Review: The Seven

Hopefully the last in my “god damnit, reviewing the last book in a trilogy without spoiling anything” series for a little bit, but I got a chance to chew through the final book in Peter Newman’s The Vagrant universe.

154643-FCX.jpgI’ve mentioned in my reviews of his previous books, but I really like Newman’s naming conventions. It reminds me a little bit of a less esoteric Gene Wolfe, and it gives you perfect mental pictures of these things that continue to exist in a post-apocalyptic, dying, war-wracked planet.

Throughout the rest of his trilogy, we’ve seen that turned on the demonic denizens of the setting. See, long, long before the books starts, a giant Breach opens up and infernal beings begin to pour out of it onto our world, an alien world for them. They can barely exist in our atmosphere, and they have to repurpose human beings and other living things as what amounts to space suits. They also leak Essence, a kind of soul-stuff that warps and changes anything it touches, turning some people into Tainted – an entirely new species, or several species loosely unified by their new, otherworldly heritage. I’ve mentioned the Knights of Jade and Ash before, and they’re joined by things like The Man-Shape, the Backwards Child, the living city-state of Wonderland, and many more.

The Seven, capping of the trilogy, finally explores the holy empire that has spent the series opposing these invaders. We’ve gotten glimpses of it before, usually as characters rush past it into the wilderness or return from that wilderness to rest, but here we get not only a tour of the place, but a deeper exploration of its religious practices, its leadership, and its history.

Now, admittedly, in-universe historical lore is a major weakness of mine. I’m the kind of broke-brained nerd who reads The Silmarillion on a yearly basis for fun and who used to sit around reading old D&D manuals for the fluff blurbs. So this feels like it was made for me, finally providing exposition in a setting that has only shown its past through the cracks.

We’ve gotten hints in the previous books that the empire is not necessarily a pleasant place to live, only looking like a shining city on the hill by sheer virtue of not being beset by infernal creatures from another world 24/7. But as the other two books in the trilogy started pointing out that while the world is dangerous, people are not only living but living in harmony with the invaders in a lot of places, I did start to wonder just how wholesome the empire was and how is was staying so “pure.”

Confirming my suspicions, this is very much a story about the concept of paladins and angels taken to their logical extreme. The forces of Order go far enough in one direction to become an authoritarian state governed by an absolute theological institution. But they’re not necessarily evil, or fascist, like I was expecting. They’re a lot deeper than that. Their history stretches further back than you’d ever guess, and the titular Seven have a backstory that is layered in tragedy and triumphs, making you feel sympathetic for the state as a whole even as it starts to perpetuate atrocities. This is not a setting that’s had particularly sympathetic villains before, and it fills a nice gap. Hell, they’re barely villains past a certain point. I’m not going to spoil it, but I went from rolling my eyes and going “oh good, Nazi angel robots” to taking that back very quickly as I read.

Villains obviously can’t push the whole story along themselves, so I should talk about our heroes here too, our protagonists. We finally, finally get to see Vesper and the Vagrant as equals, fighting alongside one another, uniting the disparate themes and narrative styles of the trilogy. Vesper’s chapters are chatty, and whimsical, and full of the optimism that defined The Malice, while the Vagrant’s chapters are a throwback to the first book – minimal dialogue as countless enemies fall before this dying earth Man with No Name and a big, fire-spurting, singing sword. They’re surrounded by a cast that balances their extremes out and provides a more human element to the place, given that at this point in the story they are basically immortal fighting machines that can carve through enemies by the dozen and withstand railgun blasts to the face.

Not to say that it ever gets boring or loses tension, because while those two are functionally immortal, the people around them and the communities they’re protecting may as well be made of wet tissue paper for how vulnerable they are to the predations of this very angry, righteous crusade.

I think that overall the first book of the trilogy remains my favorite, but I’m glad that Newman wrote the two followups to explore the world some more and fill in all the corners and the gaps. It never felt stretched out or padded, or just written for the sake of infodumps, and like the last book I reviewed it makes me want to go back and re-read the earlier stuff with a deeper understanding of why the different parts are moving as they do.

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Review: City of Miracles

So.

This is the third book of a trilogy. It’s loosely connected to events in the second book, and is a direct sequel to the first book, and to those of you who haven’t read either of them, I’m going to try really hard not to spoil anything from the series as a whole.

The Divine Cities novels have become one of my favorite ongoing series, and I consider them doubly impressive for having not been planned as a series. City of Stairs was a great standalone that got expanded into the foundation for further stories, and I think it’s a testament to the author’s skill that he was able to go back and retroactively turn one-offs from that first novel into foreshadowing for future books. It’s like the inverse of the usual tragic genre tale of the author who ends up sucked into an endless, plodding doorstopper machine and starts churning out books where the cast of characters you once loved now spend 600 pages walking three miles to pad space between the “event” stories.

City-of-Miracles_Final.jpgI digress, though. I like the Divine Cities because they present a world that isn’t heavily rooted in any real world mythology, but takes disparate elements of pantheons from Hindu, Slavic and a variety of other stories and uses them to craft a surprisingly delicate tale about colonialism, revenge, family and more.

If City of Stairs was about the ethical fallout of a successful coup and just how far the once-oppressed could push things before they became actual oppressors (can you be morally justified in wiping out another culture if that very culture contained actual magical spells and miracles that once wiped out your people by the thousands and could do so in the future?), and City of Blades dealt with what amounts to veterans of a literal holy war left with no support after their god has been slain and their afterlife sucked into oblivion, City of Miracles is about children and different kinds of familial ties.

Something I like about the world of this series is that it is actually allowed to advance. Stairs presented a world that had elements of late 19th and early 20th century technology and cultural baggage, and by the time of this third book we have a roaring 1930s-40s metropolis and a place where technology has nearly outpaced the miraculous magic that once shaped the world. The City of Stairs itself feels much less impressive and downright dull compared to a place of gleaming skyscrapers and air-trams. You don’t see magic in direct competition with it, but attempting to coexist with it, which is a nice break from the everpresent fantasy versus technology that dominates much of the genre.

Speaking of nice breaks from the norm, something I love about these books is that the protagonists are very rarely good at fighting. You’ve got a cast of the young and inexperienced or the old and aching. Even in this book, arguably the one with the most battle-hardened protagonist of the lot, most of the fights are handled cleverly. There’s not bareknuckle brawling, there’s a lot of setting traps, creeping around, playing the odds, and bemoaning that the best laid plans often end with something blowing up and hoping that the shrapnel doesn’t fly the wrong way.

I think my only complaint about the book is that it’s so action-heavy compared to the prior mysteries. It’s filtered through the lens of someone who solves his problems through violence, and that makes the writing rather blunt and brutal. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, and I still enjoyed it, but it was a bit of a departure from the more measured investigations of the first two novels. That’s not to say he’s some kind of berserker, it’s just that his particular skillset is lacking what added tension to the struggles of his predecessors. Even with that niggling issue, it pays off in the end with a series of rapid-fire revelations that make me certain I’ll enjoy it much more on re-reads. Hell, it makes me want to re-read the entire trilogy from start to finish and see what other foreshadowing I can find, which is pretty damn good for a novel that was the result of the author’s agent essentially talking him into continuing within the setting when he’d only planned out one book set there to begin with.

It’s the kind of trilogy where I’m perfectly okay with it ending where it ended, but I wouldn’t feel like he was trying to milk it dry if he continued with another few books. The cool thing about tackling elements of classical mythology from the angle of “what if the gods got brutally murdered a few generations back” is that there are so many of those elements floating around to experiment with. We’ve seen magical beasts, afterlives, covenants, demigods and more, and there’s a boundless expanse to continue mining before you ever start to repeat the same themes.

Grief and the Dreaming

What was supposed to be an overnight vet visit to stabilize some low blood pressure readings became something of an emergency situation, which at midnight last Sunday became a very difficult decision we had to make.

Chloe, my wife’s beloved cat of 15 years went to sleep that night and didn’t wake up, and now our house feels very empty and in want of a small, inquisitive face peering out from the shadows or from some corner of the back garden.

It was a pretty good death, all things considered. She was at a point where she was only going to get worse as the night went on, but she was awake and tired and aware of her people around her, giving her gentle pats as she got to close her eyes and nod off. It’s the kind of passing I wouldn’t mind for myself one day. It was a case of making all the right decisions, as the vets confirmed for us, but life throwing a wrench in the works at the last second. The initial prediction of 4-5 months wasn’t wrong because it wasn’t the initial illnesses that got to her, it was a random bug that hit her weakened immune system and caused a chain reaction. There’s nothing we could have done, even if we had tried different treatments earlier this probably still would have happened.

Strangely, all the logic and rational thinking in the world doesn’t make it any less painful.

I feel worse for my wife than I do for me, obviously. I was only in this cat’s life for a little over a year, she’s had her for nearly half her life and their bond is as strong as any mother and daughter you could name. She’s holding it together much better than I would have anticipated, and we’re both acknowledging that there’s no one at fault but nature, and after a week the pangs are still sharp but not enough to leave someone bedridden with grief.

It’s really weird how different people process it, though. Personality-wise we’re definitely in the opposites attracting category, and beyond the shared interest in keeping ourselves distracted with movies, and television, and books, it’s tackled in such different ways. She’s grieving in what I would definitely call a normal way, how I’d expect someone to grieve for a lost pet.

I find myself thinking back on a page from the very end of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics where Shakespeare is lambasting Morpheus. Earlier they had made a deal that the latter would help the former become a world-changing playwright, and at the end of his life William is coming to understand the repercussions of that deal:

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I saw Gaiman speak a little while back and he talked about how he’s always had a hard time with processing grief, because it’s filtered through a lens of wanting to capture exactly how it feels, how to put that down on paper, how to make other people feel it by reading those words as a shared grieving, a way of forcing empathy and emotional connection and drawing the reader in. He mentioned that he felt that way when Terry Pratchett passed away; the immediate shock, followed by turning inside and carefully documenting that shock and the following emotions as they happened, adding them to a toolbox to be pulled out later if necessary.

I totally get that. I’ve never heard someone so accurately describe how I experience mourning. I’m sure part of it is the toxic guy “bury-your-feelings” process I grew up surrounded by, but my immediate response to feeling so awful is to try and figure out how I would translate that to a piece of fiction, locking it away not because I view the emotions as shameful or bad, but because someday I might want to write a scene where I want to evoke the same kind of feeling.

It seems to be a running theme with writers both professional and hobbyist, but it feels strange to examine it and to be aware of that routine even as it’s running.

On the plus side, it kind of frees me up to help with others whose grief is rawer and more immediate, which I view as a blessing. If I can take that step back and observe even my own sorrow as a bit of a third party, it means I can take care of things that can’t be stopped just because we’re mourning.

We’ve started idly looking at other cats now. We’re not in any rush to adopt, but neither of us has been in a no-pet household for more than a couple of months. It would be unfair to “replace” a member of the family because you then project a lot of expectations on the new adoptee, and we’re both hyperaware of that, but we also find ourselves in a position where we could do something like adopt bonded pairs that might have more trouble finding homes, or black cats that have a notoriously difficult time due to lingering superstition, or eventually even a puppy that we wouldn’t have been able to get with an elderly and then fragile cat. So from these particular ashes we’re certain a Phoenix will rise and we’ll move on, just with new scars for us.

 

Cats, Beaches, Television

SO, as I alluded to in my prior post, things have been pretty busy in my small corner of the world.

There have been two big events in our household over the last month, one good and one bad.

The good thing is that I got brought on as a full time employee at what had been my temp assignment that kept getting extended, which is a huge weight off my shoulders, and very exciting. I have successfully tricked enough people into thinking I know more than I actually do, which is really, really funny because the basis for it is tragically nerdy. I am doing data as someone who has historically sucked at math and numbers (which is one of the many reasons I took refuge in English and History and a sprinkling of Psychology in college) and 90% of my successes at the office draw from having minmaxed video game stuff. Looking at analytics? I basically treat it like I’m going through damage meters in an MMORPG and trying to find the reason for gaps in different sequences. On the money side of things it’s from resource management in strategy games and looking at sustainable incoming-outgoing levels.

So, you know, if there are any wayward teenagers in your life who seem to be playing too many video games or D&D or what-have-you, it might actually be applicable later in life even if they don’t want to be throwing it on their official resume.

Outside of that, my wife’s cat has fallen quite ill. Well, our cat now, really, but my wife has had her for over a decade and a half while I’ve only been in her life for a couple of years, so she takes precedence there. A few weeks ago she went badly off her food and was acting quite sullen and sick, so we took her to the vet for a check up. The check up spiraled into a multi-day stay as they tried to figure out if it was kidney disease (a death sentence) or lymphoma (a slightly slower death sentence).

It has turned out to be both. The kidney disease is somewhat manageable–you can slow its severity–with dietary changes which we’ve begun to implement, but the lymphoma is kind of a… hard cap on how long she has. There was the option of treating her with chemotherapy, but in a best case scenario that would be seven months of her being absolutely miserable, us not being able to pet or hold her, her feeling achy and sick the entire time. She’s already an eighteen year old cat on top of that, so for all we know we might be making her miserable for seven months only to get one good month afterwards. What we’re doing instead is essentially palliative care, or kitty hospice. She’s on a daily dose of prednisone to keep any potential pain in check and to stimulate her appetite and her desire to drink, since the lymphoma might make her too nauseated to eat enough, and the kidney food is different than what she’s eaten before even as we slowly wean her onto it. She’s fairly stable now, and the vet thinks we could get up to half a year of “normal” lifestyle out of her before one of the diseases becomes too advanced to manage, and then… well, we make that decision when we come to it, but both of us have lost pets before and we know the drill, even if it’s going to feel awful.

But for now she’s quite perky, eating regularly, cuddling in the mornings and evenings, and spending a lot of time sunning herself in the garden.

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Our coping mechanisms of choice, outside of doting on her until she gets fed up with the attention, have been trying to spend more time out at the beach together before the weather gets too cold, and catching up on a backlog of television shows we’ve been meaning to watch since forever.

We finally finished Twin Peaks a couple of weeks back, this being my… ninth or tenth time through, I think, and my wife’s first. She liked it enough that she helped me design the Dale Cooper tattoo I’m actually about to go get two and a half hours from now.

We also watched Legion religiously up until its finale the other week. Probably my favorite show since Hannibal was cruelly taken from me. I seriously can’t think of any way to talk about it without spoiling it, since the entire show is dense with tidbits that become huge things, but it’s the kind of show I could recommend to anyone. It’s a superhero show that doesn’t require you to like superheroes, it has enough X-Men easter eggs to keep a fan happy while being separate enough that you won’t feel lost if you’ve never picked up an X-Men comic before. The acting is top notch, the music is amazing, and the visuals are like someone has hooked up several different feeds into your brain and is overloading it.

We’re almost done with The Expanse, or as I like to call it, the Amos Hour of Power this season. I’ve read the books a few times through over the years but they’ve managed to throw in enough twists and turns to keep me on my toes, to the point where I wish the Game of Thrones showrunners had taken more of this kind of approach to their material.

We just finished Stranger Things last night, even though I knew I’d love it since the first trailer came out we just never found time to watch it together while we were living in opposite time zones, and then it fell off the radar after I moved. It’s glorious, though, and manages to make me feel genuine nostalgia for a time a couple of years before I was even born.

Currently I am marathoning my way through Orphan Black, which, again, I knew I’d love but never had the time to sit down and watch. I started Thursday night and I’m just on the last episode of season 1 now, so I’m pretty sure I can get through the whole thing by the end of Easter weekend.

So yeah, that is the state of things right now. I have a giant pile of books to review over the next couple of weeks, and a ton of historical tomes I picked up at the library that I also need to delve into on top of that.

Review: The Malice

First of all, apologies for being scarce on the reviews lately. I have actually been churning through a ton of books I want to talk about, but it’s been a fairly hectic month and in what little free time I have outside of reading, I’ve been prioritizing my writing. I’ll do a life blog thing later on to go into some detail.

But the most recent book I read, I really want to talk about and hopefully get some people interested in.

26160162.jpgI am talking about Peter Newman’s The Malice. It is the second book in his The Vagrant trilogy, and a wonderful book. I read and reviewed The Vagrant earlier this year and a lot of what I said about that book held true here.

I have mentioned before, but I think Newman has a gift with naming things. You would think this kind of gift would be common in fantasy and science fiction where you’re kind of making things up wholesale and need to come up with a descriptor for them, to get across certain concepts, tones and ideas to people who would never encounter them in real life. It is not common at all, and in fact I find it a major failing of a lot of fantasy in particular. Occasionally you get actual mad geniuses like Gene Wolfe spewing out beautiful prose that requires you to go digging through esoteric thesauruses to figure out what the hell he means. Elsewhere on the sliding scale you have someone like China Mieville who uses grotesque and bizarre word combinations to put uncomfortable images into your head (I will never forget reading about the limb-farms and bile-tanks of the Grindylow in The Scar).

Newman utilizes elements of both. He plays with words that don’t typically go together, and makes them work, makes you think of very disparate things and how they might physically appear or influence the tone of an object or a person.

To wit, one of my favorite things he’s come up with is a group called the Knights of Jade and Ash. I just love the taste of those words together. You don’t often find jade in the company of ash, so what on earth has drawn these two words into a singular troupe? He’s fairly sparse with his descriptions, too, so you can fill in the blanks with your imagination.

The story is a nearly textbook bildungsroman as a young girl named Vesper inherits a very dangerous weapon from her father and begins a long trek to grow as a person, a warrior and a savior (or destroyer) of a world threatened by a massive cyst in reality known as the Breach.

Honestly, a lot of the good I have to say mirrors my thoughts on The Vagrant itself, but I think this book does a bit better than its predecessor. This may be by virtue of featuring a talking protagonist, someone who has to grow and change quite a bit, instead of favoring the ronin motif of the first book. I love the Vagrant himself as a character but past a certain point you kind of knew what was going to happen; he’d be surrounded, forced into a fight, and he would decimate his foes in a beautiful, almost lyrically-written fight sequence. Vesper starts off as someone who is a bit more pure, a bit more naive in the ways of the world, but still very much willing to throw down like her old man.

I must also admit a weakness for enchanted blades, and The Malice itself is a delight. It’s explored far more thoroughly here than it was in the first book. You learn a bit about its history, its powers, its potential. It’s a scary holy weapon that will turn on you if you falter or show weakness, or will get you killed spurring you into a crusade that your body cannot yet handle. I don’t see cursed “good” swords very often; usually they’re straightforward in trading your soul, your blood or your friends for fighting prowess. Here, on the other hand, is a blade so driven to fight the forces of the abyss that it will turn you into a monster in pursuit of this divine task. The descriptions of it are brilliant too, I love the eye-pommel and the twitching wings that make up its crossguard, and the…

Well, you’ll have to read on to see what else, I hate spoiling.

All that said, definitely start with the first one. There’s a nice little catch-me-up section at the very beginning here but you’re losing a ton of context and brilliant worldbuilding if you dive in midway, even if the story will make a rough kind of sense.

Review: The Djinn Falls in Love (And Other Stories)

I love genies, or djinn, or jinn, about as far back as I can remember. I think my first exposure to them was an extremely child-friendly edition of 1001 Arabian Nights and the original Aladdin (which was set in China (written by a Muslim guy to look exactly like an Islamic city (which is how you get characters like the Sultan of China))) that kept out a lot of the more gruesome elements. Then, of course, there was the Disney version that came out when I was about 7 years old. and is one of the first films I remember seeing at the theater. In my teens I stumbled upon Neil Gaiman, who took a much more adult approach and delved into some of the background of the race.

They’re fascinating to me because they are completely unlike anything else I’ve encountered in mythological studies. They’re a supernatural race that isn’t an existential threat, or an enemy of the regional god, or demigods themselves. They’re more like our half-remembered brothers and sisters. We were made of clay and dirt, they were made of fire and shadow. We were given the oases and fields, they were given the dark places and the glass palaces hidden in desert mirages. We see each other out the corners of our eyes sometimes. In many places where the djinn legends are prominent, they follow the same religion as the human cultures, complete with prayer rugs and singing. Even the most basic description of them from the old texts, men made of smokeless fire, is something I’ve always found evocative and striking.

I like that just like people, they aren’t good or bad by nature, they have free will and can choose to use it in the way they wish. You get good djinn who do bad things, bad djinn who do good things, and neutral ones who simply want to be left alone, just like you see in humanity.

51s9+SWaZ6L.jpgThe new anthology The Djinn Falls in Love manages to capture so many aspects of what I love about the dense and intricate folklore of these beings. I don’t think that such a thing could have been captured outside of a collection like this, because the djinn are so diverse that you need many stories to explore their many facets.

It opens up with possibly my favorite story of the book, a tale about a boy who stumbles into his mosque to find it inhabited by a congregation of strangers with flame-red hair who all fall through their prayer rugs at the end of the service, and goes from there. You have everything from mysteries, to love stories, to military thrillers to horror. Often these genres are mixed up and you’ll find several in the same story, which is tremendously fitting for the subject matter at play here.

It’s one of those anthologies where I liked some stories more than others, but I didn’t dislike any of them. If I were to re-read it I don’t think I’d skip around to favorites.

I was very appreciative of how accessible the stories were. There are some books I don’t recommend to friends unless they’re also into reading a lot of the weird and esoteric stuff I do, and like stories that require you to have a bit of that background. You could walk into this not knowing anything about the djinn and walk out with a good understanding of just how diverse the folklore around them is.

I also like how many new authors it introduced me to. Of course Gaiman’s story from American Gods still holds up remarkably well (and feels even more relevant in today’s world of immigrant and refugee crises), and Nnedi Okorafor’s delving into African djinn legends was fascinating, but I ended up with a big to-read list based on the entries of some authors I’d never heard of before. Sami Shah’s REAP is one of the creepier pieces I’ve read in awhile and I would read an entire novel set in the military-horror setting he’s created. Sophia Al-Maria’s Righteous Guide is equally creepy for entirely different reasons and doesn’t shy away from exploring the repression of women in many of these regions, and the interplay between the idea of djinn possession and female sexuality for some of the more superstitious. E.J. Swift’s Jinn Hunter’s Apprentice grabbed me way harder than I would have expected; space opera did not seem like a logical place to start exploring djinn magic but there you go.

Not all of the stories will make you feel good, but all of them will definitely make you think and give you an appreciation for an element of folklore and mythology that often doesn’t show up in western fiction unless it’s been scoured clean and bowdlerized beyond recognition.

Review: Torment – Tides of Numenera

You wake up plummeting towards the ground in a cocoon. It’s slowly shredded away from your body to reveal a vast crystalline dome below you and a collapsing moon above you, and you have no idea who you are or what is happening. You accelerate and black out just before impact, and reawaken on a vast platform of mirrors and obsidian, studded with glowing orbs. When you touch them, they pour forgotten memories into your mind, everything from underwater cities to ancient castles. Each new memory awakens latent skills that your body still knows even if your mind can’t make sense of them.

But something is stalking you through your own mind, a tumor made of smoke and teeth, and it’s closing in fast. Spectral figures emerge from the very landscape to try and help, but they end up as food for the creature that you only hazily remember as The Sorrow, and as it closes in on you, you manage to force yourself out of your unconscious and back into your twisted, mangled body.

You’re lying on the floor of a rotting laboratory next to a crystal sarcophagus, watched by a man covered in living tattoos and a woman surrounded by dozens of ghosts that look exactly like her. They think you might be a God.

Thus begins Torment: Tides of Numenera.

That was about five minutes. Over the next several hours it gets significantly weirder.

I love almost everything about this game. I backed it way back when the kickstarter began around 2013 and grit my teeth through almost half a decade of delays, because I played Planescape: Torment back when I was 14 and I would give anything to capture some of the awe that game inspired in me.

As the spiritual successor, with a lot of the same staff and a similar design philosophy, this game is so good. Of the recent old school RPGs to come out (Pillars of Eternity, Tyranny) this is probably my favorite.

04ad676271fd34f4cdcd4f49df31299a.jpgThe setting is to die for. It’s purestrain Monte Cook. He lists his major influences in creating it as the art of Moebius, and the writings of Jack Vance, Michael Moorcock and and Gene Wolfe. It’s a world one billion years from now where eight great civilizations have risen and fallen on the bones of their predecessors, littering the dying planet with technology so alien that it’s practically magical. The Ninth Age has just hit the feudal era, and sword-wielding knights coexist alongside “mages” who can control ancient nanomachines to cast spells, and rogues who are more like cyberpunk hackers than medieval thieves. Every area you explore oozes personality and thousands of tiny details to look through. I bought the pen and paper game ages ago but the translation to video game as a medium is perfect.

This is the first game in ages where my initial playthrough hasn’t been a warrior/fighter type. I’ve been playing as a Jack, the rogue class, a literal jack-of-all-trades and homage to Jack Vance’s influence on the genre. You learn a little bit of everything and can talk your way out of practically any conflict. In hours of playing I have had one tutorial fight and managed to manipulate or sweet talk my way past any other show of arms. It’s almost like playing through a novel, with well-written branching dialogue and a ton of replay-ability evident even in the midst of my first go.

If I have any complaints, it’s that what I did see of the combat feels incredibly clunky. I don’t know that I’d enjoy a fighter character unless a large part of that was using intimidation checks to avoid fighting people, ironically enough. But the game really does throw a lot of options at you; my Jack is often presented with the ability to turn enemies against one another, or make myself into their ally, or simply misdirect their wrath somewhere off the screen. I could easily see a nano-wizard being able to scan their minds and influence them that way, or a grizzled glaive warrior scaring a bunch of wasteland scavengers off just by unsheathing his giant blade and grimacing at them.

It’s not quite as good as Planescape: Torment, but PST is honestly one of my gold standard games when it comes to writing. Even pushing aside the heady nostalgia factor, it just has a borderline-perfect cast of characters, every single action you take has weight behind it, and it works within one of my favorite fantasy settings ever. Numenera is young compared to Planescape, and this Torment game has a lot to live up to, but absolutely an A+ for effort and something I can advocate buying at full price, because if you like good storytelling you’ll probably get at least 2-3 replays out of it and that comes out to 60, 70 hours or so.