What I Used for Inktober 2016: Sakura Gelly Roll Pen

River Painting: Finishing Touches with Sakura Gelly Roll SMALL

River Painting: Finishing Touches with Sakura Gelly Roll SMALLWelcome back to the fourth and (for now) final installment of What I Used for Inktober!  Today we’ll be looking at the Sakura Gelly Roll Pen in White, a gel pen that I like to use for accents, outlines, and highlights, like I did in the picture above!  (I also added a blue background using a Promarker – but that’s a review for another day! 😛 )

When I committed to Inktober, I was worried about highlights.  In digital art, it’s easy to add a white outline or highlights at the end of a painting – just make a new layer!  But with markers? o~o  Luckily, with the Sakura Gelly Roll pen, it’s easy to add highlights and finishing touches after the main shading!  At about $5 USD for a set of 3, these pens are budget-friendly. . . and, I would say, well worth the price.

The pen looks like this:

Sakura Gelly Roll Pen close-up. Photo by River.
White-on-white is hard to capture! orz

The pens are about the size of a pencil and very light.  They are small in diameter, so not very ergonomic, but it would be easy to add one of those squishy pencil grips to make ’em comfier.  ^w^

As the ink is white, it works well for highlights, and the gel formula means that it flows easily.  It’s also a lot of fun to use on black paper, like on these sketchcards:

Seasonal Witch Sketch Cards by River
I especially like how the summer berries turned out! :3

One thing to note is that the Sakura Gelly Roll White is slightly translucent.  It’s an effect I like, but for a strong white line you may have to go over it two or three times – especially if the base color is dark.  Here’s some examples:

Sakura Gelly Roll Tests Page by River
This photo has a larger version! Click to view!

In Row 1, I layered the Sakura Gelly Roll over black Tombow water-based markers.  For some reason, the Sakura Gelly Roll appears more translucent over water-based markers, so you may need to layer more to have an opaque white.  They also have a tendency to smear if the marker ink is still wet, so make sure to let it dry thoroughly before using the Gelly Roll. On each black square, I drew a white loop, increasing the number of layers each time.  So left is 1 layer, middle is 2 layers, and right is 3 layers. (In the picture, “rep” is short for “repetition,” or layers.)

In Row 2, the same tests are repeated – but this time they are over an alcohol-based Promarker.  Again, left is 1 layer, middle is 2 layers, and right is 3 layers. I am not sure why, but the Sakura Gelly Roll appears more opaque over the Promarkers.  This doesn’t seem to change with darker colors; so it may have to do with the pigment composition of the Gelly Roll and how it interacts with water-based vs alcohol-based pigments.  In any case, even the 1 layer example shows up well against the blue Promarker, and increased layers will create thicker and more opaque lines.

In Row 3, I laid down a wash of blue-violet Promarker, and just doodled!  The Sakura Gelly Roll really shines with loose, fluid movements.  The line is even and consistent.  I’ve only had a Gelly Roll skip on me twice – which is amazing compared to the Papermate gel pens I use for writing.  Each time, it was only a small break in the line, and easy to repair.

To recap, here are some things I’ve learned using the Sakura Gelly Roll:

  • Let the painting dry completely before using the Gelly Roll.  This will prevent smears!
  • Go over the line several times to make it more opaque or thicker.  Or, leave it at one line for a slightly translucent effect.
  • Relax a little! Loose, fluid movements help the gel ink flow smoothly and consistently.

Though there are other tools one can use for highlights, outlines, or the like, I really enjoy using my Sakura Gelly Rolls and would definitely recommend them!  😀

What do you use to create highlights in traditional media?

~ ~ ~

And this concludes the review series,  What I Used for Inktober!  Thanks for reading!  I hope you’ve enjoyed these reviews over the past month. Please do let me know what you think of this series, and if you’d like me to do more reviews in the future. 😀



What I Used for Inktober 2016: Tombow Dual-Brush Pens

Welcome back to the What I Used for Inktober series!  Last week, we looked at the Prismacolor Premier 0.005 black pen for inking, and today we’re looking at Tombow Dual-Brush Pens.  Which means we’re at my favorite part: Coloring!  \(^o^)/

Last year, I wanted to try coloring with markers after seeing so many amazing marker paintings on the Web and so many amazing speedpaints on Youtube.  As a beginner, though, I didn’t want to heavily invest in a huge set of markers or purchase the most expensive professional materials (looking at you, Copics!) – or not yet, at least.  So I chose to try the water-based Tombow Dual-Brush Pens after hearing that they are a good brand and (luckily) were on sale at the time.  Better yet, they were reported to be durable, self-cleaning, and even blend well.  Sounds good, right?

Long story short, yes, they’re great!  I like them a lot,  though I’m also using other brands these days.  Tombow markers do have a few downsides, mainly due to the nature of water-based markers; but the water-based vs alcohol-based debate is a post for another day.  Let’s get started!

TL;DR Version

This review turned out super long, so here’s the short version!

Tombow Marker Review Painting + Markers Photo Watermarked

Tombow Dual-Brush Pens are a good introductory marker.  There are a wide range of colors available, and I love, love, love the self-cleaning feature!  Also, being water-based they don’t smell strongly like alchohol-based markers; so if strong smells bother you, you can rest easy with these.  🙂

However, Tombow markers will pill and ripple the paper if you lay down too much pigment, a common problem among water-based markers; though it isn’t as bad as the Crayolas I used when I was a kid, it’s still annoying.  And while the blending feature is cool, Tombow markers don’t blend well on paper. 😦

I would recommend them for sketching, lettering, and for simpler coloring styles (like cell-shading, perhaps).


  • Durable
  • Self-cleaning tips
  • Budget-friendly
  • Wide range of colors available
  • Cool blending feature
  • Doesn’t have a strong smell – like alcohol does


  • Pills the paper
  • If you use a lot of wet-on-wet layering, the paper will ripple
  • Doesn’t blend well with color on paper
  • Prices tend to vary widely from $10-$25 USD per 10-pack

Now let’s get into the in-depth review!

The Packaging & Design

Tombow markers come in a pack like this, with nine colors and a colorless blender:

Tombow Dual- Brush Pens BoxAs the name says, the pens are dual-brush: They come with both a flexible brush tip and a fine tip:

This design makes these pens very versatile!  The brush pen is perfect for lettering, filling large areas, and blending colors:

Tombow Dual-Brush Pens Brush Tip ExampleThe brush tips are also durable, so you can bend, twist, and otherwise abuse them and yet they spring back into shape!

Tombow Marker Brush Tip Bending ExampleCan you tell how far the brush tip is bent in the picture above?  It looks alarming, but it doesn’t hurt the marker at all.  And you can bend it further than this with no issues.

The fine tip is great for inking / outlining; the only thing to note is that as these markers are water-based, coloring over an inked image with other water-based markers will cause it to bleed slightly.  Here’s what the fine line looks like:

Tombow Dual- Brush Pens Fine Line Tip

I also wanted to mention this cool design feature:

The large caps have a little ridge that keeps the markers from rolling around!  Very useful.

The Colors

Now let’s take a look at the markers that came with the Grayscale Palette:

Tombow Dual-Brush Pens Close Up

It’s a little hard to read the numbers in the picture, I know!  The colors included in the Grayscale Palette are listed below.  (The numbers are the official Tombow reference numbers, while the descriptive text in parentheses are my own interpretation of the color for clarity.)

  • N00 (Colorless Blender)
  • N95 (Lightest Lavender)
  • N89 (Light Warm Gray – almost a light beige)
  • N75 (Light Lavender)
  • N65 (Warm Gray)
  • N60 (Purple-Gray / Lavender)
  • N55 (Dark Warm Gray)
  • N45 (Dark Cool Gray)
  • N25 (Charcoal)
  • N15 (Black)

The Grayscale Palette includes both warm tones (N25, N55, N65, N89) and cool tones (N45, N60, N75, N95), making this palette very versatile. 😀

I’ve found that the colors of the caps are fairly accurate about 2/3 of the time.  Even for the markers where the shade is different than the cap indicates, it gives you a good idea of the color’s value and tone. For example:

Tombow Dual-Brush Pen color test page one. Featuring N15, N25, N45, N55, N60, N65, and N75.
From top to bottom: N15, N25, N45, N55, N60, N65, and N75.
Tombow Dual-Brush Pens Color Test pg 2 - featuring N00, N95, and N89
From top to bottom: N89, N95, and N00 (colorless blender).

(Please note that these color tests are not quite the same as the in-person colors due to the lighting.  They may also look slightly different on your screen.  So while they’ll give you an idea of the colors, take ’em with a grain of salt!)

As you can see in the color tests above, the caps give you a good indication of the marker’s shade, but aren’t always exact.  So it’s important to always test your markers before coloring!  That way, you’re always sure of the shade. 🙂


Tombow Marker Review Painting + Markers Photo WatermarkedI’ve used the Grayscale Palette for several pictures, mostly during last Inktober; and while I am no master of markers yet, I have figured out a few things during the 10+ hours I’ve spent with them.

First, I like the look of laying down two to three layers of color in a color block.  Except for N15, which is a dense black, seam lines appear anywhere two lines meet.  Going over the area with another layer helps to eliminate that effect.  For example, you can still see darker seam lines in the picture above, but trust me when I say they are about 5x less visible with only one layer of color!

When shading, try to keep the dark and light colors within the same warm / cool color group.  I’ve run into issues using, say, N95 (Lightest Lavender) over N55 (Dark Warm Gray).  I’m not saying to only use warm or cool tones in a drawing (though that would be cool too), but rather, keep the color group in mind when shading a specific area (example: River’s vest in the picture above).  This is one of those things that’s obvious – in hindsight, haha.

Finally, I’ve noticed that with my heavier 50-70lb papers, the Tombow markers don’t bleed through even with many, very wet, layers of colors!  The paper will ripple before it bleeds.  It seems that the pigment is inclined to stay on the surface of the paper, even if the water seeps through.  For example:

Here’s the back of the painting in my sketchbook, along with the next page (the eraser test for the Caran d’Ache blue pencil review).  There are a few places where the color is distinct, as if it’s begun to bleed through, and yet there are no marks on the next page!  A definite plus.

Blending with Tombow Dual-Brush Pens

One of the awesome things about Tombow Dual-Brush Pens is the blending feature!  “But River, didn’t you mention earlier that they don’t blend well on paper?”  Well, yes, that is true.  However, there is a way to blend colors with the Tombow Markers: picking up a darker shade with the brush tip!  We’ll take a look at that in a minute, but first, let’s take a look at the blending performance:

Tombow Dual-Brush Pens Blendibility TestWhat are we looking at?  From top to bottom:

  1. Using colors N25 (left) and N65, attempted to blend the colors on paper.  First, I laid down a block of N25; then colored over it while it was still wet with N65.  Looks good, right?  Well, unfortunately, the block of midtone in the middle is actually a second layer of N65!  I usually forget to blend on the brush tip, so this is how I shade!
  2. Same method, without the second layer of N65 in the middle.  So there’s one layer of N25 on the left, then colored over with a single layer of N65 while wet.
  3. Using colors N25 and N00 (colorless blender), attempted to blend the colors on paper.  Like example 1, first I laid down N25 then colored over it with N00.  There’s a slight blurry line where the N25 bled, but it’s not very well blended.  This would be good for softening the edges of a line or color block, to give a slightly hazy effect.
  4. Again using N25 and N00, I picked up some N25 pigment with the N00 marker and then colored on the paper.  This can truly be called a “blended” effect!  Or perhaps “gradient” would be better.  This is good for shading small areas, and gives a lovely effect on lettering!

Now, you may be asking, “How do I get the effect in the 4th example?”  If so, I’ve included a short tutorial. 😀  (Or maybe you already know how, in which case, feel free to skip ahead.)

Tutorial: Blending and Gradients with Tombow Dual-Brush Pens

First, pick out the darker and lighter shades.  In this case, I’ll use N25 and N00, for a dramatic effect.  Then dispense some of the darker shade onto a palette, like so:

Tombow Blending Tutorial 1: Dispensing the Darker Color
Dispensing the Darker Color

Then, pick up some of the darker pigment from the palette with the lighter color:

Tombow Blending Tutorial 2: Picking Up the Color
Picking Up the Color

Don’t worry, the tip isn’t stained!  Tombow markers are self-cleaning, so the N00 will bleed off the color as you work until only the colorless blender is coming out.  Cool, huh?  Now you’ll have a gradient effect:

Tombow Blending Tutorial 3: Color!

I picked up a lot of pigment in these pictures, so it was a nice, gradual gradient.  Try picking up more and less color to get longer or shorter gradients!

After the darker pigment runs out, the tip will look like this:

Tombow Blending Tutorial 4: Tip is clean again!
Nice and clean again!

Honestly, the self-cleaning nature of the pens is my favorite part of using Tombow.  Even if you accidentally brush against a different color, the tip isn’t stained; it’ll clean up with a few strokes on scrap paper! I just love it. ❤️

Final Thoughts

As I said in the TL;DR version, the Tombow Dual-Brush Pens are a great introductory marker.  The few cons (will pill the paper, don’t blend well on paper) are just annoyances really, and the many pros speak for themselves.  I especially love the self-cleaning feature!  They work well with lettering, sketching, and simple coloring styles. I’d recommend them to anyone who wants to try a new brand of water-based markers.

See you all next week with the fourth and (for now) final installment of this series: Sakura Gelly Roll Pens!

What I Used for Inktober 2016: Prismacolor Premier 0.005 Fine Line Pen vs Dollar Store Gel Pen

River sketch - Inked with the Prismacolor Premier 0.005 fine line pen

Welcome back to my Inktober supplies review series!  Last week, we started with the blue sketch pencils by Caran d’Ache and finished up with a sneak peek (?) of the inking for today’s post.  Here’s the picture inked with today’s product, the Prismacolor Premier 0.005 Fine Line pen:

River sketch - Inked with the Prismacolor Premier 0.005 fine line pen
Inking traditionally is always a little nerve-wracking for me, so I’m pleased it turned out this well!

Here’s a close-up of the pen:

Prismacolor Premier Fine Line

But. . . I made a mistake.  The whole point of this series was to review the items I used last Inktober, right?  Well, last October I didn’t have a Prismacolor 0.005 pen.  I mostly used a dollar store gel pen instead.  This pen, in fact:

Dollar Store Gel Pen. Photo by River.


Well, as the picture is already inked, I thought hey!  We can do something fun, and compare / contrast the Prismacolor pen with the dollar store pen!  \(^u^)/

I put both pens through their paces with fine lines, wavy lines, cross-hatching, stippling, and smear tests:

Prismacolor Premier 0.005 pen vs Dollar Store gel pen test page
The light was changing. Sorry for the shadow lines! Hopefully it’s still legible. 🙂

From the first, we can see that both pens are designed for fine lines.  They would work best for outlining, detail work, and anyplace you want a consistent line.  Neither would work well for varying line weight or shading with flat, smooth colors; that’s out of  their job description.  It would be interesting to shade a black-and-white drawing using crosshatching or stippling, though!

Like in this picture! Shaded only with the gel pen.

Differences: The Prismacolor Premier 0.005 pen has a thinner and more consistent line.  The dollar store gel pen is closer to 0.007 or 0.009 in width, I think. Also, the gel pen has a tendency to “skip” and blot at times, leading to less consistent lines and a lot of frustration.  (How did I make it through Inktober with a skippy gel pen, you asked?  With patience and going over lines as many times as necessary. . . . orz)

The last test I made was the smear test.  As I like to color my traditional artworks, it’s important to have ink that won’t smear when colored or painted.  After letting the inked lines dry for a few minutes, I tested both with a water-based Tombow marker and an alcohol-based Promarker.  Let’s have a close-up on the smear test:

The Prismacolor Premier pen is clearly the superior with this test.  Since it was designed to be used with the Prismacolor markers, the ink is colorfast and doesn’t smear at all with either the water-based or the alcohol-based pigment.

The dollar store gel pen, on the other hand, does smear slightly when colored over.  It isn’t as obvious in the photo as it is in person; hopefully the close-up gives you a good look at the smearing.  The thicker the line, the more likely it will run and muddy up the colors.  That may not bother you, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind.

Have you seen some of the Cheap Art Supplies Challenge videos on Youtube?  They prove that cheap art supplies don’t equal lousy art, and likewise, expensive art supplies don’t make stellar art.  I’m often amazed by these videos, and they helped me resolve to not be taken in by cool marketing and buy the most expensive supplies just because.  However, the smear test drove home an important point to me: While expensive art supplies do not make the artist, having the right supplies makes the job easier.  And at ~$5 USD for the Prismacolor Premier pen, I consider it a worthy investment. . . at least compared to the dollar store gel pen. 😛  I’d still like to try some other fine line pens, but for now I’m satisfied with this one.

That about wraps up my thoughts on these two pens!  If you have any more questions, let me know!  Next Tuesday we move onto coloring and shading.  See you then ~ !

What I Used for Inktober 2016: Caran d’Ache Sketcher Non-Photo Blue Pencils

Last September, flushed with excitement at the thought of doing my first Inktober challenge, I splurged on some new art supplies.  Since I usually worked digitally, I thought it was a good opportunity to try out some different traditional techniques.  One that I was really looking forward to was using blue pencil like animators and comic artists, so after doing a little research I picked up a pair of Caran d’Ache Sketcher Non-Photo Blue animation pencils.  Though they were expensive (around $8 for a pack of two) I am so glad I did – they ended up becoming my favorite new tool of Inktober 2016!

Before we begin, a quick note: The main reason to using non-photo blue pencils is obvious: So that they will not show up in photographs and scanned images, or at least be easy to remove digitally. I’ve found that it is possible to photograph non-photo blue, but it shows up very faintly.  All the photographs in this review were digitally enhanced to show the blue more vibrantly.  So the color is a bit different than it is in real-life or in unaltered photos.

The Pencil

First, let’s take a look at the pencil itself:

Close up of a Caran d'Ache Sketcher Non-Photo Blue Pencil.
I’ve already used up most of the eraser. . . TT-TT

As you can see, the pencil looks like a standard erasable colored pencil, aside from the fact that it says “Non-Photo Blue Pencil” on the side.  The eraser it comes with is nice and soft, and erases the pencil well.  The blue lead is fairly soft and doesn’t crumble, meaning that it is easy both to lay down a soft line with a light touch and a darker line with a heavier hand, without fear of those stray marks you get when a pencil breaks.  The only downside to the nice, soft leads is that the pencil will be used up fairly quickly – something to keep in mind if you’re on a budget.

Color and Eraser Tests

Next let’s take a look at how the pencil performs:

Caran d'Ache Blue Pencil Test Page

On this page, I performed five tests:

  1. Varying how hard I pressed to vary the intensity of the color.  There are actually three or four of the lightest lines there on the left, but they are quite faint and hard to see.
  2. Tilting the pencil on its side to create a wash of color.  Again, I pressed harder to the right to deepen the color.
  3. Eraser test #1: With a deep wash of color, how well does it erase?  I traced a line three times with the eraser.
  4. Basically #2 again, but with an eraser line. Again, I traced the eraser line two or three times.  As you can see, the lighter the blue pencil is, the easier it is to erase.
  5. With a deep wash of color, I erased three lines.  The top line was one stroke of the eraser; the second line, two strokes; the bottom line, three strokes.  For a deep wash of color, one needs to erase more firmly and more times than a lighter line.

I tried to experiment with different things, but what I think this mainly proves is that the more lightly you press, the closer to a true “non-photo” blue it is.  The harder you press, the more like a standard blue colored pencil it is.  However, there is an advantage over colored pencil in that the Caran d’Ache pencil is easy to erase, which is good for me as I tend to press down hard, haha.

That page may be a bit hard to see, so here’s a close-up of the first four examples:

Caran d'Ache Blue Pencil Tests Close-Up

As you can see, the lighter the line is, the more likely it is to vanish when photographed or scanned.  In the original photograph, the lines to the left in examples 1 and 2 were almost too faint to see.  They are only visible now due to the digital enhancements.

And here’s a close-up of the fifth test, the eraser test:

Again, the three eraser lines are as follows: The top is traced only once, the middle twice, and the bottom three times.  The harder you press, the more thoroughly you will have to erase.  (For a light line, going over it once or twice is usually enough.)

The Sketch + Thoughts

Now the fun part!  Here’s the picture we’ll be following throughout this series.

Caran d'Ache Blue Pencil River Sketch Editing Comparison
I’ve included a comparison of the original photo and the edited version, with white balance adjusted and colors enhanced.

This piece worked up quickly in about two hours.  I used the Caran d’Ache pencil for each step from the blocking out to adding the details.  (Drat, I should have photographed each step. orz  Next time!)  I know some people only use blue pencil for the roughs and blocking out, but as I am not confident in my inking yet, I prefer to add details at this stage.  Already you can tell how well the non-photo blue pencil erases / disappears, as the skeleton stage has been mostly erased.  Can you tell that it’s there?  No? XD

Inks lay fairly well over the Caran d’Ache blue pencil.  Here’s the River sketch after inking (on the left) and after erasing the blue lines when the ink was dry (on the right):

Caran d'Ache Blue Pencil River Sketch Inked Comparison
Inked using the item we’ll review next week, the Prismacolor Premier .005 illustration marker!

Can you tell the difference?  It’s subtle: The blue pencil lines are faintly visible on the left, and the black inked lines are clean, if slightly lighter, on the right.  Though inks lay very well over the Caran d’Ache pencils, there is a slight waxy residue.  If you need to erase, small itty-bitty specks of ink will disappear as well.  However, it is not enough to both me, especially as you can’t really tell in the photograph.  It’s a non-issue if you plan on digitally removing the lines, anyway.


I actually forgot to scan in the River picture before inking (oops), but I wanted to cover that as well.  So I quickly made another sketch and scanned it in.

Caran d'Ache Blue Pencil Review Cloud sketch edited

This picture hasn’t been edited at all, so as you can see, the blue pencil disappears very, very well when scanned.  Only the darker shades are truly visible; the lighter lines are faint or have vanished completely.

To make the colors more visible, I actually had to darken the image:

So you can rest assured that the blue lines vanish easily, and any that remain you should be able to edit out.  🙂

Last Thoughts

As I said in the beginning of the post, the Caran d’Ache Non-Photo Blue pencils quickly became my favorite new tool last Inktober.  They’re easy to use, lay down color beautifully, and erase so easily it’s hard to believe it’s a colored pencil at all!  Though they are a bit expensive, I’d say that’s well worth the price if you can afford it.  I would definitely recommend the Caran d’Ache brand to other artists.

Have you used non-photo blue pencils before?  What is your favorite technique to use with them?  Are there any other brands I should try?  Let me know in the comments below!  And don’t forget, I’ll be back with another review next Tuesday!  See you then!

A Little Announcement: What I Used for Inktober Review Series Starts Tonight

Starting tomorrow, I’m pleased to begin a series of reviewing art supplies!

We’ll start with the supplies I picked up last year for Inktober.  As I started NaNoWriMo right after Inktober ended, this series is a little late in the game, but hopefully my review will be useful no matter what time of year it is. :3

As last October was the first year I challenged Inktober, I had only a few inking supplies: a few calligraphy pens, a set of Prismacolor pens, some gel pens from the dollar store, and a box of Crayola markers left over from my school days.   While technically that was more than enough to do the challenge, I saw an opportunity to go shopping and I took it. :3  I was able to try out a few supplies I’ve had my eye on for a while, so I’m glad for that!

These are what I bought last September:

  • Caran d’Ache Non-Photo Blue Pencils (like animators use!)
  • Tombow Dual-Brush Pens in Grayscale
  • Sakura Gelly Roll Pen in White

Added to my Prismacolor markers and colored pencils, I had a lot of options for the challenge.  :3  Since then, I’ve picked up a set of Lestrat AquaMarkers and ProMarkers and a set of Staedtler colored pencils, so I’ve been having a lot of fun experimenting with those as well.  I’m pleased that I’ll be able to share them with you!

Since I have supplies that cover the whole drawing process from sketch to final touches, I thought it’d be interesting to use all the supplies to draw and paint a picture (or two!).  Here’s a sneak peek of what I’m working on, starting with the blue animator pencil:

Sketch for the review series – comic!River!

Reviews will start later tonight with the blue animator pencil and will be published every Tuesday for the next few weeks!  (Posts on Friday / any other day will continue to be “what I’m working on” and process posts. 🙂 )  I hope you enjoy!  And if there’s any art supply I’ve used before and you’d like it reviewed, let me know and I’ll add it to the pile. :3


Book Review: Candle Man, Book 1: The Society of Unrelenting Vigilance

All of his life, Theo has been told that he suffers from a rare and dangerous disease only treatable by his guardian Dr. Saintly’s technological innovation, the Mercy Tube.  He is never allowed to socialize with anyone other than his three caretakers, Dr. Saintly, Mr. Nicely the butler, and Clarice the deaf maid; and under no circumstances must he touch anyone with his bare hands.  He’s told that this is because his condition is dangerous to humans, that only the Mercy Tube can cure him, and that he should be grateful for the care of his guardian and servants.

Theo’s world changes when, on his thirteenth birthday, Mr. Nicely takes him for a nice stroll around the cemetery. . . and he finds a parcel with his name written on it.  Back in his room, he secretly pieces together a message from someone outside his small world.  This unknown friend claims he’s in danger, which is confirmed when Clarice helps him escape from Dr. Saintly’s hold.

Free for the first time, Theo learns that Dr. Saintly is the head of the Society of Good Works, which, contrary to its name, has good deeds last on its mind; and the mysterious people who sent him the note are the remnants of the Society of Unrelenting Vigilance. Both societies have been waiting for generations for an heir of the Candle Man to be born. . . and Theo is that heir.  With friends and enemies both clamoring for Theo’s cooperation, what will he choose to do?

Glenn Dakin is a children’s TV show writer who has branched out into novels.  Good call, I say; I found The Society of Unrelenting Vigilance to be enjoyable. Theo’s adventure is interesting, and a strong point is that it starts out with Theo being sheltered from the world by his guardian and servants.  He’s bored and annoyed, but doesn’t really suspect ill intent.  Well, why would he?  He was raised that way!  And Dakin did reference Theo’s upbringing throughout the story, such as his impulse to obey authority and his awkwardness when it comes to affection (he was raised in a comfortable, yet unloving, household) even as he longs for it.

Another thing I liked was the network of tunnels under London, which leaves the city open to both Societies and various other people in the know.  It leaves many interesting paths available for future books. . . what secrets lurk in the catacombs?

Of course, I can’t go over the strong points without noting the weak ones.  There was nothing major this time.  The dialogue was a little stilted at times, the characters were a little 2-D, and story seemed awkwardly placed somewhere in between a steampunk fantasy and a contemporary superhero story. . . maybe a little more world-building would have fixed that. In other news, Dakin could have written a little more detail into the story; it was written in more of a telling fashion, leaving detail a bit bare in parts.

The other problem I noticed was that the first five pages were the best five pages.  This is more of a pet peeve of mine rather than an actual problem though–I dislike it when an author puts so much effort into hooking the reader, only to coast comfortably through the rest of the story.  I understand why authors do this (they need to hook the agent/publisher first, which means the first five pages have to be the cream of the crop), but I prefer a story that starts out slow and builds to the climax rather than one that hooks me instantly then paces along at a moderate pace.

In my last post, I wrote about my fears that Vigilance would end on a massive cliffhanger.  Luckily, I was wrong.  Theo’s adventure ends without any cliffhanger of note, but there is definitely a hint of future adventures.  After all, as the new Candle Man, Theo’s inherited a lot of enemies. . . and we all know what that means. . . 😀  Without spoiling the story, though, I’ll say that Theo overcomes the difficulties set out before him and is able to rest before his next adventure.  Which is as it should be.  Good job, Glenn Dakin!

My overall score would be a 3.5/5.  It wasn’t spectacular (of course, I was reading Lord of the Rings lately, so I might be a bit biased), but it’s still worth checking out.  I put a hold on the second book in the series, The Society of Dread, as soon as I finished Vigilance, if that gives you a better indication of how much I enjoyed it.

If you’ve read Vigilance, how did you like it?  If you haven’t, do you think you would like to?  Let me know what you think in the comments!

Book Review: The Fairest Beauty

The Fairest Beauty by Melanie Dickerson (book cover)
Image via zondervan.com.

Once upon a time, there was a girl with fair skin, ebony hair, and red, red lips.  She was the fairest maiden in the land–or so people believed–fairer even than her stepmother, who took delight in tormenting this young upstart who dared to take attention away from her.

Sound familiar?  Yes, Melanie Dickerson‘s book The Fairest Beauty is indeed a retelling of ‘Snow White’.  Sophie, the beautiful heroine, has been tormented for most of her life by the Duchess Ermengard, for whom she works as a scullery maid.  The duchess claims that she found Sophie on the side of the road, a nameless orphan, and out of the goodness of her heart took her in.  Sophie isn’t sure whether to believe this, and several details seem to disprove the lie:  The village priest taught her to read before she was banished; the motherly cook hints that she knows Sophie’s history; and the duchess has no kindness whatsoever, so why would she take in an orphaned girl?

Gabe is the impetuous second son of the Hagenheim ducal family.  He has always looked up to his brother, the seemingly perfect Valten, and has longed to prove himself to his family.  So when a tottering old woman on the verge of death appears on his family’s doorstep and claims to have news of Valten’s long-dead betrothed, Gabe believes that this is the chance he’s been waiting for.  After all, if he manages to rescue Sophie, he’ll have done something his brother never did.  The only thing is, he never planned on falling in love with the girl. . . .

Set in a realistic world reminiscent of medieval Germany, The Fairest Beauty feels like a real world where you could step through the pages.  This is partly because there is no magic whatsoever:  Despite rumors of Ermengard’s forays into black magic, everything in the book could happen in real life.  The poison in the apple, for instance, is not the product of a dastardly potion with no basis in reality–and while I’m on the subject of the apple, I want to say that the apple scene was *not* what I expected.

One thing I appreciate in fiction novels are details that add an unusual layer to the story.  In Brian Jacques’ Redwall series, that best example is the collection of very fine, mouth-wateringly-described feasts.  In The Fairest Beauty, it’s the religion.  Many of the characters in this book are very religious.  It adds an aura of authenticity to the story, because in Germany at the same time period, guess what?  They were deeply religious as a society.  And in this book, it was well done.

However, all books must have their dull points.  The most glaring one, in my opinion, is that the first five pages are the best five pages.  Makes sense, considering that the first few pages are the ones that will hook the reader; however, the rest of the book seemed so average by comparison.  (I still enjoyed reading it, though.)  Also, the book appears to pay homage to its inspiration with the ending.  While I won’t spoil it for you (though you can probably guess, since it is Snow White), let’s just say that it could have been better.

So was it worth reading?  Yes.  It was interesting enough to keep my interest, and I consider it a well-done retelling despite its minor failings.  I’m also interested now in Melanie Dickerson’s other books, The Healer’s Apprentice and The Merchant’s Daughter, which I guess can be considered a plus.  However, if you have no interest at all in fairy tale retellings–or romance–or evil stepmothers, then this one might not be your cup of tea.

If you liked The Fairest Beauty, might I interest you in one of these as well?

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

The Amaranth Enchantment by Julie Berry

Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Beauty by Robin McKinley