Monthly Archives: April 2014

Book Review: The Last Unicorn (Peter S. Beagle, 4 stars)

I read this book, Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn, as part of an assignment from a Goodreads reading group. I’d read it before, many years ago, but I didn’t remember a thing from the novel, which really isn’t a good sign. The novel tells the story of the last unicorn who lives a life of ease as a solitary immortal creature in her woods until one day she overhears two woodmen discussing the disappearance of all the unicorns as they travel through the woods. She cannot believe that she is the last of the unicorns and so goes on a quest to find the others.


Soon, however, she is captured by a witch and her traveling band of entertaining circus sights: a lion that appears to be a manticore, a dog that appears to be Cerberus, and a few other illusions like that. But she’s got two real amazing creatures: one hideous harpy, and the ever elusive unicorn who she managed to capture while sleeping. Schmendrick the magician, one of the witch’s lackeys, helps the unicorn escape. The witch and her other henchman are killed and the unicorn now has a traveling companion: Schmendrick. After a few more brief adventures, they pick up another traveling companion: Molly Grue. By this time they’ve learned that the legend is that the unicorns were driven into the sea by the Red Bull. The Red Bull is a mystical beast that is under the authority of the wicked King Haggard who lives in a cursed castle in a cursed land. So, the last unicorn heads off in search of King Haggard, his castle, and the Red Bull. Can the last unicorn stand and face the Red Bull, the beast that has systematically all but eradicated her brethren? Find out and read the book. I’ll tell you no more.


Strengths: the prose was excellent. Perhaps, too excellent. A few times I caught the author rhyming dialogue and I thought that was inappropriate. Still, good prose helps a story a lot. The characters were reasonably well-developed: they each had their own little quirks. I liked the unicorn up until she fell in love. Actually, that’s not true. I liked her up until the point she turned tail and ran from the Red Bull and was so easily cowed by the creature. I just wish my heroes were more heroic, even if they are unicorns. Weaknesses: first would be the cowardice of all the unicorns who preceded her. The Red Bull took them one at a time with little fight. Second, it took me a while to get into the story. I read it mostly for the reading group, and the first half of the book did not really appeal to me story-wise. It just seemed sort of blaahh. But it picked up at the end and everything was resolved to my satisfaction.


I’ll give Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn three and a half, or maybe even four stars, out of five.

World-building Athron: Timekeeping: Weeks


Continuing on the theme of time management in world-building a fantasy world, I’ll turn now to the week. In our world (in the West), we have fifty-two weeks in a year, each lasting seven days but it strains the laws of credibility to use a corresponding seven day week consisting of Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday for your fantasy world. Don’t get me wrong, you can do it, nothing is preventing you, but it will be a little weird if you do, unless you come up with some plausible explanation as to why it is so. As far as my world of Athron is concerned, I use a six day week, and again I use mnemonic devices:




Days of the Week


Monday – Muenday


Tuesday – Tuenday


Wednesday – Werensday


Thursday – Threnday


Friday – Forday


Saturday – Satrisday




The observant reader will notice two things. First, I’m only using six days in my weeks. I dropped Sunday, or its equivalent. Second, since, I’m only dealing with six items, I can limit the mnemonic device to the first letter or two. This is a little riskier than how I dealt with months because there isn’t a perfect correspondence between our real world weeks and Athron’s. Individuals might get confused reading my novels believing that time does not “add up” properly if they are not aware of the six-day vs. seven-day distinction. However, there are some interesting consequences. Since there are six days in every week and thirty days in every month, there are exactly five weeks in every month. No more, no less, and no remainder. Similarly, since there are three hundred and sixty days in every year, there are exactly sixty weeks in every year. No more, no less, and no remainder. As a result of this, the days of the week do not cycle through each month or each year as they do in our world. If Muenday is the 1st of Januillon (which it is), it is also the 1st of Febrillon, the 1st of Marill, etc…. In other words, every month begins on a Muenday. Similarly, the same can be said for every year. The 1st of Januillon or any other month is a Muenday every year. Likewise, the 3rd of any month in any year is a Werensday. Perhaps this seems too convenient or contrived, but realize the calendar is a human contrivance. All that is required is that the length of the year be of a particular easily divided number, something which happenstance can provide. In this case, the year consists of three hundred and sixty days. And so, the calendar is simply the civilization’s response to that easily divided number.


Old Movie Review: Dracula Reborn (2012)

Dracula Rebornis one of the many movies made for DVD to cash in on the recent vampire fad. Unlike the likes of Twilight and similar such films, it is, as the name suggests, a return to the original sinister vampire of medieval lore. From the get-go it is pretty obviously a grade-B movie. I’ve never heard of any of the actors, directors, or anyone else associated with the film. The plot … well, it isn’t a precise retelling of the original Dracula tale; instead it takes the skeleton of the original tale and fits it to a modern-setting to mold it. Many of the characters from the original book are there, filling similar roles as they did in that excellent story, only transformed into a modern depiction.


The story begins with a woman in an empty parking lot, being stalked by a mysterious entity. There are a number brief shots of Dracula crossing the camera for suspense. Then, the woman is taken. Dun dun dun. From there, the story tries to follow, at least for a while, some elements from the original tale. Jonathan Harker, a real estate agent, meets a mysterious stranger on the premises of a large building that the stranger is interested in purchasing. Of course, the meeting takes place only at night, and, of course, the stranger (Vladimir Sarkany a.k.a. Dracula) has brought along an escort (Renfield). Harker shows much of the property without incident until a group of gang members show up, threaten the three “men,” then leave after Sarkany stares at them a bit. Later, they (the gang members) return to do Sarkany in, and he basically mops the floor with them. Not easy to kill Dracula unless you are prepared. From there the story evolves like many other traditional vampire tales. Harker’s wife, Lina, is bitten and the vampire must be destroyed to save her. Harker calls on the help of a certain vampire expert he meets through the boyfriend of another victim of the vampire (Lucy, if I recall). This expert, of course, is named Van Helsing, although he is a young, vibrant man, unlike the elderly, respected scientist of the original tale. They set out to destroy Dracula. Will they succeed? Or will they perish in the attempt?


Strengths: like I said, this was a grade-B movie. That said, I thought most of the acting was fine. The special effects were decent given the likely budget, and the plot made a single, logical hole. Most importantly, the tale was intriguing enough to keep me interested. Weaknesses: there was nothing spectacular about this film. It was, although interesting, pretty much standard hunt down the undead without being killed type of stuff. It was really a kind of modern homage to the original tale. As such, it does deserve some credit. My biggest problem with the film was one that is common in most vampire films: they make the vampire look like a hideous monster when it attacks. I remember once had a conversation with a friend a number of years ago and we both agreed that the true horror of a vampire is a subtle one that comes from its virtual undetectability. It is almost entirely human in appearance, and that makes its evil all the more disturbing. My other issue is a minor one. A cross wouldn’t work on this Dracula, because as Van Helsing queries in response to Harker’s query, “What denomination?” The more I think about this, the more of a failing it is. Part of the horror of a vampire is that it is a quasi-demonic creature, literally a minion of hell. And religious symbols don’t work? To me, if you are hung up on denominations, you have at least two options. You can go the “one true religion” route, which would probably be unpopular, or you could simply say, whereas there are multiple religions, there is but one God, and He won’t be particularly picky who He’s going to defend from the powers of darkness. All that is required is a faithful reliance on His power. The particular symbol, as long as it religious in nature, doesn’t matter.


Anyway, I’ll give Dracula Reborn three stars out of five.

World-building Athron: Timekeeping: Months

There’s a lot of stuff that comes into play in world building that can be changed or tweaked that one tends to take for granted as far as our own world is concerned. One of the most prominent of these is time and how it is measured. I remember many years ago, the first time I read The Lord of the Rings, when Frodo, Aragorn, and the other hobbits are at Weathertop, they find a rock with markings on it that indicate that Gandalf was there on October 3rd (if I recall correctly). That always struck me as being really out of place. There are advantages to using our own month system in your fantasy world—it makes following time and place quite easy—but it lacks that mystical, magical zing we expect from our fantasy novels. The same can be said for weeks, hours of the day, or what have you. My favorite method for dealing with this issue is that devised by (I believe) Tad Williams in his Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series. Basically, he uses a system of mnemonics. You use a system of parallel months to our own, all of which share the first three letters of their names with the corresponding months in our calendar or something similar. So, November becomes Novander, December becomes Decander, etc… I use a similar system in the world of Athron. Here is the list of twelve months and their corresponding names in our world:

Months of the Year
January – Januillon
February – Febrillon
March – Marill
April – Aprillon
May – Maistra
June – Junyer
July – Julyar
August – Augrillon
September – Septendra
October – Octanya
November – Novenya
December – Decendra

It’s not a perfect match, though. There are some subtle differences. In Athron, every month is thirty days long. This gives you a 360 day year which is close but not equal to our 365 ¼. I figure it is close enough to give the reader an intuitive grasp of the time of year an event happens in, yet different enough to make it feel alien. As a consequence, readers should be able to easily grasp the time of year a referenced event occurs in. Augrillon 12th? Okay, that’s roughly equivalent to August 12th. That means its late summer in the northern hemisphere, winter in the south, etc… This is, of course, assuming I’m using the same seasons as ours (which I do: summer, autumn, winter, and spring). Some authors devise their own seasons (the one that comes to mind is Brandon Sanderson in his Stormlight Archive series). If you take that route, that introduces a whole new host of issues. You won’t need mnemonics for your months, because they won’t ‘map’ to appropriate times of year anyway. In fact, you might find yourself doing away with months entirely. Regardless, the reader will have a difficult time following your new seasons unless you take appropriate measures to deal with them. Naming the seasons after something indicative of their nature (i.e. using another form of mnemonics like in Sanderson’s case, he named a rainy season ‘The Weeping’) is one avenue you can take.

Movie Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (4 ½ *’s) (2014)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the latest installment in the Marvel Superhero movies that have been hitting the theatres in recent years. It continues the story of Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America, the cryogenically reanimated super-soldier from the World War II era. The movie stars Chris Evans (as Captain America), Samuel Jackson (as Nick Fury), and Scarlett Johansson (as The Black Widow) among others.


The story begins simply enough: Steve Rogers doing a workout. This serves to introduce us to the character of Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) who *spoiler alert* later becomes Falcon. After a brief exchange, Steve is called away on a mission. Terrorists have taken over a SHIELD ship, and it is up to Captain America and an elite team of SHIELD operatives to rescue them. Unbeknownst to Steve, though, although the Black Widow is one of the operatives she has a secondary mission: to retrieve some critical data from the ship. Captain America finds out and is a bit irked that she had secondary motives in the mission. Oh, there is also a brief encounter with what appeared to be another super-soldier. Captain America manages to beat him, but it is a much closer fight than his other confrontations. Anyway, once back from the mission, Captain America takes his issue up with Nick Fury. They have a few words. What is apparent is that the information retrieved from the ship is extremely important and valuable. The plot develops from there. Soon, the whole world is threatened by Captain America’s old nemesis—Hydra—and it is up to him to save the day … with some help from Black Widow and Falcon.


Strengths: I really enjoyed this movie. The action was excellent. The acting was seamlessly good. The writing excellent and the plotline engaging. And, of course, being a big budget film, the special effects were superb. There were no major plot loopholes that I saw on a first viewing. Overall, an excellent film. Weaknesses: There were two that I noticed. One, there was a scene where Falcon dove out of a building window into a moving helicopter … and that stretched the believability meter to uncomfortable lengths. Second, and this is a minor detail, too, there was one scene where a corrupt senator was talking about “pressing the flesh” with a young intern. If this was a PG-13 movie, then maybe that’s okay. But I’m not comfortable with modern sexual mores infiltrating superhero movies. To me, superhero movies seem to be child-oriented and so I think an effort should be made to clean them up. This should probably also entail none of the good guys actually killing the bad guys. Beat ‘em up, and take ‘em into prison. Otherwise, we are making an adult film off a child theme. I just noticed: it is PG-13. So, I guess my complaint should morph into a warning to parents. It really is PG-13 … don’t take your five year old, even if he is a big fan of Captain America.


Anyway, it was a great film. I’ll give Captain America: The Winter Soldier four and a half stars out of five.

Restructuring My Blog

Those of you who follow me regularly may have noticed that I haven’t been posting at my regular rate lately. Normally, I post twice a week, once on Monday and once on Thursday. However, for the past month or so, I’ve only posted on Mondays and let Thursday go to the wayside. This was largely because of burnout. I just couldn’t muster the strength to post as much as I should have these last few weeks. But fear not! I am returning to the Monday and Thursday schedule. However, I’m restructuring the general schedule of the blog.


Previously, I was publishing whatever I felt like at whatever time I felt like. Now, I’m going to give the blog a bit more structure. A Toast to Dragons is a fantasy blog dedicated to primarily fantasy literature. With that in mind, I will post reviews, be they of books, movies, or short stories, on Mondays of every week. For Thursdays, I’m going to do a little experiment. As a fantasy writer and RPG gamer—player and GM—I’m interested in world building. Over the past few years, I have developed a gaming system and a gaming world to go with it. This is also the world where most of my stories are set. So, for the foreseeable future, I’m going to begin uploading details and specifications of the world I have developed and am developing. It will be intended to be used as an instructive example for the art of world-building. In the drop-down menu above, I’m going to collect every blog I write on the topic in a single page (or group of pages) of links for easy access.


The world in question is, of course, the world of Athron, home to the city of Drisdak and the vampire Lucian val Drasmyr. In terms of flora and fauna it is a world much like our own. However, there are a plethora of profound differences, not least of which is the presence of magic and formidable monsters of myth and legend. So, enter this world at your own risk with sword at your side and shield at hand. And prepare to be tested! Bwa-ha-ha-ha!


For the record, all material on this blog is copyrighted. I don’t mind if you use it for entertainment purposes. That is, if you want to run a D&D campaign in Athron, I won’t be offended; just don’t slap a price tag on it and start selling it as your own work. In other words, commercial use of the material on this blog by third parties is strictly prohibited.

Old Movie Review: 300: Rise of an Empire (3 ½ *’s) (2014)

300: Rise of an Empire is the latest installment in the series of movies based on Frank Miller’s graphic novels. The first was 300 which told the story of the 300 Spartan warriors who held a critical mountain pass against the entire Persian army for a considerable period of time before being wiped out in their entirety. I’m not a historian. I was told that 300 was historically inaccurate, so I assume 300: Rise of an Empire is likewise inaccurate. However, I won’t judge the movie based on historical accuracy, but rather on entertainment value.


300: Rise of an Empire begins where 300 ends. The 300 Spartan soldiers are dead; the pass is taken. Meanwhile, the Persian navy is en route to Athens. It is met on the seas by the much smaller Athenian navy led by Themistocles, the man who, years before, slew the previous Persian king on a previous invasion attempt. The Athenian ships are smaller and more agile than the Persian so they manage to do a considerable amount of damage. The battle rages back and forth. There is a brief parley in which Themistocles and Artemisia (the Greek woman who commands the Persian forces—which is a story in itself) have sex instead of negotiating. When Themistocles refuses to join Artemisia she has him thrown off her boat. The battle begins again. And so forth.


Strengths: the special effects were good, the acting was fine, and the plot okay. I don’t recall any logical holes, although Themistocles did seem to move around Greece rather quickly for that time period (he went from the naval battle, to Athens, to Sparta, etc….). The dark tone of the movie was pretty good, and there were a number of decent lines in the movie. Weaknesses: I think historical accuracy (which I’ve mentioned above) constitutes a weakness. If you are going to make a movie about that particular war in that particular time period, you should make it as accurate as you can. Otherwise, you could confuse the historical sensibilities of the younger populace. I don’t expect people to look to movies to learn their history, but inaccuracy still does not help the cause. The previously mentioned locomotion of Themistocles would also constitute a weakness, or at the least, large segments of time-skipping. Other than that, I can’t think of any other major weaknesses although the movie never really gripped me quite as well as 300.


Ultimately, I’ll give 300: Rise of an Empire three and a half stars out of five.

The Children of Lubrochius

Book Blast for The Children of Lubrochius

The Book Blast is Today! (Sorry about my tardy post—got caught up doing other Book Blast stuff)

Goddess Fish Promotions is sponsoring a Book Blast for the official launch of my book, “The Children of Lubrochius” on Wednesday, April 2, 2014. The Book Blast will last the entire day and will include blurbs, excerpts, and perhaps the occasional review. Make sure you check out the sponsor of the Book Blast–Goddess Fish Promotions–it wouldn’t have been possible without them.

I will be awarding one randomly chosen commenter on the tour (for those who comment on the tour sites—not atoasttodragons) with a plastic Reaper miniature from the Chronoscope line. It is of a demon by the name of Krampus and is excellent for collecting, or to use in gaming, so make sure you comment on all the sites to up your odds of winning on April 2nd.

Hope to hear from you on the tour.
1: Paranormal Romance and Authors That Rock
2: Deal Sharing Aunt
3: My Devotional Thoughts
4: Room With Books
5: Andi’s Book Reviews
6: Literary Lunes Magazine
7: Queentutt’s World of Escapism
8: The Bookie Monster (5* Review)
9: Multi-Verses of Liza O
10: Two Ends of the Pen
11: Reviews by Crystal
12: The Avid Reader
13: It’s Raining Books
14: Long and Short Reviews
15: Rose and Beps Blog
16: Let’s Get BOOKED!
17: Kit ‘N Kabookle
18: Jodie Pierce’s Ink Slinger’s Blog
19: The Cerebral Writer
20: Hywela Lyn ‘Romance That’s ‘Out Of This World’