Friday, June 6, 2014

Disarming (Reign of Blood #2) by Alexia Purdy

April has her hands full in the dystopian ruin the world was left in by the plague and the rising vampires – especially with her family traumatised and falling in tatters after being kidnapped in the last book. She certainly doesn’t have time for romance

But when she hears of a potential city of survivors managing to hide and thrive away from the vampires, she has to check it out. Alone if she has to.

I finished this book feeling dissatisfied – and I don’t think it was down to the world building (which is a fairly decent dystopian zombie apocalypse with vampires holding the zombie spots with a few unique little additions) or the characters (though I can’t say any of them thrilled me). It was primarily down to structure. I feel like there were a number of story-ettes that were started, kind of wibbled around a bit, and then shuffled away sort of embarrassed. Kind of like a chorus of singers who suddenly realise they can’t remember the words. I think a lot of that comes from the author having an idea of how they wanted the book to end, but not entirely sure how to get from the end of the last book to that point. Which, in turn, may have been because the last book felt like a stand alone (I was actually surprised to find this book existed) which has now been stretched into a series.

Take, for example, the romance at the end of the last book – April and Rye have fought together, done the standard “I cannot be with you but I love you so much” and sealed the deal with the magical-bond-of-insta-love-because-who-has-time-to-develop-relationships. Done, closed storyline (ok, they could actually develop a relationship but that really goes against the All-To-Common-Template that says getting your love interests together is HAPPILY EVER AFTER). This book starts with the two separated (though still drowning in endlessly descriptive sexual tension and moping and lots of “so hawt I wish we could be together”). The reason presented – that April feels the need to focus more on her family after they have been through the traumatic experiences in the last book – is certainly very reasonable but isn’t carried by the story because April doesn’t do that. She has some torn inner monologues about her mother but quickly abandons them in favour of exploring her newest curiosity

So it feels convoluted – like this couple needs to split up for the plot (or not be a done deal), so they’re split up. Here’s an excuse – but it’s a half-assed one that isn’t followed up.

The Problem With The Societal Default

'Blank canvas at firstsite' photo (c) 2012, Howard Lake - license:

One thing we often talk about when criticising books and TV shows from a social justice perspective is the “Societal Default”. Basically, what counts as your “standard” or “normal” person. What do we think of when we think “person” without any qualifiers? Inevitably, the image conjured is the most privileged members of society - able bodied, White, straight, cis men. This is our default human, our standard for “normality”, the base template of person from which everyone else is a derivative.

And there are consequences of that, especially when it comes to fiction.

Firstly, it does a lot of damage to marginalised character design. See, when we’re building a character we begin with a default then add the unique elements that fleshes them out and make them a full person. We add the “template” of personality and traits to the Default template. So we take the cis, white, able bodied, straight man and we add likes, dislikes, profession, hobbies, motivation, opinions, characterisation, relationship, history - we take the blank sheet and make a character from this unmarred beginning.

When we make marginalised characters we, all too often, take that Default blank template and add “woman” or “gay” or “Black”. This is the characterisation, this is the development and this is one of the ways Tokens are created. This is why you can get large casts full of able-bodied, straight, cis white men who have a other defining labels (even very narrow, stereotypical portrayals like “geek” or “jock”) while women of POC or LGBT people don’t even get that - because being a woman or Black or Gay IS their label - like being “Geek” is a quick characterisation for the able-bodied, straight, cis, white male character.  Another example of this is you get female characters who are literally just female versions of male characters (what Anita Sarkeesian calls the Ms. Male Character).

To put it another way, marginalised characters are already considered defined and characterised simply because they ARE marginalised characters. The “blank slate” of the societal Default has already been filled in by the marginalised status. This leaves these lazy Tokens whose entire characterisation is defined by their marginalisation. On The Walking Dead, T-Dog is a Black man. That’s not just a description, that’s the sum totality of his characterisation and purpose - much the same as Dai and Anthony from Falling Skies, Aaron on Switch and any number of tokens we’ve noted before.

The Societal Default character (the able-bodied, straight, cis, White man) needs more development to be even a minor character - because otherwise they’re a blank sheet, a non-character. But that’s exactly what happens with marginalised tokens but it is accepted because we see their marginalisation as inherently filling in the blanks.

Which brings us to another problem of not challenging this Default narrative - by allowing a marginalised identity to fill in the blanks of characterisation, that leaves us with a very narrow set of stereotyped behaviours and appearances to stand in place of actual development - so we get Felix on Orphan Black and Aaron on Switch whose characterisation, personality, behaviour, dress - entire existence is basically “gay man”; or T-Dog, Oscar or Jacqui on The Walking Dead (and POC tokens may literally be just walking dark skin). This is something the Societal Default avoids simply by being the Societal Default - a status which inherently requires more development. Sure they may be stereotyped when a tiny amount of characterisation is added - a stereotypical geek, a stereotypical frat boy, a stereotypical business man - but that tiny amount of characterisation has to be added first. The Default itself, able bodied, cis, straight, White men, has the infinite potential to be anything and is not limited by automatic assumptions and predefined roles to anything like the same extent as marginalised people.

The Societal Default requires something extra to create an actual character - too often merely being a marginalised person IS that something extra.

The Societal Default also causes problems by being the Default, by being the baseline. If you want a character, you start with an able-bodied, cis, straight, White male character. if you want them to be anything but that, too often there’s an expectation of a reason. Deviating from the Societal Default requires justification. This is something we’ve examined in more detail in our post Marginalised Characters Do Not Define the Story. Too often, if you critique erasure in a series or TV show, someone will ask “why does there have to be a {insert marginalisation} character”? When surely the question should be the opposite - why ISN’T there a marginalised character? Why is the actual existence of these people overlooked?

It’s notable that we do not question why a character has to be an able bodied, cis, straight, white man nor do we expect there to be a special story reason, justification or necessity to have one in any role in a story. If we do not use a Societal Default character, then there is an assumption of an agenda on the writer’s part.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Elements by Zhu Hsia

Kayleigh, spoiled teenager to extremely rich parents, seeks to get away from it all, to start afresh. She finds Draker, an isolated private school and perfect for a fresh start – but the school harbours many secrets she never expected

Well, that was… pretty damn dreadful, I’m afraid. So much so that I just couldn’t finish it, I got to half way and I put it down, refusing to go further. The whole book made so little sense to me – no, the people made so little sense to me. Especially the protagonist

Our protagonist is Kayleigh and we’re introduced to her by her getting out of her ever loving mind drunk and vomiting on people in a swanky party her so-very-important-parents forced her to attend. Her parents are evil, by the way. Except we don’t actually see them do anything evil (though they do object to public vomiting on expensive suits from their school-aged daughter which is just so unfair) and, coupled with Kayleigh’s POV make this seem a lot like an extremely spoiled rich child having temper tantrums. This is not endearing.

Because she is flouncing with her parents she decides to go to a private school. No, really. She looks up a school online based on the fact it’s secluded and doesn’t allow mobile phones. That is her criteria for which school she will attend. No, really.

Having found said school she manages to enrol, pay the fees and attend not only without her parents’ knowledge or consent – but also managing to get out of the house and to the school before her parents even come home from work. This secluded private school has… astonishingly lax admission standards.

It’s also in a castle. Her parents dream of her going to Harvard, so, along with general word use, I’m assuming she’s American. I have no idea why the school is a castle (with four poster beds as well). It has very few rules though, the chief among them being “don’t go in the forest”. Kayleigh resolves to follow these rules since she’s in a new place.

Which means trying to explore said forbidden forest she is repeatedly told is dangerous twice in her first week. Especially when she hears mysterious and creepy howling coming from it. One of these attempts is in the middle of the night, by moonlight with no torch or other source of artificial lighting. Had she run into a werewolf and it had eaten her, the werewolf would have then howled “DARWIN AWARD!” to the moon.

Recap and Review: The 4400 Season Two

In the first season,we learned that the 4400 were returned to effect change in the current timeline to forestall a future disaster.  Now that the public is over the shock of the arrival 4400, they now have to deal with the fallout.  Not all the 4400 who have powers want or desire to use their powers for good because like any group of humans, they are flawed.

We see a lot of Diane's private life this season.  It begins with her legal adoption of Maia.  In many ways she is unrecognizable as the woman we first met in season one.  We also meet Diane's estranged sister April who is as different from Diane as night from day.  The three settle into a sort of domestic bliss until April decides to use Maia's ability to tell the future to make money gambling. The moment Diane finds this out, she asks April to leave.  While this shows that Diane has truly settled into her role as mother, it indicates how out of touch she is with Maia's life.  April represents Maia's only real access to the outside word and chance for normalcy. Maia is home schooled and left with a baby sitter whenever Diane has to leave and whenever Maia tries to interact with children her own age, it always turns out terrible.  I like that Diane continues to  work and is a strong single mother but it is telling that she doesn't think about how Maia's powers or isolation from others is impacting her growth.  In some ways the message screams that working mothers cannot have it all because something always falls through the cracks.

This season, Lilly finally gives birth to baby Isabelle. Isabelle is a truly terrifying baby because she has the ability to kill when she feels threatened. What I do find interesting is that Isabelle is initially set up as the chosen one.  This is very rare, as normally whenever there is a chosen one, the role is usually filled by someone White and male. Unfortunately, Isabelle doesn't remain the good mystical chosen one for long. This is made clear when she participates in the death of Collier by lying about him surviving an attack.  This is somewhat redeemed when her blood is used to save the 4400 who become ill after the government injects them with an inhibitor.  Isabelle is very much a mystery at this point and it's due largely to her age but she bares watching.

Despite Diane, it's fair to say that The 4400 had a problem with its representation of women in the first season. To counteract that, we were introduced to Nina Jarvis, the new director of NTAC.  Nina largely asserts her authority to act as a check to Tom and his flagrant disregard of the rules.  Nina initially gives the appearance of a strong female character but we learn essentially nothing about her and her mission to control Tom turns her into a defacto babysitter. We are also introduced to Alana Mareva who was given the power to create alternate fantasy worlds in order to have a soothing effect on Tom.  Alana is a human pacifier for Tom and has no role outside of her relationship with him.

This Week in Book Covers 26th May - 30th May

It’s time to look through the covers for last week - and here we have the very honest covers, some highly dubiously misleading covers and covers that completely missed the potential of their books. But they make a strong case for truth in advertising!

Ooooh pretty - and congrats for avoiding all the so easy tropes. She’s in a natural pose, all her clothing appears to be there, there’s no special focus on breasts or buttocks - a great start for a female character on the front cover! The shadow of the caduceus is intriguing and mysterious and would certainly have me check it out - but I feel it has little to do with the book. In past books, maybe, but in this book does anyone even remember Arcadia using one? Still, definitely a good cover even if it does slightly imply a medical link.

Stone Song (Cold Iron #3) by D.L. McDermot

A romance cover with a twist - turning its back on the standard Mantitteh. This emphasises the extremely pretty sword and the leather tooling; there is a story and history and fantasy elements to this book, with a strong celtic slant!

While still having the muscular nekked back to remind us that, no matter the pretty accoutrements, it’s still a book where two people of the opposite sex are going to be mushed together regardless of what plot, world setting or characterisation demands.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Souls of the Damned (Kat Richardson Series #5) by E.S. Moore

Still reeling from the destruction of the Luna Cult, and beleaguered on all sides with demands for her attention, Kat didn’t expect Sienna to appear on her doorstep

The imprisoned child of the angel Levi in his life-sucking prison town of Delai. Kat has been meaning to take down Delai for a long time – and even promised Sienna she would rescue her. Sienna provides not only someone to protect, but finally a key to get Kat back into Delai

But she cannot go back as a vampire – the only way to get back into Levi’s world is as a human.

I think that the author is recognising that there are too many ongoing threads in Kat’s life. There are two master vampires both with an interest in Kat, one of which is using her as a personal assassin. There’s Adrian and his odd pack of wolves. There’s the Luna Cult. And there’s the ongoing issue of the angel Levi in Delai who Kat still has to deal with. It’s a lot and it’s starting to pull the books apart – so threads are being snipped. Last book we saw the Luna Cult be reduced a lot and this book built on it turning it more into a personal relationship between Kat and      than making it another major plot thread; which I quite liked (not least of which because the tension between them has long since needed resolving).

This book Kat deals with Delai, setting another plot thread firmly to bed, as well as making it clear the other major plots are going to be stepping to the fore in the next book. I like it – there’s a sense of everything being handled rather than perpetuating the constant feeling of being overwhelmed

The story in Delai isn’t as action packed as the past books – and that’s ok. It lets us see another side of Kat (through her transformation) and see a different way of resolving problems beyond Kat being so super dangerous that it doesn’t matter. Again, this is something that was touched on in the last book and has been expanded upon so much here; yes Kat is dangerous – very very dangerous indeed – but being dangerous isn’t a surefire way to solve every problem. The pacing was decent, perhaps a little world building absorbed in places, but it moved pretty well. And yes, there was a much quicker way to resolve things but I like the development that came with the long way round.

In the Flesh, Season 2, Episode 5

In a hotel, Simon meets Julian – a fellow ULA member (a superior but apparently not the prophet) – to tell him about Kieren, the First Risen. Julian has a message from the Prophet (and Simon is almost childishly eager for it) instructing Simon to sacrifice the First Risen at 12:00 on the 12th of December to cause the second Rising. Julian leaves Simon a package, presumably to help with that, and leaves (Simon doesn’t look very thrilled by this plan). Julian leaves the hotel, staring down the man complaining about PDS like him walking around without their faces covered. Julian does not back down it seems. He’s watched – and apparently supported – by Gary which is rather odd

Simon has a little freak out – and we have a flashback to him in the conversion centre, when he was first made lucid with medication. The implication is he was the first one.

In Roarton, things are getting worse, with an unpleasant woman posting homes with leaflets looking for the signs of “going rabid” in PDS. Even Steve, Kieren’s dad, who initially challenges her, seems to back down. At breakfast Steve is still disturbed, remembering Kieren’s story of the rising and his admission that he killed people (unlike Sue and Jem, Steve maintained the personal fiction that Kieren hadn’t killed anyone when he was rabid). Steve is further shocked to see Kieren come down not wearing his cover up. This could probably have caused family drama when the inept Dean arrives – Kieren is under arrest for the release of the rabid PDS in the doctor’s surgery at the instruction of Maxine. They drag him off and Sue turns her disgusted look on Steve for just standing there.

Maxine goes to a phone box to call someone, to plead with them to let her talk – but they hang up on her. She returns home visibly upset and Sandra, the landlady of the B&B makes her a cup of tea; apparently Maxine tried to call her dad. Sandra tries to sympathise in that incredibly inept “let me compare my completely irrelevant situation to yours” fashion. Maxine also talks about a younger brother who means a lot to her

Phillip wakes up alone – Amy having left. She’s back at her place, taking her medication. She’s also received a leaflet about the problems of missed meds “zombification” and is clearly worried that they fit her symptoms. She continues to have problems while dismissing it with the others – and crying in private

Kieren goes to his “trial” which basically is the council heckling him to confess without any concept that he might be innocent. They threaten to send him back to Norfolk because they have the power to just declare Kieren (and Simon) a threat. Kieren refuses to confess and his anger is enough for the council to deem him a monster.

Back to Simon who is still having his collapse in the hotel and flashing back to a sympathetic doctor – and unsympathetic military forces – trying to help Simon through his medication and stop the war. Simon asks if it’s a cure – and the doctor hopes it will be since Simon is the very first the medication worked on. Simon agrees to help with the experiments but while sympathetic doctor is pretty kind and consoling throughout, his fellows are far from it. And during one such experiment he hears an odd voice in the speaker talking almost biblically about Simon being what was meant to be, alive forever more and that he is being lied to.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Skin Game (Dresden Files #15) by Jim Butcher

Mab, Harry’s boss as the Queen of Winter, has a job for Harry, one he is not allowed to refuse. He must work for the Order of the Black Denarius; perhaps the most evil people Harry has ever encountered. He has to help them steal something

Of course… once it’s stolen Mab considers the deal finished.

Working for the enemy who hates him almost as much as he hates them, Harry has to be ready for the double cross – and to get his double cross in as soon as he can; and try to reduce the casualties along the way

Which would be difficult under any circumstances – let alone trying to raid the vault of a Greek God.

There were so many awesome things in this book.

Harry delves through so many personal issues in this book in an excellently written way. It can be hard to have your character have personal growth moments without a whole lot of clumsy info-dumping or monologues that don’t work. Harry’s growth fit within the story without being a distraction or out of place, it meshed ideally. Which is great because there was a lot to unpack

Most of which is just what side is Harry on now. He’s the Winter Knight (though, thankfully, the whole rape element of that mantle has been pushed out in this book), he’s working for the Unseelie Queen, an association that has now got him working with the Denarians. Fallen Angels and the very personification of evil in the series. These are not the associates of a good guy and he’s painfully aware of it. There’s a constant thread of him trying to cling to his morality while forced to go along with these people, trying to draw lines, having to accept a level of evil and wondering how far he will go. But it’s not just Harry, but also his friends. Murphy has faith in Harry – but that’s only after she learned that in the last book; Butters asks reasonable questions and they are reasonable, not remotely unfair. Harry is now associating with evil people, he is apparently signed in on an evil scheme. Not only that, but Harry has been absent from all his friends and supporters for a year – Butters has reason to doubt and reason to be afraid, especially since Harry is so powerful and dangerous. Butters reasonable doubts stop Harry’s own questions from being rather standard protagonist moping; they add context and reason

Butters brings a lot of excellence here – someone stepping up incredibly heroicly to try and fill the void Harry has left takes incredible courage especially since Butters isn’t special or powerful. But there’s more parallels with Harry and his growth. Butters is taking some terrible risks, not just for himself, but by using some resources he is risking giving his enemies a vastly powerful tool. He is risking them all, he could doom them all; but what choice does he have? This is an excellent counterpoint to Harry’s own powerful regrets, especially around the destruction of the Red Court. As much as Michael’s deep wisdom, Butter’s own example throws a context on Harry’s acts and doing the best you can in hard situations.

Which also brings us to the Swords. The might, incredible, powerful holy swords of the Cross and their strict moral requirements for their useage – the goodness they require, the moral standards they uphold are pure and wonderful and… not always practical. No-one can argue the powerful goodness of swords and their knights, but Nicodemus and Murphy showed just how such impossibly high standards don’t always work; they’re a powerful tool but if you rely on them to the exclusion of all else, you will lose. Their inflexibility makes them impractical. Which further feeds into Harry’s morality debate – because to actually achieve good and protect the innocent he cannot hold himself to unworkable standards

I think there’s another character who, without giving any spoilers, is a pretty awesome side point to this as well – it’s really well done

Bringing it all together we manage to approach Harry’s growth and morality from several different angles that comes together in an awesome whole.

Contunuum, Season 3, Episode 10: Revolutions Per Minute

John Doe wakes in the middle of the night from a traumatic dream. Upset and confused, he tells Keira some memories of his daughter – but then looks out the window and is shocked by the lights in the buildings; he thinks the towers should be dark. Keira asks why and he says “ribbons of dark slash the starlit sky” and then says that it’s dangerous.

Alec, in his lab, has a Eureka moment with Halo – achieving something Jason says they won’t manage until 2028 (anything to do with him ripping the chip out of dead Keira’s head?) A body that Carlos has just noticed is missing. And Alec isn’t returning his calls which makes Carlos agitated.

They test Halo on Jason and not only does it work – but it completely cures his time-travel based confusion. Of course going public with that may ask some questions (is Jackie, Alec’s lawyer, in on the big secret?)

Dillon remembers Betty’s first day on the job and is all sad and angsty and Dillon cracks. He calls in Keira and tells her how he thinks they’re not doing enough against Liber8 (Keira points out they’ve sunk nearly every resource they have against Liber8. She doesn’t mention that fighting the PR war is not actually their job) and he confesses to using his daughter as bait, her whole arrest being fake. He wants Keira to get his daughter out before there’s another Betty

Keira is busy predicting Liber8’s next move to a curt and angry Carlos. Liber8 focuses on corporations that will later be the Global Corporate Congress so she looks at one of those companies that is around today and will later be a member of the Congress – the currently small pharmaceutical company, Gautuma who will master nano-medicine rapidly becoming a complete pharmaceutical monopoly (except a few episodes ago Sonmato was developing cures?)

Of course, it’s hard to convince Gautuma they’re a target because they are currently so small. They look around – and a Liber8 mole (Dillon’s child - Christine) calls Lucas to let him know the police are looking round; Lucas tells Sonya. Gautuma is about to launch a major drug trial against Alzheimers and all is looking good and positive. Until Carlos does some digging and finds that Kellog is buying up Gautuma stock. They also find Christine in the employment records so Keira has to tell Carlos what Dillon has done. Carlos is not amused. He says they go ahead as they would with anyone else, they can’t ignore their best lead on Liber8 because Dillon is playing his own foolish game

Keira tries to question Kellog but he’s cagey – but they do remember that the narcotic-from-the-future they had to deal with in a previous episode was once an Alzheimers drug. Keira also stops John Doe from fiddling with his dog tag because he may activate it (it has a picture inside) and come to the attention of the Freelancers. They talk emotion, sentimentality and clinging to family as time travellers (including Keira’s own mental gymnastics that allow her to keep going) and find a key to a bank safety deposit box hidden in the cuff of John Doe’s jacket.

She finds footage from the bank’s CCTV showing John Doe placing an item in a deposit box – one that she later gave to the Freelancers. And they still can’t figure out what Liber8’s plan with Gautuma is but need to check the drug they’re releasing to see if it is Flash – which means Keira sneaking in invisibly to steal a sample.

Alec finally talks to Carlos to assure him he’s just working on some kind of funeral for Dead Keira. And he’s called into a secret meeting with nefarious unknown bigwigs who tell him to slow everything down, he’s rocking the Powers That Be boat. Alec complains about this to Kellog who assures him he can handle them; he’s more focused on boosting the marketing on Halo.

Sonya takes Christine to see Julian because Sonya wants advice - she doesn’t understand why, when they expose what the corporations are doing, people do so little. Why isn’t their more outrage? Julian points out people feel impotent, powerless – they may hate what’s happening but they also don’t think they can change it. She says they need a leader (hint hint) and he hands her something he’s been writing. Alec also drops in to see him – he wants Julian to endorse Halo. He wants to hire him as a Vice President in charge of corporate responsibility – and as a taste of his help, hands him a file that Sonmato for Julian to use. Julian uses it and they seem to consider going forward as partners.

Downstairs, Sonya is tearfully moved by what Julian has written – she calls it Theseus (the name Julian will be known for in the future when he leads Liber8). Christine keeps talking a good game to Sonya, seeming to tell the truth by talking about Dillon going from seeing the Public as something vital to protect to “souring” on them – all of them.

Penny Dreadful, Season 1, Episode 4: Demimonde

Dorian’s having a little bit of an orgy, with lots of naked women and half-dressed men (oh Penny Dreadful, you’re usually better than that), and Dorian is getting quite close with another male guest – but seems far more absorbed with the portraits of the must more prim figures that line the room, looking down on the debauchery. Afterwards, when alone, he goes into a secret room to sit and examine a portrait (which we don’t get to see but should be able to guess as to the subject matter).

On to Vanessa looking soulfully at a church but not daring to go in, as a precious little girl helps us exposit in a scene that somehow works really well – before it gets morbid and creepy when the little girl says her dead mother won’t stay buried (she’s just talking about Heaven and not being creepy. Honest. But Victorian children have to be creepy. It‘s a rule).

After creepy child has had her say, Vanessa sees Dorian walk past and follows him into a flower show where he’s getting all close and gleeful with the blooms; he takes her on a seductive tour of the flowers, encouraging her to evocative description. He leads her to an orchid that takes 15 years, a lifetime, to perfect itself to bloom for a moment and when she asks if it’s poisonous he says “like all beautiful things, I hope so.” (oh the subtexts on this show!)

Victor finally consults the haematologist that Malcolm said he would hire to study the vampire blood. A Professor Van Helsing. He points out the blood contains a chemical he discovered that prevents coagulation. A very useful property for a creature that feeds on blood – and yes, Van Helsing is somewhat experienced with such creatures though he thinks Malcolm is out of his depth. So is Victor, for different reasons – his first creation, Caliban, is watching him.

Caliban isn’t pleased with the delay, he wants a mate, a beautiful one, and now – victor makes the point that Caliban himself isn’t beautiful to which Caliban points out how very very fragile Victor is and how Caliban and his ilk are the future.

In their room at the Maritime Inn, Brona and Ethan talk about Brona’s past, she talks about the abusive, brutal man she was expected to marry – no matter how brutal he was because in her poverty, her choice was to marry or become a sex worker. She chose the latter. In response to the sad story Ethan reflects on his own past deeds and promises to take her out after work

Speaking of that work, Malcolm and Victor are examining Fenton who is obsessed with Vanessa (“mother”) and they sedate him – while Ethan continues to have attacks of conscience. He’s also very unwilling to give a blood sample to help the experiment for ominous reasons (werewolf?)

While they wait for the experiment to progress, Victor and Malcolm discuss the latest news – the brutal serial killing. Malcolm rules out the vampires since there was no blood drained and Ethan who-is-totally-not-a-werewolf-honest looks uncomfortable and short tempered. Malcolm diffuses the tension with his exploring dreams and the Nile. Vanessa arrives and is almost playful, and punctures Malcolm’s dreams of exploring (“leave the mad larks to the boys”)

Sembene tells them Fenton is awake so it’s down to more prisoner tormenting. After a promising start, he freaks out when offered and apple, ranting and raving for the need for blood. I don’t think the cure worked. Ethan leaves with Vanessa to woe about how far they’ll go while Victor and Malcolm wonder how they’re going to get Fenton blood. Sembene calmly arrives with a cat he kills and hands over (alas he doesn’t speak, but I can almost hear “you’re having to debate an answer to this?!”)

Game of Thrones: Season 4, Episode 8: The Mountain and the Viper

In the North where it’s bloody cold and rather boring

Gilly isn’t exactly fitting in in the raucous brothel, nor is her crying baby popular; but being a Wildling (kind of) means she does recognise the signals the Wildlings make when planning to attack a place. Ygritte and her band have a merry little massacre (we saw prostitutes apparently having fun. This will not stand on Game of Thrones!) while Gilly hides – but her noisy baby leaves Ygritte to her. Ygritte indicates for her to be quiet and leaves them alone – awww heart of gold on Ygritte (ignore the gazillion dead innocents in her wake).

At Castle Black, the Nights Watch are angry and upset about the town being massacred, including several Nights Watch brothers sneaking out of town to visit the brothel; Sam is obviously gutted about Gilly and the baby (who he thinks are dead. On other shows I might say “hah, they’re not going to kill a baby” but I think if I say that now George R R Martin will hear and consider it a challenge). Though the other watchmen point out that Gilly’s actually pretty damn tough all things considered so may have survived. Anyway they’re all grim about the Wildings killing them all and then I don’t get to listen to the pouting! Yay.

Meereen Daenerys, who has learned that “kill all the things!” is not a ruling method.

Grey Worm and his men are bathing (in trousers) while Missandei and some other women wash (completely naked); Missandei notices Grey Worm watching her and tries to cover her breasts – and Grey worm, embarrassed, ducks beneath the water

Missandei talks about this with Daenerys (while Daenerys does Missandei’s hair) who, not very helpfully, tells all about the Dorthraki having no concept of nudity and happily having sex in front of everyone. She then tries to claim that Grey Worm and the Unsullied don’t care about naked bodies and Missandei counters that he most certainly was. Daenerys then muses on exactly what is involved in the castration of slaves. Daenerys’s mind works in odd ways.

Grey Worm finds Missandei and apologises for scaring her. She responds with “I’m sorry you were castrated” because spending too much time around Daenerys does odd things to your thinking. Grey Worm isn’t sad about it because, through a convoluted chain of logic, being cut allowed him to meet Missandei. Awww such a sweet and…. strange little romance.

Away from that, Ser Barristan receives a message – which he takes to Jorah. Robert gave him a full pardon for spying on Daenerys (it took this message rather a long time to reach Jorah). Jorah wants a chance to explain this to Daenerys in private but Ser Barristan (who, it has to be said, doesn’t have the best record of living monarchs) decides letting a proven spy be alone with their Queen is not something they’ll be doing.

He gets to try and explain it to Daenerys with her guards. She won’t let him distract or dodge and forces him to confess to betraying her from the very beginning – he falls to his knees begging forgiveness. He finally admits to loving her but she won’t hear it – not from the man working for Robert Baratheon who killed her father. She exiles him from Meereen to really angsty violin music.

Monday, June 2, 2014

City of Heavenly Fire (Mortal Instruments #6) by Cassandra Clare

Simon, son of Valentine, is using his Infernal Cup to make war on the Shadowhunters. With this cup he can turn the Shadowhunters into the Endarkened, evil, superlative warriors bound to his will. After a raid on several institutes, he has gathered quite a force, especially with the hidden allies working on his side. The Shadowhunters are unprepared and desperately trying to counter him while continuing their mission.

And the pacts he’s made with Lillith make him almost invulnerable – except to Heavenly fire. The only source of which is currently in Jace and he doesn’t know how to control it.

Throughout the Mortal Instruments Series and, relatedly, The Infernal Devices series we’ve had a major complaint – they are terribly, ridiculously overwritten. This continues massively this book, with lots of unnecessary, excessive description over and over again. Really, we do not need to know what everyone is wearing at every given moment, repeatedly. I don’t need to know about everyone’s hair, the terrain, that someone has put their fingers through the belt loops of their jeans in conversation, what an irrelevant building looks like, whether Maryse likes said building –trim trim trim!

In between the piles of unnecessary description we also have vast lumps of navel gazing from just about every character. Lots of huge internal monologues which didn’t really add anything, especially since they’re repeated over and over. Then reinforced with a dialogue on the same subject saying the same thing which, again, may be repeated

There’s also an unnecessary amount of recapping events – something would happen, someone would react (emotion, naval gaze, monologue) then tell the WHOLE THING to someone else. Not “Clary told Jace what happened”. Nope, we’d have the whole conversation, word by word.

In addition we also have Maia’s story which is… nice, but irrelevant. Frankly, it felt like a short story slotted into the main plot because it didn’t really add anything to the over all book except more padding. In a less padded book it may have worked; but this book was already taking way too damn long to get to the story.

The same goes for the Blackthorns. They’re a nice addition to the story and would make an interesting short story of their own and are clearly being set up for another series in the same world – but because the story is already badly padded having all these inserts from Emma, the 8 squillion Blackthorn children (including detailed, repeated description of their hair colour. Honestly, I knew every single one of these kid’s hair before they ever appeared in the book – we just had an epic hair info dump) just felt like more padding before we actually got to the plot. And we had Simon and Maureen – and gods know what the point of that was.

This book is nearly 500 pages long and could have been told in 250 easily. I would actually advising skimming this book if you read it because you will miss nothing – everything is just so long winded that reading one word in three will give you a clear idea of what’s going on.

Fangs for the Fantasy Book of the Week - Podcast this Wednesday!

It's another Monday - and our battles with the moose continue. Really, we've been moving this around a bit but we mean it this time. And it's really moving to Wednesday too!

That's Wednesday 4th June at 12:00am EST

Hope to see you all there where will will begin discussing all the season finales we've been seeing lately for lots of analysis and, of course, our book of the week.

Our next books of the week are listed below for reference purposes

19th May - 26th May: Banishing the Dark by Jenn Bennet
26th May - 2nd June: City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare
2nd June - 9th June: Bloodshifted by Cassie Alexander
9th June - 16th June: A Lady of Spirit by Shelly Adina
16th June - 23rd June: Shattered by Kevin Hearne
23rd June - 30th June: The Tale of the Body Thief by Anne Rice
30th June - 7th July: Hunting Ground by Patricia Briggs
7th July - 14th July: Memnoch the Devil by Anne Rice
14th July - 21st July: Grave visions by Kalayna Price

Da Vinci's Demons, Season 2, Episode 10: The Sins of Daedalus

Leonardo is rescued from the burning workshop by the guards and taken out to his friends where he can tell everyone about Carlo killing Andrea. Despite his injury, Leo insists on going off riding. Despite being injured, having taken time to be dragged out of a burning building, he almost catches a hooded figure we assume is Carlo – before running into a tree branch. And this is why you don’t ride in forests. While he rolls around on the forest floor, he has a flash back which is all wonderful and paternal about what Andrea meant to him – which may have been more pointful if there’d been some effort to develop this while Andrea was still alive.

Clarice attends the scene of the fire and Vanessa tells her about Carlo being the killer; Vanessa seems to be accusing Clarice because she slept with Carlo. Vanessa refuses to return to the palace but Clarice orders her taken there – she’s pregnant with a Medici so Clarice makes the decisions. Nico speaks up, protesting that Florence is a republic and Vanessa has rights – and gets a slap for being disrespectful to Clarice. Clarice asks who he is and Nico says “I an Niccolo Machiavelli”

We have finally stopped hinting about who Nico is.

Anyway, his dad is apparently a very well respected legal scholar. And yes, he knows the law. This tense scene is interrupted by Vanessa going into labour.

She gives birth to a baby boy – who Clarice greets as a “male heir at last.”

Leo didn’t die in the forest – he was found by Al Rahim who just happened to be in the area. Leo has a bone to pick with Al Rahim since he went to a completely unknown continent to find the Leafy Book and all he got was a tacky statue. Al Rahim blames it all on Leo’s mother which is unlikely to endear him. Anyway, Leo wants to stop Carlo and his Labyrinth friends (who may or may not be the Enemies of Man who Riario has just joined) but Al Rahim wants to know why – to save the Leafy book or to avenge Andrea (pfft, like anyone gave a damn about Andrea Verrochio before this episode) because he’s Al Rahim and navel gazing and unnecessary cryptic bullshit must accompany EVERYTHING. Anyway, Leo’s mother’s cryptic code points to her childhood home which is, apparently, Constantinople. Oh good he can trip over Lucrezia there, that’s useful. I also hope they can get a little more specific because Constantinople is huge

Al Rahim thinks the journey is monumental which is, perhaps, an exaggeration since Lurcrezia apparently managed it in like 2 days, a week tops. He also thinks Leo will get lost – also unlikely given Constantinople is rather well known. Yes I am taking his cryptic bullshit literally because I am sorely tired of the nonsense. Then he decides to send Leo to Naples (where he can conveniently run into Lorenzo! How very useful) where he will “find what he seeks” Which will probably be a boat. Going to Constantinople which is a) freaking ridiculously cryptic and overwrought and b) an excuse to stop Leo going to the much closer (and Lorenzo-less) port of Pisa to get a boat.

Over to Riario (who hates everything and everyone twice over) and the Enemies of Man who don’t want anyone to find the Leafy Book because people are arseholes and can’t be trusted with Ultimate Cosmic Power. And they’re going to help Riario by pouring super salty water into his eyes.

This is a singularly unhelpful form of help. They torture him until he joins them, possibly breaking him in the process.

Back to Leo and Zoroaster found him by, presumably, psychic means. (Leo rode off into the wood, and was doctored in a little hollow by Al Rahim the Cryptic – how did Zoroaster find him? Check the GPS on his phone?) Anyway, Leo is going to Naples to find the Leafy Book and Zoroaster isn’t up for that (he has, to be fair, already gone above and beyond the call of duty to seek out Leo’s bed-time reading) but he will come along to kill Carlo for Andrea’s sake (wow, everyone’s pretending to give a damn about this man now).

Orphan Black, Season 2, Episode 7: Knowledge of Cause, and the Secret Motion of Things

Sarah and Mrs. S are preparing to leave and head for the hills with Ethan; which means packing in his horrible home. Sarah is all for using Ethan to get to Rachel and turn her against Leekie, while Mrs. S thinks Rachel is pretty much evil so there’s not much point. I have to say I’m leaning to Mrs. S on this one.

In Rehab, Allison and Vic continue to make friends with Allison unburdening all of her woes. Including sleeping with Aynsley’s husband. Oh and watching her dying, seeing her struggle, seeing her beg and not helping her. Why unburdening feels so good (Vic is now rather traumatised)!

Later when Allison goes to take Vic the gloves she made for him she overhears Vic talking to detective Angie – who he is spying for – telling her he wants to speak to her in person to spill the juicy secrets. Oh Vic, it’s glue gun time!

Alas, no, she has a clone problem, who do you call? Felix of course! Helping the clones is his sole reason for existing after all. After her usual panicky ramble in which she mentions she can’t go to prison because she would certainly cut people (and, being Allison, yes she would. Yes yes she would), Felix promises to report for service.

Meanwhile suspicious Cal is doing some digging on Dyad – and realises his computer camera just clicked on. He’s being spied on through his own computer. He quickly dumps the computer – still sending a signal – and drives off, letting Sarah know he’s moving. Sarah heads out and Mrs. S wants some info and mutual trust – hah, so not going to happen; but still having little other choice, Sarah trusts Mrs. S with the very confused Ethan.

Sarah goes to Cal, therefore giving the Dyad people another way to catch up to him, in order to… I’m not sure. Flirt, I think. And give Sarah a chance to see Kira. Which means he does miss a much clearer Ethan removing some very-old discs from the bottom of a box. He tells Mrs. S they contain “everything.” I doubt it, there’s not a lot of memory on those things.

Paul reports into Leekie and broadly tells the truth except for the great big hole about Ethan. Either way Leekie is super worried and suspicious and decides he needs to speak to a Marion Bowles. He meets her and tells her that Ethan is alive, so much for Paul keeping it a secret. Marion and Leekie are both worried about how Rachel will react and how they have to intervene (Marion is sure they’ll win) and also what a pesky little pest Sarah is.

Sarah is still with Cal and Kira and Cal’s big solution is to run to Iceland where he has friends. Sarah nixes this. And gets a call from Allison and Felix calling in Sarah to get Vic off Allison’s case since Vic is technically Sarah’s problem.

To the Rehab Centre! Where it is Family Day! (Donnie’s little place mat is notably undecorated because Allison has turned passive aggression into an art form) and Sarah meets up with Vic. He wants to make a big atonement apology to her, she kind of wants to get it done and move on. Which doesn’t work for Vic since he’s clearly angling for Sarah to apologise back (not happening) and have a conversation which turns into an argument because Vic is upset that Sarah keeps him at a distance… uh, yes? And? Which then turns into Vic wanting Sarah back – oh so monumentally not happening ever. Then he passes out and hits his head on a table full of glitter – Felix spikes his drink. He will now miss the meeting with Angie