Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Jane Yellowrock World Companion by Faith Hunter

I’m a big fan of Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock series so when the companion came into my hands I was excited to delve into it.

Companions can be excellent additions to a series, especially a long book series, bringing together all the information of the series in one place, being a handy one stop guide to questions, elaborating on all those little elements of the series that just cannot be included in the main books but are still hinted about – they can be excellent additions. Any author writing a series as long as this is inevitably going to have scenes and ideas and world building that they just can’t fit into the main series. Oh, they could – but inevitably it would be irrelevant to the plot or involve some massively ridiculous info-dumping that would look convoluted and would drag down the pacing of the story

This is the ideal place to fit in all those notes, rambles, world building development etc that couldn’t fit into the main story.

That’s a companion at its best

At its worst, a companion will merely rehash and repeat most of what has been said in the main series, occasionally interspaced with extras that have been on the author’s website. There will be nothing new, original, useful or interesting in it and it will feel like a bit of a money grab.

Unfortunately this companion falls heavily into the second category. A large swathe of the book is taken up by a brief recap of all the other books. As a reviewer this could be useful to me if I ever want to refer back to something in an earlier book, but really is pretty pointless. If you’ve read the series, you don’t need the recaps. This takes up a pretty huge part of the book.

Add on to this there’s a section which is basically a lot of quotes copied and pasted from the books as well.

We have some brief world building notes – but they’re just lists: like Jane’s list of weapons, a list of characters in the series (no extra information on them, just a list) or a brief history of Clan Pellissier – which could have been interesting if it were more than a list.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Before I start this review, I am going to fess up and say that I have never read, nor had any interest in reading Tolkein.  Pages of elvish, even combined with an epic adventure is not something that floats my boat- that said, having watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I eagerly looked forward to this movie.

The Desolation of Smaug continues the quest of the Bilbo, Gandalf and the dwarves to reclaim the dwarf homeland of Erebor from the dragon Smaug.  As you might well imagine this quest is not a simple matter of moving from point A to point B.  There is the matter of spiders who seek to make them a meal, Elves who are not happy to have their kingdom invaded and orcs who are on a mission to stop the band of travelers at all cost.

The Desolation of Smaug is visually beautiful at times to watch and though it is clearly fantasy, everything about it feels so real.  It easy to immerse oneself in the story and this is a good thing as the movie is two hours and forty minutes long (note: go to the bathroom before the movie starts).  It was impossible not to feel the stale death of the forest and want to will the dwarves out of there safely.  The barrel river scene in particular is great fun to watch and I found myself wishing it were part of an amusement ride. 

Legalos makes his great return in this film and being a fan of Orlando Bloom in this role I was quite happy. I found it interesting that in The Desolation of Smaug he was much changed, which makes sense because this is a prequel.  Legalos was downright uptight and arrogant.  Peter Jackson also chose to make Legalos larger thus allowing him to truly take over the screen during his epic fight scenes. 

The largest addition to the cast came in the form of Tauriel.  I found her to be bright, capable and loving.  It was sweet to watch the budding romance between Tauriel and Kili.  The romance gave us a nice little break in the action and helped to at least separate Kili from the large pack of dwarves.  This was necessary as their sheer number at times makes the story  difficult to follow. I can only hope that in the third movie we will see more individualization of the dwarves as well as a continuation of the budding romance.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Helen and Troy's Epic Road Quest by A. Lee Martinez

This epic road quest takes place in an alternate world where humans, orcs, and other manner of mystical creatures are just accepted as normal.  Helen the rare minotaur girl and Troy meet at work.  They are brought together when their boss tries to sacrifice Helen to a long lost banished God.  Things go from bad to worse when the God sets them on a magical quest where Helen and Troy will battle dragons and orcs even as they try to decipher the mystical clues that the Fates give  them to gather magical weapons which will set the lost God loose on earth.  Will our heroes succeed with so much aligned against them?

This is the second book I have read which was written by Martinez and so I expected Helen and Troy's Epic Road Quest to be quirky but what I didn't expect was for it to be laugh out loud funny. I found myself giggling at the conflicted Orcs who caused damage in restaurants because that is their nature and then worrying about emptying bank accounts to pay for the damage.  Then there was the fate who ran the truck stop, and of course Orc Gods worried about learning to play bridge and shuffleboard.  The situations were absolutely absurd but it was impossible not to laugh.

The female protagonist did, unfortunately, come with the usual super special descriptor - being a rare female minotaur and the first to manifest as such in her family for generations.  Her story was largely about self acceptance because she dealt with body issues throughout the book.  Normally these kinds of issues ascribed to women irritate me because it plays on the trope of women always needing to doubt their physical attractiveness; however, if I had horns, a tail, fur and smelled horrible when I got wet, I would be a tad insecure about dating as well.  Helen was remarkably strong and though she lacked confidence in herself, she was unafraid to meet any challenge and even ended up saving Troy.

The male protagonist Troy was also a little trope laden. He is the Asian kid who is the perfect son, always gets good grades and is of course well liked.  I did however like how he discussed being turned off by a girl when she sought to fetishisize him which is something people of colour face on a regular basis.  Troy didn't want to be anyone token.  He is capable and strong if somewhat annoying with his perfection - something Helen takes care to point out repeatedly.

It is worth noting that Martinez did make the mistake of conflating real people of colour with his mystical creations. 

"Just because my ancestors were barbaric hordes that doesn't mean I'm a natural-born killer. I think it's a bit racist that you assume that"

Having on protagonist be a man of colour does not erase the harm of this.  These kinds of conflations detract from the racism that people of colour are forced to live with on a daily basis.

Martinez did chose to include a gay character - James the orc.  Unfortunately, James is a trope laden mess. James drinks imported fruity beers, is the only Orc with fuchsia on his bike, loves musical theater, has Funny Girl as his favorite movie, and has a habit of punching people if they cannot differentiate between lavender and lilac.  James, of course, leads a closeted life with his roommate Gary until he is finally confronted about his sexuality by his fellow Orcs. If anything James is a token and extremely empty.  It's not enough to have inclusion, portrayals of marginalized characters shouldn't be cardboard cut out tropes.

Despite it's faults, I enjoyed every moment of Helen and Troy's Epic Road Quest.  It's an easy read and a great way to waste away the afternoon.  The story won't change your world view, or challenge you to think but it will entertain you.  The writing is extremely vivid and it is so easy to picture all of the characters we are introduced to as well as all of the fantastical locales that the story is set in.  It's impossible not to root for both Helen and Troy and the Wild Hunt which places the reader in a bit of a conundrum because they are on opposite sides.  When you can love the good guys and the bad the guys that is a sign of a really good book.

Editors Note: A copy of this book was received from Netgalley

Atlantis, Season 1, Episode 13: Touched by the Gods: Part Two

Ariadne is due to be executed for the terrible crime of having less sense than cabbage (and for harbouring an assassin. She is actually guilty of both crimes). The execution method is the Brazen bull – to be put inside a bronze statue of a bull and then have a fire lit under it. Sounds very wasteful – and messy. Who has to clean that bull afterwards? I reckon you’re going to need more than a bottle of fairy liquid, especially if it’s not Teflon lined.

Jason, showing that he an Ariadne are matched in their lacking-the-sense-of-cabbage decides he’ll turn himself in and then Ariadne will be spared… because that’s totally how it works and he won’t just be executed as well. Pythagoras, thankfully, has slightly more mental acumen than a brassica and points this out, further adding that with Ariadne dead, Pasiphae’s road to the throne is clear. That’s ok, then Jason can die alongside her – even the cabbage-brained Hercules questions why being slow-cooked together is better than being roasted alone. Fight to stop it, yes, risk their lives, yes – but not being roasted to death in some ridiculous act of self-sacrifice. Why Hercules, that was a damn fine speech (they devolve into fun banter about Hercules admitting he likes Jason).

In the prison the priest of Poseidon tries to comfort Ariadne while she laments that she’s been a fool (yes) and given the queen all she wants (also yes) and the people will suffer under Pasiphae (probably, but given your record to date I can’t say your reign would be a happy, fun one) and it’s all her fault (true).

Pasiphae is also praying in the temple and the Oracle confronts her – Ariadne is the princess of Atlantis, a goddess on Earth, Pasiphae is getting above herself and the gods will be Displeased. The Oracle further threatens her with VAGUE PRONOUNCEMENTS (I still think this woman is a fraud, someone who could see the future would be a little more specific). However the warnings about someone being “touched by the gods” like Pasiphae herself panics her

But Pasiphae hasn’t thought of everything – and Ramos goes to Jason & co to help them. He serves the king who probably wouldn’t want his daughter to be slow roasted (at least not without proper seasoning). Jason goes to his other ally, the Oracle who is impressed at his drive and direction. He thanks her for all the help she’s given (like… like… um… like… actually I got nothing). Perhaps realising this she gives him some vague information about a place with a vague comment about “among the dead” which she declines to explain. How helpful.

Ariadne is lead to her pyre. A crowd has gathered – and Hercules staggers drunkenly among them, breaking to the front – as the guards throw him back he drops his amphora and it spills liquid onto the wood. As Ariadne is dragged weeping and struggling to the bull, Jason fires a burning arrow at the liquid Hercules spilled (he’s acquired archery skills from… somewhere) which flares into flame. Everyone jumps back, gasping. The crowd panics and scatters

Seriously guys, the bonfire is on fire. I think your shock is dubious.

As the crowd runs screaming in every direction at the sheer horror of a burning bonfire actually being on fire, Ramos takes custody of Ariadne and hands her off to Jason, killing two guards who try to intervene.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Wolf At His Door (Runes Trilogy #1) by Adrian W. Lilly

Alec has many good friends, a twin brother and big sister who support him and even now a new boyfriend – well, potential boyfriend. Sure their parents fight a lot and not all is warm and fuzzy – and his headaches can make him damn miserable at times, but things are good.

Except those headaches are prescient – an omen of doom to come.

When the werewolf arrives, it extracts a cost of blood. Friends, family and loved ones die, one after another. The town is rocked by a huge string of missing persons, people disappearing without a trace – and the new boyfriend Jared is more than what he seems

In the midst of chaos and loss, Alec can only find some way to stop the werewolf before everyone he loves is killed.

We have a pretty interesting and intriguing story here – one that takes werewolves back to being monsters, a threat a danger. Few books have truly made the werewolf as monstrous as this one – not just in terms of evil deeds and savage monstrosity (though the atrocities committed in this book easily match any that the monsters have committed in others) but also in terms of sheer unstoppability. The power of the werewolf, the horror of facing one down, the utter helplessness of being confronted by this monster has been excellently conveyed. The book also doesn’t pull any punches when presenting the horror of the aftermath, the carnage, the gore, the shellshocked and wounded survivors, the devastation left in their work.

We have some excellent hints of a broad world and some building epic metaplot that will no doubt lead to lots of fascinating revelations and development in the future. There’s a lot there that is being hinted at with all kind of implications of experiments and magic and powers that I really want to know more about

The main problem I have with this book is we have a lot of characters who are introduced to us very quickly and not a great deal of effort is made to develop any of them. And that includes the protagonist – who spends a decent portion of the book unconscious – in fact, I’m not even sure if it’s accurate to call him a protagonist because the book didn’t really focus on him. It just didn’t really focus on anyone else either. The only person who had a lot of her depth analysed, her past, her motivations and her pain was Ilene. And while it’s good to get a character so developed, her motivations, her past, her guilt, her shame, her battling to move past there, her loss and her confusion, I’m still left kind of wondering why I spent so much time in her head and not everyone else’s when she was so secondary to the plot.

We have a number of characters buzzing around the plot who didn’t seem to serve any role – Alec’s doctor, police investigating missing persons, police investigating the murders. Hey were kind of just there – and yes, you expect all of these people to be there, but why make them such characters, why have scenes from their point of view, why spend so much time in the heads of people who could just as easily been reduced to names on paper? They may be relevant later in the trilogy, I suspect several of them will be – but there’s just bloat now. There’s just a lot of time in this book spent examining the heads of people who aren’t really relevant to the narrative, to the detriment of the people who actually are.

This leads to many of the horrific incidents in the book not carrying the same weight. People are killed in this book and I’m not even sure who they are. There are so many people wandering back and forth I needed to keep notes just to figure out who each person was and how they related to the protagonist and, eventually, a note on whether or not I actually needed to care about this person, what they were doing or what they were feeling. One small advantage of Ilene‘s over-analysis is it gave us some window into the grief over the many many dead – but it was kind of the only window. And there were some characters dying here who should have been utterly devastating to Alec and quite a few other characters and it just wasn’t, not to the extent I’d expect. I certainly wasn’t moved because I didn’t know enough about them to connect.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Happy Holidays

'Nightmare Before Christmas Tree.' photo (c) 2010, San José Library - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Hello everyone, the Fangs for Fantasy crew would like to wish you and yours, a safe happy and prosperous holiday season.  We would like to thank you for all of your support this year and greatly look forward to our continue shared passion of speculative fiction in all its glorious forms

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Entice (Ignite #1.5) by Erica Crouch

The war against Heaven has just ended – with Lucifer striking Michael down and his soul being imprisoned in Hell. Azael, instrumental in defeating Michael, is eager to rise within Lucifer’s councils and reach the upper echelons of demonhood

Pen, his twin sister and fellow fallen angel, is not nearly so keen. She left Heaven because its censorship, its rigidity, its lack of thought and questioning was too much for her – she’s not thrilled that Hell seems to be little better

But Lucifer is determined to make her fall in line – and he has a task for the twins: the corruption of Adam

I was rather surprised by this book’s length. As a story between book 1 and 2, I expected a novella of some kind, but this book kept going on. And on. And on and on.

Yeah… that’s kind of not a good sign.

I’m not saying it was a bad book – because it wasn’t, not even close. It was just… an unnecessary book. After reading Ignite we know several things about Pen and Azael. Azael is evil, short tempered, impetuous and desperate to get in Lucifer’s good books. Pen is extremely conflicted about this whole Hell thing, she fell because she disagreed in keeping mankind ignorant of language (and ignorant in general), she found Heaven dictatorial, censorious and unreasonable – so she fell but found Hell to be no better and she’s not willing to jump on the “yay Lucifer” train but is dragged along because she has nowhere else to go and because she has an almost creepy attachment to her brother.

And in Entice we’re shown that Azael is short tempered, impetuous and desperate to get into Lucifer’s good books. While Pen is conflicted, not happy with Heaven but really not sold on Hell either, but is dragged further into it because of her almost creepy attachment to her brother.

Both stories are good. Both stories develop the characters well. Both stories show someone who is deep and nuanced with many lairs with a joyous love of language woven into them. The conflict is really well presented, the pressures on Pen shown excellently. I can’t overstate how well presented Pen’s emotional conflict and motivations are presented in both stories.

But we didn’t need both stories to tell us the same thing, to excellently portray the same emotional conflict and torn priorities. It was so well done the first time, it didn’t need to be excellently done the second time.

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Study in Ashes (The Baskerville Affair #3) by Emma Jane Holloway

When we last left this world, everything was in complete tatters.  Evie having been imprisoned by Keating, Nick presumed dead and  Imogen's soul being imprisoned by her dark twin Anna, nothing looked hopeful for our merry band of steampunk characters.  A Study of Ashes opens one year later with everything in disarray.  As bad as the events of the last book were, the characters have no idea that things are going to escalate and get so much worse. You see, the kingdom is on the brink of war because the people are tired of the strangle hold of the steam barons and for their part, the barons are determined to draw the noose even tighter and consolidate their power.  Can our merry crew survive the evil machinations and still get out in one piece?

A Study of Ashes is the darkest of the trilogy.  With the return of Magnus, Evie is once again tempted by dark magic.  With the fighting between the barons, even fearsome The Black Kingdom has a role to play. For those who are used to a lighter story, this might be disturbing; however, I found myself relishing it.  Stories must after all progress to retain the interest of their readership.  At times, A Study of Ashes felt like a blending of gothic horror and steampunk.

For as much as I enjoyed A Study of Ashes, I do feel that the story did get bogged down when it came time for the epic battle.  I understand that this was necessary to explore the full scope of Evie's power but I do feel that it dragged on for a little to long.  At times, I was even tempted to simply skim until the story had moved on. This might however be a matter of taste, as I have never been a fan of epic fight scenes.

After all that Evie has been through, she is not the same young brash woman we met in A Study in Silks.  For me this is a good thing, as I am tired of protagonists who are dragged through the mill yet do not change.  Evie still retains much of her spunk but it is darker somehow - more determined.  I will however say that it was annoying that she was constantly reduced to a pile of mush when Niccolo looked in her direction.  I understand finding comfort in love when times are tough, but did she constantly have to get distracted and drift away?

One of the largest distractions was the Imogen's storyline.  It seemed out of place and rarely interacted with the characters that we have come to know. I often found myself irritated when we returned to her predicament because it felt like being pulled out of all of the action.  That said, I am glad that Imogen got her happy ending.  It is well worth mentioning that sidelining Imogen meant that Poppy had a much larger role to play.  The problem is that Poppy is young and though brave, clearly out of her element. Not being a fan of YA, I found Poppy irritating but again, this is another case of your mileage may vary.

A Study in Ashes is a satisfactory ending to this trilogy.  All of the storylines begun in the first book were neatly wrapped up.  Holloway even gave us an interesting twist on the Baskerville Affair.  We were introduced to Professor Moriarty and the story even left potential for more with what happened to Tobias (sorry no spoilers).  It is my hope that Holloway uses these openings she left behind to continue on with these characters, perhaps even staring a much more mature Poppy.  The sign of a good book is when it leaves you wanting more and A Study of Ashes definitely had me thinking that this shouldn't be the end to such a worthy series.

Editors Note: A Copy of this book was received through Netgalley

Atlantis, Season 1, Episode 12: Touched by the Gods: Part One

Jason has a visitor – Circe has arrived in Atlantis to demand he fulfil his debt to her and kill Pasiphae. His deadline is at noon in 3 days or he’ll die and maybe several others as well. He then finds Hercules’s body – dead.

And he wakes up – debtor dream! So much more effective than a menacing red letter.

The three friends gather for gloom angst (and Hercules comic relief) before Jason faces the fact he has to kill the Queen. Hercules briefly admits it’s all his fault (everything is Hercules’s fault so let’s just take that as a given) and Hercules and Pythagoras agree to help being royal assassins.

After much comic plotting, Pythagoras discovers chloroform (and Hercules tests it on Pythagoras because – well funsies mainly), they arrange with Hercules’s friend the wine merchant to get them in the palace and Jason begins to realise the enormity of killing someone in cold blood.

Speaking of royal deaths – King Minos is on his last legs thanks to Pasiphae’s poisonous ministrations.  He insists that his wife and daughter look after each other and Pasiphae also reassures him that she’ll totally look after Ariadne. King Minos is not a good judge of character, it has to be said.

Of course, Pasiphae’s plans aren’t going all her way, Minos may be dying but Ariadne still isn’t married to Heptarian. Heptarian offers to kill Ariadne which doesn’t impress Pasiphae even slightly – she wonders at her choice of plotting tools. See, you can’t get good evil minions these days.

Our heroes enter the palace, Hercules and Pythagoras filling the vital roles of bumbling comic relief and nerdy comic relief (you simply cannot go on an assassination mission without the comic relief, it distracts from all the sinister murder). I also quite like how Pythagoras can “calculate” where Pasiphae’s bed room – either he knows where it is or he doesn’t, there’s a limit to what even a genius can do with maths.

After a little more comic ineptitude from Hercules, Jason reaches Pasiphae’s bed chamber and tries to stab her – and is either stopped by a magic shield or by his conscience. I think the latter but it’s not exactly clear. She wakes up – and screams. Alarms! Running guards! Hercules wants to run off and abandon Jason but Pythagoras insists he stays

Jason runs, avoiding the guards but he takes an arrow in the side while he does so. He arrives at the rendez-vous point, but Hercules and Pythagoras have had to leave. They make it home ok to worry about Jason – and drink of course

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Fangs for the Fantasy Podcast: Autumn 2013, Episode 12

This week our podcast is on a Sunday - and our last podcast before the holidays!

Join us join us here and you can listen live on our youtube channel as we discuss the last few shows on air and our book of the week.

All of those links will also carry a recording after the show is finished. As ever all our previous podcasts can be found in the archive

The podcast begins at 7:00pm EST

16th December - 22nd December: Goblin Quest by Jim C Hines
22nd December - 6th January: Tempest Unleashed by Tracy Deebs
6th January - 13th January: Fury of the Demon by Diana Rowland
13th January - 20th January: Bloodlines by Eileen Wilks

The Podcasts will return on Monday 6th January at the normal time of 7:00pm EST

Fangs for the Fantasy Book of the Week

Every week on the Fangs for the Fantasy podcast (archives here) we read a book and discuss it on the show. This week we're holding our podcast a day early because of the holidays - and the book of the week review went up on Friday.

To give people a chance to read along with us, especially over the holidays, we include a list of our planned books of the week for the next few shows, so people can get the books, read them and join in the conversation.

 Our podcast will be at 7:00pm EST tonight 

16th December - 22nd December: Goblin Quest by Jim C Hines
22nd December - 6th January: Tempest Unleashed by Tracy Deebs
6th January - 13th January: Fury of the Demon by Diana Rowland
13th January - 20th January: Bloodlines by Eileen Wilks

Friday, December 20, 2013

Goblin Quest (Jig the Goblin #1) by Jim C Hines

Jig is a goblin. That means cannon fodder. That means pest. That means nuisance. It means creature that wandering adventurers repeatedly stamp into the dust on their way to bigger and more dangerous things.

Not only that, but Jig is the runt of his people. Small, frail, poorly equipped even for a goblin and short sighted. When a bully forces Jig out on patrol and he runs into adventurers looking for loot, Jig’s death looks certain

Through wit and common sense (both of which sorely lacking from the “heroes”), Jig manages to live – but is dragged along to play guide as the adventurers rampage through his mountain home looking for their great prize; while Jig desperately hopes to stay alive in the face of hobgoblins, poisonous lizard-fish, the undead and, of course, a dragon.

He’d also quite like it if his people weren’t massacred. Again.

This book is, I think, specifically aimed at a certain class of reader. If you have read a lot of high fantasy books, if you have played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons, if you are saturated in the tropes that come with that genre and that game and all the stuff that goes with classic sword and sorcery fiction – then this book is aimed at you and you will enjoy it.

It has numerable instances of calling out and poking fun at the tropes in the genre – some of them are tiny references (like poking the improbably-melon-breasted-depictions of women) or the basis of several characters (like Riana, the elf – who isn’t tall and elegant, isn’t classy aristocratic or anything else we assume about elves. And yes, she’s a thief – but why should a thief know how to find traps anyway? Since when do merchants trap their coin purses?) or even poking fun at player habits of the way these games/books are written (Darnak having to carry a massive pack to hold all of his gear – and his obsessive cartography to even navigate the dungeons). There’s a lot of these excellent tropes being poked

But above all there’s the very premise – our protagonist is a goblin. A creature, in this genre, that exists to die. Not even die in a heroic encounter, they barely count as monsters, they’re a nuisance, trash, something to grind through. Inept and incompetent and thoroughly bullied and exploited by everything around them – they would be pitiable if they weren’t so unpleasant. And through their lens you get to see the heroes – the bickering, the arrogance, the contempt, their greed and just how hard it is for a poor goblin to even live with this rampaging heroes attacking his home and stealing anything that isn’t nailed down. It’s a fun reversal and, for me as a player of the games and lover of the genre, it makes me smile to see so many of the staples being challenged –and realising how often my heroes have been these arseholes, albeit seen through a different lens.

The Walking Dead Volume 19: March to War

This volume really highlighted the weakness of Rick’s leadership.  He doesn’t trust the people he should.  Let’s be clear, Andrea and Michonne have been with the group from essentially the beginning.  They have fought by his side and followed his orders without question yet suddenly Rick believes that Michonne is some uncontrollable blood thirsty savage?  It’s ironic that despite all of his so called skills as a master planner that he engaged in the exact same behaviour he was worried that Michonne would commit.  Rick is so incompetent at this point that he doesn’t think he is infallible - he believes his own hype and that is the worst trait in a leader. A seasoned veteran does not necessarily make one a military strategist.

Also we need to examine further this problem of Rick treating Michonne like some kind of uncontrolled berserker is getting annoying. On the plus side, Michonne challenges this and explains, yet again, that she doesn’t like the fight, she doesn’t want to fight and if she can avoid fighting then she will - she’s not some loose cannon read to explode at the slightest provocation. This is good. But Rick should know this. He’s already been told this by her - and even if he hadn’t, they’ve been together for a very long time now. He should know her better than this. She should have been developed better than this - it’s a mix of her character growing and being revealed but that growth and revelation also exposing just how much she has just been a walking weapon until now.

Also, it’s not escaped our notice that Michonne and Ezekiel are homing in on romance. If there’s a Black guy around, Michonne makes her moves all the time.  Why is it that she is only a viable love interest for Black men?  Considering that this comic is written by two White men, it really is rather telling on their views of Black women.  I know it’s not interracial relationships because they had no problem putting Maggie and Glen together.

We did have some POC characters being awesome in this episode - Michonne (of course), but also Jesus and Ezekiel. Ezekiel’s back story did a great job in cutting through the whole ridiculous eccentric persona he had adopted and showed him to be far more aware (and capable) than that. In fact, he displayed decision making skills and leadership that completely eclipsed Rick.

Andrea also stepped up pretty awesomely - showing she was more than just a sniper (even while we saw the difference between a good shot and a professional sniper) and her epic “We don’t die” was an excellently powerful moment for her.

And there’s a problem with all of these characters being so competent and awesome. Rick still leads (and doesn’t treat them as the competent people they are) and I have no damn clue why. In fact, I think the writers got insecure at Rick not being in the lime light this episode and threw in the whole speech from Jesus about why Rick is the super leader, better than all the others. Why is he? Oh yes… Even Negan respects Rick (in fact, the whole scene was Spencer seemed to be another attempt to keep him on his pedestal, no matter how it wobbles)!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

I am Satan (Hellbound Trilogy #2) by Tim Hawken

Now ruling Hell, Michael has a lot to handle and little time in which to acclimatise to his new role. He has to consolidate his rule to ensure that Hell doesn’t fall into complete chaos without Satan at the helm and start making plans for his ultimate goal

But that also means pinning down exactly what his ultimate goal is – revenge against Asmodius, or rescuing Charlotte, his true love, from Purgatory. Which is more important to him and does it matter which path he chooses?

And can he become powerful enough to do either?

The more he learns and prepares the more he learns about the entire world around him and how sorely in need of reform it is – but how can one man manage that in the face of the will of god? And what would he reform it to?

There is a change of focus in this book, as Hellbound was a very personal book, focused almost entirely on Michael, on him learning who he is, learning the nature of Hell and, ultimately, the big reveal. This was an excellent way to firmly establish the character and his viewpoints as well as to explore the world through his lens – a limit that was necessary to make the end reveal all the more powerful.

I Am Satan expands the world a lot more, we see a lot more of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven through the eyes of many inhabitants (even if told from Michael’s point of view) and, therefore, more of the nature of the world without Michael’s views, Asmodius’s hate or God’s propaganda. It took things that were hinted at before and widened the lens to show how deeply flawed the creation is in so many different ways. Even elements that looked so possible on paper in the first book, like the redemption from Hell when souls have confronted their sins, fades with this wider lens and we see how conditions in Hell are such that most souls will inevitably end up further corrupted more than they will ever face redemption as they’re put into a rule-less, brutal world where the strong and ruthless are rewarded and the weak suffer and are preyed upon (this also, as a side note, also makes for an excellent comparative metaphor to our own prison system).

The book also makes an excellent job of not just demonising god as evil – that would be easy and simplistic, and this book is anything but simplistic. There’s even parts of the book where it’s expressly said that the world suffers when god is inattentive. It’s more that god is incapable or unwilling to see things outside of his own lens of experience – it’s a classic case of ignorance and lack of empathy more than active malice (at least before the end of the last book) as well as a complete lack of understanding the human experience. This leads to suicides being harshly judged, being unable to see the burdens placed . God sees the forest and ignores the trees – and sees no problem in cutting huge swathes out of them to improve his view and make everything prettier.

Grimm, Season 3, Episode 8: The 12 Days of Krampus

“Oh Christmas Tree,
Oh Christmas Tree,
How Steadfast are your branches…”

‘Tis the holiday season and it’s time for festive Grimm! Starting with some naughty teenaged boys stealing Christmas presents from a car and a very very angry Father Christmas (with horns and a long tongue) catching up with them, viciously wielding a switch and stuffing one of them into his sack, while the other cowers under a car, managing to escape more than claw marks to his face.

He leaves behind a lump of coal

Ho Ho Ho

Nick and Hank are called to the scene of the crime, assuming that two people fought over what they stole; they find a jacket with “QB” written in it, the coal, a blood stained switch and, they assume, the body of a teenaged boy. But when Wu climbs into the car to check, he wakes up – he’s not dead.

They get him to the hospital and find his father, who has pretty much written his son, Derek off, it seems. The jacket belongs to his friend Quinn though. They interview Derek who tells them Quinn was kidnapped but he’s panicky and scared – and has a full blown panic attack when he sees a mn in a Father Christmas suit.

Hank and Nick get the full name of Quinn Baxter, the missing boy and across town at a market another teenaged boy steals some Christmas presents and runs away – only to be caught by an angry horned Father Christmas with a switch. A passer-by witnesses him putting the boy in his sack and walking away with him. Again, he leaves coal behind.

Hank and Nick go to Quinn’s address and find Bud there – he knows Quinn’s father and they confirm that Quinn is missing – before they’re called to the next crime scene. Another witness description, another missing boy – which means questioning people dressed as Father Christmas, yeah there’s a lot of them. They find one with a record who is a Wesen and it escalates terribly – end result; Hank and Nick on the news arresting Father Christmas in front of a lot of kids. HO HO HO!

Bud sees this on TV and checks to see if Nick has found Quinn – Nick has to hurry but tells Bud all they found were lumps of coal – which causes Bud to have a minor freak out, as is his wont. Speaking of the coal, Wu (after snark about arresting Father Christmas) tells Nick that the coal is from the northern most tip of the arctic.

Nick and Hank check with Monroe about a Wesen he mentioned in the past associated with Christmas, but Monroe denies it can be them because they’re generally benevolent. But he does recognise what they’re talking about – Krampus, who punishes naughty children by beating them with a switch, kidnapping them, hanging them from a tall tree and then eating them on the night of the solstice (cut to Krampus loading up a teenager into a basket to hang from his tree). That solstice would be that night – and they’re in Portland so finding a tall tree in the highest spot is just… not easy. They argue about which park or forest is appropriate when Bud arrives and instantly says one location. They decide to trust the beaver man to know his trees and head out (including a very very nervous Bud).

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Haunted (Anna Strong Chronicles #8) by Jeanne C. Stein

Anna is drawn to Beso de la Muerte when an old acquaintance of Culebra's suddenly appears to cash in on a blood debt.  Anna, Culebra and Max the DEA agent, soon find themselves in Mexico trying to thwart a drug king pin and in the process, exact revenge for the murder of Culebra's family.  Anna has wondered for a very long time about Culebra's background because his mind has never been fully open to her and now she is going to realise that sometimes one should be careful what they wish for.

For the first time in this series, Culebra becomes someone more than a servant (a role which always irritated me) at Anna's beck and call.  We learn that Culebra is an outcast amongst his family because he is he first one in generations to touched by the curse (shapeshifting), as a result, they don't invest in him and he becomes a poor youth with very little options.  When he is approached by the cartel, for the first time he has hope of becoming more than what he is. What he does not know, is that this choice will alter the path of his life forever.  I found this part of the story extremely compelling and found myself sympathizing with Culebra and irritated with the overly privileged Anna, who decided to sit in judgement of him. This is not to say that becoming an assassin is a good moral choice, just that it irritated me that Anna couldn't see past her own privilege empathize with his story.

As you might well have guessed, much of this book involves the ongoing criminal activity of the Mexican drug lords.  Stein took great care to point out how innocent women and children quickly become their victims through no fault of their own.  She writes about the silence of communities who regularly hand over their daughters and the pain which results.  Though this is clearly a work of fiction, it is a story that needs to be told.  I liked that even in their powerless state, Stein still found a way to make these young women strong, brave and hopeful.  That was an extremely tall order given the tenor of the story. Yes, Anna did in the end rescue them but they were active participants in their own emancipation. 

Almost Human, Season 1, Episode 6: Arrythmia

In a very busy and overwhelmed hospital, complete with holographic, malfunctioning doctors, a man pulls a gun and holds one of the staff hostage. He burst into the back room and demands a surgeon – he says he’s going to have a heart attack. He reads from a list the exact machine he needs. The doctor tries to calm him down – and the man has a heart attack and collapses. The doctor rushes to him and the man gasps an apology and that “they killed me.” And he dies.

Over to John and Dorian in the car – which means lots and lots of Dorian tormenting John because it always does. John complains that Dorian needs to break the rules occasionally (what?! NO! No this murderer should not tell Dorian who is already happy with torture to break the rules more! NO NO NO! More rules please! More!)

They head to the hospital, responding to the call, and find another DRN android repairing the broken machine – he looks exactly like Dorian. John thinks it must be weird to see a copy of yourself but Dorian finds it weird to see a DRN on repair duty – DRNs were made to be police.

On to the body of Leonard Lee who had terminal heart failure – 3 years ago. Yes, it should have killed him 3 years ago and yes he was still walking around. He apparently had a biomech heart – expensive and nifty (not as good as a stem-cell regrow which is implied is more expensive), but he’s not on any transplant list (would you really need a transplant list if you weren’t transplanting actual human organs?). They show them a record of how the dead man acted and Dorian translates what he says in Cantonese “it’s almost 9:18” – his time of death.

As they leave, Dorian brings DRN 494 with him… much to John’s bemusement – he insists that Dorian take him back since he’s hospital property though 494 says his shift is over. John objects to 494 calling him “man” which shows that he may see Dorian as human, but his general attitudes towards androids haven’t changed (Actually this episode was filmed before earlier ones for reasons unknown which may be why his attitudes have changed). John refuses to drive with 494 in it, so Dorian starts remotely moving the car forwards while John splutters. Yes he’s breaking some rules.

Dorian gets his way and pokes John with extra taunting because you have to and 494 keeps up the annoying noises that John stopped Dorian making. John stops the care and demands he gets out – and he does, running to tackle and arrest someone much to their shock. This causes a car to roll into a fire hydrant, the hydrant to fly off and hit a hover drone which then crashes into a police android. Oops.

The man 494 has tackled? Was wanted for armed robbery – years ago. But he’s been released since then. Dorian gave 494 his case files back that are badly in need of updating. Oopsie again.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Wolf Gift (The Wolf Gift Chronicles #1) by Anne Rice

Reuben didn't know that when he went to see the house on the cliff  to write a story for the paper that it would be a definitive moment in his life.  At 23, he was still a young story teller but innocent to many things.  In a matter of hours that would all change in a vicious attack by a beast. With his life in the balance, Reuben was transported to the hospital, only to discover that he was changing.  This metamorphosis led to things like increased strength and vigor, as well as an acute sense of hearing.  Before he knew it, the change was upon him and Reuben found that he was no longer simply a human male but a wolf creature whose nature was to hunt the evil dooer.  In a previous time when man had not advanced far scientifically, this might not have been so bad but in the age of secret government labs, and DNA testing, his new talents could potentially be more danger than gift.

I have read just about everything that Anne Rice has ever written and I went into this novel with a great deal of excitement, only to find myself struggling to finish by the time I reached 1/3 of the way through.  The Wolf Gift is absolutely ponderous and filled with ridiculous purple prose.  Throughout the novel, Rice continually uses three or even four words when one will suffice.   It further didn't help that The Wolf Gift was filled with info dumps and I must say that this completely surprised me.  Rice has always been a master of showing rather than telling. We didn't need continual descriptions of the house or what people were wearing and at times I resorted to skimming for the sake of my sanity.

Much of the novel felt like a cheap philosophy class. There have to be better ways to explore the nature of good and evil than this trite book.  At times I felt like she was testifying, despite the fact that many of her characters were atheists.  Evil, despite what Rice believes, is not always about perspective.  If someone is harming or abusing a child for instance, they are simply an evil fucker. There is no grey and there is no nuance; some things are simply irredeemable.

Lost Girl, Season Four, Episode Six: Of All the Gin Joints

This episode opens at a opera with only one attendee.  When her performance is finished, the diva is almost stopped from escape by a whistle but manages to get away.  Kenzi and Bo are at the Dahl and Kenzi reads a letter from Tamsin about the fact that she has struck out on her own.  Bo wonders if Tamsin can know herself because she has no memory.  The opera diva rushes into the Dahl and almost collapses.  When she sees Bo, the diva starts to speak excitedly about finding Bo and Kenzi translates because the diva is speaking in Russian.  Bo says that she has never seen the singer in her life and the singer protests that she was told to come to the Dahl by Bo.

The diva is now asleep with Trick looking over her.  When Bo enters the cellar to see how she is doing, Trick says that Ianka needs to rest. Bo says that she needs to speak to Ianka because apparently, Ianka said that Bo instructed her to come there.  Trick gets insistent because Ianka is some kind of bird fae and running in the cold might have strained her very delicate vocal chords.  Bo surmises that singing is how Ianka feeds.  Trick reveals that Ianka's song can even take life and evoke powerful memories.  Bo leaves asking to be informed when Ianka wakes up.

Lauren is getting her party on when she interrupted by The Morrigan.  It seems that The Morrigan is there to help her move and has brought beer and pizza.  The Morrigan asks to be called Ebony since they are going to be working together. Lauren has a bit of geek moment over her Star Trek collectibles and The Morrigan declares that she arrived in time.  The Morrigan then presents Lauren with several books.

Dyson is back at the Dahl after a ten day stretch. He reports that Lauren has gone with the Dark and Bo reveals that she is also Dark fae.  Bo says that her hand was forced by The Wanderer and Dyson promises to fix this.  The two exchange a kiss and Dyson says that it is forbidden for them to be together.  Bo grabs Dyson and takes him to the back and the two begin to engage in sex when Trick interrupts them.  Trick says that Light and Dark cannot fraternize and warns that the Onamenz are everywhere.  When Bo suggests Trick turn a blind eye, Trick makes it clear that they are to get their brains out of each others pants and get out of his bar.  Trick then reveals that Ianka is awake and asks Bo not to aggravate her.

Bo heads to see Ianka and Ianka embraces her as a hero.  Bo questions what she is talking about and Ianka reveals that Bo visited after she sang for her.  Ianka is a bit blank on the details of where they met but is sure that Bo encouraged her.  Ianka begins to sing and tells Bo to listen.  Bo flashes to herself running through a field and then she is back on the train.  Ianka asks if it was a good memory and Bo calls it a vague memory, then asks her to sing more. Ianka refuses and says that Bo promised to get her what she wants most in the world - freedom.  Bo demands that Ianka not hold her memories hostage and Ianka says that she only has the key.  When Bo asks for the key, Ianka claims that Bo is just like the others.  Ianka reveals that she is starving and cannot feed and needs to sing for an audience.  Ianka then reveals that Bo said she would not remember and asks her to look in the handle of her knife.  Bo pulls out a message which says, "Ianka you will sing for me and I will bring you freedom." Bo recognizes the hand writing as her own.

Suddenly, a man starts screaming for Ianka. Bo goes upstairs and says that Ianka is not a thing. Dambers replies that Ianka has been in his family for centuries.  Bo asks for Ianka to be let go but Dambers demands that Ianka be brought to him.  Bo tries to lie and say that Ianka is gone but Dambers has a GPS in the necklace around Ianka's throat.  Bo says that Ianka wants to sing her famous aria but Dambers counters that it is wasted on the masses.  Bo counters saying that when the public finds out that Dambers said no, they will see who he really is.  Dambers than starts making demands for a performance of Ianka.

Witches of East End, Season 1, Episode 10: Oh What a World.

We pick up, alas, where we left off – with Killian professing his love for Freya. She kicks him out, repeating that she has made her choice.

Wendy, in cat form, goes into the mansion to check the wall of silver poison goo. She returns to Joanna and Victor to report that there’s now Argentium leaking through the portal and they all conclude someone is definitely trying to open it. Or trying to get a poison that would actually kill the immortal Joanna. Victor suspects the Gardiners but Joanna and Wendy have tested Penelope and Dash and they’ve come up mortal – and Victor is staying around to help.

And Mike still wants Ingrid to open the door to Asgard since she’s the key. She says no and no and no and no and he finally appeals to her desire to know where she came from.

Cut to Penelope to remind us all that she’s evil (the show does worry so about us forgetting) creating a potion full of crows.

It’s the wedding day, and everyone wakes up with different levels of angst and hope (Victor and Joanna in the same bed). Joanna accidentally rips Freya’s veil (bad omen! Declared by Freya and Wendy). And it’s raining (bad omen! Declared by Wendy). And dead crows (that’s definitely a bad omen). Wendy considers calling the whole thing off but Joanna won’t hear of it – in all their lives, Freya has never lived long enough to get married, she’s not going to rob her of it now. They just need to use good magic whenever there’s a bad omen.

Ingrid magically breaks into Mike’s hotel room and takes some of his notes – and finds he has a whole wall of creepy notes, maps, diagrams et al. And Mike catches her, wanting his map back and for her to open the portal. He’s not afraid of her because she’s too sweet and lunges at her – she uses magic to force him down on his knees, rejecting the whole “sweet” label (you should have let him bleed to death, Ingrid).

Freya asks her dad to walk her down the aisle and she talks about the tarot her mother dealt with the good boyfriend/bad boyfriend choice – again putting Killian as bad, even though Victor thinks she’s made a big assumption. They’re joined by Ingrid who isn’t impressed by the idea of Victor being in the wedding. But she doesn’t question Freya’s right to make the choice and they have a whole sister moment

Wendy and Joanna both use magic to counter the omens and Freya asks Joanna what she thinks of asking Victor to be in the wedding and Joanna wants it all to be Freya’s choice – she can make her own decisions. Killian has left a present for Freya, it’s a music box that plays the special music he wrote and they both dreamed about – which sends Freya off all depressed. Then she goes off to see Dash (he tricked her into seeing him before the wedding with a false text – and I thought it was seeing her in the dress?) so he can give her a stunning piece of jewellery (which is both new and blue).

Once Upon a Time, Season 3, Episode 11: Going Home

Panry and Felix go to the well which is like a nexus of magical shenanigans in Storybrooke, preparing to cast the curse which will turn everyone into memory-less slaves of the new Neverland Panry wants to make.

The good guy cast gathers to consult on the terrible Curse and Rumple reveals you can stop the curse using the scroll it’s written on – but only by the person who has used the scroll – that would be Regina. They need to destroy the scroll, ending both curses (but there’s a big, ominous cost to that). Rumple thinks the best way to do that is to simple reswap the bodies then Panry will become Henry and he can just bring them the scroll. But, as Regina points out, that spell is beyond even Rumple – so he needs a magical boost of the Black Fairy’s wand. Super-evil fairy was banished by Blue Fairy who also stole her wand. Blue Fairy was a kill joy.

Meanwhile at the well, it’s time for the most important ingredient to really make that curse zing – the heart of the thing Panry loves most. And no, that’s not Rumple. That would be Felix, his bestest friend.

Let’s have a Flashback! To pregnant Snow White who is all kinds of worried that their big plan relies on a magic wardrobe and a new born breaking the curse. The Blue Fairy reassures her with good-guy logic: that means no actual plan or concrete thought but lots of “hope” and “faith” and good wishes.

Which leads to the present, Mary Margaret’s dubious choice of cut-glass ornaments for a toddler and angst about giving Emma up. Emma then shares her angst about giving Henry up. Everyone angsts together (I think this is clumsily setting up some kind of moral for this story – probably something very irritating like “have faith everything will turn out ok in the end, even if you have brains of tapioca”.).

Tink and Neal go to the nunnery where several nuns are gathered around the dead Blue Fairy/Mother Superior. They’re not thrilled at the idea of giving Tink the Black Fairy wand but Tink rather sarcastically passes over their worries; alas, Pan’s shadow swoops in.

Time for a random flashback: Hook and Smee in Neverland being ambushed by Tink so Hook and she can have some pretty intense chemistry in which Hook says he will only risk his life for love or revenge

Which means we return to the church in the present and Hook risking his life adding a third one to that list: “me”. Which makes zero sense, but hey. The shadow kind of flies back and forth not doing a whole lot so everyone can have a conversation and plan their next move and they resort to Tink using pixie dust so she can use the coconut candle to catch the shadow – of course that means Tink gaining belief in herself again, which she manages to do quite easily (emotional crisis of self-worth? Totes over that!) She flies up and the shadow is trapped, she burns it in a brazier hopefully killing it.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Fangs for the Fantasy Podcast: Autumn 2013, Episode 11

It's time for another episode of our podcast, back again for the Autumn where we discuss our book of the week and some of the shows we've been following all through our social justice analysis.

You can join us here and you can listen live on our youtube channel, here, or in our sidebar. All will also carry a recording after the show is finished. As ever all our previous podcasts can be found in the archive

The podcast begins at 7:00pm EST

9th December - 16th December: Blood Wager by Connie Stuttle
16th December - 22nd December: Goblin Quest by Jim C Hines
22nd December - 6th January: Tempest Unleashed by Tracy Deebs
6th January - 13th January: Fury of the Demon by Diana Rowland
13th January - 20th January: Bloodlines by Eileen Wilks