Saturday, June 21, 2014

Dominion, Season 1, Episode 1: Pilot

Opening exposition!

25 years ago god vanished and the angels decided the humans did it. The angels decided to wipe humanity out, led by Archangel Gabriel. While some higher angels decided to play Switzerland, the lower angels joined Gabriel in his genocide. Lesser angels don’t get bodies though so have to possess humans which made their first attack

Archangel Michael wasn’t in favour of this genocide thing and decided to side with humanity, teaching them how to build strongholds (the pretty picture shows towns with big walls outside which is quite possibly the most useless defence ever against an enemy with wings, but whatever). Michael also saved a child who is the Chosen One who will Save Mankind and even has Magical Markings to prove who he is (he’s one sword-in-the-stone and strawberry birthmark away from a full set of clichés)

Gabriel and his angels retreated so I assume there’s no active war at the moment. Which of course, raises the question of what mankind needs a saviour for.

Exposition over – let the show begin!

In a ruined casino (very atmospheric), a man stocks up his big 4x4 (presumably he’s scavenging). He hears something and goes to explore (see, this is why I can never be a protagonist. I hear something in a big, spooky, deserted ruined casino and I am gone. I would set whole new records getting out of there). He explores and finds 3 people playing cards – they have long nails and strange black veins on their skin. One invites him to join them in an extremely creepy voice.

He shoots one (he must have a real thing against gambling). He runs and they chase – including one woman leaping vast distances and crawling across walls (see, this is why I would have run a long time ago). He jumps into a jeep and drives off, leaving the leaping woman behind but the man grows black wings and follows.

He drives through ruins towards a walled town, call on his radio to a command centre to open the gates and that there’s an angel following. He yells at them to open the gate while battling the angel that breaks his wonders and attacks him with his tongue (no, I’m not using a “tongue lashing” line. That’s far too easy). He drives at the gates while warnings blare in the command centre (the boss seems to be taking his sweet time deciding whether to let him in or not) and lots of dangerous looking automated defences start buzzing ominously. He breaks hard, throwing the angel off his car right into some anti-aircraft guns.

And lo, the angel of the Lord doesn’t do well against high explosive rounds. Now they open the gate and let him in (though they still point lots of guns at him). After checking him for possession he gets lectured on leaving the city without clearance and the man, Alex Lannon, responds with snark; because there was a group he wants to tell General Riesen, who I assume is a big boss. But because Alex is one of the Archangels men (presumably Michael), he’s taken there instead. Alex isn’t a fan of this idea.

Cut to a room with a bed full of half-clothed decorative woman, one of which, Becca, goes to see a man who is having a bad case of the morning-after-guilt, apparently a habit of his. He’s worried because he shouldn’t have kids, that would be super bad (nephilim I take it) and he has to stop. She, very sensibly, tells him to stop then (she’s taking no responsibility for his orgies). He jumps out a window – growing wings on the way down.

Archangel Michael has a bad case of the drama llama.

Alex is driven very very very slowly for the streets of Vega (Las Vegas has been very inventively renamed) so he can look pensively out of the window. I think we’re supposed to be seeing signs of squalor or police state, but it looks quite nice for a dystopian. Just in case we miss it, the driver helpfully informs us the city is going to hell (hey, no angels there! Bonus! Unless fallen ones count.)

Alex is taken for questioning to see how he got out the city with a vehicle – Alex continues to be snarky (and apparently has Issues with Michael). Michael arrives and makes a point of retaining a whip from the dismissed questioner. Michael reminds Alex that the gates should be closed while Alex asserts everyone’s right to leave – which Michael doesn’t seem to disagree with except in Alex’s case. Alex tells Michael about the angels (“8-balls” apparently) and the one with wings which is apparently unusual though it’s the fact they were playing cards that gets an “are you serious” look from Michael. Alex is spared being “purged” for leaving the city because he’s Archangel corps. He gets whipped instead (probably should have taken his shirt off first).

But after three lashes General Riesen arrives to tell Alex to go back to duty so long as he keeps all news of the angels outside very very secret. He and Michael have a refined argument, Michael is all for the rules and thinks Alex lacks discipline while Riesen apparently owes Alex over something to do with Claire (his daughter) and, besides, Alex has snuck out of the city since he was a child – he knows the outside better than anyone.

Defiance, Season 2, Episode 1: The Opposite of Hallelujah

The last episode of the last season was titled “Everything is Broken”, it was very appropriately named. With people dying, Irisa going full on chosen one, ancient weapons, the Earth Republic moving in an all kinds of chaos and shenanigans. So how are they going to pull themselves out of this?

Apparently by leaping forward 9 Months. Gah, time leaping over all that action? Shenanigans! Shenanigans I say!

We open with a voice over, the new interim mayor making a speech on television about how wonderful Defiance is while we do a quick tour of the various figures of Defiance. He also has lots of praise for the Earth Republic which has funded some elements of their new dominion – but has also nationalised the mines, meaning Rafe now works there rather than owning them.

Of course, when the speech is over there’s more tension. Mayor Niles and the Earth Republic Viceroy Mercado don’t get on well and Miles is clearly much craftier than he seems. Niles goes to the brothel/bar once owned by Kenya and now apparently run by Amanda – he wants to hire her. She still considers him an enemy occupier. Niles doesn’t give up and does point out that Defiance’s mayor (Datakk) did stab their representative. His charm makes her smile (oh I see a love interest in the future) and he’s determined to get her on side.

When he leaves Stahma arrives, she talks to Amanda has a friend and we find out Amanda still thinks Kenya will come back. Stahma tries to get her to accept that Kenya isn’t coming back (as Stahma should know) but Amanda insists Kenya will return. Amanda also gives a cut of the profits to Stahma – protection money?

From there to New Chicago (is this the first time we’ve left Defiance?) which is very very very cold. Nolan is trying to find Irisa, which means tracking down the Castithan who experimented/operated/did odd ritual on her when she was a small child. He knows she disappeared because of the artefact inside her and he hopes one of the Castithan who were part of the cult will know more. Which means pointing a gun at a cultist’s head while his terrified wife is tied to a chair. The cultist has a full blown religious moment about how he will know Irisa’s “terrible love”, completely uncaring about his bound wife. Nolan shoots him. He tells the furious wife that he had it coming.

Nolan continues his quest to, Angel Arc, what was once Hollywood following Irisa’s trail. But he is recognised by one of the people he questions who passes it on. To Varus, a Liberata who is an old acquaintance of Nolan’s – and not happy with him since Nolan stole from him. He employs men with guns and a casual attitude to violence help him express how upset he is about that. Mid beating, Irisa arrives to stage a rescue –they’re reunited.

Irisa claims the E-Rep got her but she escaped and she’s just been getting by – avoiding all the woo-woo and Nolan coming back to life (Nolan smells bullshit and says so. He lets it go though and repeats his plan to go to Antarctica – but Irisa is determined, they have to go to Defiance.

For some reason while Nolan is shopping, Irisa follows, attacks and murders a passing Irathient woman – then hides what she did from Nolan.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Enslaved by the Others (H&W Investigations #6) by Jess Haines

Shiarra has been captured by Max at the end of the last book. It’s her worst nightmare, Royce’s worst enemy is now focused on her and has her in his clutches to use and abuse. Again. Not only is he sadistically trying to hurt Royce by proxy and proving his power over her, but he also intends to use her to undermine his old enemy.

Shiarra needs to escape – but she isn’t the only captive; her best friend and a lot of innocents are also held by the human trafficking Max. And Royce is limited in how much he can directly offer help without massive political fall out. Shiarra may need to make some dangerous alliances to ensure her – and everyone else’s – freedom.

This book had a lot of action and a lot of mental ruminations in Shiarra’s head – and I think it all worked because this book closed a chapter; a long running thread of the books has been closed and ended. I actually think the way it was ended was somewhat anticlimactic, but on the whole it worked – it worked because the build up, the action and Shiarra’s thoughts all brought things to a close. Shiarra seems far more resolved about Royce, there is no suggestion of the ending element (behold my desperate attempts to avoid spoilers!) persisting after this book.

Instead we have new hints – the wars that have been ravaging the supernatural community but have largely gone over Shiarra’s head – including the hostility between the werewolves she knows and Royce. And, of course, the consequences of this book – because it’s clear there will be some. The old has been really neatly closed and a whole new paradigm is now begging to be explored – I’m looking forward to that.

I am always wary whenever I read a plot line that involves the protagonist – especially a female protagonist – being captured and held at the mercy of a cruel, sadistic monster. It’s common to delve into the realms of torture porn and commoner still for us to enter the realm of sexual abuse and rape. I was braced for it to be graphic – and it wasn’t.

It wasn’t downplayed. Max is sadistic and cruel, a human trafficker, a slaver, who keeps a stable of people to be abused and fed upon as well as selling victims to other vampires for food. He definitely demands his stable both feed him blood and, likely, rapes them. He abuses Shiarra, he torments her, he forces her to obey him – but the cruelty was not gratuitous even when it was bad, it wasn’t lingered on and there was very little sexual aspect (one of the elements I didn’t like is Shiarra actually taking that as some kind of comment on her attractiveness – for a rather unpleasant “I haven’t been raped, oh my self-esteem”). The main aspect there was Max feeding on her which is very arousing in this world – but that is shown as horrifying. The fact that his fangs can get Shiarra all hot and bothered is something Shiarra finds repellent which contrasts so well with a genre load of supernatural sexiness. Yes he has fangs that can push anyone’s buttons and make them desperate for sex despite their normal wishes or whether they even want him – and that is a terrifying, horrible thing.

Syfy Q&A: Kevin Murphy - Executive Producer and Show Runner of Defiance

 We were invited to another Syfy Q&A with some nice little discussions about the upcoming season of Defiance. The full transcript is below - included for your full perusal.

Brenda Lowry:    Hi everyone, this is Brenda Lowry with Syfy Publicity. Thank you so much for joining us today for our conference call to discuss Defiance.

                              Defiance is premiering its second season next Thursday, June 19 at 8:00 pm, and we’re very happy to have our Executive Producer and show runner Kevin Murphy with us today to answer your questions about what’s in store and what we can expect for the new season.

                              Without further ado we’ll get started with the call and ask for our first question.

Operator:             And our first question comes from the line of Jamie Ruby with SciFi Please go ahead.

Jamie Ruby:        Hi, thanks so much for talking to us today.

Kevin Murphy:   Hi, it’s a pleasure.

Jamie Ruby:        I’ve got to say, I’m really - I saw the first three episodes and I’m really loving this season so far.

Kevin Murphy:   Oh I’m so glad, thank you.

Jamie Ruby:        My first question is I know that you’re going to be doing the game and show crossover this year again. Can you kind of talk about how maybe you’ve expanded upon that this season?

                              And also I’m curious, and this may just be I don’t know where it’s at, but is there a place you can like, if you want to know the extra game content that you can read what happened for people who either don’t play the game or like me, aren’t very good at it and don’t get far enough to find out what will happen?

Kevin Murphy:   Okay, so to start with that, what we discovered first season was that just a television show and a video game have very different needs, and there was a real challenge for Trion putting three different platforms up live for an MMO at once.

                              And a lot of their elbow grease the first season was set making everything work.

                              So what we ended up doing was we discovered that the way that this worked best; this crossover, because the way the television show worked is we are wrapped long before we air.

                              We wrapped back in December and we’re doing post production. So there’s a limit to how much we can change. And during the time when we’re in post that’s when Trion is making a lot of their big decisions about what they’re going to be doing in the game for the upcoming season.

                              So what we did this year, because we had to jettison a couple - a few ideas that we were really into last year because of timing and schedule. For example like the astronaut who came into Episode 8, Brian Smith who just got a Tony nomination for Glass Menagerie, he was supposed to be part of a larger integrated story line, and it was just something that Trion couldn’t accomplish technically with the time that they had.

                              So what we did this year is every - the second page of every script after the title page has a list of proposed crossovers that were generated in a big meeting that we had with Trion and the writers.

                              And then when we actually got the scripts written and we go through our process, we put which - and it’s like a Chinese menu of ten options that Trion can access. And they can use it or not use it if they wish to.

Penny Dreadful and the Avoidance of LGBT Characterisation

Penny Dreadful recently had a scene that made me and quite a number of the rest of the audience (judging by the internet reaction) trying to climb through the screen and then doing a little happy dance (which I will deny ever happened. Under torture). In Demimonde, Dorian Grey kissed Ethan Chandler. I don’t think anyone expected it

Rather gleeful at 2 main characters in a show being bisexual and one of them definitely challenging a lot of tropes that dog bisexual men and any men attracted to other men. I was impressed, surprised and eager for more.

Silly silly me. Whenever I get up my hopes, something arrives to scupper it - this time an interview with Reeve Carney talking about his character, Dorian. After all of that excitement about Dorian kissing Ethan he had the following to say:

I think it’s a response to a numbness within. He has to continue to take things to the next level and create more extreme, heightened circumstances in order to feel things that he once felt…Dorian has done so much and has been through so many modes of expression in terms of sexuality that he has to take it to the next level every time.

I wouldn’t put him in any category or label him in anyway, which is interesting to play with a character like that. It’s great to be able to work with that, but it has nothing to do with sexuality. And, I’m not sure if this is a good thing to say, but it’s almost like someone who is a cutter. It’s not about the cutting, it’s not about that. It’s about wanting to have some physical manifestation for what you’re feeling on the inside.

I’m beginning to think of these little behind the scenes revelations as the “No Homo Interview.” Kind of like a reverse “word of gay” (there a creator assures us that a character was gay/bi, honest even if they doesn’t show anything on the show/book - see Harry Potter and Star Gate). Why is it so hard to just say “yes, this character is bisexual.”? Why does there always have to be the asterix added? The proviso, the excuse, the “not really”, the quick pull back, anything other than admitting a character may want to have sex with someone who isn’t the opposite gender? Anything other than a main character admitting to be any kind of LGBT? Why do we actually have the actor feeling to need to say his character having sex with another man is nothing to do with sexuality? I’ve seen some straightwashing before, but straightwashing an actual gay sex scene (well fade to black) is pretty up there.

To rub salt into the wounds this is a really insulting way of referring to any kind of same-sex attraction. By wording it this way, we get the impression Dorian is straight (and may the ghost of Oscar Wilde plague your every night with extremely cutting witty put downs) and is having sex with men because of boredom. No, because it’s an ultra extreme kink! It’s the “next level” of depravity for the jaded to pursue, nothing to do with actual sexual identity or attraction. Not only is it a kink, it’s a form of self-harm akin to cutting; an indication of the pain inside him.

Well, damn, who would have thought you could destroy a scene that made me so happy so bloody quickly?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Plagued: The Midamerica Zombie Half-Breed Experiment by Better Hero Army

Tom has to go to zombie territory, the plague states, with his brother for the first of what are likely to be many trips to come. He’s looking for his sister, a child, a zombie, lost in the outbreak.

Of course his brother, like so many others, is really blasé about the zombies now. There’s no reason to be afraid, he was assured, certainly not reason to carry a weapon.

Then there’s the zombie escape. Tom flees for his life, relying on his father’s connections to rescue him – and a handful of grizzled veteran zombie hunters to keep him and his fellow novices alive.

I liked it, but where’s the rest of it?

That’s kind of how I felt after reading this book. I liked the story, I liked the characters, I liked the world setting. But I think more could have been done with just about every aspect of it. It had a huge amount of potential, some excellent frame work and raised some really impressive concepts and issues and didn’t follow through

The protagonist, Tom, has some major baggage – he was there during the outbreak, he saw his sister turned into a zombie and he blames himself, despite being a child when it happened. Not only does he blame himself but so does his family and a number of other people who have completely forgotten what it was like during the outbreak. Because zombies have been rendered somewhat harmless, a lot of people have no concept of how dangerous they are – and that same attitude means that people scorn Tom for not having the knowledge and skills then that professional hunters have now

This is a really interesting point that is somewhat reinforced by the group travelling through the zombie wilderness, with the contrast between the tourists and the experienced hunters. The tourists are inept, helpless, ignorant and argumentative – not in a comic or over the top way, but in a very human, realistic way; because scared, angry, confused people are some of the most annoying creatures on the planet. They contrast perfectly with the ruthless, very prepared and very skilled hunters and it not only shows how dangerous zombie hunting is, but also how unreasonable the accusations Tom faced were.

And so much more could have been made from that! And his fraught relationship with his dad and his brother! And the way he treats the Hunters compared to the other tourists.

Recap and Review: The 4400 Season Four

The battle lines are clearly drawn.  There are a group of positives living in Promise City following the leadership of Jordan Collier, another group living in the 4400 center following the lead of Shawn Farrell, who is determined to take a moderate approach, the NTAC agents,and now we have the marked, people from the future who are determined to ensure that the 4400 fail in their mission. Season four is the last season of The 4400 and unfortunately, it ends on a cliffhanger. It left us with questions like does Tom take the shot and gain a power? Will Shawn and Collier reconcile and work together? Has the city of Seattle completely separated itself from the US and will the boundaries spread? Has the future truly been altered?  How will the marked in positions of power react and will they be able to counter Collier's movement?  It's terribly sad that this series ended on a cliffhanger.  I have however learned that there have since been books published to give the fans some closure.

Despite it's problems, I really enjoyed The 4400 and was sad when I had reached the end.  The acting, especially in this last season was truly amazing and despite all of the sci-fi elements, The 4400 remained primarily about relationships.  For me, that is the mark of something engaging.

The 4400 continued to have a problem with gender.  The largest problem by far was Isabelle Scary baby. Isabelle Scary Baby had her powers removed by her father Richard because of the threat she posed.  While this makes sense for stories reasons, it also amounts to disempowering a female character. The 4400 then doubled down on this by having Richard force Isabelle Scary Baby to return to the 3 year old child she chronically was.  This amounts to literally infantalizaation. Sure, authors can create a justification for these actions but that does not mean that there aren't serious gender implications that are concerning. And in a final act of the destruction, Isabelle Scary Baby, she sacrificed herself to save Tom and Collier.  On one hand, this amounted to the first independent decision Isabelle Scary Baby had made in four seasons but it also meant the surviving regular cast member who was a woman of colour, sacrificed herself to save a two White men.  The gender and racial dynamics at play with this are awful.  In the end, despite her power, these two men were worth more than Isabelle Scary Baby's life. Isabelle Scary Baby wasn't the chosen one because that role was reserved for White men and in the end, she was nothing more than the bringer of destruction.

This season, Tom got a new boss.  Meghan Doyle at first appears to be an active boss, keeping Tom under a tight reign not because she is his babysitter like Nina but because she is his boss. Unfortunately, Meghan Doyle becomes Tom's lover and no longer acts as his superior, though she is technically still his boss. This is yet another element of disempowering women that The 4400 seems to adore. This is further complicated by the disappearance of Alana.  The 4400 spent a lot of time convincing the audience that the relationship between Tom and Alana was solid because in the fantasy world Alana created, Tom and Alana lived as a married couple for eight years.  This should mean that her sudden disappearance would cause Tom to expend a great deal of time and energy looking for her. Unfortunately, this is not the case and Alana is quickly replaced by Meghan, thus making Alana disposable once again. When Tom and Meghan first sleep together she makes it clear that it is a one time occurrence but quickly ends back in his bed. It reads as though women aren't capable of one night stands or at least that "good girls" don't engage in that kind of behaviour.

Even one off episodes like Audrey Parker's Come and Gone (S4, Ep.3) presented a problem where gender is concerned. After taking a shot promicin, Audrey developed the ability of astral project from her body. Audrey placed a diary online detailing her experiences with her powers but it seemed so full of regret.  She wrote about living a life of no compromise, yet it was filled with regret for not marrying and having babies and this leds to Audrey's lament of being alone.  When we match this incident to the fact that Diana went from being a fiercely independent single by choice woman, to someone who leaped to adopt a child and that explained her singleness by consistently choosing the wrong man, it suggests that the single woman is destined for misery and isolation.  Women on The 4400, must be coupled and at the very least striving to achieve motherhood to be happy.

This Week in Book Covers 9th June - 13th June

Time for another crop of cover reviews and I think the standard in the industry is moving up - or at least away from all those twisted spines, presented arses and midrifts.

Bloodshifted (Edie Spence # 5) by Cassie Alexander

While I can’t say I especially like this cover - I’m pretty neutral about it - I applaud it for pretty much showcasing the book. We have the vampire on the front and while she’s in a nifty dress, she isn’t as overtly sexualised. The dress is also pretty representative of what she wears in the book - as are the nicely creepy tunnels behind her. It’s all very vampirey and very gothic.

And… kind of bland? I don’t know, there’s not a lot that yells out to be me here. What is interesting though is following the covers of the whole series, and we can see Edie’s story and progression rather neatly told via book covers.

Pretty, mysterious, pretty, understated, pretty, evocative. Did I mention pretty? I like this cover - even if it doesn’t give much in the way of clues to what’s actually inside, it intrigues rather than hides with its mystery. It’s clearly not about the wildlife, there’s a suggestion of mystery and woo-woo just with the understated cover - I don’t know, it appeals and draws me and I can’t even say why.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Blood Noir (Anita Blake #16) by Laurell K Hamilton

Jason’s dad is dying – he has to go home to try and make amends. And make sure his dad knows how very straight he is.

Unfortunately, a case of mistaken identity gets him and Anita drawn into far more drama than expected. And with the Mother of All Darkness popping up at random to play with Anita, some drama is always going to follow Anita around.

Oh lordy, this one’s a doosey, even by the standards set by this series. Cover me, I’m going in.

The book opens with a heavy wollop of ridiculousness. Jason is sad. He is doubly sad. One, the girl he likes/loves/is in a relationship with has dumped him because she wants to be monogamous (how dare she). Two, his dad is dying of cancer

Anita and Nathaniel deal with this by having a threesome with Jason. Of course they do. I mean, when one of your best friends says “my dad is dying” it’s perfect natural to have sex with them, right?

Also because Perdy (Jason’s ex who is female and near one of Anita’s love interests so is obviously EVIL) is the worst person at sex EVER (unlike Anita) and so boring and pedestrian and limited (unlike Anita – though you may prefer Perdy if you prefer your lovers not to shred your skin to the bone with their nails and not to shriek like a chainsawed banshee while having a seizure at orgasm. You may find these things not sexy. In fact Perdy is so boring in bed she is “killing his soul.” No, really, your lover not wanting to be polygamous and have sex on the television is soul killing). So they decide to really go to town – by having sex not in a bed and using Velcro cuffs (OH HOW VERY NAUGHTY!). If this is your definition of edgy kink then you are more vanilla than an ice cream truck. This stands out as especially ridiculous because one of the many many many many oh-gods-so-many angst moments in this book is how desperate Nathaniel was for someone to push his kinky buttons… and this is it?

This is the opening scene and in addition to be especially ridiculous even for an Anita Blake novel contained all of the long standing Anita Blake stalwarts – long windedness, angst, ridiculous description and even when Jason is describing his issues having to take time out to calm down Anita’s ruffled feathers.

Right with that due warning of the ridiculousness within let us delve into the plot. This won’t take long. Jason wants Anita to go with him to see his dying dad (I’ll get back to why in a bit), this is a moment that will be used in a later book with Micah. In both cases Anita actually spends almost no time at all on the grieving loved one and dying relative (Jason actually begs her not to go chasing issues so he can actually focus on his family for five minutes). Unfortunately, Jason looks EXACTLY LIKE another guy who is up to all kinds of naughty shenanigans and is also son of a US presidential candidate who is in town to get married. Hijinks ensue. And by “hijinks” I mean lots of complaining at said candidates security/press detail, before some actual action tucked in at the very end of the book when it turns out said shenanigans are dangerous (and ridiculous).

This is a plot line that your average soap would look at and say “no, this is far too ludicrous.”

Salem, Season 1, Episode 9: Children, Be Afraid

Increase finds Mab’s body and isn’t best pleased. He carries her body to the scaffold yelling his sermon loudly to the whole town to encourage a crowd to gather. He hangs her body from the scaffold and turns her to display her to everyone before breaking her neck.

Mary joins Increase for breakfast to thank him so sincerely for saving her husband but things grow tense quickly – he insists George has been spelled and by someone close to home. And he refuses to let her bring her husband home. As a compromise she insists that Isaac attend to George.

Unfortunately for Mary, Increase is far too well known and powerful just to kill him off without questions being asked (Mercy’s suggestion). And Mercy’s dad shows up to talk to Mercy – Mary sends Mercy away and accuses her dad (the reverend) of exorcism, abuse and more of his daughter sealing it with a firm “Mercy is mine.”

Mary goes home and, faced with the Elder witches questioning her and the threat of George waking, she has a huge break down and smashes around the room rather dramatically. Somewhat composed she sees Isaac who is being called in to care for George. She tells Isaac how terrible Increase is taking complete control and begs him to give George a tonic

Isaac isn’t a big fan of increase anyway, certainly not when he decides to tell Isaac what a wonderful blessing being branded and called a fornicator is and how divine the whole thing is. He tries to break Isaac from Mary (the only person who is ever kind to him) and explore the big wide world. In return for seeing the big outside world he has to keep George clean (a task they both consider distasteful) and alert Increase when George finally wakes. The room is also warded against witchcraft (is warding against witchcraft using the ashes of the dead somehow not witchcraft itself?)

John finds Cotton being all miserable and hungover in the graveyard but has brought Anne along so he and she can bond over their mutual daddy issues. They take him home and Anne recruits John to patch up the orphanage and telling the story of one orphan who doesn’t talk after his parents were killed by Native Americans. I predicate a trite “oh look hasn’t talked for years but John manages it in 3 days” storyline. (Which would be fun if Increase then yelled “witch” over it).

Tituba has a moment of not serving people to teach Mercy instead – showing Mercy her tarantula familiar and the witches mark on her neck that it feeds from. Mary, meanwhile runs into a medium pack of Salem young women who are all going to meet Mercy – she seems to have built up quite a cult. Mary is on her way to the Elder meeting so they can be sad about the death of Mab and she can answer questions over the death of Rose. Mary shows them the Malum and reveals Rose’s plot – she also offers to give them the Malum “the one tool that can control her.” They let her take it back with her – they don’t need it to control her. Ooooh touché.

Salem: Season 1, Episode 8: Departures

Daddy Increase Mather wanders around Salem with a following hanging on his every word talking about how depraved and awful Salem had become while Hale, in a moment of utter gall, asks Mary why Mather is there (“because he has seen what his son has accomplished” is a nifty little put down.)

While older Mather is being all righteous, Cotton Mather is enjoying some naked time with Gloriana. Which is ruined when Gloriana realises Daddy Mather is on his way to the brothel. Cotton hurries to hide – hiding under the bed at Gloriana’s suggestion. He leaves his Bible out though and Gloriana pretends she was reading it when Daddy Mather arrives. He leaves her to go harass Mab, the owner of the brothel and, after a little verbal sparring, he finds a secret compartment in her fireplace inside which are witch supplies

Mab has been exposed.

Hale, Tituba and Mary meet to discuss the issue and Hale is very worried that the hunters have found an actual witch – one who can give up their names. Hale goes to convince Mab to be silent though Mary isn’t worried about that – she’s worried about Increase visiting and realising that George isn’t sick but spelled. She plans to send him away (all overheard by George himself).

Mary recruits Isaac to take George to a hospital in Boston. And what a wonderful person Isaac is to help George despite what he did to Isaac. Mary and John share some significant eye contact

In the bar Cotton is drinking his daddy issues with John. Increase arrives for lots of cutting references at his son who is far too drunk to care (and kind of expected them all anyway). In between lecturing his son, Increase hands Cotton his Bible – yes, the same Bible that he let Increase see at Gloriana’s.

Hale goes to Mab who fears he will kill her as is the code of the Hive. But he agrees to spare her and she agrees to be silent – but he doesn’t think that’s worth much since torture is going to be used. Instead he gives Mab a name to give up instead of the actual witches. When he returns home, his daughter Anne is waiting for him in her continued snooping of his life. He doesn’t discourage questions like her mother does (though he does point out she’s being a bit rude snooping in his room) and tells her he doesn’t think Mab is a witch. She praises his common sense

The next day, Mab faces the ducking stool. After repeatedly half drowning her John’s contempt for Increase is cemented (Cotton thoroughly agrees). Mab eventually gives up a name – Gloriana. Cotton protests and tries to tell Increase how wrong they are, how they are persecuting innocents (now it’s someone he values being targeted). He even tells Increase his life’s work is a mistake, he begs, he pleads.

Increase, completely unshockingly, isn’t moved by his son’s performance. He backhands Cotton and has Gloriana arrested. Later Cotton continues to protest, now pointing out that they’re relying on the evidence of an admitted witch. When Increase suggests examining Gloriana for devil’s marks, Cotton agrees (since he’s seen her naked and is pretty sure she doesn’t have any). And he expects Cotton to examine her (while wiping his face with a handkerchief like a parent with a small child).

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Eye of the Storm (Deus Ex Familia #1) by Aimee Kuzenski

Alexander, personification of War, likes to keep to himself – he certainly has no wish to be involved in Family business. Unfortunately, with a family like his, there’s no escaping it and his neat life is quickly disordered

Now facing an unknown foe – and ominous predictions from his opium addicted relative, Apollo – Alexander has to face some hard truths. He’s sloppy, he’s out of date, he’s badly in need of shaking up.

Enter Camilla, 21st century female soldier – and Alexander’s knew vessel (very much against her will), the perfect person to show him how much the world has changed and bring a new insight to face a new foe. But at what cost to her?

I read a lot on the genre and I’ve read a few books that have brought in elements of classical deities into the story – but this book managed to be completely unique and original both in terms of plot line and world building. The two main characters sharing the same body and, at the same time, being on opposing sides made for a very different set up. I wanted to support Alex, but I couldn’t support what he had done to Camilla. But I still wanted him to win. But I wanted her to be free… It added a really interesting tension to everything – like when they work together I’m gleeful because I want them to, then wary because Camilla must be planning something, then happy again because Camilla’s plan may work and she may be free… then worried because that might end up screwing them both over.

See? Complicated!

But the concept is excellent – Alex, the personification of War (as in the Horseman, as in Ares, Mars etc) has his life fall apart around him partly due to dastardly schemes but also because he’s gotten sloppy. He’s grown complacent and he’s grown obsolete, he hasn’t kept up with the latest developments in warfare, he hasn’t moved his business into the 21st century, it’s rendered him ignorant, vulnerable and in danger of actually becoming irrelevant

A quick aside on that irrelevance – the concept of War as an entity is interesting because he represents a controlling force, a force that makes War conform to some level of order. Without him war doesn’t become uncontrolled – it becomes even less governed than it is now.

But to fight that irrelevance I love that he chooses Camilla to consult with – and possess. She’s a 21st century soldier and she’s a woman – Alex, a product of a far more deeply misogynist age and decades out of date in his views and practices, has chosen someone who will inherently upset his viewpoint and challenge his assumptions. But it’s not just her gender, Camilla is creative, intelligent, an excellent soldier and problem solver – but has faced road blocks from both being a woman and facing institutional sexism and by having low tolerance for bullshit because of it. She’s an intelligent, knowledgeable capable woman who is not easily cowed or impressed.

Continuum, Season 3, Episode 12: The Dying Minutes

Time for a flashback – not to the future, but 3 months ago when the Freelancers stole Curtis’s body and then did their quasi mystical mojo to bring him back from the dead. Catherine and her fellow Freelancers seem quite apologetic about bringing him back and how terrible it must have been for Curtis. Something he agrees with. He has been “merged” which Catherine says with an incredible amount of distaste and Curtis doesn’t seem thrilled with it either. They talk about serving (and Curtis cryptically refers to the guard as “brother”). All very cryptic.

In the cells, Alternate Alec is being questioned – and suffocated when he lies. They get a GPS co-ordinate out of him for something – and a whole lot of snark. Alec is much more fun with snark. He also tries to stab one of them with  pen which doesn’t do much – but he keeps up the snark. Catherine’s minions aren’t happy keeping Alec around to keep Kiera sweet.

Kiera drops in and has guessed that the mystery thing in the mystery room is the Freelancer founder, he who travelled back a thousand years to set up the cult. She wants to swap Alecs, Corporate Alec is fast forwarding things, not keeping things on track but Charlotte is not about judgement, it’s about the true time line. Uh… well what is the true time line? Because Kiera is from the future and she just said “this isn’t how it goes”. Kiera also casts a little doubt on the motives of their founder. She offers a deal – they give her Alec and she will give them Brad – soldier from an alternate future is a big Freelancer no-no.

Julian meets with Sonya who is all kinds of bitter at them having failed at everything – and everyone is just loving Halo though it’s the beginning of corporate control over everything. Sonya’s still fighting the good fight and wants to stop it – with Julian’s help.

To corporate Alec who is giving orders to Dillon now, “get it done Jack”, ooooooh, Dillon was a little surprised by that one. Julian continues to play nice with Alec before bringing all kinds of data to Sonya – who promptly tries to freeze him out. She goes to Lucas instead who reluctantly agrees to help. Sonya doesn’t want anyone hurt but Lucas stretches that definition – because Halo is using technology that shouldn’t be, it’s also very vulnerable. Which means Lucas can hack it and then cause every Halo wearer to feel overwhelming, horrendous terror (which… may be pretty harmful since panicking people do silly silly things) which should discredit Halo pretty powerfully.

Sonya meets with Travis and we’re reminded they are a couple. Things have got complicated, she questions how they can make any change when people can pop back in time and tweak things to their own ends – Travis’s plan now is to flee to an isolated location and try to avoid the world.

Sonya is still fighting though – she flirts her way into Piron to put Lucas’s hack in place. As Sonya leaves she runs into Julian and again tries to convince him he’s important – which he still doesn’t believe. Frustrated, she finally tells him about the time travel thing – which fits exactly with what Jason already told him. He’s worried about being a murderer, killing people for his goal but she calls him a revolutionary, a leader and puts the killing down as a “maybe”. After all there have been a lot of changes, maybe he can find a peaceful path – but she’s desperate for him to lead. But she does admit that, yes, he does kill thousands.

Penny Dreadful, Season 1, Episode 6: What Death can Join Together

After the revelations of last week, it’s much less surprising to see Vanessa and sir Michael at odds this week – he expects her to have had some kind of psychic vision of the vampire attack and she is furious by his accusations. Things are… tense and they both throw their lost families at each other.

Ethan returns to Brona who is in bed, coughing terribly. He holds her and tries to help her and she accepts his embrace – she does want to know where he’s been all night, he just says partying with Dorian. She apologises for the scene at the theatre and he accepts all the guilt but it seems to be more “I’m a bad person for bad things I’ve done” guilt rather than “I did something wrong then” guilt. She tells him what a good man he is – and he tells her how much he loves her.

But Brona is getting much much worse and she tells Ethan he needs to keep a safer distance from her. He promptly kisses her in response. She gives him her necklace to wear – St. Jude, patron saint of lost causes

Vanessa looks for Mina by dealing the tarot again – but this time she hears whispers, the cards are moved then she hears a journey by sea, an animalistic roar and screaming. Lots of screaming. She takes the vague ship reference and terrible happenings to Sir. Malcolm. When Dorian interrupts with a visit – he wants to take Vanessa on an adventure. Now (“is there any other time” which may sum up Dorian’s life quite a lot if it weren’t for his worries of mortality and his ennui.) She tries to beg off – but Sir Malcolm is happy for her to go which kind of pushes her to accept. He also makes a snarky little comment to Dorian about Vanessa always being “her own creature.”

While Vanessa is off, Victor autopsies Fenton and tells Malcolm he’s going to consult Van Helsing while Malcolm goes through a ton of shipping paperwork for Vanessa’s vision – he’s curt and preoccupied to Victor and you can almost feel Victor’s daddy issues explode.

When Victor’s gone, Sembene talks to Malcolm (HE TALKS!) and despite him being a servant there’s definitely some familiarity there. He tells Malcolm he doesn’t think Mina can be saved – some people cannot be saved. If Mina cannot be saved, if she is irredeemably a vampire, what will Malcolm do?

Dorian’s little adventure for Vanessa includes being photographed and Dorian’s musings on eternity and lots of flirting. She goes home and changes for dinner with Dorian and Malcolm is all fatherly. She goes to dinner and we have more of Dorian’s flirting and the endless, well done references to his constant searching for meaning and fulfilment in life. This goes through talk of god, to the idea of people with special abilities (like Mina) having to “endure uniqueness” as Dorian puts it – which Vanessa considers a terrible curse, to be alien from everything around you. While Dorian considers different to be powerful, seeking another like you. There is a nice byplay of Vanessa considering it lonely and pointing out his seeking is a symptom of that loneliness. And if they find someone they’re no longer unique – countered with Dorian’s “and no longer lonely”. They have some very sophisticated flirting these two.

Game of Thrones, Season 4, Episode 10: The Children

The North – Jon has reached critical pouting levels!

Jon sets off on his little solo mission to find Mance Rider and ask him to stop all this nasty killing. He finds the Wildlings and surrenders, unarmed and hands in the air. He meets with Mance to negotiate – and Mance is all sad at Jon lying to him about being loyal when faced with torture and death. Funny how you can’t trust people under those conditions, isn’t it? Jon protests he was loyal – just not to Mance. Mance brings up Ygritte just to remind us of the angst and they decide to drink to her

Hey, this is how you win – find the names of the 8 squillion wildlings who died and when they drink to them all wait until they die of liver failure!

They drink (Jon, “it’s not wine”, “it’s a proper northern drink.” Is this the part where he accuses the southerners of drinking shandy?)

They then drink to Grenn and the dead giant (the giant’s last king). I think my liver poisoning strategy might work. Anyway Jon claims there are lots of Nights Watch, Mance calls bullshit on that, reveals his strategy (for honesty) and adds he doesn’t actually want to conquer. He wants his people to hide behind the wall, just like Jon does. So Mance’s bargain – open the gates and everyone gets to live. Mance then realises that Jon is here for assassination but he doubts Jon would do it – kill a man in cold blood after a peace offer? Far too much dishonour (Jon is a Stark after all. Now if he were a Lannister, the knife would be out. If he were a Tyrell Mance would be on his side and not even know it).

An alarm sounds, interrupting them – the Wildlings are under attack by a huge army of cavalry (who charge the wildlings… in the forest. Which sounds really cool but cavalry + forests vs Infantry = dead horses). The wildlings are attacked from two directions and we have a nifty battle scene among the trees while Mance looks thoroughly confused. He orders his men to stand down sticking to what he said earlier – his people have bled enough

His attacker is Stannis. (The Pouty vs The Dour. Smiles are verboten!)  Mance throws away his weapons but draws the line at kneeling – that’s the Wildling thing, they do not kneel. Finding who Jon is, Stannis asks Jon’s opinion on what to do; Jon being super honourable and remembering Mance treated him well when he was a prisoner, calls for Mance to be imprisoned and listened to. Jon also warns Stannis to burn the dead before they rise – hey Stannis likes fire.

The Nights Watch have their funeral, Mellisandre being all spooky over the funeral pyres. Jon offers the captured Tommen chance to say his own words over the Wildling dead, but it’s not their way – but it does get more Ygritte angst. Which leads to Jon burning her body north of the wall, per Tommen’s request.

Meanwhile, north of the wall, Bran, Hodor, Meera and Jojen reach their destination – a hugely impressive tree in the frozen wasteland. Wonderful triumphant moment interrupted by awesome CGI skeletons attacking. Seeing sweet, gentle Hodor being overwhelmed by them, Bran possess him – reminding us all that sweet, gentle Hodor is also immensely strong. In the fight, a Jojen is stabbed repeatedly and two skeletons nearly reach Bran – but are killed by fireballs.

Fireballs? We’re definitely getting High Fantasy here. Someone who looks like a young girl dressed in leaves calls them to her. She’s a Child of the Forest. The Child tells Meera to abandon Jojen and he agrees – she kills Jojen, a mercy killing (the Child incinerates the body), and tearfully follows them to the cave. The skeletons chasing them shatter when they pass the cave entrance.

The Child takes them to the centre of the root-filled cave (which is incredibly eerie). Among the roots is a very old man who Bran greets as the Three Eyed Raven, he has lots of cryptic knowledge – including that Jojen knew he would die and that Bran will fly.

Sure, if he goes to the Eyrie.

On the Way to the Eyrie

Brienne and Podrick are still awesome together and the horses have gone missing. This is probably Poderick’s fault. In between berating them she sees Arya practicing her sword forms. And Arya is so eager to talk to Brienne – a woman with a sword (who thought jaded Arya could be eager about anything any more?)

Then The Hound appears – and Pod recognises him and Brienne realises who Arya is. Brienne tells Arya about her oath and how she wishes she could have protected Catelyn – Arya, being Arya, questions why she didn’t – and the Hound suspects her of being paid by the Lannisters and it’s hard to argue otherwise when she has a Lannister sword – Arya doesn’t trust her. And the is willing to fight for Arya – and scorns Brienne when she talks about safety – Arya’s whole family is dead and Winterfell is destroyed, what safety does Arya have. If Brienne doesn’t realise this, she isn’t the one to watch over her

The two fight (NOOOOOOOOOOO! NO NO! You two can’t fight! Noooooooo!) and Brienne wins. And he grabs her blade – he’s not a knight and he doesn’t fight fancy. Sword fighting becomes a brawl and it’s messy and it’s brutal and it’s really horrible until a really pissed off Brienne punches the Hound over a cliff. Brienne won again. Brienne staggers to her feet – but Arya is hiding from her and doesn’t come when called.

Monday, June 16, 2014

A Lady of Spirit (Magnificent Devices #6) by Shelley Adina

Lizzie found a whole new family in the last book – which came with the revelation that Maggie was her cousin and not her sister. Now Lizzie has grandparents, a brother and a family name to become familiar with, all accepting her with open arms.

And where does that leave Maggie? Well, the illegitimate daughter is not nearly so welcome nor as sure as her place in the world and certainly not in the family. The rift between her and her sister/cousin yawns ever wider and even Lady Claire can’t fix this.

With all this family drama going on, the last thing Maggie needs to get wrapped up in is foiling a plot to invade Britain and overthrow the crown and government!

The last book was very much Lizzie’s book with her discovering who she was, dealing with her insecurities and doubts even while Maggie seemed to be more confident and focused. This book is Maggie’s book and it’s now her turn for considerable insecurity while Lizzie has the confidence and focus – but in a very different way.

Lizzie was insecure about who and what she wanted to be, how to be a lady, which role model to follow, who she aspires to be. Maggie doesn’t have those doubts, she has a fairly strong idea of what she wants to be and seems inclined to follow Lady Claire’s example. But she is insecure about who she is – after all, both she and Lizzie were revealed to be cousins, not sisters and that was the defining element of their identity. They were the Mopsies… what are they now? They could have continued as the Mopsies, probably, if it weren’t for Lizzie gaining a family – she found her father, she found a brother and, now, she finds grandparents, a family, and a good family name of considerable importance (so very important in the Victorian setting). Yet all of that is denied Maggie with her unknown father, her semi-disgraced mother and her viciously disapproving grandparents. All of these people deny Maggie, but in some ways they’re even cruelly by their deep acceptance of Lizzie – because that separates them. The Mopsies, treated as a whole for so long, are now being treated separately, which can only further damage Maggie’s sense of self and identity.

All of these together really work for Maggie, drawing on the last book and bringing all these pressures at once to make it a far more nuanced and complicated depiction beyond the simplistic “my grandparents hate me because I’m illegitimate” – there are so many more layers than that. And those layers define the rest of Maggie’s actions (her desperate need to find out who her father was and which of the competing tales are true) that wouldn’t make sense unless we take

I think there’s a small element of the patriarchy of the times in some ways with the fact Maggie looked to her absent father for identity more than her dead mother – but I think it has far more to do with her mother’s family (and that much valued family name) being thoroughly closed to Maggie by her grandparents’ hostility. It became less about valuing her father as grasping the only avenue of identity left open to her. Again, the layers in the story and the echoes of the last book really work together to add more depth to Maggie’s character.

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