The RainBlog

Life, Love, and Dragon Age

Today is the unofficial Dragon Age Day in the community! Though I’ve made some posts and tweets about how it’s impacted me, it’s also been a long time since I blogged, so how better to get back into the swing of it, than to blog about how a little video game completely changed my life?

The year: 2011. My cousin had loaned me Mass Effect, and I was really enjoying it. I got (and sunk a huge chunk of time into) Mass Effect 2, and was really loving the writing, the story, characters, and music. That year I had a great study hall duty: in my classroom, last period of the day. It ended up being a bunch of gamer kids, and one day I mentioned I was really into Mass Effect. One student said, “Oh, if you like that, you’d like Dragon Age. Want to borrow my copy?”

Of course I said yes.

My initial impressions were that it was a Medieval Mass Effect, and I wasn’t initially sold. It was enjoyable enough… so I kept playing. And played some more. Other than my students, no one else I knew was into the game, so I took to the internet. Dragon Age began to dominate my thoughts. I started wanting to write–

–This was the biggest thing. I’d finished my MFA a couple years before this, and since finishing that degree, aside from a NaNoWriMo, I was feeling kind of burnt out on writing. I just felt like I didn’t know what to write. Before my MFA I’d been really into fanfiction. The Dragon Age world was worming into me in a way a fantasy world hadn’t since Tolkien. I loved the characters and the world. The dialogue. The voice acting. The story. The fact that my Warden could essentially be who I wanted her to be…

This was one of the first ways Dragon Age changed my life. I started writing again. I felt like I had stories to tell, a feeling I hadn’t had in years.

Of course, finding a community of other DA fans was the other major impact. I joined a Facebook group, fans of the character of Alistair. Through that, I met many people I am still connected to today, and am pleased and privileged to call friends. I also met my best friend (I’ll call her Luna). Luna and I clicked; we messaged each other and found out we only lived an hour apart! After several months of chatting, she invited me to her home to join a D&D campaign. I’d never played D&D before, but I also was looking for a new social outlet, and gamers were my people. I accepted.

I cannot fully express my gratitude to Luna, even now, for trusting me enough to invite me into her home, to meet her family (including her then-toddler daughter) and friends. Dragon Age introduced me to my best friend, and that started another snowball of life-changing events.

I kept attending D&D at Luna’s. It was the highlight of my week! And then Luna invited me to their annual Christmas party, which was our D&D group, and their extended friends group. It was December 18th, 2011. I always remember that date, because that was when I met my husband.

I’d gotten out of an abusive relationship three and a half years prior to all of this, and had pretty much sworn off dating. I was happy with my cats, my games, my D&D, my Dragon Age. But I chatted with future-husband at the party (and thought he was pretty cute). He and I found each other online that night and spent the next week chatting. And… we just didn’t stop chatting. We started hanging out more in early 2012; I’d spend time with him before D&D at Luna’s. Sometimes he joined in as an NPC. By March 2012 we were officially dating. By July 2012 we were engaged. By July 2013 we were married… and now I lived about a mile away from Luna!

In that time Luna and I started going to PAX East (husband came too). We started learning more about cosplay. We played Dragon Age 2, and were there when Dragon Age 3 (which became DA: Inquisition) was announced at PAX East 2012. She and I have pictures of us with the developers and writers. We’ve gotten signatures.

When Inquisition came out in 2014, things changed again. The characters, story, and world of Inquisition swept me into the thrill of Thedas once again, and the sheer amount of writing and DA crafting that came as a result still boggles my mind. I cosplayed for PAX East 2015. I bawled my eyes out when Trespasser came out. That was the year I also had my son, and the following year for PAX East, I dressed him up as a nug. It was hard to get time in to play the game between work and momming; but always worth it when I could.

The writing continued, and I’ve made more friends through DA fanfiction. Through that community I’ve joined others who are writing and publishing and in 2018 my friend (who goes by Schattenriss on AO3, so I’ll just refer to him as such here–he’s a FANTASTIC writer btw) and I made a pact: we would take our talents and each write a book in 2018. And we did! And 2019 we were writing the drafts of the sequels! While neither of us are published (yet) we’ve been making strides toward that. Just this year I submitted to an open call for submissions, and got a request for the full manuscript. It was the most validating experience in my writing life thus far.

But I wouldn’t have gotten to that point if I hadn’t started writing DA fanfiction, and found such a great community of writers. I wouldn’t have gotten there if I hadn’t met Luna, if I hadn’t taken a student up on his generous offer to let his geeky English teacher borrow a game. I literally would not be in the life I have now if I hadn’t played Dragon Age, and honestly, it’s one of the best things that’s ever happened to me–because from that, so many other amazing things have come.

Thank you BioWare, and the hundreds of people who have worked on all aspects of the Dragon Age franchise. For the tie-in materials that make the world bigger and deeper and more real. Thank you Luna for your friendship and love and support. To my husband and the Smol Human, for being my family. To Schattenriss, to Nerine, to Tallulah, for their encouragement, for pushing me to go beyond Thedas.

A popular line in Dragon Age: Origins is “Funny how the blight brings people together.” It is funny, but it’s also wonderful, and I will always be grateful for it.

Of Doubt and Fanfiction

Time gets away from me sometimes. I feel like I blinked and it was the end of September, and now we’re finishing the first week of October! I did an Instagram post a little earlier about some goals for October. I spent September alternating between being super creative and super stressed/struggling with my mental health, and it’s taken a toll. I think the biggest thing I’m experiencing right now is doubt.

Just a heads up, what follows is some self-pity; it’s a lot of what’s going through my mind lately, and I just feel like I needed to put words to it to understand it a bit better. (Spoiler–by the end, I did!)

Sneakthief is kind of in limbo right now, and I’m trying to remain optimistic that no news is good news. I’ve been in a holding pattern with it since the beginning of August, and am just being patient. But every so often doubt creeps in and I think, “This book is terrible.” or “I should have fixed XYZ before sending it anywhere.” And begin to think maybe I should just scrap the whole Ungifted series altogether.

Because the Turncoat rewrite has stalled yet again. There was a point earlier in September where I made some major headway and it was almost a state of mania to get it written and worked on. Nearly all of what I was writing in the rewrite was brand new material vs. cutting/pasting/smoothing. Creating new stuff felt good. But now that I’m past that point and at a standstill again, trying to figure out how to get around this latest block, I’m wondering what the point is.

Recently, I picked up GreedFall, a new IP from Spiders and Focus Interactive. It looked good, and now that I’m playing it, I have an energy and excitement for a game/fandom I haven’t had in a loooong time. I still love Dragon Age. Dragon Age will be a part of me forever (and I’m dying for the next game!) and I’m still very much into the lore and the world. But this has woken me up creatively again. The world is new and different, the characters pretty good (I’m absolutely Forever a Naut and total #VascoTrash), and the plot makes some pretty uncomfortable statements about human nature, greed, colonialism, and the like. And most notably, for me anyway…

I’m writing fanfiction of it.

I started writing fanfiction years ago, when I got out of college and had nowhere to place my fandom love. I joined in 2003. I took a hiatus from fanfiction when I started grad school, mostly because I didn’t have the time. But after grad school, when I did have the time to be creative again and write for fun again, I tried to make myself write original stuff. I did some lackluster submissions of my MFA thesis novel, but my heart wasn’t into it. And in 2011, I discovered Dragon Age.

It made me want to write again.

Dragon Age has been one of the best things to happen to me personally and creatively. I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words of Dragon Age fanfic, and through that, have moved into my original work with Ungifted, and feel a passion for original writing again, something that was lacking when I was trying to do something more with my thesis after graduating.

But I’ve also been focused on Ungifted and its various parts almost nonstop since January 2018. Having new fanfiction to write, in a new world with a new story and new characters to get to know, is exciting. I love the feeling of updating and getting feedback. It makes me giddy, it makes me grin. I feel a little more fulfilled writing-wise. It does make me doubt my original work, and make me wonder if I should just stick with fic.

Then again, maybe I just need a break, doing something completely different and without any pressure, to recharge and then get back to it. I’m really close to the end of Turncoat. Finishing that rewrite is one of my October goals, along with outlining the next book, Scapegoat; and continuing work on Tempest, my spur of the moment GreedFall fic. I want to finish the game, and promptly replay it. I want to read a book or two, and get recharged.

Maybe that’s what I need. Along with considering why I’m writing. Often I’ve maintained that I write because I love to, so if I’m losing that focus, I need to regain it.

Doubt can be a bad thing, because it can hold you back. But I think in this case, what started out as a bad thing is actually good, because it’s making me reevaluate and renew my commitment to my creativity.

It (isn’t) Well With My Soul

Tree, by evening_tao

The first time my college canceled classes during my undergrad, a Nor’Easter was brewing off the Massachusetts coast. It promised snowfall measurable in feet; it promised high winds and higher tides. The night before it was due, we went to the 24-hour CVS in our pajamas; it was the only place open past 9pm in our sleepy college town. I think I bought Swedish Fish, and probably some milk, because that’s what New Englanders do when a big storm’s coming.

The second time my college canceled classes during my undergrad, it was a postcard perfect day in a sleepy, small Northshore Massachusetts town. The sky was perfectly blue, so blue without any clouds to break it up. The leaves were still green, the contrast against that blue almost painful. The sun was bright, the air sweet and warm with the last hints of summer.

The reports started trickling in. It was 2001, so we weren’t as ultraconnected as we are now. We had the luxury of learning things slowly, of horror unfolding a little bit at a time, and it was still hard to process. My eyes couldn’t believe a sky could be that blue. My brain couldn’t believe that something that horrible had happened.

They called off classes when it became clear that the world was a different place, when students couldn’t get through to family in New York or DC or Pennsylvania. They scrambled to hold an emergency chapel session, pulling out Bible verses and hymns, and we went because where else could we go? We sang “It Is Well With My Soul”, meant to be a comfort in times of loss and hardship. I sang it. I harmonized it. It’s a beautiful hymn. Our voices cracked. Chapel ended and we retreated to residence halls, numb, trying to make it well with our souls.

We huddled in the lounge, watching the news on the communal TV, where we watched the morning play itself over and over again, and they talked about it, the same stuff over and over again, with nothing new. As if reiterating it every two minutes could make it make sense, could make it well with our souls, could make us understand.

That night, the skies were silent.

We were a half-hour north of Boston (I used to make extra money doing Logan Airport runs with students on breaks). Air traffic was a buzzing constant I could tune out, until it was gone, and nothing I did made it tune in.

In the intervening years, as the day gets farther into the past, I think about that day. I think about the shock and the tears and finally the silence, of singing “It Is Well With My Soul” and realizing that it wasn’t. I wanted it to be. I wanted to accept it and use that to move on. My first years teaching we’d talk about where we were; my students mostly remembered, had been in middle school. Then elementary school. By the time I left teaching, my oldest students had been in pre-school when it happened and didn’t really remember. Sharing the experience changed.

My morning commute takes me by the town fire station, and each year on this day they hang a huge flag from the top of the extended ladder on the ladder engine, right over Main Street. It’s been eighteen years and I suddenly teared up at that red light, especially when I saw the town department out in the driveway next to the engine, in crisp uniform with hands folded and heads bowed. I wasn’t in New York, or DC, or Pennsylvania that day. I didn’t lose anyone. But my college canceled classes for only the second time in the four years I went there, and for the first time in my memory I didn’t hear planes overhead coming in or out of Boston. I started a perfect day with a good class and ended in a changed world. It’s the only world my son and countless others will ever know. It wasn’t well with my soul, and it still isn’t.

I don’t know if it will ever be.

Beyond the Odyssey: Reviewing the Fate of Atlantis DLC

When I finished Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey’s main quests, I was still very much enjoying the game and thus it made sense to move right into the DLCs. The Fate of Atlantis DLC is a huge expansion that takes place over three mythological realms and expands beyond the main story in ways that focus more on the mythology of the ancient world. This opens up the game for new opportunities and designs. The rest of this post will contain spoilers for the DLC so this is your warning!

This is your last chance….

Okay! So. The Judgment of Atlantis DLC is broken into three parts, and all three are quite large with plenty to do. The overall story is that Kassandra (or Alexios, but I played as Kassandra) must learn to harness the power of the Staff of Hermes Trismegistus and achieve your destiny as the Staff’s Keeper. In order to do that, Kassandra must venture through Elysium, Tartaros, and finally the lost city of Atlantis.

The first arc is the Fields of Elysium. Kassandra must ride through paradise: a perfect world overseen by Persephone, who rules with ironclad order. In Elysium not a blade of grass is out of place, and all is perfectly well.

The screenshots took themselves.

But… all is not well. Hermes pines for Persephone, who detests her husband, Hades (I think the internet has spoiled me with the trope of Persephone and Hades actually loving each other and caring deeply for each other). Persephone also longs for Adonis, a human who is trapped in Elysium and is planning a rebellion against Persephone. While the scenery was beautiful, I wasn’t really taken by the story. I wasn’t entirely sure whose side I should be on, if anyone’s; I found the missions kind of tedious, and the world of Elysium, though beautiful, dull to play in. In all fairness, the week I was playing it was really hot and I had fans going all the time, plus the Smol Human redoubled his efforts to cling to me at all times, so I wasn’t paying as close attention as I could or should have. It was interesting enough, but not particularly gripping. I think the best part was riding my sparkly rainbow-trailing unicorn through the fields and taking screenshots! I did appreciate that, unlike the main game, Elysium as a realm had to be created, rather than recreated. I love the attention to detail in the AC games, but really appreciated what they did to create a version of a mythological realm.

A different Afterlife requires a different horse.

The Torment of Hades was the middle chapter of this DLC, and really, I felt, the strongest and most interesting. Now, when I was teaching and had mythology classes, they enjoyed the afterlife unit quite a bit, and especially the bits about Tartarus and Dante’s Inferno. And really, in The Divine Comedy, Inferno is the most interesting bit, so it made sense that the Torment of Hades was such an interesting game experience.

For starters, story-wise it played a lot more emotional than Fields of Elysium. Fields of Elysium had a great sequence with Kassandra and her grandfather and I appreciated that, but it didn’t pack the emotional punch that Torment of Hades did. Torment of Hades had several quests and characters that had me near tears (I admit I get emotional pretty easily anyway). But there were sequences with Phoibe and Brasidas, and one section called the Cradle of the Underworld that just gutted me as a mother. Kassandra experienced regret, and myself through her based on the choices I’d had her make throughout the game.

Restless Nekropolis. Appropriate name is appropriate.

Level design also shone here. The Pits of Tartaros were suitably creepy and haunting, and Hades’s reign of chaos was made evident through the constant gloomy gloaming that made up the realm of the dead. Sections varied from the fiery pits of punishment you’d expect, to night-dark temples of dead kings. Here also we had the gods, tricky as always. Charon the ferryman was harried and darkly humorous. Hades was a contrast to his surroundings: rather than being chaotic and ugly, he was smooth with finely crafted features and a silky, almost musical voice. The fight against Hades was challenging until I picked up on his attack patterns. Medusa still remains the most difficult fight in the game so far in my experience.

Persephone was methodically precise; Hades was tricky and smug. The third segment of the DLC, the Judgment of Atlantis, introduces Poseidon as the ruler of Atlantis. This segment brings in more of the fantastic lore of the AC series, painting the Greek Pantheon as the Isu: technologically advanced beings who left behind remnants of their society, which Assassins and Templars now fight over in order to control or liberate humanity. In this case the monsters of mythology are Isu experiments gone wrong, which makes for a nice way to blend the game’s myth with Greco-Roman myth. In terms of design, Elysium and Tartaros are much what we’d expect from the Greek mythological influence, but the designers for the game had a lot of fun with the lost city of Atlantis.

In this installment, Kassandra is tasked by Poseidon to preside over Atlantis as a dikastes, or judge. At first I found the missions kind of dull and wasn’t really sure what was at stake. Poseidon’s sons rule different areas of the city and fight with one another and with their lovers and the humans they rule. Atlantis is unique in this case because it is where humans and Isu coexist. It’s a technological marvel, full of scientific research and advances, but it’s far from perfect.

One of the key elements of this installment’s story is the idea of hubris, or reaching for more than one should; it’s confidence transcended to arrogance, and takes many forms. Once I got further in the story and started doing more than just making judgments for fighting families, the insidiousness below Atlantis’s gleaming surface came out. In trying to make Atlantis perfect, Poseidon has ignored what goes on, and how his decrees are disregarded. Humans are disappearing and being used as lab rats by Isu researchers. And when all is said and done, it’s up to Kassandra, as dikastes, to determine if the gods have gone too far.

Of all three areas, Atlantis had the most liberty for design, and the level is a mix of technological advancement with clean, angular architecture in bright white, gold, and soft aquas that evoke the feeling of the sea realm without being expressly nautical. It’s layout is orderly, its aesthetic clean and linear and bright. When the true horrors of what’s going on come to light, it’s a nice contrast to the overall level design.

Overall I enjoyed the DLC and it brought a nice element to the more historical and reality-based main game. As a former mythology teacher, I really enjoyed playing through and seeing these versions of the Greco-Roman afterlife, the gods, and the myths of Atlantis. Fields of Elysium was definitely the weakest installment, and not a great opener in my opinion, but still creative, and I liked the lead-in to the next installments. Each segment had new things to learn to keep the gameplay fresh and interesting. The enemies provided good, suitable fights and challenges, to the point that going back to the world of the main game feels a little too easy now… well, until I tried taking on a level 75 mercenary. That put me in my place!

I still have Lost Tales of Greece I can play, as well as the other paid DLC, so I’m not finished exploring Kassandra’s world. Until I get to that though, check out my gallery of in-game screenshots here! Thanks, and chaire!

I Took a Break

Time can have a funny way of getting away from you. I feel like I blinked and two weeks went by and suddenly it’s September, and I wonder where the last of August went.

I have depression and anxiety disorder, and sometimes I wonder if there’s some ADD there as well, though it may be my other disorders mimicking similar symptoms. That can be part of where time goes. Another part is work; I love my job, and we’re at a point in the term where things are picking up to get ready for fall term.

Looking back at the last two weeks of August in retrospect I can plot out how things have gone since my last blog. So this is what’s been happening…

  1. I read a book. On the recommendation of a good friend, I read Witchmark by C.L. Polk. PLEASE READ IT. It blew my mind with how intricate the world was, and how fantastically plotted and paced it was. I loved the characters and just how when I thought I figured it out, there was yet another turn. It wasn’t a long book, just over 300 pages or so, but as a result it packed even more of a punch, because everything in those 300 pages counted. This leads to the next thing.
  2. I’ve been in a rewrite of Turncoat while waiting for Sneakthief to do some sneaking. I’ve been slogging through, having some trouble figuring out what needs to stay or go, and what needs to change completely and after reading Witchmark, something unlocked in my mind and I’ve been writing furiously. I have probably close to 10,000 words of brand new material that really makes the book so much better than any of the other drafts and I’ve been writing every day. Except yesterday, but more on that later.
  3. Last week I had a persistent anxiety attack that just wouldn’t go away. I’ve had anxiety/depression (officially diagnosed) for the last 15 years. I’m medicated, I do well with the medication, and with being able to trace my triggers. This week I just couldn’t. I had to do some serious soul searching to figure out what was up.

I figured out that I’d been avoiding building my fall course shell for my class starting later this month. I’d been putting off some other things so I just sucked it up and got them done. And I felt way better! Also, Smol Human had his initial referral for special ed in our town. He was diagnosed with Autism earlier this spring, and is still in preschool, so we have time to get his services in order before he enters public school next year (side note thank all deities that I have a background in education, because even this is still kind of overwhelming, so I can’t imagine what it would be like if I didn’t know what I already do).

In the midst of all that I’d been channeling the anxious energy into the Turncoat rewrite. And then yesterday I didn’t write. I’d caught up on my other projects. Smol’s meeting went very well. I’d been going almost nonstop, with the story waking me up at night and getting me up early. I’d thought I’d spend some time yesterday writing. Instead?

It was beautiful. Smol and I went to the park and then walked around it for over an hour. We went to play at a play place in town. Then I went shopping with my sister-in-law, and we had a big dinner all together. Then I hung out watching some Good Omens (yes I’m behind, I’m getting caught up!). But I didn’t write. I thought about the story; it’s impossible not to. But I enjoyed a lovely day with my Smol and my family, and I took a much needed break from everything that had been building.

Last month at Readercon I went to a panel titled “Periods of Not Writing”. It was good to hear published writers discuss when they knew they needed breaks, and that it’s important to take breaks. PAX East this past spring also had a panel about avoiding burnout in creative professions. Where I can get super focused on my pursuits, it’s important to remember that not only can I take breaks, but I should.

So yesterday I did, and today is looking like a break day as well as I’m vising at my parents’ with the Smol. Maybe I’ll get some writing in later, maybe I won’t, and I’m not going to feel badly about either one. I’m giving myself permission to rest, to take a break, to relax and recharge so I don’t get caught in an anxiety loop again. Turncoat will get written, and Scapegoat after that. I’m committed to this, and taking a breaks to regroup is just another part of the process.

I guess the bottom line is be kind to yourself. Recognize when you need to pull back, when you need to push ahead, when you need support. Be reasonable and be realistic. Don’t settle, but don’t burn out, either. I took a break. And I’m glad I did.

Musings of a Little Woman

I’ve read a lot of books in my life. I’ve had to–I was an English major, an English teacher, and now I’m an adjunct professor. Plus, I just enjoy reading! Of course there are a lot of books I haven’t read, which isn’t surprising; but there are some books I haven’t read that surprise people, given my background. “What do you mean, you’ve never read The Great Gatsby?” they ask in shock. I just… never had to. It was never on the syllabi for any classes I took, and I never taught it. Maybe I’ll give it a go next year, the whole 2020 thing and all. But another such book is Little Women.

This one tended to surprise people; I’m also a New Englander born and raised not far from the heart of early American literature and the cradle of Transcendentalism. “J, you’d love Jo!” they told me. “It’s so good! Didn’t you at least see the movie?” I didn’t doubt it, and no, I hadn’t. And I hadn’t given it much thought until a series of events that may or may not involve Timothee Chalamet *ahem* led me to decide to read it this year.


With the official trailer dropping yesterday, it got me thinking about my experiences reading the book earlier this year. I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would, and maybe not for the reasons I would have if I’d read it when I was younger. I was closing in on 40 when I read it for the first time, and I’m actually glad I hadn’t read it before then!

My experiences have shaped me; the people I’ve known, the things I’ve done, the choices I’ve made, all have molded me into who I am now. If I’d approached Little Women when I was younger, I wouldn’t have appreciated the different characters the way did this time. I went into the book expecting to like Jo: stubborn, willful, determined, a writer who doesn’t like to be told what to do. She reminded me of me; my very first library day as a child, some little girl told me I couldn’t take out a book about dinosaurs, because “those are boy books”. I took out that book, and every other dinosaur book I could find every library day thereafter–mostly out of interest, and partly out of spite.

But the more I read of the other sisters, I saw other parts of myself. While I initially viewed Meg as the responsible and dutiful eldest sister, trying to set a good example and sometimes quashing Jo’s free spirit, I realized that yes, she’s the eldest. She has a natural sense of duty, but that’s tempered by her occasional dreams of finer things that lead her to sometimes make poor choices. She’s able to grow from those times. Also, I saw a lot of myself in Meg’s struggles as a wife and new mother. She wants to do right by her husband and make a cozy home, but she still struggles and gets overwhelmed. She loves her family and the life she’s made, but she still gets tired and struggles. I mean, she ended up with twins, so yeah–I struggle with my one (who has the energy of two!). I don’t think I’d have appreciated Meg’s story arc had I read it earlier in my life.

While I definitely identified with Meg and Jo, I didn’t think I would identify with Amy at all; she’s young, and I spent a lot of the early part of the book more annoyed with her and reading her arcs quickly so I could move back to Jo and Meg. However, overall I appreciated her growth the most; I think she shows the most out of them, though I would say that’s because she starts off so much younger and has a lot of room for it, while Meg and Jo are older and working and pretty set in what they want out of life. When I think back on reading Amy’s storyline, it’s more than just her growth and maturation that makes her character great: it’s the fact that she doesn’t settle. She tries, because she thinks it’s what she should do, but realizes that she wants more, from then on doesn’t settle.

Which of course brings me to Laurie. Laurie holds his own really well with the sisters, and they each have a unique relationship with him. He needled Meg like a younger brother, and appreciated Beth’s gentle ways. And of course there’s his ill-fated love for Jo, and initially, I was upset when she turned him down. They were perfect for each other! Both intelligent, energetic, headstrong… and then because they were so much alike it made sense that it would never work out. Which was why I was pleasantly surprised to find myself rooting for Laurie and Amy! Amy won’t settle; Laurie is prone to a good fit of pique every so often, and she’s quick to call him out on it. I think because she always saw Laurie as ending up with Jo, she felt she had nothing to lose by being honest with him. And because he hadn’t ever considered her romantically, he had no pretenses around Amy. As a result, their relationship builds organically, and it becomes a really lovely partnership. His proposal in the boat, where they agree to row through life together, was simple and beautiful, and it makes for a great metaphor for their relationship.


What strikes me the most about the sisters and the way Alcott writes about them is that they each have a unique pathway and make their own choices, and Alcott doesn’t promote one over the other. Jo’s headstrong determination to become published isn’t any worthier than Meg’s desire to marry and start a family. Amy’s ambitions as an artist aren’t silly, and Beth’s generosity and compassion and empathy are strengths; she’s not a martyr or a tragic figure or cautionary tale–she’s Beth, who loves everyone and wants to help. No one sister is any better than the other, and all choices suit them all just right. In the trailer Meg tells Jo, “Just because my dreams are different than yours doesn’t mean they’re unimportant.” I feel like that’s the overall theme of Little Women: everyone has different dreams, and those differences don’t invalidate the dreams.

I don’t think I’d have appreciated this as much as I do now, if I’d read the book or seen the movie when I was younger. I think I’d have focused so much on Jo, because, at that age, that’s who I was. And before that, maybe I’d have seen more to identify with in Amy. And now, I see both, but also Meg, and even Marmee. Marmee is #goals–she doesn’t judge, she knows when to stand back and let her daughters figure it out, but when to step forward and let them know she’s still there for them. And I don’t think I’d have seen that about Marmee without being older and a parent myself, figuring out when to back off and let the Smol Human explore and experiment, and when to swoop in and make it all better.

I learned a lot from Little Women. I’m glad I finally read it, but glad it took me so long. Perhaps this fall I’ll take a trip down to the Alcott House; I’ll definitely be seeing the movie (with box of tissues in hand) over the holidays, and who knows: maybe eventually I’ll read Alcott’s other works. I do know that the March sisters and their lessons won’t be leaving me any time soon, and for that, I’m glad.

A Journey Like No Other: A Review of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey

Journeying through the ancient world

So, I’m close to a year late to the party. But I picked up Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey last October, after being absolutely enthralled with the trailers at 2018’s E3. I hadn’t played any other AC games, though I liked the premise and the historical settings. But the trailer for this one promised branching dialog choices, a huge open world, and the chance to explore ancient Greece. In my former life as an English teacher, I taught mythology for 11 of my 12 years, so the chance to move all over the ancient world fascinated me.

I did pick the game up when it dropped… so why am I only writing about it 10 months later? The biggest reason is life: I’m a toddler mom, which keeps things interesting to say the least! Also, that fall I had two classes I was teaching in addition to my full time job. And I was writing, obsessively revising Sneakthief and drafting Turncoat (I’m still revising and drafting the latter). And I also played through Dishonored yet again (went through a no-fatalities run, yay!) and then Assassin’s Creed: Unity this spring. I’ll probably review that one later, because I liked it a lot!

But lately it’s been all Odyssey, all the time, and I don’t mind that one bit!

This is the first game to ever make me seasick. That was a new one.

I chose to play as Kassandra, and I like her voice acting and her personality. She’s tough but compassionate; she makes tough decisions and fights tough battles. She’s a lover and a fighter on a quest to find herself as well as her destiny. There are many NPCs throughout her world to befriend, or to woo. While the romances are often pretty surface-level, I chalk it up to my experiences playing BioWare romances, so I didn’t mind too much. Kassandra has had many lovers; sometimes it’s any port in a storm (Alkibiades, I’m looking at you), and sometimes it’s genuine, mutual respect and affection (ah, Roxana, you fierce fighter).

Many of the other characters are interesting as well, and sailing around Greece meeting some of the Big Names of the ancient world was fun. Herodotus joins in and Sokrates lends a hand. Kassandra’s search for her mother, brother, and father is at times heartbreaking, and at other times frustrating. I felt like I lucked out with the dialog choices I made, and was able to get the “good” ending for Kassandra and her family; my best friend got a different outcome, and she said it was hideously underwhelming, to the point she isn’t interested in progressing any further in the game.

Certainly there is some unfinished business of the emotional sort with all of that, even if you do get the good ending. I don’t think that’s necessarily a shortcoming of the game, it’s just something that isn’t dealt with and something I’ve found in the other choice-heavy games I’ve played. And that, friends, is what fanfiction is for. But more on that later. Ahem.

In terms of gameplay I found it pretty smooth to play and control on the One, especially in comparison to when I played Unity; I was so used to how nicely Odyssey played that Unity felt downright buggy. The fights run the gamut of very easy to super challenging–if you’re not leveled properly and haven’t upgraded your gear. Then those fights are just challenging, but once you figure out the pattern of the attacks then it’s just patience. I think the toughest fight in the game was the Medusa fight; I tried her when I was a few levels below, and got my backside kicked. Hard. When I went back appropriately leveled and upgraded it took a few tries, but then I found her pattern and just settled in for the long haul. In some games discovering the patterns and repetition can make things dull, but in this case it’s helpful and the fight can still be a challenge. Patience is a virtue, and is rewarded.

The game story overall is vast and interconnecting, and brings in the intricacies of politics; as a misthios, or mercenary, Kassandra is often tasked with doing the dirty work. There are many ways to accomplish this, including diplomacy or just the old-fashioned high body count. It also brings in mythology (to us in the present), which I enjoyed. In the main game the mythological appearances are peppered in carefully for effect, and used well. I’m in the DLCs now, and those make excellent use of the ancient Greek pantheon, but I’ll review those separately later on. Suffice to say, just part one is HUGE.

One reason that I haven’t written a review since finishing the main game was… well, I wasn’t sure exactly when I’d finished, and that may be my biggest gripe with the game. And then, I think it’s because I like resolution. I’m a storyteller; I like stories and I like the happy ending, but happy in the sense of being resolved. I finished one major arc, and it was kind of a downer–like, I fought all those cultists for… what? That one felt really unresolved, and still kind of irks me. The other plot arc I know continues in the DLCs, which is fine… but there was no sense of it being completed. It lead right into the prologue-ish mission to tempt you into buying the DLC (I see what you did with that, Ubisoft!), but even after completing that there was no sense that I was done. It was kind of like when I finished Skyrim the first time. I beat Alduin, I won the civil war, I ruled every faction… now what?

This isn’t a metaphor for the gameplay. I just liked the shot.

I know there are other Lost Tales of Greece to play through and more DLC to get, and then the My Stories mode to try out, but as for the main game I felt unresolved. I’m not sure what I wanted to see; I mean, the credits? Something to show me it was over? I got the New Game+ option a lot earlier on, well before either of the main arcs was completed, which was odd to me as well.

That aside, I love this game; the pacing is good, the characters are fun, and the world is lush and beautiful and a joy to explore! I love the option to take screenshots and save them. I love how even the seas are populated with life… and death. My Kassandra has sunk ships and swam with dolphins and whales. She’s explored shipwrecks and hidden grottoes. On land she’s climbed mountains, cleared ruins, and galloped across fields of flowers in one moment, and charred and bloody battlegrounds the next. The experience is wondrous, and I’ve enjoyed traversing the ancient world. I think I need to add Greece to my travel list for the future. I always did want to go, particularly where I taught mythology as long as I did, but now, seeing the reenvisioned ancient world in this game, I really need to go.

Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is absolutely worth what I paid for it, given the sheer amount of things to do in the main game alone. I think I had close to 100 hours logged in the main game, and that’s only ticking upwards with the DLC missions. The game is rich and well developed, and definitely worth your time, especially if you love open world games and making choices that will shape the future of the world.

Okay, that last part is a little dramatic. But this game will take you on a journey that you will enjoy. In the words of Kassandra, χαίρε: chaire.