Book Review: These Violent Nights

This one packs a lot more between its pages than I had originally anticipated. There’s a slow burn. There’s trauma. There’s fighting for your right to live and fighting for those you love. And magic and multiple dimensions and and and- yeah, there’s a lot. All of which adds up to a really, really fun read.

By Rebecca Crunden. Buy it on Amazon! :3

Once upon a time, inhabitants of another world tore a hole through the universe and came to Earth. They called themselves Suriias, and rivalled humans in knowledge and skill with one great exception: they had magic.

War followed. Humanity lost. And three hundred years later, humans are on the brink of extinction.

Orphans Thorn and Thistle live in hiding. They are the last of their families, the last of their friends. They scrape by, stealing to survive and living on the streets or hiding in sheds. But even under the brutal regime of the Suriias, there are places where humans can mingle in secret with magical sympathisers, and one night Thistle gets an unexpected offer of marriage from a Suriia with high standing and friends in all the right places. For Thistle, it’s a chance at safety and comfort; for Thorn, it’s a chance to find the ones who killed her parents.

And so the pair move into the capital city of Courtenz. An urban monstrosity of magic and might, false friends and flying cars, drones and death tolls, the new city promises a fresh start – and new love – for both.

But if there’s one thing Thorn knows for certain, it’s that dreams can swiftly turn into nightmares.

These Violent Nights begins with Thorn. We get to know the world through her eyes, which means we see the horrors she’s lived through and follow her as she claws her way ever forward, relentlessly seeking to avenge her parents. But we also find her doubting as she is faced with two Suriias who aren’t quite like any other. While the rest of the world seems to want her dead, these two want her to find comfort and peace.

Especially Kol.

Thorn’s drive for revenge is in stark contrast with how Kol slowly proves himself to her, whether that’s by showing her small acts of kindness (chocolate, movies, walks in pretty parks), or risking himself for her. It’s all very I’m kicking my feet under the blankets and making Taff noises and I am convinced that Thorn’s and Kol’s slow burn will forever be embedded in my memory. It’s really well done, okay? The best part? Thorn never loses sight of what she wants: freedom and the company of humans. Sometimes it frustrated me and I would have loved to shove them together and demand they get over it, but I am glad that Rebecca allowed Thorn her integrity.

And then, just when things really come to a boil for Thorn towards the middle of the book-

-we meet Lucien as our new point-of-view character. He is Surii. And he is here to show us that this one Earth full of unmeasurable cruelty is only one side of an awful, awful coin. Much like Thorn, Lucien has lived a life full of bloodshed and loss. But while Thorn only had herself and her sister to look after and was driven by the need to avenge her parents, Lucien looks after his family, his pack. His motivation is keeping them safe at all cost. Which, eventually, leads to Thorn’s and Lucien’s worlds colliding.

There’s another romance subplot woven into Lucien’s part of the story and it looks at the complicated relationship between a human and Surii from a different angle than what we saw with Thorn and Kol. This time, it felt like we focused more on the power imbalance between the two, which gave me a better understanding of why Kol often did what he did and why he didn’t press Thorn as much as he could have.

But romance is by far not the only thing this book has going for it! The world is built well; the characters that inhabit it are complex in all their flaws; the conflicts we explore prove heart-wrenching; and the eventual conclusion is satisfying.

Okay!

How many hearts does it get? 4 1/2 out of 5.

And what can you expect (or not expect)?

  • Slow burn times two :3
  • Queer!
  • Flawed characters that stick to their convictions
  • Magic! It’s mostly subtle at first, but we experience more of it later
  • No explicit sex scenes (this ace Taff is grateful)
  • Mention of sexual assault, but every instance is handled with grace
  • Flying coaches! But also steampunk trucks. Two very good things.
  • Happy Ending

Yep, I recommend this book. I really do. And I cannot wait to read more from Rebecca, honestly.

’till next time.

Book Review: Dust & Lightning

A fast-paced (but not rushed) science-fiction adventure which follows an ordinary man off to do the extraordinary for his brother.

By Rebecca Crunden. Buy it on Amazon! :3

I am tenderly awarding this book four and a half hearts! Plus an extra paw. Why a paw you may ask? Well, I’ll get to that in a bit. First, the book’s summary:

In the near future, humans have gone beyond simple space travel. By the year 4054, multiple solar systems are inhabited, and taking a spaceship is as commonplace as taking an aeroplane.

Unfortunately, not everything about the future is so advanced. The central planets, led by Earth, have risen high at the expense of cheap labour on distant worlds. Dissent is widespread and arrests are common. Sometimes prisoners are released; sometimes they disappear without a trace, sent to labour camps in other solar systems.

When Ames Emerys receives a letter telling him that his brother Callum has died en route to the remote planet of Kilnin, he takes the first ship he can off Earth, desperate for answers. But the secrets Ames uncovers prove far more dangerous than he could have imagined.

And trouble isn’t far behind.

Dust & Lightning is 122 pages of expertly paced dystopian science fiction. And if my dog, Loki, is to be believed (and he is), it is also extremely captivating. See, I read in bed. Sometimes that confuses Loki because the lights are on and I am not sleeping as I should, which means he’ll be looking at me from between his paws like I just committed a crime. And have you ever tried to read while there is a dog judging you? It’s distracting.

So I started reading the book out loud to him for a while and aaaa you should have seen his face. He perked up, ears and all, got his big and alert puppy dog eyes out, and listened very intently while the tip of his tail did a little wag. He loves the book is what I am trying to say, which I fully understand. I do too!

There’s so much to love in these 122 pages. Driven on by a letter insisting that his brother is dead, but convinced that there is more to it than what everyone wants him to believe, Ames (our protagonist) is thrown into a world of cruel conspiracies. He chases the only lead he has, all the way across the solar system and beyond, all the while desperately trying to stay one step ahead of the people who’d vanish him if they caught up with him. On that journey, we get to see what sort of man Ames is, what his principles are, how far he’d willing to go for the people he cares about, and why he should not ever be allowed to name a cat.

The world-building in the book is excellent. Not a single word is wasted and everything mentioned has meaning and builds towards a greater whole. The characters are immediately memorable, from our protagonist all the way down to the supporting cast. We’ve also got an amazing friendship shaped between a man and a woman, one that doesn’t rely on attraction (something I love dearly). And have I mentioned the prose?

No?

Well, there’s a sample from the first few pages of the book, which I hope gives you an idea what sort of treat you’re in for:

Each new discovery prompted exploitation, greed, uprisings. Like humans were in an abusive relationship with the universe.

Bottom line: If you like dystopian sci-fi and have a thing for adventures where a small group stands up against a corrupt and ruthless regime, then I absolutely recommend this book. It has mystery. Chase scenes. Friendship. Weird bugs. A cat. And an electric ending.

Book Review: The Calling

An action-packed mystery set in an icy future in which humanity’s survival isn’t a guaranteed thing.

The Calling by Branwen Oshea

By Branwen OShea. Buy it on Amazon!

I’m slapping four and a half hearts on this one. And it looks great on my bookshelf :3

Humanity’s wake-up call. Answer it or face extinction.

When Bleu’s little sister shows symptoms of the deadly Sickness, a strange vision directs him to leave humanity’s subterranean haven and seek the cure on Earth’s glacial surface. Joining the expedition team, Bleu expects extreme temperatures, not a surface ruled by ingenious predators.

Rana and her fellow star beings have co-existed with Earth’s top carnivores since the humans disappeared. But when her peers transform into Crowned Ones, the final stage of star being development, she fears remaining Uncrowned like her parents. To prove her worth, she undertakes a dangerous mission—contacting the hostile and nearly extinct humans. But Rana’s plan backfires, and Bleu’s team retaliates.

As war with the more advanced star being civilization looms, both Rana and Bleu separately seek a way to save their people.

The Calling is a hefty adventure. It takes place after the Earth has fallen to ice and humanity has had to hide in underground havens to survive, which, by itself, sounds simple enough. But there’s a lot more to it; from humanity’s struggle in their haven (the Sickness, a dwindling gene pool, politics) to the mystery that surrounds the star beings who have lived in harmony with Earth’s remaining wildlife in the human’s absence on the surface.

And gosh, I adored the world-building on both ends: the star beings and their abilities, their culture, and how humanity has managed to survive, as well as what’s driving them to reclaim the surface. It all comes together to shape a great backdrop to the character’s adventures.

Oh! Yeah! The characters.

I think the book has two main characters, of a sort. Bleu and Rana. Most of the story centres around them, but we get to know a cast of different POV characters who provide us with a view of the story from different angles. They all bring a different flavour and show us more of the world from their unique perspective. Plus, their personalities are varied, which makes switching back and forth entertaining since it keeps it fresh. OH! AND! We get villain POV! And okay, okay, hear me out: the arguable, air-quotes open, villain, air quotes closed, of the story? I am not about to spoil a thing, but I got so dang mad at him. Furious. I wanted to grab the guy by the ankles and feed him to the book’s (adorably murderous) cave diggers. And that’s a compliment because that dude worked. He’s not evil as much as he’s committed to humanity and the survival of the species and it shows.

The book also doesn’t pull its punches: characters will die. And they’re characters that get introduced to us in ways that give us plenty of time to care for them. More importantly though, their deaths aren’t only there to have us go “Oh no!” and then move on, nope. They have consequences and they move the story forward, adding tension and conflict and I think that’s really neat.

Anyway, so, our main characters: Bleu is a young and adventurous soul who yearns for being up there. To breathe something else than recycled air. To be rid of the constricting walls. He’s also an exceptionally good brother and loves his sister dearly. The same sister who is struck by the mysterious Sickness, which threatens to kill humanity’s future: their children. Soon after, a mysterious vision strikes him, convincing him that his sister’s survival depends on him going out there and locating the cure. Rana’s, our second central character, has her own yearning to contend with. She fears she’ll never crown, a fear which preoccupied her. A lot. Seriously. She’s on about it so often I sometimes felt the urge to sit her down and tell her to take a deep breath. But it’s an understandable worry, all things considered. It’s also that fear that drives her to want to set out on a dangerous mission and to eventually be directly tied up in the disastrous first meeting between the star beings and the frightened and hostile humans. Though on a lighter note: she gets to be wooed by two young men. And it’s adorable. And the way she handles it towards the end had me enjoy her as a character even more.

And that’s it, really? I recommend The Calling to anyone who enjoys post-apocalypse stories with a cast of younger heroes who get wrapped up in a high-stakes conflict. There’s action. Gunfights. Fascinating magic. An adorable cave digger baby named Digga. Tragic world-building on humanity’s side and what they’ve got to do in order to survive. And, yeah, if you like well-fleshed-out characters and villains who all come with their individual wants and needs and goals.

Now excuse me while I order book two in the series. I’d missed its release!

Buy it on Amazon!

Things I Love about Dying Light 2: Stay Human

Is this a Taff Squees? Yeah, probably. See, I have been doing very little next to playing Dying Light 2, plotting my Latchkey Hero sequel, making gifs, and, you know, generally being preoccupied with the Dying Light franchise as a whole. So I’ve decided to whip up a little post about it. Or, rather, recycle one that has already made the rounds on Tumblr previously.

The parkour mechanics, top to bottom.

Who’d have thought that the parkour in the parkour game would be so good, huh? I’d already had (and am still having) immense fun traversing the Harran rooftops with Crane, but taking to the much more vertical Villedor armed with a boatload of new moves and tools is something else.

Let’s make a wee list of what I love about it most:

  • How the music builds as you hit your stride; and how it varies depending on the situation, the time of day, and where you are.
  • How that same music stretches when you leap far, giving you the impression that the whole world is holding its breath for when you land.
  • How Aiden gets so damn excited over getting things right. I’d always loved it when Kyle gets giddy after landing in some trashbags, so I’m delighted they’ve leaned into this a lot more for Dying Light 2. It’s catching. Aiden ought to congratulate himself more, he’s doing great.
  • How smoothly you can chain all the moves. From leaping off the edge of the roof, to gliding across to another buildng and rolling into a window, or, you know, kicking someone in the face. The possibilities sometimes feel endless.

The stealth

Have you seen my screen name? And if you have, do you know where I got it? I got it from Thief and Thief The Metal Age. My First Love. My Forever Favourite. I love stealth. Stealth is my Thingt, so when I say it pained me that Dying Light had pretty poor stealth I mean it. The game was otherwise perfect and the lack of refined stealth mechanics was something I often lamented when playing, and I am pretty sure I ranted about it to friends, too.

Then Dying Light: Stay Human happened. Help, I’m in Love. It’s unfair with how this goes straight for my heart.

Dying Light 2 is my Near Perfect Game. It included the last thing that was missing from Dying Light. And yeah I say Near, cause it’s not got Crane, but that’s an entirely different topic and not one for this particular blog post. So. Uh! Stealth!

When I noticed that stealth was a viable option, I near lost it. And it is! Viable! Very! I can steal my way through the night and I can work on clearing a bandit camp without anyone ever seeing me coming and I get to walk away feeling a wee bit accomplished after. Plus, how human enemy NPCs react to you leaving the flashlight on? Perfect. Yes, forgetting to turn it off was a dumbass move, thank you for reminding me. I will now proceed to beat you senseless with it (I mean, not really, but wouldn’t it be neat if I could?) and steal your socks.

The ability to play without a HUD because you get feedback for everything without it

I already loved that in Dying Light. You always knew when Crane needed a bandaid based on how he reacted to getting clipped. Aiden is a bit more expressive than Kyle in that regard, especially as he gets pummelled, which makes it even easier. But there’s more to it. So much more. Dying Light 2 is very immersive if you let it.

Case in point: I have never seen my stamina meter. I don’t need to. Much like I don’t need the immunity timer to tell me when I need to eat a mushroom, lest I crave succulent thigh, because the biomarker will beep and Aiden will get worked up over it when it gets hairy.

I do wish though I could look at a wristwatch and the biomarker whenever I wanted. Being able to stick out Crane’s arm to check what time it was? Used that often. Would love to use it again.

And you know what you get when you play without a HUD? Gorgeous, gorgeous vistas all day every day, without anything distracting you. Plus, the VNC Tower climb without a HUD? Hnnnngh. More, please.

If I have got a gripe, then it’s how I cannot turn off the entire HUD in the game itself (like you can in Dying Light). Currently, I gotta rely on a combination of deleting the individual HUD components and a camera mod, which is perfectly doable but also, like, a wee bit of effort.

Everything about stamina running out

My favourite game difficulty in Dying Light is Nightmare. Why? Because Crane runs out of steam and I got to be a bit more careful about what I do with the energy he’s got. As such, I’m very glad that stamina is a much more valuable resource in any of Dying Light 2’s difficulties.

Even better yet, I’m a big fan of what running out of stamina does. Yeah, you can’t swing your weapon anymore, true. But you can still shove them bitches. And Aiden thumping on his ass when you try and dodge without stamina has got to be one of the best decisions any game developer has ever made.

Using the Environment

Okay, so, before I start to get all excited about this: Where are my buckets, Techland? Hm? Hmmm? You teased them buckets and then only gave me spears, bottles, and bricks.

Visual proof of Bucket Teasing

Anyway, I love throwing things. And I enjoy grabbing ledges and kicking mooks in the teeth and shoving someone into a fire because I have otherwise run out of steam. Mmm, crispy mook. What’s not to like?

Bonus Spear Action. Aiden has one hell of a throwing arm.

Expanded Night gameplay

Thank you, thank you, thank you for giving me a reason to be out at night that extends past a bunch of nighttime missions. Because the night is gorgeous and spooky and exciting in Dying Light 2. Though have you noticed how there’s always a full moon? Villedor and Night City have that in common and, honestly, it’s no longer a surprise both cities are a wee bit fucked.

Volatiles are scary again

Okay, I admit this one might just be me not allowing Aiden more health and a healthy dose of self-imposed dread, but I did feel like Volatiles in Dying Light 2 have more bite than they did in the original.

:3

Yes, the game is gorgeous

The game is visually stunning and an absolute joy to listen to. From the pitter-patter of raindrops hitting your paraglider to the night singing its creepy songs and the score playing as you move; it all fits together beautifully. Though I am not gonna lie, I do miss Dying Light’s atmospheric music, while at the same time understanding why they decided to focus on more situational scores which rely on your momentum. ‘Cause it works. It really does.

I want more

I’ve played the game for more than 120 hours, haven’t even seen everything yet, and I already want more. In particular, I want to see more of the world. More of Villedor. Like that castle sitting atop a tall hill lording over the city. I want to go there. And a game making me want to see more is a game that has my attention and is likely to hold it for a very, very long time.

Web Serial Review: Timekeepers

I couldn’t exit 2021 without one more Taff Screams. And ’cause I haven’t read any webcomics lately (something I hope to rectify in 2022, I got a bunch on my list!), I decided to add Web Serials to my list of things to scream about. We’re starting with one posted right on here, on WordPress.

The world is ending in a series of floods and an ancient organization sets out to enforce one of the earth’s First Promises. To do so, they must find the keepers–the children of Creation–and discover what, exactly, went wrong.

Timekeepers is hosted on Witches and Warlocks Anonymous and written by jaylinmullican. It’s ongoing (as web serials so are!) and while I haven’t caught up with it completely yet I am invested. At the time of writing this Scream, there are 24 chapters and updates come in frequently, so you’ll have a big chunk to devour already. Which, by itself, is already satisfying.

But, What about the story, Taff you might ask and I am glad you did.

The story is of the post-apocalypse flavour (immediate Taff scream points) with a heavy helping of the supernatural and magic (additional Taff scream points guaranteed) and carried on the shoulders of amazing characters that make me smile even when things are grim (the author is greedy and hoarding all the Taff scream points).

It’s packed with beautiful turns of phrases that populate a world growing at a steady pace; and which kept surprising me chapter by chapter and I have no doubt it will continue to do so. Like, did I expect the merfolk that showed up eventually? Nope. I did not. But oh boy do I love them now.

We follow a wildly fascinating set of characters, from The Medium-Sized Girl (who was previously the little girl) who is accompanied by OTC (also known as the Obnoxious Traveling Companion, the delightful Rain (who just like the Medium-Sized Girl has to learn a lot), and Faye, who’s surrounded by the Baby, Joss, and Tarin, and- okay there are a lot of characters. A whole assemble of them. Now, oftentimes that turns me off because I am terrible at keeping character names straight. But the cast in Timekeepers is very distinct and I had no problem keeping up. Plus, the storytelling is in a lot of their names, which solidifies their identities even more so.

Now, let me throw one of the countless great paragraphs at you that’ll find in this story (don’t worry, no spoilers).

Most of the glass was gone from the buildings of downtown Bend. Window panes stood empty and sharp. Shattered door frames shuddered in the current. Wood-braced buildings sagged, water-logged and rotting. Faye wondered how much longer those would last. Their odor suggested they weren’t long for this world. 

There were people here, though they all stayed in the distance. Most people did, these days. There had been one middle-distance person, a few days back, but Faye was pretty sure that had been accidental. The middle-distancer had been cleaning his glasses. Once he had returned the lenses to his face and noticed Faye’s party approaching, he had scampered off into a more proper distant-distance.


It showcases two things Timekeepers does really well. It sets the scene (sometimes a heartbreaking one, sometimes a gorgeous one) and then it follows up with prose that leaks character.

I recommend reading this, okay? Go on. Do it. You can start with the first chapter right here: Timekeepers 1.1

Find it here: Witches and Warlocks Anonymous
Author: jaylinmullican

COMIC REVIEW: Root & Branch

It’s Taff Screams time again. Long overdue, too.

Ever wanted to tag along with a beautiful, charming, and absolutely adorkable elf woman on a quest of exploration and discovery? Then Root & Branch by Pink Pitcher is exactly right for you. In it, we follow young Ariana on her search for the Tree of Life, a journey she sets out on all by her lonesome. On her way, she meets hu-mans. And what strange people those are, with strange customs and strange ideas; some friendly and welcoming, others not so much.

I admit I haven’t finished the entire series- there’s a lot to read! :3 -but Ariana charmed me quickly. She’s kind, with an innocent heart and almost naïve (deceptively so) approach to things. Which is why seeing what she’s capable of when the situation calls for it really hecking good, and I cannot wait to see how her journey pans out, how she grows with it, and how the world grows around her.

Yes, in this house we stan Ariana. There’s this particular moment that I passed only recently where she ditches a piece of clothing she’d been given, going back to her a little more revealing outfit. She says, aptly, that The wind misses touching me, and I think that was the moment I probably fell a wee bit in love.

The art style is also real gorgeous, full of unique charm and rich with warm and welcoming colours. Everything feels so lovingly crafted; down from the line art all the way to each panel and even the website frame.

So please, please, go give it a shot if you like something full of heart and adventure and a display of open kindness.

Find it here: Root & Branch
The creator: Pink