Friday, May 27, 2016

The Dinosaur Lords By Victor Milan

The Dinosaur Lords
By Victor Milan

The Dinosaur Lords is a great example of what you call a high concept novel. High concept basically means an idea that you can easily communicate in a few or even a single sentence. In the case of The Dinosaur Lords, that single sentence is “Knights fighting on dinosaurs.” Which, I'm going to be blunt here guys, is an awesome concept. I mean who doesn't like the idea of riding a multi-ton monster into battle? I've loved dinosaurs since I was kid and by that I mean like a lot of kids I was utterly besotted with them. Having grown up... Despite having acquired many more loves and tastes, I still love the damn things. Dinosaurs are awesome. There's no debating that. I'll gleefully sit down and watch a documentary on dinosaurs, or read a book on them or have a completely over the top debate over whether or not the Tyrannosaurs Rex was a predator or a scavenger (he was a predator obviously, although I'm sure the Tyrant King also stole any kill he could get to). So when I grabbed the novel, I was sure no matter what happened I wouldn't be bored.

The Dinosaur Lords was written by veteran writer Victor Milan, who was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma (my own home state) in 1954. Mr. Milan has literally been writing longer then I've been alive and has written and published over a 100 novels and short stories. He has written Forgotten Realms books, Mech Warrior books, cyberpunk, fantasy, science fiction so on and so forth. His most famous book was perhaps the Cybernetic Samurai, a cyberpunk novel released in 1985. I went ahead and looked into the Cybernetic Samurai which was an award winning book and might be appearing in this review series someday (if nothing else I would like to expose some of my readers, a number of whom are of tender years to the kind of fiction written in the 1980s. Especially the cyberpunk). But! We're not here to talk about Cyberpunk, we're here to talk about what, I at least think, is a fantasy novel.

The Dinosaur Lords takes place on the planet of Paradise, which our good author goes out of his way to tell us is not in any way, shape, or form Earth. On Paradise there are a small number of mammals. Horses, dogs, ferrets, cats and most importantly Humans, the rest of the wildlife is straight from the Mesozoic Era, that's right not just dinosaurs but all the creatures that shared the planet with them from the flying pterodactyls to the great monsters of the deep. Paradise teems with them and they all live here without respect for silly things like if they actually lived together on earth. Stegosaurus roams the land alongside the Tyrannosaur Rex (fun fact kid, there is actually less time separating us from the T-Rex then there is separating the Tyrant King from the Stegosaurus) for example. These facts among other things leads me to think that there is something of the artificial about Paradise (there's a sentence you could parse several ways). That said I got to give Mr. Milan points for depicting at least some of the dinosaurs has having feathers and vibrant colors. Something even Jurassic World skimped on. Another point is given to Mr. Milan for having most Dinosaur knights riding war hadrosaurs, because riding a multi-ton carnivore is dangerous and expensive. That said there are characters who ride Allosaurus and (of course) T-Rexes but it's a privilege reserved for wealthy high nobles who have the land and money to feed and maintain such monsters. Frankly I'm not turning my nose up at the hadrosaur as a war mount either. I mean sure it's a herbivore but so are horses and the average war hadrosaur is over 3 tons! If that wasn't enough Milan exercised his right as a fantasy Arthur to kick it up notch by giving hadrosaurs the ability to attack using special cries that can burst blood vessels and cause intense physical damage as if they were giant monstrous banshees. Now granted I'm pretty sure the real hadrosaurs likely couldn't do that, but I don't care. As long as a story is internally consistent I'm willing to accept some flubbing on the biology and abilities of an extinct species brought back to life specifically so I can ride it into battle and hit other people with sharp bits of metal.

Dinosaur Lords has 3 and a half separate story lines that run through it, 2 and a half of those story lines weave around each other while one stands completely on it's own. In one story line, bard and dinosaur master Rob Korrigan follows fallen lord Karyl Bogomirskiy, once the most feared military leader around but now fallen on hard times, on a job to raise an army to defense a province of pacifists. I'm going to take a moment to say I've always felt that strict pacifism (a refusal to engage in violence even in self defense) makes no damn sense. My life experience has taught me the hard way that there are people who will take nonresistance as an excuse to indulge their worst impulses and refusing to fight doesn't make the world better. It only gives those people free reign to be brutal monsters. That said there are times and places where refusing to engage in violence is the right idea. We've seen that demonstrated in history that people engaged in nonviolent protest and action can do what all the armies in the world can't but a blanket refusal towards violence is frankly madness in my view. Especially when there are armies specifically coming in to murder, rape and enslave people while specifically saying they're doing so because they know you won't fight them. I mean you live in a world where there are nobles who train raptor packs to hunt men for sport, how does nonviolence sound like a good idea here!?! Lucky for Karyl, he's able to find volunteers. Now he's just to figure out how he's going to beat armies full of men who trained their entire lives to kill people and their dinosaurs with small bands of peasants and townsmen who only realized that the pointy end of a spear is dangerous 3 weeks ago. Karyl is an easy character to respect but hard to like, we spend most of his story line inside Rob's head who is easy to like but at times hard to respect. That said Rob is a charming, earthy fellow so it's not like I disliked him as a view point character.

Our second story line follows the Imperial Champion Jaume, who is a pretty amazing guy. He's a knight who founded his own knightly order and the kind of guy who can stand up to a T-Rex without quailing. He's a poet who loves beauty and a honorable man who loves truth. However he's got a problem, see the Emperor of the Empire is pretty much a figure head and always has been (it's a kind of Holy Roman Empire situation they got going on here) but the current Emperor has decided to change that. Part of his solution is to send Jaume off to support the people attacking said province of pacifist. Course that's an issue when Jaume's own religious beliefs are more in line with theirs then with the Emperor's. Jaume agrees to lead the army because that's his duty which I understand it's his behavior on the campaign I don't get! Let me warn everyone that spoilers are following. Jaume's army is also suppose to attack and subdue a number of semi-rebellious nobles who have been playing bandits. His army is made up of his knightly order, imperial troops and a number of feudal levies led by nobles who have fallen into a religious sect which... Well encourages them to treat peasants like shit. When Jaume wins the battle against the rebels (no thanks to the nobles in his army) he arranges a truce and everyone seems happy but when those same nobles use a false flag of parley to break into the castle and town of the rebels and proceed to murder and rape everyone they can and Jaume is woken up in the middle of night with this news... He refuses to do anything, because... He's worried about the effect on the army or the empire. This flabbergasted me so much I went and checked with some medieval historians I knew just to see if I was missing anything. I wasn't. This makes no damn sense! If Jaume doesn't act, then no one will ever bother making a truce or surrender to him ever again because he's either a liar who can't be trusted or a weak man who can't control his troops. This kind of behavior means that frankly Jaume doesn't have an army, he has an armed mob that walks in the same direction he does and that's worse than having no troops at all! I may be spoiled by my experience in a 21st century military but this is not shit that William the Conqueror would have stood for and he lived over 900 years ago!

Next we have Imperial Princess Melodia who utterly frustrates me even more then Jaume. Why? Because her story line is she watches other people and talks about it with her ladies in waiting. She is in the imperial court and I think it's suppose to give me a sense of of the intrigue and plotting going on but Melodia is so removed from all of it I don't really get any good information. So I get a story line that involves talking about other people and watching other people do stuff and her being in a snit with Jaume (who is her lover) because she thinks this war is a bad idea to. She complains, sneers and pouts and frankly I don't really care for her and I'm asking what was the point of having her as a view point character? She doesn't do anything! Her entire story line is... You know what I'll come back to this. Lastly is Count Falk who is mostly interwoven with Princess Melodia, a former rebel who swears loyalty to the Emperor and bullied by his servant and mother plots and schemes to gain control of the Emperor's advisory council... Well he mostly carries out his servant's plots and schemes and then gets drunk and talks about how terrible Melodia is for flirting with him and not fucking him (she doesn't really flirt with him, she dances with him once and tells him she doesn't like him). Falk almost feels like an internet “nice guy” transported into a fantasy novel. Which is reason enough to loathe him (2 tips from my life guys, 1 if you have to tell people you're a nice guy... Then you're not a nice guy. 2 if the only reason you're nice to a girl is so she'll sleep with you? You're not a nice guy and she shouldn't sleep with you. I get the frustration, I do! I've been told no way more then I like as well but for fuck's sake guys get a grip! Okay back to the review) but there's even more reason to hate Falk. He's a bloody whiner! Everything is about how awful everyone is to him and how nothing goes his way and everything sucks... You want to slap him in the mouth and scream “You're in the top 1% of your society and you ride a T-Rex to war! Grow Up! You're embarrassing humanity in front of the dinosaurs!”

There's good stuff in this book, the battles and action are very well done and given to us from different view points so we get to watch from afar and be right in the front lines. There's also a good variety of action from one on one fights on dinosaur back and on foot to mass battles and everything in between. However I never got the same sense with the intrigue or the plotting. I'm left very fuzzy on what the different factions in the imperial court are and what they want. Additionally... This entire book feels like a prologue not a complete story and I HATE that. This is especially true of the whole Melodia story line which could have frankly been saved as chapters in the next book and acted as the beginning to her story line. Jaume's story doesn't come to a conclusion so much as kinda meander to a stop. While Karyl's story line which is the closest thing to a full story ends on a semi-cliff hanger. Look, there's nothing wrong with writing an interconnected series of books telling a single grand story but each book that I paid cash money for should give me a complete story in and of itself. I mean Larry Correia can do it, Kevin Herne does it masterfully in the Iron Druid series, I expect a veteran writer like Milan to do the same. It's not that The Dinosaur Lords is a bad story mind you, it's that it's not a complete story. Still I did like most of the characters and really enjoyed the battles and the world itself is very interesting so it's not like I felt I wasted my money. Still I can't in good faith give The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milian more than a C+. Lack of a satisfying ending in any of the story lines and issues with the characters and the politics is holding down what should be something awesome. Hopefully the sequel can address some of these issues.

Next time: I am going to Phoenix Comic Con! But you're still getting a review! Let's see what I think of Gail Simone writing of the Red Devil of Hyrkania. See you next week!  

Friday, May 20, 2016

Leviathan Wakes By James S.A. Corey

Leviathan Wakes
By James S.A. Corey

Take a space opera setting designed as a role playing game. Take a pair of talented writers. Take a cast of interesting characters and put them in space. Add in the greatest war in human history which as started due to a mystery. Now add in something worse. That's how you get Leviathan Wakes, a science fiction novel published in 2011, nominated for the Hugo in 2012 and the Locus Award in the same year. The book also serves as the basis for setting of the television show The Expanse, which I haven't seen... Yet, but it has been well received.

James S.A Corey is a pen name used by Daniel Abraham and Ty Francis (fun fact, the S.A in the name is actually the initials of Mr. Abraham's daughter). Ty Francis first worked out the setting of the Expanse as a pitch for an MMO game, but the company folded. It was possible that the setting would have been folded up and put in the back of a mental closet if not for Mr. Francis' sister who while taking a creative writing course asked him for a story idea and (as any writer would have told him would happen) wrote it wrong. So he rewrote it to match his idea and sold it. Mr. Francis would then go on to run the Expanse as a RPG setting on a message board where the inspiration for many of the characters would take root (being derived from characters people made for the game) but the game ended before they could get anywhere really interesting. It looked like the Expanse was heading for that mental closet expect for a meeting with Mr. Abraham. Daniel Abraham, who had been writing since a young age was at this a veteran writer. He had written fantasy, urban fantasy and wrote the science fiction novel Hunter's Run (along with George RR Martin). They both cemented their friendship when Mr. Francis was hired to work as Mr. Martin's personal assistant (I would like to take a moment and point out that Mr. Martin has helped a number of writers over the years and deserves nothing but credit for that). One of the things they did has friends? Role play in the Universe of Expanse.

While Mr. Francis had no great ambitions for a novel, Mr. Abraham did and saw that the Universe of the Expanse would make a great one. They worked alternating chapters and editing each others work (Mr. Abraham wrote the chapters following Detective Miller, Mr. Francis followed Captain Holden). So, the two of them set out to do the one thing that everyone warns you not to do, don't adapt your old campaign (everyone says this, with good reason, but it's amazing how many fantasy and science fictions start out this way).

The setting is what many traditional science fiction writers would consider an in between setting. It is not the 20 minutes into the future of Cyberpunk and it's related genres. It is not set in some far distant future where humanity has scattered itself across the galaxy. Instead humanity has taken space, but not yet the stars. The Moon and Mars have been settled. Mars is independent and working to terraform the planet to be capable of supporting life. Meanwhile humanity has also spread across the asteroid belt and into the outer planets. Wedging themselves into stations and hollowed out moons and worldlets driven mostly by Mars' need for resources to drive the terraforming process. The Belters has they call themselves have lived out nearly beyond the light of the sun for generations now. Developing a distinct appearance based on growing up in a low gravity and a distinct culture based on their cramped living spaces and being so on the edge of disaster that someone who lived their entire life on a planet, an environment that is not constantly trying to kill you, cannot really grasp it. This is reflected in the language that has developed in the belt, a mash up of dozens of languages and as many different grammar rules. A Belter can often have an entire conservation in this slang ridden patois that no one from the Belt could even begin to follow (this makes the Anthropologist in want to tackle the nearest Belter character and demand they do their duty to humanity and help me compile a grammar of this shit, because this shit is a cultural event!). This growing cultural separation is fueled by the resentment that the Belters feel towards the people and governments of the inner planets who frankly use them as cheap labor and do little if anything to address their concerns. As a consequence of this, revolutionary groups have sprung up across the outer system, uniting under the banner of the OP determined to stand up for the rights of Belters and stick to the inner system man. Meanwhile Earth and Mars, while allied for decades have their own divisions and resentments bubbling away under the surface. The whole system is a giant pool of gasoline and some jackass decides to go ahead and start lighting matches. As they always do.

The story itself centers around two men that are incredibly alike despite being different in every way. Detective Miller is a cop on Ceres, a hollowed out worldlet that is policed by a security corporation on contract. He's jaded, tired, divorced and a barely functioning alcoholic, who despite this is actually a fairly decent cop if he can unfuck himself for 20 minutes. Detective Miller is slowly and quietly working and drinking himself to death because he can't bring himself to care about much else. Things take a strange turn however when his captain assigns him a little side job. There's a rich family on Luna with an estranged daughter named Julie Mao. She's disappeared. Detective Miller's job is to track her, find her and get her back to the inner system, no matter what Julie Mao has to say about it. I've known men and women like Detective Miller, people who have without ever discussing it with themselves or admitting it, have decided to just let themselves slide slowly and unavoidably into a moldering death. Often because things have fallen apart and they no longer feel they are strong enough to pull their lives together, or sometimes because they can't bring themselves to care. More than often then I'd like, there is simply nothing to be done and no way to bring out of their slow, lazy spiral into the end. But sometimes, sometimes what they need is someone, or something that latches on to their focus and turns them from a drifting, sputtering glider, into a high powered guided missile. When that happens you have three choices, help, get out of the way or follow behind them. Because they will not stop and they will go right through you, if need be, no matter the cost. Detective Miller has just become a high powered, human missile that will not stop until he finds Julie Mao be she alive or dead.

Holden born on Earth, dishonorably discharged from the Earth Navy is the XO of a water hauler that comes down with a terminal case of exploded. Finding himself the Captain by right of survival and now responsible for the well being of a number of crew men (and women) who have also survived this attack. Captain Holden is younger, idealistic, believing all he has to do is discover the truth and get it out there and people will Do The Right Thing. He's also angry at a system that has both been failed by him and failed him and determined not to let it happen again. Like Miller he was mostly drifting through his life, not circling the drain but floating along comfortably. Content to simply slide through. Life however decided to smack him in the nose with a hammer and scream wake up at the top of it's metaphorical lungs. Captain Holden is going to find the people responsible for killing his old ship. He's going to keep his crew mates alive and he's going to get to the Truth and get it out to everyone, even if it kills him. Working with and for him are a couple of interesting characters, from the medic Sled, Amos the space mechanic (who is my favorite), Naomi the Belter engineer and Alex the Martian Redneck pilot. The by play and interactions of the crew are great and I really enjoy them. Captain Holden is a man who believes in right, truth and doing your damn job and he's going to do his level best to live up to those ideals. This honestly makes him a more likable character then Detective Miller and a vastly more relatable on a lot of levels. To be fair on the day I start feeling more like Miller then Holden, that may be the day I need to go in and talk to a shrink or 5.

You may be wondering about the remark I made earlier about this these two men being very alike despite having nothing in common. Captain Holden and Detective Miller have incredibly different life experiences, different world views, different ideas on how society and people work, on everything really. Boil that all away and you get two men with the same core however, men who want to do their job to the best of their ability and want everyone to just deal with each other decently. Detective Miller has been beaten down by life to stretch out his definition of decently and Captain Holden idea of doing his job well drives other to the edge of madness at times but that's what it is. There's also a lurking anger in both of them as they have been repeatedly denied the very simple things they want and while they express it in different ways, it's still there. As you might guess those shared personality traits only make things more difficult for both of them.

That said it's not a perfect ride, the transition between chapters gets a bit choppy at times. The rpg elements tends to peek through from time to time. Some of the actions scenes feel more like fights lifted from a rpg game then a written scene, those scenes are a minority though so the book manages to push through that. I also felt that more time could have spent on the complaints that caused the division between humanity in the first place. Still the setting and the characters get me through that. While the setting isn't hard science ficton, it feels like it could be. I really enjoy the setting and the divisions and how they're played out on the ground level as opposed to the top `10% of humanity that a lot of space opera focuses on. The characters don't explain why the tech works but they do have to deal with the effects of the tech working and the more time spent on the implications of technology as opposed to dry numbing recitation of how it works the better. All these things considered this is good space opera and good story. It's also despite being the first book in a series a complete story in and of itself. If I were to put this series down right here... I'd still have a full story that ends on a satisfying note. I'm giving Leviathan's Wake by James S.A Corey a B+. In all honesty I'm really interested in this story now and I'm pretty sure the series is going no where but up (especially with more of Holden's crew).

Friday, May 13, 2016

Artesia Afield by Mark Symlie

Artesia Afield
by Mark Smylie

Artesia Afield was written and released in 2006 as the sequel to Artesia. The second book picks up fairly soon after the first one. Artesia having overthrown her King and lover Bran for his betrayal on both a religious and personal level has been selected to lead an army from the region called the highlands to the middle kingdoms, a group of allied feudal nations under the rule of a High King. These middle kingdoms are being invaded by the Empire of Thessid-Gola, an empire that has laid quiet for centuries as it's emperor lay in a magic slumber only to recently began expansion and warring again. This campaign of expansion and war has been fueled by dark magics and forbidden rituals which has many people trembling in their boots.

Course the Empire of Thessid-Gola isn't Artesia's only problem. In some ways it's her simplest problem. They want to conquer her allies and possible her home and kill her in the process yeah, but at least they're fairly open and honest about it. Her allies in the court of the middle kingdom on the other hands are full of the knights of the Sun God, the same order who were trying to kill her last book. They had to bury the feud... For now, on the account of the unending horde of foreign soldiers trying to kill them all. That doesn't stop them from being very clear on how much they would like to see her made into a torch, nor does it stop the other people in the middle kingdoms from sneering and whispering about her. Or for some people to express their displeasure at her actions in more direct and violent ways. Artesia is also frustrated that despite having led an army to help fight off invaders, the court of the middle kingdoms keeps her at arms length and well doesn't let her do much until the big throw down where they basically have no real choice but to let her throw down. That said there isn't a lot of politics between Artesia's men and the middle kingdoms here. Instead we have politics inside her camp, as we see some of the divisions between her followers (part of that being the division between her woman followers and her men followers).

We also meet a new culture the Islikids, a group of islanders in service to what appear to me to be demigods? Anyways those demigods are cruel and demanding masters to the mortal men in their service. To the point that even Artesia thinks they might be messing with things best alone. That's a bad sign given that she's not the kind of girl who really respects social boundaries. The Islikids aren't part of the Empire but they are allied to it and their dark magic and dabbling in the forbidden and outright unhealthy is frankly a bad sign as to where the Empire is heading.

We also see more magic as Artesia interacts with the ghosts of her dead, the fellow concubines of the king she overthrew and interacts with the spirits and spells of the empire and her own highlands. It's interesting to see because in a lot of ways Artesia does not walk in the same world as her soldiers or her allies or even possibly her enemies. In her world the ghosts of the dead advise, ravens speak warnings, gods and goddesses walk openly doing their divine duties with little care for the mortal realm. It's because of this that her enemies in the middle kingdoms and the highlands label her a witch, while her friends and followers label her a priestess and both may even be right in the end. I'll admit I find this part of the world of Artesia and the story utterly fascinating. I'm a Christian and my tradition being deeply and fully American can trace it's descent from the Puritans who first brought Christianity to their shores. While you would think my native Pentecostalism doesn't have much in common with the stern Puritans (you might just be wrong by the way) it does share a certain stark view of the world that has no rooms for spirits, ghosts and things not of heaven or hell. That views tends to spread to a lot of fantasy writings where mostly Christianish readers are more comfortable with mechanical impersonal magic systems and morality systems not to far from our own. That's not a criticism there, one does need to be able to relate to the characters you're reading about at a certain level. Magic and religion in Artesia operates completely different from say Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings (although it does share a few common points with Narnia... Hmmmm). It is not secular, it is not clean or mechanical and it is certainly not impersonal. It is dangerous, it is wild and very interesting, not unlike our main character herself.

We learn more about Artesia's early life and origins. We learn from her where she found her heavily enchanted and powerful sword (looting it from a dead warrior woman), we learn more about her mother and we hear of her father for the first time in the series. Course what we do learn is that her father sat there and watch as her mother was burned for being a witch. We also learn that her very skin is enchanted to protect her, which I found interesting as well. This came out in the by play between her and the smith Hymachus, who remains the most distinctive and recognizable of her male followers for me. That does bring me to a complaint, a lot of the male cast still blurs together for me. Next to no time is spent on any character that isn't Artesia and due to the speed of the story we don't get much of a feeling of her individual relationships, just how she relates to them on a whole. I would honestly like Mr. Smylie to slow down a little, let me get to know the other captains under her command and see how they relate to Artesia and each other as individuals. We also see her waging an internal conflict as to whether or not to claim the crown of Dara Dess, the citadel whose King she killed last book. She is hesitant because she knows once she does that there is no turning back and... She doesn't want to be a Usurper. Which I do kinda understand but let's be blunt here, King Bran took the throne by force and turned on the woman who was his main instrument in keeping it. As such I can't see much of a compliant when having been given the choices of be killed or kill, she decided to kill. If you don't want the tigress to rip off your head, don't poke her with a stick. Crowns should not rest on the heads of fools, not when the consequences of their foolery can doom entire nations.

That said the massive battle that is the capstone of this story is pretty awesome to read and the art is as always drop dead gorgeous. The Appendixes at the back are interesting reads but the good news is that even if you don't read them you can still follow the story and make complete sense of everything going on. I know this because the first time I read the book, I didn't read those Appendixes and I still felt pretty sure of everything. That said I wouldn't recommend this book for minors as there is quiet a bit of nudity both male and female and sex is pretty front and center here. The book is not porn by any means but I would keep this to the adults. All of that said Artesia Afield get's a A-, it's going a bit to fast I think but otherwise it's a damn good read and I encourage everyone to give it a shot.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Rat Queens III Demons by Kurtis Wiebe

Rat Queens III: Demons

Written by Kurtis Wiebe
Art by Tess Fowler

Never steal a girl's sweets.” Betty the thief

Rat Queens is a fun fantasy story that takes place on the world of basically every table top game you've ever played (if you haven't played, go ahead and pick up the dice, trust me). Our characters are an adventuring party of girls determined to out drink, out fight and out fuck every other living being on the planet or die trying. Having fought everything to orc armies, to trolls to the creatures of sleeping elder gods in the defense of the city Palisade, they doing a good job of it to. The first volume was about getting to know our characters and them growing up a little and developing a slight sense of civic responsibility. The second volume was getting an idea of what they were running away from in their pasts and how they come to grips with that. Well the third volume is about how sometimes you come to grips with your past and your mistakes and work through them to become a better person... And sometimes your past comes to grips with you and tears down everything you've tried to build. Not only can trying to bury your past come back to bite your ass, but what you don't know is going to hurt you in this story.

The setting for this is when they go on a little trip to see Hannah's old stomping grounds of Mage University (wizards are not good at naming things it seems) and things are going to get personal. See they're not sight seeing or attending a reunion. Hannah's father (stepfather if you ask anyone but her) has been imprisoned by the council for well... leading a revolution and losing. I say and losing because let's be honest if you lead a revolution and win... You don't thrown in jail. Hannah's a bit shocked by this because she's never seen her father as anything but the buried in a book nerd to the hilt type. Turns out like most children... What Hannah doesn't know about her father could fill an entire library. Unlike most children what Hannah doesn't know about her parents can and will hurt her. Dee also has family showing up in the form of a brother (seriously does Dee have family everywhere?) like everyone else in this volume Dee's brother has a secret of his own. Betty get's a bit of a reveal in this volume but honestly it's kinda pushed to the back of the line (I can almost see a fictional GM trying to get some Betty based drama screaming in frustration as everyone declines to follow up on it). Violet on the other hand takes a backseat on this volume. Which is fine, I mean Violet's a great character but this is suppose to be a team book after all. In this case Hannah is completely the center of the show here as the focus is entirely on her, her family and her drama. We find ourselves learning a lot that Hannah wanted to keep buried forever and her reaction to having this revealed is very telling as well. In short, Hannah doesn't deal with it well or very bravely in my view. But then emotional courage is a lot harder to do then physical courage.

Be fore warned coming into this volume, there is going to be some drama of the emotional variety. For the most part the Rat Queens have been able to operate as a unit against outside forces, but what happens when an outside force doesn't present itself and the Rat Queens have to manage internal conflicts? This is something that happens to every group and we're going to see how the Rat Queens deal with it. The answer to that is not calmly or wisely by the way. We're also going to see that despite their best efforts, they do have some growing to do. Some more then others. I won't say more because of spoilers, except to encourage you to pick up the graphic novel and remember there are better ways to solve conflicts with your friends. Someday I might even learn a couple of those ways.

I found the mage university interesting but we didn't really spend a lot of time there. I did like the idea that university politics mixed with cosmic magical power tends to result in ugly, violent messes where people die. Frankly from what I've seen the only reason that people aren't killed in university politics is because the people involved lack the money to hire professional killers and don't have the training or ability to do their own murdering. On the flip side, there are some serious issues to consider here. Necromancy for example is insanely dangerous not just to practitioner but to the people around them. We are talking about playing with the forces of life and death here after all. Or what about dealing with creatures from other levels of existence or making deals with them? After all these are actions that consequences not just for the person doing but for everyone who is unfortunate to within spell shot of them. I mean would you feel comfortable living withing 3 miles of a demon summoning school? At what point does the quest for knowledge and power have to take a back seat to you know... The basic safety of civilization itself?

Sadly we don't get to really come to grips with those issues, because Dee, Violet, Betty and especially Hannah aren't the kind of girls who are going to have that discussion or even think that deeply about it. Which I found sad, as it would have tied into the their infant sense of civic responsibility and realization that their actions have consequences but the action and humor made up for that. As a bonus was the origin story of Braga the orc, which tells us about her family and why she decided to abandon her people for a life of civilization and banging human men. I really enjoyed that story and I hope to see more about Braga in the future as well as the other supporting characters in the book (I am always happy to see more of the Dave's guys, just a hint!). Rat Queens Vol III: Demons gets an A-. Mainly because I didn't get see more of Mage University... There's no point in introducing me to a new exotic location guys if you don't let me explore it!

Next week Artesia returns and then Leviathan's Wake!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Fusiliers How the British Army Lost America but Learned to Fight By Mark Urban

Fusiliers How the British Army Lost America but Learned to Fight
By Mark Urban

First of all, let me apologize for the lateness of the review, things came up but we should be back on track this week (knock on wood).

Fusiliers as I will refer to the book from here out, is a history book focused on the Royal Welch Fusiliers. The Fusiliers were one of the British infantry regiments who served the entire conflict of the American Revolution from Bunker Hill to Yorktown. During that war they engaged in battles from New England to Georgia being present in a number of major battles. More importantly they underwent a series of tactical evolutions as the officers and non coms of the regiment came to grapple with the necessity of fighting on the American battlefield. The book is by Mark Urban, a British journalist, writer, broadcaster and current Diplomatic Editor of BBC's Two News night. A graduate of the London School of Economics and having served as an officer in the British Territorial Army (which makes him another reservist to appear on this review series). He joined the BBC in 1983 and left to join the Independent in 1986. He would rejoin the BBC in the 1990s, serving at time as a general reporter, an embedded reporter (being on the front lines for the first Gulf War) and a number of other crisis's ranging from Moscow to Afghanistan. Somehow during all of this Mr. Urban has written a number of military history books mostly focusing on the Napoleonic wars.

First, let me address the politics real fast, book does cover the American Revolution from the English as an American and a Patriot, I am on the side of the fence that the American Revolution was a good thing. That said I was interested to see what the English view would be, Mr Urban doesn't share his opinion in the book but he does show us the opinion of the troops and officers serving in theater as well as touching on the deeply divided public opinion in the United Kingdom at the time. That said, the opinion of the troops wasn't very divided (well, expect for a number of men who deserted for American land, and American girls) and honestly that didn't surprise me very much. For those of you wondering why, let me reveal a deep secret of military life. The people shooting at you are never very popular in the ranks, we tend to resent that in a deep but not at all secret level of our souls. Us enlisted troops are simple honest types that way. I also found very familiar the gripes of the army as they left America though, complaining about the lack of support from society and lack of leadership from their government. Hell, I've made those gripes before in the past after I got back from Iraq. So at the end of the book I actually feel some common ground with these men, despite having little else in common with them (well... There is Sgt Lamb). There's also the fact in both cases those gripes are true...

Speaking of universal constants, I was very surprised at one thing that the book very briefly touched on and that was the utter lack of a plan or overall idea of what victory would look like. In this book it seems like the British government was just kinda flailing around trying to make the revolution stop somehow. Due to how small the British Army was, there was simply no way for the British to achieve victory through simply military means. While Mr. Urban doesn't really go into detail on the strengths of the Continental Army of the rebelling colonies, it does show through in the quoted writings and over all analysis of the war. While the British Army won the vast majorities of battles, especially the major ones. Rebel armies were simply able to absorb loses and reform, this can be summed up in a quote from General Green of the Continental Army when asked what he intended to, “Rise, Fight, Get Beat, Rise Again.” While the British Army would often pummel rebel forces senseless, the survivors would simply regather and try again later. Meanwhile the British were dependent on their reinforcements coming across an ocean in days where the trip could take months. There were attempts to raise loyalist militia to support the regular army but frankly those forces never amounted to any import in the war. In such a situation, it becomes vital for there to be a political effort to woo away rebel commanders and troops and to create a post rebellion order that will ensure that this doesn't happen again and addresses the root causes of the rebellion in the first place. With a lack of direction from above what you are left with is every commanding officer dictating his own policy and trying to direct the course of the war, often find themselves in conflict with their own fellow officers and troops instead of actually fighting the bloody enemy! As you might guess I felt a distinct feeling that I've seen a later adaption of this story all to close and personal. I guess the moral here is learn History or you'll not just repeat it, it'll stomp you repeatedly.

But moving on past the sour grapes. I mentioned the tactical evolution the Royal Welch Fusiliers underwent, as they moved from a standard British line unit to becoming a light infantry regiment that fought in a open formation often advancing from cover to cover. The evolution starts before Bunker Hill on the march to Concord and Lexington, where British regulars dread ambush and colonial marksmanship. During Bunker hill trying to attack the colonial militia in dug in positions, using more conventional tactics the regiment suffers heavy causalities. Afterwards they swiftly adjusted to realities. Opening up their rank and file (translation: they stopped standing so close together while being shot at). I'm going to speak to this a bit, it's tradition these days to mock the silly people of the past for adopting such tactics in gun battles, but if you look into the realities they were working with... It does make a certain amount of sense. The muskets in use were not very accurate and mass target practice hadn't been adapted yet (this boggles me to but for that matter the NYPD didn't adopt shooting practice for police officer until Teddy Roosevelt made them do it). Add in to this the problem of controlling all these manics and making sure they don't waste ammo... It makes sense to keep them together. The honestly wasn't possible in the terrain of the United States in the late 1700s. There were simply a lack of wide open spaces to slam it out in the preferred Euro fashion. That said the British Army did adapt firing from cover and using open formations with admirable speed. What I found interesting was the adaption of shock tactics where troops would march as close as possible to the enemy before unleashing a single volley at once and charging in to finish it with the bayonet. Given that most of their enemies were poorly trained militia who simply could not accept and hold a charge... It was a very effective tactic and one requiring discipline and courage, given my own experiences it's a lot harder to hold your fire while heading at the enemy at a measured pace, while bullets and screams are flying around you and then to charge head long into them than you could really imagine.

Sadly the tactical flexibly and cold competence of the British troops was not matched by any great organizational ability on behalf of their commanders. To be blunt the training system outlined in the book might as well be nonexistent! With troops being trained on site by their regiment with nearly no basic training before arriving in theater. Fresh troops would be thrown into the next best thing to a prison ship (to be fair towards the end of the war a number of the troops were convicted criminals) and sent off to war. I found myself rather flabbergasted by this and frankly horrified at the burden this would have slammed onto the shoulders of the NCOs and Junior Officers. This also meant there was no unified training system! NONE! Such a thing is terrifyingly medieval and to consider that those same NCOs and Junior Officers still managed to hammer out one of the more professional armed services in the western world at that time is nothing less then miraculous! The in-depth examination of how officers in the British Army had to buy their commissions and promotions was no less horrifying. How this did not result in an utter shambles of a mockery of an army is beyond me and I am left with deep respect for the men who pushed this rolling boulder uphill to create a military that wasn't a mob lead by rich snobs It takes almost all my shuddering courage to consider what other European Armies of the time must have been up to. My courage nearly fails me however when the book presents me with the British logistics system. If I was that badly and inconsistently supplied by my superiors, I would frankly lose all interest in shooting anyone but my commanders and political lords and masters bluntly. That said I'm not blind to the problems faced by the men who were trying to make this ramshackle, rickety mockery of a system work. They had men who were usually illiterate and often not very trustworthy to work with, a transport system that would give the Romans nightmares and weeping fits and a political system that... Well it was a political system that justified armed revolution in a number of nations that were afflicted with it.

Mr. Urban's book provides us with a fascinating and sometimes terrifying look into the inner workings of the British Army during the American Revolution. I did wish at points he wasn't so mono-focused on a single regiment but his following of a single regiment and a handful of it's NCOs and Officers did help give me an idea of the journey and personal challenges that those individual men faced. Many of them were facing uphill battles against their own societies and families on top of fighting a war with next to no support, no real civilian leadership, far from home and surrounded by enemies. I found myself sympathetic to men I not only knew would lose the war but I wanted to lose to the war. The British side of the Revolution is in a lot of ways under examined for a number of reasons but this book convinced me that not only should there be more examination for it's own sake but that such examination would have lessons to teach us that remain viable in the modern world. Because of that Fusiliers How the British Army Lost America but Learned to Fight By Mark Urban gets an A. If you're interested in the other side of the Revolution, the time period, or military history in general, go ahead and give it a read.

So I've been gone awhile folks and I do apologize and thank you for your patience. To help make for that Tomorrow I will give you a bonus review of Rat Queens Volume III. See you then!