Thursday, November 10, 2016

Bibliovile: Wary of Terri Garey

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Grimspace, by Ann Aguirre
              Everybody get out your character sheets and your bag of dice because today we’re playing some Dungeons and Dragons. The adventure module we’ll be working with is called Grimspace, by Ann Aguirre. Okay, I’ve taken the liberty of preparing character sheets for each of you ahead of time, so this won’t take too long.

              Here, you’re going to be Sirantha Jax, she’s a brashy, sarcastic, but ultimately hurt-inside woman. Yes, I know, it’s incredibly cliché, but just try and make it your own. It’s your first time, maybe it’ll be easier to play an archetype. She has special powers that let her move her ship though, let’s see, Grimspace, ah that explains the title. I don’t know, it’s like, a wormhole or something? The manual doesn’t go much into it.
              And for you, here, you get to be March. No, it doesn’t have a last name. He’s a handsome but brooding man that works as the captain of this ship. That’s about all the detail they give you.
              Okay, so, Jax, you’re in a cell. You’ve just been accused of crashing your ship to kill the diplomats on board, although you survived. No, listen, for the last time, I don’t know why they would accuse the only survivor of doing it on purpose. I’m reading from a manual here.
              -fast forward way too long of a session-
              You guys made it out and onto the ship, and that’s why I’ve invited a few more friends. Here’s Doc, who is a doctor and that’s about all we see out of his character, Dina, who- what? Yes, I suppose you can be a lesbian just because, and Loras. Loras’s combat skills aren’t so great, but he’s gonna tag along and… Why would you want to be a pacifist?! Fine, yeah, whatever. Let’s just move on.


              Hey, hey, Jax and March, stop table talking! Your characters aren’t supposed to know all of the inner monologues and motivations of each other! It makes it less fun. No, you can’t be a psychic for no reason, March. Because the manual has no worldly reason for psychics to also exist! No, don’t go, we kinda need you to—fine. You’re a psychic. WHATEVER. I guess now you two will always know exactly what the other is thinking. SO FUN.
              Yes, duh, of course you would want to do that. Roll to see how good the sex was. A two. Well, you got interrupted.
              -sessions later-
Here are your miniature
              Okay, so, you’re sneaking around the Space Pirate’s station and you find rows upon rows of bodies. They’re festering something. Pregnant. The lack of women on the station you saw is suddenly explained. There’s a guard behind you. He has a phaser. Roll for initiative. Okay, March, you got hit by a phaser shot. Quite a bit of damage to your arm. Jax? Oh, Christ, alright, roll to distract. Fine. He’s distracted. Okay, so you steal his gun, roll for attack. JESUS CRITICAL HIT WITH A PHASER? Okay, well, um, you see into his chest and then his HEART EXPLODES ALL OVER THE ROOM. So gross right? Anyway let me get another beer.
              -sessions later-
              So, Jax, you’ve been confronted by Doc, here. Make an insight check. Really? Um, you see through his disguise, he’s an insect shapeshifter. Yeah, that’s why I’ve been playing Doc these last couple rounds even when he couldn’t make it to the table. He kidnaps you.
              -sessions later-
              Damnit, alright, you’ve convinced your kidnapper through diplomacy checks that you’re to be trusted and his employer is not. We’re totally nerfing you after this. By the way, you haven’t been talking to the others in the other room about what they’ve been up to, right? Good, because they invaded the exact same planet you’re on, by chance, and are holed up in the Capitol with hostages and bombs all around the place. You were apparently their logical center. You can finally rejoin them once you get into the city by- oh you just talked your way through the guard at the city gate yes we’re definitely nerfing you and- well. Doc managed to come back to play the shapeshifter and he blew the case wide open so…
              SCREW THIS YOU ALL WIN ALRIGHT ADVENTURE OVER THE EVIL CORPORATION HAS BEEN BEATEN I’M NEVER DMING FOR YOU ASSHOLES AGAIN.

              This book was a lot like a D&D adventure, is what I’m saying. Down to the archetypes, the scenario-adventure style plot, and the odd character decisions and lucky breaks. It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t really know what it was, veering from YA “I’m so broken and I need a hunky man to fix me” style writing to mildly graphic sex scenes to A GUYS HEART EXPLODING I CAN’T SAY THAT ENOUGH. It’s apparently the author’s first book and it shows, but frankly, I think Ann Aguirre is going good places and can really shape up, especially if she gets out of this universe. She knows what it is, but unfortunately, none of us do because she fails to explain things often, like a DM who is reading straight from notes.

              Yes I’m sticking to the metaphor, deal with it. Basically, reading this book was like rolling a 12. It’s not exactly good, but with the right modifiers and a lenient set of rules, we’ll count it as a success.

Dead Girls Are Easy, by Terri Garey
              We meet our heroine, Nick Styx, as her spirit floats above her body in the emergency room after she has had a heart attack. Waking up the next morning after her near-death experience, Nicki realizes that she now has the ability to see and communicate with ghosts. Throughout the book, several ghosts (all women, notably) find Nicki and ask for her help in tying up loose ends so that they can move on to The Light. As Nicki struggles to readjust to her newfound paranormal abilities, she also falls in love with her doctor, which is weird for a number of reasons, including a) that he’s her doctor, b) he met her for the first time when she literally died, c) he’s doing a study on patients who have had near death experiences and she is one of his test subjects, and d) HE’S HER FREAKING DOCTOR. Nicki tells Dr. Bascombe (also known as Joe) about the ghosts, and he immediately sends her to a therapist. Good foundation for a relationship.

              Things get even weirder with Nicki’s ability to talk to dead people when her friend Caprice is killed, and Caprice’s ghost shows up at Nicki’s door, demanding that Nicki avenge her death against the woman who Caprice claims killed her -- her husband’s mistress, a woman named Felicia. Caprice got involved in all sorts of voodoo magic, since she apparently sold her soul to the devil, so Nicki has to enlist the help of Caprice’s grandmother, Granny Julep, who practices voodoo and wants to help Caprice’s soul find its way toward The Light.
              The best thing about this book? THAT’S NOT EVEN THE WEIRDEST PLOTLINE. THE FREAKING VOODOO MAGIC IS THE NORMAL-SEEMING PART. The weirdest thing is that her doctor/love interest, Dr. Joe Bascombe, is MARRIED. And he’s pretty sure that his wife is Nicki’s heretofore unknown twin sister! He knows this because they look similar, they were both adopted, and their respective last names are Styx and Charon (get it? Greek mythology!). He can’t confirm this theory, though, because his wife joined the Peace Corps and hasn’t been heard from in four years, so they’re pretty much not married anymore, which means it’s okay for him to sleep with a person that might be her twin sister WHAT THE HELL IS THIS.
              Despite the straight-up insanity of several of the plotlines, the writing in this book is overall pretty good. The characters are well-developed, the relationships are fun and believable, and the plot is interesting and moves along quickly. However, there are a few real dialogical doozies that are worth mentioning.
              In the opening scene, Dr. Bascombe makes a joke about Nicki’s last name, and Nicki thinks to herself, “Anybody who understood Greek mythology that well can’t be all bad.” Sweetheart, you don’t have to have much more than a passing knowledge of Greek mythology to make a joke about the ferryman and the River Styx. Raise your standards. Demand more of men. Then, when Dr. Bascombe and Nicki are talking about her recovery, Doc’s solution is, “Something tells me you’re a fighter, so fight.” Excuse me... She had a heart attack -- what exactly is she supposed to be fighting? Again, raise your standards, Nicki. Demand more of men, and of doctors.
We're running out of things to stick this name on

              In addition to that batshit crazy plotline of Joe boning mystery twins, the other insane part of this book is that NONE OF THE PLOTLINES ARE WRAPPED UP. We leave the book not knowing whether or not Joe and Nicki end up together, not knowing why Nicki can see dead people, how Nicki’s therapy sessions resolve, what happened with the woman who murdered Caprice, or (and this is the most important one) IF JOE GETS A DIVORCE AND IF THE WOMAN HE’S MARRIED TO IS ACTUALLY NICKI’S SISTER. I mean seriously, I get that you’re setting up for additional books in the series, and that you have to leave a little bit open for the next story, but if one of your plotlines is that YOUR MAIN CHARACTER FELL IN LOVE WITH HER MYSTERY TWIN’S ESTRANGED HUSBAND, THEN YOU NEED TO RESOLVE THAT.

              I have to give Terri Garey some credit though, because despite how absolutely bonkers the plotline of this book is, I actually really enjoyed reading it. For like eight whole chapters at the beginning, I actually worried that it wasn’t going to be terrible enough for the Terrible Book Exchange (but then we found out about the sister-wife, and I stopped worrying about that). The characters are great, the relationships (despite all the weirdness) are actually pretty realistic, and the writing is legitimately enjoyable. For a brief nanosecond, I actually considered reading the sequels to find out what happens with some of the unresolved plotlines.... But maybe I’ll just make Mick read one. :)

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