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

Comic Review: Drugs and Wires

Drugs and Wires

By Mary Safro aka Cryo and Io Black. Find it here!

Welcome to another episode of Taff Sceams About Something She Really Loves. Today I’ll be screeching about a comic I recently caught up with; Drugs and Wires.

Let’s start with what it says on the tin:

The year is 1995.

Grunge and alt-rock dominate the airwaves. Floppy disks are still the storage medium of choice. The mainstream media can’t shut up about this amazing new thing called the “Information Superhighway.” And in the shadows of glittering megacities, a loose alliance of cyber-anarchists, techno-pagans, and razorgirls is waging covert war against power-hungry corporations, sinister governments, and injustice and corruption in all of its forms.

This is not their story.

No, this is the story of Dan, pissy misanthrope and recovering VR junkie, now condemned to a dead-end job delivering sketchy packages in a post-Soviet urban hellhole.

This is the story of Lin, a cybernetics installer who treats concepts like “anesthesia” and “disinfectant” as annoying inconveniences, and likes to soundtrack life-altering surgeries with Cannibal Corpse.

About Drugs and Wires

And here’s what I got to say about it:

Drugs and Wires tackles difficult topics and sometimes it comes at you swinging hard. Hard enough to make me pause after I finished a page, two of which have taken up permanent residency in my head. They live there, rent free, and occasionally pop to the surface to give me a Oh Damn moment.

Now, anyone who knows me might now be going But, Taff. You like your fiction light-hearted, what’s up with that? And I’d go: Hold up, you reading my blog? Aw, shucks, thanks. You’re also not wrong. But Drugs and Wires handles these topics (addiction, transhumanism, corporate greed, etc..) with so much grace, I’m having a really hard time coming up with a comparison to it in mainstream media. Plus, the creators pack it full of humour – not only delivered by the story and its characters, but also in tiny details added to each panel. Smush those two together and its like you’re getting a perfectly balanced breakfast served.

A breakfast for the eyeballs and heart.

Speaking of eyeballs.

The art. The art is great. But the artist does this thing where you get animated panels thrown into the mix? They’re perfect?! If I’d worn socks when I came across the first one they’d have come off, but alas, I was reading in bed.

And the world building! You can clearly tell a lot of thought and care went into it and it provides a consistent (but continuously developing) backdrop for the characters. Oh yeah. The characters! Design? 10/10. Personalities? 10/10. Did Taff develop another crush? Yep. Two. One of them is Dan, who has charmed me with how he isn’t perfect, how he struggles, how he tries, and then falls, and then gets up again, and I just want to see him get better and grow and *incoherent flailing*.

So. Yeah. Thank you for coming to another episode of Taff screams.

You should totally read Drugs and Wires. Especially if you like any of the following: Cyberpunk. Floppy Disks. Dark humour. Cute luggage with something resembling an AI. Technology Nostalgia. Dogs (seriously, there’s dogs, I love ’em). Human misery washed down with great pacing to keep you from feeling emotionally exhausted. And great characters that aren’t great heroes.

I do want to note what D&W notes on Who probably shouldn’t read it. Just in case: This comic is not recommended to any reader likely to be offended by unapologetic drug use, body horror, questionable medical practices, existential angst, or unflattering portrayals of Slavic banana republics. In other words, proceed at your own risk.

No more “Taff Reviews” – Only “Taff Screams”

Sinvik, the embodiment of :eee:

(ノ°▽°)ノ︵┻━┻

I am horrible at reviewing work. I can’t do it. I can’t pick something apart and try and lay out its flaws, because honestly that is what apparently reviewing is supposed to be about. When I review something I want to do so because I loved that piece of media so much I want to climb a tall house and scream from the roof about how it watered my plants, groomed my dog, and healed my stubbed toe.

So, from now on, Taff Reviews is called Taff Screams and no one’s going to stop me.

‘Cause I am not here to analyse someone’s work while donning a thinking cap or some such thing. I just want to declare my appreciation for their dedication, creativity, and general brilliance.

~ Taff