Starship Troopers

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Starship Troopers Book Cover Starship Troopers
Robert A. Heinlein
Sci-fi
Ace Books (original: G. P. Putnam's Sons)
May, 1987 (original: December, 1959)
Paperback
263

"Starship Troopers" is a classic novel by one of science fiction's greatest writers of all time and is now a Tri-Star movie. In one of Heinlein's most controversial bestsellers, a recruit of the future goes through the toughest boot camp in the universe -- and into battle with the Terran Mobile Infantry against mankind's most frightening enemy.

 

Starship Troopers the book is very different from Starship Troopers the movie. Having seen the movie first, it set my expectations for the book. While the book is very good, it is good for vastly different reasons. If you have seen the movie, you know it is one of the top-rated action films of its era. The book has some action sequences but it is more of a political/philosophical story set in a futuristic military-based culture. Many ideas presented in the book are radical and even controversial. If you go into it with an open mind and not expecting something identical to the film, any sci-fi military lover will likely find Starship Troopers very enjoyable.

In a lot of modern fiction, especially films, the military is portrayed in a hostile if not outright antagonistic role.  Usually in the form of trigger-happy generals looking for an excuse to launch nukes. Starship Troopers is the complete flipside of that, showing the military in a positive light. With less action than the movie, the book focuses a lot more on the boot camp training of the troopers. This adds in a lot more character development as they transition from civilians to soldiers.

The action sequences are a secondary focus of the book. At its core, Starship Troopers is about Rico and his path in life. He joins the military basically on a whim and comes to truly appreciate it. His goals change from putting himself first to putting his country and fellow soldiers first. Extending from that, the book examines what any country owes its citizens and vice versa. Starship Troopers is honestly more about philosophy than action, with Heinlein’s opinions dressed up in a military sci-fi action story.

There has been a fair amount of controversy surrounding Starship Troopers since its publication in 1959. Heinlein wrote this story during the heart of the Cold War and while the Vietnam War was ongoing. Opinions on the military were a hot-button topic and Heinlein was able to get these still-controversial topics across by putting them in a sci-fi setting. Bottom line, this book is not for everyone, especially anti-military individuals. Personally, I did not agree with every idea Heinlein presented. Some of them made sense, sure, but other things seemed extreme to a civilian like me. From the fictional point of view in this book, it all makes sense. Let me underline that, fictional. This is fiction, this is a story, it is not real. If you do not like it, do not read it. And as good as this book is, I did think the movie was better.

September 2, 2018

The Meg

Published Post author

Poster for the movie "The Meg"

The Meg

Chomp On This

20181 h 53 min
Overview

A deep sea submersible pilot revisits his past fears in the Mariana Trench, and accidentally unleashes the seventy foot ancestor of the Great White Shark believed to be extinct.

Metadata
Director Jon Turteltaub
Runtime 1 h 53 min
Release Date 9 August 2018
Details
Movie Media Cinema
Movie Status Available
Movie Rating Not bad

The Meg was, overall, surprisingly average. Shark movies tend to follow one of two formats. Older films are typically some kind of Jaws knockoff. These films attempt (keyword: attempt) to be thrilling and dramatic. Newer films go the complete opposite direction and embrace their inner Sharknado. Wacky craziness as the movie becomes a parody of itself. The Meg felt like it was trying to do both and hung itself up pulling in opposite directions. On the whole, The Meg could be defined as a drama. There is humor, but it is mostly restricted to one-liners for brief bursts of laughter.

This is also one of those movies that is more based on the book than anything else. The biggest change from the source novel was easily the characters. Namely the main character, Jonas Taylor. In the book, Jonas is a traumatized, somewhat meek scientist who is somewhat ready and somewhat forced to face his demons years after his first encounter with the Meg. In the movie, he is Jason Statham (‘nough said). Most of the other characters had just as drastic changes to their personalities. Some of them outright had their names changed as well.

The story follows the book’s plot as loosely as the characters do. These changes are not exclusive either, like Jonas being changed from a scientist/explorer to former search and rescue for his backstory. The Meg itself is also encountered much sooner with more run-ins between man and shark throughout. Some of the changes were welcome and made the film more plausible with the book, particularly the Meg’s origins and the final battle against it. Other changes were somewhat necessary since the film is modern day and the book is over 20 years old. Mostly better, sleeker technology being used in the shark hunt.

Enough was changed that The Meg does not leave itself open to a sequel like the book did. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing. At the end of the day, The Meg is a high budget B-movie. Visually, the film is great. But as far as plot, character development, and acting goes, it is a B-movie. Not quite to the level of being MST3K or Svengoolie worthy, but still a B-movie. This movie is not good enough to be good or bad enough to be good. It floats in the middle which, like the film, is not really good or bad.

August 26, 2018

Rose Gold (Gaia Trilogy #2)

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Rose Gold Book Cover Rose Gold
Gaia Trilogy
David Barker
Thriller
Urbane Publications
August 1, 2018
Paperback
320

Rose Gold is the thrilling sequel to the bestselling Blue Gold. A perfect slice of thrilling 'climfic', Rose Gold is set in the near future, in the aftermath of a world war for water. Geopolitical tensions remain high and terrorism is a daily fact of life. But a mining base on the moon offers a rare example of international co-operation and a possible solution to the world's energy problems. Yet not everyone on Earth is keen for this endeavour to succeed... Rose Gold is the sequel to Blue Gold, but can be read as a stand-alone novel. It draws on influences as diverse as Arthur C Clarke s A Fall of Moondust, the film Moon and Agatha Christie s murder mysteries.

 

I received a copy of Rose Gold from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Rose Gold, following up Blue Gold, takes place several years after the previous book. This time skip allows events to move forward enough that you do not need to know the plot of the previous book to understand this one. However, while Rose Gold does work as a standalone novel, reading Blue Gold first is recommended. Going into Rose Gold already knowing these characters, and getting their backgrounds in detail, makes for a stronger story. Even more so when taking into account how the events of Blue Gold changed them as people. Either way to book works, but as part two of a trilogy reading part one first naturally works better.

Like in Blue Gold, one of the central themes here is resources. In the not-too-distant future these novels take place in, Earth’s resources are becoming scarce. Whereas the first book deals with world superpowers competing for water, Rose Gold focuses on the energy crisis. A continuing theme from the first book is the corrupt lengths that nations, companies, and individuals will go to for the sake of power and greed. While the futuristic setting allows David Barker to show off neat technology, it is not so distant it becomes far-flung.

The most dynamic shift from Blue Gold is likely the setting. Blue Gold was more of a fast-paced adventure, with Sim and Freda traveling the world for their investigation. This time around the two of them have separate adventures, with much of the book focusing on Sim on the moon base. While different, this was a pleasant change to the storytelling. More of the same in Rose Gold would have run the risk of being dull. Being on a moon base, a confined space in an environment that is 100% inhospitable, adds a different sense of danger. Gopal and Rabten also return and, like in Blue Gold, feature in a lot of the action sequences.

Overall, Rose Gold keeps itself and its audience busy. Readers are bounced around between different perspectives, protagonists and antagonists alike, but not so much that it feels nauseating. The action is exciting while not over the top; think James Bond instead of Rambo. With this novel working standalone but also being an excellent follow-up to Blue Gold, it will be interesting to see how the Gaia Trilogy wraps up.

August 19, 2018

Brothers in Valor (Man of War #3)

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Brothers in Valor Book Cover Brothers in Valor
Man of War
H. Paul Honsinger
Sci-fi
47North
June 30, 2015
Paperback
382

Sometimes Captain Max Robichaux fights by the book—and sometimes he throws the book away. This makes him one of the Union Space Navy’s rising stars. It’s also what has kept him and his green crew alive…thus far.

When Max and his ship—the twenty-fourth-century space destroyer USS Cumberland—are boxed in by eight enemy battleships, the odds are against them at a million to one. It takes all their skill and guts just to escape…and surviving won’t get easier. Sent on a covert mission behind enemy lines, Max and his crew are poised to strike a blow so hard that, if successful, it could turn the tide of the war. But if they fail, it will cost them their lives…and the lives of every human in the galaxy.

 

This review will contain spoilers for the previous two books.

Brothers in Valor really ramps up the action compared to the previous Man of War novels. The first book had a fair amount of world building and character development, with little bits of action in-between. The second novel used that pre-established information and focused more on fighting, just adding more lore as needed. This third book is closer to full-on war with Robichaux and his crew jumping from one battle to the next. The near-constant warfare does make this book feel shorter; and it is shorter too, with a noticeably lower page count than the other two.

Character development was a bit weaker here than in the previous books. Robichaux still gets developed further as the central character, but other crew members are not as at the forefront. Dr. Sahin, for example, felt more like a plot device than a character in Brothers in Valor. He serves the role of inexperienced military personnel, asking questions that the readers need answered in context. But for character development, he does not do a lot this time around. The same is true for most of the rest of the crew. There is one chapter though that takes place from a Krag commander’s point of view. This gives a lot of insight into the culture and the way they think, making it one of the best chapters of the book.

With so many battles, the overall plot of this series does not advance too much either. The way Brothers in Valor is lain out is almost like the season finale of a television show. We have had slower developments leading here and now we are at the big action scene at the end. Because despite this being the end of the trilogy, it does not end the story as a whole. This wraps up the current story arc, but there will still be more to come.

While some elements in Brothers in Valor are weaker than in its predecessors, the action is top notch. Since the Cumberland tends of operate independently, many of the previous battles in the series were skirmishes. This is where we get into full-on war; the turning point that could decide the final outcome for all humanity. We do get a climax but only for this first portion of a much larger story. With Honsinger working on another trilogy, I cannot wait to see where Robichaux and his crew go next.

August 12, 2018

Meg

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Meg (MEG #1) Book Cover Meg (MEG #1)
MEG
Steve Alten
Horror
Tsunami Books (originally Deep Terror)
September 1, 2005 (originally June 2, 1997)
Paperback
438

Revised and Expanded. On a top-secret dive into the Pacific Ocean's deepest canyon, Jonas Taylor found himself face-to-face with the largest and most ferocious predator in the history of the animal kingdom. The sole survivor of the mission, Taylor is haunted by what he's sure he saw but still can't prove exists - Carcharodon megalodon, the massive mother of the great white shark. The average prehistoric Meg weighs in at twenty tons and could tear apart a Tyrannosaurus rex in seconds. Taylor spends years theorizing, lecturing, and writing about the possibility that Meg still feeds at the deepest levels of the sea. But it takes an old friend in need to get him to return to the water, and a hotshot female submarine pilot to dare him back into a high-tech miniature sub. Diving deeper than he ever has before, Taylor will face terror like he's never imagined. MEG is about to surface. When she does, nothing and no one is going to be safe, and Jonas must face his greatest fear once again.

 

Sharks are pretty terrifying as far as predators go. They have been around since the age of dinosaurs without changing all that much. Sure, they have gotten smaller; but beyond that their biology is mostly the same. Because in tens of millions of years sharks have remained the top hunters (if it ain’t broke don’t fix it). So, let us take an animal the Steven Spielberg made everyone afraid of and make it bigger. To put this in perspective, Bruce (the shark in Jaws) measured about 25’ long. Our titular Meg in this book measures at 60’ long with a lot more body mass. Bruce would pull you under while the Meg can just swallow you (and your boat) whole.

Meg on the whole is a bit of a Crichton-esque book. It is that type of sci-fi that is just one step ahead of actual science. Just far enough to still be believable. The Meg’s origin and escape into open waters is plausible. As are the massive effects such a predator could have to ecosystems. The book also has the Crichton-level of science, being science-y enough for interested readers but not so much that general audiences get lost.

Jonas serves as a solid main character; a man trapped in the past suddenly thrust into an adventure that could finally move his life forward. A few of the other characters are cliché, like Jonas’ greedy, scheming wife. But this book is ultimately about the Meg, so Steve Alten gives us time to focus on the shark. Everyone who reads this book is reading it for the shark; we do not need a lot of minute character development soaking up time that could be spent on the Meg itself. When you read a story about a big monster, you want to actually see the big monster.

On the whole, Meg is cheesy. Great literature this is not, being closer to Sharknado than Jaws. Ok, maybe not Sharknado; not quite that far off the rails. Closer to maybe Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus. With the film version of The Meg right around the corner, we will see how the theatrical version compares. Since most of the shark movies in the last six years have been Syfy Channel Originals, it will probably be great in comparison. If you enjoy those types of cheesy Man vs. Shark movies, you will enjoy Meg.

August 5, 2018

The Equalizer 2

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Poster for the movie ""

The Equalizer 2 is more of a thriller than an action movie. There were plenty of action sequences and Denzel Washington does kick a lot of ass. But compared to a full-on action movie, the action was tame. It was not crazy over-the-top Mad Max level action; like the first film, the action was down-to-earth and felt like it could happen in real life. The actions scenes were a bit spread out but not so much that the film felt slow. Some parts were borderline on feeling slow but managed to stay on the line instead of stepping over it.

Denzel is certainly a badass in this movie. He is still able to take down a roomful of men single-handedly. The Equalizer 2 focuses less on what he can do and more on who he is. We already know his character’s backstory from the previous film. This time around it focuses more on who he is now, after the previous movie partially come out of hiding. He is more actively helping people from the beginning of this film but, like in the first Equalizer, his hand gets forced and the situation escalates.

It is not very common to see an action hero who is also a person. While Denzel’s character is very skilled and methodical, you do not get the sense he is invincible. He is extremely intelligent and constantly two steps ahead, but he is not Rambo. On top of his intellect, he cares. He genuinely cares about other people, even people he does not know. At one point in the film someone he saves asks, “Why me?” and he simply responds, “Why not you?” The scene where Denzel and the young man get off the elevator (to keep this vague and spoiler free), particularly shows what kind of man he is. He has a gentle soul but also the heart of a warrior.

While I still hold that Denzel’s best film is The Book of Eli, The Equalizer 2 turned out very good. It is on par with the first film, which similar but not identical structuring to the story and characters. The story is extended from the first film but also left open enough that they can make The Equalizer 3 if they want to. While not necessarily one of the top action films ever, The Equalizer 2 is solid enough to be well worth the watch.

July 29, 2018

I Kill Giants

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I Kill Giants Book Cover I Kill Giants
Joe Kelly, J.M. Ken Niimura (Artist)
Graphic Novel
Image Comics
September 1, 2009
Paperback
184

Barbara Thorson, a girl battling monsters both real and imagined, kicks butt, takes names, and faces her greatest fear in this bittersweet, coming-of-age story called "Best Indy Book of 2008" by IGN.

 

I Kill Giants starts off as a bit of a peculiar story. Readers are dropped right in front of Barbara, a 5th grade girl who very openly says she kills giants. She is a girl with a difficult homelife that affects her personality dramatically. Throughout the story she lashes out at people around her, behaving very hostile even towards people trying to help. But her flaws are the reason the story is so interesting. We are slowly introduced into what shaped her into the person she is now. Ultimately it is not what this story is, but the way I Kill Giants is told that makes it special.

At its core, this is a coming of age story. Barbara is dealing with the problems that come with being a pre-teen and then some. She is the weird kid whose personality makes other kids not like her and adults see her as a troublemaker. Granted, to a degree she is a troublemaker. Writing about Barbara without spoilers for the story is next to impossible, but as I Kill Giants progresses she grows. Not necessarily at a steady pace as large parts of it are readers seeing explanations for her actions. Both in the sense of why she is ready to kill giants and how she plans to do so.

Being a graphic novel, the artwork is a large part of what makes this story work. The drawings are not so cartoony that it becomes hard to take the story seriously. At the same time, it does not hit the epitome of sharp and serious either. The art is soft enough that it does not feel 100% real, which is in line with how Barbara does not fit in with everyone’s expectations of her. And despite having soft edges that are a bit cartoony, the lighting makes some of the scenes very dark. Dark in both a literal and figurative sense, which again fits Barbara’s character.

Ultimately this story reminded me a lot of A Monster Calls. Although, I Kill Giants did come out before the A Monster Calls book and I have not seen the movie adaption of this story at the time of this writing. Despite the premises being so similar, the stories are very different. Part of it is the main characters different personalities and another part is their different situations. Many of the little details in their lives are different as are their responses to their duress. Giant monsters are still involved in both stories and both hold powerful, similar messages but their intricacies and dynamics hold some major differences. Enough that both stories stand out as great despite any happenstance similarities.

July 22, 2018

Synod

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Synod Book Cover Synod
Dan C. Gunderman
Historical Fiction
Zimbell House Publishing
January 9, 2018
Paperback
396

The year is 1829. The gruff, self-reliant Goldfinch, a veteran of the War of 1812, has become the anointed leader of an idyllic religious community named Synod, nestled in the Ramapough Mountains of northern New Jersey.
Thanks to the advice of the village's Founders, Synod will become a stop on what would soon be called the “Underground Railroad.” Goldfinch oversees this transition, bringing in a broken runaway family. As southern bounty hunters follow their path and seek to reclaim stolen property, Goldfinch meets a shadowy abolitionist with close ties to the federal government.
As the man recruits Goldfinch into a wider crusade against slavery, Goldfinch also contends with recurring visions—both fiery and prescient. He’s also pitted against Nance, a corrupt politician whose lone pursuit is to eliminate runaway slave dens.

Will Goldfinch return to his roots and take up arms as this conflict reaches the Governor's desk? Will he be able to protect his village from destruction and damnation?

 

Synod was sent to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Synod is a piece of historical fiction revolving around the Underground Railroad. From that, the book has a Free State of Jones/Hell on Wheels type of vibe. It is a bit earlier in American history and takes place in New England, but those are the things this story reminded me of. On the whole Synod stands up, but partway through things do start to get a little weird. Part of the dynamic shifts somewhat suddenly and in an odd direction and this change proved fairly distracting.

The name Synod comes from the settlement that most of the story takes place in or around. It is a small Protestant community that decides to become a waystation on the Underground Railroad. Their community is small with around a dozen people, but they are all hardy survivors constantly ready to work hard. Having a small community means there are few secrets and the lack of privacy makes for many challenges. Emotions run high throughout the story as the added tension of helping runaways is added to the already tense hamlet. The dialogue and characterization are solid, with the speech and character attitudes fitting the era.

Assisting runaways is a noble cause but also a dangerous one and residents of Synod no disillusions about that. Synod is set up with defense in mind and they have armed themselves against both the wilderness and bounty hunters. And the bounty hunters do not care who gets in their way or if their bounties are brought in alive. On the flipside, there are various people from the North involved with helping the Railroad, from churchmen to politicians. But this is where things in Synod (the book) start to get a little weird.

While the story starts out as pure historical fiction, a supernatural element becomes more apparent partway through. It influences characters and events pretty heavily, but never really feels like it fits. If it had stayed subtle that probably would have worked out fine. And in the beginning, it does start that way. But the level of supernatural involvement keeps getting more and more obvious until it is directly affecting the story. It never goes into full Harry Potter type magic, but more of that low-key Stephen King level. That inclusion just drug an otherwise good historical fiction novel down with too much confusion. Beyond that one pothole the story was fine, but it felt like a fairly big pothole.

July 15, 2018

The Red Knight (The Traitor Son Cycle #1)

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The Red Knight Book Cover The Red Knight
The Traitor Son Cycle
Miles Cameron
Fantasy
Orbit (originally Gollancz)
January 22, 2013 (originally September 1, 2012)
Paperback
672

Twenty eight florins a month is a huge price to pay, for a man to stand between you and the Wild.

Twenty eight florins a month is nowhere near enough when a wyvern's jaws snap shut on your helmet in the hot stink of battle, and the beast starts to rip the head from your shoulders. But if standing and fighting is hard, leading a company of men - or worse, a company of mercenaries - against the smart, deadly creatures of the Wild is even harder.

It takes all the advantages of birth, training, and the luck of the devil to do it.

The Red Knight has all three, he has youth on his side, and he's determined to turn a profit. So when he hires his company out to protect an Abbess and her nunnery, it's just another job. The abby is rich, the nuns are pretty and the monster preying on them is nothing he can't deal with.

Only it's not just a job. It's going to be a war. . .

 

The Red Knight is one of those medieval fantasy books that just gets everything right. Miles Cameron’s “About the Author” page mentions he has a BA in Medieval History and it really shows. Everything in the book just flows together beautifully. People from all walks of life (farmers, soldiers, royalty, etc.) have their place in the story. There is no one who knows everything about everything, so the characters can explain things to each other. And in turn, to readers. The world building, characters, and story are all built up well in this way.

If you have read a high fantasy or epic fantasy before, you roughly know what to expect here. This is a land where great battles were once fought but the power of man has diminished. Creatures of evil are now seeking to take advantage of that weakness. It has a very War of the Ring vibe to that aspect of the story. The magic system is also subtler than many other fantasy stories. Only a select few people have magic and even then, it is pretty tame outside of giant battle sequences. The array of magical creatures is also impressive as well; some are common, well-known beasties while Cameron puts his own spin on a few things as well.

The story jumps between perspectives, so we get to see quite a bit of each character firsthand. The titular Red Knight is a mercenary leader with a mysterious past, one not fully explained in this first book. His mercenaries are fun too, particularly Bad Tom (the living definition of “battle lust”) and Sauce (tougher-than-nails kickass woman). The villain Thorn, being not human, makes for an interesting perspective for more reasons than I have room to write about here. There is a slew of characters that a whole review could be dedicated to and they are really the best part of The Red Knight.

As for the plot itself, it is more a war story than anything else. The mercenaries start thinking they need to catch a murderer. Events quickly build from there and soon after they are defending a fortress from a siege. In a lot of fantasy books, you see a big battle and when it is done, it is done. This is a full-blown siege; days of the enemy attacking and then defenses being shored up for the next attack. A book this long is very hard to sum up in a little review like this. So I will just say it: If you have any interest in epic fantasy, The Red Knight is well worth the read.

July 8, 2018

Overlord, Vol. 7: The Invaders of the Great Tomb

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Overlord, Vol. 7: The Invaders of the Great Tomb Book Cover Overlord, Vol. 7: The Invaders of the Great Tomb
Overlord
Kugane Maruyama
Fantasy
Yen On
May 22, 2018 (English); August 30, 2014 (Japanese)
Hardcover
288

A group of "workers" whose better judgement has been clouded by hopes and expectations have descended into the unknown depths of a mysterious tomb.
These trespassers include the small but elite team Foresight, the storied warriors of Heavy Masher, the crew lead by a legendary elder worker, Green Leaf, and the invincible swordsmen of Angel.
They are some of the best that can be hired, but as more and more vengeful residents of Nazarrick appear, will any make it out alive?

 

Note: This review will contain spoilers regarding the previous Overlord light novels.

Overlord Vol. 7 is great overall, but a little bit of a mixed bag. After three books that (mostly) put Ainz in a more secondary role, we finally get to focus on him again. In some ways, Invaders of the Great Tomb is still weaning off the format seen in volumes 4-6. In other ways, the layout is closer to volumes 1-3. This book is more of a developmental step forward than its own thing. Multiple events here are certainly going to be important later, even if they seem like little cliff notes now.

Of all the previous books, Vol. 7 most resembles Vol. 4. Like with the Lizardman story, we see Ainz and his group in an almost purely antagonistic role. These other characters are built up and most of them are good, honest folks just living their lives. Despite that, you know that these people are doomed. Not for personal or even particularly malicious reasons. They are pieces in the game Ainz is playing; not so much people as they are mere tools. Maruyama has no problem channeling his inner George R.R. Martin with his characters, often in brutally gruesome fashions.

On the flipside of that, we do get a good portion of the book from Ainz’s point of view. There is more of him as the adventurer Momon, now establishing the persona outside the Kingdom’s borders. Readers also get to see more of Ainz as the ruler of Nazarick, as well as everything that role entails. Going from being a normal Japanese salaryman to the supreme ruler of an evil army is a bit daunting. Seeing Ainz attempting to run an empire a bit like a business while balancing how his minions view him is awkward but humorous.

The majority of the key events for Invaders of the Great Tomb happen towards the end of the story. To put it shortly, this is all a test. Nazarick is still experimenting with how the New World works in comparison to YGGDRASIL. Maybe this will be important in future books; at some point they are likely going to make enemies so maybe they will be invaded and need to know about how their defenses operate differently now. The “test” also sets up some political machinations that will obviously be important within the next book or two…

July 1, 2018