Saturday, July 6, 2013

Almighty Johnsons Season 3, Episode 1: An Orchard of Trees

It’s back! Almighty Johnsons is back! After we thought it was cancelled, it returned to us, precious! It returned!

Now, fix Gaia. Now now, now, now.

And Anders no longer has the horrible beardy thing! Things are looking up! He returns to a perfect fairtytale home where his pregnant wife, Gaia, awaits him – so happy and joyful and sweet. Apparently 5 years have passed – and Axl is very very pissed about Gaia and Anders – and is embedded in a tree.

Thankfully it’s not real, it’s Axl’s twisted imagination. Less thankfully, he snaps out of this because Gaia screams his name while he’s driving a car at speed on the wrong side of the road with another car coming in the opposite direction. After some very exciting spinning out of control, they come to a stop – alive and in one piece. But Axl just can’t live in a world with Gaia and Anders together. Gaia, always the sensible one, points out Anders is nowhere to be seen, she’s in Axl’s car, going to the house where they live together and she intends to spend the night in Axl’s bed. Gaia, awesome as always. Axl and Gaia kiss passionately. They continue to kiss all the way back home. They don’t stop kissing as he struggles to open the door, they don’t stop kissing as the go into his room at which point I think they do stop kissing by the moans, cries and panting that follows. It kind of ruins Zeb’s Frigg re-birth party.

Anders is at his own flat (with an odd hallucination of Gaia in his bathroom mirror) and does a really good job of being silently torn up about Helen’s (Idun) murder – her blood still staining his kitchen floor.

Ingrid (Snotra) gets thoroughly drunk and has to explain the whole hot mess to Ty. Mike (Ullr) complains bitterly about digging Helen’s makeshift grave, complaining that Anders should do it and being really dismissive of Ander’s grief. Olaf (Baldr) sort of helps but I think even he’s not impressed by Mike’s whining. Michele (Sjofn) and Stacy (Fulla) clear out Natalie’s (the murdering religious fanatic) room and Michele weighs up whether Gaia, as Idun, will be easier to deal with.

Returning to Anders, Mike chews him out for not cleaning up the blood in his kitchen (and Anders tries to invoke Mike’s Ullr abilities by suggesting burying a body is a “hiding game”. Nice try). Mike and Olaf also warn Anders off Gaia. Agreed there, but I still think people might find more sympathy for Anders. Even if he doesn’t actually encourage it.

Exhausted, Mike goes home to Michele and adds dodgy plumbing to his list of things to do. He wants to know why Colin (Loki) called Michele the most powerful goddess (she can make anyone infatuated with anyone else – sounds pretty powerful to me) but Michele pleads ignorance (possibly honestly). She wants to know if Mike still plans to kill Colin but given Colin’s ability to make nasty murdering god hunters explode, Mike’s backing up on that one.

Anders goes to work (in Jon Hamm trousers that, of course, I didn’t notice) and tells a very very scathing Dawn that Helen and Natalie are out of the picture – including the business they were supposed to be bringing (and also denying he ever had a beard – yes, let us pretend it never happened). Anders uses his Bragi powers to mojo Dawn – and, because it’s Almighty Johnsons, throw in a suggestion that Natalie and Helen have run off to have a lesbian affair. And has another Gaia hallucination.

Ty drops in to see Anders and asks Dawn out (who doesn’t remember him) – and I find myself agreeing with Anders again, too soon Ty! You’re being creepy. Just to remind us that Ty is the sweet one, Anders asks him lots of personal information about Helen to see if anyone’s going to come looking for her (no). Ty found all this out on one date while Anders, despite being with her for weeks, didn’t know any of it – they just had sex constantly. Anders continually ducks any questions about his feelings.

Back at Gaia and Axl’s, an apple tree has sprouted out of the sofa. Which rather freaks Zeb out since the landlord is coming to visit tomorrow. The perils of the new Idun. Time to call in Olaf and Ingrid to see what the holy apple tree means (they eat the apples, because they’re awesomely delicious. Apples all round (except Gaia who thinks it’s vaguely creepy) and I’m with Axl, it’s probably a bad idea of Zeb to eat them. Unfortunately, Anders isn’t the only one with hallucinations and Gaia sees Anders – she reacts with sexually suggestive finger sucking with Axl.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Doors by Daniel Brako

One fateful day, David Druas, a very successful psychologist is interrupted by a patient in the middle of a session. Hans Werner believes that after using an ancient invocation that he is seeing doors which lead to alternate dimensions. Being a the logical man that David is, he tries to reason with Werner and when that does not work, he decides to say the invocation out loud. At first Druas sees nothing, leading him believe that Werner has indeed had some sort of break. Unfortunately for David, shortly after Werner leaves his office in disappointment, he sees his first door. Now believing that he and Werner are sharing a psychosis, David is desperate for answers. Each world he enters using the doors has something wondrous and new but when David becomes aware that someone is watching him, these spaces no longer feel benign. When Werner turns up dead, David becomes the prime suspect, causing him to use the door to escape; however, the problem is that the place he is using to hide from the cops may itself be worse than the prison cell he seeks to avoid.

Coming in at 162 pages, Doors is a comfortable afternoon read. Though in places the writing leaves something to be desired, it quite reminded me of the Adjustment Bureau. The concept of Doors was really quite fascinating but the novel fell prey to its own brevity in many ways. We didn't really get to know a lot about the characters, or what motivated them to invest in David and this left the story feeling unrelateable. We were only given brief glimpses of the worlds behind the door and even less of the doorkeeper society. In many ways, it felt like Doors was incomplete and could have used another hundred pages.

Often when I write reviews about books in the fantasy genre, I complain that the books in question erase GLBT characters. In the case of Doors, the opposite is true, I wish that Brako had actually erased GLBT characters. Much of this story was about David's interaction with Avan. Avan is an Indian man, who is desperately in love with David and when a very heterosexual David spurns all of his advances and refuses to love him back, Avan in a fit of drama jumps off a roof top in front of David. I have read the tropes involving the predatory gay man, but Avan took it to a new level. He could not have been more predatory had he been a lion let loose in a nursery school. When David rejects him he whines that it's because he doesn't have a "cunt."

Dead Like Me, Season 1, Episode 7: Reaper Madness

George – as Millie – is at work, musing sarcastically about brain cells and not doing a whole lot of anything when Delores drops in with a super new job for her! Fiona is a new employee and Millie/George gets to mentor her! (Which, as George notes, is like a promotion but without the pay raise). Still George takes to it well, despite Fiona’s eccentricity, telling her the various pointlessnesses of the job (filing paper no-one cares about into boxes no-one even bothers to label)  of the job and for a brief, horrible moment it looks like George may become responsible and Delores mark 2! Until she tells Fiona where the good pens to steal are.

Her snark reflects on how she did very little for the first 18 years of her life and her regrets  - not big hopes and dreams regrets, but little regrets: like Reggie and her toilet-seat tree who she barely even noticed when she was alive.

Which brings us to George’s reap – apparently a schizophrenic, Ronnie Dobbs, and right next to Mason’s reap – and she’s stopped just in time by a call from Rube calling her to the Waffle house; there’s been a clerical error and Ronnie’s not meant to die – not yet anyway. Oops. Daisy continues to be a headache to everyone (now freaking out about cottage cheese. We also get another order of “look we should hate her” slut-shaming). And George is slightly uncomfortable about Ronnie because she’s sure he was looking at her significantly

Cut to Ronnie in his psychiatrist’s office, scolding him for going off his meds  - and Ronnie can clearly see the graveling that causes the death of Mason’s reap, a window-washer. He goes downstairs where Mason plans to get high with the ghost (of course) and he, again, sees the gravelings, notices Mason – and focuses on George.

At work, George finds Millie has utterly failed to do the job she gave her, because George had inspired her not to care by describing how pointless it was. George is strangely proud of this – she had inspired someone! She was a role-model! This flashes some more memories of George’s – including regrets; her mother, Joy, didn’t give her money or treats when she lost her teeth as a child, she gave her little notes with inspiring messages like “you are loved.” Awww, of course being a child means she screwed it up and threw it away because it wasn’t money and Joy found it in the bin. Awwwww, now I definitely feel sorry for Joy. I’m not quite sure how inspiring the slack-assness of Fiona prompted the memory, but I’m willing to leap along. So began George’s disillusionment when Joy didn’t try next tooth – and so did George imagine the same for Reggie, and so George left her a gift basket tied to her toilet seat tree.

George goes on to her next reap in the park – and sits on the same bench as Ronnie. Who tries (awkwardly) to flirt with her – and she tries to responds (equally awfully) confirming that “undead” doesn’t mean “dead”. In between the flirting – Ronnie predicts a death, seeing the Gravelings (he predicts the wrong death, but still).

George reports this to Rube who just puts it down to him seeing George too many times; calls her sloppy and tells her to live on the fringe more. Which, as George snarks, is ironic because she spent her whole life living on the fringe.

Back at the Lass household, Reggie opens the box with lots of clippings from George of fun, inspiring activities to try including horse riding. While Joy and Clancy argue about what to do with Reggie, Joy is flailing around and suggests moving her to a private school. Joy’s frustrated by Clancy’s unwillingness to make a decision or confront the issue that Reggie may be different and may not get the best education suited to her individuality in a large public school. And Reggie comes in and says she wants to ride a horse.

The Gay Comic Relief

I am considering a new career as a comedian.

Of course, it’s a highly stressful career involving a lot of work and preparation, razor wit and perfect timing. I have to constantly come up with new material, work meticulously for hours on my pacing; be ready for witty improvisations. It’s a lot of work

Or I can just stand up in front of an audience and say “Look! GAY!” That’s funny right?

See, I’ve never particularly got the joke. I’ve never quite understood why a man who finds another man sexually and romantically attractive is more hilarious than Antonin Scalia’s legal arguments. But apparently I’m in a distinct minority and so many people find the mere presence of gay men to be so damn hilarious that I’m sure an illustrious career in comedy awaits me. Deck me in a rainbow and get me on the stage, I’ll make a fortune.

The ridiculous notion of me on stage aside, it remains that gay man as comic relief is a pervasive trope in both media in general as well as the genre; you need some light comic relief? Get a gay man on that screen!

Sometimes it’s the sassy gay friend with lots of quips and outrageous lines. Make them funny, make them witty, push the mannerisms to the hilt, max out the cattiness, go on, drop the odd “fabulous in there” and work it honey, because you’ve got a recipe for a laughter riot. Bonus if you can make them sexually obsessed - get them flirting, get them dropping innuendo every other work, get them checking out every man within a 10 mile radius (but never actually getting any on camera, c’mon you want the straight folk to be amused by their display, not assaulting their poor straight eyes).

True Blood’s Lafayette is the absolute master of the gay comic relief. he comes on screen and we all lean forward waiting for some gem of a line, preferably coupled with outrageous clothes, a finger snap, a head twirl and a “girl/boyfriend.” A sex worker who we never see have sex in a show that’s hardly prudish about sexual depictions, a man who really works those stereotypes; Lafayette is truly the master of this role, the lord of sassy, working those stereotypes to the hilt while being a good GBF to his straight friends

That’s a high standard of gay comic relief right there, but he can’t rest on his laurels and be safe on that pinnacle. Orphan Black’s Felix is a grade A GBF, ticking so many of the boxes (and drawing laughs with his awful thong). His life revolves around his straight compatriots, nearly everything he does is to lampoon or draw attention to him being gay (pretty much the sum total of the character). He’s a sex worker (again), but we never actually see him have sex (of course) and, yes, it’s on a show that is certainly not prudish about sexual depictions. He works the stereotypes to the hilt and has a steady patter of comments for our amusement (in between looking for his gay clothes, being a gay friend and being a gay barman. Yes, really, his sexuality was referred to in relation to all these things as some kind of novelty). In fact, he and Lafayette have such similar schtick that they both have hilarious scenes where they have small children dress up outrageously. Well, when you’re working with a limited set of stereotypes it’s hard to be original.

Alas, lagging behind is Aaron in Switch. Not getting enough screen time to be a true GBF, his every comment revolved around sex and how hot he found men and as a foil in the service of Jude. Of course, he never got any, despite being his overwhelming sex obsession allowing him to be a constant source of amusement - Switch is considerably less explicit than True Blood and Orphan Black but it certainly had no trouble with the characters having sex; but not Aaron.

But Aaron is a different form of comic relief - at least Lafayette and Felix get to be active sassy toys, jesters who work to amuse us with their stereotypes and sharp tongues. Aaron isn’t a jester, he’s a clown; he doesn’t work to amuse us, we’re expected to laugh at him and his pretty pathetic behaviour, he is a figure of mockery which is another major source of gay comic relief on our shows

On True Blood we have Talbot, oh boy do we. The 700 year old vampire who squeals at violence. The 700 year old vampire who whimpers about the interior decor. The 700 year old vampire who stomps his feet and has massive, histrionic temper tantrums. This man was the very epitome of pathetic comic relief, begging us to look at him with scorn and derision. At least he got some, which is more than most the comic relief did... well, he almost got some. Then he died (therefore protecting straight folk from the terrible sight with some reassuring gaydeath). But don’t worry, Steve Newlin has come out of the closet and stepping into Talbot’s shoes, the next gay clown is up and ready for mocking.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Gunmetal Magic (Kate Daniels #5.5/Kate Daniels World 1) by Ilona Andrews

Andrea’s life recently went through an upheaval; kicked out of the Order of Merciful Aid for being a Bouda, a werehyena, she’s trying to get her life back on track working with Kate in their private detective business – cleaning up the magical messes for people who can’t afford to pay the rates the Mercenary Guild charges, nor wish the Order’s unsubtle approach.

But being known as a Bouda means she now has to find her own place within the werehyenas of the pack – being an outsider is not an option. But she has terrible memories of her childhood among another Bouda pack and feels little loyalty or connection to those who would be her people.

Then there’s Raphael. They broke up when she disappeared to try and hold her place in the Order. And he’s bitter and angry and getting revenge. And she’s bitter and angry and willing to dish back. And they’re both still madly in lust with each other – it’s ugly, very very ugly. Especially when the carpet is deployed. Normal people would avoid each other – but as part of her duty to the pack she has to solve a murder of several pack members working for… Raphael.

That murder leads onto a trail of something far worse – something that goes back to Ancient Egypt and could end up destroying the entire city

This is an odd book in that it runs parallel to Magic Gift. The events in both books pretty much happen side by side which is something I haven’t seen often before, especially since they cover pretty much separate events.

There are several things I love about this. Firstly, I love that it shows that the side characters do have a life of their own. Andrea, Dr. Doolittle, Ascanio et al are not just waiting in a plot box, twiddling their thumbs until Kate and Curran need them. They have their own lives, their own activities; things are happening that are important that do not centre around the protagonists. The protagonists are not the only actors in this world and not the people around which everything else simply must orbit.

Another element I loved was that the plot was epic. While Kate and Curran are off doing something relatively small (important certainly, but not world shattering), Andrea is facing off against forces that could devastate Atlanta and more. There’s no assumption that they must get Kate and Curran and when they do get involved it’s just one step along the line, Andrea remains the main actor; she’s still the protagonist. I like that someone else can save the day, the world, other than Kate Daniels, it allows Andrea et al to be truly full characters on par with Kate herself.

Besides the epic, it has the same style, the same perfectly balanced pacing, the same excellent level of description, musing and emotional growth, all with enough to give us full impact and experience without descending (at least not too often) into overdramatic monologues. The dialogue is real, the characters are real, the banter is amusing and it all just comes together extremely well.

This book also has some excellent recapping. Normally I hate recapping with the fiery passion of a thousand suns – it inevitably causes info dumps and the story to be derailed while the author tries to retell the story they’ve already told in a few paragraphs. It doesn’t work. In this it did, part of it is because the world here is so complex that a revisiting of it really worked well – even more so than in Magic Gift. It truly solidified what happened to the city and the world when the magic hit – and further expanded on that by touching on what happened way back in the veils of history before the technology hit – back when magic ruled and gods and monsters roamed the night. The explanation of deity advances the world extremely well in addition to providing plot hooks not just for Andrea’s story, but also information that gives some very juicy possibilities with Kate and Currans.

I just love this world – it’s innovative, original, full of everything you can imagine and far far more. And the author has clearly got a really solid grounding in world mythology and/or spends their lives chained to research books because there’s so much excellent information there. The work that has gone into this series is truly incredible and the realness and fullness of it really shows. Because it’s not just the big things that have been developed – every shapeshifter group has developed its own culture. We have things like the Library of Alexandria trying to replace the lost knowledge with the tech fading. Even side characters, like Roman the dark and evil magician priest who does as his told because his parents nag him (he can recite his mother’s story of the 40 hours she spent in labour with him). The full implications of this radically different world have been considered so it all works well together

Under the Dome, Season 1, Episode 2: The Fire

Get your flowcharts ready folks, it’s time for the next episode of Under the Dome and it’s 8 squillion characters

My gods the mere fact you have to have a “previously on Under the Dome” before the second episode tells you you have too much going on in the pilot!

Time to begin with a flashback to before the Dome went up – with Barbie beating Julie’s husband, the doctor. The doctor’s supposed to have something for Barbie’s boss – and he doesn’t. Barbie’s boss will be unhappy about this; this makes Barbie very unhappy indeed – and pretty violent. The doc thinks he has a different payment plan and draws a gun; but is foolish enough to let Barbie get close enough to knock it out of his hands. They fight again and Barbie loses his dogtags then draws his gun which then goes off. The doc is dead (is a “physician heal thyself” joke appropriate here?)

And I keep trying to not picture the Mattel doll beating a guy up. It’s a compelling mental image. I also think Barbie’s gun is supposed to be shown as going off “accidentally” so Barbie can later claim he isn’t a murderer – yeah you attack a guy, disarm him THEN pull a gun on him? Accident is a stretch

Barbie wakes up, apparently dreaming about the murder; probably because he’s sleeping in Julie’s house and pictures of the man he killed are staring at him. He and Julie discuss the dome and her being so happy he’s not all alone at the moment – and he discovers his dogtags are missing.

Julie tries to attract attention at the Dome, but the military people on the outside have clearly been told to ignore those trapped within; she blames them for the Dome, misplaced anger as much as anything else and decides to go to the radio station since if anyone’s getting in touch with the outside it’s them.

From there to Linda holding Duke’s body (they’re the police officers) – the other police assume he’s been shot, but his pacemaker exploded after getting too close to the Dome. Linda tells the other cops to make sure no-one goes near the Dome since it may be blowing up anything with batteries and she throws aside questions over who’s in charge – job first, hierarchy later.

To Joe (that’s the kid who was nearly squished by plane hitting the Dome) has recovered from his seizure and he and adopted sidekick Ben are going to map the Dome. Barbie joins him as he uses maths (I’m not even going to try to understand) to measure the extent and exactly position of the Dome. Joe is definitely hero-worshipping Barbie. As Joe and Ben continue around the Dome they find some military scientists spraying it with water to see if it comes through – it sprays against the Dome as if it were a sheet of glass. But Joe touches the Dome and his hand gets wet – only a little but some water comes through. I guess that means they won’t run out of air.

At the radio station Dodee tries to get a hold of the military signal from outside; while she and Phil snark about engineers feeling superior to DJs. They confirm again that the military is calling it a Dome – not just a wall, so helicopters can’t fly in either. Phil returns to the radio to give people something to listen to, confirming that all signals from outside are blocked.

At Rose’s Diner, Councillor Jim is introduced to Carolyn and Alice (the couple from LA) who are staying in Rose’s spare room. Jim reassures them how wonderful Chester Mill is usually (whyyy do I not believe him?) – which is when Linda tells him Duke is dead.

To the morgue, where we’re introduced to a new character, Rev. Coggins (yay, because we need more!) who is a bit overwhelmed by the number of bodies, especially since the cemetery is outside the Dome. Linda tries to ask Jim about the ominous things Duke wanted to warn her about but he ducks out. When Linda leaves Jim slams the Reverend into a wall and accuses him of “using our stuff, you’re as high as a kite.” Oooh drug dealing clerics and town fathers? Apparently Duke went along with it for “the good of Chester Mill” (because, y’know, drug dealing does a town good! There’s many a time I’ve been driving through quiet country towns and thought “what this place really needs is a meth lab”.) but Jim and the Rev weren’t so high minded.

Linda goes to the police station and finds Jim “cleaning up his mess” as he said to Rev – but he quickly pulls out Duke’s will as an excuse for his presence. Duke left everything to Linda – who he saw as a daughter. That certainly distracts tearful Linda. Leaving crying Linda Jim sends Rev to Duke’s house – Linda’s new house – to find out where his records about the nefarious propane are.

The Walking Dead Volume 6: This Sorrowful Life

This volume Rick, Glenn and Michonne escape from the Governor’s clutches with the help of Dr. Stevens, Alice and Martinez who can no longer tolerate the Governor’s brutality. And Michonne, after her savage torture and rape, extracts her own revenge on the Governor that haunts her

Returning to the prison, they find it overrun by zombies and have to fight to reclaim and re-secure it. But the Governor is still out there and they know one day they will have to fight him.

The dominant theme for this volume is a very clear “what will you do to stay safe?” Coupled with “what do these choices do to you?” The most blatant example of this is, of course, the Governor. The brutality he has resorted to, his complete lack of any kind of limits to see Woodbury and his people thrive - whether that’s killing and torturing perceived threats - or running brutal arenas to keep the crowd amused and placated so boredom can’t turn into revolt. And, of course, we see what these brutal decisions have done to the Governor, turning him into a sadistic, raping monster. What he did to survive and what that did to his morality and limits are really clear.

But while he is the most obvious, the theme continues beyond the Governor with a populace who find their own excuses for tolerating the Governor’s abuses. Sometimes it’s fear of what he will do - or it’s the Doctor and Alice’s justification that the people of Woodbury need them. Or Martinez focusing on the innocent people of Woodbury need protecting. Or simply the residents looking the other way and not seeing how bad it is - like the woman in the arena crowd outraged that her “good clean fun” was so ruined by Michonne killing her opponent. Each of these has made their own decisions on how to stay safe - to stay safe they tolerate evil, justify evil or hide from evil done in their name. In turn it has had an effect on them of inuring them to that evil - the town of Woodbury continues to watch the arenas considering the brutal violence to be clean fun, the guards know what the Governor is doing and participate in his atrocities.

Of course, the main group is not immune either - with everyone tolerating Rick’s violence as necessity even when they condemn it. And as to cost - Michonne is a clear example in this book with her being shocked and worried by what she did to the Governor and questioning herself. And Rick has become so inured to loss and so willing to do what needs to be done that he no longer sees his fellows as people to preserve - he doesn’t feel sad about death or loss any more.

While these themes are both fascinating and incredibly powerful and really well done in this book, it also had some really glaring problems, again, with the marginalised characters

Especially, Michonne. Most particularly how the others treat her after she is freed from the Governor and after she got her revenge. They all know she was tortured, if not how, they can see the evidence on her face if nothing else. Yet Glenn is the only one who asks how she is - until they get back to the prison and Tyreese (it’s notable that only the 2 other POC express concern). Rick never asks how she is, being more concerned with what she has done to the Governor and whether she has dealt with that problem. This is only made more glaring when he does ask how Alice is after the death of the doctor. By all means, commiserate with Alice even with death being as commonplace as it is, but he has known Michonne far longer, owes her far and Michonne has suffered to an exponential degree more than Alice - but only Alice gets his sympathy? Michonne is the emotionless, tough weapon, especially compared to the delicate white woman

It’s also hard to see Tyreese express regret for how he messed things up with Carol without any real contact with Michonne. After what happened to her, it’s hard not to see him as discarding her as damaged goods.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

After Expenses (Slayer of Evil (Prices Negotiable)) by Andrew Moczulski

Eric Margrave is a Monster Hunter ($200 per hour for standard jobs, $250 for non-standard, $300 for Ichor-covered slimy tentacle beasts plus expenses. And he doesn’t do demons, dragons, liches, demon-dragons, no dragon-liches, no demon-dragon-liches and absolutely no sentient bread). He’s one of the best in the business. And he can go on a five hour tangent if someone mentions the word “gelatin.”

After picking up Lydia (a 19th century society lady), a Guardian spirit in a confusing haunting in one of his safe houses and new base of operations, Eric is ready to hit the road to help those in need (so long as they can pay. And if they can’t pay, he reminds you that the other victims of the monster probably left some stuff behind you can loot – hint hint), from angry ghosts, to furious nature spirits, werewolves, zombie armies, evil witches and annoying gremlins, Eric’s seen it all and is more than capable of bring it down. With Lydia to help and point out the many many many things he does wrong.

And he can look cool while doing it. Always essential.

This book is a series of short stories. And when I reached the end I was deeply disappointed that there wasn’t more. And this is from someone who doesn’t like short stories. I generally find they lack meta, they lack overarching epicness and they’re just not long enough to develop the characters and the themes and the story.

This collection worked because the themes and characters continue throughout all the short stories – and they’re really well maintained. You can tell that they were written at different times and their voices and personalities definitely develop from the first to the last as the author finds his writing style, but it is really well maintained and works to make the book feel like one, solid, continued work rather than a series of short stories.

It doesn’t have an epic overarching story – but it doesn’t need one. That’s not what this book is about. This is about the often dangerous, often exciting, usually weird and complicated life of a monster hunter. There are no epic overarching plots because usually hunting the monsters doesn’t involve that – he shows up, finds the gribbly thing, whatever it is, kills the gribbly thing, collects his fee and goes home. There’s no need to have a big overarching plot because that’s not what the monsters do. Most of them are happy to terrorise a local village without bringing an apocalypse to the whole world.

So what fills the gap, how does it still work? Firstly, the stories themselves are original and fun. The take on the ghosts (feeding on fear and getting more dangerous), various nature spirits, werewolves, demons et al is original and interesting with some immensely fun twists. Like werewolves not being considered a threat because EVERYONE knows how to kill a werewolf! Or Eric’s utter contempt for zombie apocalypses and how little chance they’d have to really take over the nation. Or his very original take on killing zombies. Each story is novel enough, different enough and twisty enough not to need an overarching plot to keep it interesting – they’re all interesting in their own right.

What also works are the characters. Eric and Lydia. Individually they’re excellent – Eric is one of the funniest, most ridiculous, zany, more than a little eccentric but still lethal monster hunters you could ever hope to read. He’s such immense fun, takes nothing seriously while, at the same time, never losing that sense of just how dangerous he is. In fact, his being so blasé is worked well into showing just how dangerous the man is – he’s seen most of it before, he’s confident in his ability to kill things, he can afford to have fun at it. He can afford to be a little silly. And… when it’s really necessary, all that fun and joy and silliness will just fall away and that lethal steel will peek out, reminding you that this man is, at the root, a contract killer with lethal skills. He doesn’t have to show them off, because he’s that good.

Lydia frequently asks him if he’s quite sane – and I think part of his portrayal is that Eric isn’t, not entirely. We’ve seen his childhood heavily hinted at in one of the short stories, we’ve had frequent references to his past experiences as a hunter, fighting for his life against everything he can including demons (which is why he won’t fight them any more) and his general lonely, unsupported existence all adds up to be a strong indication that he isn’t exactly neuro-typical any more. But all of this is shown rather than told, through both his erratic behaviour and showing the experiences that we would expect to lead Eric to this state. It doesn’t need long speeches of his pain, his terrible experiences or how it has damaged him – the end result is shown through

Does it work? Usually. Sometimes I think it falls flat. Eric goes from being hilariously eccentric to a desperate clown who is trying too hard. It gets too contrived, too convoluted, too childish to work and the suspension of disbelief shatters. It happens more towards the beginning of the book than the end and I suspect it is the author getting used to Eric’s voice and developing him as a character, but even in the last story there are moments when Eric just pushes a little too far to be believable. I think it’s an issue that is getting better and I hope in future books Eric will stay on this side of the believable.

Warehouse 13, Season 4. Episode 19: All the Time in the World.

Flashback to before the Claudia bronzing and Nick tries to convince Paracelsus – his uncle – that Claudia isn’t a threat and the warehouse in 2013 is very different from his day. He uses an Artefact to transfer white ghosty stuff from him to Paracelsus, bringing him up to date on the last few centuries.

This is all being seen by Myka and Pete using the recapper and Myka is frustrated because there’s no record as to why Paracelsus was bronzed in the first place. Myka also sees that a number of other Artefacts have been removed. Artie tries to fix the Bronzer to de-bronze Claudia and using the recapper shows Paracelsus hitting Nick – but they can’t read his lips still and the recapper is silent. Worse, the bronzer doesn’t work because the Artefact that makes it work – a bronze Mesopotamian Stele, is missing. A message appears from Paracelsus: Sutton knows what I want.

To the B&B where Charlotte has been chained up with an Artefact to prevent her leaving (and Abigail is unimpressed by her whining). Charlotte keeps protesting that leaving and bronzing Claudia wasn’t part of the plan and Myka mentions Nick may have been forced to – after all Paracelsus did hit him. That wasn’t part of Charlotte’s plan either. Artie is unimpressed with Charlotte’s complete underestimating of Paracelsus.

Charlotte explains their history – Paracelsus was Sutton’s brother. He pushed the boundaries of science and alchemy, often using Artefacts in his work; and drugging his dear brother so he could use Sutton, Charlotte and Nick as guinea pigs for his research. He combined the philosophers stone with another Artefact (a copper bowl with the Egyptian symbol for life on it) to make the family immortal. Artie is not impressed with this extremely dangerous combining of Artefacts to experiment with. After which Warehouse 9 agents bronzed Paracelsus. Charlotte describes, again, how lonely and terrible it is for Nick as a perpetual 15 year old. To reverse it they need the same Artefacts and Paracelsus himself (Charlotte expected him to be grateful and weak after being debronzed. You’d think an immortal would be a better judge of character) - but all Charlotte knows is that his old lab was buried under Constantinople somewhere – now Istanbul. But not where. Their only lead is finding Sutton.

While Artie searches, Pete asks Myka when she starts her cancer treatments; she ducks the question and basically says it’s her business how she handles her own body, not his. They’re interrupted by Artie having found Sutton – he is posing as a Russian businessman called Vladimir Kamanev and is, as is his wont, cosying up to a rich duchess in Luxembourg. Time for Myka, Pete and Charlotte (since she knows her husband and his tricks) to go find him.

Steve has some bad news for Artie though – Claudia’s starting to crumble. The bronzer machine stabilises the Stele and keeps the people bronzed alive. But Paracelsus used the Stele without the bronzer – she will crumble. Time for Steve and Artie to both fight to read the same computer on bronze – and Mrs. Frederick appears. She knows something’s up. Artie doesn’t even try to lie to her and shows her Claudia. She’s surprised to learn Warehouse 9 didn’t leave any records as to why they bronzed Paracelsus  - to the restricted files!

Which is the first time Artie learns there ARE restricted files. She cuts short his rant to go check them and walks away. Steve grabs Artie and points that out – Mrs. Frederick walked away, not disappeared, she walked. Something’s up!

She walks to Artie’s office where she gets to use some of her tricks to surprise even grumpy, jaded Artie with some endless wonder – revealing the hidden files (though she doesn’t let Artie in – restricted after all!)  But inside she finds that the files have been redacted by the regents of Warehouse 9. Poor Artie feels upset about being excluded from the restricted section – poor Artie, he looks all harrumphy. But Mrs. Frederick acts confused and repeats herself; something else is going on with her.

Defiance, Season 1, Episode 12: Past is Prologue

At the Need Want, the whole of Defiance seems to be gathered for mayor Nicky’s wake – Amanda speaking movingly about her. And Datak, showing zero class, turns it into another election pitch; he also gives a nod to the Earth Republic representatives.

After the speeches Amanda complains that a wake is no place for a political broadcast – and colonel Marsh from the Earth Republic offers her his endorsement; she says there’s always a price. He offers to protect them from “alien barbarians” but she thinks they’re pretty good with alien barbarians, thanks all the same.

Tommy and Irisa are being incredibly cute together before kissing and then having sex. And Yewll examines her shiny golden thingy (the Kelivar) and takes it to her lab. She puts it on an apparatus and turns on the machine shooting blue light at it and Irisa, with Tommy, sTarrts crying out and not in a good way. She gasps that she can’t feel her legs

At the clinic Irisa is walking around claiming she’s fine – Yewll says she has a psychosomatic reaction, everything’s fine. Irisa has visions and is drawn into Yewll’s back room, before Yewll breaks her out of it, miffed at Irisa’s snooping.

At the Need Want, Stahma is in bed with Kenya but Stahma is suddenly uncomfortable. Kenya presses her, asks what’s wrong and why she needs to leave so suddenly and Stahma bursts out that not everything is about “us” and there’s a limit to what she can share with a prostitute. Stahma realises what she said and quickly apologises but Kenya says she’s not bothered by people looking down on her and if Stahma’s mind is elsewhere, her body should go join it. Get out. Stahma starts to leave but looks so upset Kenya demands to know even when Stahma says it will put her life in danger. Stahma breaks and tells Kenya that it’s Datak’s pride and how losing the election would be such a great shame to him (she uses a Casti word for it) that he’s planning on having Amanda killed.

From there, Kenya warns Nolan and Amanda – she says he wouldn’t dare but Kenya points out Amanda isn’t thinking like Castithan – people who will kill to avoid humiliation. She refuses to reveal her source because of the risk Stahma took; Nolan tries to get her to hold debates somewhere more enclosed by Amanda can’t risk being seen as a coward and insists she trusts Nolan to keep her safe even outside.

Nolan goes to Datak and threatens graphically to kill him should anything happen to Amanda. Datak isn’t that concerned. When Nolan leaves, Alak arrives and Datak demands reparations for being shamed at the wedding; invoking a Casti custom that causes the whole tent of Castithans to fall silent and watch. At the end of which Alak says his arm is Datak’s will – a gesture of earning Datak’s forgiveness.  He has a job for Alak.

Later Alak is with his friend who is laughingly astonished that Datak went for a shaming ritual he considers archaic on Earth. But Alak says he can get his friend into Datak’s crew – something highly coveted – because he has a job to do that cannot be traced back to Datak.

To the debate – it’s chucking it down with rain but a lot of people have turned out. Including Yewll – leading to Irisa abandoning her post to go snoop. Alak’s friend is looking down at the proceedings with a gun, Alak telling him to hit her right between the eyes.

The debate begins and Datak, surprisingly, speaks up for Earth Republic alliance and all the disasters that hit Defiance that could have been averted or reduced if they’d had Earth Republic help, that Defiance doesn’t have the resources to handle all these catastrophes without working with the greater society. Amanda’s turn and she speaks up of the Earth Republic cities she’s seen – repressed places with poor living conditions; she speaks up for being independent, beholden to themselves both for their mistakes and successes.

Nolan sees the Casti on the roof, aiming his gun – and shoots him. He falls to the floor, dropping his rifle that fires and hits Nolan. With paint. Alak cries out that it was a prank, it was just a paintball gun (which is bloody stupid anyway).

The council meets and there’s a huge argument with the humans siding with Nolan and Datak demanding consequences for killing a foolish kid. He adds that he doesn’t think Nolan would have shot the kid if his skin were darker (if he were human not Castithan and yeah that’s still awful). This claim would have made more sense over Rafe’s attempted murder of Alak. Datak insist that the records show that Amanda supports Nolan’s actions 100%

In the lawkeepers office, Castithan are performing a ritual over the dead body and Irisa blames herself for leaving her post to snoop on Yewll – but Nolan says she’d have done the same as he had and she’d now be taking the same heat. He does doubt himself for going for a lethal shot rather than disabling.

At the Tarr household, Alak is disturbed wondering if his father knowingly asked him to send his friend to his death (can Alak possibly be this ignorant and naïve?) Stahma praises his courage for being willing to question his father – which allows them both to express their pride towards Alak without actually answering his question. His dad was busy looking at Nolan’s files – including his war record.

Yewll comes home to find the mess Irisa has left trying to find whatever’s bothering her psychic senses – but she didn’t find the secret cupboard, or the lock on the cupboard or the safe inside; the kelivar is safe. Yewll is pretty security conscious.

Teen Wolf Season 3, Episode 5: Frayed

School trip! Or possibly lacrosse trip. Either way a lot of the gang is on a bus, Ethan (one of the Alpha Twins) getting all antsy waiting for a text message. But Boyd and Isaac are clear winners of the random cryptic comment contest with Isaac urging Boyd “not to think about it” even though he can’t stop thinking about it either. Which sounds like so much more innuendo than it is (typical Teen Wolf).

Scott is busy being mopey and having ominous dreams while Stiles gives him vocabulary training (is it just me or is at least half of Scott’s attempt to “mentally improve” himself come down to expanding his vocabulary?). Stiles thinks that rather than learning what “incongruous” means, they should probably be talking about Darach, the evil human sacrificing druid. Stiles also thinks they shouldn’t have come on the trip – Scott protests there is safety in numbers and Stiles, only 3 minutes in, gets what must be the line of the week: there’s also death in numbers, it’s called a massacre. And Scott feels awful – because he has an Alpha wound in his side, 3 nasty claw marks, that are taking time to heal. Stiles asks how come Boyd and Isaac are fine – but Scott just can’t believe that Derek is dead.

Um… whut? He was injured last week, but dead? Why do I think that’s not going to stick? Methinks the writers are doing that silly chopping up the continuity thing and we’re going to have flashbacks plaguing us the rest of the episode.

Anyway, Lydia and Allison are following the bus, Lydia being sarcastic and awesome, accusing Allison of stalking her ex-boyfriend. Allison makes vague cryptic comments about something that just happened and leads us to our first flashback.

I would say I hate it when I’m right, but you can’t hate everything all the time.

Flashback – Scott returns Allison’s arrowhead from where she decided to take part in the herding of Boyd and Cora and they have a brief, flirty comparison of skills in the “should Allison stay out of things and stay safe” game (it amounts to “skills! Training!” while Scott responds with “superhuman!” Which I think is fair – especially since he didn’t call her out on her claim to be smarter – because in the last 3 seasons I think Lydia’s little dog Prada may be able to compete with Allison on that front). Allison tries her martial arts on Scott’s super speed, there’s flirting and sexual tension but Scott easily beats Allison and hurts her wrist. He apologises but she says not to – he made a point and she was the one who started the test. Allison mopes on the floor – whether from losing or from sexual tension, I don’t know, and Scott warns her how scary the Alphas were and how the twins were only playing. And in the lift, Scott runs into Deucalion

To the Wolf Loft! Where Scott finds that, since Boyd and Cora followed the twins, the pack already knows where the Alphas are. Ooh, Scott’s out of the loop. Scott thinks they know because Deucalion and co are setting a trap, Peter thinks it’s because they don’t really consider the pack a threat so don’t care if they know or not. Either way, they plan to launch a pre-emptive strike – including Scott

Cut to a fight scene of werewolves all slow mo and dramatic.

On the bus again and Scott’s still bleeding and we get lots of crypticness about the twin listening and Isaac and Boyd being ticking time bombs. Ok. Let’s have enough flashback to try and make sense of this

Planning the battle, Scott is all “murder bad, wooooe!” which is so not helpful. The plan is, apparently, to kill Deucalion, not the rest of the alphas because he’s the head of the snake. Peter almost agrees with Scott; they’re all alphas which means they’re all dangerous and they’re all leaders – it’s a hydra not a snake.

Back to the future – and yes this is getting annoying – and Allison is running out of petrol because she’s so myopically watching Scott. And, it turns out, Lydia, because she’s worried that Lydia and Alpha Twin Aidan are actually having a thing. I would say that Lydia is far too smart now she knows Aidan is part of the Alpha pack, but we have a flashback of them together reminding us that while Lydia may be very very very intelligent, she has a weakness of men who are beautiful arseholes. Even in that she’s flawlessly awesome, though.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Forsaken by the Others (H&W Investigations #5) by Jess Haines

Shiarra is free from the influence of the belt and now can see what has happened to her life. Her hasty decisions, skewed judgement, anger and fear has left a lot of wreckage behind, a trail of victims and even some deaths. It’s an uncomfortable realisation

Almost as uncomfortable is finally coming to terms with the fact that Royce isn’t the bad guy and that it’s ok to let him into her life, that’s going to take some getting used to.

But now there’s a lot of fallout from the most recent chaos with the werewolves and the only way Royce can see to keep Shiarra and Sara safe is to get them out of New York – get them all the way across the country in fact, to his ally in Los Angeles.

“Ally” may be a strong word, however, and it’s clear the vampires of Los Angeles have their own agenda and their own plots that they’re more than willing to rope Shiarra and Sara into. Especially since they have a zombie problem.

I have to admit that in the first chapter of this book I nearly did damage to my tablet. Because we had another rendition of Shiarra deciding that Royce is the source of all evil. Royce responds with patience and understanding and helps coax her into seeing that he’s never hurt her and reassures her that he will never cause her harm.

This is because Royce is SO VERY MUCH MORE PATIENT THAN ME! Personally? I’d open the door and invite her to take herself through it and never return. She has handed herself to him on a platter repeatedly – and he’s refrained from capturing her (and he’s powerful enough to take her at any time). He has extended repeated favours without any expectation – even though she has spat in his face in response. And, given the people she is willing to trust (murderous hate groups and cheating werewolf boyfriends), being on the suspicious list is a damn insult at this point.

Thankfully Shiarra’s endless Royce suspicion does not last. Shiarra very quickly comes to her senses and we have a book that is very much characterised by Shiarra’s regret. Ok, that doesn’t exactly make for a thrilling read – it’s not fun reading someone repeatedly muse on what a bad person they are – but it was needed. It was sorely needed to help redeem Shiarra as a character and a protagonist to establish that her behaviour for the last book – the last 3 books – has been badly skewed and that, yes, her actions have cost people, her actions have hurt people and her actions have left people dead. If anything, there was too much people reassuring her she was a good person – but that’s only natural, none of these people are realistically going to turn round and say “yes Shiarra, you are evil bad wrong and deserve to live forever in shame! SHAAAME!” (It’s ok, I said it for them). So this would be an amazing redemption of the character and a great turning point for the series

But she doesn’t learn! She talks about how ridiculous it was of her to trust the White Hats – a hate group! A murderous hate group! A murderous hate group that caused her to kill people – how evil! So what does she do in LA? Let’s go see our local White Hats! Of course!

She talks about not making good decisions, not thinking things through – but her master plan is “let’s get everyone – including the White Hats – in one place and hope I can improvise something!” This isn’t a plan! This isn’t thinking things through! And how can someone who spent the better part of the book lamenting her past decisions and how they hurt and killed people then decide that getting 3 or 4 lethal groups who despise each other into one place and hope she comes up with a good idea when that happens. Whyyyy, why would you do this?! Why would someone who is questioning their decisions and their morality do this?

Falling Skies, Season 3, Episode 5: Search and Recovery

In the wreckage of the plane, Tom wakes up just as the fire begins to flare up. He turns to Bressler – but he hasn’t survived the crash. He hurries to the back and cuts Pope free and drags him clear of the burning plane.

Oh gods Pope is STILL not dead. But I’m pretty sure Bressler is toast, especially since the plane explodes the minute Tom is clear (this is a rule. Anything on fire – absolutely anything – will explode the minute the protagonist staggers to a safe distance, usually just far enough to be knocked down by a shockwave but not to be burned or impaled on flying shrapnel or anything. I don’t care how non-explosive the item is – IT WILL EXPLODE!)

Evil Hal is watching Maggie sleep (at last this is depicted as creepy! No romance writers, lurking over someone and watching them sleep isn’t romantic!) when ben arrives to tell him that Ann and Lexis (evil alien baby) have disappeared. (Which Evil Hal already knows of course).  There’s a meeting with vice-president Marina, Weaver, the Masons, Lourdes, Maggie and Dr. Kadar who explains the DNA tests he did – and that baby Lexis is an Evil Alien Baby. Or Evil Hybrid Baby anyway. Lourdes and Marina are sympathetic – putting it down to the natural defensiveness of motherhood. But when Weaver calls for a 100 men to begin a search party, Marina takes him aside to say they can’t spare 100 men to search for one person; Weaver can look if he wants but she doesn’t authorise deploying the troops. Weaver appeals to the unity of the 2nd Massachusetts, something she doesn’t understand, the family they’ve become. Marina agrees to give him a day to search though she says they have to plan because Ann is right, the populace won’t react well to an Evil Hybrid Baby. And she delivers a brief slap to his saying she wouldn’t understand – because she had a family once as well.

I’m glad she stood up to that – yes she may not share the bond the 2nd Mass developed, but she, and nearly everyone else, formed powerful family bonds and lost people; Weaver’s pain and his people’s pain are not super-special.

The searchers set off – Weaver agreeing to take Matt even though Hal objects. And Marina arrives to make nice to Weaver and hope he comes back safe, because he’s important. Is that a budding romance I see? Jeanne certainly seems to agree.

Searching they find a trail of blood… everyone’s all tense as they follow it to the body of a woman with long black hair – but it’s not Ann. Everyone’s relieved… um… I know they’re all emotionally invested in finding Ann, but there’s a recently dead woman here, among the ruins of Charleston. Is anyone going to follow that up? They agree to bury her, despite Evil Hal’s objections. Rather than actually try to find out who she is, they make up a touching story about what a wonderful good person she was instead. Maggie notices Evil Hal’s silence

In Charleston, Marina takes photographs of the Volm construction to Kadar to see if he can figure out what they’re actually doing. Kadar double checks if Tom agreed to this – but she assures him he did. How anyone’s supposed to tell anything from the photographs without being full on psychic is bemusing.

In the field, finding the body has made Matt and Ben think of their dead mother and relating it to the search for Ann. Weaver and Jeanne talk about the Evil Hybrid Babies and how it may be a new way to take over the humans of Charleston since they can’t beat them – and she asks Weaver to promise her she’ll never let the aliens take her and use her. The strong implication is she’d rather die first.

They find evidence of Ann – but also Skitter tracks. Matt despairs but Weaver reassures him and they plan to go back to Charleston and use the Rebel Skitter spies to see if they know anything. Maggie also notices that Evil Hal has been acting oddly.

Back to Charleston and Kadar and Marina for what might be the stupidest scene ever on Falling Skies. Kadar ominously tells Marina that the Volm weapon has too big a power supply for what it’s built for. And we conclude that Tom didn’t ask Marina to examine this, though she says Tom should have. Kadar also confirms that only Alexis is an Evil Hybrid Baby – which Marina barely acknowledges. Nice priorities

Outside, Matt puts the woman’s bracelet on the tree and Ben puts up a leaf with the word “mom” on it. Matt cries, telling Ben he doesn’t want to die like she did – alone and buried by strangers. Ben holds him while Evil Hal looks on, emotionless.

Back to the wreck and, alas, Pope wakes up and is annoying unpleasant and, even worse, right. He complains that Tom should have expected them being attacked because Charleston has a mole – everyone knows it – but rather than stay and root it out, Tom had to run off to play with the “big boys.” Damn it, don’t make me agree with Pope! Then they have to hide and wait for the Beamers to pass that keep scanning the area with big search lights. Thankfully, an interstellar alien empire of incredible and indecipherable technology has not mastered the art of thermal imaging.

The next day they head towards Charleston – walking south despite it being a huge distance (as Pope not-so-helpfully points out) and Tom has a revelation; it can’t have been the spy, they didn’t have the co-ordinates to where they were going until after they were airborn. And he dismisses Pope’s claim that they just had to know they were going – they’d have their own “eyes in the sky” – because it took the Espheni so long to find them.

Why don’t the Espheni have eyes in the sky? Satellites? Even if they had to take over human satellites? Just better way of tracking people than flying machines with spot lights?

Monday, July 1, 2013

Fangs for the Fantasy Update

I’m adding another note to remind everyone that our podcast is still cancelled due to major health badness.

Renee continues to recover, though she finds hospital stay extremely frustrating (more get well moose are needed!), I’ve spoken to her repeatedly and it looks like we’re heading in the right direction

She’s told me that we should be able to do the podcast again on the first Monday in August (that will be the 5th). Because at that point if she’s still in hospital I have 2 instructions:

I am to come up with a cunning plan to help her escape, possibly by building a tunnel or sending her a beaver with a file hidden in it.

I will have to arrange for a clean up crew to try and hide the bodies of the many poor people who tried to stand between Renee and the exit.

In the meantime she is doing her best to heal, recover and establish a smuggling network, moving illicit contraband goodies to patients who are not supposed to have them. By the time she’s out, she’ll be used to using ketchup packets as a currency; in the same way tobacco is used in bad prison dramas. And don’t even think of muscling in on her salt racket! She will cut you.

True Blood, Season 6, Episode 3: You're No Good

Last episode Eric managed to get into Willa’s room (Govenor Truman’s daughter) and glamour her. He plans to kill her to punish his father – and does this with lots of creepy, sexual assault overtones that are really unnecessary. As he moves to bite her – her thigh of course – she babbles quickly about things she knows – including about “experiments.” Which is when the guard team arrives – to find an empty room.

In more drama, Bill has his new, shiny psychic ability and just saw a lot of vampires, including most of the ones we know, burning up. He’s, unsurprisingly, determined to stop it especially since Jessica is among those getting an extreme tan

At chez Stackhouse, Warlow makes a blurring appearance in the woods and Niall goes flashing out after him. And Jason decides to stumble outside rather uselessly, with Sookie following because who needs that whole “vampire can’t enter the house without an invitation” protection from supervamp? Niall gets his grandchildren back inside (he must be realising by now that whatever else they inherited, intellect isn’t one of them). Sookie doesn’t like Niall patronising Jason (oh Sookie, Jason needs a little patronising now and then) and Niall doesn’t like Sookie not being completely panicky – but Sookie, in perhaps her first reasonable line for the last 3 seasons, says she’s ALWAYS in danger these days so she doesn’t really panic any more. Niall goes out vampire hunting and we’re reminded how special and royal Sookie is. Come to think of it, lots of generational inbreeding with the noble families may explain a lot…

At Fangtasia neither Tara nor Pam are even slightly impressed with Eric kidnapping the Governor’s daughter. Pam wants her dead, Tara wants her glamoured and sent home – saying it’s savage shit like this that makes humans hate them. Eric orders them to pack up and be ready to leave – and Tara encourages Pam to stand up to him; it seems she will for a brief moment before Eric shouts and Pam folds.

Willa claims to not be a fan of her father’s policy either and tells Eric about a camp where arrested vampires are taken to be studied. (Cut to that camp where Steve Newlin is dragged in to be experimented on). In Fangtasia they’ve packed up their things but Pam makes it clear that it’s the bar that matters to her – and Eric, no matter how he pretends. So they leave – and take Willa with them, much to Tara’s and Pam’s objection.

Sam and Lafayette wake up after being beaten, helped into Sam’s trailer by do-gooder Nicole and her boyfriend, Jesse. Jesse is all curious – Lafayette gives him sound advice on zipping that curiosity and Sam tells Nicole to leave when she offers to help getting Emma back. Unfortunately Lafayette doesn’t take his own advice; making it clear he’s there to help Sam because Sam gave him a job and doesn’t treat him like shit.

Poor Ginger thinks her dreams have come true when Eric knocks on her door and wants to join her for a sleepover (no glamour needed oh no). Oh and he brought some friends. More tension between the gang with Eric continuing to shout and lay down the law, claiming the coffin and keeping Willa away from Pam so she doesn’t kill her.

The Mermaid's Madness (Princess Series #2) by Jim C Hines

There is a new threat to the kingdom – the seas around the nation are becoming impassable due to rampaging mermaids and, worse, Queen Bea herself has been injured and lays dying. It falls to Princess Danielle, Snow and Talia to set out again, the only ones who can to try and save Bea’s life – and her very soul – and preserve not just the kingdom but all seafaring nations

But it’s a complex task and finding who the actual villain is proves more complex than previously imagined. It begs the question – even if the villain is the victim, can they afford to be merciful?

And all because the Little Mermaid didn’t get her Happily Ever After

I do like how this series challenges a lot of assumptions about fairytales, a lot of the staples we’ve all grown up on that are, frankly, dubious to say the least. In this book we have a very strong challenge to the whole love-at-first sight trope that so dominates fairytales. Why should that prince you’ve barely met and hardly know turn out to be a nice guy? How can you be so sure of his affections after such a short time knowing him? Or that, occasionally, that guy you fall for turns out to be a brutal, manipulative, arsehole?

So when the Little Mermaid decides to give up her family, her people, everything for the sake of the love of a human she has known for a week – is it any surprise that it ends badly or one applies reality rather than fairytale rules? This story is a tragedy through and through because Lirea is, in many ways, a victim as much as she is a perpetrator. Ultimately, she was a very young woman who fell hard for the wrong man and was badly used by people who were older and wiser than her who sought to exploit her for their own ends. I like how this is even applied to Danielle’s own story – Talia pointing out just how lucky she was that Armand was a good man since they married after knowing each other for so little time. Danielle is presented as having made a very naïve, very silly decision that, luckily, worked out; this is even more stark when you consider that out of Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and The Little Mermaid, Cinderella is the only one who managed her Happily Ever After.

This book does a very good job of preserving that nuance, partly through the lens of Danielle’s near infinite compassion and the pleas of Lirea’s family, but also through the much harsher and more cynical gazes of Snow and Talia who recognise the real bad guy. At the same time, this doesn’t require anyone to be a saint or ruin the story with people being just so damn nice that you have to wipe the sugar off your tablet screen. While there’s sympathy for Lirea, there’s equally not much forgetting that she has killed people, she is threatening the nation and she has hurt Queen Bea. Compassion and acknowledgement of her victimhood does not translate into automatic forgiveness – certainly not from Talia, nor does it stop the 3 princesses from doing what they consider necessary to save Queen Bea. And if that means everyone doesn’t get a happy ending – well, so be it; not everyone’s promised one.

Even the behind-it-all villain is presented with a level of nuance. Ultimately her actions stem from the widely held belief that mermaids are lesser people; a belief they took to heart and sought a way to save themselves and their people from. No-one is just a villain, and even bad people have people who care about them.

I like Danielle as a character, I think she has grown a lot since the first book and in interesting ways. She was very naïve and apolitical and lost back then and has learned from her experiences. But here learning doesn’t mean becoming a super-jaded cynic as we so often see as a stand in for learning. She’s still good, she’s still ultimately caring – but she’s also gained a level of competence and understanding to leaven that goodness and caring. She brings compassion to the political agenda – confronting princes and kings with the fact that the disposable “red shirts” dying around them are people with families as well, appealing to common sense, to compassion, to mutual good while still being ready to lay down the law and put her foot down if necessary. And I really like how Talia makes her see not only the disadvantages of growing up poor and not understanding political matters, but also the advantage of not being a coddled princess and not having the expectation that everything should serve her, everything should suit her and that nothing bad can possibly happen to her.