Saturday, June 14, 2014

Salem, Season 1, Episode 7: Our Own Private America

Out to sea, a ship is becalmed and everyone on board is ill – not the most pleasant sea voyage. And to make it even less fun, there’s a witch hunter on board and he is so very very very sure that there’s a witch on the ship who is responsible for all the trouble even as the captain points out that they have already checked everyone.

In Salem, Mary displays Rose’s decapitated head to Magistrate Hale and makes it clear she is tired of his shenanigans. She won’t have any more going behind her back, she is the boss, she is in charge, she will lead the Gran Rite and anyone who disagrees with that can also face the chopping block. Hale kneels and abases himself, swearing loyalty and obedience and promising to spread word to the others that Mary is the boss. Now, treachery addressed, they’ve still got 8 more innocents to kill and they’re on a deadline. Mary, being all kinds of efficient, has a plan to kill 3 more off.

Over to the Hale household and Mrs. Hale tries to explain the Magistrate’s odd behaviour and disappearing to Anne – daddy is a spy for an undisclosed foreign power (not the French, after all, there are limits apparently) either way it doesn’t matter – piffling politics. Anne objects to treachery being so easily dismissed and Mrs. Hale responds with a swift backhand – apparently calling the traitor a traitor is naughty. Anne is scornful of her mother (and calls her a liar) for being in such denial – but Mrs. Hale presents her reasons: once you know something, you can’t unknow it.

Hale himself is at the brothel enjoying watching 3 of the women make out with each other until he gets a message on the skin of one of them; it’s from the ship, from the witch on board who is sure they are hidden and can keep the witch hunter becalmed. Hale wants to prevent the hunter from arriving but he hasn’t bothered to warn Mary the hunter may show up; Mab (fellow witch and brothel madam) disagrees but Hale is still playing his little games.

Back to Mary and Tituba  and the problem of finding out where John has stashed the Malum which is super duper important. Mary has the great idea of entering John’s dreams. Tituba isn’t a fan because a) it’s dangerous and b) she thinks Mary wants to do it so she can have sexy times in John’s head. She overrules Tituba (of course) and goes into John’s head… to have sex

She breaks the dream when she scratches his chest – and John wakes with her nail marks on him.

On the ship, the witch hunter finds his witch – the captain. After a bit of torture he breaks the spell that holds the winds, kills him and takes over the ship. Sailing west

To Mercy, who is sharing witchy tricks with her friends (and we learn one of them, Dolly, is being set up with a Joe Barker and she isn’t a big fan of the idea). Mercy’s little tricks do make Dolly leave in fear (under the excuse she has to go to her “bundling” with Joe). Mercy is all kinds of elated that her spell worked and is gleeful with Mary.

Salem, Season One, Episode Six: The Red Rose and the Briar

A drunk Cotton consults the stars firm in the belief that if he can interrogate the witch in a precise spot, she will be unable to lie.  He hands Alden a hypodermic needle filled with a paralytic to control the witch.  They head down to the cellar and the witch taunts them but they grab her.  She turns herself into Cotton's mother and then taunts Cotton saying that his mother is the devil's favourite whore.  In frustration, Cotton injects her without looking for a vein.

Mercy is feasting and Tituba looks on disdain.  She asks when Mary plans to kill her but Mary points out that she was a dirty little creature when they first met.  Mary orders Mercy's clothing burned.

Cotton and Alden march through the streets and Cotton blathers about the witch. At the Sibley's Mary shows Mercy how she shaves Mr. Sibley.  Alone, Mercy admires Mary's jewelry and Mary advises that the hard part is not getting what you want but knowing what you want. Mercy says that she wants to be like Mary.  Mary offers Mercy a book but it seems that her father believed there was no reason for a girl to read and that his plan was to find a man to read her the bible as that apparently is the only book worth reading. Mary says that her God likes them to read for themselves and offers to teach Mercy to read one day.  Mary then starts to tell the story of the Queen of the Night. Of course, the story that she tells is about herself and how after believing Alden dead, Tituba brought her to George's home. It seems that it was Hale who poisoned George's first wife to dead, leaving an opportunity for Mary to marry George.  As Mary tells this story, Mary holds a razor above Mercy.   She talks about throwing up after having sex with George and how it taught her to be careful what she wished for.  Apparently she was married to George for two years when she begged to be released but she was refused because the witches believed that Salem would go on to be one of the most powerful cities in the New World.  That night she initiated a sex game with George involving Tituba and purposefully got him drunk before forcing a toad down his throat.  From then of course George was docile, leaving Mary in control.

Mercy wakes and finds that she is no longer in the Sibley home but in the woods.  A panicked Mercy promises never to say that Mary is a witch.  When Mercy sees the blade in Mary's hand, she takes off running. Mercy runs screaming and Mary slowly stalks her never increasing her pace.

In another area of the woods Cotton hears the scream but dismisses it as the sound of an owl.  How or why is beyond me because it so clearly sounded like a human scream. Cotton reveals that they will only have a short moment to question the witch and then they must kill her before the paralytic wears off.  A drunk Cotton pulls out a sword saying that he fenced at school.

Tituba heads to see the magistrate where she learns that a witch is missing. Anne questions her mother about why the Magistrate would be meeting with Tituba.

Mercy continues to run ad stumble through the woods as Mary stalks her.  Mary finally catches Mercy and cuts off her clothing.  A naked Mercy sits on the ground and Mary demands that Mercy say that this is what she wants.

The sun has fallen as Cotton and Alden arrive at the chosen spot in the woods.  Alden snarks about how unpleasant the locale is.  As they work on suspending Rose from a tree, they don't realise they are being watched.  Rose tries to fight back and they realise the paralytic is wearing off. Rose cackles and threatens that the darkness will eat Cotton and Alden as she is hung from the tree. When Roe begins to talk about Mary, Alden grabs a sword but Cotton stops him.

Tituba has gone to see Petrus and says that Rose is missing and must be in his wood.  Petrus declares that he has not seen Rose but did see a witch in the woods tonight.  Petrus again taunts Tituba about teaching Mary everything and so Tituba reminds him that he must remember whose site he is on.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Hollow Eyes (Salt Lake After Dark #2) by J.K. Walker

Jazz is embracing her role as the supernatural’s trouble shooter – and the city’s homeless population being preyed upon definitely counts as a problem for her to fix.  Finding out who is responsible and making them stop definitely adds a complication to the holiday season.

A complicated situation that isn’t made any easier by a berserker arriving in town determined to force one of her friends to fight – and he’s willing to target Jazz to force AJ into the ring.

I don’t know how much time has passed between this book and the first in the series, it doesn’t expressly say and it doesn’t need to. The development of the characters alone has created the sense of time without having to expressly spell it out – it’s very neatly done.

Especially with Jasmine. Jazz has transitioned excellent from the first book to her new role as the Council’s trouble shooter. She didn’t ask for it. She may not even like it – but she does take it seriously and I like that. Sure it wasn’t a role she sought out but she recognises it as a role that’s important and a role that comes with a lot of responsibility. Linked into that is her own strength and confidence and desire to prove herself. Does this mean she always makes great decisions? No, she’s driven to solve the problem in the book and she’s determined to do it herself with relatively little help. But, unlike so many reckless Urban Fantasy characters, Jazz actually sells this. She’s driven to solve this because it’s her job, her responsibility and through that her place in the supernatural community. More, it’s her role given by the leaders of that community very quickly because they respected her abilities. She can’t let someone else take it over without implying they were wrong (even if any sensible person would and the Council won’t hold it against her). There’s this ongoing message from Jazz that started in the last short story – this is her job, she takes it seriously and this is what she has to do. Not because she’s the chosen one or the only one with the special woo-woo or anything else (in fact, there are moments where it’s expressly made clear Jazz isn’t the strongest of them all, not even close) – but it’s her job, her role, her responsibility. It’s not pride, or not pride in the arrogant sense or over-confidence – it’s responsibility and duty that drive Jazz as well as a deep well of compassion.

I also like that she’s a female character, in this genre, who is most strongly defined by her female friends. She has a close circle of excellent, close female friends she relies on, she spends time with (and that’s social time – not just “hey I need something, come help”) that is growing if anything. They’re a far more dominant and powerful part of her life than her male friends and even than her love interest (who still needs to drop the awful Cajun accent).

Other good development comes from Mitchell, the hard-ass werewolf leader who is always so abrasive and controlling. I initially thought we were looking at a wannabe dictator but he has a lot more nuance than that. Yes he’s controlling and arrogant, but he also legitimately cares about the community – all the supernaturals – quite possibly more so than any other leader. In fact, he may be the only leader who can or who wants to take point and help the community as a whole – the head witch we haven’t seen much of, head vampire Victoria is doing her level best not to be the Supreme Queen of the area, which is hard because she’s the biggest, baddest thing in town. The werecats are few in number and too independent. Who else but Mitchell can lead? Like Jazz, responsibility seems to drive him. It’s really nice to see that develop alongside her – and alongside Victoria who seems mixed between being friendly and terrifying and in a really awesome

Raiding Non-Western Cultures for Exotic Monsters

'Deathworld3 (cover) shredded 2' photo (c) 2006, DaveBleasdale - license:

Urban Fantasy is a big genre. There have been a vast number of stories written in this genre covering a huge range of monsters doing all kinds of things. Vampires have been seducing school girls in a gazillion books, werewolves have been all Alpha and growling their women into terrified, weak-kneed sexiness so often that I’m sure publishers believe women have multiple orgasms every time they hear the foamy growls of a rabid dog (please do not write this story. Please) and the fae have danced from the pages bringing us a thousand different depictions of what Americans think the Irish sound like.

This genre is very full. I love it, it gives me infinite books to read (and comment on), but occasionally it’s hard to find something original and I think writers often have the same problem. In a genre with so many stories about vampires, werewolves and, to a lesser extent, fae, witches and zombies, how does a writer guarantee that their book/episode/etc will be original?

Well there’s a whole world out there full of creatures! Cultures, traditions, mythologies of an entire world are just waiting to be harvested for cheap monster fodder! bring on the Wendigo, call in the Kitsune, dig up your Ghouls and season it all with some random deities to complete the picture - originality awaits!

Sadly, that description isn’t even all that snarky - it’s accurate. Non-western mythologies are mined for random shiny creatures without any real attempt to delve into the mythology or legends behind them or any inclusion for the actual people from those cultures. The creature is there literally to be something shiny and new with no attempt to even get a decent representation of the creature, let alone the cultural context it comes from.

The example I most constantly rant about is the Wendigo. If you’ve been following Fangs for any length of time you will know my rants about Wendigo. Wendigo (and, to a lesser extent, Skinwalkers) are some of the most common random woo-woo interest out there - usually without a even a second of Algonquin inclusion to go with this creature randomly ripped from their culture. Or, if there is, it’s a Native American who explains what it is before wandering away and letting the white people do battle with the werewolf. Yes, werewolf, because 90% of the time the writers use “wendigo” and “werewolf” interchangeably and just swap silver for fire. Charmed, Supernatural, Blood Ties, Haven (and the fact Haven managed to throw in Wendigo Troubled People” shows how bad its got), Grimm and even Lost Girl mentioned them as fae once.

But Wendigo are far from alone, Dresden Files and Kitty Norville series drag up Skinwalkers (the Kitty Norville series pulls in a lot of Chinese supernatural for one book never to be seen again as well), Kitsune are scattered randomly and without any backing or development in a huge range of series including Salt Lake After Dark and H&W Investigations. Tengu appears as background one-off characters in the Deacon Frost Series. The Mercy Thompson series goes for books on end drawing on Native American woo-woo with little inclusion or context until River Marked when the author seems to find wikipedia.

I can’t even count the number of books that have dragged in ghouls and separated them from anything resembling their original Middle-Eastern legend. Half the time, ghouls is nearly synonymous with zombie. I’m not even going to begin to count how many times Voodoo is thrown into a book of TV series for a one off episode or book with lots of dark magic, zombies, Baron Samedi (always Baron Samedi - in the same way Native American entities are always Coyote) with maybe a few dangerous Black people (or Latina in the Anita Blake series, possibly because the author got confused) to sell it.

Supernatural probably takes the prize for appropriating non-western cultures - not only does it have a full stable of creatures Wendigo, Rakshasa, Djinn, Kitsune randomly ripped from non-western cultures without a shred of development - but even pulled in gods like Ganesh and Kali and had them casually killed or driven off by Lucifer. These Hindu deities were included in a single, throw-away one-off episode expressly so they could be killed by Lucifer and show how dangerous he is.

If it weren’t for this gross appropriation, Lost Girl (reducing every supernatural creature of every legend to Fae) and Charmed (happy to treat any legend as a monster of the week, calling every and anything “fae”) would be notable, but Supernatural has set a grossly high - or low - bar.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Paint it Black (Black Knight Chronicles #4) by John G Hartness

People are going missing and have been for some time – seemingly without a trace until some jawbones were found. But they’re too old – they definitely match the victims but are years older than they should be.

Woo-woo is afoot and between the changing age of the bones and troll involvement, all clues point to fairy land, and the dangerous and alien goblin market. Clearly careful, subtle investigation is needed.

Such a shame that James and Greg don’t do subtle or careful.

I liked this book. It was fun. It had some hilarious moments, it had some pretty exciting moments. It had action and adventure and weirdness writ large. The story was fun, it covered a huge swath of the world, it brought up some interesting points about the relationship between the worlds and gave the characters some room to grow. It had a lot of good there

And it had a lot of, well, basically a whacky romp through fairy land. The guys (backed up to a lesser extent by the supporting cast) rampage their way through “investigation” which involves breaking things and hitting things until answers fall on them or people given them answers just to make them go away and stop causing trouble. This is a form of “investigation” that annoys me so much in Urban Fantasy and I was getting a little irritated with it here – except it was blatantly lamp shaded. James openly admits that his plan is basically to hit things and hope he finds answers doing it and it is presented as exactly as silly as it sounds. And it doesn’t work. Oh they make some progress but at nearly every step of the way of their “let’s rampage and get answers” they run into something bigger, stronger or smarter than them that is less inclined to tolerate their nonsense. The greatest challenge of the book is fought through the mind and not with vampire might. Sabrina is there to provide sense and rescue and they rely heavily on the patronage of the fairy queen they earned in the past to dig themselves out of the foolish hole they’ve dug

They do get answers, some of those answers do come from their whacky and ill advised rampage. But that rampage is always very clear as being ill advised. Especially compared to the very efficient investigation they perform later (though I do think that Greg’s computer skills are morphing into a slightly ridiculous Deus Ex).

The problem is that a large part of the book is a rampage through fairy land (and I’m not a fan of fairy land in this series anyway, it feels like an excuse for the author to just throw every random thing into the story). It wasn’t a bad storyline, but it also didn’t add a whole lot of anything and didn’t exactly thrill me.

Recap and Review: The 4400 Season Three

This season definitely made up for the filler feeling of season two.  So much happened that it's hard to know where to begin. The 4400 center has been seized by the government after a power struggle involving a resurrected Collier and Richard Hyland.  Richard is willing to risk anything to keep the U.S. safe from the threat of the 4400 and this is juxtaposed to Collier's prediction of a terrible dystopian future. Isabelle, who I have nicknamed scary baby, turns out to be extremely powerful and uncontrollable.

One of the things that seemed subversive about The 4400 is that Isabelle Scary Baby was initially cast as a savior.  She was even referred to as the Rosetta Stone of the future.This would have been subversive because the chosen was is almost uniformly White and male.  As it turns out, The 4400 is not interested in breaking the mold. Isabelle Scary Baby was created to destroy the 4400 and though she claims to struggle against it, she is quick to join forces with Hyland in a supposed attempt to create a balance of power. Isabelle Scary Baby suddenly becomes an adult but the process kills Lilly (and honestly, Lilly is no loss). Isabelle Scary Baby becomes willful like a three year old she really is and starts to make demands of the people around her like Shawn and Richard (her father).

Interesting story lines develop around Isabelle Scary Baby.  Isabelle Scary Baby is very curious about the world and having missed the process of growing up, she has missed many common experiences like learning how to drive a car, swim and even ride a bike.  Shawn decides to help her with the process of acclimation and in the process, Isabelle Scary Baby develops romantic feelings.  At first, Shawn rejects Isabelle Scary Baby, claiming that a sexual relationship would upset Richard and that Richard has some say on Isabelle's body.  The issue should not have been that Richard is concerned about what his daughter does with her vagina but that Isabelle Scary Baby has the mentality of a three year old hyped up on sugar and therefore cannot consent. She is a child inhabiting a woman's body.  This makes Shawn a problematic character because not only does he engage in a sexual relationship with  Isabelle Scar Baby, he continues to engage in a relationship until it becomes clear that Isabelle Scary Baby is a threat.

Much of this season is about choosing sides. Hyland who led the attack on the 4400 was censured and most certainly did't receive any real punishment. Because 27 people died  and many were at risk, it's hard not to understand the desire for revenge and to protect themselves that the 4400 felt.  On the other side of the equation, the 4400 have manifested the ability for telekinesis, shockwave emission, telepathy, mind control, electrokinesis, producing hallucinations, memory erasure, claircognizance etc. These powers in the wrong hands are dangerous and constitute a real threat to society. They have shown on multiple occasions that they have the ability to kill at will, frame people for murder and even shut down NTAC. Even the 4400 that profess to only be interested in saving the future, still possess a power that makes them dangerous. It's absolutely reasonable to be afraid of these people.  The question is what is an acceptable outcome of this fear.

Part of the issue is that thus far with The 4400, there is a vagueness in the storyline involving the future humans. Now we know that there is a power struggle between two groups: one seeking to change the future and the other to maintain the status quo. This adds more to the story but there is still a sense of vagueness about it. It doesn't help that Collier is walking around making predictions of a dystopian future. Collier sets himself up as a messiah figure making his position hard to trust.  We know from the abduction of Maia that at least one faction is dissatisfied with result the 4400 has had and are still working to redirect the past. This is supposedly the good side and yet they callously removed children from their present lives and families to insert the children in a past timeline.  The future humans only return the children after it becomes clear that Diana and Tom have not forgotten Maia and want her back. Again, this gives a sense of conflict because there is no clear bifurcation between supposed good and supposed evil, making The 4400 incredibly complex.

This Week in Book Covers 2nd June - 6th June

So many pretty covers this week - alas, the old adage “can’t trust a book by its cover” is also this week’s theme. Only one - maybe 2 - are actually represented by their covers. All that prettiness and so much disappointment

Oh and an arse. Of course.

If nothing else, you have to praise these book series for their beautiful covers. The light from the marks, the burning city, the angel wings, the wind and drama of it all. So very beautiful, so very intriguing. It’s almost enough to stop me questioning why Clary is dressed like a Bronte heroine in her nightdress.

Aaargh, now whenever I think of Clary I’m going to picture this:

You had a temper like my jealousy
Too hot, too greedy
How could you leave me
When I needed to possess you?
I hated you. I loved you, too

Oh gods, it may actually fit... I now badly need a drink.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

City of Roses Vol 1 "Wake Up" by Kip Manley

Jo has good friends, she has her tiny apartment and she has her awful job cold calling people. It’s not a great life but she manages – until a night out partying leads to a duel with a fae knight

Which she wins.

She is now responsible for Ysabel. The Bride. Fairy princess and the centre of so much intrigue – and it’s Jo’s job to keep her safe. And fed. And entertained.

This book has an excellent concept – Portland split between 4 very different fae factions, the political manoeuvring between them, the ritual and the scheming and the propriety all maintained. And under that the underlying game of it all, with none of them actually able to cause real damage to each other – until the rules of the game change.

Then there’s the princess, forced by circumstances to live with Jo in her tiny apartment and join her on her dead end job. A faerie princess forced into such low standards – forced to work in a call centre – how can that not be a recipe for hijinks and shenanigans (and interesting class commentary)?

The concept is great. The idea for the story is great. The characters have potential.

The execution is appalling.

Firstly, while I can see why the author wants to write this story, it simply doesn’t make sense. I don’t understand why the Chariot entered a duel with Jo, I don’t understand how that was remotely to do with honour (hey, let’s hit a civilian with a sword for HONOUR!), I don’t understand the whole ridiculous “losing” of it.

I don’t understand why Jo played along. I don’t understand why Jo seemed to take the whole existence of the fae as something so minor and easy to get used to. I don’t understand why, if she had chosen to play their games, she didn’t take the Out that was offered her since it would have cost her nothing.

I don’t understand why she allowed the princess to move in with her. I don’t understand why, as a woman of such limited means, she accepted the idea of monetarily supporting the princess.

I don’t understand why Jo has so few questions. She never asks about the fae, the courts, why they are there, how long, what they mean even what a Gallogas is (which is apparently her).

It doesn’t make sense.

In the Flesh, Season 2, Episode 6

2 security people have been sent to Roarton for a “collection”, presumably to pick up Kieren (stopping at a cafĂ© and served by a PDS waitress who is forced to make a humiliating speech each time).

At the Walker household, Kieren’s parents have fully turned against him, locking him up and happy to let Norfolk take him. Things aren’t great for Jem who is still having guilt/trauma dreams, she also can’t even look at Kieren.

Amy is freaking out because she’s changing – because she can feel. Phillip suggests seeing the doctor, Amy is more sensible though – a PDS person doesn’t say “I’m changing” and get help – they get sent to the Treatment Centre.

Dramatic dressing and praying moment – Maxine, Gary and Simon; a montage of people whose beliefs make them do highly inadvisable and probably wrong things. Simon tells his followers to get ready and Maxine takes down a photo from her wall – but not Kieren’s. Gary rushes to Maxine eager to stop Simon but Maxine tells him to stand down, Simon isn’t a threat (yes she’s definitely got her own agenda). Gary grabs her, furious and tells her how terribad Simon is – Maxine isn’t ruffled and sends him home. Gary doesn’t listen and goes to raid Simon’s house anyway – it’s empty, just an ominous sign saying the dead will rise again.

The Norfolk people arrive and they’re actually there for Amy because of her odd medical results, that means they’re in for some testing. Dr. Russo, who tries to be a good guy, is very very unhelpful to them and may as well have yelled “TEAM AMY!” (like all right thinking people). But everyone is so very polite about the whole thing.

This day is also the “Beat the Bounds” fete where the people of Roarton walk the perimeter fence for funsies (if this seems strange, you have never seen a British summer fete or seen Morris Dancing perpetrated). Phillip takes Amy and very nicely gives a polite verbal smack to the judgemental Mrs. Lamb. Sue, Kieren’s mum, gets her own little verbal mauling when Shirley (Phillip’s mother. And she’s awesome) sympathises with her and tells her how terrible it is for Kieren to be so persecuted. Sue tries to point out Phillip with Amy but Shirley is more fazed by the fact Amy is actually eating. She goes over to Phillip to tell him “you done good” nodding to Amy. Awwwww… never mind anyone else, Shirley is the star of this show.

Steve, Kieren’s dad, takes Jem to the Beating of the Bounds where everyone is carrying big spikey weapons (in case Morrison Dancers show up. One glimpse of an accordion and it’s flight or fight). Maxine makes a big happy speech and even jokes about all the edged weapons

Gary isn’t at the march – not finding Simon, he goes to Kieren’s house, gets rid of the night-bright Dean and decides to start smacking Kieren around to find Simon. Since the PDS (except Amy) don’t feel pain, isn’t this kind of redundant? Kieren doesn’t seem very impressed either, miffed that he hasn’t seen Simon for days and generally more irritated than frightened by Gary. Gary ransacks Kieren’s room – and finds the Blue Oblivion that Kieren decided to take from Simon’s place for no damned reason. Gary drags Kieren out to his truck – watched by Simon.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Sunstruck (The Bigfoot Mysteries #1) by Polenth Blake

Ben is the new member of the Spokane Ecology Board, after his predecessor was murdered. Of course, it isn’t generally known what the full nature of the job entails – policing and investigating problems with the supernatural community of Spokane. A community Ben never knew about before – and certainly isn’t a part of.

It comes with a partner – Ari. A Bigfoot. She’s hoping this job will earn her some respect from the Bigfoot colony that has made her an outcast – she doesn’t have a great deal of experience with humans. Her predecessor has also been murdered

Both of them face something of a learning curve. But they have to learn fast – whoever killed the people before them may be targeting them next and, with the evidence heavily tampered with, the perpetrator may be one of the few people they need to trust.

Given that, Thunderbirds having a temper tantrum in town seems quite minor.

This is a neat murder mystery – it’s a story with lots of interesting little twists and tangents that unfold as the book progresses at an excellent pace. It has a few nifty red herrings that are thrown in with skill and aplomb, we have some action that’s in keeping with the characters. It’s a good plot and it has some points I really appreciated – like the action scenes not being one-on-one fights (because why going into such equal battles?) and the enemy not being so simplistic as is common place.

But the story is a far better vehicle for the world and the characters

The characters are excellent – Ari and Ben bounce off each other, flounder together, annoy each other, try not to annoy each other, fail to understand each other but keep bouncing back and coming together again trying to decide whether to sit down and figure out what happened or to Not Talk About It. They have pasts and experiences and fully realised characters that I just want to burrow through

If it weren’t for the world, the characters would be the best thing about this book. But the world, with the different supernatural groups, hefty amounts of Native American tradition, entirely newly created lore in places sprinkled with politics, tensions and strong connections to themes of colonisation – is even better.

There was a lot of Native American tradition and beliefs in this book and even without the bibliography at the end you can tell that there has been some research gone into them which is always great to see and helped contribute to the richness of this world (along with the development of the Bigfoots mentioned below). The combination and blending of well researched actual tradition and beliefs with really well founded and well made fictional worlds made for a very strong setting

Continuum, Season 3, Episode 11: 3 Minutes to Midnight

Halo is going to market, and already it’s set to make a killing.

At Kiera’s, Brad is having lots of memory flashback confusion – including killing Kiera. Kiera returns home to find broken glass – and Brad missing. She instantly suspects the Freelancers and goes to examine their prison (sparing 2 seconds to worry about Alec she imprisoned) but they claim all innocence and try to push her into “doing the right thing” (putting Brad in a box. But while Alec in prison is totally ok, total stranger Brad is going too far).

Cut to a flashback of Brad walking with Chen, all friendly like, talking about keeping tabs on the then-free-extra-Alec and Brad seems to be Chen’s boss talking about changing their plans after learning more and keeping threats contained. Is this another Freelancer group? Like uber Freelancers? Who Freelances the Freelancers? Anyway, knowing the future and time travel doesn’t stop then Brad walking out in front of a truck. Oops

To now Brad, all confused and lost

Jason, who seems to have lost the clarity that Halo gave him, goes digging up the pieces of the time machine. Then beats a man with his shovel screaming about “not going back in the box”. This could be Jason fighting a Freelancer but turns out to be him beating up a random bystander because he’s not thinking very clearly.

Kiera and Carlos get to try and question Jason who has now lost all pretence of clarity. Kiera and Carlos are more worried about the Time Machine but, of course, Dillon’s oh-so-corrupt police force kicks in and Jason is released – and the minute he puts his Halo bracelet on he calms down.

Kiera goes to see Alec – though Carlos warns her that Alec can’t be trusted and Piron practically owns the police. Carlos confirms that Dillon was personally involved in getting the charges dropped; it’s not the first either. Other cases have been cleaned up, all with perpetrators wearing the Halo bracelets. Carlos questions the violent beta-testers of Halo and finds more of Dillon’s cover up, buying people off.

Kiera questions Alec and Jason and they both assure her Halo is wonderful and safe and amazing so all is good. Um… police corruption? Magically vanishing charges? Anyone interested in this? At all? Kiera trusts him because her CMR shows no lies – but Alec has a little programme that blocks it.

Brad, meanwhile, tracks down Kellogg. He needs his resources and help to get something back that the Freelancers took – and no, he isn’t bothered by the Freelancers

Alec, Jason and Jacqueline meet to discuss an unfortunate side effect of Halo – it makes 6% of uses unpredictable and violent – or psychotic as Alec puts it. That’s a… pretty bad side effect. But they’re sure they can fix this teeny tiny problem, of course. Which requires Jason’s help, which means he needs to wear Halo (Alec totally doesn’t want him to hurt himself, but, yeah put on the mind scrambler and fix it please!)

Kiera and Carlos consult over the blatant corruption but, as Kiera says “you shoot the king, you’ve got to kill the king.” They’re going to need a lot of evidence to bring down Dillon – and Alec. Kiera tells Carlos what Alec did to other Kiera’s body. He is not amused.

Carlos goes to see Julian – and accuses Theseus of having being bought, now working for Piron and sets him on the Halo attacks.

Julian follows up Carlos’s clues and finds Alec’s keeping secrets from him – but has a chance to speak to a Halo-less Jason (he’s wearing it part time to reduce the side effects). Jason rambles back and forth – and includes how Alec sent them all back in time 65 years. Oops. Julian naturally thinks he’s out of his mind – until Jason calls Julian “Theseus” just like Liber8 does. Of course, he also calls him a murderer and tries to strangle him. Jacqueline and Alec arrive in time to stop him and put Jason’s Halo back on.

Penny Dreadful, Season 1, Episode 5: Closer Than Sisters

In the dramatic beauty that so characterises this series, Vanessa writes a letter to Mina, one of the many letters she writes even though she cannot send them in an attempt to connect to Mina. It’s a lead in to a flashback

We see young Mina and Vanessa as neighbours and bestest friends (also seeing Mina’s older brother Peter, who died in Africa and Vanessa later channelled while possessed. The siblings kind of assume Vanessa will marry Peter because naturally). And, because this is Penny Dreadful these happy young people enjoy a bit of taxidermy – just to keep the creepiness levels high. Sir Malcolm returns from one of his many explorations and Vanessa greets him as warmly as Mina (ane he even refers to them as “my girls”, definitely a father figure).

It’s all idyllic and very Victorian, from Malcolm’s tall tales of his adventures, to his very restrained and decorous greeting of his wife – even the slightly scandalised looks Mina’s family gives Vanessa’s over their Catholicism. And under all the so-pretty veneer Vanessa explores the maze at night and finds that Sir Malcolm was having an affair with Vanessa’s mother (so very very very Victorian). And in similar Victorianness, Vanessa enjoys the view – and then feels sinful and demonic because of it.

They grow up and Mina finds her ideal and considers going to India – which leaves Vanessa feeling so lonely (especially since Peter, her expected betrothed, seems so inadequate) and with more than a little seething jealousy. Peter is also not especially happy with Mina going to India – but more to do with his racism than anything else. He’s also pouty that daddy isn’t especially eager to take Peter adventuring in Africa; especially since his sickly, less-than-physically-adeptness feels like a disappointment to his father. Vanessa, perhaps more to “get there first” than out of any genuine wish, kisses Peter and he flees the scene. (Vanessa’s dramatic monologue says how she loves Peter for his weakness – but how he would never survive Africa).

More desperate prayer, more demons and, getting out of bed with Mina (probably not sexual, for women of that class and era – but certainly very close) on the night of Mina’s wedding, Vanessa shows Mina’s fiancĂ© her very powerful, creepy taxidermy… (make dead things alive – ah Victor, she did it first!) and then has sex with him among the stuffed bodies. Witnessed by Mina.

The fallout isn’t pretty. The wedding is off, Mina is in tears. Vanessa’s mother tries to remonstrate with her – but Vanessa throws her hypocrisy in her face; still Mina isn’t accepting visits from Vanessa and Sir Malcolm closes the ever-open gates between their homes.

Vanessa dramatically faints and becomes mysteriously ill with an inexplicable illness. The illness lasts for some time and her mother frays as the doctors are more and more bemused by it. They decide to take Vanessa to an asylum – though Vanessa just wants to die.

Game of Thrones, Season 4, Episode 9: The Watchers on the Wall

The North where it’s very cold

And Sam and Jon are very cold on the very cold Wall during the very cold night in the very cold wind. I think Jon’s face may have frozen into a pout. They discuss Ygritte and the exact interpretation of their vow of celibacy (or “no wives, no children” which is a different kettle of fish and has some big loopholes) and lots of moping.

The Wildlings (also in the north, also very cold) are having their own discussion – not about having sex with bears (thank you Ygritte for cutting that story short), Ygritte talks about killing everyone while the creepy Thenn taunt her about having sex with Jon the Mopey. She declares Jon is hers just so we can be more dramatic about it.

Back at Castle Black, Maester Aemon deals out some wisdom to Sam – about how all the nasty stories told about Wildlings and what they do to people are probably no worse than the stories the Wildlings tell about the Night’s Watch before going into lost loves, nostalgia and more ominous forbodings about death

Consider me properly forboded. Please get to the stabbing already.

And Gilly isn’t dead! She’s at the gate with baby Sam. Sam forces Pip to let her in and insists that he’ll go with Gilly if they try to force her out. Very touching. Now can we get to the stabbing?

An Alarm Horn sounds (stabbing time! At long last!)

Lots of fires are lit (dramatic!), weapons are prepared, Ser Alliser has a little “you were right but I still hate you” moment with Jon and Sam has a big moment with Gilly about how he has to fight.

The Wildlings make their move (Actual stabbing time!), Ygritte looking all angsty. They have giants and they have mammoths. The battle begins – Alliser drawn away from the wall to try and deal with a sneak attack on the south gate (led by Ygritte’s band) while his deputy handles the important Arrows vs Dramatic Posing part of the fight (arrows are more effective)

As Ser Alliser leads his dramatically speached-men against the South Gate attack, the main Wildling force decides that fighting is probably a good idea and move in. Alliser’s useless deputy is dumped quickly so Jon can lead that flank

The fighting is dramatic and bloody and well rendered and exciting with all the named major characters killing loads with lots of epic heroism. A blow by blow recounting of the battle is unnecessary – it’s dramatic and epic and well rendered and shiny. Jon kills the head of the Then, Ygitte kills Pip and eventually confronts Jon Snow (who still knows nothing). She struggles whether to shoot him or not – and Oliver, a little boy, inspired by Sam, shoots her in the back. Jon ignores the fighting all around him to run to her; touching death scene is made slightly silly but much much better by her dying words being “you know nothing, Jon Snow”. Because they had to be.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Bloodshifted (Edie Spence #5) by Cassie Alexander

Edie was rescued in the last book and her life saved from the parasite inside her – with an infusion of vampire blood. When a human drinks vampire blood they become a Daytimer, the people Edie had so often pitied when working in the hospital. Bound to vampires, the benefits of strength and resilience are offset by the enslavement to a vampire – mystically forced to obey their every command

And most vampires are not nice people, Raven, her new master, is certainly not one of them. Edie has to hope to survive until Anna can rescue her – originally planning to wait until her baby is born. But life as a Daytimer is fraught, dangerous and highly competitive and rescue plans – or escape plans – need to be speeded up. Especially since her conscience won’t let her stay idle in the face of Raven’s abuses and murders.

I really like Edie as a protagonist – she has so many excellent qualities that make her stand out as a special person without needing special shiny woo-woo that sets her above or apart, without her having to be the Chosen One. Edie is a nurse (and so is the author which means we have some excellent authenticity), and, now, a Blood Servant. But she’s a Blood Servant among Blood Servants, she’s still the bottom-of-the-rung baseline. But she’s intelligent (without being a genius), she’s brave (without being a foolish, defiant, RAWR-I-PROOVE-HOW-BADASS-I-AM-BY-HEADBUTTING-DRAGONS!), she’s extremely good – but not saintly. I think that last point is an excellent balance to strike; Edie is good. There are lines she won’t cross and she will risk herself to save someone, unable to live with herself if she didn’t. But she’s not going to do it without weighing up the risks and, ultimately, if she has to keep quiet or even do something terrible to save herself then so be it. She hits a great balance in a genre that is often quite inconsistent with their protagonist’s morality (often the confused result of wanting to write a super saint AND a ruthless badass at the same time).

What I wasn’t thrilled about is Edie’s single-minded focus on her pregnancy. Yes, she’s pregnant, yes she’s worried about the baby – but it’s ok for her to worry about her own life as well. It’s ok for her to be afraid and want to live without using the baby as, I don’t know, some kind of justification for self-interest? Like Edie doing every she did in order to live is not acceptable, but it’s ok so long as it’s clear she’s doing it for her pregnancy? And I’m quite sure the zygote isn’t judging Edie on her behaviour, she can stop worrying about that

I like that there is still a level of complexity to the meta-plot of this book and series. There are enemies (like Dren) who have become… well, if not friends, then reluctant and complicated allies. Which covers a lot of the relationships in this book – Anna is Edie’s friend and that’s true and endearing and powerful – but the concerns about her, what she represents and what she seems to be doing are legitimate. House Grey of the vampires is threatening and menacing and has been a terrible enemy far too often – but are they entirely in the wrong? Even the Blood Servants Edie spends time with – the friendly are only friendly to a given degree while even the most hateful of the enemies have a good reason for their opposition, hyper-competitiveness and general insecurity.

Fangs for the Fantasy Book of the Week

As has been probably very apparent the last few weeks, we've been having some difficulties with the podcast. After a few attempts of thinking we had defeated the problem it ends up sneaking round and biting us

As soon as we're more sure about what's happening, we'll post a new time and schedule it - but scheduling and cancelling is messy so for now it's on hold until I have more surety

In the meantime, we will continue with the books of the week - because they're already scheduled and it will ruin my precious lists to have them all disrupted - and it gives people chance to read a long and comment on our Monday book review.

(Our list is always subject to change should we need to squeeze something in or something random happens)

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
21st July - 28th July: The Vampire Armand by Anne Rice
28th July - 4th August: Fair Game by Patricia Briggs
4th August-11th August: Blood Games by Chloe Neil
11th August - 18th August: Merrick by Anne Rice
18th August - 25th August: Daughter of the Sword by Steve Bein

Orphan Black, Season 2, Episode 8: Variable and Full of Perturbation

We open with some drama – a white van hurrying into a hideout and 2 figures getting out – one injured badly and being half carried by the other; who looks a lot like another of Sarah’s clones, a male clone called Tony. While he tries to help his wounded fellow we learn they’ve tried to pull off a robbery of some kind which went very badly indeed – with the intervention of serious men in expensive suits (sounds like Dyad – Proletheans go for cheap suits). The injured guy seems to have an idea what happened (looks like he’s Tony’s monitor). Dying guy tells Tony to find Beth Childs.

Ok, if he is a monitor he is very very very out of the loop. Tony goes to meet Beth – and meets Art instead.

Over to Sarah and she and Mrs. S are plotting, Mrs. S is confident she has everything under control on pain of death (Ethan is there and likes to think she’s bluffing. Everyone knows better than that). Felix briefly arrives to drop of Kira (Sarah does not want Ethan asking any questions about her), but then is called out by Art to deal with other “cloney” issues.

Tony and Art go to Felix’s (of course, it’s hotel des clones) and Felix joins them. Art is confused but when Felix and he take a moment they realise Tony is trans (and Felix corrects Art’s pronoun use).

They tell Tony that Beth is dead and try to figure out what Tony knows which is very little beyond that Beth called and claimed to be a relative back in the past (also a cop, so Tony hung up) and now Tony has a message. Before they can trust Tony with the big secret, Art goes to check out his story, leaving him with Felix. There follows lots of taunting back and forth (a lot of it dancing on the line – do the writers think it’s ok because both Tony and Felix are in the LGBT umbrella?). Art does confirm what we already know about Tony and the dead possibly-monitor, Sami – and Felix returns to try and get the message out of Tony.

At Dyad, things are not rosy between Delphine and Cosima after last week. Cosima has changed the locks on the lab. Making it very clear Delphine is not welcome (ouch…) Cosima and Scott work on Kira’s tooth that Sarah sent.

Delphine goes to see Leekie – only to find Rachel at his desk (who is, in turn, rather annoyed by Paul’s absence and silence). Leekie had a “heart attack,” how tragic – now to business, Rachel is Delphine’s new boss.

Back to Sarah spending some quality time with Kira – but she brushes off Kira’s concerns about Aunty Helena. It says so much about Kira’s life and how quickly she’s learned that when she hears a knock on the door she asks if she has to hide. The visitor is Delphine reporting that Leekie is dead (Delphine isn’t happy about that since she thought he was the lesser of two evils… I’m less convinced. I think the scientist Delphine can just identify more with the scientist Leekie – also Leekie is way better at playing nice guy). Rachel has a plan for a cure for Cosima (and maybe all of them) using Ethan’s information and knowledge rather than Kira’s stem cells – but they need Ethan at Dyad. Sarah wants to veto this – she doesn’t trust Rachel or Delphine, Ethan is leverage – but Mrs. S calls for a break to think about it.

In Cosima’s lab, Scott has pulled in his new-found Dyad friends for a game (is that Magic the Gathering with a Hexagram board?) and Cosima proves her credentials as the Supreme Queen of Geekdom, bow down before her. Alas, her supremacy is interrupted by both a coughing fit and Delphine. Delphine tells Cosima the terrible news that Dyad may have killed Leekie! Cosima is shocked! While she sits down, Delphine also tells her that Ethan may be her cure. Cosima decides it’s time to break up the geek fest and break out the cannabis.

And the helium balloons. And the lovey-dovey bonding again in which Delphine tells Cosima she loves her. Which is fine and great but Cosima won’t accept that as an excuse to betray her or the other clones on behalf of saving her. Threats out of the way, Cosima also loves Delphine

Cut back to Sarah and Ethan warns her that giving him to Dyad will give them the “keys to the kingdom” – but it will cure Cosima. Which leaves no question in Sarah’s mind, they have to do it. In the meantime, Ethan reads Kira a bed-time story – The Island of Dr. Moreau. That is just so wrong on so many levels it manages to be awesome (Sarah objects for obvious reasons).

Felix calls Sarah then flirting and kissing happens between him and Tony. Which means Felix is kissing his sister’s clone, but at least Tony reminded us all that Sarah’s his foster-sister. Which may be why Felix pulls back. Tony pulls out one of Felix’s paintings of Sarah and is both angry and worried at Felix having a painting with his face on it – Tony storms out

And runs into Sarah. Clone explanation follows and Tony adapts pretty well. Sarah calls it their usual identity crisis but Tony declares he’s already handled all that work. Tony reveals Sammy (her monitor) was ex-military delivers the message which basically boils down to “Paul is like me, he’s on it, a ghost”.