29 Aug 2012

The Elder Scrolls Online concept art wallpapers are stunning

The Elder Scrolls Online concept art wallpaper

This little slice of awesomeness turned up in my Twitter feed last night:

I'm a massive fan of The Elder Scrolls games (still currently addicted to Skyrim) and so anything that is released about the new Elder Scrolls Online I will happily devour.
To celebrate getting 100,000 likes on their Facebook Page, the developers have released a series of concept art wallpapers to whet your appetite until more tidbits of game info are released. They look amazing. In addition to the Elder Scrolls Online logo, there are three landscape wallpapers of various locations in the game (the forest monastery and mountain pass ones look great, but my favourite is the desert palace above)

I can't wait to play this. With the high bar set by Skyrim, expectations are high, but based on these wallpapers I can tell that the visuals will be great ay least.

[Image source: Imgur via TESOnline]

Are you likely to give The Elder Scrolls Online a go when it's released? What kind of landscapes are your favourite?

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27 Aug 2012

Tomorrow the Killing by Daniel Polansky [book review]

Tomorrow the Killing b Daniel Polansky

Tomorrow The Killing by Daniel Polansky
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
ARC - 341 pages
Book 2 of the Low Town series
Published October 2012
Review copy given by the publisher

Read the synopsis for Tomorrow the Killing on Goodreads

After my almost fan-boy gushing over how good Polansky's debut The Straight Razor Cure was last year, I was eager to get stuck into his follow-up. Does it match up to the high bar he set himself? Oh, yes it does. Consider me a fully-fledged Polansky fan-boy.

Warden is one of my all-time favourite protagonists. There's no veneer of honour or glory; he's as bitter and selfish as the world around him. Polansky gives Warden a voice that is practically dripping in dark wit and world-weary rhetoric. I could sit and listen to Warden talk for hours. You never quite know if Warden seeks revenge or justice, and the way he pulls the strings of the head honchos in the city of Rigus makes for some excellent cloak and dagger reading.

Warden is supported by an excellent cast. His ward Wren has grown up a little and is forced to split his loyalties between Warden and Adolphus, Warden's best (and only) friend. They provide the little centre of calm in the maelstrom that is the bleak world of Low Town, filled with crazies, deviants and outcasts like Adisu the Damned and the witch-woman Mazzie of the Stained Bone.

My favourite thing about Polansky's writing still remains his distinct flair for the sardonic. He is adept at banter between characters,  and the grim nature of the world makes for some great snark, especially with Warden. Polansky has also upped the ante from his first novel; Rigus is a powder keg of dissent and ill feeling, with full-scale civil war a very real possibility. The pace escalates very quickly; what begins as a simple missing person turns into a decade of lies and backdated revenge, culminating in a crescendo of violence.

Tomorrow the Killing is a vicious and bloody tale that grabs you by the throat and pulls you along for the ride. The world is dark, and the characters darker still. A must read that will have you hooked from page one; just remember to come up for air now and again. I'm fully confident that Polansky will be able to pull it out of the bag again and again

22 Aug 2012

The Universal Mirror by Gwen Perkins [book review]


The Universal Mirror by Gwen Perkins
Published by Hydra Publications
Kindle eBook - 179 pages
Published January 2012
Review copy given by author

Read the synopsis for The Universal Mirror on Goodreads

The strength of The Universal Mirror is that it gives a great deal of attention to its characters and their relationships with one another over all else. Perkins has written complex and detailed characters that can be just as flawed as we are. Quentin willingly commits heresy in order to do what he believes will save his relationship with his wife, and he doesn't care much for the consequences. His selfishness drives him to rope others into his scheme, knowing that their punishment would be worse than his own.

Magic issued sparingly throughout, but it is well thought out and the limitations make for an interesting read. Magic is channeled through the earth and cannot be used against another human being, whether for ill or for good. The use of the Heresies make magic a dangerous ability, and magicians often find it difficult to control their own abilities when they're under stress. This makes the impact of what Quentin and Asahel do all the more exciting and dangerous. The use of magic in cartography I thought was an excellent touch.

Perkins maintains a steady pace throughout; there are no breakneck action scenes, but neither is the story bogged down with world building and exposition. With the characters as the focus of the story and driving the plot, it's refreshing to read at their pace and allow them to lead you rather than hurtling into the next plot point.

I felt that character quirks were a little overused with Asahel. For the first half of the story he bites his lip constantly, and though it's explained that he does this when he's nervous, it feels like it's mentioned so much that it seems like an obvious character quirk. His was the only noticeable character with this, though; all other characters were well balanced.

The Universal Mirror is a fun read with a solid cast. If you're after a good fantasy that's not bogged down by grit or overly complicated plots, with a focus on well built characters, then give this one a go.

18 Aug 2012

Visual Guide to Fantasy


I'm away on holiday until the 27th August, so here's a little something I rigged up to tide you over in the meantime. Feel free to share if you want to spread the lols. Enjoy!

UPDATE: I've been informed that Anakin Skywalker's mother was killed when he was 19, so Darth Vader is actually not an orphan. I'll have to rig up a new graphic to fix this. Oops!

Visual Guide to Fantasy 1

Who would you want on your side in a fight? Batman, Blade, Harry Potter or Darth Vader?
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14 Aug 2012

Brave is a bonnie delight [movie review]

Brave movie poster by Pixar

Director: Mark Andrews
Studio: Pixar
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Running Time: 100 minutes
Released: August 2012

Brave tells the story of Merida (Kelly Macdonald), an adventurous Scottish princess who is forced to marry at the behest of her mother Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) and father King Fergus (Billy Connolly). In an attempt to change her fate, Merida makes a deal with a witch (Julie Walters), showing Merida to be careful what you wish for.

Without a shadow of a doubt, Pixar have pulled it out of the bag again when it comes to visual beauty. The mysterious awe of ancient Scotland is captured perfectly; from the dense and foggy forests to the windswept hilltop ruins. The CGI is excellent, and Pixar have done an excellent job in showing real and fluid movement in all of their characters, even the animals.

Merida is certainly a strong willed young woman, and she isn't afraid to voice her opinion no matter what tradition and decorum dictate. She is skilled and adventurous, and I suspect the number of young girls attending archery lessons after seeing this movie is going to skyrocket. She's the kind of Disney princess that kids should want to emulate. Fergus as the hen-pecked monarch was hilarious as he attempted to show off his bravery and power over the kingdom, only to be followed by a "yes, dear" as he bows his head and slinks back off to his throne.

Merida shooting her bowI loved Brave's story. The plot took an unexpected turn about half way through, which I thought might have thrown things off course, but it worked brilliantly. There was a fair bit of tension and the threat of the ticking clock hung over Merida's head throughout. Still, there were a good many moment of proper, laugh out loud humour mingled in with the serious stuff to balance things out. I really wish there had been more time spent with the witch; it seemed like her part was over far too quickly (and for some odd reason her familiar had an American accent. In a film set in Scotland during the Dark Ages, an American accent is more than a little incongruous to the overall feel).

Brave is a fantastic movie filled to the brim with laughs and a greatly crafted tale for kids and adults alike. Throw in some excellent visuals, a detailed mythology and a good old fashioned clan war, and you've a great film. Highly recommended.

[All images are copyright Pixar and Walt Disney Studios]
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12 Aug 2012

In which I hunt dragons



Yesterday I went hunting dragons. There are sixty painted dragons dotted around the city of Newport, each one by a different local artist and focussing on a different theme.

The Superdragons2 project is designed to get people to find the lesser known landmarks of the city, and after 5 hours of walking around Newport I can safely say that the project was a success. I managed to find 37 of the 60 dragons on foot, which I was pleased with. Here are a few of my favourites. I've linked to the artists' websites where I can find them.

Hen wlad fynhadau (land of my fathers) - designed by Nigel Hughes

Land of my fathers dragon by Nigel Hughes

 Gwynllyw dragon - Designed by Deborah Wheeler

Drip dragon - designed by Caroline Langdon

Drip dragon by Caroline Langdon

And the best of them all:

Draig Maen - designed by Andy O'Rourke

What fantasy creature would you choose to represent your city/country?