Tuesday 30 September 2014

Pathfinder - The Crusade part 10: Abyss Travels

The first part of my Pathfinder write-up is here. The current adventure, the Crusade, starts here; this section (within the Abyss) starts here.

As a quick recap, we’d been tasked with getting to the Midnight Isles and gaining enough notoriety that Nocticula, Demonlord of this Abyssal realm, would want to speak to us. So far, we’d managed to reach her capital city and Alexei had won some significant renown within the arena there.

His hands raised above his head, bushy beard moving in the wind, Alexei addressed the cheering crowd as the blood from the previous champion sank into the dirt at his feet. He spoke eloquently of his power and the choices he supported – the ways people could live like him and the benefits that gave. Keiran looked shocked that he was attempting to recruit followers even here, but I’ve known him and his ego longer. He invited everyone back to the place we were staying for a party, renaming it Alexei’s Arms and offering the owner an unspecified recompense.

I quickly grew bored of this gathering and eventually convinced Aaron to join me (see? I am learning not to rush off into danger unattended). For something to do, we sought out some bounties. The name of “Shifty Neil” caught Aaron’s eye. He’d stolen a book from some demon called Valexia and she wanted his head. Aaron spotted certain aspects of the crowd giving me unwanted attention so we spent a bit of time perfecting a generically demon disguise for me – something to keep me blended into the crowd. We found a couple of demons in a pub who’d heard of him and were similarly unimpressed: he’d stolen a purse from one and necklace from the other and they wanted his guts. They had an idea where we may be able to get some more info, though: ‘The Blushing Mermaid’.

There, it became clear that the clientele was predominantly human or at least humanoid and our demonic appearances were going to get us nowhere. We returned a bit later, me back as me and Aaron taking even more steps than before to hide his Tiefling heritage. Sure enough, they were far more forthcoming and gave us an address.

To access his hidey-hole, we had to climb the side of the building and open a sky-light. Inside, he could be heard sleeping so I made as careful a search of the dusty attic as I could before determining the book was gone – probably sold on already. A purse and necklace matching the descriptions given, however, were easy enough to locate. Aaron, meanwhile, woke him by sitting on his chest with blade to his throat. Neil was surprisingly calm, but confirmed the book had been sold to “some bloke” – no idea whom. Aaron cut off his head.

I probably should have told him sooner my plan was a bit more of a double-cross: Neil might be a thief, but this is the Abyss and he didn’t seem to be a bad guy. This guilty feeling was only exacerbated when I found an amulet of hide alignment round his neck, and a few Iomedae trinkets.

Aaron removed his guts and placed them in the purse. The demon was suitably amused and provided a couple of cheap gems as thanks – just as well, because Valexia refused to see us or pay us or anything (which is kinda stupid, cos why the hell would anyone else do one of her bounties? Although I suppose she can always trust there will be some new sap to take the risk. I think we maybe should have done something a bit more dangerous to make her think twice in future, but probably best we just left it, tossing the head over the wall back at her guards as we left).

By this point, Kieran was pretty desperate to take his turn in the ring, suggesting to Yanielle that they go in together and take on 5 opponents. Eventually, though, he went in alone. A dwarf was pushed in, fearsome colour falling away as the door closed behind him, and a large battle-axe thrown after. Kieran, shiny armour at its shiniest, quickly established that the dwarf was good and offered him a way out: the dwarf was himself a paladin who’d been captured to fight. Kieran gave him the emergency escape talisman Alexei had produced for us: the dwarf – amazed to hear Drezen was free – snapped it in delight and vanished from the arena.

The crowd, predictably, were unimpressed by this development, but Kieran had a plan. Teleporting himself (with his less-than-shiny helmet) to the first jeerer to catch his eye. “You got a problem?” He menaced. Sure enough, the demon had a problem – which Kieran dealt with by teleporting back into the ring with the demon.

The bout turned out to be rather tougher than Kieran anticipated – the demon grabbed the axe that had been thrown in after the dwarf and contemptuously kicked off the head to wield the haft as a quarterstaff. He may not have hit as hard as Kieran, but his aim was better and the fight fierce enough that Ivan, watching in the stands, nearly called the whole thing off – but Kieran demanded to complete the fight and managed to win.

Not to be outdone, Aaron took his turn. Possibly cautious following Kieran’s decision to free one of their better fighters, they pitted Aaron up against a foe I think even I could have dealt with. Aaron danced around him, nimbly avoiding all blows before taking him out. He then asked for a greater challenge, and a great beast was brought forward: a young dragon (not out of place here, so I can say the name). He notched his lucky arrow and let fly to pierce the creature’s eye. It breathed fire on him, but couldn’t do enough to stop him and Aaron came from beneath, slicing through its neck to fly up through the spurting blood as the victor.

It was clear we were a group and there were a few shouts of “what about the half-elf?”, but instead Mr Tiddles looked at the organiser and said “all of them”. We backed off, to the very edges of the stands as the little cat sat there in the centre of the arena. The combatants didn’t seem too sure of what they were doing, faced with a purring cat, and quite a lot of the audience were pushing their way closer as we fought our way back. Once we were clearly safe, he unleashed his power, summoning a spirally giant comet that took out the arena, leaving just himself and the announcer stood on little pillars of clear ground in the decimated pit. The first few rows of the audience were missing.

I took out my awesome little rod of weird and wibble (a rod of wonder) and fiddled with it, managing to shrink myself down as a fireball shot over the carnage like a celebratory firework.

Being little is fun.

We went back to our lodgings to celebrate and heard Nocticula’s voice whispering through our minds. We’d impressed her enough she wanted to meet us, and gave us the location as well as the warning that we would need to deal with the guards as a final test. Alexei again knew roughly which way to go, so we set off. The island was far enough from the shore we’d need to teleport if we wanted to avoid risking a boat journey over the cursed waters, but fortunately between Ivan and Mr Tiddles that wasn’t a problem.

We crept through the jungle (tinged with purple like everything else in this midnight realm) until we arrived at a domed building. Entering, 4 shadow demons hovered before us. The last time we saw one of these bastards it was deep beneath Fort Drezen, and it nearly killed us by possessing Alexei.

Kieran, thinking the challenge from Nocticula may not require violence, walked towards them and tried to continue through. Predictably, they attacked him: he fell to the floor, spasming. As we prepared for battle, they summoned 4 more and cast the room into darkness. In a bit of a panic, I threw off my rod of wonder again – shrinking even smaller as a wind blew through the room before Ivan countered the shadow demons’ spell. My one hope – that being so tiny ((fine, in fact – about 6”)) meant they wouldn’t notice me – soon proved false as they swooped towards me. At least being little made me hard to hit, because when they did connect it hurt and I was grateful for my ability to suddenly be elsewhere as a blow falls. Alexei was less impressed to find me on his shoulder.

Anyway, between them Aaron, Ivan and Evander dealt with the damn demons. Keiran still lay there, and I was anxious, remembering Alexei. As I moved towards him, he sat up suddenly and flung from him the amulet of pure good that he’d acquired when we chased after Jeska, before vanishing. A noise from behind caused me to turn – Alexei and Ivan, who should have been there, had vanished and Kieran was walking towards me with his sword drawn… This didn’t feel good so I started to move towards Aaron, fast as my iddy-biddy legs would take me, which was not fast enough as he tried to step on me. I used my mirror dodge again, to get onto Aaron’s shoulder whilst leaving him thinking I was still on the floor. Being little is great, but being stepped on would suck.

It was about now Alexei reappeared with Ivan to warn us Kieran was possessed – Alexei’s staff had triggered one of its contingency powers and whisked him away when Kieran hit him (the noise I’d heard). Between them, they threw the demon out and it dissipated. Kieran fell to his knees in prayer and Ivan and Mr Tiddles, fed up with my new littleness, dispelled that also until I was my own size again.

And because I didn’t write this up in time (I wanted to illustrate but failed at drawing), we go straight into the next session. It’s much shorter, I promise ;-)

We walked through the doors at the other side of the hall and found ourselves in a corridor lined with tomes and tablets. Closer inspection revealed these to detail the lives and eventual deaths of the heroes, solars and demons Nocticula had killed and whose bodies made up the Midnight Isles. *Shudder.*

Two fly-headed scribe demons met us at the end and led us into the next room – a cathedral-sized room across two levels. The upper level had a shimmering pool, towering bookshelves and, reclining on a throne, the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. Large red wings shimmered with runes and her two tails flicked and waved seductively. She wasn’t wearing much, but her lava-boots caught my eye and when she spoke it was as though no other sound would ever satisfy.

She knew we were there to stop Baphomet’s mining operation. She was pleased – she wanted to stop them but wasn’t ready to openly move against her rival so our arrival gave her the opportunity to deal with the problem whilst retaining deniability. She told us the mining operation was being overseen by Baphomet’s daughter. She advised us that if we could destroy the mining operations, she’d be able to keep them from coming back. She told us we could reach the location of the mining by stepping through the pool. She slowly walked out as we basked in her glorious presence. She smiled slyly as the left the room – a beat of her wings, and she was gone leaving an after-image of runes shimmering in the air.

Kieran was first to move to the pool – her presence didn’t seem to have affected him. It took the rest of us a moment to collect ourselves. I thought of Noleski with a homesick pang and that helped get me back to myself.

We stepped through and arrived on an outcrop under a waterfall. As Nocticula’s callous, tinkling laugh echoed in our ears, I recalled how dangerous all water was here.

And this was the point I left to meet family for a meal whilst Ivan and Alexei reverse-gravity’ed the water away from us and stone-shaped a bridge to safety. Climbing the cliff, they spotted an enormous undead solar, which Aaron attempted to pull to the ground with a grappling hook. Instead, it flew off with him dangling behind… Between them, though, they rescued him and defeated the beast.

The party then headed off into the jungleyness, moving upstream towards the mining operation. They came across a trio of colossal fiendish dire crocodiles, which the paladin used his immense handle animal skill on and… well… they ended up taking the party upstream by towing them as they sat on floating discs. This ended as they reached massive gates barring the river as it entered (or rather, exited) the cliff. These were guarded by two towers, each manned by two tieflings. And this was when I got home and re-joined the game.

Kieran used his helmet to teleport to the top of one tower; Evander threw Aaron after him (to Aaron’s surprise) whilst I spider’s climbed my way up the other. Between us, it didn’t take long to clear them out and we followed the steps down and into the gorge.

As we followed the path, we heard a voice calling us… A bit of exploration revealed a faecal succubus who complained about the miners. To get to them, we would have to go through the territory that she stated was hers but had been taken from her by a dragon. The dragon had some form of truce going with the miners so wasn’t about to clear them out. We took the opportunity of the dragon’s absence (out hunting) to start exploring its share of the caverns, but it returned before we were done so we epically and dramatically slayed it.

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Exiles Open 6(66): Dead Rising

This is the other tournament my Husbit runs, the regular one, rather than Speed Bowl. I was going to take Ogres, but at the last minutes switched to Dark Elves because (thanks to Cake Bowl) I was placed slightly higher in the South West Tournament Championship than I expected to find myself and wanted to see how high I could reach.

This tournament had a twist: ‘Dead Rising’ meant everyone had access to zombies if a player on the other team died, and each team randomly rolled before each game for one of their players to gain the regen skill (on teams where most players already come with it, only those players who don’t are eligible. No one brought a team where all players came with the skill).

My team: I wanted to take 2 witch elves and Roxanna, but ultimately went with 1 blocking Witch Elf, 1 wrestling Witch Elf, 1 dodging blitzer and 3 normal day one (day two, 2 more dodging blitzers and one with guard), 1 assassin, 4 line elves, 2 re-rolls, a babe, a fan, a cheerleader and a coach and called them Light Dwarves cos I couldn’t think of anything better. I’ve not taken an assassin before but probably will again. I always take a babe over an apothecary because I usually forget the apothecary and usually have lots in the KO box. This time, the babe had very little work to do. I also wrote my team sheet that morning on the back of another because I’d forgotten to do it sooner – and as I normally use the back to take notes, this write-up is even scattier than normal.


Game One – vs Rubick’s Dwarves

And the match-up I was dreading… fortunately, this was day one and he only had three lots of guard on the little buggers.

I won fame and the kick-off so elected to receive. Set up and someone kindly threw a rock in to help me out – a good start to what proved to be a very messy half and I didn’t manage to score until turn 8. A perfect defence on the kick off after that gave me a chance to protect my players ready for the second half.

In the second half, he managed to do 3 casualties pretty quickly but then nothing – barely cracking armour. Due to a lucky ball scatter, I managed to score on turn 16 to win the game.

Final score: 2-1 TD and 0-3 CAS (so maybe it was the rock that killed his dwarf).

Game Two – vs Cyrus-Havoc’s High Elves

I think I’ve faced Cyrus before, at the Albion progression tournament last year. I didn’t make a very good showing of myself, so was pleased to face him again to prove myself a little.

The first half, knocking his players out caused enough of a dent in his team to give me numbers, but he managed to score. A riot started the second half, and the play meant I had to score early enough that he had a chance to get the win. A bit of luck then flickered between us: my turn 16 and I had a blitzer in range to score. All I had to do was knock the ball loose with my witch elf, pick it up with the free player nearby, to hand off to the blitzer. Went really well – the player fell, the ball bounced loose … and the witch caught it. Bugger. So he know had a chance to win, but only achieved pushes on my Witch Elf to leave a close-fought and enjoyable draw.

Final score: 1-1 TD and 2-0 CAS

Game Three – vs Ceetee’s Chaos Dwarves

A little torn here: I don’t enjoy playing against Chaos Dwarves with Dark Elves but I always enjoy playing against Ceetee – he’s a good opponent for bringing out the best in you. Even though he normally beats me (except for that epic Dark Elf on Dark Elf draw at Gert a few years back), I always feel like I’ve played very well.

Both my Witch Elves skulled themselves into the dead & injured box, and a rock dealt with one of my blitzers. The absolute highlight, though, was the first round of blocking in turn one – 5 blocks resulting in 4 knockdowns, each cracking armour and 1 Chaos Dwarf dying to give me a zombie!

Hard work, but a fun game!

Final score: 1-2 TD and 1-2 CAS


Game Four – vs DDark’s Chaos Dwarf

That moment when you look at the match-up and groan. 4 matches, 3 against some form of dwarf? Bah! The saving grace, here, was that DDark had told me he struggles against Dark Elves – he’s never beaten them and has lost more than he’s drawn.

I scored on turn 3, with a bit of trepidation but no faith in my ability to stall. Somehow, I managed to keep him from returning the favour and the first half ended. At the start of the second half, his failed pick up nearly gave me the chance to get a second, but I failed the GFI over the line… and then the catch that would have sealed it the following turn. Ah well. I fought hard but didn’t quite do enough to keep him from equalising the score: a half dice frenzy attack from my wrestling Witch Elf caused a double pow on his ball carrying bull centaur, but the ball was frustratingly caught by dwarf who managed to pass his GFI’s for the draw. Still, my best result against CD’s with DE’s to date.

Final score: 1-1 TD, 2-2 CAS

Game Five – vs Merrick’s Skaven

At Exiles last year, I took the awesome Wood Elf team we’ve named ‘Strictly Come Wardancing’ (2 Wardancers, 1 Jordell Freshbreeze, 1 thrower, as many line elves as will fit) and was doing very, very well with them (despite Jordell’s habit of failing 2-up rolls and dying)… until game 4 or 5, when I met Merrick’s skaven. He, too, was doing much better than he was used to, but managed to retain the heady heights whilst I went plummeting back down to my usual, mid-table spots. So a spot of vengeance was called for.

It didn’t work out that way. Failing to pick up on turn 1 had me worried, but fortunately he didn’t manage to steal. The joy of a dead Gutter Runner was countered by the sorrow of a dead Witch Elf. The high level of armour smashes he caused to my team meant I was unable to capitalise when he failed to pick up. I gave away my first zombie of the tournament – twice, although he could only have one. Merrick was also the only person I saw use the freebie regen skill, succeeding with it not only in our game but also in his previous which was played beside me.

Final score: 3-3 TD, 3-5 CAS

Game Six – vs Hawk’s Undead

And finally Hawk and Undead. I’d been hoping for something squishy, but I’ve had several games against Hawk over the years and they’ve all been close and all been fun, so I wasn’t too disappointed.

A lucky round of stuns in the first half meant I managed to steal the ball and get it to 2-0 going into the second half. A lot of surfing happened – my fans were nice and friendly, but it seemed his were all concentrated in one area and out for blood… Witch Elves can’t dodge but can die from falling over, which is annoying. I worked hard and made Hawk think more than he’d have liked, but he did manage to bring it up to 2-2 to end the game.

Final score: 2-2 TD and 1-1 CAS

And the scores are in…

Most Cas Caused        - Army Dave 26
Most Cas Taken          - Tom 28
Red Car Magnet         - Monk 16
Most Td Scored          - Val 16
Most Td Let In           - Monk 16

Stunty Cup                  - Hairy Pete

Best Comeback           - Moodygit (rising by an impressive 13 places from the end of game 3 to end of game 6)
Wooden Spoon           - Tom
Glowworm                  - Jimmy Jazz
Runner Up                  - Vmcat
Winner                        - Besters (giving him the South West Tournament Championship title as well)

Monday 22 September 2014

Circus Filler Post

This is not a real post. This is a filler post whilst I work on writing up the latest Pathfinder update and the previous weekend's Exiles Tournament.

I just wanted to show off a quick bit of improvement in circus - I showed you a video of me doing hip lock recently and said there was a particular bit I wanted to work on.

So, first video:

And second video:

In the first video, it's the part about 14 seconds in where I force the silk over my knee in a rather ungainly fashion: in the second video, this is at about 19 seconds and (I hope you'll agree!) looks a lot smoother. I think I can do an even better job (mostly by being more gentle and making sure my toes are really pointed), but I was very pleased to make an improvement in something I was working on.

In support of the benefits of video, when Emily tells me to straighten my legs and I do, on the silks it really didn't feel like I'd made much difference, but looking in the video it looks a lot better. This means I've got a better appreciation of why it's important, which makes it easier to work on. I have trouble keeping my legs straight so am trying to work on it.

We learnt rolls on the hoop, which was awesome but I don't have any video I'm afraid. Hopefully next time (which will be a few weeks now).

Sunday 21 September 2014

Aberrant: Training Part 2

Aberrant: we left the Nova Initiative on a live-training exercise to find a Nova with empathic powers and convince him to come with us. The downside? The team don’t know his name or location beyond Tbilisi and are doing this without superpowers. Mark has gone off at a tangent to track down a young girl from Hong Kong who had been kidnapped and was being tracked by Omar, an old acquaintance of his but the rest of the team has loaded up into a van and are driving towards an area Steph believes their target may be.

Adam pulled up in an underground car park a couple of blocks away and the team disembarked. As they moved towards the area, it became clear a Nova battle was taking place up ahead: Cestus Pax and someone unknown. Using the partially demolished buildings as cover, the team made their way up and past carefully, but after careful scouting realised whoever had been there had since left. Snatched sleep and moving on. Carefully, carefully – not wanting to draw attention from the fighters.

After a time, Mark radioed in – he was under heavy fire not far away and needed help. The rest made their way as fast as they can – the Nova battle seemed to have moved away, which sped them along. They found Mark hiding behind an outcrop that was slowly being whittled away by gunfire from a building opposite: the troops inside (he estimated about 30) were spread throughout, rather than in some nice, easy collective that could be dealt with together. Rachel made her way, sniper rifle on back, to another nearby building from where she can get a good view. Jean, Steph and Robert made a distraction to buy time for Adam and Chrissie to get round to the back of the building with the C4 Adam had made whilst recuperate from the gunfire not long ago.

They were spotted by a couple of guards – a very short fight ensued, ending with the guards throwing a flash-bang grenade into the room Chrissie and Adam had taken shelter in. Blinded and disoriented, Chrissie managed to jump out of the window with Adam close behind her. They lay still whilst the guards shot a few rounds after them, then as their heads cleared moved along the building to enter through the windows of the next room. A little more care and no further distractions, the C4 was carefully placed in key locations on a short timer. They warned the others as they legged it from the building. It collapsed behind them, taking out the troops and saving Mark’s life.

Rejoining the team, Mark advised he had a further lead on the girl. They continued travelling – Cestus Pax flew overhead and paused, no doubt realising they were responsible for the destroyed building. He flew on again after deciding they weren’t interesting – to their amused relief.

A delay when, again, Adam and Chrissie got badly shot up in a shopping centre. Chrissie had seen a young girl running through so followed her down with a desire to help and had been shot up for her trouble (forgetting, a little, that she was vulnerable as she moved towards the girl to disarm her after the first bullet winged her). Adam had gone to help but was hit even more ferociously so shot back – aiming to disarm the kid but accidentally killing her. They set up in a camping store for a couple of days until their Nova healing had done its trick. Steph had used the time to find a new starting location for their hunt. Chrissie was beginning to think her Nova name should be ‘Bullet Magnet’ rather than ‘Phoenix’.

Finding the new location, Jean stayed with Steph to protect her whilst Rachel, again, found a vantage point to cover Robert, Chrissie, Adam and Mark as they entered the building. It had power and internet (traffic on which was how Steph had found the place) but seemed utterly empty – until on one of the higher floors they found a man typing away. Mark recognised him as Omar. He recognised Mark as Simon… and several other names. But knowing who we were and hearing Mark had a lead on the girl, Omar agreed to help them track down their target – part of the resistance – if they helped him track down his to return her to her family.

Thursday 18 September 2014

More Circus Stuff

Bit more news from circus.

First of all, a couple of photos from last week around a move that I was struggling with before. It’s another drop, but this time one where you let go with your hands. So photo one shows me in a lovely position, one leg on the top bar, the other below and a decent back bend (my lower back is hypermobile but my upper back isn’t. this meant for years I thought I had an unusually stiff upper back). To get in this position, you start out like in the tummy drop video, but only hock your right leg onto the top bar. Your left leg goes through the hoop, you do a pretty bend, bring left leg back and to the side between the hoop and your left arm – then straighten it downwards into that position.
Photo 1
So far, so good. You now straighten that top leg into a beautiful set of the splits… or a clumsy parody thereof, in my case (for now. It will come!). You then slide the leg down and hock on to the lower bar – à la photo 2!
Photo 2
So this is the bit that scares me: let go of the top bar with both hands at the same time and catch the lower bar. The first time I tried this a few weeks before, my mind went “No. No no no. Nope. No way. Nuh uh.” I could just about cope with doing it one hand at a time, but my brain could not get past the letting go thing.

And on this day I did it. Angel was talking me through the moves, reminding me to keep that bottom leg heavy, being calm and gentle and I did it. It was ever so cool and I really can’t see why it was so scary. I don’t really have an ‘after’ shot, so you’ll just have to take my word that it was seriously cool.

Now, some video from yesterday (sorry about the quality, my phone is doing a weird thing where it's either mega-zoomed in or low quality):

I learnt hip lock a few months ago but haven’t really done it since then. I found it difficult because I struggled to get the silk into the right place and would slip down, which is scary. So doing it again, I was surprised how well my muscles remembered what they were doing and how much stronger they have become: I had to do it from the floor before (so less room to slip in!) because I couldn’t invert (turn upside to get onto the silks) without pushing off from the floor before – didn’t know I could do it now, so that was a nice surprise!

There are several things to work on, but the biggest (asides just being tidier and generally better) is to bring my knee up as the silk goes over it: it feels counter-intuitive, but by lifting the knee and holding the silk steady, it slides into the right position and looks much neater. It’s nice to have things to work on and I’m really pleased with my progress.

The sequence here starts with a straddle mount and goes into a starfish – I find the little ‘walk’ into starfish a bit disconcerting because I feel like I might overbalance before I’m in the right position. Watching the video, though, it occurs to me that’s not a problem: my shoulders have enough flexibility I can come off that way without hurting myself. It’ll be frightening and look messy, but not a problem. So next time I’ll try and have less fear.

The sequence is starfish, then pencil, then scorpion, then birds nest, then dismount. Haven’t done scorpion before – not quite sure how to keep my balance as I go into it yet, but that will come with practice.

So yeah, generally pretty pleased with my progress and enjoying moving forward with it. Circus is awesome.

Wednesday 17 September 2014

10 Books

There is a meme going around – to name 10 books that have influenced you or otherwise stayed with you. Like, I think, most people doing this I have had a hard time limiting it to 10 books and have been hanging back in the hopes of a second nomination so I can do as one friend did: select 20. That doesn’t seem to be happening, though, and I do want to take part. So here, in no particular order, are my 10 influential books:

1.         Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkien

Part of me wants to go with books that not everyone will have heard of, because memes likes this can be incredibly useful for helping track down new reads, but Lord of the Rings had a huge impact on me so this list wouldn’t feel complete without it.

As a child, we would spend a week or two weeks being looked after by aunts, uncles or grandparents to give our Dad a break. One year when our Uncle and Aunt near Reading had us, they took us to a charity shop and let us each choose a book. I don’t remember how young I was; maybe 8, maybe a little older, but young enough that my choice of The Fellowship of the Ring was a surprise: I was also bought The Borrowers for when I found it too difficult and gave up on it. For the next two or three days, I remained ensconced in my cousin’s bedroom as I travelled Middle Earth. I then had to wait an agonising length of time (at least the rest of the week) to go home and borrow my Dad’s copies of The Two Towers and Return of the King.

Partly it was the look of surprise on my Aunt’s face as I devoured the novel, partly it was the incredible breadth of fantasy I was being exposed to and the depth of the world containing it, but this book is one that had a magnificent impact on me. The Borrowers was a bit of a let-down after that.

2.         The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K le Guin

If you have not read this, go and read it now.

Le Guin is an author I adore. She is a wonderful story teller. Her stories – rich in detail, set in vibrant, believable fantasy and science fiction locations – are woven with political threads that make you consider your prejudices as well as being beautiful stories. There is something almost punk-like about the way she achieves this marriage of art and politics, albeit in a far gentler manner.

The Left Hand of Darkness is part of what is known as the ‘Hainish Cycle’, a collection of science fiction stories in which Earth (Terra) is one of many planets with humanoid life seeded there by the since-collapsed Hainish Empire. This novel is set on a planet called ‘Winter’.

There is a particular moment in this novel where other characters debate the Terran need for speed, that amuses me and periodically reminds me to calm down and take things slower, but the real power of this book is in the way gender is treated: the natives of Winter are hermaphrodites. I think this book is probably where my first steps towards feminism (and in particular intersectional feminism) took place.

Read it. And read the others. She is truly wonderful.

3.         The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The language controlling this book is beautiful and poetic. The story is told within a framing device – a technique I like and which works well to keep you interested in what is to come with small moments of foreshadowing and conclusion as you periodically return to the present. I’m really looking forward to the conclusion of the series and too the soon-to-be-released spin-off novel, The Slow Regard of Silent Things which focuses on one of my favourite characters in the novel, the curious and mysterious Auri.

4.         Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Imagine being told for 8 ½ years that a particular book is the best book ever. Imagine finally giving in and reading that book… With Snow Crash, I was amazed to discover it lived up to the hype.

It’s near-future science fiction and with a strong cyberpunk feel to it. I love the technology and the way it’s thrown in without distracting explanation yet still vividly believable and comprehensible.

There’s a vast, detailed world collected into a compact story. It’s very well-written and a book I can highly recommend.

5.         The Natural History of the Vampire by Anthony Masters

Not a fiction book this time, but rather a slightly unusual reference book.

When I was very little, my Daddy read us a short story called The Legend of Croglin Grange. He warned us it was very scary, but we insisted anyway. My little siblings – fearless as they are – were utterly unaffected and enjoyed the story. I went away from it absolutely and utterly terrified of vampires. So my Dad did what any sensible parent does: told me they didn’t exist but then taught me how to combat them – which included lending me his copy of The Natural History of the Vampire (it has since made its way onto my shelves. I’m pretty sure he knows I’ve perma-borrowed it…). 

The book gives details of vampire myths from around the world and looks at the way the myths have changed over the years – particularly the way they have been shaped and influenced by popular culture (John Polidori’s The Vampyre, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Hollywood in general get particular mention).

It’s worth noting there are vampires out there who sparkle in sunlight – only it’s more a ‘sparkly mist’ that surrounds them than anything Twilight-esque.

6.         Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

Like a gateway drug, Guards! Guards! led me in to the Discworld and from there to the Johnny series, The Carpet People and Good Omens (with Neil Gaiman) – for a long time, my favourite book and one that still gives me a lot of pleasure.

I went to a ‘three school system’ – rather than primary/secondary, we had a first school, a middle school and an upper school. The school library in my middle school was tiny but had one shelf only the eldest year group were allowed to read: the Discworld novels were on this shelf.

Guards! Guards! is not my favourite Discworld book (it’s hard to pick, but probably one of the witchy ones or possibly Reaper Man), but it is the first I read and will always be special to me.

7.         Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

My fear of vampires is probably a large part of my love for this book – in my opinion, one of King’s better novels. It doesn’t suffer from a weak ending like several others and doesn’t have a Brit call an aeroplane an ‘airplane’ as in The Langoliers and for which I’m still not quite ready to forgive.

I re-read the novel recently and bits I vividly remembered didn’t happen, which I think shows the power of a good book over our imagination.

For vampire novels, I would also recommend John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Let the Right One In.

8.         Greenwitch by Susan Cooper

I love the whole Dark is Rising series, but this is my favourite because it’s the one in which Jane (the token girl) takes the lead. I also love it because it’s a tiny act of kindness, rather than violence or struggle, that saves the day.

9.         Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak

I read this when my brother was fairly new and it summed up a lot of my ambivalence towards him: I hated/resented him, but equally loved and was hugely protective of him. I could see myself in the main character, Ida, and the image of a big sister protecting her baby sibling is powerful to me and always comes with a frying pan.

This book inspired Labyrinth, a film I love, and I can see its threads in Juliet Maurillier’s Heir to Sevenwaters. It’s also inspired one of the novels that flits through my head, demanding attention from time to time yet will probably never come to fruition (although Alan Garner and Susan Cooper also influence this particular endeavour).

10.       Folktales of the British Isles

A collection of tales that was given to my parents when I was born to be given to me when I was old enough to appreciate it. This book is probably from where my love of folklore and mythology stems – an important part of who I am.

The tales come from all over Britain. Many have their roots in Celtic tales, others later. They are split into different groups including Giants, Fairies, Magical Creatures, Kings and Heroes, Ghosts (“He woke in the night most frit and reached for the matches and the matches were placed in his hand”).

It was a gift from my godmother when I was born.

It’s a beautiful book and the stories are wonderful and powerful and in a strange way feel like they’re all mine.

If anyone wants to give their 10 Important Books in the comments (or link to somewhere they’ve already shared) I’m always after new recommendations!