Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Elusive Elixir (An Accidental Alchemist #3) by Gigi Pandian

Zoey has travelled to Paris to try and find some answers to Dorian’s condition before the gargoyle turns completely to stone. But she finds few answers – and worse, seems to be recognised as the alchemist who lived their 70 years before

Fleeing back to Portland, trouble seems to have followed her. She may have finally found the backward Alchemists she has been looking for, but they’re not as helpful as she’d hoped – and may present a whole new risk as well as bringing revelations about her past she never imagined.

I think this book improved on many of the issues of the previous book. The storylines that Zoey was involved in actually made sense. She had a reason to get involved in the murder investigation, she was personally invested either directly or indirectly in all of the events that took place. She either had to protect friends and people she cared about or she was directly affected as it was a threat to her and her alchemical secret

This made the whole thing a lot more interesting especially as we build on more of Zoey’s past, her relationship with Ambrose as old figures from her past come back to haunt her. It fills in more gaps and also really develops the nature of Alchemy and the concept of Backward Alchemy. I really like the revelation that Zoey has here about Backward Alchemy – the whole idea that, ultimately, Alchemy is really really hard work. Alchemy take study, dedication and a lot of work and research. Backwards Alchemy isn’t so much evil or wrong or broken as much as it is lazy – it’s the ultimate short cut which leads Zoey to question whether she is actually going to find any solutions from Backwards Alchemy. Which in turn comes with a whole lot of soul searching and the creeping, horrible realisation of what it may actually take to save Dorian… and whether that is worth it.

The antagonists come with a lot of twists back and forth – assumptions are challenged and challenged again and then challenged again. We also get some really difficult positions when we see friends of Zoey make difficult, painful decisions and face terrible moral quandaries… and fall short. And I like that. Far too often in books characters seem almost impossibly good. They are willing to sacrifice everything, they’re willing to drop their hopes even their own survival for the greater good. Sometimes people just aren’t that perfect – especially when it comes to life and death. I like the clarity of the conflict there.

There are still parts that, for me, don’t make sense. She talks about the persecution of alchemists in the past and the need for secrecy but there’s no real bringing that up to date. Why would she believe that would happen today? Especially since she says she loves Portland precisely because it is so new agey and accepting. Equally, there’s a whole side plot where she desperately flees France because an old woman claims she remembers Zoey when she was a small child. This is a reason to run?

Aftermath, Season One, Episode Five: A Clatter and a Chatter

I think I've finally come to an understanding with Aftermath. Yes, it's the end of times but it's also a situation where they throw whatever shit they can think of at their characters without any rhyme or reason.  We know that all of the mythologies of the world for some reason have decided to run amok, we simply have been offered no explanation as to why and offered up the Copeland family as a unit to identify with and root for.  This is a problem because the Copelands are all white, straight, cisgender and able bodied.  Inclusion has obviously been given a minimum of concern on Aftermath.

So, when last we left the Copelands, they were about to face down some fever heads who had escaped from the base. They make a run for it but quickly come across an ocean that has no business being there, thus blocking off the road. You'll note that we aren't offered even a plausible explanation as to why the ocean is suddenly there.  At any rate, they find themselves surrounded with no method of escape, when who should appear but a masked man on a horse with a grenade launcher no less. Devyn, being hyper religious, goes straight up book of revelations, "And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him".  No need to worry for the Copelands because it turns out that the rider is none other than Lamar Boone, a friend of Karen's from the military.  Is it me, or does Karen seem to know every single military person they run into?

Boone and Karen have some history, evidenced by the fact that he calls her, "booty". He even has the nerve to do so in front of her husband and talk about how they used to have a thing.  I'm happy to see Aftermath introduce another person of colour and I hope that since Boon is played by none other than Wayne Brady, they don't plan to kill him off right away. It is however worth noting that the death of Doctor Rawlins preceded the introduction of Boone which very much gives this whole thing a T Dog chain feeling.  At any rate, it seems that Boon was one of those survivalist types and now that the weirdness has hit the fan, all of his pre planning has come in handy.  He's created a safe base and invites the Copelands to meet him there.  When giving directions, Boone actually tells the Copelands to turn right a the bodies strung up from the trees. It seems that Boon has no problem hanging people who cross the line which immediately jumps out as problematic to Joshua. I really hope that this is the center of tension between Boone and Joshua and not some love triangle between Boon, Joshua and Karen. 

Aftermath seems to be the kind of show that just doesn't like to keep it's characters together. Last week, Sally chose to stay behind with Cottrell to help manage the feverheads but with the base over run, the two have no option other than to flee.  They head into the woods and that is when Cottrell finally admits to being ill; however, he has some secret stash of meds in a cabin the woods and hopes to make it there on time to stop the progression of his illness. 

Back to the rest of the Copelands.  They head out to follow Boone's directions but come across a crater in the road blocking their path.  They hop out of the RV to investigate and this is when Karen hears the banshee scream for the first time.  She's the only one who can hear it.  Joshua decides that Karen and Brianna will stay behind with the RV while the others look for a path around the crater.  Matt and Devyn are together when Devyn spies a severed hand, freaks out and declares that he's not meant for this type of thing.  Joshua and Dana briefly separate and Dana is attacked by a Jubokko. Yep, Aftermath is once again mining culture of colour for woo woo.  Joshua and Matt manage to free Dana and they all rush back to the RV.  

They decide that they better get moving but unfortunately the RV won't start.  It turns out that the Jubokko has surrounded the RV and even entered the engine.  Fortunately for the Copelands, this is when Martin and Jane arrive/ Martin and Jane throw salt at the Jubokko, which drives it off.  It seems because of the delay arriving at Alamo (Boone's camp) Boone sent Martin and Jane to find out what was taking the Copelands so long.  Martin immediately gets his flirt on with Dana and she's quite receptive, despite the clear age difference between the two. I know the world is coming apart but neither Joshua or Karen is concerned about a grown as man making the moves on their daughter?

Cottrell and Sally make it to the cabin only to find it ransacked already and all of the medication gone. Cottrell gives Sally a gun and tells her that he is a danger to her now. Sally decides that they can make it out of this and heads outside to see if the feverheads dropped the meds on the ground while they were escaping.  

From Dusk Till Dawn, Season 3, Episode 9: Matanzas

Time for lots of fighting. Lots and lots and lots of fighting and cheesiness. So much cheesiness. We have Burt impale 4 people on a sword at once. We have Seth leaping through the air holding a revolver open to catch a bullet in the chamber. Yes, this level of cheese. I do appreciate some silly cheese.

This all takes place in this abandoned ghost town with Freddie leading a begging Venganza to the town to be part of the sacrifice to get Amaru her body back. They pass along a road where Culebras are tortured by sunlight and Venganza reminds Freddie just how terrible Amaru is

Meanwhile, Seth and Richie organise themselves, Scott, Burt, Aiden, Carlos, Santanico and a bunch of redshirt extras to launch an attack on the town, on the church where the ritual will take place during the eclipse (of course the eclipse). During daylight which means culebras are prone to burning if they lose their protection. Group A: Seth, Richie and Red Shirts attack openly to provide distraction while everyone else sneaks through some convenient tunnels into the church, helped by Freddie who is a secret plant all along

Something they didn’t share with Venganza it seems.

Brasa raises some extras of his own – a lot of undead cowboys. Apparently this is something Brasa, demon of sunlight/sungod can do. This is where Seth and the redshirts have a long long long gunfight with bullets dipped in culebra venom featuring the aforementioned leaping-reload shot. After many many deaths all the pesky extras and zombies are cleared away leaving Richie and Brasa to face off

Now, some would say that a sungod vs human ends quickly but a) Brasa wants Seth’s body (which I totally understand) to possess and b) Seth is up their with Vampire Diaries, True Blood and Walking Dead for the power of their plot armour. Seth also have bombs, powerful powerful bombs with woo-woo which manage to squish even a sun god. A truck full of explosives beats sun gods apparently

Actually can we talk about this? Because the whole premise of this is Amaru will open Xibalba and unleash all kinds of hell on the world. But is this prophecy out of date? I mean, if one of the most powerful Xibalbans can be taken out by a truck full of explosives, perhaps a hellish invasion will meet 21st century technology and we’ll have a lot of very surprised demons?

Meanwhile Richie and the surviving Jaguar warrior head off into the desert to have their own private duel. Ending in stalemate so he and Seth can have a radio conversation that sounds a lot like a poignant goodbye.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Bloody Acquisitions (Fred, the Vampire Accountant #3) by Drew Hayes

Fred's new undead life as an abandoned vampire in Winslow, Colorado has been busy and full of trials but he's settled now, having built a family out of the friends he's managed to acquire in recent years. Even Fred's business as a paranormal accountant is booming, causing him to work both and night and day to deliver on his contracts on time.  All in all, other than having more business than he can handle sometimes, Fred is pretty content.  As the saying goes however eventually every shoe must fall.  When a new vampire clan moves into town intent on filling in the power vacuum, Fred must choose between staying and fighting for the life he has built or moving to a town run by fellow paranormals.

This is the third installment in the Fred, the Vampire Accountant series. My major concern in the first two books is that they read like a collection of short stories rather than one continuous novel from start to finish.  Hayes does much better this time around though at times the he does drift into little side stories that don't have much to do with the main plot.  Because I find the idea of a vampire accountant who simply wants to do right by his clients and be with his friends so novel, when the distraction happens, it's easy to just go along for the ride, particularly because the distraction usually comes with some sort of ridiculous nonsense which is laugh out loud funny.   It is however worth noting that Blood Acquisitions does have a problem with line editing which might be an issue for some readers.

What continues to make Fred, the Vampire Accountant series so fascinating to me is Hayes treatment of gender. Normally in a vampire story, it's the vampire who fits into the role of anti hero and the vampire who is strong enough to induce fear in anyone or anything he meets.  Fred, the Vampire Accountant series puts this all out of balance because Fred, with his infamous sweater vests, is never the strongest person in any room and in fact, when the opportunity arises for him to amass more power, Fred turns it down. With the exception of a human female lawyer who Fred absolutely sees as an equal, all the women in Fred's life are significantly more powerful and knowledgeable about the paranormal world than he is. Even Fred's agent girlfriend Krystal, sees it as her job to protect Fred.

What I like the most about Fred is his loyalty to his friends and his clients.  When the Turva sets up residence in Winslow, Fred quickly finds that he's running out of options.  He heads to see a dragon to ask about other vampires and when offered a sample to increase his power or the opportunity to have all of his problems simply whisked away, Fred refuses. It would be so easy for Fred to have all of his enemies killed, thus assuring him that no other group of vampires would try to set up stakes in Winslow for at least a hundred years but Fred instead considers the innocent vampires who would lose their lives. Even when he's about to forced into making an alliance with Turva, essentially making him subordinate to their leadership, Fred refuses to lean on his much stronger friends because he sees that as taking advantage.  He's determined to stand on his own two feet come what may.

The Strain, Season 3, Episode 8: White Light

It’s time to reveal what nefarious thing Eichorst and the Master are building in Eldritch’s factories. Sadly, it’s the same as in the book

It’s a big plant where humans are loaded up, exsanguinated and their bodies incinerated and they want it to work faster (and human lackies are apparently willing to work on this).



Is speed of exsanguination a problem?

Is killing humans for food in vast and quick numbers even a viable

This is obviously scary scary genocide because we’re reaaaaaly trying to stretch that with some desperate and frankly offensive comparisons and thematic links to the holocaust and Abe.

But not only is it insulting to compare the very real horror of the holocaust to this story, but it makes no sense. The vampires cannot possibly wipe out their primary food source, that’d be utterly ridiculous. This whole factory makes no sense – the vampires don’t have a problem killing and feeding on humans.

Now an extraction factory that took a lot of blood from people but left them alive, basically vast warehouses akin to what we saw on the Matrix, humans bound in cells from birth and constantly bled but kept alive (which provides both blood and stops them being turned by being bitten). That would be horrific and make sense. This? Does not make sense. This is a mutual extinction machine.

A now healthy Palmer, buzzing on the White, gives enough information to Abe and Vasiliy to allow them to track down the crate that was delivered. There’s a gun fight but in the end Eichorst manages to escape with the crate and its mysterious cargo. But they also learn about the death factory

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Braineater Jones by Stephen Kozeniewski

A man wakes up, face down in the pool with a bullet wound in his chest. He doesn’t remember his name, his life or how he got there – or how he died. Or how he’s still walking around.

He is a zombie and he has so much to learn about that – a full list of questions in fact. As he learns how to survive as an alcohol soaked member of the undead he finds his habit of asking questions sets him up to solve many other cases.

Braineater Jones, zombie PI, with many questions, few answers and a whole whacky noir world to navigate.

This book gets definite points for originality. Sentient zombies – but sentient rotting zombies, sentient rotting zombies with a shelf-life, memory issues and a society which semi-acknowledges them but only to put them on the very bottom of the social ladder. It’s definitely an interesting concept

That setting is the late 1920s/early 1930s and has a very film noir setting with shades of Prohibition (prohibition is over but the town is still dry) which is especially difficult for the zombies who need alcohol to keep their mental facilities. Without which they degrade quickly and become braineaters, marauding monsters of movie legend. Which is a fate that awaits them eventually anyway as their bodies and minds rot

This makes Braineater a slur among their community and more than one vampire is outraged by Jones, who doesn’t remember much or anything of his human life, chooses to use it as a name.

The story itself is very very twisty in classic Noir style. We have shocks and surprises. We have twists and turns. There’s lots of double crossing and lots of misdirection and lots of people being the complete opposite of what you expect them to be. The whole idea of what’s being explored and examined changes from chapter to chapter with Jones both desperately trying to drag up some memories of his past life, some indication of who he was and why he died – or who killed him since he has a big bullet hole. Throwing in just learning what it means to be a zombie on tip of that – there’s a lot to get through.

And that’s something of the problem. There’s a lot to get through and the book isn’t that long and we just sprint through it all. Along the way we kind of lose things like motivation, development or exploration. I don’t know why Jones has decided to become a detective. He doesn’t exactly do a lot of work to figure out who he was nor to really try and regain his memories. He becomes super suspicious about people and I’m not quite sure where the suspicion comes from. He develops friendships and positions where I’m not sure where they’ve come from and many of them apparently become passionate and deep very quickly.

It feels like we have an excellent book, or even an excellent series of books, with complete interesting world building and a really twisty complex storyline. But then it felt like an over-eager editor decided to cut huge chunks of development and exploration from the book leaving it all a bit too fast and just a bit hollow and unsupported in places.

Lucifer, Season Two, Episode Five: Weaponizer

Last week's episode ended with Chloe getting into a car accident.  This is significant because Lucifer made a deal with God to save her life in exchange for taking his mother back to hell.  As we know, Lucifer didn't follow through on his end of the bargain.  It turns out that Chloe's accident wasn't an accident after all and was in fact orchestrated by Uriel.  That's right, there's a new angel in town to join Lucifer's dysfunctional family on earth. Even better, the role is played by Michael Imperioli.

Like all episodes, Weaponizer does have a crime which needs to be solved but this time, instead of the crime being used to highlight some existential problem Lucifer is dealing with, this week's crime seems to exist to show that Lucifer and Dan share a common love of action flicks of all things.  Their shared love causes them to repeat lines from the movies, high five each other and have a dudebro bond moment.  Perhaps this will make detective douche more palatable to Lucifer as the series continues.

What's interesting about Weaponizer is not the crime drama but the peril that Chloe is in and how Lucifer deals with it. When Uriel arrives, Lucifer isn't immediately concerned because he has a secret weapon in his back pocket - his older brother Amenadiel. Unfortunately, Amenadiel isn't quite himself and has lost his powers, a secret he has kept from Lucifer.  Maze however thinks that the solution is simple and suggests that Lucifer simply take mommy dearest back to hell and fulfill his end of the deal. Lucifer however is insistent that he is fulfilling the agreement because he is punishing his mother on earth.  Amenadiel tries to suggest that Lucifer should simply hide Chloe and their mother until Uriel gives up and returns home.  This is enough for Lucifer to suggest that maybe the problem is that Amenadiel has been on earth too long and forgotten the power that he is. Lucifer points out that Uriel is the younger brother and that as the eldest, they were all in a awe of him.  Amenadiel gets the idea that all Uriel needs to see is him in his full glory.

Amenadiel meets with Uriel on a rooftop wearing his angel outfit and looking fine as hell.

Amenadiel assures Uriel that he has everything under control but Uriel points out that not only is Lucifer living on earth but their mother is now.  Uriel claims that he only wants to help.  Amenadiel goes all bad ass and points out that he is Amenadiel and is the one who delivers the wrath of God not, Uriel the diminutive little brother.  This is enough for Uriel to cower a bit in fear and agree to go home.  Amenadiel believes his business is done and starts to leave but is stopped by Uriel, who punches him in the face. It seems that Uriel figured out right away that something was wrong with Amenadiel by the fact that Amenadiel spent so much time talking instead of kicking his ass.  Uriel releases his wings and proceeds to give Amenadiel the beat down he's been dying to issue since the dawn of the universe.

Once Upon a Time, Season 6, Episode 5: Street Rats

Time for a history lesson back to Agrabah, suffering under the yoke of Jafar, with poor people turned into rats for stealing (honestly this seems like a terrible way to deal with any problem, creating a plague of rodents).

Jasmin sneaks into the city to find someone she is sure can help her – Aladdin, the thief who can help her steal the Diamond in the Rough. He’s not exactly eager to help the dedicated Princess, but when she threatens to frame him for theft he gives in and joins her to the cave of wonders

Along the way we get some interesting little hints at more depth. While Jasmin is furious that Aladdin is so selfish, Aladdin points out that their city wasn’t exactly a utopia before Jafar arrived and really Jasmin only cares because Jafar has breached her happy rich bubble as a princess. It’s a nice analysis and suggests more nuance than Once Upon a Time usually applies to their monarchy. Of course, we could point out that we’re getting a nuance of a less than perfect but not outright evil royalty with Jasmin and the Sultan but not the oh-so-pure-and-inept Snow White.

In the cave we learn the obvious truth – Aladdin is the Diamond in the Rough and he even has magic, Saviour Magic. He can save Agrabah… though Jafar shows him the cost of that, Jafar shows him that Saviours have a short shelf life. He has a solution to that – the sheers of fate. They will cut Aladdin from his destiny as a Saviour – no longer a hero but no longer doomed to die.

Of course he doesn’t take it and swoops in to rescue Jasmin. Though Jafar leaves him with the sheers for the future. He also is still out there doing mischief. Despite chemistry Jasmin and Aladdin don’t become a couple because they’re focused on duty- or Jasmin is. She’s taken Aladdin’s words to heart and won’t run off with him when there are still flaws in their kingdom to address.

In the present Emma finds Jasmin, following birds and dead oracles. She’s sure that Jasmin isn’t the killer though because of that rarely remembered lie detecting power. Instead it gives Jasmin chance to talk about Aladdin the Saviour which offers Emma hope: because Aladdin is apparently alive. Aladdin alive means all Saviours don’t die. It means maybe Emma’s visions won’t come true, maybe Emma can live.