Category: Rating


So, here’s a review where I dip my toe in a setting that I know not a ton about. I feel like the book stands well enough on its own to be enjoyable even if you aren’t super familiar with the rest of the Star Wars extended universe. This has sort of inspired another thing I want to talk about. For now though, enjoy!

Star Wars Queen's Shadow cover

On the last day of her rule Queen Amidala stayed ensconced with her handmaidens and trusted guards, relaxing on the one day she could before trying to build a life as Padmé Naberrie. A life she would have to put off building once the new Queen asked her to continue serving Naboo. The planet needed a new representative in the Galactic Senate, who could be a better fit? Who else loves Naboo and its people well enough to fight for them? And so Padmé agrees to take up the mantle of senator, to remain Amidala for as long as she is needed. A senator needs to be a much different person than a queen though, Padmé and her handmaidens will need to figure out what that means if she is going to navigate the Galactic Senate.

I confess, I started E. K. Johnson’s Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow because I wanted something science fiction but with little to no narrative consequence. So a book focused on a character who, while I’m certain other aspects of her personal arc have been covered on other books, by definition cannot be allowed to do anything that would have consequences for the greater Star Wars narrative seemed like it would fit the bill pretty well. The blurb suggested that it would be mostly character work, something that sounded really good honestly. It was pretty well exactly what I was looking for.

As much as this is a book about Padmé, and her change over from Queen to senator, it’s also very much about her world and the people she surrounds herself with. Early on each of Padmé’s handmaidens get a fair amount of focus all the better to drive home how close they all are and how much they care about Naboo, how idealistic Naboo’s culture is even after the Trade Federation’s attack. It gets the reader attached to everything Padmé is about to leave behind. Gives a taste of her relationships and the rules she’s lived by before leading into a place where those relationships and rules are not nearly as effective as they had been at home, are in fact detrimental in some ways. I adored that. Having the protagonist not only very clearly relying on others, but having that be a core feature of how she is able to accomplish things and adapt is something that I had not really realized that I miss in a fair number of other books. Because Padmé’s handmaidens are more than just her staff, she trusts them with her life and there’s this support structure there. Especially with Sabé, Padmé’s best friend and bodyguard and body double, very nearly the deuteragonist in some places where she acts as an agent outside of the happenings directly in the Galactic Senate.

I found myself wanting to see more of the handmaiden characters as the book went on and focused more on Senator Amidala. I find myself wanting to see more of them having finished the book, it left me curious about how they would deal with the Empire but not doubting for a moment that each of them would rebel in her own way be that art or politics, providing space for those displaced or fighting directly. I want to know where they went from the last chapter of Queen’s Shadow and where that took them.

That also leads me to one of the only issues I had with Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow.  The ending, specifically the epilogue, just completely took me out of it. The final chapter wrapped things up on a low note but left the reader with a sense of hope. Padmé and her team are going to keep fighting for what’s good and right in the galaxy.  The Epilogue shattered that in a way that starts off beautifully mirroring the first chapter but that also feels unnecessary and almost mean spirited in how it deals with some of the characters. It took me from knowing that cannon will still happen with everything that implies and hammered it in like a crooked nail in an otherwise fantastically built piece. It killed the sense of hope that the final chapter ended on and that’s what I find myself coming back to over and over like a missing tooth. The death of hope and how very out of place it feels in the context of the rest of the book.

That’s my only big issue and, aside from a couple of odd romance-ish moments that felt a little out of place, I think it was my only real issue. If not for the epilogue Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow would be a five out of five for me. It leaves me wanting more from the characters and I am definitely planning on looking for more of E. K. Johnson’s work. So, all told Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow earns a four out of five.

Celestine Dice

New week, new dice review, and this is a set that I’ve been wanting to talk about for a little while. So, thanks to Dice Envy, here is their Celestine Dice. Enjoy!

Celestine 1

This set is one of those instances where I really dig each part individually. The soft clear pink of the acrylic is a nice color, readily complemented by both the gold leaf and the pink micro glitter. The gold leaf is a really cool idea for an inclusion and the way it settles through the acrylic gives the dice a nifty effect that is only enhanced by the micro glitter. Even the inking being gold complements the pink of the acrylic and offers a good visual follow through to the gold leaf.

The inking is, as usual with Dice Envy, well done with no notable thin spots on my set. The only issue I have with the inking is a largely personal one. Because the inking is gold and the dice have gold leaf scattered through them some of the sides where the gold leaf has settled can be a little hard to read from the table. It isn’t a really big deal, but if I was going to use them as my main dice for a campaign I would probably either use a dice tray and keep them close or consider re-inking them. Possibly just re-inking the sides that I was having trouble with, because that could also be used to good effect.

Celestine 2

Also as expected, the dice roll well and do not seem to have favorite numbers. Considering the gold leaf inclusions and some of their crinkly shapes, this impressed me a good deal more than usual.

The Celestine set is something of an oddity, being a nine die set rather than the seven or eleven that seem to be standard. Part of this is likely due to the inclusion of the extra large 33mm d20 which I admittedly have a fair amount of affection for, so it isn’t like I’m missing there being more d6. I like the chonky dice, it’s fun to fiddle with.

Celestine 3

Which brings us to the last bit. I like these dice, not unexpected, they’re sparkly and visually interesting. I do wish that it was a little easier to read all of their sides, but that’s an easy fix. And the extra large d20 just makes me kind of happy. So I feel like the Celestine dice earn a four out of five.

The more I play with them the more I want to use them for a character that’s just Sailor Moon but in D&D, maybe some kind of celestial warlock bound to the long dead Queen of the Moon or something to that effect. I would have to think about it. Think about it and probably home brew some stuff for how her patron would even work.

Given Away

Full disclosure, by the time I had this review written the book that it goes with had been removed from the Kindle store. I almost feel like I’m cheating a little by posting it, but I read the book and I have opinions about it. Not necessarily constructive opinions, but it was something I wanted to talk about. So, without further ado, here is Briar Lane’s Given Away.

Given Away cover

Anya and Catie have been friends since they were kids and have hit every major milestone of their lives together, from rooming together in college to moving to the same city after graduation. Now they plan on sharing one of the biggest milestones of their lives, their bridal shower in Las Vegas. But as they get closer to marrying their respective fiancés worries begin to surface for both. Anya wonders if she should be relying so heavily on Catie for emotional support, isn’t that what her loving fiancé is for? Catie feels years of friendship slipping into a terrifying distance between then, worried that they won’t see each other as much anymore after their vows are said and done. Can their friendship survive the bridal shower weekend? Can love bloom where friendship has grown for so long?

Briar Lane’s Given Away is a book that I found disappointing pretty well from the word go, and my problems with it just sort of piled up like a forty car wreck of poor writing choices and bad editing. Spoilers ahead for a handful of things, I feel like I need to talk about them to get across some of the issues I had with the book.

                Given Away alternates its narrator, so some chapters are from Anya’s perspective and some are from Catie’s perspective. Unfortunately, if it was not for Anya talking nigh constantly about what great friends she and Catie are but she should totally be spending more time with her fiancé, since after they get married he will be her rock and all, and Catie worrying that she’ll never get to see Anya again after they get married and wondering if she really even wants to marry her fiancé, I would have had a serious issue telling the two apart. I actually did have issues telling the two apart for some chapters, something that was not helped by the author seeming to forget the names of her protagonists’ fiancés a few times. The lack of character voice extended to both of the fiancés and the Greek chorus of bridesmaids, who at least had the excuse of being largely kept out of dialogue despite one of the big scenes being a big catching up dinner for them all.

Alongside the issues with character voice are Lane’s habit of telling the reader about characters and situations rather than showing them. Both of the protagonists’ fiancés are treated like stand up guys for the first half or so of the book, the reader is told repeatedly about how great they both are. This lasts right up until the story needs them not to be as good as they were set up to be so that Catie can walk in on hers about to cheat on her and there can be a dramatic breakup leading to her tearful confession of love to Anya. Even Anya, one of the protagonists, is hit by this when she feels that her fiancé isn’t listening to her or respecting her feelings about Derek cheating on Catie, so suddenly her fiancé is also terrible and she’s off to find her best friend the love of her life. None of these characterization changes feel earned by the narrative, which leaves both protagonists feeling at best so in their own heads that they shut out everything else or simply so oblivious to their partners’ feelings and behaviors that they really shouldn’t be in a relationship. It is frustrating to say the least.

All that lead to my not enjoying the book. I did not like the cheating plot on either side, or the telling characterization, or the weirdly sudden sex scene after Anya leaves her fiancé and goes to find Catie. The sex scene seriously felt much more detailed than the rest of the book and went from zero to sixty-nine in seemingly no time and was just jarring and out of place. All of that would have left the book with a two out of five and a note that I would likely not read more of Briar Lane’s writing in the future. That would have just left me feeling like I had been waiting for the book to get better.

But there were two things that bothered me enough to drop the book to a one out of five, two things that were absolutely avoidable and that have little to do with the story itself. The first issue was the sample of Lane’s next work at the end of this one. This is not something that generally bothers me, it can be a great way to find other books that you might like. But in this case the out of place sex scene hit and then a flash forward to a year later at what was, according to my app, around the seventy percent mark for the book’s page count. The author dedicated nearly a third of her page space to advertising her next book in one that desperately needed an editor or a beta reader and at least one more going over. But then she also promised one last chapter of Given Away, an exclusive chapter that the reader could download if they just followed the included link. The link lead to a website that wanted me to sign up to it to get the opportunity to download the chapter that the author just couldn’t include in the book proper, so I guess I will not be reading that chapter.

Those two issues left me feeling more than a little cheated. Which of course leads to this, it is not hard to give Given Away a one out of five. It is worryingly easy to keep finding things that I did not like in Given Away. I can only hope that it is some other reader’s cup of tea and that Briar Lane keeps working on her writing and has the opportunity to improve. After her hiding a chapter of her book away on a website that requires sign up to access, I will not be there for the rest of her career.

 

Festive Fantasy isn’t a huge dice company just now, but based on these dice I think I want to keep an eye on them going forward. These dice were from a Kickstarter that really excited me. It was one set of dice, no stretch goals, and a fairly short time frame. The campaign was really well run and delivered on time, so I’m definitely backing Festive Fantasy’s current Kickstarter for their new Floral Fantasy line.  They have about twelve days left as of posting, so if you’re interested go check it out!

Bloodstones 1

It isn’t well captured here, but a big part of what interested me in these dice was the iridescent red throughout. It’s a pretty fantastic effect that catches the light fantastically and is kind of swirled through the acrylic, interrupting the iridescence and making nice patterns. The breaks in the iridescence has an interesting side effect of almost making the white of the acrylic seem tinted green, it’s nifty. Something about it makes me think about the way velvet looks when the light catches it just right.

Bloodstones 2

Despite the red sparkles the inking is super legible and easy to read. It’s also well done with few notable thin spots that do not take away from the dices’ usability. In addition to being nicely legible, the Bloodstones set rolls well. I haven’t found where any of the ones in my set tend to favor certain sides more than others. I’ve been using them for my Saturday night game lately and they are really nice to roll and feel good in hand.

Bloodstones 3

I really like these dice and find myself hoping that Festive Fantasy will make more dice in a similar vein after their current Kickstarter ends. The red iridescence makes for a fantastic trick of the light, leaving them with shining swirls of color that make me very much want to use them for a magic using character. I’m definitely sold on the quality of Festive Fantasy’s dice and the Bloodstones set gets a five out of five from me.

Never Just Friends

So, this got delayed a little. Got some stuff going on that made it a little harder to write than I’d like to admit. But this was a book I had a really good time reading. So here is Lily Craig’s Never Just Friends. Enjoy!

Never Just Friends cover

Having feelings for your best friend, as Georgie knows well, is terrible. Having feelings for a best friend who has not only just come out to you, but also assured you that she would never date you, is worse. So Georgie does the only thing she can to deal. She leaves town, finds a new job and tries to start a new life. Through a year of distance and worry Madelyn has come to realize that the love she holds for her best friend is romantic. She hopes that she can take time during their yearly cabin trip to mend the rift that has opened up between her and Georgie. Mend the rift and make her feelings known. But Canadian winters can be brutal and a sudden snow storm traps the two together in their cabin. Trapped by the weather the two will have to deal with their feelings and the distance created by miscommunications.

I feel like, before digging into the review here, I have to admit that friends to lovers is one of my favorite fictional romance tropes. I like the history that it can give characters and the familiarity that it tends to bring which, at its best written, can make the evolution to romance feel more natural or can bring really good drama. In most ways Lilly Craig’s Never Just Friends delivers on that.

Something that really worked for me in Never Just Friends was the way the chapters alternated between the present, with the events in the cabin as Georgie and Madelyn try to work around their feelings, and the past, showing bits of their friendship from when they first met right up to the year before. It does a good job of keeping the characters’ history and the reasons why two people who are as totally different as Georgie and Madelyn would still be sticking together after years and years. It also gives a really nifty look into who the characters were and who they became as they grew up. These looks into the past are really something that it feels like the book needs to work, the characters’ attraction could feel a little one sided and shallow without it. Georgie is shown to be more than a little emotionally shut off, not really willing to put herself out there, especially after having her heart broken by Madelyn at the start of the novel. The sections of their shared history help keep Madelyn going after Georgie so doggedly from feeling forced.

There’s actually a lot baked into Never Just Friends that really works for me, though a lot of it also verges on spoilers to talk about so I won’t go into it here. Similarly, there is not a lot that I find myself wanting to complain about. There are some places where either protagonist could have been toned down a little. Georgie’s temper flares up more than feels entirely reasonable a couple times and Madelyn can feel almost a little manic pixie dream girl desperate in her attempts to get Georgie to hear her out. Neither issue is a major one and both fit pretty reasonably with their respective characters, but there were spots where it felt more like an awkward necessity to move the plot along or maintain drama than something that was natural to the moment.

So, where does that leave me? I really liked this book. The characters were a little more complicated than I’m entirely used to in romance novels and the chapters that covered their history together was a really nice touch. While there were bits that felt like they were pushed a little further than necessary for the sake of the plot, they didn’t distract terribly from the narrative flow. For me, Never Just Friends earns a four out of five. I also admit that I did not realize that I was reading another Lily Craig novel until I was most of the way through and needed to redownload the book after clearing space on my phone, so points to her for range. I’m likely to seek out more of her work at this point.

Jazz Dice

More dice! Always more dice, but I’m enjoying the chance to work through the ones I’d wanted to review while classes ate my life. It’s almost energizing in a way. These guys are from Dice Envy as usual. All the same, enjoy!

Jazz Dice 4

The Jazz Dice set is, all told pretty basic compared to some of the other sets I’ve reviewed. It’s a clear blue acrylic with swirls of opaque purple throughout. There’s a nice clean effect from that. The colors pop separately and blend where the purple is thin in a way that makes both seem richer. It’s a good combination.

Jazz Dice 2

The inking shows up well against both colors and I just liked the silver with them. There also don’t seem to be any thin spots, and the inking is cleanly done. My set of Jazz Dice had no bubbles, so the balance on them is good. None of them seem to have any favorite sides or anything. And, like most acrylic dice, these feel nice in hand and to roll.

Jazz Dice 3

So this one is pretty short. The Jazz Dice are a nice looking set. The combination of clear and opaque acrylic works really well for me and I really enjoy the color combination. I give it a five out of five. I’m thinking I would want to use these for a magic caster of some stripe, maybe a sorcerer or a cleric.

Pumpkin Dice Latte

I return to the realm of talking about shiny math rocks with a set that I really wanted to cover back during pumpkin spice season, but I figure this time of year tasty coffee drinks are still appreciated. While these guys might be more fall than Christmas, they’re definitely a set worth taking a look at. Plus, they’re just fun to look at. Clumsy side bar, if you’re still looking for dice for a table top nerd friend’s gift or yourself, Dice Envy has 19% off of everything in stock until 11:59pm tonight, just use the coupon code “DICETHEHALLS”.

Pumpkin Dice Latte 2

The Pumpkin Dice Latte set combines two things that have been ongoing positives in all of my dice reviews, sparkles and interesting inclusions. In this case both the flakes of glitter and the micro glitter sparklies are gold colored to better emphasize the warm pumpkin orange of the acrylic. As with most uses of larger glitter pieces in dice, the flakes have mostly sunk to one side of the dice, which can create some really nice visual interest.

Due to the contrasting grey inking, the dice remain easy to read from across the table. In addition to the visibility, the inking is well done with no notable thin spots.

Pumpkin Dice Latte 4

As is pretty standard with acrylic dice, these feel nice in hand and roll well. None of the dice in my set seem to have favorite sides, so the balance is good.

While this set is aesthetically very different from a lot of the dice I usually go for the color works really well and the glitter flakes and sparklies enhance that rather than being the main feature. They roll well, as expected. And I just plain like them. So the Pumpkin Dice Latte dice get a five out of five from me.

Pumpkin Dice Latte 3

There was one more thing I wanted to cover with this one, while I’m here. The Pumpkin Dice Latte set is one of several that Dice Envy has customization options for. The options vary from being able to build a World of Darkness style set of ten d10s, to picking up extra d6s for your rogue, to just buying a standard set and adding on an extra d20 like I’ve done with these. Right now the individual dice range from around a dollar per to around five dollars per on some of the metal sets, so there are some limits to how viable it might be. I am personally hoping that they will start having sets of d6s and d10s  that are priced more like the standard sets some time in the coming year, largely because I would love to get a set of the Numa Blight, Mermage, or Wizard’s Unpaid Intern for my next World of Darkness campaign. It is definitely worth checking out though.

Warlock’s Work Study

I’m pretty glad to be back to this. Not sure how long it’ll last this go round, but I’m going to do all I can while this little burst of energy lasts. Let’s go with a bit of a trick of a dice set, given that these guys aren’t available on Dice Envy anymore. Similar sets of the same style, Wizard’s Unpaid Intern and Mage’s Indentured Servant, are still available.

Warlock's Work Study 3

The Warlock’s Work Study dice set is one of those that my camera just doesn’t nearly do justice. Like a lot of the sets I wind up favoring lately, it is full of sparklies that catch the light even when it’s just sitting there and make it look vaguely like it should be a prop in a magical girl anime. The purple star glitter doesn’t hurt that effect either.

This is kind of a thing for me though, even with the sparkling and sort of business that glitter or confetti tend to bring to a dice set, the inking is still nicely clear and easy to read. The gold contrasts nicely with the purple and sort of silver/lavender, making them both enjoyable to look at and to use. And, of course, the inking is well done here with no notable thin spots or overfills.

Warlock's Work Study 2

As is pretty standard for acrylic dice, the Warlock’s Work Study set feels nice in the hand. In my set at least, there aren’t any places where the star glitter sticks out. The balance on them seems pretty good, no sticking or favorite numbers that I’ve noticed so far.

Warlock's Work Study 1

This is very much a set that leaves me wanting to collect the others that are similar to it, just so that I can compare them. I really like the Warlock’s Work Study set and feel like I’m going to wind up using them regardless of how appropriate they are for any given character. Which means that the Warlock’s Work Study dice set gets a five out of five from me.

Heart Dice

I get to talk about dice again, definitely excited for that. This is the set from September’s Dice Envy Originals box. I’ve been meaning to talk about it for the past couple of weeks, but work and classes and all that stuff. No time like the present to get to them, right?

Heart Dice 1

Not going to lie, the Heart Dice kind of threw me for a loop when they arrived. The theme feels a bit out of season and I had been hoping for something spooky going into October. That said, the inking is really clean on all of the dice and I appreciate the second d20 being a different color. It’s a little touch and not totally necessary, but I still dig the difference for advantage/disadvantage rolls.

Heart Dice 2

I do like the look of them, separate from seasonal expectations. They’re easy to read. The pattern is nice and simple, it doesn’t crowd out the numbers and gets the point across well. Something about how clean they look is just oddly nice.

Of note, this is a ten dice set rather than the standard seven. I like the novelty of that, it feels like a nice bonus to have the extra d20 and the extra two d6. It’s a set that I could roll up a new rogue with and use immediately without needing to pull more d6 from other sets.

Heart Dice 3

The Heart Dice set feels good in hand. Pretty standard there, but it always feels worth mentioning. I don’t know that I have a character concept that comes to mind for these. I mentioned a rogue earlier, but the theming seems a bit more appropriate for a cleric or a bard. I do know that I want to use these at some point. I really enjoyed the extra three dice and the second d20 contrasting the other dice. So, I’m going to hold these back until February and give them a five out of five.

Mammoth Bone d6

So, this one is a little different than usual, both because it’s a single die instead of a set and because the material is fascinating.

Mammoth Bone Dice 1

Back during Magic City Con in June Misty Mountain Gaming ran a charity drawing for one of two dice made from fossilized mammoth bone. All proceeds went to the St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, so I figured I’d buy a few tickets. This is a d6 that I should by no means have been able to get my hands on, the tickets were sold all three days of the con and this one had two winners before I was drawn. Sometimes luck shines through.

Mammoth Bone Dice 2

This is a truly gorgeous d6. The colors are amazing and I love the way the brown peeks through the clear bits and the black banding throughout. That it’s all natural just adds to my appreciation of it. The only bit about it that I’m not entirely about is the numbering. While the numbers are well engraved, they’re also very thin and the red of the inking doesn’t show up well against the bone itself which makes it a little difficult to read.

The mammoth bone d6 is also a dice that I’m not likely to use much for a variety of reasons. Largely this is down to the material itself, being made of fossilized bone means that if anything happened to the dice I wouldn’t be able to fix or replace it. It also means that, with bone being porous and the stone filling in being stone, I don’t know how balanced a die like this could be. Testing so far suggests that it tends to land on the 5 side more often than the others, though I would want to do more testing before confirming.

Mammoth Bone Dice 3

That said though, I can’t really knock the die for being unbalanced because of its material. And, since I’m not planning on using it much, the numbers not being super visible is only a minor issue. Once I’ve got a good place to display it and a fine enough brush, I might re-ink it in a blue or something that’ll show up better. My score is mostly based on how cool I find the concept of a dice made from fossilized mammoth bone, and I really can’t say that enough because seriously, and how happy it made me to win something like a dice made of fossilized mammoth bone. So, all told, I’m giving it a five out of five.