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December 17th 2016

The Clockwork Raven by Samuel Chapman

"Strong fantasy in a unique and well-developed world."

Rating: 8 / 10

It might be a little early for a full review of The Clockwork Raven--as of my writing this, five chapters are up, and while the titular raven has been alluded to, it hasn't actually appeared.

With that said, things so far are looking really solid. The author does a great job of balancing the two main characters, and making them both distinct, but equally important. The story also does a great job of finding tension and excitement in small moments. The author does a great job balancing big problems with short-term tensions.

The story's website lists The Martian as an influence, and that's definitely apparent. From the get go, the author, the characters, and the readers are all acutely aware of the hard facts of this world. How much water to the characters have? How much rope? How much fabric or leather? It's a welcome change of pace--in a genre full of questions like "Since when can you do that?" and "Why don't you just shoot Voldemort?", The Clockwork Raven does a lot of legwork to stay aware of the exactly what its characters are capable of at any given moment.

The first few chapters also drop a lot of breadcrumbs for the future--you'll come away with a lot of questions about the broader world of the story, and I'm excited to see how things develop.

So far, I don't have a ton of issues with the story, though there are a few. While the world is really interesting, there are moments where things aren't explained super well to the audience. Fore example, there's a scene in the first installment involving a pulley-based transport system that I had to read over once or twice before I really got what was happening. Each subsequent post seems to handle that better, but it's still an issue here and there.

Overall, I'd definitely recommend it. It's a strong story with well-developed characters and and interesting plot. It's done a great job of laying groundwork for the long game while keeping things interesting in the here and now. A fun read, even if--like me--you aren't normally a fan of fantasy.

December 16th 2016

Capes and Cowls by TestProsePleaseIgnor, MyWitsBeginToTurn, Poiyurt, love_the_pain_away

"Thought superheroes were played out? Guess again."

Rating: 8 / 10

Capes and Cowls, a new shared-universe serial written by four redditors, offers not just one but four fresh takes on the superhero genre. The only reason I didn't rate it even higher is that it's only just started; if it continues to be this impressive, it could easily make 10 in my mind.

Each author is updating the tale of a different character. Johnny Quantum is functionally omnipotent, but he'd rather fight crime than be a god--the circumstances around his creation are far sketchier than he himself is. I'm intrigued by his true motivations and in how the characters around him, including beleaguered Rimsha, will react to the curveballs he throws.

Keegan, an oral hygienist, inadvertently becomes the go-to dentist for non-superpowered vigilantes to get discreet patch-ups after fights. His is my favorite so far, possibly because "dentists in over their heads" is a favorite bizarrely specific subgenre of mine, and I loved the teaser that came with the end of his first chapter. I can't wait to see how he gets pulled in to this universe.

Damocles offers the army his services as a hero hunter, but his motives are inscrutable in a very different way from Johnny Quantum's. I expect what he really wants to become a major plot point. Finally, Winston Luxard, an "old guard" vigilante grown old, decides to re-enter the game as a teacher. Like a star player becoming coach, except instead of sports, everybody's fighting for their lives. Winston is a fantastically likeable character with an interesting commentary to make on what awaits folks like Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark when they grow old.

Overall, Capes and Cowls is well worth your time, a universe with dedicated authors and an abundance of imagination. It's got amazing potential, so be sure to start early before all your friends start begging you to archive binge!

September 29th 2016

The Smell Collector by David Hill Burns

"An unexpected pleasure"

Rating: 9 / 10

The Smell Collector is the story of a man who lives in lives in nearly a constant state of nostalgia. He uses smells as a sort of time machine to relive the good times of his life. But the problem is that he's no longer living any kind of life at all. He spends his time roaming the city to visit his smell collection or in his mother's basement working in a laboratory to synthesize smells he has carefully documented. Enter Marie, another lonely heart. And this is where it gets a little creepy. He begins stalking her, in a manner, for her scent which he finds intoxicating.

I imagine that many people put the book down once then realize that Jim is a stalker, but I continued because I was curious enough. I'm very glad that I did. The Smell Collector is an unusual love story (without saying too much about it).

It's written a little oddly. It's a collection of narratives both first person and 3rd person, journal entries, smell profiles (how he documents his collection), and diary entries...oh and one Christmas card I suppose you could call it an epistolary novella. What I did not expect is that although it seems to be a quirky comedy, it packs a few emotional punches. I even cried, which I rarely do while reading.

The story is very basic, but the character development and themes are sophisticated enough to make it special.

This is a quick read. I read it over the course of two evenings, so you have little to lose, and I think it is well worth the time.

September 27th 2016

Worm by Wildbow

"Not your average super hero story"

Rating: 8 / 10

From the start, Worm is not your typical super hero story.

The main protagonist, is a socially awkward teenage girl living with her single father.

The first villain we meet is out to kill children and the hero that stops him doesn't initially seem to be much nicer.

Watch as Taylor learns and grows, struggling with her desire to be a hero and the world's perception of her as a villain, all while keeping the whole shebang a secret from her friends and family.

Worm spans almost 1,700,000 words and is a true joy to read. It's a fresh take on the majority of the standard fare you've come to expect out of the superhero genre.

April 22nd 2016

The Cow and The Moon: Illustrated by A.C Louis

"Fun read"

Rating: 8 / 10

This is a great read if you are looking for something light-hearted and funny. Written from the perspective of the animal kingdom, this will keep you wondering where the author gets these great ideas. The serial starts in the barnyard and introduces you to a fun world right away. I have read the first chapter so far and intend to read the entire serial. This is one that I can read with my kids and introduce them to the world of web serials. You need something to take your mind off the real world and make you laugh? kick back and relax, this web serial is for you!

May 26th 2015

Ethereal Temptation by Melvin B. Benson V

"A promising story"

Rating: 8 / 10

As an on-going story, it is too soon to give any higher rating, but this is definitely a promising story. A good narrative and pace-keeping make it an entertaining read while its fantastical elements blended into an everyday, modern setting help in calmly introducing them to the reader. The one warning that must be issued is that it presents a sort of episodic style (so far); though it seems the story of the main characters has a certain progression, all other characters only seem to have an important impact within their own chapter. Despite that last point, it is overall a story I recommend and certainly expect to see more of in the near future.

March 11th 2015

Pact by Wildbow

"A Magical Experience"

Rating: 9 / 10

Pact is Wildbow's second serial, and is an urban fantasy novel. I love fantasy, myself, and so I enjoyed Pact even more than the writer's first serial, Worm. Pact is the story of Blake Thorburn, a young man who is made the caretaker of a house that was owned by a diabolist. And the diabolist was his grandmother. Needless to say, hilarity ensues. Setting: The setting of Pact is truly a work of art. It contains fascinating magic, a well developed invented town (Jacob's Bell), and history that is an integral part of the story. Prose Quality: Wildbow has greatly improved his prose since the start of Worm. The sentence structures are varied enough to keep the reader interested without being unclear, and they also help communicate the mood and tone of the story. One minor complaint about the prose: toward the end of the serial, the author starts italicizing words for emphasis up to 80 times in one update (16.10, I counted). Plot: There are things that are truly wonderful about the plot. Foreshadowing is everywhere, twists are difficult to predict but make sense, and there is far more to conflict than hack-n-slash. But there are parts in the first half of the story that drag on for a ridiculous amount of time. Character Development: This is where the story is most likely to fall flat with readers. Very few characters are given any character development until the second half of the serial. So many characters are introduced but minimally characterized that the reader likely won't remember who they are. In conclusion: The first half of the serial has significant problems, but the second half is pure gold. Do yourself a favor and check Wildbow's writings out. If you fear large archives, the author also started a new serial: https://twigserial.wordpress.com/

March 7th 2015

Murder on Anonomy, a Blovella by Anonomy the Blovelist

"Immensely Disturbing"

Rating: 5 / 10

I really don't know what to think about this. I went in thinking I was going to get a fun parody adventure, but I got an immensely disturbing (social) media commentary. For those who want a story, don't read this, that isn't what it is. For those who want a picture of how disturbed 'writing communities' on the Internet are, read it. I'm not sure there is a more accurate depiction of what's wrong with 'writing communities' on the Internet. The story, as far as I can tell, is a fictionalization of what goes on at Authonomy, a 'writing community' run by HarperCollins where the most read story gets a review from a HarperCollins editor. Naturally, this creates a ridiculous amount of unethical behavior from the members of the site who want to get their story reviewed (and possibly published) by the editor. Authonomy is far from the only 'writing community' that has these issues. Figment, a website owned by Random House, regularly runs contests where authors try to promote their work the most to win. Figment might actually be worse, as I know they allow minors to participate in contests and sometimes have errors in their official rules for contests. The largest problems with these 'writing communities' is that they are about forcing writers to compete for arbitrary prizes by self-promotion without any reference to the quality of the writing or reader response to the writing. Writing isn't about trading likes on social media. Writing is about the reader, first and foremost. Muse's Success (and Web Fiction Guide, among others) can foster new writers not because it offers them prizes for how popular they are, but because it is a website geared toward readers. And writers need readers who genuinely care about their work. Tips for spotting predatory 'writer communities' If it isn't aimed mostly at readers, don't use it. If it makes writers compete for prizes based on any sort of popularity measurement, don't use it. If the website tries to make money off you, don't use it. If the website claims ANY rights to the work other than a non-exclusive right to display it, don't use it. Some big websites and how predatory they are: Authonomy - Predatory Figment - Predatory Wattpad - While Wattpad does have a few contests with some popularity based factors, they're very geared toward readers. Since the site has millions of readers, its less likely to be affected by the unethical behaviours depicted in the story. Fictionpress/Fanfiction.net - Not predatory. They don't have contests and are aimed primarily at readers. Web Fiction Guide - Not predatory. Totally cool. Muse's Sucess - Not predatory. Totally cool. I do want to thank the writer of the novella. It is very important to make sure writers don't get exploited.

March 7th 2015

Worm by Wildbow

"Classic"

Rating: 9 / 10

Worm is becoming a classic of the prose grimdark superhero genre. That's not that large a category (though it contains other great fiction like the Reckoners trilogy), but the size of the category does not diminish Worm's accomplishment. Let's go through some of the reasons Worm is a classic in the making, shall we? Structural Innovations: As far as I can tell, Worm originated the Arc/Interlude format for web serials. If that doesn't make it a classic, what does? Setting: The setting has incredible depth. Many of the normal superhero tropes are carefully justified within the setting, and the powers themselves are well thought out and varied. Prose Quality: The writing has very good spelling and grammar. It is also just engaging o read on a sentence by sentence basis. One nitpick: the author sometimes overuses certain words that are rare in real life. Plot: The plot constantly escalates in danger in scope. If you like stories that become epic, Worm is one to go for. However, some parts drag out the action to the point where it can be hard to push through. Character Development: Character development in the Interludes is fantastic. Sadly, it doesn't always translate to the main story. If you are at all interested in superhero fiction, you've probably checked Worm out already. If you haven't, you will.

March 7th 2015

The Kingdoms of Evil by Daniel M. Bensen

"Really Good Evil"

Rating: 6 / 10

The Kingdoms of Evil was the first web serial I remember reading, and it was good enough for me to want to read other web serials. That being said, it has its flaws as well as its glorious moments. The humor in Kingdoms of Evil is hilarious if you like epic fantasy, otherwise it may fall flat. But the greatest obstacle to the readers enjoyment is the prologue, which has negligible relevance to the story. I would recommend just skipping it. Onto the main parts of fiction. Character Development: The author does a wonderful job with Freetrick and with Bloodbyrn. Their relationship and character arcs are fascinating. Bloodbyrns father and Mr. Scree are well developed as well. The character development in this completed serial is extremely strong for some characters, and negligible for other characters. I found myself skipping sections that weren't from Freetrick's point of view because the other viewpoint characters weren't well developed. Setting: The Kingdoms of Evil are as fascinating as they are dysfunctional. And they are very dysfunctional. Plot: The plots the different viewpoint characters are involved in don't interact much. Prose Quality: Spelling and grammar are okay. They're not an impediment to reading the serial. Sadly, the sentences don't often flow together well. In summary: Freetrick's point of view sections make the serial worth trying, despite other flaws in the work.

March 7th 2015

The Zombie Knight by George M. Frost

"A Slow Spiral"

Rating: 7 / 10

Zombie Knight may start small, but don't let that fool you. It begins with Hector, a boy who committed suicide, being resurrected to help a grim reaper (who is actually pretty funny) save people from dying. Setting: The setting balloons in size, but it does it slowly enough that the reader isn't startled out of the story. The author makes it seem like the world is similar to our own at first to build familiarity, but the world is actually quite different and fascinating in its own right. Character Development: The author does a very good job developing the main characters' relationship, which is loads of fun to read. There are only a few side characters that get developed, though. Plot: The plot is a superhero story plot. Hector gains powers and uses them to protect the innocents and stop the bad guys. Quality of Prose: Grammar and spelling are generally quite good. The sentences are not always structured for easy comprehension, but the quality of the prose is not detrimental to the story.

March 7th 2015

The Zombie Knight by George M. Frost

"A Slow Spiral"

Rating: 7 / 10

Zombie Knight may start small, but don't let that fool you. It begins with Hector, a boy who committed suicide, being resurrected to help a grim reaper (who is actually pretty funny) save people from dying. Setting: The setting balloons in size, but it does it slowly enough that the reader isn't startled out of the story. The author makes it seem like the world is similar to our own at first to build familiarity, but the world is actually quite different and fascinating in its own right. Character Development: The author does a very good job developing the main characters' relationship, which is loads of fun to read. There are only a few side characters that get developed, though. Plot: The plot is a superhero story plot. Hector gains powers and uses them to protect the innocents and stop the bad guys. Quality of Prose: Grammar and spelling are generally quite good. The sentences are not always structured for easy comprehension, but the quality of the prose is not detrimental to the story.

March 5th 2015

Aconitum by M. Howalt

"Contagious Story..."

Rating: 8 / 10

Killing werewolves is well and good, but what happens when you start thinking of the lives behind the monster? What happens when you start saving people from their curse rather than damning them?

These are some of the questions that Aconitum tackles in a story that winds through the somber mind of Hector Rothenburg. A wandering plot follows behind this man’s actions in a world where werewolves aren’t just real, they’re an existence everyone knows of and fears. Fortunately, entire organizations of werewolf hunters have risen to face the challenge.

With a gradual build of its characters, its settings in an alternate universe Germany, and far reaching mystery that leaves the reader wanting the next page to know more, Aconitum becomes an infectious bite of questions and explorations of humanity.

March 5th 2015

Rat Nothing by Evan Marcroft

"A Vicious City..."

Rating: 8 / 10

Sabot is a living breathing monster born from a thousand words mashed into context and lexical clues. Fictional names for fictional things have a fitting pattern to them of type of person or kind of creature that provides understanding while being completely new and vibrant. Then enter Rat, a vicious byproduct of a city where everything is a turf war and nothing lives uncorrupted. She occupies the space of life that isn’t living, its survival. Only the streets truly know her ache and beaten soul, but stone is a silent and unmoved witness to terrors.

This is Rat Nothing, a complex mythical world where the author doesn’t pull any punches in both creating his own mythos and wringing the characters through madness. It takes some time to get down with the lingo, but once it sinks in the world really begins to breathe. Then you get to know a varied cast of four misfits in a city that doesn't have a place to fit. Come to know the broken brat, the conflicted psychic officer, a heartbroken songweaver, and a psychopath politician. Follow them as they wind their way into a drain of conflict, misery, and terror.

October 25th 2014

Jumping Rings by Lyn Thorne-Alder

"Starting to Climb"

Rating: 7 / 10

Jumping Rings is a little hard to describe. The title comes from the setting. A very class heavy, almost caste-like, fantasy world. A city is divided into 10 "rings" with the innermost being the wealthiest and the outer most being the poorest. There are a few terms that are hard to follow at first. Most of these deal with gender, (male female or neutral) but it's not completely clear whether that's down to a physical difference or a difference in identity.

Everyone has to earn their final ring/status, it seems even the children of the most influential are not guaranteed a life in the first ring. Though they do seem to get a few advantages. Those without advantages can follow other paths. The story's protagonists, Valran and Taslin, enter into a form of voluntary slavery.

One will be used in gladiator style pit fights while the other is a body servant. It's pretty clear that both are ambitious and determined. The servant slave is utterly unsurprised when the first questions asked during his auction concern the sexual acts he's capable of performing without showing his revulsion. The gladiator has to balance her need to put on a good show with the knowledge that too much showboating could get her killed in the ring.

It strikes an interesting balance but the story isn't quite perfect. As I mentioned, some of the terminology is a little confusing. That's not a big deal, pretty much par for the course in any original fantasy setting. The gladiator's story line doesn't feel quite right. She picks up the relevant skills a little too fast and I didn't get the same feeling of physical danger with her as I did with the body servant.

Some of the current 'off' notes could easily be resolved by future revelations. It's too early to get the full scope but there are clear and obvious indicators of intrigue in both storylines. It wouldn't be shocking to learn that either is a plant of some sort, maybe a ringer.

If the intrigue pays off as well as I hope it does, this story could be very engaging. With that in mind, if you aren't bothered by a story that treats people as commodities or human life as disposable, this is well worth a look.

October 9th 2014

Project Redemption by Billy Peery

"This Project Needs Saving"

Rating: 4 / 10

The writing on this is legible. That's about the only nice thing I can say.

Without spoilers for anyone who might want to read anyway, this is a superhero story set in more or less the current world. Your basic DC/Marvel type setup. Anyone who's read the Suicide Squad will recognize the basic premise, super criminals are offered reduced sentences in exchange for putting their talents to use for the government.

What isn't clear is just why they're needed. The story involves Fenris, yes the literal Norse wolf of destruction, being used to guard a sorority. As amusing as that image is, there's no clear reason why it has to be him. Why can't a regular hero do it? Why can't a less Ragnarok-ish super do it?

The dialogue is easy enough to follow but the action scenes are very disjointed. There's more than one abrupt transition that I had to scroll up and reread to figure out. If I thought that was just a mechanic to show the character's own confusion or disorientation that'd be one thing but it just felt weird.

Each story has the common theme of being tied to project Redemption but aside from that they're just a series of unconnected events. There's no obvious common thread or any sense of continuity.

I liked the basic premise but that's just not enough.

The author does have something here. Enough work and I'd be happy to take another look.

October 9th 2014

Thieves' Demise by Voss Foster

"Let's Mourn Its Passing"

Rating: 7 / 10

This story had real potential. Sadly, it was originally posted in 2012 and there’s only a half dozen or so entries. That said, hopefully the author will notice this review and post the rest of it which he secretly wrote but never put on his site.

The thieves’ demise is a list of fabulous treasures around the world. Each one is unique in that it has never been stolen. A high end thief and his crew are challenged to steal them. They recruit the best in the business to help them for the sake of adventure.

The story’s one weakness is that motivation seems shallow. No one is involved for any reason other than the thrill of stealing the unstealable. I found myself doubtful that professionals would really be so eager to attempt something famous for destroying people like themselves. That aside, it reads like a classic heist movie with a few fantasy twists.

If it hadn’t been dropped, I would have really like to read more of this.

July 23rd 2013

Gathering of the Gifts by Robert William Shmigelsky

"The weight of Ages--in the hands of a temporal knight. "

Rating: 9 / 10

Passages that could use with some trimming down or alterations (I apologize for not going into detail, but I’m a professional editor and sometimes I get carried away with short reviews on websites like this.):

“For the cross!” Illidan shouted. From what he had read, the glow from the brand of a temporal knight looked much like the aura that from within godly hands bestowed such a gift.

A spell of eagle eye could only perceive through keen eagle eyes.

He pictured the look Adrianna had given him when she first saw him, though he knew he would have been meant for another.

Plainly brought forth by a necromancer’s spell, the cloud stretched and grew on both flanks. The knights inside were attempting to reach the mountain pass before the lights reached their climax. Those foes, once Illidan’s brothers in arms, would know exactly what he had planned.

the temporal charge, or rather Illidan’s beacon of light, was also meant to provide a focal point for the last of his kind atop the mountain pass, so they might draw out the last grains of the hourglass and give them something to direct those precious moments toward.

The hosts of light and dark reached within themselves and unleashed their fighter’s rage. Illidan’s own charge quickened. Before the opposing forces met, Illidan lamented that it had come to this.

Malnourished human beings shriveled by shadow and gloom they were shown to be, pasty white skin and contorted bodies behind thick, unattractive dark robes.

Without the shadows to clothe them, it left Darkbane and his followers cringed back. The endurance emanating from deep within Illidan and his knights held them that way.

It pressed against him, tried to make him let go of the mental hold he had with the others. Speech came when no tongue was used. Word-like sounds came and went, all unfathomable—a language of wafting clouds. And the strain was felt. Darkness swept back around him, as if it was a coat for the world to put on, and Cyan’s forces resumed their pursuit. Though the sly, far reaching mind of Cyan Darkbane soon began to separate him from the others, Illidan held on. While he did, the grains continued to trickle down the hourglass, granting him and his knights the moments they needed.

Also, your talk of auras and some of the other magics could be a little bit more clearly described.

May 25th 2013

Worm by Wildbow

"A hero whose only allies are villains"

Rating: 9 / 10

When Taylor Hebert, bullied teenager, gets a superpower that gives her unparalleled command over all the creepy-crawly creatures of the world -- insects, spiders, worms, crabs -- she knows exactly what she wants to do: she wants to be a hero. She wants to help people, rescue people, stop criminals -- the opposite of the bullies at school who make her life a torment. She spends a few months getting a handle on her power, doing some physical training, making a spider-silk suit of armor, and then one night she ventures forth to do good.

Where she ends up in a fight against a physical powerhouse of a superpowered gang leader with enhanced senses, enhanced strength, and the ability to generate fire out of thin air. And then is rescued by a second gang of supervillains ... who assume that she is a supervillain herself. And things only go further wrong from there as Taylor makes a series of hard calls in harder and harder situations, trying to help people in a world which doesn't appreciate her help.

The universe of Worm is quite dark -- villains greatly outnumber heroes, giant monsters regularly attack major cities, and no Comic Code or Hays Code protects the innocent from being subjected to death or worse -- but it is not a place that will go gentle into that good night ... and by god the writing is a thrill-ride.

Wildbow, the author, is one of the most creative inventors of superpowered fiction that you will ever encounter. The number of superheroes and supervillains one encounters over the course of the story easily extends into the hundreds, and every single one -- from the tiniest bit part character to the most prominent of pro- and antagonists -- has their own affiliations, personalities, and unique superpowers. More critically, the encounters between these superpowered individuals play out with all the energy and chaos of the greatest fight scenes in any medium -- and Taylor, as protagonist, is the greatest source of energy, chaos, and sheer fiendish ingenuity of them all.

The storytelling is not without its flaws -- for example, physical description of the characters is served out by the teaspoon and rarely reiterated -- but if superhero fiction is of any interest to you, if the epic struggle of flawed mortals to overcome adversity holds any attraction to you, Worm is a series that delivers.

May 22nd 2013

New Earth 6 by Kristin Jacques

"Exciting read that keeps getting better"

Rating: 9 / 10

This story is an easy, fast-paced read. The story is engaging and really grabbed from the first complication. There are multiple narrators, each of them distinct and fascinating. After seven chapters, I can't pick a favorite yet.

I think what really impresses me most is the level of creativity. All the layers of detail and the sheer amount of thought put into it, it just keeps getting better with every chapter. I'm getting a good feel for all the societies and characters without being bogged down by info dumps and such. The story keeps moving without me losing track of who's who, and what's going on with whom as the POVs shift from chapter to chapter.

I'm not much of a sic-fi reader but I'll be sticking with New Earth 6.

My only complaint is that in the first two chapters, the descriptions are a tad thin, but right after, she does a fantastic job of balancing description, character, backstory, and forward action. I'm a big lover of descriptive detail, so this just might be personal preference.