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I just read two out of the three King’s Quest books (so far I haven’t been able to get my hands on See No Weevil).

Overall, I enjoyed them very much.  They did feel like King’s Quest adventures.  They kept the spirit of the characters and the world.  The Floating Castle in particular I could see being a game (the odd choices you have to make, the random Deus ex Machina, the avoidance of actually killing people, random side-quest etc.).

I read Kingdom of Sorrow first.  It’s the second book but chronologically it’s the first.  I’m not sure if the ending spoiled the cameo of Culatha/Ahi'aorina in FC.  I didn’t feel that it did, especially as the reveal of her name is at the end of the book.  It might’ve confused me reading FC first and thinking there was some other Fairy Queen.

Anyway, the thing I probably liked best was the fairies.  I liked how they were described -- how they’re so beautiful you can’t look at them but dangerous and alien too.  I loved that Graham fainted when he saw the Fairy King.  I would’ve liked to see something of Ahi'aorina and Quilli'ehennan interact, or see her interact with her daughter.  But, at the same time, they probably have very unhuman relationships so maybe they wouldn't have appeared to care for each other.  It still would’ve been neat to see.  I also liked how the book showed Ahi'aorina using magic -- both what it could do and also helping in her own escape whenever she could.  I liked that she reached out to the Glass Mountains.

My first impression of the novel was that it was actually way more hardcore than I expected for a KQ book.  The opening where all the fairies were being killed was pretty brutal and set a tone.  There were a few places (like the laburnum and the efreeti and Tilly’s fate) that were quite dark.  I actually hoped there would be more of a comeuppance for the farmers who threw Graham and Shallan to the laburnum.   I liked Tilly initially (as I suspect I was supposed to) and I would rather her brothers had been thrown to the laburnum.  They didn’t get nearly the punishment that they deserved (or at least the narrative didn’t do it justice by showing us in detail how the laburnum pushed them off the farm).  But, I will say that their ending is more in keeping with KQ’s theme of avoiding killing off people.  Still, the fact that they sacrificed their sister was harsh.

I thought the whole episode with the laburnum was a little odd.  First, the book gave me the impression no one lived beyond the river, so finding the farm seemed odd.  Then the way the laburnum were talked up, I almost expected that it wouldn’t actually be a monster at all.  I was totally willing to believe that they were fluffy creatures and maybe would lead Graham and Shallan to some exit point elsewhere (I mean no one else that the farmers sent down the hole were likely to come back when they knew the farmers intended to kill them).  So, then the reveal that the laburnum did intend to make furniture out of Graham and Shallan’s bones was a good play on my expectations.  But, still, something about the whole scene felt a little off -- like I still couldn’t believe that Graham and Shallan were getting away or that they weren’t getting away.  I don’t know.  I won’t say it felt contrived or necessarily out of place but it was a weird scene.

It was weird that it was how they got rid of Shallan.  As soon as Shallan was introduced, I saw immediately that his basic purpose was to give someone for Graham to talk to so the reader wouldn’t have chapters of Graham’s introspection as he travelled to catch Ahi'aorina and her captors.  I had a hard time suspending my disbelief that "everything worked out for minstrels" but on the other hand, it does fit KQ’s world and the narrative supported it well enough.  I think part of the reason that the laburnum scene was so weird was that it seemed to be there just to get rid of Shallan (the same way he was randomly introduced), and it did so in a rather inelegant way.  But, I did worry about Shallan and I wouldn’t have been satisfied if the book hadn’t had him pop up in the end to prove he was okay.  So, the book clearly made me care for him.  I’ll have to read it again to see if my initial impressions of the Shallan stuff and the laburnum still hold.

One thing I will say about both books was that they were excellent at creating tension.  Part of the reason Shallan’s whole episode felt weird is that you feel the slipping of time as Graham needs to get to Ahi'aorina as soon as possible, and Shallan seems like an unnecessary complication (though he does prove very helpful).  He conflicts a bit with the seriousness of the situation.

Other moments I thought were well done with regards to tension was when Graham was running from the rat, when he was trying to get the key, and when they were trying to get out at the end (and get away before the efretti could come get them).  Really, the whole part in the "castle" was well done with regards to tension.  I do feel that the novels had a bit of trouble with timing.  They made it seem like the snow was coming down so hard and so fast -- in the span of a few hours it went from brilliant spring day to middle of winter with all signs that it was just going to get progressively worse.  But then it sort of stops.  It’s winter but not getting worse necessarily.  And Graham waits with the gnomes for his boots/mittens.  Like, the tension was still there but it felt like it was a little uneven with regards to how worried we remained about the oncoming winter.

The logistics of getting over the Glass Mountains threw me.  Graham has his special boots and mittens, okay, and he has water to drink but no food?  And the book made it seem like getting over a mountain was like climbing over a hill.  Graham doesn’t get anything to eat until he’s a slizard.  To make it worse, there’s such talk about getting food before that (from the spiders and the farmers).  So that was a little too far for me, even for a KQ game.

Moving on, I liked how the book managed to make at least one imp a "good guy" and used the kitchen imp as comic relief but also spared his life.  That was what really felt like KQ to me -- making enemies into allies and/or sparing their lives.

I felt bad for the slizard.  I can’t really wrap my head around its powers.  So it changes bodies with another creature -- I could see that being useful if you suddenly become the predator.  But the slizard had no idea what to make of being Graham.  It was confused (and probably scared).  What does it gain to be able to do that?  Other than trading places with Graham, it was a benign creature, content to snuggle in his pocket.  It clearly did Graham a world of good, giving him all the opportunities he needed to undo the Kingdom of Sorrow and free Ahi'aorina.  I was unsettled by how the gnomes were using Graham’s body (or the slizard’s body at that point).  It was actually pretty creepy if you think about it (though it was played more for laughs I guess).

I also felt bad for the giant Dustan.  Again, because of the way the imps mocked him when he wasn’t looking and how he was being used by Kuzgu.

Kuzgu was actually a pretty terrifying villain.  I had read the KQ wiki on the book so I was spoiled about him not being what he said and about the wizard who was really behind things.  Still, I could appreciate how well the book did in hinting he was something else.  Like, the scene where Graham pretends he has an army and Ahi'aorina manages to put the imps asleep.  I thought Graham was being a little stupid to try this tactic (though it was definitely in-character and very KQ) but if Kuzgu hadn’t been an efreeti, it actually would’ve worked.  Trying to defeat Kuzgu showed how tough he was, and then that threat of him slowly working himself loose and there being no real way to imprison or kill him -- that added loads of tension to the book.  Considering he turned into goop or smoke, I actually thought the end of the Kingdom of Sorrow didn’t end his threat.  Like, I can see him showing up in Daventry one day disguised as something new and getting his revenge on Graham.  I wouldn’t sleep easy if I were Graham.  That’s a frightening creature.

I’m not sure how I feel about the wizard’s reveal.  I knew it was going to happen so I read every duplicitous statement as it was likely actually intended.  I’m not sure if I hadn’t known if I would’ve been pleasantly surprised or felt like it was an ass-pull.  At any rate, he becomes a villain and is taken care of so quickly, it’s almost a non-issue.  He doesn’t really do much.  I would say Kuzgu was the definite big bad.  Karn Megiddo is an afterthought, an additional villain after the main event.

I do like his punishment.  I thought that was fitting.  I hope that he spends a long life as a slizard, and I feel Ahi'aorina will be a good keeper.  Although, I also feel like he’s ripe for a return.  If someone like Mordack or Shadrack wanted to, they could find his body and slip Karn out from under Ahi'aorina’s nose.  As an immortal being, I feel like she would be like Treebeard or Tom Bombadil -- they would put something away and then forget about it.  So, it might not actually be that hard to grab Karn back and reunite him with his body so he too could get revenge on Daventry.  That would be a pretty good story I think.

I do worry about his body though.  The slizard was improving and I think becoming more human.  But I’m not 100% sure I could trust the imps not to eat him.  I hope they do take care of him.

For the end, I wanted to see Ahi'aorina reunite with her husband and Graham reunite with his family (and learn the impact of the winter on Daventry, etc.).  I liked that Ahi'aorina invited Graham to stay with her, and I felt that Graham had earned her friendship by that point.  I also liked seeing Shallan again and having that tied up.

Graham was a good character and did what he does in KQ.  He used brains over brawn, which is how the Daventry family generally solves problems.  He was true to the noble spirit he has always shown but also a very normal person.  He wasn’t annoying.  I thought some of the things that happened were a little too far-fetched but overall the story worked and I enjoyed it.

That’s pretty true for The Floating Castle too.  I would say that this one was more realistic (except for Sinofas).  I liked the look into Daventry.  We get to meet the knights and see Graham’s kingly style.  We get to see some farmers and the wizard and the fairies again.  The moat monster is explained (I think?).

Like KoS, this book does a great job of creating and maintaining tension but it also suffers from unevenness.  For instance, Graham is at death’s door for many days.  It felt like he should’ve died within a day when Alexander sets out and there’s not much the book does to explain why he holds on as long as he does (like I get his spirit held on because Graham’s a stubborn BAMF but his body should’ve been toast).  There were other side-quests that detracted from the tension a bit but overall I felt this one did a better job than KoS because the logistics were better explained.

I liked Cyril.  When he was first introduced, I couldn’t help comparing him to Shallan and seeing his role as simply being there to have someone for Alexander to talk to.  So, it was surprising that Alexander and Cyril really don’t say much to each other, especially not much beyond the immediate problems they are facing.  I was also disappointed initially by the introduction to Cyril because it keeps Alexander from using as much magic as I wished he would.  What I like about Alexander is that he is the sorcerer of the family.  He was sort of "trained" by Manannan and he uses magic in KQ6.  The behind-the-scenes stuff says he becomes a professor of magic.  The book singles Cyril out for his exceptional magic use but doesn’t make mention of Alexander’s magic.  I mean, Alexander was introduced to Daventry by using a storm spell to kill a dragon.

So having him saddled with a wizard means that Alexander isn’t going to use magic.  Now, it didn’t quite turn out like that.  Alexander does show some magic affinity when he gets the staff, when he uses the light-ball, and when he uses the mirror.  He does a good job.  However, the narrative doesn’t make note of this.  It doesn’t single Alexander out as doing something that would make Cyril impressed.  Alexander comes to appreciate Cyril’s difficulties when he tries to use magic but I felt that he should’ve already known a bit by now.  And Alexander goes for the sword as his first option more times than I’ve ever seen him in the games.

The other thing about Cyril was that when I read that he wasn’t supposed to use magic, I could already write the ending where Cyril never uses magic except once where it was a do-or-die event and then it blows up spectacularly and isn’t used again.  It won’t help the situation but it will change the situation.

That sort of happened but it also sort of didn’t.  Cyril was actually better at magic than I thought he would be.  He was more powerful than I thought he would be.  He also used magic more than I thought he would.  He was actually competent and wise.  I thought he would have some insight into what a soul looked like or whatnot but no practical things to offer.  But he could make the rope with no problem.  He was useful without being annoying.

He did at times feel like a deus ex machina.  I mean, on the one hand he was perfectly explained.  It said right in the beginning that he would only be used as a last resort but that he COULD be used as a last resort.  And it’s not like his use of magic solved the problem.  He did destroy the barikar (which was another instance of a hardcore death) and that opened up the side-quest with Owen, which was what I was talking about when I said that this book had the KQ feel where you have to make weird choices.  Like, there’s no reason to promise to help this king but it’s not unreasonable to do it.  But, given that Alexander has Lydia, the staff, and his dad’s soul, it actually is stupid to go out of his way to give the staff back to Owen.

But if he hadn’t, then Owen wouldn’t have defeated Telgrin.  And Alexander wouldn’t have known about the Golden Pin, so the threat to his kingdom wouldn’t have really been solved.  There are a lot of things like that in KQ where you have to free or help someone (Attis) to progress.  But it does feel a little deus ex machina that Cyril’s blast just happens to reveal Owen’s chamber.

But the one that really felt like that was Cyril’s flight out of the castle.  At first it seems to make things worse but then it just happens to land them where Sinofas hangs out, and she gives Alexander the means to achieve his quest.  He couldn’t have done it without her.

She is just so random though.  I could accept her if Alexander and/or Cyril had noted that a witch lived in the swamp when they first enter it.  She’s supposedly known to hang out there.  But the narrative gives no clue until she’s actually there.  It’s so sudden.  One the one hand, this is exactly what happens in KQ.  How many times in KQ1 and KQ2 does Graham get sprinkled by his fairy godmother, which then is critical to him being able to get away from the evil wizards, etc.?  But it doesn’t work in the book.  All it would take is one line to say she’s out there.  You could even make her a threat.  She sounded like she could’ve been one.  If Cyril and Alexander were wary of her from the moment they stepped into her swamp, then seeing her at this moment would only make their "lowest of the low" moment lower.  So that was a bit annoying.

There was more about Alexander as a frog that I wished they’d gone into.  For instance, one of Manannan’s punishments for Alexander was turning him into a snail.  It would’ve been interesting for Alexander to reflect back on that time.  Maybe he had PTSD, being afraid of the cat when he was a snail.  Maybe Manannan also turned him into a frog.  It just seemed like there was character development that was missing.

At this point, I also couldn’t help comparing Alexander and Graham.  It was amusing that both stories had an animal transformation.  I feel like Rosella was the only one who was actually turned into an animal (I could be wrong though).  It did feel a little weird that Alexander could talk when Graham couldn’t, though it certainly saved a lot of trouble.

I liked Lydia too.  She was another character that could be real annoying but mostly avoided that (I would understand if other fans didn’t agree with that though; I can see that too).  I felt bad that she wasn’t reunited with her dad.  I mean, I understand where he’s coming from but even if he’s without a head and all, I think she’d still benefit from his knowledge and love.  I don’t think he should’ve made that decision for her.  But, in the end, she does seem to be in a much better place.  I hope she does manage to fix Morowyn.  I would’ve liked to see more comment from Cyril and Lydia on each other and their magic.  Lydia felt a little like she was interchanged with Cyril.  Alexander needed someone who knew a little magic (but not too much!) and someone he could explain things to or who could ask questions the reader needed asking.

Still she and Cyril both served more of a purpose than Shallan and were integrated into the narrative in a more seamless way than he was.

On to Telgrin.  This one is a little bit of a weird one.  Initially he comes off as just another Karn, Manannan, Mordack -- bad for bad’s sake, power-hungry, etc.  The impression I got when he stole Graham’s soul made the next time you see him a little jarring.  He’s so sure that Alexander and Cyril are there to steal Lydia.  He seems worried and not nearly as confident and badass as he was before.  Then he seems to take delight in sentencing Alexander and Cyril to die by the barikar rather than just have a knight behead them.  From there on, he has this dichotomy.  In the mirror where Alexander was watching him torture Graham’s soul (another instance of KQ game logic in that Alexander had to wait where I don’t see anyone actually waiting in real life), Telgrin seems a little putout at Graham’s stubbornness but also rather chill.  He is patient at first, giving off this confident "I can wait forever" vibe that someone who was assured of their strength would have.  But then he turns soon after into this vengeful sort who seems impatient and a little gleeful at Graham’s suffering.  It didn’t gel with how we saw him just a little bit ago.

Naturally he would be panicked to lose his staff and yet he’s calmer than some mustache-twirling villains I’ve seen.  He’s once again the self-assured wizard.  He’s obviously pissed about Alexander injuring his eye but also calm about it.  He’s calmly figured out how to trap Alexander.  And then the final fight between him and Owen happens, and he’s childish.  I laughed when he refused to have Lydia marry him in any other way but against her will.  I guess I saw elements of childishness in him, harkening back to his scullery lad days.  So maybe his badass wizard aura was just an act?  I just don’t think they nailed him down.  He was never frightening the way Kuzgu was.  The knights were frightening.  When they kept coming -- all the times Alexander had them just on his heels -- those were tense moments.  Telgrin had an opportunity to be frightening but then it turned into something else and it was just weird.

The one thing I wanted more than anything in this book I did get.  I wanted to see Alexander and Graham’s relationship.  We didn’t get to see a lot of it but what was there was great.  It would’ve been nice to see Rosella here.  We don’t actually get to see much of her interaction with Alexander, and I would like to see that.  Especially as this isn’t too far after Alexander’s been returned.  (Sidenote: I did read the KQ Wiki on this book too and I must’ve misread something because I thought it was set after KG5 and Alexander was coming home from studying Mordack’s magical stuff, which furthered my irritation that Alexander’s magic was sidelined in favor of Cyril’s.  I’ve since reread it and it does say that KQ5 happens before the epilogue but that this book has to happen before then, which makes a lot more sense.)

Overall, I really enjoyed the books.  If you like the games for the characters, definitely give them a chance.  On their own, I’d be curious what others had to say.  There might be a few situations that are a little hard to accept if you’re not on board with the KQ world but maybe you’d still get that from the books anyway?

If anyone knows where I can get the third book, I’d love to know.

ETA: I'm also making my way through the KQ companions.  I don't have too much to say as they're basically retelling the games and the little details that have been added aren't too interesting or revealing.  How they explain the connection to our world is amusing (and a little long-winded).  It also covers stuff that seems to anticipate complaints from fans (although I can't imagine anyone actually complained about these issues) and explaining in-game stuff (like how the magic symbols Graham uses in KQ5 work).  It's interesting but I don't think I would take anything from the KQ companions as canon.  The characterization is all over the map as they try to make some sort of logical reason why the game character does such unrealistic stuff.  I don't really agree with the characterization of anyone in this book but it's kind of fun to read.

One thing that has bothered me is something Alexander says.  In a chapter written from his POV, he's apparently writing a primer on magic of a sort.  In it, he compares something to a lover's touch (or something like that).  Considering the KQ companion I'm reading doesn't have KQ6, I really can't see him as having this knowledge or using this phrase.  From the timelines, very little time passes from the time KQ3 happens to KQ7 (like maybe 2 years?).  Alexander was a slave before he freed his sister.  He wasn't allowed to see people so I'm confident in saying he never had a lover before that.  And I also feel his isolation might make him awkward.  I mean, he does come off as clever and sharp and able to seize on any turn of fortune, so maybe he does settle immediately into dating.  But, he really doesn't strike me as the type to just throw himself into a bunch of meaningless relationships, and his love for Cassima is so epic and consuming for him that it feels like a first love thing.  I just don't think he ever thought of anyone before her.  And, he's so adorably awkward at times when it comes to talking to her.  So, he wouldn't have any pratical knowledge of what a lover's touch would feel like, and he doesn't seem the type to bring up the idea so off-handedly in a magic-manual.  It wouldn't be in his natural lexicon.

It's a small thing, I know, but it was a thing that struck me.


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serenity_abrin

September 2016

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