Showing posts with label Reading Challenge. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Reading Challenge. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge: Shadow of Night

“Witches see the truth plainly—even if their husbands are full of nonsense.” 
- Deborah Harkness, Shadow of Night

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

I read Shadow of Night with a little more enthusiasm than I did for A Discovery of Witches.  Witch Diana Bishop and Vampire Matthew Clairmont were time walking to the court of Elizabeth I and all of Tudor England was open to them.  We were going to see Shakespeare and John Dee and Christopher Marlow.  I could ignore the fact that formerly super-independent Diana was now no better than Bella in Twilight. I mean this part of English history was Deborah Harkness's forte, her area of expertise.

Well...I was not disappointed in the historical bits.  I would have loved more Shakespeare and Dee and much less Marlow to be honest.  Other characters are introduced but never rise above caricature to be honest; Gallowglass, is that your name or your job?   Plus the rules of Time Travel are very weird. Clairmont is in his own body from then, but where is his consciousness?  How can he remember in his own future? Why does Diana have her own body?  To quote Ron Stoppable, "time travel it's a cornucopia of disturbing concepts." 
Of course, they keep looking for Ashmole 782 pages and come no closer to finding it. In truth I can't even recall if they did or not since the ending pissed me off so much.

Here are the spoilers.
Diana and Matthew get back only to discover that the witches that have been pursuing them killed Emily “Em” Mather, Sarah Bishop's (Diana's aunt and foster mothers) partner.  Fucking great. Another dead lesbian.  Killed "off-screen" no less.

Look. This might not be an issue for you, but I made promises to people. So I emailed Harkness's publicist to ask if this is "undone" somehow in the next book, "Book of Life". I was told no.

So do not expect a review for Book of Life here. Like I said, I made promises and stick to them.

You can find Deborah Harkness on the web at http://deborahharkness.com/.

2018 Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge

Books Read so far: 4
Level: Initiate
Witches in this book: Dozens, more implied.
Are they Good Witches or Bad Witches: Good for the most part, but some evil.
Best RPG to Emulate it: I get a World of Darkness vibe here, especially the old WoD, Mage: The Sorcerer's Crusade.
Material for WotWQ: The historical setting is so much fun. Too bad the characters in it are not more exciting.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge: A Discovery of Witches

“It begins with absence and desire.
It begins with blood and fear.
It begins with a discovery of witches.” 
- Deborah Harkness, A Discovery of Witches

I read Deborah Harkness' "A Discovery of Witches" a bit back.  I kept debating on whether or not to stop reading it many times.

Somethings about the book rubbed me wrong.  While I can appreciate the scholarship that went into this book there were some things that just bugged me.
Diana Bishop, our protagonist, is supposed to be a smart, independent woman.  She is a Ph.D. and overtly a feminist.  So why does she keep falling for the dry as old paint vampire?
The story has an interesting quest, the search for an alchemical text that might have something to do with all creatures (vampires and witches). They run all over the world and do a lot of research.
I stuck through it till the end, since I think there was an interesting mystery in there with some fairly unitesting characters in my mind.
In the end I wanted to like it more than I did, but I did read the next one in the series too.  More that one later.

You can find Deborah Harkness on the web at http://deborahharkness.com/.

2018 Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge

Books Read so far: 3
Level: Initiate
Witches in this book: Dozens, more implied
Are they Good Witches or Bad Witches: Good for the most part, but some evil.
Best RPG to Emulate it: I get a New World of Darkness vibe here. 

Monday, April 9, 2018

Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge: Crash Override

"Sometimes you need to burn a bridge while you are still standing on so they know you mean business. ... All us witches, past present and future, need to do better...Suffer us witches to live." 
 - Zoë Quinn

This might seem like a stretch here but stay with me on this.  I finished reading Zoë Quinn's Crash Override: How Gamergate (Nearly) Destroyed My Life, and How We Can Win the Fight Against Online Hate, and I am going to make the case this is a book about a modern witch and the witchhunt that came from it.

I want to get into the meat of the book, but let me address the parallels first.

Zoë Quinn began, like many historical witches, as a woman a bit marginalized from the world but found solace, comfort and even expertise in a traditionally "man's space".  For the witches of old this was often medical knowledge in a world of male doctors or religious knowledge in a world of male clergy.  In any case, she was a  woman (or a girl really, she was not much older than my son when this all went down) against a patriarchy.  Does that sound like a feminist theory to you?  It is ONLY if never actually studied feminist theory or have ever used the word "feminazi" in anything other than a derisive tone.  She was attacked and all but pilloried and burned at the stake.  Though virtually speaking she was. She even describes the mob after her as a group of "inquisitors".  The appropriate name really.

Actions speak louder than words and while I had heard and read the words of these internet inquisitors and gatekeepers of their "culture" I don't for a second believe them.  Their claims can be easily dismissed and discarded.  There were no witches on Pendle Hill in 1612. No devil in Loudun, France (1634). There was no devil in Salem (1692), no Satanic ritual abuse in the 1980s and no conspiracy in August 2014 to censor video games*.  (yes there is more than this, but the trouble is sorting through a metric ton of shit to get to it. This is not the place to detail my last couple of years of "ritual filth" reading about this and going to where they "live".)

But like those times, facts do not matter once the mob smells blood in the water, or online.  Quinn is a bit more understanding of her inquisitors, the ones that would see her dead for the audacity of being a woman.  I do not extend to them the same benefit of the doubt; I have seen this play out too many times in the exact same way with nearly textbook results.

Zoë Quinn is a witch, an unburnt witch in fact (her nom de' net in fact), and like the best witches of old, her name and exploits will outlive her inquisitors and tormentors.

She spends the first half of her book recounting her love of video games, finding solace online with like-minded people and discovering that she too could build something or make something.  There were many times I smiled or laughed out loud because I could relate to exactly to what she was doing and feeling.  Then we get to that day in August of 2014 where the mob, spurred on by an abusive ex-boyfriend and some easily dismissed internet rumors decides to act.
I have seen online abuse first hand, I have also stood on the sidelines and watched it unfold like a spectator sport.  So it was not without some personal horror that I listened to what she went through.
Honestly, you have to have zero empathy not be moved here.  Even IF (in all caps) she did the things she was accused of, it doesn't justify the violent outburst here.  (seriously, what the fuck is wrong with you people?)

There is some repetition, but this is a memoir, not a research paper. It is told like a memoir, with the unedited bits of a person's messy life left in. And the author is quite upfront about that.  In fact listening to it you get the feeling it could have been a "LiveJournal" post AND that is perfectly fine because that is the vibe the author wants.  Listen to her words and what she wants, the book is the ultimate expression of that. It is also almost, but not quite, a requiem for a life lost.  I can tell you, as a former QMHP, she sounds EXACTLY like people I used to counsel after they had dealt with something traumatic or after a significant period of depression.  I do not doubt that these are the words from someone who has in my professional opinion "seen some shit".

The first half had me depressed and sad for this girl. But the second half made happy for the woman she has become and what she has been able to do.  Sure, she can never get back that old life.  In many ways, her tale is the same of that as someone that has suffered a traumatic disease or accident.  In others, it is worse, because she knows if it were not for the actions of others she could go back to that old life and do the things she loved.

The last half of the book's title is "How We Can Win the Fight Against Online Hate" and she talks about what she has done and what she has been doing and freely admits that she is neither equipped or qualified to do the job that needs to be done.  I hope she will excuse the Batman allusion here (she has a section "You are not Batman"), but she is the hero we need.

She is open about needing more non-CIS, non-white, non-male voices in this fight. Not that we don't need CIS hetro white males, it's just that people like that, like me, are a dime a dozen.  We are.  She is open and even empathizes with the mobs of inquisitors that were after her; not wanting them to be subject to same actions she faced.  She is very cognizant (maybe painfully so) of the limitations of the tech companies and law enforcement.

To top it all off she built the Crash Override Network to help other victims of online abuse.
This alone is worthy of praise.

In the end, her advice is simple, be better to each other online and try to empathize with the human on the other side of the screen.   She knows there is a lot of work to do and this only the start.

Final note. I listened to the audiobook version of this with Zoë Quinn reading it herself.  I think that was a great choice for me, to hear her own words in her own voice, but also to get her to do it.  She knew when to be funny and when to be sad more than some other narrator.

You can find Zoë Quinn on the web here: http://www.crashoverridenetwork.com

2018 Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge

Books Read so far: 2
Level: Initiate
Witches in this book: 1. Keep in mind that "Witch" has never, EVER been an insult in my mind.
Are they Good Witches or Bad Witches: Good, but in her own words, flawed.
Best RPG to Emulate it: NA. But the snarky part of me does want to build a ShadowRun game around this with real trolls and real witches.
Use in WotWQMaybe not appropriate, but this was one of many real-life events that got me to write the Aiséiligh Tradition Witch.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge: The Simbul's Gift

I am doing the Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge again this year, hosted by Melissa’s Eclectic Bookshelf.  This year I also want to focus on the Forgotten Realms, so I am going to combine my reading as much as possible.

So the obvious place (to me) to start is a book about The Simbul, the Witch Queen of Aglarond.  Is that what I got?   Well...

I had been warned previously that this was not a great book, and it isn't, but it is nowhere near as bad as I was lead to believe.  The author, Lynn Abbey, has a solid reputation in fantasy novels. Her work on the Thieves' World novels alone secures her place as one of fantasy's great authors. 

So I guess I was suspecting more in this one.

We get a lot about the Simbul.  She is somewhat vain (ok a lot) and capricious, but she also has plans.  She wants to get her sometime paramour Elminster a gift. She scrys and sees the perfect gift, a horse named Zandilar's Dancer. Trouble is it belongs to a half-elf lad.  Her machinations over the horse get her and the owner Ebroin into all sorts of trouble, even drawing the attention of the Red Wizards of Thay.

While I loved the background on the Simbul and like the information on Thay and the Red Wizards I felt this was really three stories crammed into one. Watching her interact with Ebroin, either as herself or in disguise, and watching her interact with a couple of Red Wizards made me realize that the Simbul has a lot of acquaintances, a lot of enemies, but no close friends. Even her people fear her more often than not.  While she is not presented in the most favorable of lights here I could not help but really like her.  I could see how she got where she was and how disconnected she must feel from everything and everyone except Elminster (who is not really in this book at all).  I wonder if she actually loves him or feels she does since he is the only other person that could possibly relate to her.  There is affection for her sisters, but even the seem aloof to her.

In the end of the tale the horse is all but forgotten and even the reasons for stealing him or not stealing him seem moot.

The Simbul is a like a storm. She comes, she goes, and she can leave destruction in her wake. Despite (or because of) that she is still a fascinating character and one I would love to read more about.

You can find Lynn Abbey on the web here: http://www.lynnabbey.com

2018 Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge

Books Read so far: 1
Level: Initiate
Witches in this book: The Simbul, aka Alassra Shentrantra Silverhand.
Are they Good Witches or Bad Witches:
Best RPG to Emulate it: This book screams AD&D 2nd Edition.
Use in WotWQ: Yes.  The Simbul might end up being one of my central Witch Queens.

Forgotten Realms Date: 1368 DR

Friday, December 29, 2017

Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge: Mistress of Ambiguities (Silverglass #4)

“But I-But you-Do you mean to say that you’re the Witch of Rhostshyl?”
“It’s not a title to which I lay formal claim,” said Nyctasia, smiling, “but, yes, I’m called that.

Here we are with the last of the Silverglass books. It is our time to bid witch Nyctasia r'n Edonaris brenn Rhostshyl and mercenary Corson brenn Torisk, Sorry, Lady Corson goodbye.

Nyctasia is finding her home as ruler of Rhostshyl while Corson...well she is back at the Hare getting drunk and looking for fights to pick.  In the meantime men from their pasts have come back.  For Corson it is scholar from her past that taught her how to read, amonge other things, and is now looking for work.  For Nyctasia her former lover Ben is back.  Trouble is Ben was supposedly killed in the Yth Wood back in Book 1.
Now it would be great if all these plots all came together to a satisfaying ending, but they don't. Not Really.  Ben never really lives up to his former glory or threat. The scholar thread went no where and even the drama of Nyctasia rulership of Rhostshyl was anti-climatic.
I got the feeling that the authors had a bunch of ideas and notes and a 4 book deal.

Still though, it was a fun read and I am going miss these two.

2017 Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge
2017 Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge
Books Read so far: 22
Level: Crone
Witches in this book: Nyctasia, even if she denies her own power.
Are they Good Witches or Bad Witches: Nycatasia
Best RPG to Emulate it: Nearly any D&D game would work great. Tying D&D 5 for this one.
Use in WotWQ: Yes.  I absolutely need to include these two in my War of the Witch Queens.

I could not let the year go out and not try these two out under D&D5.
Corson is remarkablly easy.  She is a fighter with military training and she likes to get into fights.
For Nyctasia I first tried her out a sorcerer and even considered a druid for about 30 seconds. In the end I went with one of the new Warlocks with a Celestial Pact.  It seemed to be the right choice for the Vahnite religion and her ability to heal others.  I gave her Pact of the Tome to cover her scholar background since made D&D5 Background as a Noble.

Corson brenn Torisk, D&D 5th Edition (PDF)

Nyctasia r'n Edonaris brenn Rhostshyl, D&D 5th Edition (PDF)

Book 1: Silverglass
Book 2: Web of Wind
Book 3: Witch of Rhostshyl

And with that my 2017 Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge is at an end.  Looking forward to 2018!


Monday, September 18, 2017

Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge: Grimalkin the Witch Assassin

"I am Grimalkin, the Witch Assassin.  I am the mother of Death. She follows behind me leaving bloody footprints in the grass."

Also known as "Spook's: I Am Grimalkin" by Joseph Delaney.

I decided to go back to the Last Apprentice/The Spook series since it had been a while since I had read the last book.  This one dealt nearly exclusively with Grimalkin, the witch assassin of the Malkin clan of witches.  We last saw her leaving Tom Ward and the Spook, John Gregory, after they had trapped and beheaded the Fiend.  Grimalkin is now on the run from her sister witches with the Fiends head in a bag.  If they capture her they will bring back the Fiend.

I rather enjoyed this one.  It was a fast read since it was full of action Also the character of Grimalkin is a fascinating one.  We learn why she hates the Fiend so much despite being a malevolent witch herself.  We learn why she became a witch-assassin too and some of her early training.

We also learn a lot more about all these witches.  For example, Grimalkin has an apprentice of her own, Thorn, a girl she is training to be the next witch assassin.  Grimalkin cares quite a lot for this girl and takes pride in her accomplishments much like a mother would.   She also cares for Alice Dean and Agnes Sowerbutts, two other witches we have seen in the past.   Even when acting evil, these witches are very, very human.  Which really puts the past books and especially John Gregory's behavior in some very dark light.  In the end, I was asking who was truly the evil one here?

The book has a great build up but the final battle at the end is over too soon in my mind.

You can find all of Joseph Delaney's Spook's series and books here: http://www.spooksbooks.com/

2017 Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge
2017 Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge
Books Read so far: 21
Level: Crone!
Witches in this book: 4 featured, hundreds implied.
Are they Good Witches or Bad Witches: They are supposed to be evil witches, but a lot in this made me rethink that.
Best RPG to Emulate it: Nearly any D&D game would work great.
Use in WotWQ: Grimalkin is such a great character. I would LOVE to use her or someone like her in my War of the Witch Queens game.

A while back after I finished Rage of the Fallen I worked up Grimalkin for Pathfinder. I thought it was great, it captured the character well I thought.  For this book I wanted to give her a try for the Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition game.
The D&D5 game does not have witches (yet) but they do have Warlocks, and for this character that works out well to be honest.   She has a "Fiend Pact" which I felt was appropriate given her background in the books.  I went with the variant human so I could give her a dual wielding feat.
I suppose I could have made her Warlock/Ranger as some sort of hunter too, but I liked the idea of giving her the Rogue (Assassin) class.   Maybe I'll try that out with another system.

Grimalkin, the Witch/Assassin for D&D 5th Edition.



Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge: Conjure Wife

"Women are witches. Fighting for their men.  Tansy was a witch. She was guarding you. But you made her stop."

Here I am with the last book required by the Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge for 2017.  I have more on tap, but for book number 20 I wanted something special.
For this I wanted a book that has been on my list for as long as I can remember.  I was going to use this for #1, but #20 is just as good.

Fritz Leiber's "Conjure Wife" from 1943 has been held up as sort of a prototype of the modern American Witch tale.  Seemingly normal wives in a small East Coast town married to normal, rational men of science and academia turn out to be powerful witches engaged in a silent secret war of magic.

The book is a bit a dated in terms of what the roles of men and women are/were, but at the same time, it is also still very, very engaging.  At first, I didn't think I'd like it due to the casual misogyny in the tale, but the story soon gripped me and once I reminded myself that this was the 1940s AND some roles were over emphasized on purpose. We were not just supposed to believe that these women were quiet, dutiful wives because it was the 40s. It was also the mask they wore to hide the fact that they were everything BUT that. They were intelligent (more so than their husbands), clever and some down right evil and all were powerful.   By the end of the book, you are left feeling that the men in this tale are really no more than children, a bit dim ones at that.

Leiber is a masterful storyteller and Conjure Wife is no exception.  There are some great plot twists and turns and his characters are well developed.  Norman and Tansy are likable characters and very easy to relate to.
It is no wonder that he is featured so prominently in both AD&D's Appendix N and the "Suggested Readings" in Moldvay's Basic D&D.

The book was made into a movie three times.  "Weird Woman" (1944), "Burn Witch Burn (1962)/Night of the Eagle", and " Witches' Brew" (1979).  Of the lot "Burn Witch Burn" was the best if I remember right. I have them all on tape somewhere.

This book is available in multiple formats and covers.  It is a true classic.

2017 Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge
2017 Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge
Books Read so far: 20
Level: Crone!
Witches in this book: 4, none or millions.
Are they Good Witches or Bad Witches: Tansy is a good witch.  The other three, not so much.
Best RPG to Emulate it: Something modern would work nicely.  Certainly Chill or Call of Cthulhu might work well.
Use in WotWQ: The modern setting is less suited for the faux-medieval setting I am looking for in War of the Witch Queens, but Tansy certainly fits the bill as a witch queen.  The idea of every woman having some sort of power in secret would make for a lot of fun in a game.  That old chestnut of a normal cat being more powerful than a first level magic-user becomes scary when you think who might be controlling those cats.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge: Witch of Rhostshyl (Silverglass #3)

"You forget that I am a witch, Rehal." 
 - Nyctasia

Headed back to the world of witch Nyctasia r'n Edonaris brenn Rhostshyl and mercenary Corson brenn Torisk.  No longer on the run, our brave heroines are headed their separate ways for now.   Corson heads back to her lover Stefian and his tavern/inn in Chiastelm while Nyctasia remains with her cousins a bit longer.   Corson, of course, can't stand sitting around, she is too much of an adventurer, so she takes odd-jobs here and there.  One of which gets Steifann's other occasional lover, Destiver, captured and arrested as a smuggler.   While Steifann stews and Destiver waits for her likely execution, Corson decides to get out of town of a bit.
Back on the Endonaris Estates, Nyctasia is also getting restless. She translates books all day and comes down to interact with her cousins in the evening.   Eventually, she is dealing with a runaway slave and is drawn back into the civil war in Rhostshyl that she was trying to stop in Book 1.
Eventually, our heroes are reunited.  Nyctasisa takes on her rightful place as ruler of the City of Rhostshyl with Corson first as her body guard and then elevated to Lady Coirsonde.

More so than the previous books this one felt like two people writing a book separated by distance.   The story didn't pick up until the end, and only when our two leading ladies were back together again.  The bickering was gone and they have settled into a pretty solid friendship despite their differing stations.
I felt though there were some missed opportunities in this book.  There is a part where Nyc is off with a pack of traveling actors and acrobats that might have been fun.  Though we did get a lot of Corson's exploits.  We do get to meet Nyc's younger sister and mother in this, so more of the Edonaris clan.

This adventure really felt like a "Name Level" adventure in the old D&D sense.  Corson is made a Lady with all the rights and responsibilities.  Nyc stops running around and takes up her family's rulership of the city.

I am quite excited about starting the next, and sadly, the last book. No one will confuse these book with great literature, but they are a really fun and fast read.

The book is out of print and there are no digital or audio versions I have found.  They pop up every so often at Half-Price books.

2017 Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge
2017 Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge
Books Read so far: 19
Level: Crone
Witches in this book: Nyctasia is very much a witch, but keeps her powers away from prying eyes.
Are they Good Witches or Bad Witches: Nyc is much better in this book.
Best RPG to Emulate it: For this book, there is a strong "Adventurer" vibe here not to mention all the things associated with hitting "name level" of old D&D.  So something D&D Basic/Expert, Adventurer Conqueror King,  or Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea would be great.
Use in WotWQ: Likely, but since I am using them as characters in the Blue Rose game I am currently playing their involvement might only be as a cameo.

Nyctasia and Corson for Basic/Expert D&D

Basic and Expert era D&D has so much going for it really. It is simple, it is easy to pick-up AND you can really pack a lot of fun in 14 levels.  I see why ACKS and AS&SH end around the same levels; ACKS, in particular, takes the B/X idea and really expands it to encompass a lot of  play-types.

Here they are for B/X era D&D at "name level".

Nyctasia r'n Edonaris brenn Rhostshyl
10th level Witch (Vahnite Tradition*)  (Family Trad)

Strength: 9
Dexterity: 9
Constitution: 10
Intelligence: 16
Wisdom: 15
Charisma: 18

Hit Points: 28
Alignment: Neutral
AC: 8 (leather armor, dex -1)

Occult Powers
Familiar: Greymantle (large hound)
7th level: Family Enemy

Spells
Cantrips: Chill, Daze, Detect Curse, Ghost Sound, Object Reading, Open, Spark
First: Bewitch I, Cause Fear, Glamour, Mend Light Wounds, Sleep
Second: Agony, Calm Emotions, Rite of Remote Seeing
Third: Circle of Respite, Ghost Ward, Speak with Dead
Fourth: Divine Power, Intangible Cloak of Shadows
Fifth: Death Curse, Sending

Corson brenn Torisk, aka The Lady Corisonde Desthene li'Rhostshyl brenn Torisk
9th level Fighter

Strength: 17
Dexterity: 16
Constitution: 15
Intelligence: 13
Wisdom: 14
Charisma: 16

Hit Points: 65
Alignment: Neutral
AC: 7 (leather)

Equipment:  Sword, armor, coins. Enchanted comb (will cast Bewitch 1/day).


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge: Web of Wind (Silverglass #2)

We are back to the world of Nyctasia r'n Edonaris brenn Rhostshyl and Corson brenn Torisk.  Our leading ladies are still on the run from...pretty much everyone when they discover a thief with treasure riddle.  Not a map, but a riddle leading to the treasure of the ancient Cymvelan Circle.  This order of monks and mystics were destroyed when the locals believed they were practicing black magic.   Nyctasia wants to learn what secrets they had, Corson wants gold.
The book unfolds at a much slower pace than did the "running for their lives" tale of Silverglass.
In fact the pace slows WAY down. The heroes spend the vast majority of their time at the Edonaris estate and vineyard. These are distant cousins of Nyctasia, so they are not as haughty as their urban relatives and most importantly they are not trying to have Nyc or Corson killed.
Here the pieces of the riddle are unwound and their secrets found.
The treasure is not a secret cache of gold and treasure, but rather a collection of ancient books.  Nyc though notices one of the dusty, web covered books is recently missing and maybe the extinct Cymvelan Circle is not so extinct after all.

The book is a fun read and the mystery, even if slow, was a compelling one.

The "author", J.F. Rivkin, is actually two different people. One wrote the first two books and the other wrote the last two.  I am not sure who J.F. Rivkin is and I have still not found out any information about a real identity either.

The book is out of print and there are no digital or audio versions I have found.  They pop up every so often at Half-Price books.

2017 Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge
2017 Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge
Books Read so far: 18
Level: Crone
Witches in this book: Nyctasia is very much a witch
Are they Good Witches or Bad Witches: Nyc does a better job at being good in this book.
Best RPG to Emulate it: For this book I have been trying the characters out in the AGE version of Blue Rose.  Despite the Sword and Sorcerery tropes, there is a strong vibe of  Romantic Fantasy here as both Corson and Nyc look for a place to belong.
Use in WotWQ: Likely, but since I am using them as characters in the Blue Rose game I am currently playing their involvement might only be as a cameo.

I have the sheets for the characters but need to get to work.  So here is a cheat.

I made Corson a warrior. Easy call.  Given her propensity to be an adventurer and never settling down I thought "Swashbuckler" was a good choice.  She also has Arcane Potential, and in particular The Sight.  This covers her feeling of unease around magic.  She doesn't see it as much as feel it.



Nyctasia is an adept, but what kind?  I gave her Bard to cover a wide a variety of her skills but she doesn't have the Performance pre-req.  I am using her Cultural Lore in place of that.  I could have gone with a sage as well, but this fits concept wise a little better.


I might give them a try in D&D 5 or Basic D&D next.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge: A Storm of Witchcraft

"All ministers and learned people knew that witches were real and that they had the power to harm."

A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience by Emerson W. Baker

This book has been sitting on my must read shelf since the year began. I have read the history of Salem and the Witch trails many times over the years and I still learn something new.  This book is filled to brim with new information.
Many books like to focus on victims, and some even focus on "the afflicted"; those that accused their neighbors of witchcraft.  Professor Baker though goes much farther than that and talks about the judges, the people in power and in particular the two Mathers, Cotton and Increase, the learned ministers at the center of this storm.

The term "A Perfect Storm" gets thrown around a lot, but here it is appropriate.  There was so much going on here that made the witch craze happen here when it was dying out everywhere else.  It really was the last gasp of a dying movement of the Old World in the New World.
It was the start of the end of Pre-American Puritanism.
In this book Salem and 1692 take on a level of cultural impact that the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 did in the United Kingdom.

The book is long, 400+ pages, and full of names. But those names belonged to people and those people left others behind.  So Prof. Baker also delves into the impact these witch trials had on the new experiment that would become America.
This is easily one of those books you can read, do a little more research or reading on the subject elsewhere, and then come back to and learn something new still.
If I have one complaint, and that is way too strong of a word, it is that the last chapter was not long enough.  I would have loved to have learned more about the cultural impact of 1692 on modern culture and how it shaped America.  But that would be a complete other book.

Prof. Baker gives us not only a well researched and well-detailed book, he gives us a book that is easy to read and relate to.  There was so much going on back in 1692 that we can relate to today.

The history of Salem is the history of America. The witch trials of 1692 are also part of America; our darker past that some (like the town of Danvers to a degree) would like to forget.

I also listened to the audio book. After listening to interviews with Prof. Baker I kinda wish he had narrated it himself.

You can find Prof. Emerson W. Baker on the web at his faculty page: http://w3.salemstate.edu/~ebaker/ and on Twitter: https://twitter.com/emersonwbaker

You can also read what he says about last year's "The Witch".
He also did an interview at Ben Franklin's World.

2017 Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge
2017 Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge
Books Read so far: 17
Level: Crone
Witches in this book: None or dozens.
Are they Good Witches or Bad Witches: 25 innocent people lost their lives in the errors of 1692.
Best RPG to Emulate it: This is the sort of setting one can easily use in Colonial Gothic.  In fact, I would call this book must reading for any CG player.
Use in WotWQ: Salem Villiage, or at least the popular notions of it, is the model I am basing the town of West Haven on.  The relationship between Salem Villiage and Salem Town will be used as a basis for West Haven and East Haven.  Though where Salem Town embraces their past today (and Salem Villiage is now Danvers, MA), it is West Haven that embraces their past.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge: The History of Witchcraft

For this Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge I "read" (listened to) two shorter books that covered roughly the same topic.  The first was "The History of Witchcraft", written by Lois Martin and narrated by Brogan West.  The second was "Witch Mania: The History of Witchcraft", written by Charles Mackay and narrated by Greg Wagland. Witch Mania is actually part of the Charles Mackay's 1841 book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, which I covered another version of back in January as "Witch: A Tale of Terror".
So for these reasons I am going to classify this as one reading, not two.

The differences in the books are largely one of the historical perspectives.  The older 1841 "Witch Mania" book takes an interestingly pro-science approach that is congruent to the time's own growing industrialism and embrace of science.  "The History of Witchcraft" includes the findings of, subsequent dismissal of those findings of, Margret Murray's Witch Cult thesis.  History also covers the then new "The Triumph of the Moon" by Ronald Hutton.  But nothing is given in detail.

Mackay's 1841 book reads and feels like something written today to be honest.  There are only tidbits of information that would let on that it is not.  Though the perspective is still one of "those poor superstitious peasants".  Martin's 2007 book is a bit newer in it's topics, but the perspective has not shifted very much.

Both books come down on the side of this all being delusion by the participants with some mention of how to properly view historical events through the lens of the times they were in.
Both books cover many of the same horror stories that are familiar to anyone that spends time reading these tales.  A couple of interesting bits for me was the idea of how localized many of these accounts are.  These were common fears that involved local people on a global stage.  The newer "History" (2007) spent some time talking about how this was part and parcel the change over from superstition to rationalism.  Also, it seems there is a new push to see the witch trials as largely a secular issue rather than a purely ecclesiastical one. More on this when I cover the next history book on my list.



Both of these books came from Audible.
http://www.audible.com/

2017 Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge
2017 Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge
Books Read so far: 13
Level: Mother
Witches in this book: Again, millions or none.
Are they Good Witches or Bad Witches: All were innocent in my mind. At least innocent enough to not warrant a capital offense.
Best RPG to Emulate it: Again, not the best question, but I would love to play a "Burning Times" RPG using WitchCraft.
Use in WotWQ: I will bring some of these ideas to the campaign, certainly the witch hunters and the paranoia.


RPG Carnival Post
Using witches, magic and occult practices in your games.
Both of these books got me thinking about how witches and the occult could be viewed in a game that is already full of magic.

The main feature of both of these books is fear. Fear of the unknown and fear of the very real and very known Devil.  Witches, no matter the stripe, are something to be hated and feared.
This also begs another question. Are Witches really Witches without the persecution?

In most fantasy role-playing games there are wizards, clerics and a host of spellcasters. Even "grimdark" games like Dungeon Crawl Classics and Lamentations of the Flame Princess have their spellcasters and they are, despite their "otherness" still part of a social unit of adventurers.  The witch, when she is included, often becomes another type of spellcaster. In the cases of AD&D 2, D&D 3 and D&D 4 she was merely a type of wizard.  Third party books have made strides to cleave the witch class to the historical witch, or at lease the fairy tale witch.  The RPG Quest of the Ancients, despite it's "Heartbreaker" status has done some rather interesting things with witches.

One thing I have done in my own games is to set up a dichotomy of magic. There is the "state" sanctioned magic used by wizards and the "church" sanctioned magic used by clerics.  Casters will fall, mostly, into one of these two realms. It is assumed that the powers in charge of these realms will police their own.  "Witches" are those that fall outside of these realms and their magic is somehow "outlaw" or "other".

Both history books mentioned above make a point of detailing both the religious and secular nature of the witch trials. This can be emulated in many RPGs with the method I also mention, with a secular or state wizard working with the church or spiritual clerics working to stop the "Evil" witches.  I say evil in quotes since an evil cleric, in this case, would still see they have more in common with a good cleric (both worship gods) than a witch.

I have done this to great effect with witches and psychic characters in my games over the years. In fact, witches had become so numerous in my games that I had to redo how psionic characters were dealt with my games just to set up this "other".

For all of it's outward appearances, D&D and games like it are not medieval Europe. The polytheism of most worlds is really at odds with the notion of Feudalism.  This lack of a monotheist faith, and interrelated government, really makes for a lack of a designated "evil enemy" for this church/state to fight against.   If there is no enemy there is no enemy secrets, cults or conspiracies.   In my mind the best enemies of society are the ones that seek to destroy it.
Maybe there is a cabal of evil (unsanctioned) wizards or a cult of warlocks.

For me, witches are the most interesting when they are slightly outside of the norm.  In modern parlance, they can be the terrorists OR (maybe AND) the Social Justice Warriors.

But I have always been fans of the outsiders, the strange and the different.


Monday, May 1, 2017

Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge: Pathfinder Tales: Winter Witch

"Ellasif was the only witness to her infant sister's first breath. What followed was not a newborn's wail, but merry peals of laughter." 

Pathfinder Tales: Winter Witch by Elaine Cunningham and Dave Gross.

Gamer Fiction is a bit of an odd thing for me.  I admit I enjoy it and sometimes I find something good. But there is a tinge of guilt that I am "wasting my time" and not reading something better.  I guess this makes it the very definition of "guilty pleasures".

Winter Witch is no different.  Elaine Cunningham has been writing for years and has some notable titles under belt.   It will not be confused with great literature, but it is also not supposed to be. It is a fun little romp through a frozen world with a wizard turned forger and cshieldmaiden looking for her sister.  Ellasif, the aforementioned shieldmaiden is the hero of our tale and the most interesting. She obviously loves her sister Liv, but is also not a little afraid of her.
Her beginning story was very interesting.  I could not help but feel it was nice mix of Slavic, Saxon and Celtic myths all rolled into one. The story then shifts to the tale of a wizard (we later learn) and map maker forger Declan.  Declan was not as interesting to me to be honest though the mystery around him was.  These two unlikely heroes, grim Ellasif and urbane Declan,  set off to find Liv and take her from the clutches of the Witches of Irrisen, maybe even from the clutches of Baba Yaga herself!

The book was a fun, really quick read. Though I will admit there are parts of the ending I was not satisfied with. Unlike some game-related fiction, where you can practically hear the dice rolling in the background, this read much more like a novel.  I read this one soon after a few Forgotten Realm novels so the competing descriptions of some the same spells (for example Fireball) were very interesting.  I guess the question I ask myself is would I read another book by Elaine Cunningham? Yes, absolutely!  Would I read another book with these characters? Maybe, depends on what the book was about.

I was hoping that Feiya would make a cameo, but no such luck really. Maybe the iconics don't appear in books.

This was another Audiobook find and the reader, Daniel Thomas May, did a great job.

Elaine Cunningham can be found on the web here:
https://www.facebook.com/elaine.cunningham
and
http://www.elainecunningham.com/

2017 Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge
2017 Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge
Books Read so far: 12
Level: Mother
Witches in this book: Many. All of Irrisen, Baba Yaga, Liv and Mareshka.
Are they Good Witches or Bad Witches: All the above. THough mostly they are Bad.
Best RPG to Emulate it: Well. It is a Pathfinder book. Pathfinder is the obvious choice here.
Use in WotWQ: Absolutely!  I can't say for sure what or who will appear, but Irrisen will absolutely feature into the War of the Witch Queens.  Expect to see Baba Yaga there too.


Don't forget. Today is Beltane!
Pick up a copy of the Warlock for Swords & Wizardry.


Monday, April 17, 2017

Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge: Silverglass

"It takes a witch to enter Yth and return, so be thankful you have a witch with you!" Nyctasia said defiantly.

Silverglass by J.F. Rivkin

Silvergalss was always "one of those books".  One of those books I had meant to read, or always saw and was curious about, or picked up a couple of time but never bought.  A chance encounter at my local library book sale though changed that.  For a mere 50 cents (well a $1.00, book 3 was there too) I was able to grab this book.  I knew it was fantasy and I knew it had busty blonde warrior-woamn on the cover (complete with 80s hair), but that was about it.

I had some down time so thought I'd read this and knock a few out of my TBR pile.  Turns out there is a more (and less) here than I thought.

Silverglass is less about our cover girl here (no shock) and more about the dark haired woman behind her.  Though it is about both women and their adventures.   The blonde, Corson brenn Torisk, is a hard drink, hard fighting mercenary for hire who is in Rhostshyl only long enough to spend some money before headed home to see her lover; a respectable bar owner in the next town.  It is for this reason that she is hired by Lady Nyctasia r'n Edonaris.  Who, up till very recently, was a respected member of one of the richest families in the country. She is also on the run from the family of the man she was supposed to marry (and now wants her dead) and her own family (who also wants her dead).  Nyctassia is also a powerful witch.  Corson has no patience for the idly rich or magic, AND she was just hired by both families to kill Nyctassia.   Nyc offers to pay her more as a bodyguard.
Both women are thrown together to get out of town before they are killed. Their destinations? Both are running to men they love who have more "respectable" lifestyles.  Corson's Steifann owns a bar and wants Corson to settle down.  Nyctiasia is returning to Erystalben who wants her to live with him to study magic. At least that is the plan.  Things change on the road.  Given that this is book one of four you can bet there is not a lot of settling down.

A few things jump out at you in this book.  Corson is a swordswoman, a good one at that. We learn she was in the army before this and was convinced by a former officer to take up the life of a mercenary.  Yet at no time in the book does anyone ever call attention to the fact that it is a woman doing this.  It is just a matter of fact.  Not a big deal today to be sure, but in 1986 when this came out? Crazy I am sure.  I am glad I read this now, but I wonder what it could have been like in 86 to have read this.

I am also very much fascinated by Lady Nyctasia.  She has secrets on top of secrets, and like I said, despite the cover she is the focus of the book.  This becomes obvious on the later covers.

Don't read this series looking for deep insights or an epic tale. The first book is about two women trying to get back to their respective loves and not get killed in the process.  It is a fun little romp through a low-magic world with lots of threats, spooky forests, dive bars, gritty pirates,  and a ton of people trying to kill our heroes for the slimmest of reasons.  I enjoyed both characters and looking forward to reading more.

The "author", J.F. Rivkin, is actually two different people. One wrote the first two books and the other wrote the last two.  I am not sure who J.F. Rivkin is and I have not found out any information about a real identity either.

The book is out of print and there are no digital or audio versions I have found.  They pop up every so often at Half-Price books.

2017 Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge
2017 Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge
Books Read so far: 11
Level: Mother
Witches in this book: One really.  Nytasia, though I suppose that Erystalben could also be considered one.
Are they Good Witches or Bad Witches: Nyctasia tries to be good, so that has to count for something.
Best RPG to Emulate it: Honestly, a LOT of RPGs work here. I did a quick and dirty write up for Corson and Nyc for D&D 5, Swords & Wizardry, and Blue Rose.  Just because.  I am thinking I will try them out in the new AGE-powered Blue Rose in a bit.
Use in WotWQ: Nyc will certainly make a guest appearance at some point.


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge: To Kill a Kettle Witch

"Blessed fire in the night
Show me what is in the sight
Show me what brings fight or flight
Blessed fire in the night."

To Kill a Kettle Witch: A Novel of the Mist-Torn Witches by Barb Hendee.

Back when I did the Witches & Witchcraft Challenge in 2015 I read the first three books of Barb Hendee's "The Mist-Torn Witches". It worked out great since the third book was new and I quickly read all three books. I didn't participate in 2016 because I was doing a deep dive into the history of England, so I also missed reading this book when it was out. I picked it up on release day and it has sat on my device.

I really enjoyed the tale of new Mist-torn witches Céline and Amelie Fawe. Céline can see visions of the future and is a knowledgeable apothecary.   Amelie is the younger sister and sees images of the past and is just as handy with a sword or dagger. We got to see them grow in power and in confidence over the course of the three books and it was a lot of fun.

While overtly fantasy novels, and more overtly Hendee's own brand of good people in a dark fantasy world, the books are less about the supernatural and more detective stories. Céline and Amelie just have supernatural means of uncovering clues. While the other books dealt with the murders of nobles or people close to them, this time the mystery is the death of a forest and in the center of it all are Céline and Amelie's own people, the Móndyalítko, the gypsy-like "children of the world". It also involves the mysterious Helga the chief servant at Castle Sèone.   We learn right away she is also a Móndyalítko and she has her own share of secrets that are soon revealed and have bearing on the present problem.
We also get more of the backstory of Lt. Jaromir and learn of his connection to Helga.

I don't want to get into too many spoilers here. The book moves fast and thus feels very short. I will say this one is a slight departure from the first three in that there is no clear-cut "bad guy" unless you want to count the price of magic itself.

The book feels like a turning point in the series. Two characters finally get together. Other characters get their stories advanced and two major characters get their histories filled out.  I have mentioned this before, but if this were a movie it would pass both the Bechdel test AND the Mako Mori test.  The was less interaction with the two sisters than in previous books, but I took that as a sign of growth; they are both comfortable in what their roles are now and trust each other to do it.  Or in other words, they are no longer children, but capable strong women.

While I have said before that Amelie (the woman on the cover) is my favorite of the two sisters, I wanted more Céline in this book.  I feel her story is unfinished. Interesting, since she is the sister that can see into the future, it is her future we know the least about.

I hope that Céline and Amelie will also show up in Barb and J.C. Hendee's other books.

2017 Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge
2017 Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge
Books Read so far: 10
Level: Maiden
Witches in this book: Half-a-dozen or so, counting the sisters and the titular "Kettle Witch".
Are they Good Witches or Bad Witches: Good, but some make some bad choices.
Best RPG to Emulate it: Castles & Crusades feels the best for me here, but also D&D 5 would work nicely.  If I were to use Pathfinder I might make them Oracles.  If I were using my own Witch book, then the obvious choice would be to make a Mist-Torn Tradition and their powers to see into the future and the past would be occult powers.
Use in WotWQ: I would love to have a cameo of the sisters in my game someday.   They would certainly be the witches to call on when investigating a murder.

You can find more of Barb Hendee's books at her author page and at http://www.nobledead.org/.


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Review: The Winter Witch by Paula Brackston

I have been researching a bunch of witch books and winter witches in particular.  I found bunch of books so here is the first.  Paula Brackston was recomended to me as a fan of Harry Potter. In this book, The Winter Witch, I didn't quite see it, but I think other books of hers might be a closer fit.

There was a lot about this book that attracted me. Set in the early 19th Century, set in Wales and it dealt with a witch from a line of witches.  Interestingly enough her parent that was a witch was her father.

The story revolves around Morgana and her new husband Cai.  The characters are both likable and you really root for them throughout the book.  Morgana has a quiet...sorry no pun meant; she is a mute...sort of witchcraft.  She can move things with her mind, see far away places and other subtle powers.  I really like how her powers were protrayed and how they grew throughout the story.

The story of course is not without conflict. This arrives in both mundane issues such as the villiage getting used to Cai's strange new wife, a priest who is accusing her of witchcraft and a rival witch that wants Cai and his land.
The story built rather slowly and honestly I felt it dropped a bit in the middle, but near the end Brackston turns it all the way up and it becomes a magical adventure and battle worthy of it being mentioned in the same reviews as Harry Potter.

I listend to this book as an audiobook from Audible.  Marisa Calin was fantastic as all the characters and really did do a good job of giving Morgana a voice.  I am happy to see tht she has read other books from Paula Brackston, so that also makes her books more attractive to me.

In the end I am giving the book 3.5 out of 5 stars.

For gamers this is a good set piece to show how well you can involve low level character in epic battles.  I will have more to say about Winter Witches when I am done with the other "Winter Witch" book in my TBR pile.

This book qualifies for the following reading challenges.




Belle's Library New To You Square


No surprise it fit so many, I was joining all these while I was reading it!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Reading Challenges

I am going to participate in a few reading challenges again this year.

Once again I am participating in The Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge at Melissa's Eclectic Bookshelf.

2016 Witches &a Witchcraft Reading Challenge

I doubt I will do as well as I did last year, but I am going to give it a try.

Also I "read" a lot of audio-books.  So this year I am also going to participate in the Book Nympho's 2016 Audiobook Challenge.  This one I expect I will do well on.  I have to commute everyday to work so I have lots of time in the car.

I have already started on both.

Another one I would like to do is the 2016 Victorian Reading Challenge.  But I don't currently have anything in my TBR piles that qualifies.  Except for games really.

Belle's Library

Still.  I enjoy these and it is a fun way to talk about something I was going to do anyway.

ETA: A few more.

2016 Prequel & Sequel Challenge




Retellings Reading Challenge 2016



2016 EBook Reading Challenge



Flights of Fantasy Reading Challenge




2016 Horror Reading Challenge




New to You 2016

New To You Square

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