Shem is a backwater, a place where ambition gives way to peace and the quiet life.
Sophie Nadash once yearned to understand life and chemistry. Now a disillusioned scientist of middle age, she yearns to set aside pipettes and polymerase forever.
A chance encounter with the Goddess Artemis sets her on the path to becoming an [Alchemist] in the Shemmai village of Kibosh. Freed from the hustle of Earth, she can relax, make friends, and rediscover her love for chemistry through its mystical precursor.
Cover by Roger Creus. Discord link is in the Author's Notes; come hang out with us!
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The technical aspects of Quill & Still are extremely well done, bordering on superb. The grammar and prose are practically flawless, characterization and style are similarly excellent. The litRPG element is distinct and well-integrated in the world. Unlike many litRPGs, the system feels organic to the world, as opposed to: "The world is a videogame, people have classes and stats. Just roll with it."
My problems with this story are (from least to worst):
1. The pacing is too slow for me. The author wasn't exaggerating when saying that the story is slow-paced, so I guess it's on me. It's been 20 chapters and not much really happened.
2. Clarity issues and confusion. The story has several moments where I'm not sure what the conflict/problem is. Others mentioned most of the same moments in the comments to chapters, so it's not just me. While some of them appear to be incidental, others are written this way on purpose. But instead of making me sympathize with the main character who similarly has little idea what's going on in this new and alien world, it makes me as a reader annoyed at the story and the author for choosing to write it this way and making the guide/mentor character terrible at their job.
3. I hate all significant characters and their decisions, actions, and presentation in the story so far. It doesn't help that there are only 4 of those at the moment. Those are: Sophie the MC, Kelly the Guide, Artemis the Greek Goddess number one, and Hephestis the Greek God number two.
Sophie the MC is the opposite of a character I find interesting in books period, never mind as the main character. She's beaten down by her insecurities and horrible job experience to the point of passivity and submission. She's the opposite of proactive, feeling more like she's a decoration that's just along for the ride. There was a single scene where I liked her — someone tried to belittle her experience, knowledge, and education and she finally showed a spark of pride and put them in their place. The rest of the time she spends being delighted at how wonderful everything is, grinning every time Kelly the Guide smiles or does anything remotely friendly, and being tired. I have zero connection to her and every time she expresses joy or wonder at something my reactions as a reader range from "I don't care" to complete opposition. Not great for solarpunk.
Kelly the hot Guide with a pretty smile is terrible at her job and acts with little to no consideration for Sophie being an alien to their whole culture. She starts by dumping encyclopedias worth of info on Sophie, and by extension the reader, and getting angry at her for not sharing info Sophie couldn't know was relevant. That last one is also a good example of a clarity issue because before reading the author's comment I couldn't for the life of me figure out why is she angry at Sophie and not herself. All the while, Sophie comments about how pretty, wonderful, and incredible Kelly is while I'm sitting here and struggling to see any redeeming characteristic in her besides being hot.
Then there are the Gods and Sophie's reactions to and interactions with them. First of all, the story happens because Artemis is garbage of a being, never mind a Goddess. Artemis chills at a pocket dimension that is forbidden for mortals to visit and know about. So, in a show of (in)competence, the Gods put ZERO warnings, fences, red tapes, guarding beasts, or any other methods of keeping the mortals away. And when Sophie finds the place and sees Artemis, the Goddes does the following: threatens to kill Sophie, bully her into apologizing for existing in a place she's not supposed to be in, acknowledging that Sophie's not at fault AFTER hearing her apologize, agreeing to send her to a nice alien world of her general preference, threatening to kill her AGAIN for daring to mention that she may not survive on a different planet without her meds, and finally sending her to a new world.
Hephaestus then remakes* Sophie's body without some of her health issues and sends her away to a new life.
(The body remaking thing may be significantly more important, depending on an aspect of Sophie's character that may or may not be a thing.)
Their second interaction is in chapter 8
where Sophie has to visit a temple and thank them because local traditions say so. After she gives them a simple show of gratitude, which is only appropriate given that the whole situation is Artemis' fault, the Gods show how insignificant she is with magic, driving her to tears and making her prostrate herself as if they resurrected her lost loved one or something.
AND SOPHIE JUST ACCEPTS THE WHOLE THING AND GOES ON. Sure, they're assholes, but they're Greek Gods — belittling, humiliating, and mutilating mortals is their thing so it's all FINE.
My reaction to this book reminds me of how me + discord got a person to try Cradle and them quitting after book 2, saying that they couldn't deal with how the books portrey a grimdark dystopia, seemingly without realizing it.
Quill & Still is a relaxing, hopeful story of a woman entering a beautiful world, where kindness and community drive a story (so far) free of existential threat or dramatic author knife-prodding.
If you enjoy a slow-paced story of self-discovery, of First Friends and mad science for personal fulfillment, then Qull & Still is right for you. We've got vivid descriptions of delicious meals, the kind of gorgeous ambient worldbuilding the author is known and loved for, and some just really nice, interesting concepts that work quite well together.
Style-wise, Pastafarian's writing can sometimes get a bit dense, but I'm not taking marks away for that! It's meaty, chewy, in ways that can be appreciated at a casual skim and at a slower, more careful rate of enjoyment. There's lots to soak up in the details, but you won't find yourself lost for forgetfulness.
Grammar is impeccable. Did you know that it's 'You've got another think coming', not 'thing'? I didn't! But now I do. How about that? You're either rolling your eyes at me and thinking, of course it's that, what would another thing even mean? What's the other thing? Sheesh. Or you're going No way! Lemme look that up...
Ultimately though, it's the characters this story lives off. Everyone feels really enjoyable, and Sophie has a lot of very relatable traits. She encounters strangeness and adopts her world-view to incorporate this new information, works with the careful precision of a scientist with no less of the range of emotions you would expect from someone with her age and lived experience.
It's been a while since I left a big long review, but I really, really love Quill & Still and I hope you enjoy it too. It might say some warning about review swaps up on this review (I can't remember!) but suffice to say this one's all me. I just love this story! I'm rambling now, of course, but ... go read it? It's real good.
Much love, and share your kindness, Traveler.
as a advanced note for fairness. I have been one of the beta readers for this serial, and while I am reviewing at the point in which chapter 25 has been posted, I have read the entire first book.
This serial is described as a slice of life. It meets that description perfectly, as we are given a constant insight into the ongoing life of our main character and the new world she finds herself in. The first book is very much dedicated to showing us the culture and relationships of the people of the city she finds herself in. If you are a person who feels that every scene must drive the plot quickly towards a rising action and a conflict, you will probably be disappointed by this book. If you are the kind of person who enjoys a journey, welcome aboard. On the litRPG side of style, there are no blue boxes. The system interaction is what you would expect for a magical world with a system created by a person in that world. It is verbose, pompous, and flowery in its interactions, almost becoming a character in its own right.
The pros is nicely written, action and thought leading easily to the next action thought. descriptions are clear and concise, and definitely help with immersion. Simply put, we are exploring this world along with Sophie through her senses.
The story is one of everyday living in a world that none of us have lived in every day, and is building towards eventual goals, experiences, and victories for Sophie. By the end of the first book we have been introduced to a few local characters who obviously have their own backstories that will become integral later, but there is not really a B plot as of yet. which is fine, because the a plot is just so much fun to drift through.
The grammar and dialogue are impeccable. words were very definitely chosen carefully to make sure that they're meaning comes across, and in places in which phrasing or word choices of the various characters seems ambiguous, it is very easy to tell the it is so on purpose as part of the way the story is being told. on that note, an interesting technique that the author is using, Sophie has had all of her earthly languages removed from her brain, and replaced with languages of the New World. this leads to some interesting points where she knows a word exists, except it doesn't exist in any of the languages she speaks anymore. It is very fun tool being used by the author to help world build by telling us what's important to the new cultures she has found herself in.
There are only a few characters that we have really seen in depth at this point in the series. Mostly Sophie and Kelly. All of the characters are quite easy to tell apart, having their own particular vernacular as real people do. There are certain techniques of the writing and phrasing that lead one to imagine accents, without actually writing out an accent, which I appreciate and know just how hard it is to get right.
All in all, this story is a pleasure to read, and I mean that in the most direct way possible. every time a new update comes in, I will be saving it for a pallet cleanser after reading anything particularly grim dark, or if I've had a bad day. because Sophie and Kelly and everybody else in this city, make me smile. The way that the society is built, makes me happy. And I can't wait to learn more. Come learn with me.
The prose is excellent. Just Outstanding. The best I have seen on RR. However, the superb quality of the composition is the only reason it doesn't get a 1 star.
Please accept the following criticism in the spirit that I want the author to succeed.
I found the main character difficult to sympathize with. She complaines constantly about how terrible her life was on earth but most people would consider it privileged and pampered. Life on easy mode.
For me this difficultly with sympathizing is further exacerbated by the exposition describing each new female in terms of how much sexual arousal they illicit in the MC. Perhaps this sexual objectification bothers me more than it should because the quality of the prose caused me to set higher expectations.
I also think the hook in the opening chapter needs some work. Artemis kept switching from kind matron to Hannibal lecter. Benign, polite comments set her into a rage and the conversation was a series of non sequitur.
It wasn't explicitly stated but I inferred that either the liminal space, the presence of Artemis or a combination of those acted like a zone if truth and something akin to the akashic records. I assumed this accounts for the weirdnesses of the conversation but I could just be trying to trying to rationalize it.
It's my opinion that the hook shouldn't have that kind of ambiguity and lack of clarity.
I'm still reading. The story I think has its fair share of flaws which other reviewers had adequately cover, but I'd like to voice my take on two major issues with the story that could affect whether you (dear prospective reader) may contemplate in considering whether to read this story.
One, is that there seems to be no narrative weight to any of the protagonit's actions. On the spectrum of slice-of-life, this is on the far end of insignificance. It's almost as if someone write a travel guide for this fantasy world, and then had to re-write it to insert an audience stand-in and an excuse for her to go around and learn all these things for the travel guide. It's very lighthearted in that sense.
Two, the story comes across as a little preachy at times. It took me a while to figure it out, but that seems to come from two things.
First, the fantasy society is presented as a utopia, which (I think rightly) is often criticized as extremely difficult to make into a good story and so is often derided as a setting. I had to go look it up, and the only utopian stories I've historically enjoyed are the Culture series by Iain M. Banks and the Terra Ignota series by Ada Palmer. But, I would argue, neither are purely utopian and because of that avoid the pratfalls of the setting. (Not a single Culture book is merely self-contained within the Culture about people living their lives in Culture utopia; they're all about how the Culture's utopia rubs up against other cultures because, naturally, Banks couldn't write a book like that. And Terra Ignota both (a) goes to length to explore the flaws of the utopia, and (b) is about the downfall of the utopia.) While the setting here presents an interesting small fantasy community, presenting it as a utopia doesn't seem like it's doing us any favors for maintaining suspension of disbelief. Perhaps it's cynical of me, but I have to think that either the characters or the story (it's unclear) are glossing over whatever flaws do exist.
Second, the protagonist is quick to judge and deride her prior society as flawed and then to praise the new one as a prosocial utopia. Now, while the former does seem to be rooted in the protagonist's trauma, and there's probably several different ways to take the latter, mine is that such a position rankles with sheer arrogance. Like, really, it comes across (especially with the utopian themes) as either a political exhortation for reform (Marx comes to mind) or the bait a charismatic leader would use to establish a cult-commune (this one neat trick will save us all). It's just too good to be true especially given the speed at which the protagonist seems to reach such a conclusion, however tentative. Even if the protagonist were trained in one of the relevant social science (there's no indication that she is), she's been there less than a handful of days. I could get that she could conclude "that's nice," but I don't really get how she could so quickly conclude "that's wonderful." Maybe I'm being a bit nitpicky because of my sociology background, but it's an uncomfortable burr to the story.
I just can't get into this story. The writing and grammars just fine. The characters feel very.... blah to me. The god takes offense at her mentioning needing meds, then sends her to a world where she has a horrible reaction to the plants? Everything has to be named in such a weird manner. Just feels like a lot of over complicated fluff and very little actually happening. I don't really care for the way Kelly who's supposed to give her a tour treats her. Just not a story for me.
It's still early going - and this story takes its time, no rushing here - but so far this has been a very satisfying read. The writing is neats, the sentences float, the dialogues work for me.
It's not for everyone - if you care about massive action, numbers going up swiftly or a perfectly detailed world simulation, go elsewhere.
But if you want some relaxing Slice of Life in an upbeat, positive atmosphere, this is very much a story to follow.
So, solarpunk. A utopian, green, near-post scarcity society with an emphasis on the environment and renewable technologies.
This story fulfils most of that with a twist. The twist, of course, being that it is set in a fantasy world. I read quite a bit and this is the first fantasy story I've seen this in, which is the main reason for the review. I've seen fantasy stories incorporate elements of post-scarcity, but it was always just background, never truly influencing the society. Authors that make truly different and original worlds are rare (because it is very difficult) and should IMO always be encouraged.
The well thought out, original, and story relevant society is not the only good thing about the story either.
The entire story is well-written, dialogue flows well and the characters participating have different voices.
The main character is likeable, relatable, intelligent and subverts the "insulting gods to their face" trope in a good way. Instead of just acting like a moron and insulting a literal god because s/he said something the protagonist did not like or some such nonsense, our heroine does it by not really being aware of long forgotten customs and not knowing how to act. This trope is one of my pet peeves and to see it done well warms my heart.
Onto another thing done well - Gods. The gods in this story are actually godly. Divine. Imagine that. Usually gods are either just some guys or mostly irrelevant scenery. Here they are present as characters and make you think that that might just be how a god/desss would be.
I can't really talk about the story since the entire thing has barely begun, but the competence the author has shown in everything else gives me confidence and makes me look forward to it.
EDIT: Since it is no longer relevant, the last part of the review has been deleted.
It's rare given the many tens of stories (maybe hundreds don't judge me!) of stories I've read on here for me to fall absolutely in love with one after such a short intro (six chapters is short I said it!) but this is beautifully written, world builds with casual grace and awe and does an excellent job of embedding you into the protagonists mindset from word go.. grammar: excellent - I am a bit of a pedant when it comes to grammar and word usage, it throws me out if stories don't get it right but this flows so smoothly. Style wise it's if not a hundred percent unique then in this pit of monkeys at type writers that is royal road it's certainly distinct and flavoured well by the author. The story is girl gets new worlded but actually woman new worlded, and even better queer disabled woman new worlded and done in a way that acknowledges those things without dismissing them. And that leads into character, which after six chapters is a hard one to declare on but il say this - I've loved the graft and build put into fleshing out everyone we've met so far - there be no generic npcs here! I'm incredibly excited to see what more comes in this from the author and its already been tagged as a favourite. 10/10 undoubtedly
Im enjoying Quill and Still quite a lot so far! The setting is vibrant, the characters are distinct, and the worldbuilding has lots of potential.
This might not be for everybody, but I suspect that this Slice of Life will be exceptionally well written and enjoyable for almost everyone.
I look forward to more of Pasta's writing and more exploration in this not quite utopia. (not paying rent? thats how I know this is fantasy)