Giveaway! The World of the End

UPDATE 7-1-13:

Thank you to everyone that responded to the giveaway we had for THE WORLD OF THE END  by Ofir Touché Gafla.  It was an incredibly strong response, but there can only be one winner. Randomness has chosen the winner:

Shane O'Neil

Congrats! We hope you enjoy the novel (it will go out in the mail shortly). As for those of you who did not win, have no fear, there will be another giveaway soon!


We don't do giveaways here at Elitist Book Reviews often. It's not something we are proud of, so here we are, rectifying that particular issue.

Up for grabs today is a copy of THE WORLD OF THE END by Ofir Touché Gafla. We've not yet had a chance to review it, but that has no bearing on us giving out a free book!

Here's the blurb from

As an epilogist, Ben Mendelssohn appreciates an unexpected ending. But when that denouement is the untimely demise of his beloved wife, Ben is incapable of coping. Marian was more than his life partner; she was the fiber that held together all that he is. And Ben is willing to do anything, even enter the unknown beyond, if it means a chance to be with her again.

One bullet to the brain later, Ben is in the Other World, where he discovers a vast and curiously secular existence utterly unlike anything he could have imagined: a realm of sprawling cities where the deceased of every age live an eternal second life, and where forests of family trees are tended by mysterious humans who never lived in the previous world. But Ben cannot find Marian.

Desperate for a reunion, he enlists an unconventional afterlife investigator to track her down, little knowing that his search is entangled in events that continue to unfold in the world of the living. It is a search that confronts Ben with one heart-rending shock after another; with the best and worst of human nature; with the resilience and fragility of love; and with truths that will haunt him through eternity

This sounds like something a good chunk of our readers here at EBR could definitely go for. The rules for this giveaway are simple:
1) US residents only. Sorry, them's the rules.
2) Email us at elitistbookreviews[at]gmail[dot]com with your mailing address and we'll pick a winner at random and have the book shipped to you.

Good luck! And as always, keep on reading!

...speaking of reading, here's a link to the first chapter of Gafla's THE WORLD OF THE END for your enjoyment:



I've been suffering a bit of a reading slump of late. I've got plenty of awesome material to pick from and a complete and utter lack of motivation to read. Maybe it's the summer heat? Regardless, NEXUS by Ramez Naam has shattered that lethargy and cleansed it in napalm. Optioned for a film by Paramount and Darren Aronofsky, NEXUS is probably the best book of 2012 that I've read in 2013. It's a perfect summer beach read, a stimulating near-future thriller loaded with equal amounts action and speculation. NEXUS offers human characters, real (scary) science, and deep ethical dilemmas. This fiction debut is the contemporary evolution of cyberpunk: the future isn't about virtual reality but augmented reality. Pardon my drooling, I had a blast reading this.

Here's the Amazon blurb:

In the near future, the experimental nano-drug Nexus can link humans together, mind to mind. There are some who want to improve it. There are some who want to eradicate it. And there are others who just want to exploit it.

When a young scientist is caught improving Nexus, he's thrust over his head into a world of danger and international espionage - for there is far more at stake than anyone realizes.
From the halls of academe to the halls of power, from the headquarters of an elite US agency in Washington DC to a secret lab beneath a top university in Shanghai, from the underground parties of San Francisco to the illegal biotech markets of Bangkok, from an international neuroscience conference to a remote monastery in the mountains of Thailand - Nexus is a thrill ride through a future on the brink of explosion.

Asked to describe NEXUS in as few words as possible I might call to comparison movies like THE MATRIX, LIMITLESS, or even TERMINATOR. I might also mention video games such as DEUS EX and the upcoming WATCHDOGS. None of these would provide the ideal essence of NEXUS, but each does contain a common cable connected to the techno-thriller super computer that is NEXUS. A long time ago I read Michael Crichton's PREY, a cautionary tale of the dangers of nanotech. Though Naam keeps the scientific lingo to accessible levels for the average reader, I consider NEXUS to be a far more disturbing novel in terms of plausibility and the implications of the applied science. Crichton posed a theory to what happens when tiny little death robots go haywire. Naam asks what happens if we inject them into our heads and use them to ascend to a greater state of being.

Nexus 5, the creation of our protagonist Kaden Lane, is cool. With the help of his friend Rangan, Kaden has turned a pseudo-drug into a platform that can operate software inside the brain. This capability is demonstrated in a number of ways, from a hilarious sexual misadventure to a stress reducing program and even a Bruce Lee inspired combat simulation. You know what they say, "There's an app for that." The possibilities are endless but so is the potential for abuse. Nexus 3, the last known iteration of the drug, is banned around the world and in the United States the Emerging Risks Directorate of the Department of Homeland Security actively hunts those that would manufacture and distribute it. Nexus 5 poses a threat to the safety of humanity and Agent Samantha Cataranes is determined to shut it down.

NEXUS is driven by two very different protagonists with conflicting beliefs. Kaden Lane, is naive and sheltered. He is an incredibly intelligent young scientist with a desire to connect humans at a greater level. Samantha Cataranes is a tough but damages Federal agent. Her body features upgrades that turn her into a living, breathing weapon but she is haunted by the events of her past. Samantha has a very credible reason for fearing the progress of technology and wanting to fight those that would use it for evil. The combination of Kaden's idealism and Sam's pragmatism makes for a compelling read. Other viewpoints are brought into the fold along the way, Ilya's civil libertarian spite for the increasingly fascist US government, Su Yong Shu's posthuman anger at those who would do her cause harm, Anand's Buddhist serenity, and Becker's fear of "elevated" humans. NEXUS is a melting pot of morality and there are no easy answers to be found within.

An aspect that I considered to be extremely cool (and I'll admit that others might not) was the attention given to Buddhism. Prior to reading NEXUS I'd had little exposure to the belief system but the novel inspired such a connection that I'm highly interested in learning more about it. I hope this doesn't scare any potential readers off - NEXUS is by no means preachy, and neither of the protagonists are Buddhist themselves. Naam simply provides an interesting alternative way of thinking.

And isn't that something - a summer blockbuster that will leave you thinking. For all the awesome superhuman action and the suave espionage (Q never gave Bond any gadgets this cool), NEXUS poses some very serious questions that require contemplation. I used to read a blog dedicated to transhumanism and though I found interesting material to peruse I never bought into the whole "singularity" thing. On the other hand, the "emerging risks" of the world Naam has written strike me as utterly believable. I don't fear a machine uprising or a zombie outbreak, but I wouldn't be surprised to read headlines that could be taken straight from this book in the next thirty years. Naam has done what all the best sci-fi authors are capable of - speculating the future of technology and how it will affect our culture. Though Nexus 5 is the focus of the novel it is far from being the only dangerous technology. The question comes down to whether or not people should be trusted to make their own decisions regarding their own lives and bodies at the risk of slavery, prostitution, assassination, and worse. The opposition is no better, using the very tech they fight to end.

"There is a war coming. A world war. Not between China and America. Between humans and posthumans.

NEXUS is a smart thriller, fast paced and speculative, a clash of ideologies bound to leave you wondering, "Where do I stand?" It was a pleasure to devour Ramez Naam's fictional debut and I cannot wait to move on to the sequel CRUX.

Age Recommendation: 14+
Language: About average, nothing gratuitous but it's there.
Violence: I was surprised by the level of violence in the book, there's some intense action.
Sex: One hilarious mishap at the beginning.

Want it? Get it here...

...and pre-order the sequel while you're at it...

Throne of the Crescent Moon

It's always an interesting experience to sit down and try to write a review on a debut novel. There are numerous questions that always raise their heads, not the least of which pertain to the standards that I hold debuts to in relation to other books. Was the debut good as compared to other novels? Or, perhaps, was it just good for a debut novel? Or was it good at all, for that matter? At times I think I'm coming to a point of convergence on the issue, but at others I still wonder.

THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON is the first long-form work of author Saladin Ahmed, and one that I was fairly interested in reading. After sampling some of his short stories (finding quite a few that I liked) and noting the large number of positive reviews that seemed to be floating around the web about THRONE, I finally found a slot and wedged the book solidly into my schedule.

My first impression of the book: Holy freaking cow, this thing is short! The hardcover weighs in at a whopping 288 pages. Not exactly what I've come to expect from fantasy fare, but THRONE had mostly been touted as a Sword & Sorcery novel (and those are usually shorter). So I wasn't too worried about the length, but it definitely wasn't a plus.

The story itself revolves around two main characters, but has about six that get page time. The first character of import is Doctor Adoulla Makhslood. He's a tired, old guy that has been claimed to be the the last real ghul hunter (ghuls being corpses reanimated by a powerful sorcerer) in his city. He complains a lot, and has a lot of history riding under the wide circumference of his belt, but knows how to get the job done and does it when it needs doing. His compatriot, Raseed bas Raseed, is a young whirling dervish type that praises God and dispenses His holy justice where necessary. They both live in the city of Dhamsawaat. Over them, rules the tyrannical Khalif. And because he's so tyrannical, there's a guy that's opposing him: the Falcon Prince. Age versus youth factors frequently into a story that plays outside the normal “Fantasy Sandbox” in more ways than just length.

The setting was one of the aspects of the story that I enjoyed. It is one of a more Middle-Eastern flare, instead of the much-seen medieval setting. So we get new cities, and new foods; new terms and new customs; they're all peppered throughout the story. Although, the size of the book didn't allow for much of the setting to be overly developed, Ahmed did a good job of portraying those pieces that were necessary, and I never really felt tripped up because of a lack of understanding. Thus, props to him for being able to give readers this new setting and keeping clarity.

The main story itself though had some pretty serious issues, from my perspective. There's the spread of the characters to begin. Having six POV characters in a book that has fewer than three hundred pages is just asking for trouble. There just isn't enough time to develop each of their stories. Even giving it the benefit of the doubt, the main story never really took off. It stayed very small and localized. In fact, the book felt more like a watered-down but bloated short story by the time I got to the end.

Story was another big problem: it was way too simple. Linear, straight-forward, and walk-through almost: like a D&D campaign. The plot moved from one set to the next with very little difficulty, and the usual way of things was for one character or another to say something along the lines of, “Oh. Problem? No worries. I have a guy that can help us with that.” In fact, this book could easily be a poster-child for the concept of “Conflict Resolution By Associate”.

Continuing in this vein, I haven't seen a more overwhelming example of Deus Ex Machina since PERDIDO STREET STATION. (If any of you haven't read that one, you should. It's a great book, despite the annoying ending.) Even given that comparison, the ending in THRONE takes the veritable cake for being even a larger travesty of this type. I just sat there, literally dumbfounded, throughout the entire conclusion. And then, to top it all off, the main character passes out, and we actually miss everything that happens during the peak of the climax.

I mean, egad. That's just wrong.

In the end, this one feels too much like a bad cake. Quality ingredients and great intentions, yes. But ultimately poor execution. So the result is more of a dense, lumpy mess of carbs that won't really taste good no matter how much frosting you ladle onto it.

But still, the guy's a newbie. Would I like to see him try again? Yup. I love to see the boundaries of a genre stretched. Diversity in storytelling I love. Give it to me. If the story isn't any good though, then diversity doesn't matter a lick.

Age Recommendation: 14+
Language: Pretty mild. These are a God-fearing lot, for the most part
Violence: Gets fairly gory in parts, but mostly it's violence against the dead, and I mentioned the whole passing-out for the climax thing already, yes?
Sex: Mild, but chaste attraction between two characters

Here's a link for the book, if you're still interested:


The Human Division

In some ways I really wish we could do two reviews of THE HUMAN DIVISION by John Scalzi. I recently got the book in the mail and read through it in a few days. It was fun and fast-paced, and like most of Scalzi’s writing it was filling with that humor, action and suspense that makes him so darn readable to many people out there. The thing is, the book was released in two separate ways and written as a kind of experiment in publishing.

For the first four months of the year Tor released one short story a week in a serial format from Scazli based in his best selling Old Man’s War universe. You could pay to read that particular piece of the story and enjoy each story on its own merits, or you could pay a fee up front to receive each short story as they were released each week.  You could alternatively wait until mid-May to buy the book in hardcover and get all the short stories put together and in chronological order (that’s what I did).

My question then is, did it work?

I can only speak about THE HUMAN DIVISION as a whole, because that’s how I read it. Also, I’m a fan of Scalzi’s OLD MAN'S WAR universe having read each book in the series at least once. What I’m saying is, this book was designed for someone like me. I like the series, I know the characters and feel of it already. So, I’m gonna review it (spoiler alert, I liked it), but I wish I could see a review of someone who come into it cold, never having read Scalzi before and reading each short story a week at a time in pieces.

The book, despite being a series of short stories pulled together tells a larger tale over the course of the novel. This was the intention to begin with and the challenge. The larger narrative deals with the aftermath of THE LAST COLONY (and ZOE'S TALE which tells the same basic story from a different perspective). Basically the setup is this. The Colonial Union is made up of the humans who have either emigrated away from earth to settle new planets, or have volunteered to be soldiers for the Union. They are trying to expand humanity across the galaxy--or cosmos or what have you--by claiming new planets and settling them or taking them over from other alien races (of which there are many). Humanity therefore isn’t on good terms with A LOT of other races and wars ensue. The other races meanwhile have formed a group, called the Conclave, to try and work together instead of fighting. The Colonial Union doesn’t want to be part of it. Earth meanwhile is pretty clueless about all of this. All they know is that the Colonial Union takes some of them for soldiers and others for colonies and no one ever comes back. That is until the Conclave shows up on Earth and gives the earthlings the choice to join them. This then is the human division in THE HUMAN DIVISION. Which way will Earth go? Will they side with the Conclave, or the Colonial Union who has kept them in the dark for so long?

Most of the book takes place in the view point of characters within the Colonial Union. I won’t go more into it here as part of the fun of each story is the setup of the characters and situations, and then the resolution. Each story is quick and fun, and taken as a whole they do an admirable job of telling that greater story of what will the Earth do. Were there some stories that didn’t hold up as well as others? Probably, but to me they were just pieces to give me a better picture of the grand story going on. The big problem I had with the novel that I can say for sure, is that its strength (being made of fun segmented short stories) was also its weakness for me. It’s hard to build up to a BIG PAYOFF at the end when each short story has a minor resolution of its own. In the end it felt like I was on a fun ride but without some of the highest highs or lowest lows. It was fun but it wasn’t able to really resonate with me because of the nature of it.

It was still a fun read and certainly a must buy for Scalzi fans out there (like me). Heck, someone who has never read Scalzi before go buy it and let me know what you think. I’m anxious to see if it works for you as well.

Age Recommendation: 14+
Language: There's some language here or there. But not too bad.
Violence: Not too much. Some action scenes but nothing too violent.
Sex: Referenced, never shown.

Here are your links:


L5R: Imperial Histories 2

Here at EBR we love our RPGs, but we've yet to really review any of them. We've decided to rectify this with a review of the latest book from Legend of the Five Rings (L5R), Imperial Histories 2.

So, enjoy this review by Alan Bahr - screenplay writer, Warmachine aficionado, and L5R (both RPG and CCG) genius.


First, a disclaimer. I'm huge fan of Legend of the 5 Rings, Rokugan and everything associated with it. I also love RPG books, and I spend entirely too much money on them. But hey, everyone needs a hobby.

In addition, I would recommend everyone read the Strange Assembly Imperial Histories review.( <-----That one.


Obligatory Stuff:

The Legend of the Five Rings RPG takes place in an (heavily) Japanese setting called Rokugan. Characters generally take the role of samurai from one of the Great Clans. It's Japan with magic, and some other Oriental cultures mixed. The big thing about L5R is it is a constantly changing setting. The tournament results from the CCG affect the overall story-line and determine where the game goes, so the players have a say over their world.

Imperial Histories 2 covers several canon timelines or events from the CCG that have not yet been detailed in the RPG, or only detailed loosely. It also (this is my favorite thing) includes some alternate timelines that have never been detailed before. It's pretty great. The first one covered mostly existing timelines or reviewed already detailed timelines but with  updated and new information.

Appearance and Stuff:

AEG turns out very high quality, nice RPG books, so this follows the same trend as the previous ones. The cover isn't as evocative as I've liked in the past, but hey, that's a minor quibble in the big scheme of things.

L5R pulls a lot (almost all) of their art from the CCG. It shows, because the cards have great art. I loved a lot of the pieces and felt they really showed the world well. A few pieces are dated from the early eras of the card game, but it's minimal and probably a complaint only a fan would make.

There were a few places where character names were wrong/spelling and grammar mistakes. Not many jumped out, but one was because they misidentified one of my favorite characters, so it stuck with me. If it'd been another character, I probably wouldn't have noticed it (I still love you Noritoshi.)

What's Under the Hood?

I'm pretty much cribbing my layout from Strange Assembly as it's probably the best way to address this book. The multiple timelines are divided into a roughly 20 page count per timeline (it varies a bit). Obviously your mileage of each section may vary based on preferences. I prefer darker, grittier samurai drama, so those chapters leapt out at me. Every chapter had something to offer, but as you'll see, I feel this book is at it's best when offering alternate timelines or events to drive the story. Break the canon!

The Togashi Dynasty:

This opening chapter is a great start to the book. It posits the theory that a different Kami wins the Tournament and becomes Emperor (specifically Togashi, mysterious and engmatic). It details how having an Immortal and farseeing Emperor effects the development of the Empire. Most the major clans we love don't adjust too much (becoming more spiritual and what not), but the biggest change, is what happens to Hantei? Well! The Owl Clan. A clan dedicated to learning about and preserving/destroying Non-humans in the Empire.

This new clan is very well delivered, with several new families, schools and backstory that really adds to the overall idea behind the setting.

Rating: 8.
Very playable. It's effectively a more high-fantasy, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Rokugan, with wandering sword-saints, monks, and more.

The Reign of the Shining Prince:

This details an already established setting about the first mortal Emperor of Rokugan. This setting details an Empire in flux, as bushido, cultures, and customs haven't been established or allowed to mature. I think the most interesting part of this chapter is the part they didn't explore too deeply: the alternate paths of development (I was very intrigued by the idea of the Redemption of Fu Leng, and wish they'd gone more into that.). There are really no new mechanics in this chapter, and that's fine, as it's really just a chance to play in undeveloped Rokugan and help guide the creation of Emerald Empire.

Rating: 5.
It's playable, but several major and already established NPCs and events happen here. I think its value lies in the using it as a jumping point for an alternate timeline campaign.

The Iron Empire:

Let me just preface. This was my second favorite chapter of the book. The general conceit involves the advancement of technology in Rokugan. The advent of steampower/magicsteampower(TM) sorta clashes with real world history, but AEG steps around that nicely. It's easy to forget that the caste system in Rokugan is divinely appointed. What happens with trains and guns make samurai obsolete in spite of religion and very real deities that have an active hand in the lives of their followers? I don' t know, but this chapter explains to me that it involves samurai gun and iaijutsu duels on moving trains, so I'm pretty ok with whatever they throw at me.

The new mechanics here are interesting. Guns, and rules for them. Very well delivered, not overpowered, and the discourse on advancement, not westernization makes for some good reading when you want to run this campaign.

Rating: 10.
I love steampunk. I love samurai just as much. And I love the ideas behind this chapter. I'm probably gonna jump on running this one as soon as I get a group. Pretty sure there will be an iaijutsu duel on a moving train going into a tunnel, as ashigaru on horses chase alongside firing arrows. Hm...

Heresy of the Five Rings:

This is a chapter that's set in canon Rokugan. It brings up the idea of a heretical movement making some strong headway into the religious and social culture of Rokugan. It has some pretty interesting ideas about the cosmology (I use that loosely) and religious set up of Rokugan, and how people would react to a shift in that. It was good reading, and had some really good ideas. I haven't seen this era detailed before, so it was fun to learn about some of the early history behind Rokugan. (I think this was a fan submission, when they had a contest for the first Imperial Histories, but don't quote me on that.) The chapter really relies on pitting samurai and monks against other samurai and monks, but what it doesn't seem to cover was how Shugenja (the priests of Rokugan) fit into this puzzle.

Rating: 7.
It delivers on some interesting ideas, especially regarding the layout of the clans and how you address those issues inside religious conflict. Not my first choice, but not a bad one by any stretch. I felt it was a little underdeveloped and once the main conflict that the chapter delivered is over (which the chapter detailed very nicely), the players have nothing to do (and since NPCS seem to do all the heavy lifting, you'd have to insert the players in their place, and see what happens. Probably a change in the outcome frankly).


Rokugan under a psychotic paranoid tyrant. Torture becomes common, with hedonistic and depraved behaviors. The chapter delivers some great ideas for a resistance style game where the players have to fight against an evil and established leader of a powerful empire. I have to confess, I have always found the Steel Chrysanthemum to be a bit "handwavey" of a NPC in the game. He was sort of evil for the sake of it, but here, AEG delivers some wonderful ideas behind his villainous behavior.

Rating: 6.
The mechanics here are only useful in a specific setting, and if you played this all the time, you'd probably get pretty bored quickly. The players either have an uphill battle against a powerful enemy, or they're gonna end up playing "evil" characters.

The Eighth Century Crises:

This chapter details a lot of already established fiction that happened in one century in the past of Rokugan. This section has been pretty hashed out in other books/sources so I found it to be a lot of repeats regarding this area. The interesting part (again) lies in the alternate options they present in this section. Starting to notice a trend here...

Rating: 5.
On it's own, this section struggles. Without these alternate options, it'd frankly be a throw away section. They cram too much into one chapter, when really, each crisis deserves more details then it gets.

The Return of the Unicorn:

As the long lost Ki-Rin clan thunders across Rokugan, returning to their home, a thousand years after being gone, they encounter resistance. This section lays it out pretty clearly. Either you're playing as a Unicorn, or you are not. It's interesting in that it's a good section regarding how Rokugan reacts to outside influences, but it leaves itself hanging. Once the Unicorn are back, the primary conflict this chapter describes is over. The social conflicts only happen for the next...thousand years, and can take place in any of the more interesting settings.

Rating: 5.
Again, this chapter suffers from canon causing the interesting ideas behind this section to be buried very deep.

The Shattered Empire:

Oooooh. An alternate setting much like The Thousand Years of Darkness setting from the first Imperial Histories. A setting that deserved much more attention. This section posits that the Second Day of Thunder ends in victory for the clans, but all the Thunders die in the process, leaving the Empire bereft of leadership, and it's greatest heroes. As these heroes affect canon for the next 7 years of the CCG, and longer in the lore, it's a nice break from tradition. It's essentially a sengoku jidai era of Rokugan (or the period of a country at war). Without a unifying force, no one can take the throne, and the next threat that attacks the Empire will have easier pickings.

Rating: 7.
If you want to run a civil war in Rokugan story-line, where the canon isn't present, this is our setting. The way they present all the clans at war would make it difficult to play a multi-clan party, but I'm sure an enterprising GM would figure it out.

The Four Winds Era:

This time deals with the four sons of Torturi who are struggling over the throne after their father's death. This section was detailed pretty heavily in the CCG sets that dealt with this story-line, so it's pretty chockful of existing details. Sad. And really this section presents very few alternate story-line ideas, so unless you want to play out a story with a set ending, or change canon (which seems to again, be a theme here), you're playing NPCs who have to affect powerful and major PCs. Ooor tie it to the next chapter...

Rating: 6.
It's an interesting section, but that's about it. No new mechanics. Established and known fluff. But, if you combine it with the next chapter...

The Shadowed Throne:

Aaaaah, this is more like it. As a followup to the Four Winds section, this posits what would have happened if a different child of Hantei had taken the throne and how their siblings would have coped. It's not a horribly different deviation from the established history, but the concept of a Shadow Court being established to help drive and support the new Emperor is a great idea and is very well established and delivered.

Rating: 6 and 8.
By itself a 6, but with the Four Winds chapter, easily an 8. You could use them to run a campaign in a setting the players new, but with some wonderfully subtle and radical changes.

The Destroyer War:

This chapter details the last edition of the CCG, the Destroyer War. An outside force attacks and destroys swaths of the Emerald Empire. The big benefit of this section is the idea of total warfare. Rokugan has never been at war like this, and they have to adapt and push against these unknown monsters and enemies. It also is the result of a new Champion of Jigoku and the creation of the Spider as a Major Clan. Heavy stuff in the canon, and well delivered here.

Rating: 8.
The idea of an Empire in total war mode, and a losing war at that against an opponent that's utterly foreign to them is compelling and well delivered.

The Age of Exploration:

This chapter details the current era of the CCG, the settlement and colonization of the Ivory Kingdoms by Rokugan after the Destroyer War. It's incomplete as the storyline isn't quite done in the CCG (ends in December of this year roughly). It presents the Colonies as this almost-wild west style area where honor is what you make of it, and with a struggle against nature and the unknown of the jungles.

Rating: 7.
It's not bad, and has some interesting new mechanics, but isn't really complete, and leaves out some of the more interesting parts of the Age of Exploration (the assault by Imperial Legions on the Second City, the almost civil war, etc.).

Empire of the Emerald Stars:

THIS! This is why I bought the book. Rokugan in SPAAAAACE! Seriously. It's a brilliant idea, and a great example of how a GM can take an established setting and push it to it's limits. Whomever wrote this chapter really stepped it up and delivered a setting that's so Rokugan, while still being alien and interesting to play in. Only complaint I had, was a lack of new mechanics. There were a few, primarily new/reworked skills, and some weapons, but I would have liked to see a few space related schools for each clan. Mantis Corsair. Isawa Navigator. Crane Gunslinger. Spider Colonist. Crab Engineer. They also didn't have rules for laser swords... or space katanas.

Rating: 10.
It's fresh and interesting. Well delivered. Just needs some more filling out.

Wrap Up:

Overall Rating: 9/10.
This book really delivered. Even the sections I didn't fall in love with have ideas and plots I'll gladly incorporate elements of into my other L5R campaigns. I feel this book really shines when it's pushing you to use alternate settings, or as the designers have put it: L5R Your Way. They really aim to help GMs realize they don't have to be shackled by canon and established fiction, and that you should go hogwild on your ideas.

Now, I need to find a group who wants to play samurai with guns and swords on trains...

Any takers?

--Review by Alan Bahr


From EBR, we'd like to thank Alan for taking the time to write such a detailed review of Imperial Histories 2. Here's hoping he'll do more for us in the future.

Here are your links to the L5R RPG books. You can easily get away with just the first one, but why would you want to?

Legend of the Five Rings 4th Edition RPG
L5R: Enemies of the Empire
L5R: Emerald Empire
L5R: The Great Clans
L5R: Imperial Histories
L5R: Second City Box Set
L5R: The Book of Air
L5R: The Book of Earth
L5R: Imperial Histories 2

Cold Fire

After a daring escape from the mage house in COLD MAGIC, Cat Barahal and her cousin Bee think they have found a sanctuary until a more permanent plan is made. Unfortunately for them, the general who has spent years in prison for trying to conqueror Europa is now free to try it again and plans to use Cat and Bee for his own purposes; Cat's estranged husband's mage house is hunting them down; and to top it all off Cat's mysterious biological father shows up to throw a wrench into everything.

Cat is, however, quick-witted and always seems to land on her feet--often running. And despite escaping the mages by using the spirit realm, she turns up somewhere completely unplanned.

This series is easy to love. Kate Elliott scoops up the reader right from the start. Poor Cat never seems to catch a break. She wants to be free to make her own decisions--who to love and marry, in particular. When her arranged-marriage husband, the arrogant, powerful mage Vai suddenly becomes part of her life again, she learns there's more to him than she first thought. As a result, COLD FIRE could be considered a love story. Fortunately it's so much more than that.

It's also about the magic, and not just cold magic but also fire magic and how they're more connected than first thought. How Bee's magic works. What Cat's entails. Elliott reveals layer upon delicious layer.

It's also about this fascinating world Cat and Bee live in. It's an Earth that could have been, had magic not changed its landscape; but it's easy to tell that Elliott has done her homework about the era, she does her best to make it feel real. There are trolls and dragons. The land of the Fae is real. And, yes, the Master of the Hunt rides every year; and while he cannot be stopped, Cat will do her best to thwart him, because if she doesn't Bee's very life is at stake. You don't see as much steampunk like with the first book, and the locale is a whole new one to learn, which may frustrate those who loved MAGIC. But FIRE adds a depth to the world learned about in the first book, and is a nice departure from the typical Europe fantasy setting.

Cat as the first person PoV narrator is a clever woman with a witty tongue (this makes the dialogue fun to read) with a keen observation of her surroundings and the people in it. This prose is full of great metaphors without being heavy handed. At first Cat seems too smart, but it appears that it's her very cleverness that gets her into trouble; you won't always agree with her actions, but you know enough about her to understand why she does what she does. Vai is also a well-drawn character, with obvious flaws, but it's easy to see why Cat feels for him the way she does; Bee is a delightful character; and even the tertiary characters are colorful and interesting.

If you haven't read MAGIC, that's ok, because Elliott will get you up to speed efficiently and you won't feel lost, even if the plot can feel a little jumpy as we're whisked from place to place. While MAGIC is the foundation, FIRE is a continuation with its own plot and exciting resolution (and yes, even a little bit of a cliffhanger for this summer's release of the sequel COLD STEEL). But FIRE is exciting and interesting enough that if you haven't read MAGIC, you will wonder what you're missing.

Recommended Age: 15+
Language: Minor
Violence: Some, but not gory
Sex: Referenced and implied, but without detail

Check out this exciting series:




March In Country

I recently received the latest Vampire Earth novel in the mail and realized I hadn't yet reviewed MARCH IN COUNTRY. It's been a while since the novel came out--honestly the wait from that book to the newest edition, APPALACHIAN OVERTHROW, has been a tough one to endure--but I thought it was important to get this out there for you.

E.E. Knight's Vampire Earth series is one of the few series I actually get excited for anymore. I love the David Valentine character, and the side characters of the series--Ahn-Kha specifically. But what I really love is how Knight isn't afraid of making life really tough on his main character. Friends and allies die. Valentine is literally and figuratively beaten over and over. He doesn't just luck into his victories (usually). He earns them. He has honor. Valentine is an actual good guy at a time in literature where everyone is going the gritty anti-hero route (not that there's anything wrong with that).

MARCH IN COUNTRY is the end of the story arc from FALL WITH HONOR and WINTER DUTY. Val and the rest are trying desperately to set up a new freehold, but seem to be thwarted at nearly every turn. These last few novels have been rather grim, but again, I love the resilience of Valentine.

Right up front, and the statute of limitations on this specific spoiler has long since gone by, Ahn-Kha is finally back. He's a favorite of mine, and I've missed what he brings to the series. See, Ahn-Kha is who really shows us the humanity of our humans. Finally reunited, Val and Ahn-Kha go to try and talk the Golden Ones into relocating into the potential new freehold. Obviously it doesn't all go to plan, but I never really felt the tension of the situation like I did in prior Vampire Earth novels.

MARCH IN COUNTRY is rather...flat. The ending isn't unexpected in any way. The characters never seem like they are in any actual danger--not even the illusion of danger is really there. Don't get me wrong, I liked the novel. I just didn't like it as much as any of the prior novels in the series. This was Knight wrapping up the loose threads in preparation for the next part of the story. The quality of writing is good as usual. Val and Ahn-Kha are great, and their interaction is what made the book work for me. But in all honesty, this could have been told in a novella or a couple short stories.

MARCH ON COUNTRY is a good entry into the Vampire Earth series, but it isn't the best entry. I'm anxious to see how APPALACHIAN OVERTHROW is considering it is a pure Ahn-Kha novel.

Recommended Age: 16+
Profanity: On par with the rest of the series.
Violence: Far less than usual. I really wish Val would let the Bear out a little more.
Sex: It wouldn't be a Vampire Earth novel without an awkward sex scene.

Get it here:


Or, start the series here if you are a newcomer:


The Dirty Streets of Heaven

While I will admit that I am not a huge fan of Tad Williams' work, I have always respected his writing ability. It's just that his stories never really pulled me in (with the exception of THE WAR OF THE FLOWERS, which I quite liked). That said, a few years ago I read an Urban Fantasy/Horror short story of his in the anthology THE NEW DEAD (read the review here). I was completely blown away by the awesomeness of it and thought, "Geez...I really hope we get some Urban Fantasy novels from Tad Williams..."

My wish was granted.

THE DIRTY STREETS OF HEAVEN is the first in a series of novels from Tad Williams. It follows Bobby Dollar, an actual angel that serves as an advocate for the souls of the departed. He pleads for their admittance into Heaven while his demonic counterparts work towards a Hellbound journey. It's a very simple ideas executed wonderfully.

The story starts when Bobby shows up to advocate for the soul of an unimportant individual, and finds that the soul is missing. Suddenly the unimportant soul becomes the most important on everyone's list--both Heaven's and Hell's.

The story is told in First Person as is typical in Urban Fantasy, and it definitely has a distinct Jim Butcher/Harry Dresden vibe to it. Lots of snark and lost of attitude. While I could honestly do with a bit more seriousness in Urban Fantasy, I do appreciate when an author can make me laugh with his PoV character. There are the expected "It's a Wonderful Life" jokes, and all sorts of well-timed puns. Honestly, Bobby Dollar just ended up being a really fun character to experience the story with.

The side characters are a lot less fleshed out, but fine on the whole. Predictably we have the drop-dead-gorgeous minion of Hell, the Countess of Cold Hands. It took most of the novel, but I did come to like her. Bobby hangs out with a group of other angels which, in essence, kinda make up one giant side character--they just don't become individuals like they should, with three exceptions. Now, I'm leaving most of them vague because if I delve into them too much I'll end up spoiling some plot points.

The writing is great. The pacing and prose keep everything moving along rapidly from one misadventure to the next. The action is fun, and I loved the interaction that Bobby Dollar has with the hordes of Hell.

So let me circle back around to my Jim Butcher comparison. This novel is a lot like the first two (maybe three) Dresden Files novels. Good, fun novels, but lacking the impact--that "whoa...this is crazy awesome" vibe--that really makes me want to fist-pump in the air. Where Jim Butcher's novel really started becoming awesome was around books four and five, I think Williams' Bobby Dollar novels could easily take that step with book two simply because Williams is already a great writer. There is so much potential here for the fun Urban Fantasy series Williams' really is gunning for. Yeah...I definitely think that the next book is the one that makes the series completely awesome.

THE DIRTY STREETS OF HEAVEN is a terrific first book for an Urban Fantasy series. Tad Williams energizes the humor and adventure into life and death and Heaven and Hell in a way that has me extremely excited for the next installment. Williams has completely won me over.

Recommended Age: 17+
Profanity: Tons. I can see how it would overly offend some people because it is the angels being profane and sometimes sacrilegious.
Violence: Quite a bit, and very well done.
Sex: One extended, detailed scene followed by some less explicit ones.

Grab this book. It is worth it to anyone who likes Urban Fantasy. Here's your link: