Hiya everyone,

Bit of an odd review this one because I’m going to be talking about the movie Alita Battle Angel but having read the manga first. Let’s dive into it!

Alita herself, mid martial-art

Alita Battle Angel is a complex story. It’s also got a couple of really good twists and turns in it that I won’t be talking about but may be alluding to.

The story centres around, unsurprisingly, Alita. Alita is a cyborg; a being with a full human brain but an entirely robotic body. She is discovered in a scrap heap as nothing more than a head and torso by Dr Ido; a medic/roboticist who operates in the city of Scrapyard. Dr Ido often helps repair other denizens of the Scrapyard for free or for food only, when he discovers what remains of Alita he is taken aback and vows to repair her.

Ido quickly finds that Alita isn’t a simple cyborg but something much more complex. Missing all of her memories Alita learns what life is like in the Scrapyard, learns bits about the history of the world, makes friends, and falls in love. She also learns about pain and betrayal.

Dr Ido and his Big Fuck’n’ Hammer1TM

She quickly finds out that Ido moonlights as a bounty hunter, using a massive rocket-propelled hammer to destroy murderers and rapists in the town, protecting people as much as he repairs them. Alita learns she has an innate skill at fighting and demands to begin fighting to protect people as well.

The story develops as Alita meets Hugo, a scrap dealer and enthusiast of the “blood sport” Motorball (I put it in quotations because everyone who plays is mostly a robot so whilst there is a lot of brutality there isn’t so much blood). She begins to fall in love with him and he tries to prioritise his feelings for her against his own lifelong dream of escaping the Scrapyard for the paradisiacal floating city above them; Tiphares.


So things about the movie that are a bit weird: Alita’s eyes. It’s the elephant in the room; they’re huge. They’re also the only ones the film that are exaggerated in this way which makes her stand out even more. See?

As with the Mona Ogg the eyes follow you around the room and all the way home.

In manga and anime eyes are generally really big and prominent, this is partially down to artistic styles but also from the development of anime and manga, used as a way of increasing the expressiveness of characters. You could write (and people have written!) tomes on the subject, but it doesn’t usually make the transition from 2D to 3D very well. Especially not when nobody else in the film have that stylistic signature.

I’m going to say it though; I don’t think they’re a problem. Especially after watching a bit of the film they just become regular. I don’t know if this is because I watch a lot of anime but they didn’t bother me. It probably also helped that Alita was cute as anything and 100% transition goals.

Next up; the look of the film in general. This was done by Weta Digital. To those in the know that’s some fine post-production pedigree, they are good at what they do. And it shows. This film is gorgeous, the effects are all stunning and rarely look artificial or out of place.

The visual design really closely mimics the manga, I was able to spot all Alita’s outfits during the film that feature in the manga and whilst they’re not identical they really are obviously based heavily and recognisably on them. The same goes for the look of the characters, especially the augmantents and robotics.

On the note of the robotics they are beautiful, especially the body Ido first gives Alita. You can see some of this in the image below but it really doesn’t do justice to the level of detail etched into the bodywork.

The fight scenes are absolutely captivating, slow motion is used effectively in places to really highlight particular moments, but mostly the action happens at full speed. This is really impactful in some of the bar fights where Alita and the other cyborgs are moving at lightning fast speeds and these aren’t slowed down for viewers, it’s literally a blur of motion and someone is in a headlock.

Now the story. How does it compare to the source material? It’s pretty close actually. They’ve moved a few bits around and cut some stuff but nothing that’s too important. The main story beats are all there and they all feel cohortent in order. The downside is the film does end on a bit of a cliffhanger and obviously wants a sequel (which it will hopefully get with its current box office performance) which is disappointing for cinemagoers. The reason I’m particularly frustrated is that all the huge twists come next and I’m really interested to see how they’ll be done because they are BIG. So we’ll have to cross our fingers and hope!


All in all I’d highly recommend it. The film is brilliant if you didn’t read the manga and close enough it shouldn’t upset you if you did read it. Fingers crossed we get the remainder of it soon. Now I leave you with a bit of art from one of my favourite artists showing you what Alita looks like in the manga (close enough at least….).

Mmmmm.

With love,

Sammy

Hiya everyone,

I was quite excited when the Switch was announced. I had a Wii back in the day but never got on the Wii U bandwagon. I wasn’t hugely into the DS landscape because it seemed every year they bought out a new one that wasn’t backwards compatible from original, XL, super XL, 3D, 3D XL etc.. The Switch looked really good though, a home console that you can just pick up and play on the go? Nice!

When it came out I didn’t exactly rush to buy it, I had a PS4 I was playing religiously and whilst there were a dozen or so games out I wanted I didn’t want any of them enough to buy a new console.

A colleague at work was a massive Zelda nut though, so she did get one with Breath of the Wild, and after finishing it let me borrow the Switch and game so I could try it. I’ll work on a review of BotW later but having had a chance to play on a Switch I was really sold.

When Pokémon Let’s Go came out, though, that was it. I got one shortly after. I’ve always liked Pikachu well enough, but I love Eevee far more, and my favourite Pokémon of all time is Umbreon. I was so happy when the store clerk told me that had literally 1 edition of Let’s Go Eevee left in stock, so grabbed it!


Pokémon Let’s Go is a modern adaption of the original Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow games way back from Generation 1 (bearing in mind we’re just waiting for Gen 8 to come out soon). 151 (ish) Pokémon to capture, 8 gym leaders, Team Rocket, and an Elite Four waiting at the end.

This game builds more on Yellow as in Yellow you had a little follower Pikachu who would wander around behind you, in Let’s Go you get 2 follows!! Depending on which version you buy (Pikachu or Eevee) your first Pokémon is that one, you don’t get to pick from the traditional Ride/Water/Grass starter types. Your new buddy will then sit on your head/shoulder for your journey and won’t go into a Pokéball unless it’s for healing. You can then also get another Pokémon out and have them follow you too. This one you can interact with and they’ll find you berries and stuff in the grass, whereas your buddy Pokémon will just stay sat.

Amusingly for me because I got this as a bundle I got a Pokéball controller with the game, there was a gift inside the Pokéball of a free special Pokémon which turned out to be Mew, the 151st legendary. As I got this literally as soon as I started my journey I of course made Mew my follower and loved the idea of little kids challenging me to battles with their level 5 Caterpie completely uncaring of the mythical beast hovering over my shoulder.

Me, my buddy Sir Floof, and my follower Mew.

My buddy was promptly dubbed by both myself and my wife as the most adorable little bundle of fluff ever and knighted Sir Floof. She may be a girl, but she’s also a Sir. Most of the rest of the pictures in this post are just going to be of my wonderful little cuddle-ball.


The main changes between this game and the originals is the influence of Pokémon Go. You’d have to have been living under a rock for the past couple of years to have managed to miss Pokémon Go but if you have it’s a mobile game that uses GPS to let you catch the beasties in the world. It was quite popular.

A few mechanics have been carried over but it’s mostly around catching new Pokémon. In the original games you’d wander through long grass or caves or water, randomly you’d encounter a wild one of appropriate type (so grass types in grass etc.) and you’d have to battle it to weaken it, then when it was weak enough you could throw a Pokéball at them and you’d hopefully catch them. If you you could just keep throwing balls or risk damaging it a little bit more.

In Let’s Go you just pelt it with Pokéballs until it gives up.

So that’s not 100% accurate, each wild encounter has a coloured ring that shrinks until it vanishes then reappears and restarts. The goal is to flick the ball inside the circle and the smaller the circle the higher the chance you’ll catch it. Other stuff impacts your chances like what tier of ball you’re using and the strength of the Pokémon. If you’re interested you can read about the Go version of the Grand Unified Catch Theory but that’s the important bits.

Here you can see trying to catch a Golbat, the shrinking orange circle is what you want to hit the inside of.

For me this was a really positive change as I always hated trying to get things just low enough you didn’t knock them out, but not so high you weren’t going to catch them. This way you just have to have a reasonable aim and you can catch stuff. The downside is a really strong/rare Pokémon will absolutely wreck your reserves of balls. I was trying to catch a different legendary Articuno and went through all 100 Great tier balls and nearly 200 regular tier balls before I got it, mostly because I hadn’t planned to find it so didn’t bring any extra Ultra balls with me.


Aside from that there are a few quality of life changes that have carried over from other games in the series like the ability to trade your 6 strong team out with ones in your reserve from any location. There’s also a really nice change for me in the way TM’s (which are items you can use to teach special moves to your Pokémon) don’t get consumed when you use them, and also highlight which Pokémon can use them in a clear way.

Eevee can also be taught new moves by special people across the world. Moves in Pokémon are grouped by types (like fire and ice) and you can’t go teaching moves to a Pokémon that doesn’t share a type. Unless, that is, ones of these trainers teaches your Buddy these moves which can be of varied types. They’ve also all got really cute names, so my Eevee is currently rocking Baddy Bad (a dark type move), Bouncy Bubble (a water type move that heals you for some of the damage done), and Sparkly Swirl (a fairy type move, which is quite rare, and also cures status effects like burn and poison). This means your buddy Pokémon will always be able to have useful moves, which is great as you can’t remove them from your party.

The last major change I know of is that there’s now something called Catch Combo’s which weren’t in any of the previous games. To get a Catch Combo you just have to keep catching the same type of Pokémon over and over. If you accidentally get in an encounter with one you don’t want you can run away without losing your streak, but if you take too long and one runs away whilst you’re trying to catch it that does break the streak.

The benefit of having a streak is that the higher it gets the higher the chance of rarer, evolved, or more powerful version of Pokémon spawning around you. Depending on where you are you can use this to get specific ones you’re having trouble finding. The best part is you can combo on type in one place where they’re easy to get a bunch of the same one, and then go to where the rare one is to trigger the spawn. The downside is the combo’s need to be in in the 30’s range to be useful, which is a lot of time and effort!


For me the best part about the whole game is the play with buddy screen which lets you just pet them (sadly through the medium of a screen) and they make happy noises. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but oh my god is it worth it. The little happy squeaks and trills, the flopping about and wiggly ears, and sneezes and playful pats….. I love it so much!!!

The fact you can also dress up your Eevee and yourself in cute matching outfits?! Sold. Hands down.


So what’s my verdict? If you like Pokémon Go you’ll probably like this. If you like the show or movies there’s a good chance you’ll like this. If you liked the originals (or the modern versions) it might be a bit more hit/miss as it does replace some mechanics that people like, and that might not sit right with you.

But getting to play with my wonderful little girl Sir Floof more than makes up for it. Look at her little face and tell you didn’t fall in love.

With love,

Sammy

I thought I’d take a page out of my wife’s book for the next few posts. I’m going to write a few of these in bulk but might move around my scheduling depending on other stuff that happens.

I like anime and manga, I’ve read quite a lot of manga, and my YouTube “recommended” feed is currently full of “best of ” clips. One of these was cute moments from Sweetness and Lightning, or Amaama to Inazuma, by Gido Amagakure. I watched through it absentmindedly and it was adorable. A few months later it came up that I had the chance to read it, and I absolutely devoured it over a few weeks.

The video that sparked me reading the manga.

Sweetness and Lightning (I’ll start calling it S&L for brevity) follows the journey of a father and daughter; Kohei and Tsumugi Inuzuka. The series starts only a few months after Tsumugi’s mother has passed away with Kohei doing his best to work as a teacher full time at a local high school, and raising his energetic and strong-willed daughter who is in kindergarten. After Tsumugi says something about their food he realises that since his wife died they’ve been eating nothing but convenience store meals and he starts to remember how much his wife loved to cook for them, and the quality of the food she made them.

They decide to go out for food that night and end up at a restaurant he had a business card for only to find it’s closed that day, but that one of the students at his school is the daughter of the owner. Lida Kotori sees Tsumugi’s disappointment at not being able to eat something yummy and demands they stay and that she’ll cook for them.

After a little bit of panic as she leaves her mother several voicemails asking to help she struggles through and they have a simple bowl of rice. Tsumugi approves of this rice.

It’s a picture from the anime but almost identical in the manga.

After this Kohei vows to not let them eat store-bought food anymore, to make sure they eat delicious food every day, and to make sure he spends the time with Tsumugi to make that happen. They rope Lida into this (a fully willing participant) and the series follows their lives as they all learn to cook together.


There’s a lot to love about this series.

Firstly, and I cannot overstate this enough, it is so goddamned cute. Kohei is trying so hard to fill in as a single parent and is reluctant to rely on people to start, but quickly begins to rely more on his student and other friends. Tsumugi is fantastic, she’s a perfect balance of shy child unable to quite express herself, and precocious pest when she wants something. As you can see in the above picture she doesn’t have any words for how yummy something is so she just gets people to look at her face as she eats stuff.

The character who really resonates most with me, though, is Lida (or Kotori-san). She is the daughter of a famous TV chef who owns the restaurant they all end up cooking in and it’s her who grows the most. She is slightly disillusioned that her parents are divorced and she doesn’t have much time with either of them as her mother spends so much time away doing shows and interviews. She sees working with Kohei as a way of socialising a bit and getting to cook for people, which makes her happy.

She’s also afraid of knives after an accident as a child and so has been really limited in what she can cook herself, but with Kohei to help cut things for her she can expand her repertoire. After Tsumugi starts to cut things up (using a children’s knife) she also starts to push herself more to overcome her fears and eventually realise her dream.

The series is so sweet and the ending so perfect that it was with a tear in my eye I read the final pages.

The other really nice thing about this is that the cooking is covered in really good detail and nearly every chapter has them cooking something new with a recipe at the end. This was a really nice look into more Japanese cooking (which I’m fond of already) and I learned some really cool tricks and techniques for things I already cook, as well as a huge amount about stuff I don’t cook.

The recipes are really well laid out as they’re “copies” of the ones that Kotori’s mother makes for Tsumugi after she hears about her desire to cook more. They’ve got little pictures of the ingredients, helpful hints, and simple language. The translation I read was also really well done so they were perfect to just cut out/print off and use. I’ve not tried any yet, but it is only a matter of time.


Final impressions? It’s wonderful. It’s not exciting action or deep intrigue, it’s a lovely slice-of-life series that just potters along adorably and comes to a perfectly satisfying conclusion. I fully recommend it.

Until next time, with love,

Sammy

Hiya all,

So last time I talked about tabletop games and how I got hooked into them, this time I’m going to talk specifically about a show that features a bunch of nerdy-ass voice actors playing dungeons and dragons.


My wife and I discovered Critical Role years ago when browsing YouTube. We’d watched some D&D highlight videos, talks from people who made or ran the game about how they’d do things, and general jokes and memes around D&D. We kept seeing one group pop up over and over; Critical Role. As viewers of a lot of anime and cartoons as well I guess the algorithms of YouTube decided we would like them as they did D&D and their players voiced a lot of characters we love. We were curious.

They were staffed by a regular run of voice actors; Travis Willingham, Laura Bailey, Sam Riegel, Liam O’Brien, Taliesin Jaffe, and Marisha Ray. They’re all lead on their adventures by another voice actor and general legend; Matt Mercer.

When we first discovered them they were heading towards the end of their first campaign which was over 100 episodes long by that point. We liked what we saw, a few bits fans had cut out of particularly funny moments (some even animated!) but we didn’t have the time to re-watch 100+ episodes, each one around 4 hours long. So it was with a degree of sadness (but not much investment) we moved on.

Just over a year ago we read that they were starting a new campaign. We checked and, indeed, they had finished their last one! They were on a break running other random one-shot games until they were ready to run their next big thing; campaign 2!! This, we thought, was a good time to get on board! We could watch from the beginning, give it a few episodes, and see what we thought.

Oh boy…..

Let me tell you, Critical Role is big. It’s got a huge following, dedicated fans who are also generally nice people, and we didn’t realise how gripping a Critical Role campaign would be.

We started watching episode one and were introduced to a bunch of characters, the shy and stinky wizard Caleb, and his goblin compatriot with a penchant for pilfering; Nott. We met the tall southern half-orc Fjord and his recently-met ass-kicking monk associate Beau, and their joint bubbly Russian tiefling Jester. Lastly we encountered the Carnies; Yasha and Mollymauk; a half-angel Aasimar with a sword bigger than most people, and a flamboyantly, extravagantly, vibrantly enthusiastic tiefling, respectively.

Official art, going left to right; Mollymauk, Beau, Fjord, Caleb, Nott, Jester, and Yasha.

We got hooked pretty bad. It’s been just over a year now (they celebrated running for a year just a few weeks back) and we’ve seen all of them. It’s a real problem.


So what makes Critical Role special? What makes us keep watching, and keep wanting to watch more? A bit of a mixture.

To start with the actors are great. They’re trained and professional voice actors which means they bring a real sense of personality to their characters, but in different ways. Some slip into it just with voices, some with their whole body, but they are each a different person when they play. They also get on with each other, with this game springing from a home-game they all played many years ago that just got bigger.

The second point is the game is good, Matt is the dream GM and under his rule the game is brilliant. The world is detailed and immersive, the story compelling, the NPCs always brilliant1There was an interview with Travis and Marisha where they were asked who their favourite NPC was, and they both responded that the problem they had was each time they picked a favourite Matt would introduce someone else who would take over. We’ve seen 3 so far in campaign 2; Pumat Sol, Kiri, and Orley., and the combat is gruelling and deadly but always interesting. Matt has a real talent for creating sessions that are the pinnacle of what a D&D game can be.

The last thing is their characters. None of them are particularly good people (save, perhaps, Jester) but they’re all so realistic and genuine. They have skills, flaws, quirks, personality, but also really importantly they have representation. They all struggle with different things but there are issues that touch so closely on real-world issues including sexuality and identity (hint hint), and they way it’s handled is always so perfectly it feels inviting, and genuine, and kind.

The interaction between them all is wonderful as well. My favourite interactions at the moment (episode 49) are between Fjord and Beau with Fjord acting as a reluctant, amused, and exasperated teacher of social graces to Beau, someone who at best can be described as “blunt”. There’s also the interactions between Jester and Fjord where Jester seems to have more than a little crush on him, spawning this wonderful (minor spoilers) fan song about a rival love interest.

Beau and Caleb have a wary respect for each other and deep frustration with their opposing points of view, and Nott and Caleb have a mother/son relationship that early on Nott highlights isn’t Caleb looking out for her, she looks out for him.


Some of the issues the show touches on (as I’ve hinted above) are quite poignant for me. The main one that stands out is Nott who is looking for a great powerful magic to change her. There are minor spoilers to follow, so if you want to avoid them (up to episode 49) stop here.

All good? Great!

Nott used to be a halfling woman with a husband and child, but due to a great big helping of backstory was transformed into a goblin permanently and forced to carry on in a different body to the one she knows she should have. She’s now spending all her time trying to find someone or something powerful enough to break this enchantment so she can return to her correct form and continue with her life with her family. Sound familiar?

Now Sam Riegel is brilliant acting this out, and Nott’s pain is heartbreaking, but he has also mentioned that there wasn’t necessarily a trans influence to his thinking about the creation of Nott’s story. That doesn’t stop me running wild with it though!!

So we have someone trapped in a body they know they shouldn’t have, who is seeking anything possible to try and regain the body she should have. I, and I know many other trans-critters, can sympathise with this. It’s touching to see a story about regaining the form you should be handled so well and thoughtfully, and it’s so encouraging to see the other characters be so accepting of it and trying to help.

Building on this there is a lot of support from the cast who, without much of a stretch, can be called great people. How do I know? Between the Sheets….


Brian W Foster ran a season of Between the Sheets, an interview show where each of the cast were interrogated for around an hour about their past, how they got to this point, and their careers and lives. Brian is a master interviewer, lord of active listening, and coaxes the best out of his guests. It was fascinating to see how the cast got together and how fragile and random the connections were until they all pulled together into this thing.

One thing Brian does not skimp on is the tears, he pulls a good few drops out of more than one person, but the two people I want to most focus on are Matt and Marisha (true nerd love). They are one of the sweetest, kindest, and also awesomest2Shut up, it’s a word! couples around.

In their respective interviews, and I really do encourage you to watch them, it’s clear just what decent people they are, and how supportive they are of people younger than them who are going through similarly tough times. Their support of charities like 826LA and a whole bunch of different charities, along with the generosity of their community, speaks volumes, but it’s the little things as well.

The Critical Role cast are the sort of people that make you feel okay in whatever body you have, whatever gender, orientation, disability, or ethnicity, they make you feel like it’s all okay and you’re welcome. And that’s pretty powerful. And it’s thanks to people like them that I can take steps with more and more confidence, bit by bit exploring who I am and can be, knowing that no matter who out there is a douche; these folk are going to be cool with it.

I’ll also add that I’m determined, one day, to see them and tell them this. To remind them that the effect they have on their fans isn’t just providing entertaining media to consume, or creating a thriving community to be a part of, but that wherever they go they leave better than before they got there. They came to Comicon London last year and I made extra effort to go (having dislocated a knee literally days before) but the outpouring of support from their fans completely swamped what the organisers had expected and meant neither I not many thousands of their fans couldn’t even get close because of the other thousands in lines. I’ll keep waiting for my change to strike, though.

Until next time, with love,

Sammy

Hiya again, another post a bit out of the blue…. I’m going to chat about one of my favourite book series and favourite books ever. The Old Kingdom series by Garth Nix consisting of Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen, and some side stories Across The Wall, Clariel, and Goldenhand.

I’m going to focus on the core trilogy starting with Sabriel, I’ll talk a little bit about the books and then talk about what I like about them so much.


The series is set in a divided continent. To the north is the Old Kingdom; a place of magic where the dead can be called to unlife, where there are evil creatures of Free Magic fought back by Charter Mages. To the south is Ancelstierre, a country of roughly industrial era technology where the idea of magic is laughable. Dividing them is The Wall; a magical construct that prevents evil creatures from the Old Kingdom crossing south, and is manned by soldiers of Ancelstierre who prevent any crossing either way. The Wall also acts as a rough barrier for magic where the further south one goes the less potent the power becomes, quickly tailing off. Similarly the further north any Ancelstierrian technology is taken the more likely it is to malfunction, break, and eventually crumble. The more complicated the magic or technology the quicker this breakdown happens.

The story of Sabriel focuses on our heroine of the same name, daughter of someone called the Abhorsen, a kind of “good necromancer” who uses necromantic powers to return the dead to death She has been raised mainly on the southern side of the wall and doesn’t know much about the state of her home country which has fallen to hordes of dead and destabilisation with her father unable to keep up with the new creatures being summoned. Through the book she discovers more about her home country, meets a mysterious beserker, and begins to learn her role in the Old Kingdom that her bloodline dictates.

This is a running theme through the books, as the quote above says, “Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?”, and it’s echoed throughout the books for different characters.

The second book breaks sharply away from the first; it’s decades later, Sabriel is now a fully fledged Abhorsen, she has a family and the kingdom is beginning to recover from the events of the first book. This book is split between three characters; Lirael, Sameth, and Nicholas.

  • Sameth is Sabriel’s son and as the son of the Abhorsen it is assumed and known that he is the Abhorsen in waiting, something that terrifies him as he has trouble even entering Death.
  • Nicholas, the son of an Ancelstierrian minister and firm believer in the “silly superstitions” of the north who is turned into an unwilling vessel for a great evil.
  • Lirael, ❤, who is a Clayr; a young girl living in a glacier, part of a huge extended family who can see the future in the ice.

I’m going to focus on Lirael who is one of my favourite characters and the reason Lirael is possibly my favourite book of all time.

Lirael is born in the glacier never really knowing her parents. For the Clayr it is typical for a male to be taken briefly for pleasure or for children, but they are not allowed in the Glacier proper. The daughters of the Clayr are all dark-skinned, blond, blue eyed, and in their early years they awaken to the Sight and are able to look into the future. This power is harnessed in groups for the benefit of the kingdom.

In stark contrast to this Lirael is pale, dark haired, brown eyed, and the oldest child to have not awoken to the Sight by some years. She stands out and nobody quite knows what to do with her.

One evening Lirael decides that she can’t cope anymore, that she has no place in the family, and plans to throw herself onto the ice in a romanticised view of a death that would mean something, possibly shock the Clayr into realising how distraught she feels. It’s a very silly view of suicide and very moody-teenager, but it did speak to a part of me that didn’t have the same large friend groups of other people in my school, who didn’t like football or gossip magazines, and did feel out of place.

As she leaves the glacier onto a platform at the very top to throw herself off a pair of dignitaries arrive. She hides and burrows into a snowdrift but is spotted by one of them and the Clayr’s strongest seers haul her out. They ask her what she’s doing there, fearing she was spying on this visit, and when she reveals everything they promise her that they will find something to keep her occupied whilst she waits for her Sight, revealing they too had a very late awakening, later even than Lirael’s, and they were all the more powerful for it.

Cheered by this revelation and the promise of something in the glacier she can help with Lirael begins working in the Library of the Clayr. A twisting corridor of immense proportions with dark secrets and things best left unfound below. She explores, breaks some rules, learns some harsh lessons, and in the meantime she discovers a loyal companion; a Charter Magic dog that is more than it seems.

I could recount the entire book by memory even though it’s been years since I’ve read it, but I’ll skip that, encourage you to read it, and summarise the rest of the books, as spoiler free as possible.

Lirael eventually has to leave the glacier with a mission, she meets up with Sameth and the two of them are thrown by circumstances against a powerful evil fro the dawn of time. They draw in others, face challenges, and learn that the paths they thought were laid before them are not the ones they ultimately must walk. They also learn that what they wanted all along might not be what they needed.


Lirael as a character resonated with me in a lot of ways. She was isolated, felt different to everyone around her, and was surrounded by people who all just seemed to get it, and fit in. Some of this is typical teenager feelings, but part of it is also growing up with Asperger’s Syndrome in a neurotypical world.

Lirael found a light though, a purpose in her job which helped her overcome her troubles, and a close loyal friend who looked after her and in turn she could look after. As a dog person this also really made sense.

Lirael also embodied a lot of characteristics that I wanted to have myself. She was shy and awkward, especially when meeting new people, but when it came to it she was brave, fearless in the face of danger, she was confident and powerful. I do wonder now, knowing what I know, if it was also escapism to put myself in her place. A young nerdy girl, outcast and almost living in a library with her pet dog? That would have been a dream for me.

I did always used to make up further stories in my imagination (something that continues to this day) about new adventures for Lirael as she became a strong Abhorsen in her own right, a powerful slayer of the dead and master of her art. In these stories I always told them from my point of view, putting myself in her shoes.

It helped that the world was fascinating to me. A magic system that was carefully thought out but vague enough it ever felt constraining or overly explained. The magic of the Abhorsen focused on the ability to walk into death and use 7 bells to bind the dead to a purpose. In the Abhorsen’s case the purpose was to walk deeper into death and possibly be ushered on to the true death, but in the case of necromancers it was to walk to life and obey.

Death itself was a really interesting concept for me; death flows like a river of 7 precincts each ending in one of 7 gates. The precincts had the cold river of death flowing through them but were all treacherous in their own way, seeking to trip an unwary traveller and pull them downstream deeper into death. The gates as well were barriers between each precinct but also an obstacle on their own, some were great waterfalls, others whirlpools, and the final gate a single peaceful starry sky.

As I said I highly recommend reading the books, but also please check out this artist by the name of Laura Tolton who has drawn each of the gates; they are simply put beautiful.

The ninth and final gate of death, credit to Laura Tolton.

That’s all I’ve really got this time. I just wanted to share my passion for a series that captured my heart as a teenager and stays with me to this day.

With love,

Sammy

I’m taking a big of a diversion here to talk a out a game I’ve been playing a lot of recently. It is a bit relevant though, promise.

Solitude; seat of the Empire in Skyrim

Skyrim, for those of you who don’t know, is a large scale role playing game (RPG) set in the mythical world of Tamriel. There have been several games set here forming the Elder Scrolls series, named after important magical prophecy Scrolls in the game. Skyrim is the latest main title focusing on the snowy mountains to the north of Tamriel, an area called Skyrim, unsurprisingly.

This game was released 11/11/11 making it over 7 years old now. There’s a bit of a running joke that although it was released on PS3 and Xbox 360 it has since been ported to all consoles, PC twice, Nintendo switch, and just about everything you can buy games on (Skyrim on Samsung Fridge coming 2020).

I originally bought Skyrim on release day, I got a special edition with a statue of the games main bad guy Alduin. I played it a lot after that. I had a main character who I sunk over 300 hours into, doing quest after quest, finishing the story, doing bits of the DLC…. Since then I have accumulated Skyrim on other systems, I own 2 versions on Steam from Humble Bundles, I own a special edition on PS4 as well as my original PS3 version, so why on earth did I get another copy on VR?


I got VR as a birthday present to me from me, using all my birthday funds and a bit more. I’d played VR round a friend’s house but lacked the computer to use something like the Rift or Vive, so I went with the PS VR for the PlayStation I already owned. The first pair of games I got for it were Star Trek Bridge Crew and Playroom. It was brilliant!

When I saw Skyrim was coming to VR I was sceptical and a bit tired of the constant Skyrim re-releases, but I got a chance to try it for a half hour for free so I thought I might as well have a go.

I was pretty impressed with it, it was fun to swing swords around, it didn’t make me nauseous, and it was nice to get back to good old Skyrim.


I’ll mention at this point the problem with mods. Mods are brilliant, the Elder Scrolls community has always been good at making add-ons and changes to the core games. Some are huge enough to be whole games on their own, others just re-texture weapons to look different, some add famous items from fantasy like the One Ring, and then there’s the “all dragons are Thomas the tank engine” mod. Some of the most practical are just massive bug-fixing mods that tidy up all the work Bethesda couldn’t/didn’t do before launch.

Your nightmares made real

The trouble with mods is they’re very easy to get hooked on, installing dozens and dozens, then messing around with them. Once you start it’s hard to not install a few cheat mods to give you infinite health or invincible armour, and pretty soon you’re a Goddess amongst mortals.

That usually takes me an afternoon, then I get bored.

Sadly there are a lot of good mods, I just don’t have the self control to install them and wade through hours of content to get to the new bits.

So when I say it’s nice to get back to good old Skyrim I also mean it’s nice to play the game as it was originally made. No mods, no PC cheats, just Skyrim and the official expansions.


I let it load up and sat through the opening scene as you’re lead through a mountain pass to be executed. It was only at this point I realised just how badly done everyone’s feet were. Horrible pointy things with perfectly triangular arches.

I got to character creation and created a young Bosmer (wood elf) girl, about my height, long brown hair tied back, sleight build, a cute face with piercing violet eyes…. She may have been rendered in 2011 graphics but she was beautiful to me.

Then I got to play as her, it wasn’t a particularly powerful moment because they don’t refer to you as “her” or “she” much. You’re “The Dragonborn” to most people, but every now and then they’ll chuck in a “ma’am” or “sister” and bring a little smile to my face.

The part that really made me pause and realise I was going to get sucked into this game again was standing in one of the first cities and looking around. I caught sight of the Throat of the World, the tallest mountain in the game and important Plot Point later. You really don’t get a scale playing the game normally, but in VR… holy fuck that mountain is big.

The Throat of the World

I’ve been playing it for a few months now, I took a break but am back on it now. I’ve done a lot of the major quest lines; the Thieves, Mages, become Thane of all of the Holds and bought all the houses I can… I’ve explored the Hearthfire DLC to build a house of my own and adopted two children, and married a lovely elf lass who hangs out in my house with my bard, housecarl and children.

I’ve gone for my typical build; bow and arrow. Especially deadly in the VR version where there is no time delay as you draw your bow, meaning you can just pummel people with arrows. I like to sprint up to enemies at full speed and shoot arrows into their heads. Lockpicking is maxed, bow and arrow is maxed, and heavy armour is pretty high because I get shot a lot.

I’m currently murdering my way through the assassins quest whilst also doing the second DLC Dawnguard. I realised I never finished the third DLC when it came out so that’s something I’ll really have to do next, and I’ve not technically completed the story yet so I’ve got plenty to go. And I’ve already sunk over 100 hours in….

And I’m going to keep enjoying my pretty Bosmer, slaughtering her way through the mountains and snow.

With love,

Sammy