An Excess of Enchantments, by Craig Shaw Gardner – The second book in the Ballad of Wuntvor trilogy, there just wasn’t as much to this one as to earlier volumes. Pretty much the whole thing was based around Mother Duck’s multiple failed attempts to cast Wuntvor and his companions in fairy tales. They also involve a giant, a talking wolf who wants to manipulate the stories so he can eat as many people as possible, and the Seven Other Dwarves from the previous book. It’s still funny, but it doesn’t go much of anywhere.
The Tower of Nero, by Rick Riordan – The final book in the Trials of Apollo series has the disgraced god and his companions finally facing off against the resurrected Nero, leader of the three Roman Emperors trying to conquer the world and Meg McCaffrey’s former guardian. He’s portrayed as an abusive parent, manipulating his charges by making them think it’s their fault when he becomes destructively angry, definitely one of the darker aspects of the story. Apollo even compares him to his own father, Zeus. The sun god also has to battle his old enemy Python. An entertaining part to this one is the introduction of the troglodytes, who live underground, eat lizards, and wear as many hats as possible. It’s a satisfying ending to this story arc, with Apollo eventually regaining his godhood by learning what it’s like to be human. As with the other books in the series, a lot of characters from the previous two series make appearances.
Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire – Nancy, a girl who has visited the realm of the dead and preferred it to her normal life, is taken to a school for children who have stumbled through portals to magical worlds and then returned, most of them longing to go back. Eleanor West, who runs the place, has a system of categorization for the various fantasy lands, based on logic, morality, and other factors. Most of the ones mentioned have obvious parallels to other fantasies, but are still original with McGuire. When Nancy’s roommate is murdered, it changes to a mystery story. Not that much happens aside from that, but it’s a good introduction to the concept.
Down Among the Sticks and Bones, by Seanan McGuire – The follow-up is a prequel focusing on Jacqueline and Jillian from the first book, or Jack and Jill as they’re usually called, twin sisters who were forced into certain roles by parents who were more concerned with appearances than actually caring about their children. When they wander through a magical door, they end up in the Moors, a twilit land of horror tropes and monsters, including vampires, werewolves, and sea monsters. Jill is adopted by a rich vampire, and Jack becomes the assistant to a mad scientist. As might be expected, it’s a rather dark tale, but is mostly about the character development of the sisters, one more than the other.
Art of Mana – I remember watching my brother play Secret of Mana, and it’s really stuck with me. I really liked the game’s aesthetic, cute and colorful while still majestic, and with a lot of amusing touches.
I really should investigate the series further. I tried playing Final Fantasy Adventure on the Game Boy some years ago, and I could barely get past the fight at the beginning. Part of me says I should keep practicing, and another says I don’t need that kind of frustration. I get impatient when playing action games. I guess I kind of do with turn-based games as well, but there are fewer consequences there. So anyway, I knew about that game, but not a lot about the others. The book looks amazing, going through the concept art for each game, along with some notes. I kind of wish they’d include at least some of the pixel art in books like this, but it’s pretty full even without them. I was excited to learn that Flammie, the furry dragon who appears throughout the series, was based on Falkor from The Neverending Story.
I also appreciate that merchant cats like Neko appear in other games. According to the notes, he’s kind of a Puss in Boots character and a money-grubber. Legend of Mana has Niccolo, who’s still cat-like but with rabbit ears.
Then again, so is the Curious Cottabus from Kabumpo in Oz.