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Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Review: Heart Search 3- Betrayal

Heart Search 3- Betrayal

I received an ARC of Carlie Cullen's HS3-Betrayal to review, having read and reviewed the first two books in the trilogy.
One nice thing about trilogies is the opportunity to watch story arcs unfold over a longer period than a single book gives you, and Carlie exploits this to its full advantage.

In brief, in books one and two we were introduced to a paranormal world running in parallel to our own, with covens of vampires living a nocturnal existence alongside our lives. New vampires- neophytes- are created from inoculation of venom into a human's system. Vampires have the usual enhanced senses and  physical prowess, and also latent abilities (sometimes several) which resemble superpowers in many places. The ruling caste are the Commissioners, the oldest of the kind, who the covens owe allegiance to.

At the end of book two, when Remy found Joshua ( who had turned in bk1 at the outset), she became a vampire and took her twins to live with Josh and best friend Jakki, in a neighbouring mansion to the main coven. During these events, Josh had found a bomb planted at the mansion, placed by Liam- a neophyte created in a reckless moment by one of the coven.

Book three takes these two plot strands forward. Remy is getting used to life with Josh and the twins, but struggling with her new identity, the remnants of her old life ( being very close to her twin) and Josh's altering dominant persona. Liam's plans to attack the coven are facilitated by a traitor, whose identity is kept secret until the final chapters.

This disquiet and distrust makes the book very enjoyable, as you try and second guess who the traitor is (codenamed Phoenix) and the tension strains relationships, and also puts a previously minor character into a hostage situation.

Of the three key characters, Jakki shines the most for me. Her personality, her independence and challenge to rigid tradition in the coven, and her precognitive ability make her great to read. Remy, whose story I loved in books 1and 2 wasn't as strong for me this time, although the struggle with her past life is a key element. I do like the way her chapters continue to be written from a 1st person POV as in previous books- it gives a more personal style to her story.

Finally, Josh is a tricky character to take to. He's clearly awesome at everything, but the prior rise to dominance in the coven has created an arrogance and irritability that I didn't like. His manner of speaking to his men is midjudged, and his relationship with Remy complicated.
The book raised some intriguing ideas with me. I like the formality of the coven, the way they address one another and interact. It can make dialogues drag out too much, but it complements Carlie's very detailed prose. Their disregard of human life as a food source is disturbing in places, and leads to some very dark humour as they kill their victims. The involvement of the half -vampire toddlers in the proceedings treads the line between inspired and bonkers, and their acceptance of feeding on prey touches the edge of disturbing.

Yet why shouldn't it be disturbing? The current spate of Vampire teeny paranormal series dance around the darkness of the subject. These aren't clean nice model vamps, these are predators who munch their way through half of Essex by the end of the book. They swear, they fight, they murder, and they have sex. In fact the sex scenes in the book pull no punches- with graphic detail that would push this book into Adult category (and make HBO keen on filming it!!!).

The end comes with great pace and excitement, with twists and surprises galore. The conclusion felt a little rushed, and there were some loose strands that didn't resolve to my satisfaction. I think Erika's ordeal and it's consequences could have been explored, as well as Josh and Uppteon's dagger. Yet these are small points in an otherwise excellent conclusion to the trilogy, and I do wonder (and hope) one day Carlie will return to the paranormal world she has created.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Red Seas under Red Skies

Just read the second of Scott Lynch's Gentleman Bastard series. 

What can I say? Still head and shoulders above many in the fantasy genre, but didn't quite excite me like Book 1 did.

The plot is sound enough- Locke and Jean are running a scam, which then seemingly gets turned on its head. They get dragged into the politics of their new found city, and then lumbered with a strange nautical mission. 

I won't say any more, as spoilers are a pain, but I think my issue with the book was pacing. The first part is fine- enough hooks, with well inserted flashbacks. Usual banter, which could've benefitted from a tighter edit.

The second part really limped along, though. Not enough scamming and conniving for my taste. The period on the sea, and the characters they met didn't seem well realised enough.

The third part, picks up, but was rushed. Clever realisation of the scams, nice twist, but felt jarring after the mediocre momentum of the middle.

Lynch is a great writer, but he lost his way a bit here. Few too many Deux et Machina aspects with alchemy, excesses of banter, and misjudged pace- yet, as I said, still superior to most in the genre.

Definitely reading the third book... 

Monday, 16 February 2015

WH40k family tournament 2: White Scars v Chaos Marines

So, onto game 2, this time Evelyn vs. myself. Now E isn't as regular a player as Charlie, but nonetheless has a grasp of gameplay from 6th Ed. She has usually played SM or Eldar before.
We drew our lots: I got Chaos (yay, MY army) and E drew Wildcard, so she chose Space Marines.

My army was: Sorcerer (terminator armour, ML 2, combi-melta); 5 terminators (reaper auto & mix of power weapons and chainfist-power fist); Chaos Marines (10- power fist; heavy Bolter; plasma gun; CCW); CSM (5 with flamer); 10 cultists; raptors (power sword; melta; plasma); predator tank (autocannon; 2 lascannons).

Evelyn took: Khan (on bike); librarian (ML 1); bike squad (6 and an attack bike with Multmelta; 2 plasma guns); 1 tac squad (plasma gun; rhino); 1 terminator squad (with assault cannon); 1 bike squad (3 bikes; meltagun; proxied by Chaos bikers and an attack bike!!); 1 ironclad dreadnought (proxy with Helbrute) with drop-pod.

Evelyn set up terrain as it was her home game. She won initiative. Same as before: 3 pts for objective secured, 1 for looking after it; 1 for units killed, and standard for 2nd goals.

Evelyn kicks off with the drop pod landing just behind the fuel tower. The librarian moves with his terminators to behind one of the ruins and casts Invisibility on the Dread. The Rhino trundles past the second ruin, which conceals her objective. Khan rides with the small bike unit up into edge of ruin for cover, and big bike unit boosts up the centre. Quick shooting from Dread onto Chaos Termies, with storm bolter and hK missile does nothing.

CSM round 1. Mainly movement. Terminators clamber onto the ridge; predator nudges around the fuel tower; the CSM squad moves around ridge to try get line of sight on Dread. Raptors jump across towards ruined parking lot, and small CSM squad runs after. The predator and CSM squad open fire on the Dread but the few hits (he's invisible!!) don't even glance the armour. Oh dear...

The Dread stomps into melta range on the Pred; the bikes roar up the centr of the battlefield. The rhino decides to pull back and protect the objective. The tac squad bundles out into the ruins. The terminator and librarian get into the second ruin- still within range to cast Invisibility on the Dread again!!

The Dread misses with his melta. The big bike squad opens fire with a hail of bolters plasma and melta at the raptors killing one. Bring it on! The small Khan squad fires at the Chaos Termies, the melta killing one. Acceptable losses for the dark god Tzeentch. 

CSM round 2. The Sorcerer is just out of range for his two template spells, as the Termies descend from the ridge. The raptors jump across towards the ruins with the SM objective in. The small squad run into cover.

The predator hits the Dread with its cannon and glances! Yay!! The CSMs open fire on the small bike unit with bolters, plasma and HB- they kill two, but not Khan. The terminators open fire at the other bike unit and totally fluff it. The chaos gods are fickle indeed.

SCars turn 3, and the round it all changes. Angered by the death of their brothers, the Scars unleash everything they've got. The terminators and librarian move around the ruins and into range; the bikes occupy the centre of the field.

The Dread melta glances the Predator. The big bike squad hit with eight bolter shots, a multi melta and two plasma on the Chaos Terminators. Two Termies die, and the sorcerer loses a wound. The second bike squad fire at the hapless warlord and hits with a melta. The two loyal Chaos Termies try and take the wound, but fail to do so, and the Sorcerer melts into a pile of chaotic ash.

The Chaos Termies fail morale and do a runner. The loyalist terminators fire on the CSM squad and take out two, one with the heavy bolter. The tac squad in ruins shoot at Raptors, but raptors make save. Can they get the SM objective and save the day?

Chaos turn 3. The Termies stop running, thankfully. The small flamer squad emerge to avenge their warlord and fire at Khan and the sole biker... and do exactly nothing. Meh. The eight CSM fire at big bike unit but due to some awesome saves by Evelyn only kill one biker. The predator, intimidated by the approaching invisible Dreadnought, misses all it's shots.

The raptors leap into the ruins and shoot the tac squad and wipe out three before charging in. The 4 vs 2 combat yielded no further casualties. The flamer CSM squad charge Khan and the single biker. With a sigh he swings Moonfang, and kills three CSMs! The squad of eight declare a charge on the big bike squad... and fail to make the (short) distance.

Not looking good for me at end of round 3.

SM round 4, and by this stage it was getting late for a 10y old, so it was looking like last round.

The big bike squad roared around the side of the CSM squad, in an unusual move. The Dread lumbers towards the Pred for final showdown. The terminators move out towards the CSM squad, and the SM in the ruins fight on with the raptors.

With a chatter of bolters and hiss of plasma, the bikers unleash doom on the cultists. Five down in one salvo!
The Dread hits and penetrates the predator with the melta. Crew stunned, as it watches the huge walker charge towards it- seismic hammer whirring. The terminators unleash bolter and cannon fire on the CSMs, killing three.

Into assault. The big bike squad make the 11" charge into the cultists! Between hammer of wrath and assault they leave one hapless cultist standing, who turns and scarpers. The Dread slams his hammer into the Pred and destroys it. The Terminators charge into the CSMs, over watch plinking off their armour. The power fists leave nowt but a smeared set of boots in their wake as they wipe out the squad. Khan, with a cheer of victory, carves up the two remaining chaos space marines. 

And in the ruins the raptor v SM scrap ends in stalemate. As the cultist scampers away like a scolded puppy, Chaos admits defeat....

So total points? Evelyn gets 9 (objective 3; kept her own 1; 1 slay warlord; 1 first blood; 3 of my units destroyed) and I get a round zero. 

A great game, with balance until round 3 when she abruptly took me apart. Invisibility is awesome, and my sorcerer never got close enough for his spells. In retrospect Chaos Lords better choice for me. Or Demon Prince. Also come to conclusion I'm not very good at the game, but I enjoy the laughter of playing anyhow!!

Next game Charlie vs. Evelyn. Could be some pouting lips ahead...

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

WH40K family tournament 1: Scars vs Orks

So in the interest of further drawing my children into the world of fantasy I’ve decided to play a little tournament with them in Warhammer 40k. The principle is to run 1000pt battles with armies chosen at random from our six forces: Space Marines (white scars), Eldar, Chaos Marines, Space Wolves, Orks and Tau. We’ll each do a home and away, and one wildcard allows you to choose your favourite army rather than what you’re allocated. They’ll be objective games with 3pt allocated to an objective capture in each half, 1 for keeping it safe, 1 for units destroyed and 1 for the usual Slay Warlord, First Blood and Linebreaker. 

 The first battle was between me and Charlie. He was delighted to pick Orks, and I picked SM—so a classic battle on the Orks home turf. 

 Charlie ran (with a fair few proxys as we’re just starting this army): 2 warbosses (both in mega-armour with cybork, Power Klaw, Big shoota); 3 mega-nobs (PK, BS); 20 Boyz (Ard armour; one rocket, one big shoota) and 2 nobz (PK); 3 killa kans (2 BS and one RL); and a Gorkanaut. He proxied the meganobs with normal nobs, and the Gorkanaut for a… Dalek. I ran Khan, a terminator squad (with Assault Cannon); biker unit (2 plasma; six riders + one attack bike with MM); Tac squad (ten guys; sergeant with Lightning Claws; 1 plasma cannon; 1 flamer; split into combat squads and with razorback, with Heavy Bolter); 2 landspeeders (Typhoon launchers and Multi-melta). And White Scars tactics. The setting was a ruined town, with my objective being a wounded marine of importance, and Charlie’s an Ork Commissar. 

Round 1—I went first. I raced up my left flank with the speeders, and Razor. I left the flamer squad with my objective in the ruins of a cathedral. The bikes and Khan raced across the centre. I got a lucky pot shot with one Typhoon on the Gorkanaut where it peered from behind an old silo, and got a hull point off and ‘crew shaken.’ My plasma cannon squad deploy from the razorback into the central ruins. 

 Charlie’s Gorkanut lumbers into cover with the Meganobz and bosses, eager for the termies to appear and start a klaw-fist battle. The Boyz moved up Charlie’s left flank alongside the ruins, looking for ‘umies to smush, and leaving the Kans with the commissar. The Kans fire a rocket and shoota at the squad in the ruins—and kill the dude with the plasma cannon and his buddy. Nooooooooo!!!

 Round 2- The bikers veer from the centre and down onto the right flank and start firing on the Boyz. I nail a few, but I’m on the edge of my charge distance and didn’t fancy charging a wall of overwatching shoota boyz. That proved to be a mistake. The speeders move around to try and get a bead on the Gorkanaut, and the Razor heads around to try and get towards the Meganobz. The Khan is eager for Ork blood, and prepares Moonfang. The terminators… don’t arrive. Balls.

 The Orks declare unleash a rain of dakka, the declare a Waagghhh. The sheer volume of shots rip apart the bikers, followed by the charging mass of Boyz. Two Nobz hurtle into Khan, who manages to survive the onslaught, wounding one of them. The bikers fair less well and are wiped out, with a few Orks going down too. Khan pulls away from the massacre, slamming the bike into reverse in a spray of mud (and bits of White Scar). The Gorkanaut comes out from its hiding hole, and sends a volley of shots at the speeders, exploding one. The Kans shoot at the squad in the ruins, killing another marine. 

 Round 3- Khan screeches to a halt and then revs his bike, before hurtling across the centre of the board towards where he knows the bosses to be skulking. In a crackle of energy the Terminators deep strike behind the Ork lines close to the Meganobs and Bosses. They fire storm bolters and cannon, but some excellent rolling by Charlie means only one Meganob is wounded. As they’ve just arrived, the terminators can’t charge and they can only watch as the two bosses and three meganobz activate their power klaws… The squad by the objective know they are better use across the field, and run to try and help their comrades. The two marines in the ruins break cover and scamper across the open ground towards the Kans, krak grenades at the ready. The Razorback screeches around the ruins towards the Ork boyz and shoots a few down with the heavy bolter. The speeder gallantly attacks the Gorkanaut, but the typhoon and melta only strip a hull point off with a glance. The heroic marines look in awe at the enormous Ork walker… 

 The two Nobz charge the Razorback and open it up with their Power Klaws, and smush the marine drivers. The Razorback is destroyed. The gretchin in the Kans chuckle as they unleash a wall of dakka on the two marines in the middle of the field, leaving only smoking white boots. The Bosses and Meganobz charge into the terminators. The melee is swift and brutal—one Meganob dies, and four terminators, leaving one brother to make his stand. With a clatter of dice, the Gorkanaut annihilates the land speeder, unleashing a ‘wagghh’ of delight at the shower of smoking space marine tech raining around. 

 Round 4- in a last ditch move of heroism, Khan charges across the field towards his terminator brother. His bolter fails to wound, but his mighty sword cuts into the bosses and meganobs. The terminator strikes at the bosses, but fails to kill them. In a hum of Power Klaw his armour is destroyed and he dies in his captain’s arms. The final battle—two warbosses and a meganob against a wounded Khan can only have one conclusion. Despite inflicting wounds on a warboss, Khan falls to the onslaught. The battle is over for the White Scars—and reluctantly I call the game. 

 A resounding victory for the Orks—Charlie gains 7 VPs, and I had 1. Although a fun game, I reflected upon my poor tactics. I’d have been better not hurtling forwards and picking away at the Ork horde, using my speeders against the Kans so as to get his objective, and not worrying about the Gorkanaut so early. Or perhaps the terminators may have been better used against the Kans, and the speeders against the Nobz as they lacked invulns to the meltas. Charlie plays well, especially as he hadn’t used Orks before and the Gorkanaut is awesome (although a 60 quid model—maybe next Xmas….).