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Raunch Review: Carnival Row

Raunch Reviews is a series about profanity. Not real profanity, but speculative swearing. Authors often try to incorporate original, innovative forms of profanity into our own fantastical works as a way to expand the worlds we build. Sometimes we’re successful. Often we’re not. In this series, I examine the faux-profanity from various works of sci-fi and fantasy, judge their effectiveness, and rate them on an unscientific and purely subjective scale. This is Raunch Reviews. Welcome.

The Author: René EchevarriaTravis Beacham

Work in Question: Carnival Row

The Profanity: “Critch”

In the world of Burgue from Amazon’s fantasy-fueled steampunk fairytale Carnival Row, humans live alongside mythical creatures who have fled their war-torn homeland. As you expect with any setting featuring this sort of mass immigration of refugees, there are examinations of xenophobia, bigotry, classism, and segregation. Most humans dislike these newcomers, and throughout the series, the viewer witnesses it from a variety of perspectives that of the commoner, law enforcement, and the elite.

As you’d expect, this plays out often in language, particularly with the word “critch.” Like any language designed to dehumanize, “critch” is the catchall term for any non-human species. It’s derived from “creature” and wielded with a particular venom by the various bullies throughout the series.

This is an interesting slur, focusing more on a class of people rather than a particular species. However, those species-specific insults are also in Carnival Row’s world as well: “Puck” being faun-specific, “Pix” for the Faerie, “Brute” for the Trow, and so on. And in many ways, these work better because they focus on each species rather than a random group. So “critch” exists in an odd space, clearly meant to harm and degrade, but it’s also so broad it loses some of the edge, which would make a slur like this so pernicious. Falls a little flat under scrutiny.

Final Score: 3.5

🤬 Previous Raunch Reviews

Have a suggestion for Raunch Reviews? It can be any made-up slang word from a book, television show, or movie. You can email me directly with your recommendation or leave a comment below. I’ll need to spend time with the property before I’ll feel confident reviewing it, so give me a little time. I have a lot of books to read.

Open Call for 2022 Cosmic Horror Items

Oh, you know it’s coming back.

Every year since 2014, I have assembled a holiday gift guide focused on cosmic-horror goodies. It’s become one of my favorite annual projects. Our little corner of the horror world is full of talented creators, and I like to use the gift guide to highlight some of the fabulous weird-fiction-related items I’ve discovered throughout the year. 2022 will be no different. (I’ll link to previous guides below so you can see what I’ve featured previously.)

That said, I am but one man, and there’s always cool stuff out there I missed. I could use your help. As I have for the last several years, I’m getting an early jump on assembling the guide. And it’s always worthwhile to do an open call and see what else lurks in the internet’s shadowed corners. This is that open call! Link me cool stuff! What have you found, dear reader? I want to know about it, and I’m sure others do too.

As always, the categories are:

  • Books (I generally have this covered)
  • Music
  • Apparel (no teeshirts—there’s a bajillion of them)
  • Games
  • Housewares
  • Miskatonic University

You can leave a comment below (I approve all non-bot comments), tweet me, or drop me an email. Let me know what you’ve found that would be perfect for this year’s Gift Guide! Not everything submitted will be featured. I curate the heck out of this.

Thanks in advance!

Previous Cosmic Horror Gift Guides

As promised, below are links to the guides from the last seven years. Some of the products were one-offs, are out of print, or just aren’t sold anymore. Don’t be shocked if you find broken links, especially in those earlier guides. It happens. Still, loads of cool stuff to check out.

❄️ 202120202019 – 2018 – 2017 – 2016 – 2015 – 2014 ❄️

The annual 2022 Cosmic Horror Holiday Gift Guide arrives on Black Friday, the darkest and most vile winter “holiday.” Return here in a few weeks to see this year’s thematic selection. Tell your friends! Share with your family! Shout it from the rooftops! It’s going to be a good one. 🦑

Ishikawa: A Free 17th Century Brush Set for Fantasy Maps 

Sourcing high-quality images to extract brush sets can be an arduous process, especially if you’re looking for something fresh and unique. There are hundreds of resources out there, but most are limited to western sources and skew more European. (Especially the prolific Dutch.) This is fine, but for a while, I’ve really wanted to diversify my brush sets and bring in more varied approaches and artistic voices.

All my Map Tools will always be free. Want to help support this work?
Click here to learn how.

So, when I recently came across a 17th-century map from Ishikawa Ryūsen (or Tomonobu), I got excited. Ishikawa Ryūsen was a Japanese writer, ukiyo-e painter, and cartographer from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century who primarily worked for the Edo-period shogunate. His work became the foundation of Ryūsen-zu, a style of woodblock map prints, and because of their artistic value, were often printed on folding screens. His maps have been reprinted many times, so I found it a little surprising that it took me so long to come across his work. But the version I found was perfect for a brush set, and after pouring over it for hours, I knew with a little work, it would be the perfect source for my first non-European brush set.

Today, I am happy to announce the release of Ishikawa, an extensive cartography brush set extracted from 日本海山潮陸圖 (Map of Sea, Mountain, Tide, and Land of Japan) depicting the Japanese islands of HonshūShikoku, and Kyūshu during the Edo period. It’s a stunning set with loads to offer, and it will help create maps that stand apart from the traditional European-influenced fantasy maps.

A sample of the brushes in the Ishikawa brush set - Lots of Japanese styled buildings and Torii gates as well as more modern markers.
A sample of the settlement brushes you’ll find in Ishikawa

There are some obvious stylistic differences here. From the almost kanji-inspired flora to the elegant, calligraphic mountains, but it’s also familiar. For the most part, this is a hill-profile style of map. Some exceptions come in the form of settlement markers, and those skew graphical—the large circles represented jitō manor houses, squares were fortified towns, ovals were traveling stops, and small circles were outposts. Yet, even with these graphical representations, Ishikawa still drew the roofs of the homes and shops that surrounded these points of interest. What we end up with is a fascinating hybrid style, not exactly hill-profile and yet not fully “modern.”

I want to extend a huge thank you to Dr. Amy Bliss Marshall for her help with translation and for providing some deeper dives into the koku-fueled Edo-period Shogunate. Her effort helped significantly in the creation of this set.

More of the Ishikawa brushes, landforms and flora as well as ocean waves and boats.
More of Ishikawa’s brush offerings

Since this is my first Asian-sourced map set, I wanted to make a splash. Ishikawa is enormous. Over 700 unique brushes fill out the set, making this my third largest. (Only Vischer and Ogilby are larger.) While it took more time, I went ahead and removed the kanji from all the simple settlement markers allowing you to use them as you wish.

Inside Ishikawa you’ll find…

  • 23 Cities
  • 30 Individual Roofs
  • 50 Grouped Roofs
  • 27 Individual Buildings
  • 25 Blank Outpost Markers (Small Circles)
  • 15 Blank Travel Stop Markers (Ovals)
  • 25 Blank Jitō Manor Markers (Large Circles)
  • 15 Blank Fortified Town Markers (Squares)
  • 5 Blank Named Manor Markers (Larger Squares)
  • 5 Blank Region Markers (Tall Rectangles)
  • 43 Torii Gates
  • 15 Unique Settlement Markers
  • 100 Individual Trees
  • 100 Forests (Grouped Trees)
  • 3 Unique Flora Markers
  • 71 Individual Mountains
  • 67 Grouped Mountains
  • 73 Waves
  • 2 People Cartouches (Sword Fight!)
  • 4 Directional Cartouches
  • 18 Small Boat Cartouches
  • 21 Large Boat Cartouches
  • 15 Sail Cartouches (These could also work as banners, just sayin’)
  • 1 Group of Boats Cartouche
  • [🚨 BONUS!] 7 Directional Road/Border/Line Brushes

I’m excited about Ishikawa’s bonus brushes. They are something many people have been asking for, and I’m pleased to finally be releasing them. Yep, directional “road” brushes. They’re a bit finicky, and I recommend taking your time with them, but they’ll allow you to easily paint roads and borders that follow the styles from the 17th and 18th centuries. I’ll most likely expand them into their own more fleshed-out set in the future, perhaps even combining them with Ende, my Littoral Edger brushes, but for now, they get to be an Ishikawa bonus.

The button below links to a ZIP file that contains a Photoshop brush set (it’ll also work with GIMP and Affinity Photo) as well as three large transparent PNGs, Settlements (5.3 Mb), Flora & Landforms (3 Mb), and Water Features & Cartouches (2.5 Mb), in case you’re using a program that doesn’t support Adobe brush files. They’re black, and on a transparent background, so they’ll look broken in some browsers, but trust me, they’re all there. (If you want to throw a few bucks my way to help with hosting this stuff, I wouldn’t complain.)

As with all of my previous brush sets, Ishikawa is free for any use. I distribute my sets with a Creative Common, No Rights Reserved License (CC0), which means you can freely use this and any of my brushes in commercial work and distribute adaptations. (Details on this decision here.) No attribution is required. Easy peasy!

Enjoy Ishikawa? Feel free to show me what you created by emailing me or finding me on Twitter. I love seeing how these brushes get used, and I’d be happy to share your work with my readers. Let me see what you make!

Ishikawa in Use

Want to see how I’ve used this set? You can see the results below. It’s a bit of a blend of styles, but I am happy with how it turned out. There’s a lot you can do with these brushes. There are three versions, a colored, black and white, and a decorated sample. Click on any of the images below to view them larger. Perhaps this will inspire you as you get started on your projects! Feel free to use these for whatever you want. Your next book? A D&D campaign? Lots of possibilities.

2813×5000 (8MB)
2813×5000 (6.9 MB)
1080×1350 (1.1 MB)

Sample Details: Location names were taken from various places and points of interest on Hokkaido. The font I used is a modified version of Bizmo, which was licensed from Envato Elements. I do not recommend laying this many western characters vertically, but I wanted to evoke some of the elements from Ishikawa’s original source and decided I was okay with it being a little illegible. The paper texture is from True Grit Texture Supply’s Infinite Pulp, and they’re also where I got Atomica, which gives me ink-like effects for the text—big fan of their tools. The boar illustration in the key is from an 1857 woodblock print by Utagawa Yoshitora and is available for free on Deviant Art.

Support this Work

Brushes and tools released through the #NoBadMaps project will always be free and released under a public domain CC0 license. If you’d like to support the project and help me cover the cost of hosting, research, and tool-set development, I’ve put together three ways you can help, and all are detailed below.

Buy My Books→

I’m not just a map enthusiast. I’m also a novelist! The easiest way to support me (and get something in return) is by purchasing one of my cosmic horror urban fantasy novels.

Buy Me a Coffee→

A simple and quick way to support the #NoBadMaps project is through a one-time donation of any amount via ko-fi. Your support helps keep this project going and is appreciated.

Join my Patreon→

If you want to continually support the #NoBadMaps project through a reoccurring monthly contribution, consider joining my Patreon and get sneak peeks into what’s coming.

More Map Brushes

This is just one of many brush sets and map tools I’ve released. You can find it and other free brushes covering a wide variety of historical styles on my Fantasy Map Brushes page. Every set is free, distributed under a CC0 license, and open for personal or commercial use. I’m sure you’ll be able to find something that works for your project. Click the button below to check them out!

Want to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to ensure it’s not spammy and contains interesting and relevant information. Sign Up Today →

Vote, America. Vote. 🗳

I usually like to release brush sets on Tuesdays. It’s a habit born from years of working on marketing emails. I had a set all ready for today, but I am pushing it out a bit because here in the United States, we have an election, and it’s an important midterm election. That means if you’re a citizen here in the United States of America, you should go vote.

My ballot is in and will be counted. Even got a text alert telling me everything was verified.

We’re vote-by-mail here in Washington State, and I turned my ballot in last week, and it was verified and counted (or will be counted tonight after the polls close.) If your state doesn’t offer that sort of convenience (I’m sorry) and if you need to know where to go, you can find your polling place here. If you’re an adult US citizen, remember, no one can keep you from voting. Stay in line. Get counted. If you’re intimidated at polls or have problems voting, keep these numbers handy:

  • 866-Our-Vote (English)
  • 866-Ve-Y-Vota (Spanish)
  • 866-API-Vote (Asian Languages)

Find out more information at You got this.

I saw a quote going around on various social media sites for the last few months, and it’s stuck in my head. To paraphrase, it suggested, “If you didn’t know how to vote, think of the most vulnerable individuals you know and vote in their best interests.” That resonated with me, and in turn, reminded me of this poem which is one I’ve been reflecting upon, maybe you’ll also find it inspiring.

Voting As Fire Extinguisher

by Kyle Tran Myhre

When a haunted house catches fire:
a moment of indecision.

The house was, after all, built on bones,
and blood and bad intentions.

Everyone who enters the house feels
that overwhelming dread, the evil
that perhaps only fire can purge.

It’s tempting to just let it burn.

And then I remember:
there are children inside.

Aim High, America

The Rings of Power Doesn’t Understand How River Navigation Works

⚠️ NOTE: The following contains spoilers for Amazon’s The Rings of Power, especially Episode 6, but really the whole show. So, consider yourself warned.

This isn’t a review of The Rings of Power. Suffice to say, I’ve had a good time with what I’ve seen overall, and I’d recommend it to Tolkien fans and non-Tolkien fans alike. You can see its enormous budget at work; overall, it’s fun. But, an incident in Udûn, Episode Six of The Rings of Power, annoyed me. It was a moment that echoed from previous fantasy shows, namely the last few seasons of Game of Thrones. And I wanted to discuss how dismissing realism (yes, even in fantasy) can dampen dramatic moments.

The ships of Númenor – The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power – Amazon Prime

The incident in question: the Fast Travel of the Númenorians. “Fast Travel” is a phrase borrowed from video games that allow players to warp around the game world. It’s most recently been applied to movies and television series when characters seem to travel great distances very quickly, all for dramatic effect. Those moments have to be earned. A foundation needs to be built. A reader’s suspension of disbelief disappears when the Deus Ex Machina is fully displayed. We see the man behind the curtain, taking the fun away from the fantasy. And it happened in The Rings of Power.

The scene that kicked off this error was easy to overlook. It was a shot of the Middle Earth map, primarily focusing on the river Anduin with a conversation between Elendil reporting their situation and strategy to Queen Regent Míriel. It goes as follows:

Elendil: “Land has been sighted, your majesty.”

Míriel: “How long til we make anchor?”

Elendil:It’s a full day’s sail into the mountains, and from there, another day’s ride east, into the vale.”

(Emphasis mine.)

In the prose, Tolkien was always hand-wavy with Middle Earth distance (as the crow flies, a day’s ride, etc.), but I don’t buy that it’s “a full day’s sail” up the Anduin from the Bay of Belfalas. It’s easy to say, but it’s just not realistic. This is a fantasy setting, but magic isn’t being used. They’re traveling in big cumbersome sailing ships. This isn’t a car trip on well-paved roads. These Númenorians are voyaging into the unknown, a place they’ve only read on maps or heard about in stories. The two people with them who are familiar with the area (Galadriel and Halbrand) aren’t sailors.

In The Atlas of Middle Earth, Karen Wynn Fonstad estimates the Anduin is about 1388 miles long. Elendil taps the map in roughly the spot where Minas Morgul ends up being built. [1] Being generous, we’re looking at the distance from the mouth of the delta to the anchorage where they’ll disembark and ride to the vale’s rescue at nearly 300 miles. (The official map for The Rings of Power has a scale and would agree with me—it’s 90-ish leagues which comes out to 280-ish miles.) Rivers on old maps never precisely render a river’s actual meandering, so the odds would be good that, realistically, it was quite a bit longer. Still, we’ll pretend it’s accurate for this discussion and use this guesstimate for our base distance number.

The lands of Númenor and Middle Earth – The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power – Amazon Prime

Okay, so we’ve established the Númenorians have to travel 300 miles. Fast sailing frigates during the Age of Sail—technologically, a later time than Middle Earth’s 2nd Age—topped out around 14-ish knots or 16-ish mph on the open sea. Earlier, Roman vessels that sailed the Mediterranean traveled at about 5-ish knots or about 6-ish mph. The Númenorian ships are neither 18th-century frigates nor a Roman 8th-century trireme. They have weird but cool-looking sail structures and seem much bigger than either of our examples. But, for the sake of argument, we’ll be charitable and say they have a speed of 14 knots—these are people of the sea, after all, and they build fine vessels.

So, that’s 300 miles at a generous 16mph. With some quick math, we can see that it’s almost 19 hours from start to finish if you can maintain that speed for the journey. At first, that makes Elendil’s calculation sound reasonable—and this entire essay worthless. We traveled less than a day with time to spare! But there’s a catch, actually a lot of catches. You know what, let’s call them snags.

Snag One:

Sailing up river is challenging. Yes, even on a river as wide as the Anduin would be at this point. The top speed for frigates I mentioned above is with good winds, and rivers aren’t known for favorable wind conditions for sailing vessels. Winds tend to follow river valleys flowing with the river to the sea, and even with fore-and-aft rigging (which the Númenorians don’t use, their ships are closer to square-rigging), you’d need constant tacking or jibing to make it up the river. Then there’s the whole other matter of winds shifting.

Snag Two:

You’re fighting the current, which slows you down. The flow for that stretch of the Anduin has to be enormous. It’s the primary drainage basin for the Grey Mountains, the Misty Mountains, the Ered Nimrais, and parts of Ephel Dúath. That’s an incredible amount of water. There’s a reason early American settlers used tows to drag boats upriver.

Snag Three:

We haven’t even accounted for basic river navigation on top of everything else. Rivers aren’t the open ocean. To seamen like the Númenorians, the Anduin is a ribbon of an ever-changing shore. It is much more complex to navigate than the sea, with prevalent snags, sandbars, bends, and channel depth changes. Heavy seagoing vessels (especially big ones) require much more draw than smaller vessels designed for rivers, so the dangers from all of those hazards would increase the risk and further slow progress.

Snag Four:

And then there’s the Anduin’s hydrography. The river flows through flat flood plains, which means its constantly moving. There’s no system in place to “tame” the river. Elves aren’t running snag boats or building weirs and levees. A bend one day could be a dry bed the next because of a snag upstream. This can depend on weather and seasons and the geography of the landscape through which it flows. It’s less of a concern than the other snags, but it is still a snag we should consider.

To the casual viewer, this probably went unnoticed. But for river nerds like me, it was a glaring mistake that sucked some of the fun out of the story. The idea of three enormous sailing vessels making it three hundred miles in a single day grows more unbelievable the more you examine it. But, it was necessary for the plot and therefore explained away. As a result, the Southlander’s rescue felt contrived—it wasn’t earned.

As I mentioned earlier, Game of Thrones did similar things in later seasons and had a similar effect. Euron Greyoy travels from King’s Landing to Casterly Rock so fast he had to set land-speed records. Gendry’s quick “run” back to the Wall. Daenerys flies from Dragonstone beyond the Wall in a few hours. Theon and Sansa escape Winterfell and magically show up on the Iron Islands with hardly a mention of the hundreds of miles of travel between those two locations.

And like Game of Thrones, The Rings of Power writers could have quickly solved this was some minor editing or a few throwaway lines. It doesn’t take much to earn the difficulty of travel. A few lines about how the journey across the sea from Númenor was long and arduous (it was almost 2000 miles according to the official map!) If they wanted to go further, they could have added a few shots of the ships moving upriver, perhaps under oars or being towed from the shore or by rowboats. A quick pan showing the day or two it’d take to unload a cavalry battalion from sailing vessels (something I didn’t even get into) could have added to the tension of the Númenorians not making it in time. Instead, it was brushed aside with an “it’ll take a day and then another day, NABD” as if this journey was simple.

Compare this to the ignition of Mt. Doom at the end of Episode Six. In previous episodes, pieces were placed to set up for that incredible moment. It was earned. We saw the channels being dug by the orcs and the enslaved elves. Characters even asked “why,” drawing our attention to the orc’s strange strategy. Unlike the rescue, the ignition was earned, and it was spectacular.

The rescue fell flat. When you step back, it becomes too convenient to work out the way it did, especially in Tolkien, where travel and the vastness of the land play a big part in the overall plot. It was such a tiny bit, but it developed in ways over the episode that detracted from what could have been an incredible and dramatic scene. Unearned, it came across less like the heroic task it was meant to be and more like watching someone move a few pieces around on a game board, and that’s not nearly as exciting.

[1] Interestingly enough, in Tolkien’s The Return of the King, about two-thirds to half of this same trip is taken up the Anduin by Aragorn and pals after they captured a fleet of ships from the Corsairs of Umbar at the port of Pelargir. These are then rowed (accurate!) upriver over the next exhausting day and a half. And, unlike the Númenorians, Aragorn had an angry ghost army with him, who I assumed greatly helped with the rowing.

Raunch Review: Wizard of Oz

Raunch Reviews is a series about profanity. Not real profanity, but speculative swearing. Authors often try to incorporate original, innovative forms of profanity into our own fantastical works as a way to expand the worlds we build. Sometimes we’re successful. Often we’re not. In this series, I examine the faux-profanity from various works of sci-fi and fantasy, judge their effectiveness, and rate them on an unscientific and purely subjective scale. This is Raunch Reviews, welcome.

The Author: L. Frank Baum

Work in Question: Wizard of Oz (Series)

The Profanity: “Hippikaloric”

Reviewing words or phrases played for laughs is always a little tricky. But L. Frank Baum’s use of “Hippikaloric” in Ozma of Oz—the third book in the Wizard of Oz series—arrived on the Raunch Review docket not because of its comedic nature but because of how it’s described. Let’s see the quote.

“When the bell rang a second time the King shouted angrily, “Smudge and blazes!” and at a third ring he screamed in a fury, “Hippikaloric!” which must be a dreadful word because we don’t know what it means.”

Ozma of Oz, L. Frank Baum

Clearly, it’s an expletive. We see it’s used as such, and we’re told it must be “dreadful.” But it’s also nonsense. The lack of knowledge by Baum and the reader removes any potential for effect. As it exists, it becomes a form of “symbol swearing,” where something is said, but it means nothing.


We can pretend it’s dreadful, but it’s no more dreadful than any random string of typographical symbols, and as faux-profanity, it’s a swing and a miss.

Final Score: 1.0

🤬 Previous Raunch Reviews

Have a suggestion for Raunch Reviews? It can be any made-up slang word from a book, television show, or movie. You can email me directly with your recommendation or leave a comment below. I’ll need to spend time with the property before I’ll feel confident reviewing it, so give me a little time. I have a lot of books to read.