberate? I think so. It fits in very well with the progression of her emotional narrative for us to feel that way. But is it fun? Not really. It works, but even as it achieves what I'm sure Dawson set out for it to achieve, it undercuts a lot of what made the first book good - it was a fast-paced, easy, character driven romp.

It also has the problem that Ciara is spending much of the story hiding herself, pretending to be her twin. And so the audience has information that most of the characters in the story lack, and that can be hard to manage without it getting awfully grating, awfully quickly. Obviously Ciara knows, so we're not alone with the information, but after a while, the frustration of other characters acting in ways that don't help, due to information they don't have and we do... builds. It's inevitable.

And it's magnified by the other problem - the lack of Niamh is partially solved by spreading the viewpoints out to a wider pool. We have more characters, sometimes one offs, whose perspective we get on the story, which of course means more people who don't know what's really going on. The widening of the POV net also necessitates a shallowing of each character's depth, however, even with the additional bulk of pages The Shadow Cabinet has compared to HMRC. I don't object to some of the characters from the first book who fulfilled more of a side role in the story getting pulled in to give their POV now, and in some cases welcome it - Luke, a non-magical character, is an extremely useful view of things to have - but it's not quite done enough to leave the reader feeling satisfied. They're not quite main characters, even still.

That being said, one of the main strengths of the book is Theo's perspective in her own chapters. Theo, teenaged, scared, constantly alert to things that may throw her personal situation back into disarray, is one of the few parts of the story where the lack of knowledge of Ciara's role works. Because Theo suspects. She's smart, strongly magical, and has the opportunity to really see differences, and so the suspicion she has forms a great piece of character work on her dynamic with Niamh, and how she relates to the world, and how that in turn relates back to her history. She's also a very compelling view of a teenager - simultaneously entirely plausible, with very teenaged concerns and slips of judgment, but still very accessible to an adult reader. Her chapters and her role in the events of the story were by far the most enjoyable part for me, and I hope we get even more from her going forward.

Outside of characters, much of what was strong about the first book does remain - the world building has all the hallmarks of good urban fantasy, and blends very well with the real world, picking and choosing which bits to retain and which to change. Much like the first, Dawson is interested in being true to the societal and political realities of Britain to tell her story, whether that's transphobia, racism, class dynamics or Anglo-Irish tensions, but in this it heads more into the directly political, in sometimes interesting ways. We see and interact with the mundane Prime Minister in this, and Dawson has chosen not to make him a direct pastiche of any particular figure, but rather have him take characteristics of several recent Tory PMs (there's definitely some David Cameron in there, but also some Boris Johnson too)... I have to wonder if this is because the story was written when we were so busy chucking one and getting another that she could have no certainty who'd be in charge by the time the book hit publication.

But she also engages a little deeper than that - there's a government aide with strong Dominic Cummings vibes (which gets interesting quickly), and a witch who opens us up to a view that, in witch society, with its strong notes of female... if not supremacy then at least casual disdain for men... even there, we have some people open to accepting "tradwife" style ideologies. With a witchy aesthetic overlay, of course. When this blends with the wider story themes around patriarchy and power dynamics, and the need for some people to see themselves as inherently superior, it lends her whole witch society another layer of realistic complexity that was part of what made the first book work so well for me.

Because this is not, fundamentally, one of those "what if women were the powerful ones" simple stories, like The Power or a hundred others. Juno Dawson acknowledges that even though her siloed witch community may be powerful and may have their own, separate ideologies and prejudices and histories, they are not immune to the power structures endemic in the world around them, and nor are they so inherently "better" that they can choose to rise above them simply by being smart enough, kind enough or in tune with nature enough. They are people living in a complex, intersecting world, full of intersecting identities, problems and relationships, and all parts of that touch all others, for better and for worse.

This, truly, is the strength of the story. Taking the elements of a fairly standard urban fantasy idea and infusing them with something richer at their foundation, to make the whole that much sturdier, deeper and more interesting. In the first book, this was accompanied by the pacey storytelling, the interesting characters and a general surprise and delight to find it doing what it was doing, when it may not have been expected.

However, in book two, the delight has worn off a little. We come in expecting what we had before, and so our bar is that bit higher. And, alas, it has very much succumbed to second in a trilogy syndrome - a lot of the plot feels like filler, like a way of joining us from the first to the inevitable last, and scene-setting for something greater moving in the background. There's an ongoing thread of the plot around the tripartite satanic background enemy, but it remains in that background as other pieces move around it, giving it the necessary time to build up for the climax. Character elements too are clearly being manoeuvred into place, and so the payoff at the end of the story feels... subdued. We're still clearly waiting for the real ending.

But... but. Especially in the final section of the book, some of those bits of scene-setting are genuinely tantalising. Enough to make book two all better? No, not really. But enough to make me think book three may manage to be just as special as book one? Well... I'm certainly hopeful.


The Math

Highlights: returning to an interesting world with genuine richness and complexity, getting more depth on some interesting minor characters from book one, Theo is great

Nerd Coefficient: 6/10

Reference: Juno Dawson, The Shadow Cabinet, [Harper Voyager, 2023]

POSTED BY: Roseanna Pendlebury, the humble servant of a very loud cat. @chloroform_tea

Friday, June 23, 2023

Review: The Ivory Tomb by Melissa Caruso

Melissa Caruso finishes the Rooks and Ruin trilogy, as Ryx and her friends must deal with the return of all the demons of legend and myth to the world.

It’s not been a good time for Ryx. After the revelations of the second book in the series (the main one I will discuss anon), The Quicksilver Court, and the disastrous events, she and the rest of the magical-problem solving Rookery are on the backfoot. All the demons are on the loose, both the Vaskandrans and Serene Empire seem to be ready to pummel each other. But the Rookery is still in the fight, hoping to get new and old friends together to oppose the world-spanning threat.

This is the story of The Ivory Tomb, the third and final volume in Caruso’s Rooks and Ruin series, her second series set in her world of Vaskandar and the Serene Empire.

Caruso, if you follow her on social media, is a meticulous crafter of stories, character arcs and plotting. She puts a lot of thought into how stories, why they work and how to tie characters into their stories and provide satisfactory resolutions for arcs for both the main arc and the characters themselves.

All of this has been on display in her second series, and here, in the third and last volume of the series. The Ivory Tomb. Caruso is not a worldbuilder in the sense of, say, Marshall Ryan Maresca, who has a meticulous knack for worldbuilding to the ninth degree. Caruso’s strengths are somewhat different, having a strong sense of organization of character development, growth, reversals and the like. There is a satisfaction to feeling the story out of characters, their beats (even the surprises) feel right when they hit, and frequently, she’s left breadcrumbs for the big reveal, and then works the changes on that reveal.

The entirety of The Ivory Tomb is the consequences of a major character reveal in the second novel. We already knew by the end of the first novel that there was something really strange about Ryx, her dangerous touch, her propensity for chaos to happen whenever she was around. The story was always that she was “broken” with her magic, perhaps as part of a nearly deadly sickness when she was young. That’s the story the reader got, that’s the story that Ryx herself believed.

The revelation in The Quicksilver Court, however, is that this is not the case. In point of fact, the reason why Ryx’s magic is so warped and dangerous, why she can’t touch people who aren’t magically protected, the reason why she has been physically and in a real sense emotionally cut off from people for so long is that it turns out that, when she nearly died of that illness when she was very young, her Grandmother violated the Gloaming Lore, opened the gate and made a bargain with a demon to inhabit Ryx (just as one inhabits her, now, as well as Hunger inhabiting her former friend). The demon that Ryx found out she “really is” is the demon of Disaster.

Throughout The Ivory Tomb, Caruso bends her powers to not only tell the story of how the Rookery is dealing with all the other demons running amok, but how Ryx herself comes to terms with who and what SHE really is. It is no surprise that this knowledge has devastated Ryx and her coming to terms with her nature might be enough for most authors. Caruso takes it further, however. Now that she knows who and what she is, Ryx attempts to discover something of her, Disaster’s past, the previous time Demons were amok in the world. Ostensibly, this is to try and find a way, a weakness, an in to deal with the Demons and there is an element of that. But in the recalling into the past, we get character development and growth from Ryx, as she learns who and what Disaster was. Sure, we learn some truths about the earlier age of the world, but it is how Ryx feels and what she does with that inside that is the real meat and potatoes of her delving into the past. This is the sort of writing that the author excels at, and she makes good use of it, and it does all tie into the overarching, main plot.
The plot of the novel is a little meandering, though for all of that. The first novel of the series was mostly very tied to Gloamingard and the titular Obsidian Tower itself. The second novel, The Quicksilver Court, was mostly set in a nation between the two empires, a hotbed of intrigue, espionage and adventure. This third novel, by comparison, is a bit all over the map as Ryx and the Rookery are literally chasing after demons all across both sides of the border between the empire. There is a bit unmooring of place in this novel compared to the other two. While the Rookery does spend some time in its “home base” among other locations, there is no one central feature that Ryx and the team really have as the narrative geographic center of the novel and I think the novel suffers slightly for it.
With Ryx learning about her powers and abilities, there is definitely a “upscaling” of the effects in the novel. There is the threat, the possibility of utter catastrophe, as we find out that Disaster is not only capable of it, but in the past has actually done it. In a way, Ryx is like a superheroine with a barely controlled power that really could wreck a sizeable chunk of a country if she let it get too out of control. This novel explores that, and explores the idea that escalation is not only not the right answer sometimes, sometimes it's’ the worst thing one can do.

More satisfactory still is the plotting and the resolution to the issue of demons in the world. I would not have expected Caruso to have a magic wand to fix things status quo ante, and it is made clear that with people like her Grandmother possessed by Discord, and herself Disaster, that status quo ante is, in effect, impossible. So, the resolution to the problem of the Demons plaguing the world again, in the end, turns out to be messy and complicated. It’s not a complete victory, the world has changed and remains changed. It’s in a way refreshing from a lot of fantasy where things return to the way they once were and it seems like the world can go on as it was. Ryx, the Rookery and everyone else who survives the end of the novel are changed, and the world they will move into going forward will be definitely different.
If Caruso intends to write more novels in this universe, and in the future, the new state of affairs is an exciting and interesting one, and I look forward to what the future of Vaskandar and the Serene Empire will be, and the new characters Caruso will create to inhabit that future. And yes, a case could definitely be made at this point that these novels might be worthy of a Hugo Best Series nomination.


The Math

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10

Reference: Caruso, Melissa, The Ivory Tomb, [Orbit, 2023]

POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.

Thursday, June 22, 2023

The Once But Never Again King - Two Modern Imaginings of the Arthur Mythos

A look at two works who ask the question - what if King Arthur was a dickhead, and someone to be kept from returning to aid the realm at all costs?

King Arthur has... a complicated place in our modern imagination about mythology. Even more than many of the things we retell, his canon of works is cobbled together from a lot of different sources, different times and different places, long before we get anywhere close to the modern era. He occupies a strange position between myth and reality, with the constant lingering wonder... was he a historical figure at all? Was he purely myth? Was he something in between? His stories, and those of the knights and wizards and fairies and ladies around him have been told and retold in Welsh and English and French throughout the centuries, and occupy a very particular set of places in various national consciousnesses. Speaking purely for England, the general consciousness line of belief (or at least awareness of the story) is that he sleeps, and will rise once again when the nation is in peril.

This presumes that a warrior king from the arse end of the dark ages would continue to be useful in countering future peril, which may have been a reasonable belief at the inception of the myths, but is a rather more dubious one when examined critically, or just pedantically, by the modern reader and reteller.

Which is exactly what's being done in Perilous Times by Thomas D. Lee, and Once & Future, a comic series by Kieron Gillen, with art by Dan Mora and colours by Tamra Bonvillain. While they come at the problem from two very different angles, these are both works that wonder if Arthur... might not be the solution to our problems after all, and think about exactly what causes people to think he would be any help, and what sort of peril prompts people to think "oh, if only Arthur were here, he'd solve it". Both particularly dwell on the Saxons, as well as concepts of race and belonging to the realm, with Once & Future particularly having an interest in the idea of "purity" and identity, and what it means to a modern audience as well as to an ancient king. Both are also primarily interested in Arthur as a figure in English mythology - though very aware of his roots in Welsh stories, as well as later French tales - and in the modern English consciousness.

In Perilous Times, we follow Sir Kay, newly resurrected because of peril to the realm, a state that has happened numerous times since his original burial, for various levels of threat, as well as the also-resurrected and somewhat antagonistic Lancelot. We also follow Mariam, a near future eco-protester, who understands the world the knights have risen into, blighted by climate change and corporate greed, and who desperately wants to solve the problems of the world around her, but feels powerless to affect the necessary change. There's a running theme through the story of people absolutely failing to work together, no matter that it serves their best interests, and at times, this is used as motivation for bringing Arthur back - after all, he was a great uniter of men, could he not rally the disparate forces to work together against their problems? But it is left to those who knew him best, Lancelot and Kay, to be the voices constantly pushing back on this idea. We don't need Arthur, not just yet. He might be difficult. He might make it worse. He might not be the man we need, not now, not for the moment. They carry unease through much of the story, reluctance to deal with him as a complex, real, deeply flawed man, in the face of many other people's idealisation of him as simply a myth.

In Once & Future, which is, as yet, unfinished, we take a somewhat different tack. Our historian protagonist learns, rather abruptly, that his family have long been charged with defending the land from incursions of various avatars from stories, which these days mostly resolves into his grandmother and an excess of weaponry kicking fictional ass. They learn that a group of... neonazi racists, let's be honest about it, want to bring back Arthur as a tool for ethnic cleansing, and it is their job to stop this at all costs, because the stories are Bad News, and Arthur doubly so.

One of the things they both address really well, albeit in different ways, is ideas about diversity and "foreignness" and what that means in the past and the present. For Perilous Times, this means having a black Sir Kay as a viewpoint character (as well as Mariam for our modern view) and getting his internal monologue commentary on modern racial divisions, and his thoughts on how that compared to his own time, his Numidian heritage, and differing conceptualisations about it. It doesn't come up frequently, but getting it from Kay's perspective gives us a valuable source which - in narrative - is an irrefutably knowledgeable one, and when he says "the racism is worse now, as well as different", the narrative has to believe him. He's lived through a lot of British history, so we have to accept that he knows what he's on about, as far as the story goes. It's a nice way to bring in the author's presumed knowledge about historical views on race (given his academic focus is on Arthurian myth, I'm going to assume he's coming from a place of a lot more expertise than I could possibly have here), giving it both in-story authority but also making it feel a natural introduction into the text. 

For Once & Future, it's handled a bit more... on the nose. A group of people try to summon Arthur back. Why? They want him to rid England of the people they consider undesirable and too foreign. However, in the act of doing so, they are killed... because Arthur sees in them Saxon blood, and considers them to be the invaders, the foreigners, the problem. This is all part of a plot by someone with a lot more knowledge about how these things work than her unwitting racist stooges, but it's a very blunt intro into a lot of what the series is about - people want to use Arthur, whether ideologically or, in this case, literally, to reinforce their own notions of the idealised England. But he, someone with his own cultural context, beliefs and prejudices, simply does not conform. Not because he isn't prejudiced, simply that his prejudices are different, based on different concerns, and... well... a lot more enacted with the bloody sword the moment he rocks up.

The Arthur of Perilous Times is used just as much by those around him, and has just as many of his own prejudices to bring to the table. The secret corporate overlords of this near future want him as a convenient rallying point for the racist factions of England, and he is entirely willing to play that part, when his ego is tended to and the right persuasions are put into his ear. He has no issue with Kay as a black man - he is far more bothered by Kay as his elder brother figure and the man who seems to think he knows better than Arthur - but he is absolutely happy to serve as a racist figurehead, or doesn't particularly care that he is doing so, because he cares about other things entirely.

So what unites them here is the twin ideas of Arthur as a) someone whose own notions of what matters, who the enemy is, are very detached from our modern ones but b) someone nonetheless around whom those modern ones are catalysed, and potentially c) someone who can be used to further modern racism, regardless of his own views and context. And so, in both stories, Arthur is the problem, but Arthur is also a maguffin and an unwitting patsy for the plots around him.

And this is, I think, what makes both such interesting stories, because even as they overturn the idea of Arthur as shining knight and saviour, they play into the stories we have, and connect this modern inversion very closely to the originals. In Once & Future, both Merlin and Nimue (or at least, someone from the modern world who has stepped into the role of Nimue) are involved in guiding Arthur to their own ends, and in Perilous Times, it's Nimue who exists as someone who has lived in both past and present, alongside modern powerful men - so both stories link in to Arthur's susceptibility to seduction and thus distraction and persuasion.

In this, they are both perfect examples of retellings - or reimaginings - by taking something there in the original stories, and using it as the fulcrum through which to shift everything else in the tale. It grounds a lot of the wider-ranging changes by keeping them ideologically and thematically always tied back to something original, and means that they do always feel like they are reimagining something we are familiar with, rather than simply using the semblance to do something entirely unconnected.

And, like a lot of fiction, they use the past and the future to talk about the present. By being a perennial figure in British myth, Arthur is an ideal vessel for this sort of concern. His continued links with the very vague notion of "threats to the realm" makes him infinitely repurposeable for examining modern issues, and equally so for examining how he might be misused or unsuited to the problems. That modern Britain is experiencing an increasing wave of xenophobia and insularity makes it an excellent moment to choose to ask whether Arthur is really the person we want to hope for to solve our problems, and also to re-examine ourselves and the lies that make up the ideologies that fuel these hatreds - the very man who could be imagined as wanting what they want, could just as equally turn around and view them as the enemy they consider others to be. So, instead, these are two stories that hold up Arthur as an emblem of the rot, of the way that patriotism, nationalism, and hyperawareness of "threat" to the realm recur. They show us instead that even in his own stories, he wasn't the perfect king. He was flawed, he always has been flawed, and so, the idea that he can save us is just as broken - we are reaching back to an imagined saviour who wasn't what we conceive him to be, to be again the king he never was.

In many ways, these two stories are doing what a lot of our Greek mythology retellings claim, but fail to achieve - genuinely making us look at a figure from the past and re-examine why they're the hero. To do this, they choose to take that step further away in their setting and in their trappings, but that doesn't mean they aren't still thematically tied to them. They achieve a more interesting conclusion by being willing to change more.

This isn't to say they're both great stories - Perilous Times particularly has some issues in terms of pacing, humour and worldbuilding that do not always make it a brilliant read - but they do both contain the kernel of a really interesting idea, and one that bears examining further.


Thomas D. Lee, Perilous Times, [Orbit, 2023]
Kieron Gillen, Once & Future, [Boom! Studios, ongoing]

POSTED BY: Roseanna Pendlebury, the humble servant of a very loud cat. @chloroform_tea


Wednesday, June 21, 2023

More Latin American content for your TTRPG sessions

Expand the scope of your adventures with the wealth of content in Boricubos and Koboa

A couple of months ago, I introduced you to the fantastic world of Kuauhtla by Fifth Sun Press, a game setting inspired by Mesoamerican culture, that can be integrated into D&D 5e. Today I bring you yet more awesome Latin American books to add to your game: Boricubos by Legendary Games, a game setting based on the mythologies of the Caribbean islands, and Koboa by The Word Refinery, a game setting based on the mythologies of South America.

I spoke with designers of both games to go into more detail about their creations.

Art from Koboa

Arturo Serrano from Nerds of a Feather: How did the original idea for your setting emerge?

Miguel Colón (designer of Boricubos): This is a setting that has conceptually been in the works for probably a decade. Rough drafts of ideas have been lying around several notebooks and have been worked on, scrapped, tossed out more times than I could count. I am Puerto Rican and have always wanted to work on something that represented my culture. Don't get me wrong, I love the base settings most use when playing 5e and Pathfinder. I grew up with them, after all. But I also grew up with various stories surrounding the Taíno. The mysteries within Puerto Rico were vast to me. In particular, I imagined El Yunque, the rainforest there, and thought of what it'd be like to have the island come alive as much as the people.

Adrián Mejía (designer of Koboa): I've been thinking a lot about why I didn't see a lot of Latines in fantasy over the last few years. Then, during the start of the part of the pandemic where many of us were avoiding all human contact, a friend told me he wanted to play D&D for his birthday. I set up a game for us to play and decided it was time to play in something distinctly not European. This campaign helped flesh out and begin the idea for Koboa.

Art from Boricubos

AS: Where did you look for the writers and artists for this project?

MC (Boricubos): Our teammate Jason Nelson was adamant about making sure that it was primarily Latin American writers and artists working on this project. I know quite a few of them and have to say that it was a pleasure to see some of the work done on monsters, adventures, and more.

AM (Koboa): South America. Our team has spent many hours on Twitter, Instagram, and art-sharing platforms to find South American talent that could join us in our project.

Art from Koboa

AS: At what stage of development is the project at this moment?

MC (Boricubos): At the moment, Boricubos has been released for Pathfinder (both first and second editions), as well as 5e.

AM (Koboa): We launched our Kickstarter on May 9th. [Note from Nerds of a Feather: The Kickstarter was spectacularly successful.] We have between 30% and 60% of the book ready, and will be using the Kickstarter funds to finish the product. We have a preview document that is 5e-compatible, and we intend our final product to be compatible with 5e, Kobold Press's Core Fantasy Roleplaying System, and Pathfinder Second Edition. [Note from Nerds of a Feather: The Koboa rulebook is being produced in English, Spanish, and Portuguese versions.]

Art from Boricubos

AS: Which real-world cultures inspired your world?

MC (Boricubos): I incorporated stories told to me by family and friends, as well as independent research on both the Taíno and Carib peoples, in Puerto Rico and Cuba in particular. From there, things expanded. As there are different playable ancestries within Boricubos, it was important to further individualize them so that they could take on different and distinct roles in the setting. You have the Coquían, who act as spiritual leaders; the Baracúden, who are warriors and protectors; the Taínem, who are unsurprisingly based on the Taíno themselves. I even incorporated elements of what it'd be like if there were a sect of the island entirely breaking away from tradition and not because of an outside influence. That is where you get the Iguaca, who are masters of magic and mercenary in their allegiances, going as far as to invent the currency used in the setting, where there wasn't a physical currency before.

AM (Koboa): We have taken inspiration from many real-world cultures in South America. We want all people of South America to not only see themselves and their culture represented in our world, but also celebrated.

Art from Koboa

AS: How did you ensure a respectful representation of elements from real-world cultures?

MC (Boricubos): There is a careful balance here. As someone who is very entrenched in the culture, I had to make sure I represented what I loved about some of the stories I was told, some of the research I did, and some of the things that I came up with individually. This all blended together quite nicely, I believe. Ultimately, it is not my role to speak for every Puerto Rican, other Latin Americans, or anyone, really. I am trying to represent something deeply personal to me, share with others something that would make them interested in doing their own research, and present a new point of view for people. It's very hard because, in order for the setting to work, there have to be things that are inspired by the actual culture, but also things that are completely independent. I think the best thing for people to take away is that Boricubos represents some stories and legends, but is not a one-for-one recreation.

AM (Koboa): It is an ongoing process. We have built up a team of South American designers, writers, and artists with extremely diverse backgrounds and experiences. Additionally, all our content (writing, art briefs, illustrations, etc.) goes through two or more cultural and sensitivity consultants, to ensure we don't inadvertently represent elements of culture in ways that are harmful or offensive.

Art from Koboa

AS: What unique rules do you introduce for character creation?

MC (Boricubos): Boricubos introduces a wide variety of ancestries to play, with many new options for classes. This is where I put quite a bit of time and effort, since each individual ancestry is different and the class options have lore built into them. For example, it was not enough to make a subclass for the Rogue called "Arcane Trickster," add mechanics, and let you figure out what that meant. There are parts of the setting built into every class option, such as Clerics gaining access to a subclass called the Behique. They are not mere priests, but spiritual leaders who work as doctors within Boricubos. They have a very specific role to play in society, so it may not be appropriate for every Cleric to be a Behique. That's the sort of thing I love: mixing lore with mechanics.

AM (Koboa): In Koboa, people can change their body through magical artifacts called Form Maps. In this way, somebody born a certain way can choose to change themself into something else. To represent this, we have created the mechanical concept of Forms. In many ways, Forms work like Races or Heritages or Ancestries. However, Forms are made to be mixed. In many systems, I've noticed that playing a character that combines different heritages limits your options to the predefined "half-somethings," or that you need to ask your group for permission to do something the rules don't cover thoroughly, if at all. We designed Forms to be mixable from the start.

Art from Koboa

AS: What unique rules do you introduce for combat mechanics?

MC (Boricubos): Our goal was to provide a new setting for the games listed; we didn't want to rewrite the system entirely. So new options that fit the mold given by the games were great, but it was out of our scope to introduce much in the way of new combat mechanics.

AM (Koboa): Koboa brings many imaginative creatures that create unique combat experiences. We have also created many interesting subclasses based on our cultures, that may approach combat in unique ways. One class we are playing with, the Rhythmatist, specializes in moving during combat and keeping a particular rhythm during a fight, gaining benefits as they move around the battlefield.

Art from Koboa

AS: What unique rules to you introduce for spellcasting?

MC (Boricubos): While I do have scrapped notes for new magic systems, it felt like it might be a bit out there to introduce something entirely new. After all, Boricubos is meant to draw people in who have never seen a setting that was not European fantasy. It would be harder for them to want to experience the setting itself if it forced a bunch of new mechanics to learn. That said, there are quite a few new spells to play with, as well as a Shaman class that integrates all this.

AM (Koboa): We are very excited about the spells we've designed for Koboa so far. One such spell, called plant eyes, allows a character to create a plant with eye-like seeds that they can see through. It is based on the guaraná plant, which, if you haven't seen it before, very much looks like it has many, many eyes. Additionally, one class we are designing, the Bruje, focuses on casting spells in sometimes unpredictable ways.

Art from Boricubos

AS: In terms of the player experience you wish to create, what does it feel like to travel through your world?

MC (Boricubos): Excitement, adventure, and a sense of novelty. Boricubos purposely distances itself from many, though not all, European fantasy conventions. This is a world with a rich history within itself. Boricubos is actually isolated from the world at large and is highly distrustful of outsiders, limiting access to a single port and town to anyone not born within Boricubos. So anything that you see on the island was carefully crafted by the land or its inhabitants.

AM (Koboa): We want to create a living, breathing world, vibrant and proud of our heritage. We want players to see the rich culture of our lands and to experience our unique stories through a narrative that centers us.

Art from Boricubos

AS: What traditional gaming assumptions should one unlearn when entering your world?

MC (Boricubos): Boricubos is in a civil war with itself. The people. The gods. There is a lot of distrust going on, and the setting draws upon some aspects of the Dirty War in Argentina and the Stasi in East Germany. Boricubos is a beautiful land, the people you meet will be friendly, but almost everything is dangerous in this time of war. People you know may try and stab you in the back because their god is at war with yours. One day you may wake up and find that your neighbor has disappeared because they were taken by religious fanatics. But here's the big thing: there is no right or wrong. The two sides of the civil war are tragic in that neither wants to be fighting, but it feels like they have to. The gods that started the war are in a state of misunderstanding as well. In fact, there was a conscious choice to make sure that both sides were led by good-aligned deities. Boricubos asks you to consider something a lot of settings don't: what if the person you're fighting isn't evil at all? What if they're just desperate and scared and only fighting you because, if you don't try to kill them, one of your allies would?

AM (Koboa): We designed Koboa to be about reclaiming our past and what was stolen through colonization. This contrasts with some traditional playstyles of TTRPGs where the players are conquerors looting new lands.

Art from Boricubos

AS: What interesting locations are you particularly proud of?

MC (Boricubos): Boricubos is an archipelago that has many distinct islands. Some are inhabited by the Anabaguas, who are best described as humanoid hibiscus flowers. Their lands are better preserved, as they are tied to nature and are loath to destroy it even for resources. They allow it from other peoples, but only because they have an understanding that not everyone can simply live without such things as wooden tools and the like. Some parts are more developed, with coastal cities and trade hubs. There are even islands dedicated to the praise of the gods, which is crucial in the setting. Unfortunately, those latter islands are also some of the deadliest, as the civil war that is embroiling Boricubos means that something as simple as traveling to a shrine may be a dangerous ordeal.

AM (Koboa): I'm extra happy with a location called The Infinite Process. The Koboan territory of Gran Marcelia is well known for its use of law magic and the bureaucratic processes that law magic has enabled. After the war for their liberation, the Marcelians took dangerous weapons used by their enemies and sealed them away in a vault, protected by law magic so that only authorized people could enter it. As time went on, they made more and more complicated rules for accessing different parts of the vault, and used more and more law magic to enforce those rules. Eventually, the tangled strings of law magic took on a life of their own. Now no one can access the vault, as the rules required to gain access are close to impossible to fulfill, and even more difficult to understand.

Art from Boricubos

AS: What awesome folk monsters should we expect to meet?

MC (Boricubos): Boricubos was made by a diverse team and has an additional companion book dedicated to Latin American monsters from a wide variety of cultures. So we have everything from Puerto Rico's chupacabra and Mexico's llorona to Guatemala's quetzal. It is quite astounding, the collection of monsters you can find here.

AM (Koboa): The enchanted dolphin is a fae that takes the shape of a dolphin. However, they can change themselves to appear like any other humanoid. They like to cross the boundary between their fae realms and the mortal realms to visit humanoid towns and basically be tourists—although maybe the worst kind of tourists. They can leave whenever they want, so they have no issues causing chaos and havoc to maximize the fun of their experience.

Art from Boricubos

AS: What has been the response from playtesters and buyers?

MC (Boricubos): It's amazing. People were extremely supportive of Boricubos and [the book on] Latin American monsters, and quite frankly, we are so glad we get to share this with the people whom the book represents culturally, as well as those who are delving into non-European fantasy for the first time.

AM (Koboa): We haven't had buyers yet (stay tuned for the Kickstarter for that), but playtesters have been having a lot of fun. Our playtesters have enjoyed our designs and our unique world.

Art from Boricubos

AS: What's next for your game setting? Are you planning any additional rulebooks in the same world?

MC (Boricubos): We have to keep cards close to the chest. Can't promise anything, of course, but I can say I have spoken with Jason Nelson about potentially doing more in the future. There is no timeline currently, and no guarantee that this will happen. This sort of project is a massive undertaking, so it wouldn't be good to go ahead and make bold promises with no intent to deliver.

AM (Koboa): We'd love to create more content for Koboa. We have designed far more creatures than will fit in the first book, and so we'd love to have a whole compendium of creatures be our next project. But we'll have to see how the Kickstarter goes. My hope is everyone is as excited about the project as we are.

POSTED BY: Arturo Serrano, multiclass Trekkie/Whovian/Moonie/Miraculer, accumulating experience points for still more obsessions.