Though it’s been a while since I’ve done a round-up of my recent work, that’s not for lack of writing. I’ve got a couple of reviews, a retrospective of a video game I’ve been waiting to play for over 20 years, and a round up of books perfect for fans of Japanese RPGs.
Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law is one of the 21st centuries best epic fantasy trilogies. His latest, A Little Hatred, is a worthy start to a new trilogy set a generation after Last Argument of Kings. It’ll no doubt be one of the biggest fantasy releases of the year and will appeal to longtime Abercrombie fans and newcomers alike.
At a macro level, A Little Hatred is a book about how society adapts and reacts, sometimes violently, to change. As industry rises in Adua, it’s impossible to escape Abercrombie’s thorough consideration of labour issues and the rise of capitalism. Savine is a bloodthirsty financier whose money winds throughout the city. As unrest grows among the commoners, who are rapidly losing their livelihood to the advent of more efficient machinery, she becomes caught up is labyrinthine plots involving actors from every corner of the socio-economic spectrum.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum is recent Hugo Award winner Alix E. Harrow’s beautiful debut, The Ten Thousand Doors of January.
In the reading, the novel echoes many revered works of fantasy. Like Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind, it’s a love letter to books. It examines how seemingly disparate lives can be profoundly connected in ways that recall Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife (though Harrow’s star-crossed lovers unite across universes instead of time). As Adelaide stepped through a strange doorway and discovered the City of Nin and its vast archipelago world, I thought of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea adventures. For a story about stories, it feels perfect that so many of The Ten Thousand Doors of January‘s foundational elements are evocative of some of my very favorite novels.
Over at Uncanny Magazine, I have a retrospective review of Trials of Mana for the Nintendo Switch that examines nostalgia through the lens of retro video games. What’s it like to finally catch your white whale, but walk away disappointed?
At the time of its release, Trials of Mana impressively built on the foundations laid by its predecessors—refining the party-of-three system, realizing an even more beautiful and varied world, allowing for more customization than ever, non-linear narrative, and quest design—but 25 years of hindsight makes the cost of that progress obvious. In its imperfections, you can begin to see the unravelling of the Mana franchise (clunky combat, over-reliance on poorly designed systems, emphasis on graphics over gameplay). There’s no perfect Mana game, and that includes Trials of Mana, which is buoyed in reputation by its former scarcity, placed on a pedestal by western gamers who revered its existence as some sort of gaming holy grail.
And, last but certainly not least, I’m continuing my journey down the retro JRPG rabbit hole on the Barnes & Noble SFF Blog where I’ve gathered 13 terrific novels that will scratch your JRPG itch.
You’re not alone if Final Fantasy VII was your first gaming experience with an unreliable narrator. The classic PlayStation game created a huge uptick in popularity for the RPG genre in the ’90s, and many new players had never tackled a game with such a psychologically complex story. Cloud’s altered and misremembered origins are at the center of the epic plot, and millions of gamers were left shocked when they found out the truth about the past he’d been hiding from them. Like Final Fantasy VII, one of the most interesting aspects of Patrick Rothfuss’s popular Kingkiller Chronicles is the way you can never quite trust what narrator and protagonist Kvothe is telling you. Will he turn out like Cloud in the end? Or something entirely different?