Dear Diary…action at last…?!

Well, our adventure with the blacksmith didn’t teach us a whole lot more than we already knew.

Explictika Defilas or whatever she calls herself is charming people in the swamp, and Abramo has been kidnapping people to take to her.

Master Ramne says that if Abramo was charmed (enchanted) into doing things against his alignment, that would explain the mental strain that could have resulted in all the mad scribbling we found in his room in the temple.

Anyway, we (the party) and Ramne went to the Mayor to discuss our options.

After a lot of talking, and trying to decide what we could do against what we might be up against, we thought that:

1) a party should head into the swamp, tracking the lizardmen who were apparently involved in this cult (y’know, the lizardmen we killed in the cellar). They would have left a distinctive odor trail, such that Ramne’s weasel could follow.

2) whatever innocents remaining in the town should prepare themselves to defend each other against further kidnapping (especially since facing opposition might make the cultists more brazen).

3) someone (or someones) should go to Hochoch, to summon help for the village.

When Ezekiel asked the Mayor if he knew anyone who would be our messenger, he said “no”.

That’s when I blurted out that Alan might do it. I didn’t know much about him, but he was Ramne’s friend, and Ramne seemed willing to help us. (He volunteered the use of his weasel, after all.)

Well, Ramne and I went to talk to Alan. He said it was a two or three week journey to Hochoch, his family needs him, there’s no guarantee that anyone in Hochoch would be willing to help us even if we got there, and besides his adventuring days are over.

But at least now he knows what’s been going on, and can help Olwin at the Slumbering Serpent to look out for any no-good happenings.

With nothing else to do, our party settled down to heal up for our journey to the swamp. Raven, of course, just got leveled by a blacksmith-hammer and Kelsier and I still had wounds (probably from the goblins but really it’s been so long I don’t remember).

Feels good to have something definite to do. It’s true we can’t afford to wait for help from Hochoch…Abramo and his followers can wait us out easily, and there are still innocent people who haven’t been pulled into this who are at risk.

Besides, we have no evidence that Orlane is the only village Explicty D. is exploiting. Striking at the root of this thing is the only way to finish it once and for all.

So, I’m leaving my journal in our chest of loot at the inn. If we never make it back from the swamp, Olwin and his wife shall inherit the chest.

I, Elwyn, being of sound-ish mind do deed my share of the treasure to them, since really that’s the only thing I have to leave. (And my big brother Bartholomew can’t have my bow not even if he says he’s sorry for the thing with the slugs.)

Elwyn

Speaking of the treasure chest, though, Lancell, Raven, and Ezekiel pooled their shares of the gold to buy Ezie a decent shield, since he’s going to be in front protecting the rest of us, and that will benefit the whole party.

Olwin helped us buy it, so we didn’t antagonize the blacksmith any more than necessary.

****

A few days of rest have put us back on our feet. No word on what Abramo and his people have been up to in the meantime, but we have to trust the Mayor and Alan and Olwin to take care of themselves.

Setting out, now. If you’re an adventurer reading this, it’s up to you, now!

****

Ezie is mocking me for packing a spare journal, but it was a good idea!

The first few days out of Orlane were pretty boring, with Whiskers the Weasel leading the way, and Master Ramne shuffling along with us.

(Yes, he joined our party! After all, it’s his weasel, and we’ll probably need all the help we can get fighting Her.)

To reach the Rushmoors Marsh, we had to go through the forest. This forest seemed wrong on so many levels…no animals, no birds, no undergrowth. I can’t tell if that’s “normal” for this part of the world, but it didn’t feel normal to me.

Mikael looked uncomfortable, too. Obed-Hai might not always see eye-to-eye with Ehlonna, but we can all agree forests weren’t meant to be so dreary. The moss hangs down, and the light never makes it all the way through the trees…

Well, finally we left the moss and gloom for the MUD. The Rushmoor swamp is all mud and slime and water, almost up to Kelsier’s chest. Of course the little trooper doesn’t complain (and he’s probably better off on his own feet than with one of us carrying him…I know I would drop him, I just would), but it slows us all down.

Well, we hadn’t gone far before we were ATTACKED in the swamp.

Three ugly bugs that looked like fat bats merged with mosquitos dove toward us, needle-noses first.

Lancell swung his sword, and sliced the first one in half with one chop – splat!

Raven whipped out the dagger he looted off the Assassin, and danced forward to a gap in the battle formation. He flung the dagger at one of the creatures, but it missed and dropped with a plunk into the water.

We archers launched arrows, but I could tell it was hard for Kelsier to draw his bow when his arms were almost in the water, and he only nicked one of the creatures.

I, though, finally acquitted myself like I should. I nailed that sucker right through the body, letting Lancell finish off the last one.

Three giant insect things defeated, and not a one of us were injured!

This is definitely a win.

But I’m getting mud on my journal.


Click here to start at the beginning.

Find the previous entry here.

Magnum, PI, Another Again

Lots of people Magnum, PI, Another Again — Kimia Woodhave talked about the repetitive, unimaginative products Hollywood has been offering us lately…and with much more analysis and detail than I could.

I just want to make a brief comment about a recent reboot that high-lights just how desperate and irrational this phobia of original concepts is.

Magnum, PI

Dad introduced us to this show as part of “pop culture” class. I also watched some episodes on my own, and enjoyed the mystery, the adventure, the detective work, and the charm of Tom Selleck.

Here’s the premise, in my own words:

Thomas Magnum, a Vietnam veteran, now works as a private investigator in Hawaii. He ostensibly works for the reclusive author Robin Masters, whose estate he lives at, and has a strained relationship with Masters’ estate caretaker, Higgins.

Higgins is an older man, a veteran of the First World War, and a straight-laced counterpoint to Magnum’s Hawaiian-shirt-wearing energy.

There. Lots of room for plot, as episodes explored Magnum’s war experiences (his two best friends served alongside him), enjoyed the tropical setting, and pitted the mirthless, proper Higgins against Magnum’s fun-loving demeanor and eclectic working schedule.

The Reboot

CBS has brought the show back – well, as an updated, readjusted form of itself.

Thomas Magnum is now a Hispanic veteran of Afghanistan. This is great. Hispanics can be good-looking, there’s no reason a Hispanic veteran wouldn’t live in Hawaii (and decide to be a PI), and the casting openly acknowledges that you can’t re-create Tom Selleck, so why try?

Just do your own thing, and do it well.

The bigger problem is that “Jonathan” Higgins has been turned into “Juliet” Higgins. As Laura Finch in WORLD Magazine put it, “I think we all know how that story ends.”

And that’s the problem.

This is “supposed” to be Magnum, PI. Part of the whole dynamic there is the conflict between Higgins and Magnum…the old man and the young man…the Brit and the American…the class act and the bend-the-rules…the suit and the Hawaiian shirt…the straight-faced professional and the emotionally-invested professional.

The bickering of two men who didn’t see eye-to-eye, and the grudging respect they gain for each other through long seasons of working together (and saving each other’s lives) was a profound and unique dynamic.

Now…there’s Magnum and Juliet.

As soon as it’s a man and a woman, you have sexual tension. That’s just how it works. A male and female can’t have the same platonic working relationship that two people of the same gender can.

The writer in WORLD already spelled it out. We can all smell where this story is heading. Even if the writers decide to toy with our expectations, and these two don’t get together, the fact that there’s this possibility turns all their interactions on their heads.

Now, a “grudging respect” might be “flirty bickering”. Juliet complaining about Magnum’s methods might be a romantic rebuttal, or an emotionally confused statement (she’s attracted, but doesn’t want to be, so it taints her professional decision-making…or vice versa) – rather than a plain statement about their different working mentalities.

(The new writers also want her to be a “strong female”, with MI6 experience and the skills to defend herself, thank you very much. Whatever, people.)

Another, Again…Except Not

Could a story about a man and a woman in antagonistic professional circumstances be compelling? Could the tale of how they bond over shared adventures and intrigue (both pulling their weight – in a masculine sense – ala Mr. Incredible and the kick-butt ElastaGirl) be entertaining and meaningful?

Sure. But it’s not the story of the original Magnum, PI.

I enjoyed the original. I enjoyed how Higgins and Magnum didn’t really like each other, thought the other one was much too ____, but still had each other’s backs in every sticky situation. It was a uniquely male dynamic, and refreshingly so.

In private, Magnum would troll Higgins, and Higgins would scold Magnum. But when bad stuff hit the fan, they put their personal relationship in the back seat, and worked together to win.

Turning one of these characters into a woman automatically makes the personal relationship a key issue. Women are much more “personal relationship” oriented than men are…and men forming relationships with women have a much harder time not making those relationships “personal” (think of the deep, innate urge to save the princess – even if she’s a jerk).

Even if Magnum and Juliet are both mature, rational adults, you can’t put a man and a woman in a room and not have tension. Further, they’re going to approach whatever problems they face from a male or a female perspective – regardless of whatever cultural, demographic, religious, philosophical, and experiential differences they might have with each other.

To pretend this new show is Magnum, PI, but to change this foundational element, is both disappointing and confusing.

I probably wouldn’t watch the new show either way, because we don’t have a television. (And my brother got more exercised about the gender-swap than I did.) But I really wanted to connect this new show to the issue I started with…the regurgitation of media.

Just do your own thing, and do it well!

What if, once upon a time, a writer had a new premise idea for a great TV show:

Tomas Colt is a Hispanic former SEAL turned private investigator, using his combat skills in the private sector. He lives on the estate of a reclusive author, and has a tense relationship with the estate’s caretaker Juliet, who doesn’t approve of his professional methods and standards.

Little does he suspect she is former MI6, and critiques his detecting and problem-solving techniques because of her own experience in the field…

Well? Why didn’t they do that?

Why did they say, “This is that exact same show you used to love, except with younger actors and good graphics…and also diversity”?

Instead of, “If you loved Magnum, PI, you’ll also love this new show that has some similar elements, but is exploring its own themes for a modern audience! Please tune in to Colt, PI!”

Why? Right when writing coaches and analysts around the internet are bemoaning the lack of originality and risk-taking in modern media…why would they take an old show, change one of its foundational tenants, and try to feed us the same old thing only more diverse?

Just do your own thing, and do it well!

I just watched a YouTube video about how the live-action Beauty and the Beast did the same thing…”fixed” non-existent problems of sexism and bigotry, and created new problems of character motivation, plot inconsistency, irrational bigotry, and emotional impact. (language cautions)

And in case you think I’m a cynic who just hates all female characters, try this YouTube video that explains we just want good female characters…and to not have the writers’ virtue-signaling meta-agenda shoved down our throats.

Sure, let’s make new stories. But let’s make new stories. And let’s be intentional about the dynamics, character motivations and interactions, and thematic assumptions that go into our stories.

Do your own thing…just do it well.


Header picture is from WORLD Magazine.

Magnum, PI, Another Again — Kimia WoodKimia Wood currently lives somewhere in the American midwest, bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, writing, hobby-farming, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.

Subscribe to the mailing list for a FREE e-copy of her post-apocalyptic adventure novella Soldier! You’ll also receive periodic updates of her latest reading and writing adventures.

Dear Diary…the mystery of our monster head collection

Woke up this morning in the torture chamber on the second floor of the temple. Our prisoner was still secure on the rack (not tightened, of course, just restrained).

Spending the night tied up seemed to have improved his mood. He actually started to answer some questions, starting with his name: Derrick.

Still a little wary, but he told us some useful information. He was taken to the “snake thing” by Abramo, and “she” wrapped herself around him and told him he was hers.

That’s how it works, apparently. Abramo and his servants would decide on a victim, and that family would be kidnapped and taken to the “snake thing” – in a cave in the Rushmoor swamp. Then, they would give Her their possessions willingly…they were snared, just like Abramo.

Except Derrick somehow wasn’t charmed – but he played along, and sometimes got paid for helping kidnap or shake down people. Sometimes they would even work on travelers passing through.

He didn’t remember our gnome, Neeblebluer (spl?). He’d only been to the swamp once, so couldn’t give us better directions.

The only other useful things he told us were these: Abramo sent him into the temple last night, to scout and “maybe some of us wouldn’t wake up in the morning”.

He also gave us the names of some of the people on the other side. We already knew the blacksmith and militia constable were with Abramo, but “the widow” was “on the list” to be changed…and so were “everyone at the Slumbering Serpent”, and a couple guys who lived by the mayor, and the farmer who lived near the inn.

We seemed to have pumped him dry, and he was pretty badly beat up, so we had a group huddle to decide what to do with him.

We finally voted to let him go (he wouldn’t have a lot of incentive to go back to Abramo, and he’s not in a condition to fight anyway), and we’d escort him to the edge of town for safety.

Fierce discussion, but we finally decided to keep the key we got off him. He says it’s to his stuff in the Golden Grain, the second inn of the town. We’re not going to loot it (not only does that seem like overkill, but he got a gleam in his eye when he told us that made us think the Golden Grain wasn’t a good place to go), but as Lancell pointed out, this way he’ll have even less incentive to stick around here.

While I got the prisoner off the rack, Lancell and Ezekiel beheaded some of the goblins lying around on the floor (we’ve got to be tidier in future) and loaded them into one of the coffins in the chamber (why are there fresh, new coffins lying around? I wish I knew).

We let Derrick out at the gate, and went to collect more monster heads from the basement (plus some skeleton heads from the skeletons we fought).

Raven made a detour on the second floor. One of the rooms up there is a library, and when we cleared the temple one of the times, we found a book in there – a holy book to Merikka…defaced with ugly pictures and soiled.

He says he wants to get the illuminations repaired. I think it’ll also be another piece of evidence that the caretakers of Merikka’s house have abused their duties.

Lugging the coffin full of monster heads, we sallied out into the town (Raven barred the gate behind us and climbed the wall to rejoin us).

As we descended the hill of the temple in loose formation, one of the farmers who lives at the crossroads came onto his porch with a crossbow.

Perfect opportunity to panic, but we kept our cool and smiled and waved as we just walked on past down the road. He seemed relieved when we left; can’t blame him, can you? It’s not every day you see a band of weird strangers taking their coffin for an outing.

We got to the inn (Slumbering Serpent) without further problems, and I confided in Olwin, the innkeeper (he seemed to take to me earlier, which I’ll certainly be grateful for).

He agreed that lizardmen and goblins had no rightful business in the Temple of Merikka, and suggested we hide our coffin in his winery while he fetched the Mayor to come listen to our case.

Having nothing better to do, we had a late breakfast while we waited.

When the Mayor arrived, we showed him our evidence. If the pile of monster heads hadn’t been enough to convince him, the innkeeper’s wife brought in Cirilli, the poor girl Abramo kept in a cage. He agreed that this was terrible, and should be dealt with.

What we should do about it, though, was another question.

Being back at the inn meant we could reunite with Jill our magic-user (looking none the worse for not being in combat the last few days), and we asked her what might possibly have been cast on Abramo and the others to “change” them.

Could we fix them? Would they never be “themselves” again, and we’d have to kill them?

Obviously, the Mayor was not happy about slaughtering half his town (especially when we weren’t sure who was on which side). It didn’t seem like the best idea to us, either, but I don’t know if we would stand a chance against this “snake lady thing” in the marsh, or if confronting her would free the townspeople, or even what the possibilities were!

While the Mayor and Lancell went to visit “the widow” and advise her to seek safety at the Slumbering Serpent (better than living alone, after all), the rest of us headed to talk to the mysterious hermit behind the inn.

Ezekiel has a “feeling” about this hermit that he can somehow help us.

I said, “Oh, Ezie, you and your prophetic feelings.”

He said, “This isn’t one of those, but I still think we should seek his help!”

Well, I think he’s right there. Jill isn’t high enough level to advise us, much less combat this thing, and the Mayor didn’t have anybody else he could think of who could be our ally.

The hermit lives in a shack of sorts, off in the trees behind the inn, right on the west edge of town.

He was noncommittal when we first showed up, but showing him our monster head collection (and talking about our planning with the Mayor) seemed to break the ice a bit.

We left our coffin in hiding by his house, while he agreed to accompany us to the blacksmith.

The Plan was for Ezekiel to be the distraction and pretend to shop for a shield, while Ramne (the hermit guy) observed the blacksmith from a distance and tried to see what kind of effect was on him. Charm spell? Racial domination spell (from some strange snake/reptile race that Ezekiel had heard of)? Could we counter-act it, and free the people from this bondage?

Well, we set off, trying to keep pace with the shuffling steps of the…er…old gentleman. (He might be reading over my shoulder, you know!)

We passed the house that’s just north of the SS, and the man on the porch greeted Ramne. They seemed to be friends.

The guy was doing something with his hand.

And that’s when I remembered my training, from way back in the village with my Ranger Master.

“It’s like being in a secret club of cool people,” he told me. “This is the Ranger sign. If they make this sign, then they’re a Ranger, too. You’d be surprised where you discover a brother ranger, out there in the wilds of the world.”

The man beckoned me over to talk.

Ezekiel didn’t want me to (probably worried the guy was a fake, or something) but sometimes you have to live dangerously. I told Ezie and Kelsier I’d catch up with them.

When they moved out of earshot, Alan (that’s the man’s name) asked, “What do you want with old Ramne?”

I said, “It’s a long story, but we’re hoping he can help us, and the Mayor.”

He nodded. “I trust him. Good luck.”

I said, “Thanks,” and I warned him not to trust Abramo.

This was probably the “farmer” on the list of potential victims (that we got from Derrick this morning).

Anyway, if Alan’s a Ranger, then he’s a Good guy. That doesn’t mean he’ll trust us (at least not right away) but he’s another potential ally.

As our group approached the smithy, Ramne “the old guy” hung back in the shelter of the building, while Ezekiel and the others advanced.

The blacksmith and his two boys (presumably his sons) were hard at work.

Ezie hadn’t even gotten a word out when the smith exploded in curses and yells, trying to rush him (his sons held him back).

Ezekiel and Kelsier and Mikael all tried to be reasonable and calm him down, but he just got more and more worked up.

I tried to keep an eye on how Ramne was doing, but it’s hard when you don’t know how this magic stuff works. Plus he has a naturally un-flapped face, so I wasn’t sure if he’d figured out what the spell was or not.

“Please,” said Ezekiel. “I only wanted to see your merchandise. I don’t think we’ve even met before.”

The sons lost their grip on their father’s arms…hard to see from where I stood, but it looked like they were surprised by something.

The blacksmith rushed forward, and swung his hammer. Raven was the first one standing in his path, and smashed to the ground in a dramatic sprawl.

I barely registered Ramne’s look of surprise before I raced forward, not even sure what I was going to do.

Ezekiel charged in and body-blocked Raven. Kelsier whipped out his bow and launched an arrow, catching the smith and dropping him to the ground with an ugly wound.

While he was growling and trying to rise, suddenly he crumbled to the ground, snoring gently.

By the time I recovered from my shock, I had reached the others. The two sons were still standing in the shop, staring in perplexity.

“I’m bandaging him,” I told them, approaching carefully. “Here are my hands. Here are my bandages. It’s going to be okay; I’m going to bandage him.”

So I patched up the blacksmith, and then we tried talking to his sons.

Their names are Ben and Josh. They seemed confused, and maybe scared.

“Father hasn’t been the same since…”

Since what? They didn’t say. Josh ran inside quickly, and Ben kept repeating, “Was that real?”

They had all been taken to the “snake thing”. Ben says his father has always had a temper, but he’s been acting…he’s always had a temper…was that real?

That kind of thing. It mostly just confirmed what we had already known.

When Ben went inside to take care of Josh, we bundled the blacksmith onto his smithy porch and dragged Raven behind the privacy of the corner of the building.

Lancell lay hands on Raven, and Raven recovered himself a bit. Still, that was quite a nasty crunch from that smithing hammer.

Apparently, Ramne “the old guy” figured out how to remove whatever charm is on these people, but he says they won’t necessarily be themselves again…or, “fixing” it won’t necessarily have the effect we hoped.

Plus, even he can’t fling magic around willy-nilly, and de-charming all the cultists (without them figuring out what we’re up to and escalating the confrontation) might not be an option.

Gotta remember, there are a lot of innocent folks who just live here, and aren’t involved at all (yet).

We have some more people to interview (like those two guys who live by the Mayor) and we have to take the findings of our experiment to the Mayor and query him for advice.

This Evil monkey-business (whatever we call it) is not going to be dismantled in one day.


Click here to start at the beginning.

Find the previous entry here.

Find the next entry here.

Dear Diary…Bar the gates!

Ezekiel still convinced Ao wants him to bar the gates. So we’ve reached a compromise.

Cirilli is not safe here (and she’s not keen to camp out in the place where she was caged, anyway). So Raven and Kelsier (who are both more likely to be able to climb the wall) will escort her to the Slumbering Serpent Inn. Kelsier is also our best fighter, and the most likely to fend for himself should Raven turn Evil (Monk of Merikka so-called!).

Olwin struck me as a decent guy — he didn’t “smell” like one of these wack-a-doodle cultists. So the girl should be safe with him until we can sort this business out.

The rest of us are going to make hay while the sun shines and sweep the cellars, since last time we were down there we were too busy killing lizard men. (Did I mention that part? Probably concussion or what-d’you-call-it…most of that day is fuzzy or blank.)

****

Investigated the rest of the temple. Nothing to report, except that the bodies of the Evil Cleric lady and our late companion Lefty are gone.

Got a feeling we’ll meet them again as skeletons, y’know what I mean?

Also found some “cells” or small chambers in the cellars that lent credence to Cirilli’s story. She said she and her family were held down there before visiting “Her.” Looks like we found the place.

Convinced there were no secret doors, we returned to the second floor and Abramo’s suite, since is was the most defensible spot in the temple.

Good thing, too. Just a bit ago, a huge party came to the front gate. At least ten people – including someone who looked like the blacksmith (who was one of the folks Olwin told me has “changed”).

Happily, they were disturbed by the gate being barred, and went off again.

Still no sign of Raven and Kelsier. Regretting sending off our best fighter now, but we’ll hope for the best.

****

We were resting in the upstairs room when Raven arrived – without Kelsier.

He didn’t seem worried about it (said Kelsier was perfectly able to take care of himself), but Ezekiel rousted all of us, and marched the party downstairs to look for him – while I stayed upstairs where I would have an advantage shooting my bow through the arrow slits.

It was getting dark by now. I saw my companions in the courtyard below because they carried torches.

Another crowd had gathered outside the gate. Ezekiel challenged.

Someone claiming to be Abramo challenged us and demanded that we give their temple back, in the name of Merikka.

Ezekiel asked, “Don’t you mean Explictica Defilas?”

Well, that ruffled some feathers. Over the wall, I could just see the crowd of people and mysterious dark shapes. If Kelsier was out there, his best bet was to stay low.

More shouting outside. From what I could see and hear, it seemed to be the mayor of the town – asking what all the fuss was about.

Ezekiel tried to explain – but when the temple’s priest (and the constable of the militia) were both part of the conspiracy, what hope would we have of convincing the mayor something is very wrong? Especially when he hadn’t brought any men with him, looked like.

At any rate, the mayor was talked down, and left Abramo to handle the “invaders.”

I wasn’t eager for such a battle, but it also made me realize this wouldn’t be solved as easily as we might think. We hadn’t found any artifact in the temple we could “turn off” and everybody would magically revert to normal…and if half the town is “changed” by this cult, we can’t just slaughter them all to clear the air, can we?

Well, while I was panicking and worrying, Raven climbed the wall to scope out the scene.

He remembered he was holding a torch when a crossbow bolt flew past his head — so he threw down his torch and went off to scan the perimeter and look for any sign of Kelsier.

The band outside seemed to have given up trying to knock the gates down. My party milled around some more, and rejoined me upstairs.

Raven held out an arrow. “I found Kelsier,” he said. “Or rather, I was investigating the north-west corner beyond the wall, and dodged this arrow. It’s like the ones that Kelsier uses.”

We all agreed that if Kelsier was shooting arrows, he must be unharmed, and in a position to take care of himself, so we settled down on the second floor to get what rest we could.

****

Ezekiel took first watch, guarding the door of the “creepy room” that was down the twisty hallway from Abramo’s private chamber.

Not sure how long we’d been sleeping, but I woke to voices. Ezekiel and Lancell were muttering in the far room.

Raven had heard them, too, so we lit a torch and Raven went to check that the secret room with the cage was still secure. (We had dragged the cage over to cover the trapdoor. Don’t want anyone sneaking up on us.)

I joined Ezekiel behind the door. He thought he had heard something in the next room (the torture chamber).

That’s when I heard someone bump something. (Ezekiel didn’t hear it, but I know I did!)

I told him to stand guard while I fetched the others. Something bad was going down!

While I was running through the twisty hallways, someone in the torture room yelped.

Ezekiel called out, “Kelsier! Why didn’t you say something?” and I heard the door crash open.

Ezie. Always assuming people are on our side, never imagining it’s an elaborate trap to murder us in the night.

I grabbed the other two and raced back to the doorway, bow in hand.

Ezekiel and Lancell both carried torches, and were trying to hit a shadowy figure who was attacking Kelsier (yes, the actual Kelsier).

I fanned out into the room as well, eyes open for a shot – and nailed that mysterious sucker right in the voonerables! (Yes! Finally landed an arrow in something!)

That’s when our lone invader turned and ran. I shouted for us to not let him escape, but I think Ezekiel had the same idea and flying-tackled him – full body slam – Pow!

The stranger had a stiletto sheathed at the nape of his neck, so it’s clear he’s one of these sneaky types. Probably Assassin – and therefore Evil.

But he was totally knocked down by Ezekiel – heh heh.

(Raven has taken the dagger.)

We trussed the stranger to the rack, cheered at having Kelsier back, and settled down for the rest of the night. The morning will bring plenty of new worries and decisions.

About the prisoner

We can’t trust him; so we can’t leave him unattended.

We can’t expect to bribe him; and even if we did bribe him to help us, we can’t expect him to not stab us in the back (see #1).

We can’t leave him unattended to escape, and there’s not a good place to stash him.

Can we get him to talk? Will he know about what’s going on? Would his testimony be any good if we could bludgeon him into talking?

Possible actions: 1) leave him tied up (waiting to escape and kill us)…2) take him with us (waiting to kill us)…3) kill him, after we went to the trouble of capturing him…4) take him to the mayor for justice (assuming we can get to the mayor, the mayor doesn’t lock us up, etc.)…5) take him to the Slumbering Serpent and let Olwin the Innkeeper – what? Bribe him with food?

It was largely my idea to capture the guy in the first place (dead men give no answers) but now we’re faced with no good choices of what to do with him.

The world is nasty sometimes. Just feel that, since it was my idea to capture him, I should say a piece in his defense before we “assassinate” him.

To Do

  • Question prisoner. Hopefully get something useful out of him.
  • Go behead the lizard people in the basement as evidence of Evilness for the mayor.
  • Take evidence to Slumbering Serpent and ask for Olwin’s help. This is his hometown; he knows these people. How can we get to the bottom of it and stop this Evil?!
  • (Remember the hermit Olwin sent us to before. Seemed suspicious of us – but then, we’re kind of weird characters. Might he be some help, also?)

Ha! Time for Lancell’s watch, now! I will get some more sleep, and stop scribbling.

Ezie thinks I’m a goof. But if we die tragically, I want the next adventurers to have a record of just where we went wrong…


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“Myst IV: Revelation”

"Myst IV: Revelation" — Kimia Wood I fell in love with the Myst games a long time ago. The photo-realistic worlds and the tantalizing hints of deeper things always left me wanting more.

Until now. Myst IV: Revelation has…finished Myst for me. It is concluded…I am satisfied. And for once, I don’t need to weep at the parting. (Well, maybe just a little.)

The World

The central premise of Myst is that a civilization called the D’ni could create worlds by writing books, and then visit those worlds physically by linking through the books. (A person must bring a return Linking Book with him when he goes exploring, and any book you link through doesn’t come with you – it stays in the first world.)

From a first-person perspective, we point and click our way through these “Ages” to unlock doors, uncover passwords, power machines, and solve puzzles. And, of course, soak in breath-taking landscapes, vistas, and architecture."Myst IV: Revelation" — Kimia Wood

Whatever else I can say, the world is still incredible. Hydraulic locks, levers and buttons, rotating bridges and elevators…it’s like an engineer’s playground. These real-world mechanics mix, of course, with magic crystals, strange animals, bizarre cultures, and the Age-writing Art of the D’ni.

The Progress of Technology

Myst was released in the dark ages of computing, when graphics cards were limited, the in-game animations were tiny and limited, and the curser was a 2D hand (that changed shape for different interactions).

Revelation seeks to take full advantage of the progress of computer technology, and offers a 360º, 3D-rendered environment to explore.

This means that the world around you doesn’t always look as photo-realistic as it did in Myst, or Riven. The camera also has a tendency to focus in on the foreground, or the background, depending on where your cursor is. I think this is to mimic the variable focus of the human eye, but it’s distracting.

As for the cursor, it’s a 3D, CGI hand. It waves vaguely wherever you point it; extends the fingers to indicate a direction you can move; whips out a magnifying glass if something can be examined more closely; and stretches the fingers subtly if you can unroll a map, pull a lever, or other similar action. This final characteristic can be easy to miss, and if it’s not obvious something is there to manipulate, you can easily miss some interactions.

Atrus’s Family

If you haven’t yet played Myst or Riven, SPOILER ALERT! (Also, go do that.)

Way back in Myst, we met two characters trapped in books that they had thought were Ages: Sirrus and Achenar. Their dad is Atrus, and he is a descendent of the fallen D’ni civilization and a writer of Ages.

If you played through Myst, explored the Ages that link from it, solved Atrus’ pretty un-secure password manager, and uncovered the truth about what happened…you’ll know that Sirrus and Achenar trapped their father without a Linking Book home, distracted their mother, burned most of Atrus’ library of Books, and used the special Books he had warned them never to touch.

Blam! The books trapped them. And once you free Atrus, he burns those books to keep them from ever escaping.

Until now.

Revelation!

Fast forward twenty years. Atrus invites you (his nameless, faceless, gender-less “friend”) to his new home, where he is attempting to spy on the Prison Ages and decide if his sons have repented of murdering the inhabitants of the Ages and are ready to be released.

Yes…we can see this ending well, eh?

"Myst IV: Revelation" — Kimia Wood

Image from Pixabay

Turns out, he and his wife have already written visiting capsules into the Prison Ages. That way, they can link into the capsule, have a visit through bars, and link away – leaving the Linking Book for their own home out of the reach of the prisoners.

The prisoners can’t possibly escape! Why would you worry about that? Atrus only built complex machinery and houses and scientific equipment by hand in his various Ages…what makes you think his sons could do the same thing from scratch?

Yeesha

Did I mention? Atrus also has a ten-year-old daughter now.

Maybe it’s her dialogue, or maybe it’s the delivery of the actress, but Yeesha is clearly supposed to capture our sympathies and feel like a dear friend (even though we’ve actually only just met). Y’know, one of those annoyingly perfect child-characters.

Especially as the “mysterious circumstances” start piling up, you really start to feel that Atrus is a clueless dupe who should have stuck to books, and not attempted children.

Puzzles

I should say something about the puzzles.

We have our classic Myst fare here, with locked doors; passwords in journals; machines that need power; etc.

It made me wonder if Atrus has a constellation-based color-combination lock on the bathroom…and then I realized that his house has no bathroom.

Also contains one or two pixel-hunts, although that might be due to the mechanics of the cursor-hand (see above).

Messin’ with Memory

Added to those familiar hurdles is a new mechanic. Yeesha has a magic necklace that shows memories."Myst IV: Revelation" — Kimia Wood

This, along with the journals that every member of Atrus’ family conveniently keeps, lets you piece together the motives of the various actors, solve some of the puzzles, and generally be the worst thing to happen to Sirrus and Achenar!

M’whahaha! If you wanted to forge an evil plot, you shouldn’t have invited the Stranger-from-the-Starry-Void!

Seriously, though, this mechanic gives you hints for solving the puzzles, plus valuable information at unraveling the sinister plot being woven.

Who is plotting what? Who is evil? And who should I trust?

Being able to view people’s secret memories is very handy for that…

A note on story tension

My family mocked me for this, but I’ll bring it up anyway.

Whenever you linked to new Age in Myst, you had to solve the Age’s puzzles and get things working again to unlock the Linking Book and return to Myst.

In Riven and Exile, you plunged into an unknown world without a ticket out, and had to solve your way forward to find any way to escape. (And in Riven especially, Atrus’ wife’s fate hangs on your success.)

In Revelation…your first task is to “oh, get the power back on, will you?” Your second task is, “Feel free to check out my Linking Books if you like…oh, and make sure Yeesha does her homework.” Ha ha.

Beyond that, though, every single place you visit has a Linking Book back to Atrus’ home right there at the beginning. You don’t need to venture into predator-infested jungles, or brave bottomless shafts in wind-swept fortresses…you can say, “Forget this,” and hop back home.

Obviously, I bought this game in order to play through the puzzles, and feel smart, and uncover the story through journals and clues. And my family helpfully pointed out that this gives the game a less linear structure. You can solve this Age, or that Age, or stay and futz around the first Age…or jump to this new Age…

Solve puzzles in whatever order you want. Travel when and where you want. Stop and go back to a place you especially liked if you really want.

True, this gives the player much more freedom in how they play and the order they play puzzles in (and the sequence in which they unravel the story).

However, it also saps some of the urgency from the story. You are not trapped, and hunting for an escape. Later on, you’re kind of searching for Yeesha, and trying to uncover what happened…but it’s not like there’s a rush. There’s plenty of time to ransack the Ages for anything marked PRIVATE DIARY. And, well, there’s not the same level of narrative tension.

(Perhaps if I hadn’t thought Yeesha was an annoying Mary Sue who was also try to kill me via collapsing bridge, I would have felt more invested in the rescue mission. But again, when I could back out at any time and return to Atrus’ house… “Hey, I’ll make some tea or whatever your culture drinks…Hope it all works out, Atrus! Maybe you should spend more time supervising your children than leaving them in the care of your ‘friend’ and dashing off for machine parts.”)

Serenia…or, the 1960s New Age-y Age

Revelation gives you four Ages to explore. The final one is Serenia.

"Myst IV: Revelation" — Kimia Wood

As if the rest of it wasn’t weird enough…

The outside of Serenia is beautiful — full of twisty, hard-to-map paths; flowing, conjoining streams of water; butterflies that look like organza pixies; and trees that release dandelion-poofs on the wind.

The inhabitants’ culture is based around giant mushrooms that store people’s memories when they die, so their loved ones can travel to a mental space called “Dream” and “visit” the dead ancestors again.

(As one of the female tenders of the mushroom says: if you don’t heal the “Memory Chamber”, “we may never be able to visit our loved ones again!” I bleed for you says the gal from a world where people stay dead…and we don’t have memory spheres to help hallucinate a spirit visit.)

Back to the culture, the “Protectors” have somehow seen your arrival prophesied (y’know, you – the protagonist) and help you find a spirit guide (from the air, fire, or water spirits that play in the forest) so you can travel to Dream and find out who kidnapped Yeesha.

They also wear a stripe of face-paint down their noses (and have creepy, African-esque masks). And the puzzle in Dream is like musical color-matching on evil steroids!

Atrus was always an apologetic, kinda nerdy guy…but lately he seems to just assume you’ll help dig him out of whatever hole he’s gotten himself in. And these all-knowing chicks in Serenia are even more pompous and touchy-feely.

Even if I hadn’t heard such dismal things about Myst V: End of Ages…this “New Age” spiritualism is enough of a departure from the original heart of Myst (nuts and bolts, analog passwords, and the science-based “magic” of the D’ni Art) to make Revelation my last Myst game.

Climax Catharsis

Yet I said I was satisfied. Why am I satisfied?

Well, without laying bare the resolution…the climax of Revelation hinges on you choosing to believe one of Atrus’ children over another. This choice is based on what you have learned by reading their journals, listening to their memories, and piecing together the Evil Plot (and who is probably responsible for it).

Got the right answer the first time. (Thank you, thank you, no need to clap.) And the conclusion that is spun from that –logically, inexorably – brings the plot-line to a perfect and reasonable end.

While the writers did a bit of ret-conning to bring Sirrus and Achenar back into the story, the way they handled the two of them (and Yeesha) was believable, appropriate, and entirely conclusive.

In a way, they un-did the ending of Myst…and yet, in another way, they built onto it so naturally and understandably that Revelation is really a good end for Myst – the game and the series.

My Last Myst Game

When I played through Myst again several years ago (in the updated and expanded RealMyst version), I loved the Ages and the visuals as much as I always had…and left hungry to play Riven.

"Myst IV: Revelation" — Kimia Wood

A secret journal? Must read!

I re-played through Riven: The Sequel to Myst, and I loved it even more than Myst (not only is it longer and more complex, but it feels like less of the history is buried or off-screen). It also left me longing to play Myst III: Exile.

I have not yet played through Exile a second time, but I know it left me eager to try Revelation.

And now…

Part of it is the bad reviews my brother tells me about from Myst V, and part of it is…the story is complete.

I have scratched my first-person point-and-click itch. Myst created a game type never before seen…and now Revelation has brought the story and the world full-circle.

The ending is bittersweet, poignant, and appropriate. It is also, I think, The End.

(Though I already bought Obduction, which is by the same developers/writers, but set in a different universe. We’ll see how that one pans out…)

As always, I highly recommend the Universal Hints System to give you just the help you need…and no more.

In Myst IV: Revelation, the next chapter in the greatest adventure saga of all time, you’ll travel through environments pulsing with life to unearth a treacherous scheme involving two of Myst’s most sinister villains.

Find the game on GoG.com (DRM-free!), Steam (which includes DRM in their software), and on Amazon if you really need a disk (though paying over three times the price for digital download sounds ridiculous).

Wish-list it on GoG to be emailed when it goes on sale!

Dear Diary…We might be out of our depth…

After we killed the goblins, we worked to get our fallen comrades back on their feet.

Lancell is a Paladin, so he can “Lay On Hands” once a day. It helps a little bit.

Snooping around, I also found a secret stash of potions under the rack. Ezekiel decided they were healing potions and promptly quaffed one. When he didn’t turn green, or die on the spot, or start trying to eat us, Raven drank one, too.

Because of course you want healing potions under your rack to heal the people you’re torturing to death. Blah! What is wrong with some people?

Explored the rest of the second floor. Found the room where the goblins lived – it reeked of the beasties, and had sleeping mats and table and chairs too small for normal humans.

Who has been hosting goblins in the Temple of Merikka?! (Raven claims he doesn’t know.)

Opened the last door in the torture room, and spotted a small, stone room beyond – covered with scratches and weird scribbles. Felt just…off. Can’t even describe it. It wasn’t even a stench of goblins, it was just…a bad place.

Lancell and Ezekiel went first, since one is a Paladin, and one used to be a man-at-arms (he’s still got his old armor and mace). Mikael went next, the better to benefit from Lancell’s “Protection from Evil” aura. Raven was with him, and our bowmen took up the rear.

At the far end, the creepy room turned a corner. As we rounded that, a narrow hallway opened up.

When Lancell and Ezekiel neared the next bend of the corridor, our boots stopped making noise. A coin spun through the air, and hit the ground without so much as a tinkle.

“This is not good!” shouted Ezekiel, but none of us could answer him.

It was especially not good, because it hit me that this was the exact same trick the Evil priestess had pulled. You know, the one we had killed downstairs. Which meant things were about to get higher level…

Someone, or something, started attacking Lancell from around the corner. Hard to tell what it was with all my party members in the way – but he actually landed a hit on Lancell, which is impressive with Lancell’s armor and protection aura!

“Are you Abramo, Cleric of Merikka?” yelled Ezekiel.

Raven grabbed at Mikael’s sleeve and gestured to Kelsier and me to move back down the hall.

Not bad for a Monk.

Bows drawn, the archers backed up to the wall, while Raven and Mikael ducked back into the “creepy room”. Lancell and Ezekiel started backing toward us, blocking blows from a man in the robes of Merikka.

“Abramo! We are not Evil. We want to find out who is abusing the temple of Merikka,” Ezekiel shouted.

I wanted to tell Ezie to get a clue – this guy was attacking us. But no sound came out when I tried to talk.

“Raven! Talk some sense into him. Tell him we’re not enemies,” said Ezekiel.

Raven stuck his head around the corner, and shouted something to his old master…but Abramo (if that was his name) made no response, and landed an attack on Lancell.

Kelsier took aim and let fly an arrow right through our two companions, and struck gold. I love that little guy!

Our party had just about reached the wider room, where we could all attack the cleric, when suddenly he was gone.

“He’s retreating!” said Lancell (since we were far enough away from the silence spell to be able to talk).

We reformed our battle line, and headed forward again – before the evil cleric could recover himself or escape.

We crept down the passage, around another twist, and finally into what seemed to be private chambers. There was a sleeping pallet on one wall, some comfortable chairs, and a fancy-ish desk.

Oh, also some chests. All locked.

Our attacking priest had seemingly vanished.

While searching the desk, I found ugly scratches and symbols marked in the wood. Some papers on top were written over with mumblings and crazy talk.

I don’t know what it means…but it’s one more piece of the whole. The caretakers of the temple have gone off their rockers.

Ezekiel came over and found a lever that opened a door behind the desk.

We advanced into the room, only to find that the enemy cleric wasn’t there either.

There was a collection of huge, ugly stone statues – and against the far wall stood a cage and a jade statue. In the cage was a young woman.

We fanned out into the room. Kelsier tried opening one of the two chests that stood against the wall, while Ezekiel, Mikael, and Raven went to talk to the girl.

Lancell and I hung back, watching our exit and checking for where our vanishing cleric might be hiding.

Girl’s name is Cirilli. Says her family was kidnapped from the village some time ago, and smuggled north under cover of darkness to a cave system where “She” was. (Gestured at the jade statue.)

This statue is like an enormous snake with a woman’s face. Apparently it’s the “goddess” Explictica Defilas (spel.?)…Makes my hair stand up just to think of it.

Cirilli says when her family saw “Her”, they were changed – but Cirilli wasn’t…so Abramo brought her back here and locked her up. She also told us that he had just come through here and gone through the secret trapdoor behind the statue.

We finally opened the cage and gave her some of our bread, but it took Kelsier to find the mechanism for opening the trap door.

That’s when Ezekiel started in on his “vision from Ao” again.

“When you see the face of the snake, bar the gate! We have to bar the gate now!” he told us.

He’s a Good guy and all, but I really don’t know where this is heading.

He and Lancell have run down through the trapdoor to lock the temple gates. I just don’t know what’s going on.

Gonna have a party huddle in the corner while the girl eats so we can make our battle plan. Frankly, if we have to fight that Cleric again – and if he brings friends next time! – I don’t know how we’ll survive…


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Dear Diary…I had this weird dream

I don’t understand.

Last night I slept the sleep of the dead…almost literally. The only one in our party still on his feet was Kelsier.

And yet…some time, I had the strangest dream.

It was like I was awake, in the room on the second floor of the temple. My companions were around me, and the doors were blocked by benches. Then…

Then the two people showed up. One was bright, shining…so bright, like looking at the sun.

The other was a beautiful woman – older, like getting grey and stuff – but a beautiful older. And she had bread and a jug with her.

The bright, shining one came around, touching our heads. The lady set down her bread on one of the benches.

Ezekiel asked if there was some way he could serve. The shining one said, “Yes.”

Kelsier asked who they were. The shining one said, “This is her house.”

And then…well, when I woke up, I felt more rested than I have in a long time. All our wounds have been healed, too. And there was bread and a jug of water on one of the benches.

Talking with the others, sounds like they all have the same dream. Which kinda gives me goosebumps, but at the same time it’s encouraging.

We are in Merikka’s house, after all. These Evil cultists or whoever they are have been messing with her stuff, and defiling her temple with skeletons and monsters.

It is Good that we’re cleaning it out…but you know it’s encouraging when she has your back, as it were. Makes us feel more like invited guests, than like a band of vagrants looking for easy loot.

(Ezekiel is raving about his message from Ao…says he was told, “When you see the face of the snake, bar the gate.” Absurdly excited. I mean, if you’re a Cleric but you’re used to never hearing from your god, I can see that something out of the ordinary would be exciting…but really? “Face of the snake, and bar the gate”? What’s that supposed to mean?)

Well, with full stomachs (and our wounds fully restored somehow), we’re all fighting-fit and ready to clear the rest of the second floor.

Someone has been misusing Merikka’s house. No matter who it is, you shouldn’t misuse someone’s house…but especially not a goddess’.

****

Took the chance during breakfast to question the monk. Says his name is Raven, he’s been out of town for a year on family business, and has no idea why there are skeletons in the Temple of Merikka.

Sure.

Whatever the other elements of the case, he was attacking the skeletons, not us.

What can I say? I’m naturally trusting. (Also as paranoid as Old Man Griff who thought the village chief was putting potions into the well water. Because, you never know – do you?)

Moving into the rest of the temple, now.

****

Crazy.

The next door we opened led us to a small anteroom, with a couple of chairs and bottles of wine.

Smelled funny. Familiar…and stinky.

(Scolded Kelsier for trying to pocket a wine bottle…then remembered I’m wearing the late priestess’s chain-mail. Probably shouldn’t get portentous about it.)

The only door onward led to a corridor – also stinky. Beyond that was a large room.

First thing we saw (Ezekiel was in front, since he used to be a man-at-arms for the Temple of Heironeous, followed by me) was a table. Man-sized, waist-high, and covered in…well, let’s pretend it was wine. Also had leather straps attached.

Ever get that crawling sensation up your spine? Like someone’s watching you behind your back? Well, that feeling hit me right about then.

My Ranger Master used to tell me, “Trust your instincts, kid.” And then he learned more about my instincts, and anyway…

“We used to store vegetables here,” Raven was saying. “Farm produce. What on earth is going –?”

That’s when the doors crashed open, and goblins poured out of the walls, weapons drawn. I hate goblin voices. I hate goblin smells.

I also hate the way goblins dodge my arrows, the filthy little –

Mikael was in the back, where it was supposed to be “safe.” Joke’s on us. Three goblins piled on him, and left him battered in a corner while Ezekiel tried to charge in to offer support.

Kelsier, of course, started making music on his bowstring. Raven and Ezekiel started beating on goblins.

And I? I stood there, looking pretty and letting the goblins “try” to hit me. Oh, I hit a goblin back. Once. At the very end.

Yeah. I hate goblins and their short, dodge-y selves.

Things looked bad. Mikael was down; Raven the Monk was down; Ezekiel and I were both hit. We still had several goblins to deal with – and then we heard stomping and ringing and – boom! Lancell the Paladin was at the other end of the hallway, falling on the goblins from behind.

He attacked from behind the goblins that attacked us from behind! Boom.

I counted nine of the little beasties. Once they were all dead, we could draw a deep breath and bandage our companions.

Apart from the rack, an iron maiden, and several brand-new, unused coffins, there was nothing in the alleged “storeroom”. Nothing except little secret doors for admitting goblins.

Very fishy. We’re close to the heart of it all…I can smell it.

(Or maybe I’m just smelling the stink of goblins.)


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“Red Rabbit” by Tom Clancy

"Red Rabbit" by Tom Clancy — Kimia Wood A Soviet plot to assassinate the pope. A KGB communications officer trying to defect to the West. And star CIA analyst Jack Ryan, who…is there.

Tom Clancy builds his Cold War-era spy adventure slowly and deliberately…with detailed settings, in-depth character philosophizing, and realistic portraits of the mind-sets and world-views that create the situation.

Characters

Clancy’s recurring star, Jack Ryan, is a CIA analyst and teacher’s pet (and possibly the weakest character here). In fact, he does very little except agonize until the last chapter or so.

He does, however, act as a bridge. His ostensible role in the plot is as liaison between the British and American intelligence operations…and in this way, he also provides for Clancy to paint a clear and memorable picture of the differences between America and Great Britain.

A diverse cast

One of the things Clancy does with excellence is draw out the differences between different countries.

Ryan moves from America to a station in Britain, his homeland’s ally. Yet there are still so many things he must get used to: they drive on the “other” side of the road…everyone drinks tea, not coffee…words are pronounced differently (and some things are called by different names altogether)…the outlook on life is subtly shifted…even the TV shows are different (and Ryan doesn’t understand the sit-coms’ humor).

This underscores the culture shock of the Soviet “Rabbit” and his family when they flee a country of regulations, controls, and corruption to one of individual freedom. From assuming that the KGB watch and follow everyone at any and every time, to a place where you can walk onto a car dealer lot, pick out a car, pay for it, and drive away. From a nation where VHS players, bras, and nylons are luxuries snuck in through Hungary (and only affordable to the elite, like KGB officers) – to a place where they’re taken for granted, and every middle class family can afford them if they wish.

The ground-work for this change is laid with deliberate and poignant brushstrokes…perhaps slower than I would have chosen, but there’s no denying Clancy’s touch for choosing an exact turn of phrase to communicate his meaning, or for seeing to the heart of a mind-set he doesn’t hold himself and portraying it in believable philosophical prose.

This laying-bare of cultures holds the greatest value of the work.

Life Philosophies

A lot of time is spent in the different characters’ thoughts, dealing with their mental outlooks on life in minute detail.

Like the KGB chief…does he really believe in the Communist party’s rhetoric? Or does he rather believe in “power” – AKA himself?

When the communications analyst discovers that his government wants to kill the pope, what will he do? Should he blindly trust that his government knows best? Is he developing…a conscience?

What about Jack Ryan and his CIA overseers? Are they in this game for patriotism? To protect innocent people? Because the Soviets are inherently evil and must be stopped? When they hear that the pope is in danger, they debate whether they can protect him without revealing how they learned about it…because of course national security comes before the life of the head of the Catholic Church, right?

Some Complaining

Ryan’s loose Catholic faith adds an interesting dynamic, as he weighs his patriotism and religious feeling against the political concerns of his CIA bosses.

It also gives him something else to worry about, which seems to be most of what he does throughout the book.

When his bosses assign him to accompany some Brits on an operation as a CIA liaison, he freaks out and insists that he’s an analyst, not a field operative. He’s had some bad experiences with “hands-on” cases in the past…he has apparently stopped a terrorist attack in London before as a tourist (ex-Marine tourist, of course) and faced down a terrorist home invasion, but these experiences were only hinted at. Is there a different book I should have read first? Did Jack Ryan really need to be in this book at all?

His wife (an MD eye surgeon) is even more annoying – adding practically nothing to the narrative, nosing into Jack’s job even though she knows it’s secret, and nagging him for smoking/eating unhealthily. The only time her complaining seems well-founded, and actually lends sympathy to her character, is when her surgical colleagues leave a patient sedated on the operating table while they go for lunch and a pint. Remind me to never get medical care in Great Britain!

Cautions!

Clancy sometimes has trouble making it clear whose head we’re riding in, and you have to travel back through several paragraphs of mental narrative to get re-oriented.

There’s also sporadic language (including f-bombs and profanities) that seemed to get more intrusive as the book went on.

Also includes references to sex within married couples.

The Chess-man of Spy Thrillers

This book is about three-dimensional, conflicted people interacting with each other from different mental starting points. Mr. Clancy takes his time setting up all his dominoes, so that when they collide we say, “Oh, it was inevitable” as well as, “Oh, how is this going to turn out?”

If mental exercises, world-view exploration, and slow-cooking spy drama is your thing, you might enjoy Red Rabbit. I did enjoy it, but for my main spy-action reading, I prefer the bullets-and-fisticuffs of Robert Ludlum.


Red Rabbit is available on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Kobo (as paperback or audiobook), and the Book Depository (free worldwide shipping).

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Dear Diary…When life gives you skeletons…

Hand shaking so bad I can hardly hold the pen, but I don’t want to forget what happened today.

Hard to believe just last night, our whole party was limping along the road, holding each other up. After a full night’s rest at the inn (the Slumbering Serpent) and an amazing breakfast, we hashed out a plan of attack.

You see, we’d looted a chest of treasure from the cellars of the Temple of Merikka. Did I mention that? Must have been too low on blood. Well, we did – it contained a load of money, and a silver brooch.

Ezekiel the “Cleric” (hard to call him a real cleric, but he has had some education) and Lancell the Paladin (went to better schools than I did) both looked at the ring we looted off the evil priestess, and decided it wasn’t evil.

(She also had a gold snake necklace, but we didn’t trust something with a snake on it.)

So Mikael the Druid is wearing the ring. He’s about as thick around as a beanstalk, and can use all the magical assistance he can get.

Jill the Magic User was really done in by the fight. I guess pretty robes aren’t much armor against weapons. Anyway, we decided she should stay here with the chest of loot (with Lancell to guard her) while the rest of us investigated the strange goings-on in this town.

(I have the key to the chest. We’ll divvy the money up among us later, because math is hard.)

Strange Happenings

Innkeeper (Olwin? nice guy) says people have been “changing”. Like, they’ll disappear for a couple days, and then come back more hostile. Like mean, and suspicious. And then, of course, some people have disappeared completely. It seems centered on the Temple of Merikka (he says it’s not a place people should want to go – which doesn’t sound like a Lawful Good goddess!).

(By the way, his wife can cook like a dream!)

Suggested we go to the old hermit who lives in the woods behind the inn for more answers.

We went to see the hermit. Seemed suspicious of us…maybe because I couldn’t keep my big mouth shut, and spilled the whole story to him from beginning to end.

(Should’ve let Kelsier talk to him. I know he’s a Halfling, and not a pretty one at that, but once he opens his mouth people really seem to take to him. After all, he chatted up a stranger in the inn pretty well.)

Didn’t get very far with the hermit, except that something very wrong is going on in the town. Merikka is Good. So, her followers should be Good, also, right?

The whole party decided to do some more digging – starting with the abandoned house north of the inn.

We checked around (making ourselves look kinda weird peering in the boarded over windows) and decided that someone had removed all the furniture several months ago. Couldn’t find any trace of the family, or who they might have been…or where they went.

The mystery centered on the temple, so we headed there.

(Covered the party’s footsteps on the dusty floorboards of the house. Not like anyone will investigate, but it exercised my skills.)

Investigate temple!

Through the open gates of the temple, we found the bodies of our victims still strewn through the courtyard. Out of human decency (and to cover our tracks) we buried the bodies, and Ezekiel said a few fitting words.

(I guess they were fitting words. That’s outside of my line. I don’t know if Ezie’s god, Ao, actually takes charge of dead spirits. I’d never even heard of him until Ezekiel showed up, and from what I gather he – Ao – doesn’t concern himself with mortals. He’s the upper god, the one the others – like Elohnna and Merikka – supposedly serve. Feels cheeky for a human like Ezekiel to try serving him, but it’s no skin off my nose.)

Searching the courtyard got us nothing. We searched the ground floor of the temple, and found nothing except the body of the priestess we had killed (and of course our late comrade Lefty). Nothing new.

I supposed we should have been thinking, but we trooped upstairs with the Druid (Mikael) in front. The top of the stairs was a narrow room, with one door…and Mikael opened it.

Next thing I know, he’s yelling about skeletons, and white arms are hacking at him in the room beyond.

Ezekiel surged forward with his mace, while Kelsier started sending arrows into the room beyond.

Finally, I had enough of a target where I could shoot over Kelsier’s head (I’m short, but I’m still taller than a Halfling!).

Mikael hit the ground, and while Ezekiel was bandaging him, the skeletons landed a blow or two on his back. (Didn’t want Mikael to bleed out before the combat was over.) There must have been at least five of the animated monstrosities!

Kelsier dropped one after another, sending the creeps into clattering piles of dust and bone fragments – but after Ezekiel went down, I had to step forward and make the enemies focus on me.

Just as well. Sending an arrow through a spine or ribcage is a lot harder than you might think. And so is landing a sword in their vital parts.

I was cradling an injury when…

A swish of robes, a flash of Merikka’s colors, and a monk was there. Leaping over us, he threw a punch at one of the skeletons.

Attacking the skeletons.

Shortly after, I got felled to the ground. Huddled in the corner on the bodies on my companions, desperately pressing my bloody wounds, I watched the strange monk take down a skeleton or two before being pummeled to the floor.

An arrow split the last skeleton, and it crumpled to the floor in clattering shards. Kelsier joined us in the room.

I couldn’t do more than give him a triumphant smile. He’s really a tough little guy. He’s even shorter than I am, but he rearranged the benches in the room to block all the doors, and settled down to keep watch while his battered and bandaged companions slept it off.

Good thing he’s our best fighter. None of the rest of us will be moving in the near future.

Already soaked through my bandages. I hate soaked bandages.

No idea where this monk came from, but he was fighting the skeletons, and he’s currently incapacitated and unconscious on the bench.

Hope Kelsier can keep his eyes open.

Tired sleep now.


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“Never Leave Me” by Priscilla J. Krahn

"Never Leave Me" by Priscilla J. Krahn — Kimia Wood I hadn’t recently read the description blurb before I opened Never Leave Me, so I jumped into this Christian indie novella without many pre-conceived notions.

On Page 1, Amy’s dad (sole custodial parent) sweeps her from in front of the TV, across state lines, and dumps her on the doorstep of some cousins she’s never heard of, let alone met (while he flees the police).

Within the next chapter or two, the large, farm-living, “homeschooler” family has shared Jesus with her, and Amy is “born again.”

Within a chapter or two of that, we have a kidnapping, threats of violence, and hints at Amy’s dad’s dark secrets.

So…of all the “indie Christian” books I’ve read, this one probably does the best job at equally balancing raging evangelism with melodramatic adventure.

Amy

I did know this was a series before diving in (the “Adventures of Amy”, in fact). So I was perfectly ready to study Amy as a main character…and also anticipated her adventures taking longer than a single book. (Well, sort of. See below.)

However, I did struggle with the character of Amy from time to time.

What’s well done:"Never Leave Me" by Priscilla J. Krahn — Kimia Wood

Amy is just thirteen. She’s not a superhero, or a detective, or even emotionally mature. When her dad (ahem – the man she’s called Dad all her life!) snatches her away from her predictable life, and reveals on the drive that he’s a criminal, she’s realistically shocked and skeptical.

As traumatic events continue to pile on, she shows relatable signs of stress, anger, panic, and fear. At the same time, her rational side fights with her emotions as she tries to please her new Heavenly Father, and figure out what’s going on around her.

What challenged my disbelief:

Some things are foreshadowed so heavily I saw them coming several chapters before Amy finally tumbles to them.

She also exhibits fanatical devotion to her dad (except when she persuades herself to cooperate with the police).

I understand that family loyalty is complicated (which is one reason domestic abuse situations are so messy). But as a third-party, observing the situation from the outside, I saw plenty of evidence and red flags that left me sighing heavily at Amy. It was obvious to me that the man who had raised her wasn’t all he claimed to be…and while it was realistic for Amy to struggle with this, I think it needed something more.

For instance: later in the book, she reminisces about the good times they had together…piggy back rides, movies, all the things he did to demonstrate his love for her. I realize flash-backs are hard to do well, but if I were writing the story, I would have sprinkled some of those good memories into the narrative early on to remind the audience Amy is adding Dad’s current illegal behavior to his previous loving behavior…and isn’t just blinded by her own love for him.

Another niggle:

Speaking of planting things earlier…

Amy dashes out of her home with a single suitcase of clothes. But it never states what those clothes are.

About three-fourths through the book, the author drops that Amy’s wearing a skirt.

This may seem like a really weird thing to bring up, but here’s why. Amy’s seven-sibling cousin family has family meals together, does family devotions, lives on a farm…you can practically smell the Christian homeschooler on them. Thus, it is totally legit for her female cousin to wear skirts.

But worldly, “city girl” Amy?

See, when Amy is (SPOILER) being placed in foster care by a social worker, she thinks about how she’s a different girl now…after her adventures, and after coming to Jesus. She thinks she wouldn’t like the same music as she once did. She’s wearing a different clothing style now…because she doesn’t care about style and popularity anymore, but about pleasing Jesus.

Bringing these pieces together: if the author had made a bigger deal about how Amy dressed in the beginning (being careful to pack her favorite jeans; feeling weird that she’s wearing make-up, but her girl-cousin isn’t) then the change at the end (her cousin was much older than she was, but her old skirt fit Amy perfectly…) would make the character change clear to the audience from the evidence. It wouldn’t just be something the author pulls out of nowhere.

Christian Transformation

Speaking of character changes, though – Amy’s Christian transformation is pretty deep. Her dad is an atheist (and apparently her mom converted mere weeks before dying in an accident)…but after Amy “gets born again” in the early chapters, she jumps into evangelism with both feet. Within a month of her conversion, she’s led a man to the Lord, and has shared the gospel repeatedly with her relatives (and a few strangers).

Maybe…Maybe coming to Christ at four years old is a drawback. I don’t want to bare my soul too much here, but let’s say that has not been my experience. Not only was I not challenged with evangelism from Day 1 (or even Day 2), but over a year after “getting serious” about sharing my faith with others, I have yet to see a single fruit (in the form of unbelievers showing an interest).

It makes sense that someone who came to faith later in life would be more inspired with the part of Christian discipline that directly led to their conversion (AKA evangelism), and I also recognize that we have different testimonies.

This is just one of those things that’s really hard to balance. Just like real life.

Balance

I’ve read stories that were almost horrifying in the way they shoved the gospel to the forefront, at the expense of the tale they were supposed to be telling.

I’ve read stories that wore their evangelism on their sleeve – and carried it with varying degrees of success, but with no misconceptions about what kind of story they were presenting.

And then there’s this story. I don’t think it’d be overestimating to say a full half of the book is devoted to religious/Christian themes. The cousin family is deeply religious…and the need for Amy to “trust God” with her traumatic situation and let Him “keep her in perfect peace” (and perfect King James’ English) is heavily leaned on.

But there’s a lot of action layered in there, with constant kidnappings, evil uncles jumping out of cupboards, guns, child abuse, threats of violence or use of deadly force…it’s like an adrenalin junkie’s playground.

Even the ending, which is stuffed with more religious theme-izing than the rest of the book, has actual story conflict issues to keep the tension and pacing brisk.

For all the book’s missteps, the juggling act between gospel-mission and Impossible-Mission is pretty well-handled.

Cliffhanger!

(I could make you all wait until the next review to see where I was going with this…but that would be really dumb! :D)

I knew this was a series. I fully understood that further adventures were in the wings. And yet…

I mentioned briefly how Amy was such a bad deducer (or the clues were laid on so thick) that the plot twists could be seen a mile off.

Thus, I felt a certain story element was so heavily hinted as to be a foregone conclusion…but the book ends before I could see if I was right!

Not only does the book have a kind of unhappy ending, but if I really wanted to see the resolution of that plot-thread, I have to get the other book(s)!

Blah! Don’t the foolish mortals realize I never pay for anything if I can help it? Why should an author want to eat off their earnings? In vengeance, I shall wreck havoc with their review rating –!

Anyway.

I know about the pitfalls of balancing a series-wide story arc with stand-alone installments. I wrestled with the same thing in the White Mesa Chronicles. In this instance, though, I felt disappointed that something had been so built up, just to have it unresolved at the end.

While I’m complaining…

The professionalism of the book was pretty good. Only towards the end (call it the last fourth of the book) did the copy-editing slip, and petty things like typos and word choice crept into the text.

The author does note at the end that this is the first book she wrote — and it’s pretty good for a first book! My own first publication is not mentioned on my online presence…

Incidentally, for some weird reason, the PDF copy I had went cray-cray on my Nook…and used two different fonts (and size of fonts) on the same page – usually within the same paragraph or sentence! Reading it in the programs on my computer, though, had no issues.

TL;DR

If this really was too long, and you didn’t read it, how did you get all the way down here?

The balance of pulse-pounding action and shameless evangelism was one of the best I’ve ever seen. The characters (especially the main character) were a little clueless. Even the villains had one-track minds…but who expects villains to be rational?

Pick it up, support a young, independent, Christian author, and form your own opinion!


"Never Leave Me" by Priscilla J. Krahn — Kimia WoodDISCLAIMER: I received a FREE copy of Never Leave Me for participating in the November 2017 Indie Christian Book Sale. I was not required to write a review of any kind, and all opinions are my own personal opinions.

You can find out more about the author on her website – PriscillaJKrahn.com – or in my interview with her here on the blog!

Never Leave Me is available on Amazon.

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