Saturday, January 23, 2016

The 100, Season Three, Episode One: Wanheda: Part 1

This episode begins with Murphy and Lincoln sparing shirtless. Who do I have to thank for this? Also, I will take another helping of that next week.  It's been about three months since the events at Mt. Weather and now that the dust has somewhat settled, the sky people are tying to build a life somehow.  As one might imagine, all is not smooth.

Abby is still the Chancellor and she is very worried about the missing Clarke and she is right to be.  It seems that Clarke has a bounty on her head from all of the tribes.  Considering that Clarke ended the reaping by killing all of the Mt. Weather people, you would think that from the Grounder point of view that she would be hailed as a hero and that her life would be easy.  Unfortunately that is not the case. The Grounders respect what Clarke has done and have even given her the nickname, Wanheda - the commander of death.  It seems that the kill order stems from the fact that because Clarke is personally responsible for the death of so many people, it's believed that she possess great power and therefore killing Clarke would mean claiming that power.  It's an interesting perspective given that Clarke's feelings about what occurred on Mt. Weather seem quite the opposite.

At the end of season two, Clarke returned with her people to what is now camp Arkadia and promptly left, too racked with guilt to stay with her people.  There are some people like Clarke's new lover Niylah, who see what Clarke did as so heroic that she even lies to the Ice Queen's warriors about Clarke's location.  For Niylah, whose mother was taken in a reaping, Clarke's actions represent revenge and safety.  Now, no one will have to worry about being taken ever again.  Clarke however wears the heavy burden of the dead on her person, commenting that her body count is so high that she wouldn't be able to have all of the kill marks on her back. Clarke instead will have to have to content herself with the scars from the panther she killed, whose meat she trades for supplies.  It's a classic case of do the ends justify the means.  Abby warned her last season that there would be a price for her actions but Clarke at the time, could only see the end goal of freeing her people.

This episode erased any doubt that Clarke is indeed a bisexual protagonist.  This is a huge deal because there aren't a lot LGBT protagonists on television or in the genre.  I do however wonder whether we will actually see Clarke engaged in a long term same sex relationship.  For now however, I am pretty pleased with this very obvious declaration and hope that The 100 will not give her any fallout over it. It would nice to see a world in which love, whether it be same sex or heterosexual be supported and embraced.

Ironically, Jasper is one  of the people whose life Clarke's actions saved and he is not at all okay with it.  Since returning to camp, Jasper has been a drunk while mourning  the loss of Maya. How long did Jasper know Maya actually?  I'm not sure that I like the set up that Maya is the genesis of his pain. We did get Jasper raging at his people for taking supplies from Mt. Weather and calling them scavengers which suggests that we might get a more nuanced understanding of where Jasper's pain stems from.  It is worth noting that this is standard operating procedure for the people from the Ark, so I am not sure where they are going with this.  I would also like someone to explain to me how a resident from the Ark learned how to play the piano of all things.

Sense8, Season One, Episode Seven: WWN Double-D

Sun has arrived at prison and placed into a cell with several women.  Though she has a determined look on her face, it's clear that she intimidated by these new surroundings.  The women look hard as they call Sun the embezzler who stole the money from investors and brought shame to her father and brother.  Though they sound harsh at first, it seems that the women don't think that Sun's actions were bad because they see it as rebelling against men.  All of the women who Sun is housed with have in some way rebelled against the men in their lives. Some women are even murderers.  It's worth noting however that Sun didn't actually rebel the way these women did against harsh treatment. It particularly stands out when one comments that the only place to find a strong honest woman is in Korea. In fact, agreeing to take the fall thus allowing her brother to avoid prison and her father to save face is absolutely submissive.

Nomi has decided to contact Bug - a man who got caught hacking the pentagon. Nomi explains that she took the fall for Bug and because she was a juvenile with rich parents and therefore she got off with community service.  How's that for privilege and power? It's worth noting however Nomi forgot to mention her whiteness as part of the equation. Yes as a trans woman there is no doubt that Nomis is a marginalized character and so it's interesting that she cannot see her Whiteness.  In fact she and Amanita have yet to discuss Nomi's whiteness and it seems to play no role in their relationship. Nomi explains that she didn't think that she would ever have to revisit this part of her life and apologizes to Amanita for lying by omission.

Bug arrives for the meeting and the first thing he does is to sexualize Nomi when he sees that she is a woman.  Bug's way of giving a compliment is to say that he would totally fuck Nomi. Okay, so Bug is a sexist bastard though he tries to claim that he isn't speaking about Nomi in a degrading way. Bug then goes on to sexualize Aminata when Nomi reveals that Amanita is her girlfriend.  Nomi shrugs off Bug and it's clear that she is tolerating Bug because she needs computer equipment to begin hacking. I like this scene because it points out the ways in which have to tolerate sexism in order to get ahead sometimes.  There would have been no point in calling out Bug when he couldn't understand the nature of what he was saying and furthermore; it may have stopped Nomi from receiving the computer equipment she needed.

The fetishist (read: Daniela) has taken Lito and Hernando out for dinner.  It seems that this is a restaurant that Hernando being a foodie has wanted to go to for some time. Lito is quick to say that this is not working but Daniela questions why because they went to the wrestling thing together.  Can Hernando and Lito ever have a moments peace without the fetishist in every moment of their existence? Daniela's suggestion is for Hernando to pretend to be Lito's new bodyguard.  When a couple of young women show up and ask for a picture, Hernando falls into his role until he is told by Lito that he will pose for the picture.  Lito is insistent that they head home even as photographers start taking pictures. An angry Hernando stands and orders the photographers to leave Lito in peace.  Everyone at the table is excited that Hernando managed to pull this off.  This moment is about so much more than Hernando successfully playing the bodyguard.  He had to have realised the reason he couldn't have the relationship that he wants in part is because of Lito's fear of being outed and being under the lens constantly made it harder for he and |Lito have a life outside of their apartment. Under the table, Hernando and Lito hold hands.

Riley is flying home when she is joined by an excited Capheus.  Capheus is quick to call Riley lucky and she explains that she is not lucky and that what she has is privilege.  Clearly, privilege and power is the theme for this episode and it's an important acknowledgement that one does not see often enough in the media. The problem of course is that you have the white character calling out privilege on no the Black one.  This is a role reversal that really isn't welcome.  Coming from Nigeria Capheus would or should have some sort of understanding of how privilege and power work since he has beeb subjected to not only racism but colonialism and poverty. Capheus however points out that Riley is lucky because she is still able to see her own father.  Capheus encourages Riley to look out the window and take pleasure in the view. Capheus sees the glass as half full while Riley sees it as half empty. It makes Capheus the simple character while situating Riley as the complex one.

Hernando returns to the apartment with Lito and Daniela.  The two men kiss and Lito drops Hernando quickly when the elevator door opens to maintain his cover as a straight men.  The two men kiss happily in the apartment.

Riley has landed back home and is greeted by her father  Gunnar who plays a version of the Who's Teenage Wasteland for her as a greeting.  Riley is clearly delighted to see her father and the two quickly embrace.

Back in the apartment, Daniela, Hernando and Lito find Joaquin waiting for them.  It seems that Joaquin is morose and wants to know what Lito has that he doesn't.  Daniela is quick to step forward and say that Lito doesn't hit her. Joaquin counters by claiming that he is Mexican, and has been raised to believe that a man must hit a woman to make her respect him,  Daniela then says that Lito is twice the man that Joaquin will ever be. It seems that Joaquin's mission is to watch Daniela and Lito have sex so that he can learn how to better satisfy a woman.  Lito is taken a back by this. When Daniela leaves to grab a phone to call the cops, Hernando chases Joaquin down and throws him out. What no one realises however is that Joaquin got his hands on Daniela's phone.  If you recall, this is a problem because the damn fetishist filmed Hernando and Lito have sex in the last episode.

The only reason for Daniela to take pictures and or video of Hernando and Lito engaged in sex is that she can have something for her spank bank.  Now that she has violated their privacy, all for the sake of her fetish, it's clearly going to cost Lito and Hernando.

Will tracks down more information on what happened with Angelica and in the process, sees a picture of Whispers. Will and Diego track down the van used transport Angelica's body and when he opens the back door, Will sees a vision of Angelica's dead body.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Dyre: By Moon's Light (Dyre series) by Rachel E Bailey

The werewolf packs exist in peace and hidden from humanity. But a lot of that peace and secrecy can be put down the efforts of one man, the king of the werewolves, the Dyre

And he’s now death – much to the horror of Des, the woman who was oathsworn to protect him

Ruby is the old Dyre’s heir – a newly turned human who has a whole lot to learn before she can step in his shoes even with Des’s guidance and protection. And it’s not just werewolf history and politics she has to grasp – the death of the Dyre was only the first step in someone’s vicious plan.

Werewolves! Always fun to follow – werewolves and politics even more so since it’s usually vampires who play the political game. Different clans and families with their own histories and their own conflicts and rivalries. We have nice little side studies with a pack that was an outsider and worked their way up with new progressive changes to the rules which causes, of course, resentments. There’s some nice work gone into this political system.

The characters are interesting as well – Des and Ruby both have an edge of tragic past – and Des does love her angst. But unlike eighty billion characters out there, her angst doesn’t manifest as Keille Independence. She’s a capable fighter – a clearly dangerous one – but that doesn’t make her a violent rage machine either. I like them both for their skill, their power and the general lack of tropes. I want to follow their story

I want to be invested in the relationship between Des and Ruby – after all it’s a loving, sexual relationship with lots of passion and thought. Werewolf culture is happily free from homophobia (something I like – I mean, if you are going to create a whole new society of supernaturals and actually have no humans in the cast, why should they have the same prejudices as we do?) so both Des and Ruby being together – and Ruby being with other women before that (Or Ruby’s brother being in a relationship with another man) – doesn’t raise any objections or unnecessary homophobia scenes or clumsy teaching us that it’s wrong – and just introduces them as loving, caring, sexual beings who have fun and are defined by other traits than their sexuality and are refreshingly lacking in tropes and stereotypes. Even Jaime, who is “latent” so not a werewolf still makes a point of showing his strength and capability even as a latent (they don’t follow the

Supernatural, Season 11, Episode 10: The Devil in the Details

Oooh new classic rock opening. Yes, I’ve always been a sucker for Supernatural’s sound track.

Before the hiatus, Sam had very unwisely decided to follow his dreams and ended up locked in Hell with Lucifer. Silly silly boy. While Dean has a front row seat to seeing the Darkness and God have the ultimate sibling squabble.

Now there’s a huge zone of scary angelic fallout (which is actually a kind of awesome concept – and a nice twist on what happened to Lot’s wife) which makes Dean sick – so it’s Castiel who has to go investigate to see if Amarra is dead and nuked or not. On the way he meets Ambrielle, an angel sent to do the same. Ambrielle has about 10 minutes of screen time in which I completely love her – I love her naïve ignorance of the world that makes even Castiel roll his eyes, even while she has a brutal knowledge of her role (the expendable one) and still finds pride and honour in knowing she’s NOT important but still has a job to do. I like her, I like her a lot – and then she dies (after planting the seeds of angst in Castiel’s head before reporting to her fridge) adding another woman of colour to the show’s death list.

Amarra is, unsurprisingly, not dead (Castiel also implies the super nuke wasn’t god – it was an angel weapon) and after duly mocking Castiel trying to kill her with a knife, she sends him buzzing after Dean (he has far too much plot armour to be killed. Also if this show kills Castiel fandom’s collected fury might actually herald the apocalypse. The writer of that episode will never sleep peacefully again).

Meanwhile in hell we’re treated to a truly horrifying dream involving Rowena in reindeer antlers and Crowley in Christmas pyjamas. Some very very very sick person wrote this episode.

Anyway the weird weird weird dreams reveal that Rowena has been working for Lucifer all along, she’s after the power and she, somewhat reasonably, thinks that he’s really the only chance they have against the Darkness. She also rather nicely counters Crowley’s claim of kingdom – after all, Hell must be Lucifer’s domain first. Through threats and her plan to be Lucifer’s queen she manages to avoid being murdered by Crowley who tries to convince her that this is a terribad idea.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Doctor Who: The Stealers of Dreams (Doctor Who: New Series Adventures #6) by Steve Lyons

In this latest adventure, Rose, Captain Jack and of course the Doctor, land on a planet where fiction is outlawed. Residents are not allowed to use their imagination and lies are punishable by imprisonment and forced psychiatric treatment.  The Doctor is quick to notice that progress has stagnated.  It seems that without the ability to dream and imagine, humans cannot advance because they cannot conceive of innovation.  The Doctor is on the case but it seems that Hal Gryden, with his illegal television station is already working to change people's view of fiction and fantasy.  When things start to go just a little haywire the Doctor is forced to admit that sometimes, fiction can be dangerous.

Of all of the 9th Doctor books, The Stealers of Dreams is easily my favorite, though there isn't much that is original about the plot.   In many ways, it's as though Lyons tried to rewrite 1984 and insert the Doctor.  The planet in question has no government but the rule of law is unbending and the status quo if fiercely maintained. Conformity is uniform with residents watching each other and informing on each other at every turn.  There are those who choose to rebel but they are quickly rounded up by the police and their materials dismantled.  For this world to work, it's important that everyone think the same way and express a desire for truth and rationality in all forms.  The news reports things like a woman not having to stop at any red lights on the way home and saving a full twenty minutes on her commute.

Despite the fact that the story was not original per say, I really enjoyed the twist ending.  I don't know whether it's because I got so caught up in how well written Rose, Captain Jack and the 9th Doctor were or not but I completely didn't see it coming and was blown away.  In reflection afterwards, I will admit that I should have been able to see it.  If anything, it speaks to how caught up I quickly became with The Stealers of Dreams.

At points throughout the novel Rose was constructed as a Mary Sue.  This would normally piss me off but she seemed to push back very hard against this construction.  Rose meets Dominic when he breaks into the hotel room that she shares with Captain Jack and the Doctor to hide from the police.  Later in the absence of Captain Jack and the Doctor, Rose decides to investigate the world with Dominic.  It's clear from the very beginning that Dominic is very socially awkward because of his non compliance and interest in fantasy and this makes him decidedly unattractive to women. Dominic repeatedly tell us that he finds everything about Rose perfect but it's clear that his ideas on women are really and truly sexist.  When the two find themselves in danger of being caught by the police, Dominic assumes that as a man, it's his job to protect Rose.
She needed. . .  
‘I. . . I can protect you, Rose.’ 
‘You what?’
 ‘It’s up to me. I’m the man. I’m the hero.’ 
‘Like hell! You ever done anything like this before?’ 
‘Well. . . no, but. . . ’ ‘Stick with me, then. I’ll –’ The words froze in her throat. She had caught the eye of a passer-by, just for an instant before he had looked down at his feet again. (pg 19)

Rose being Rose gets ready to defend herself despite Dominic's protestations.  She's certain that she's onto something about how the world works and refuses to be taken by the police.

Dominic's attitude about women don't stop at his belief that it's a man's job to protect a woman.
‘Which of these is yours?’
 ‘The comic strip,’ he answered distractedly, over his shoulder.  
‘The zombies? It’s. . . er, good. Well drawn. But you do know women don’t really look like that? And if we did, we wouldn’t dress like that.’
 ‘It’s stylistic. It’s how they used to portray females in literature.’ 
‘I s’pose, on the next page, the zombies tear off her clothes and she’s rescued by some hunk and falls into his arms.’
 Dominic broke off from what he was doing to turn and stare. ‘You’ve studied the classics? 
In a society without any government it's clear that the media controls how people think. What's particularly telling is that for Dominic, though he actively chooses to protest against the media and society's limitation regarding fiction, he doesn't stop to think about what he is internalizing from the fiction he chooses to consume.  It takes Rose to point out that the presentation of women is problematic. I love that Lyons had Rose push back against this misogyny and it's rare that sexism is so directly confronted in NuWho.

As much as I enjoyed Rose's push back against sexism, I am somewhat bothered that she was sidelined when she succumbed to the "fantasy madness." How is it that Captain Jack who was breathing same air as Rose, managed to hold onto his sanity and even save himself when necessary and Rose couldn't?  In the end Rose inspires pity in the Doctor because of her temporarily effected brain but true to Rose's spirit, she doesn't give up for one moment.
The Doctor had never pretended he could save her from everything. 
Rose didn’t even want him to. 
As if she hadn’t read his expression when he’d asked for a camera person, caught the flicker of his eyes towards her. He had to know by now that she wouldn’t have taken him up on his offer, his way off the front line.
As for Captain Jack, I would have to say that he was dead on the money.  It was easy to picture him moving from bat to bar drinking beers, telling tall tales and being completely in his element. Other than flirting like the cutie pie that we all know that Captain Jack is, he spent most of his time in absolute horror at how this world treated those it considered to be mentally ill.
Jack had made up his mind. ‘What they’re doing here,’ he said, ‘it’s wrong. I don’t care if the inmates in this place  are  sick, if fiction is driving them nuts or what – what they did to you, what they tried to do to me, it’s just. . . it’s wrong.
Akin to the Doctor and Rose he was determined to find the underlying cause however much of the time he spent talking about what is appropriate mental healthcare consists of.  People being locked up for years, having their brain operated on against their will and forced to deny things like a belief in God were particularly disturbing to him.  In terms of the latter, it's not that Captain Jack is a believer himself but a believer in the right to freedom of religion and expression.  In many ways, Jack represented the heart, and compassion of this story.

As with Rose and Captain Jack, I feel that Lyons pretty much got the 9th Doctor right.  There is however one passage I think that he slipped.

You’re supposed to be a writer, aren’t you? Give me a story. Vast jungle like this, there’s bound to be something in here, don’t you think?’ The Doctor was right in Domnic’s face, smiling, but there was a malicious gleam in his eyes. ‘Cos I’m sure I heard something a few metres back, you know. Sort of footsteps, padding after us. Could be zombies.’ 
Domnic swallowed nervously. ‘I didn’t hear anything.’ 
‘Yeah, you did, you just don’t want to admit it in case I think you’re fantasy crazy. But that’s not very bright, is it, Daniel? Not bright at all, because what if the monsters are real? And they could be, you know.’
‘Stop it!’ cried Domnic. 
 ‘Creeping up on us right now, and what good are you gonna be when they pounce? Standing there with your fingers in your ears and your eyes closed.
The Doctor is often a cold and abstract.  Rose even reminds us in this book that he has a tendency to refer to humans as apes.  What the Doctor isn't is malicious or at the very least it's fair to say that the 9th Doctor is not a malicious person.  I simply don't see him taunting and scaring an innocent person for the sake of funsies.  I don't see him scaring a person he knows to be ill in some fashion.

As you may have guessed from some of things I've said in this review so far, mental illness plays a big role in this story.  People who consume fiction or create fiction get fiction sickness which very much mirrors mental illness. Residents are taught to focus on things they know to be real about their lives or their environment to fight off illness.  Fantasy sickness is also something which is perceived of as contagious and therefore a person telling a lie to another risks infecting them with mental illness. In the end we discover that mental illness is caused by something environmental but it still feels in many ways like all mental illness is about having delusions excluding things like depression for instance.  I do however like the strong point that people who are ill are entitled to good care and not to be locked away from society.

As much as I loved so many facets of The Stealers of Dreams, it is not a very inclusive story when it comes to race and sexuality.  I know that Captain Jack is bisexual but this book is yet another example where it is not explicit.  Doctor who gets more credit for LGBT inclusion than it deserves to be quite frank.  There are two characters of colour and of course they are on the side of preserving the status quo.  One is Cal Tyko who is described as being of "Oriental descent" and is the duty nurse at the White House where people who have fantasy sickness are taken for treatment.  The Stealers of Dreams is ten years old but even ten years ago, the correct term to use was Asian.  Unfortunately Cal Tyko's character is a trope - the inscrutable Asian man.  He is also power hungry, cold and calculating.

Then there's Waller the dark skinned police officer.  Waller is absolutely driven to bring an end to the illegal broadcasting of fiction.  She is dedicated to her job and will do anything not to lose face. Waller also happens to be the only character other than Rose who inspires any kind of pity from the Doctor. We learn all about Waller's history with mental illness but little about her beyond that. Waller is quite literally a walking avatar of her illness.

The Stealers of Dreams could very well have been an episode with the exception of the moment of the Doctor's maliciousness.  The characters felt real to me and I became caught up in the story, reading it one session without a break.  It very much reminded me of the things I loved best about the 9th Doctor and made me miss him all the more.  It's fitting that this is the 9th Doctor's last book and the one that got the most right.  If you're a fan of the 9th Doctor or even Doctor Who in general, you'll enjoy this book.

Shallow Descriptions of People of Colour

Writing characters of colour has often proven to be a difficult thing to do for Caucasian authors. Because we live in such a segregated world, many often don’t know enough about cultures outside of their own to write a convincing portrayal.  One of the biggest stumbling blocks outside of ensuring proper cultural markers, is creating a proper description. How many times have you read about coffee coloured skin for instance?  Often, there’s absolutely no nuance because there is a tendency not to see the individual uniqueness of people of colour.  We are not now, nor have we ever been a homogeneous group. Furthermore, different racial groups have specific markers and while not always present are often in exsistence.

Far too often the descriptions of people of colour are lazy and are used as quick and easy ways to convey one thing only - Otherness. This character is not described with any real desire for us to know what they look like but simply so they can be duly labelled as not white - as not default

This can be so glaringly seen when we see descriptions of white and POC characters next to each other. Often the race of the white character will not even be mentioned - because there’s no need to mention it, it will be assumed. When two children are described in A Kiss Before the Apocalypse they are described as “a girl and an Asian boy”. Quick quiz - what race is the girl supposed to be?

If you said anything other than “white” you know you’re kidding yourself. Sure there’s nothing overtly labelling her as such, but the mere fact that she isn’t described while he is, is labelling enough.

In some ways we can see why an author would do this - there is such an overwhelming assumption that all characters are White that even characters that are described as POC are too often assumed not to be - making it all the more important to clearly label minorities (as we mentioned when talking about Quiet Minorities). In some cases this may even lead to such overwhelming excessive labelling that we have the Blackety Black Black trope; it almost feels necessary to try and force an audience that is almost unable to see POC to see the non-white skin!

But by singling out the POC for this kind of description while leaving the White characters as blank slates that we know the societal default will fill in serves to Other the POC. The fact you’ve spent several paragraphs mentioning the mocha, caramel, chocolate skin of the POC but not done the same level of milk vanilla yoghurt description of the white characters is glaring. When you talk repeatedly about “the man doing this” or “Jane doing that” or “the lawyer said this” but then that all becomes “the Asian man”, “the Latina woman” or “the Black lawyer” when a POC is involved then you are underscoring the difference; constantly reinforcing the idea of the societal default, the societal definition of normal, by overly drawing attention to POC as needing emphasis, as needing description.

The contrasting different descriptions emphasises the Other, reinforces the Other, underscores that these characters are Other. That doesn’t mean the characters shouldn’t be described or have their race mentioned - again, our objection to overwhelming societal default means we want minorities to be clearly labelled as such - but make that description universal so it doesn’t other someone. If you’re going to spend 3 paragraphs being slightly fetihistic about dark skin tones, then do the same with white ones. This is also a useful tool to see if you are being fetishistic and slightly creepy when it comes to describing skin tone or any racial characteristic - if that jumble of words describing a White character seems slightly-in-need of a cold shower or a restraining order, then there’s a good chance it applies in the same way to the description of POC. If you’re going to mention the “Asian wizard” or “Black shapeshifter” doing something, then include the same racial identifiers for White characters as well - do not allow the very absence of description to be a filler for assumed Whiteness. We see this excellently done in the Bone Street Rumba series - by not singling out POC, race becomes a characteristic to describe rather than a marker of the Other to draw attention to.

Teen Wolf, Season 5, Episode 13 Co-dominance

Last episode Kira was confronted by a group of Skinwalkers – or, as she pits half naked women with spears wearing animal pelts (to which I have to give kudos to Noshiko for her rejoinder “You wear a leather jacket and carry a sword”. Excellent come back – though the half naked animal pelts also come with camera upskirt shots – really Teen Wolf?).

They’re here to save Kira – or have her joint them as one of them – which, since we have little explanation for what, exactly, they are means she will get an echo-reverb voice, a mud facepack and the aforementioned animal skins. Except curing her may take months or years – which Noshiko doesn’t see as a problem since she’s live for 900 years and Kira can expect the same. Kira is not nearly as blasé but it may be the only chance to resist her overwhelming fox possession

I’m not quite sure how the Skinwalkers are supposed to fix this – but it seems to involve a lot of dramatic storms and Kira fighting a shadowy Oni. Every time she cuts it, it wounds her instead which is not winning strategy. After a few slices her inner Fox decides and to do an epic Fuck This Shit and completely overwhelm the oni with really shiny effects

Which isn’t good – because it shows how little control she has over her inner fox and how the foxy one is in control. Kira’s failed the test

I was loking for a storyline for Kira for a very long time – and one with Noshiko as well was an awesome bonus. So I find myself disappointed by this. We have Skinwalkers – beings from Native American mythology, dropped in with little or no development or explanation. We don’t even know how they were supposed to be saving Kira. They’re just there to be half naked and creepy. And Kira’s storyline hasn’t actually progressed. She left Beacon Hills because she had no control of her fox-nature and now she… still has no control of her fox nature. What have we learned? How has she grown? What has changed? Without any POINT to this diversion it feels like just a convoluted way to get Kira out of the picture for a few episodes.

Back in Beacon Hills, Scott and Stiles are developing, talking more and beginning to put their pack together. That doesn’t start with Liam because Scott still has ISSUES with the werepuppy. Stiles, who was always the smart one, does advise Scott he really needs to get over this, especially if they’re going to put the pack back together. After all, the werepuppy is the only other werewolf they actually have.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments, Season One, Episode Two: The Descent Into Hell Is Easy

If I had to describe this episode in a word I would have to call it tedious.  I struggled to keep my eyes open as I watched.  Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments might just be why coffee was invented. It's episode two and the acting certainly hasn't gotten any better - particularly that of Dominic Sherwood. That has to be some of the worst casting I have seen in a really long time.

So Simon comes chasing after Clary and naturally he wants to go to the cops but Clary is by now certain that this isn't something that the cops can help with and encourages Jace to reveal himself. They enter the institute and Simon is instantly amazed with the technology. It's time to figure out what's going on with the Circle and the Mortal Cup.  Clary makes it clear that while she and Simon are a package deal, they are not boyfriend and girlfriend.  As much as Simon wants to be there for Clary, the chance to spend some time with Izzy is too much to pass up.  Teenage hormones win the day I suppose.

Jace and Clary head off to see Hodge, who is not an old man the way he is in the books, but is in fact a weapons trainer.  I'll admit Hodge is cute but abs don't make an actor, thus affirming in my mind that these actors were cast for the looks and certainly not for their talent.  Hodge has a rune on his neck which causes him pain each time he speaks about Valentine or the Circle but he powers through it because Jace and Clary need to know what's going on damn it. Hodge wonders what would happen should Valentine get his hands on the Mortal Cup even as he keeps repeatedly saying that Valentine is dead and the circle has been disbanded. Cup is so super special that it can either be used to create more Shadowhunters or control demons.

Clary is determined to go after the cup because it's the only link to her mother; however, Jace is quick to point out that Clary is untrained and in over her head. But damn it all, Jace loves Clary's never say die attitude and he's in for the fight. I guess this is what happens when one teen rebel recognizes another.  It's okay to give up now and roll your eyes. So it's time to figure out who the warlock is who wiped Clary's memories and that brings us to Dot but one cannot go warlock hunting without ensuring that one has their Zoolander look in place and to that end, Izzy lends Clary some clothing. This of course allows some time for girl talk and Izzy is happy to let Clary know that it's totes okay to crush all over Jace because she sees Jace like a brother.

Now it's time for Clary to use the force, umm I meant embrace her inner Shadowhunter because according to Jace she was born to do this.

Dot has been keeping busy. She finds Maguns Bane to report that not only has Jocelyn been kidnapped, but poor Clary is unaccounted for.  Magnus however is more interested in protecting his own hide since Valentine has declared it Warlock hunting season.  Dot however is loyal and refuses to lam it with Magnus but when she heads outside, it's clear that she is being watched by someone in the Circle. I think it's time people stop believing that the members of the Circle are dead because they keep showing up everywhere.

So as you may have guessed, the plan to get to Dot failed and now Clary is upset. Nice to know that she can stay on task for a few minutes in between ogling Jace.  Jace brings up the Silent Brothers and Izzy and Alec are not at all cool with this. The siblings are concerned what this could do to Clary  (since when is Alec really concerned about Clary's welfare?) Clary however is full steam ahead once again earning her points in Jace's eyes.

So they arrive at the bat cave (read the Silent Brother Enclave) and twice in on day, Alec expresses concern for Clary but Jace explains that Clary has lost everything and he knows what that's like. They totes relate to each other folks. Now that Alec sees the similarity he is totally sensitive and agrees to guard the perimeter. Simon who is still in the thrall of Izzy, agrees to stay and watch the gate. Once again, hot girl wins out over BFF loyalty. Is it me or did he seem to get over Clary awfully fast?

Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands, Season One, Episode Three

The race is on to see if Rheda can get enough votes to become Yarl and to that end, it's absolutely essential that Beowulf and Rate return with Slean and Than Scorann. Without Thane  Scorann's vote, there seems to be some doubt as to whether Rheda can come out ahead.  This takes Rate and Beowulf into the woods to chase down the captors.  This should have been exciting but I actually found it rather boring and disappointing.  Unfortunately, Slean lives and Thane Scorann dies but not before telling his brother Rate, that his vote goes to Rheda.  Scorann did however whisper a condition into his brother's ear which the audience is not privy to.  The problem of course is that I don't care in the slightest.

As we saw in the last episode, Koll the skinshifter has been captured.  Koll made it very clear that he did what he did to protect his family.  This means that someone figured out who and what he is and blackmailed him to destablize Herot during the time of the Moot.  The people of Herot who are either unaware of the larger plot going on or simply don't care have decided that they want justice from Sylvi, Koll's wife.  Elvina speaks beautifully in Sylvi's defense pointing out that none of them knew what Koll is, including the former Yarl, Hrothgar.  The question of course is, is Elvina sympathetic because she doesn't want to see the woman dead and her child left an orphan or does she have something to hide herself, given that she chose to strip in front of Beowulf last week instead of burning her hand to prove that she isn't Mudborn.

It's clear from the outset that Rheda wants to give Sylvi a pass and says to her people that Sylvi will be judged based on the law.  Rheda is sympathetic to the idea that Sylvi would chose to make a life with Koll, given that her former husband used to beat her and Koll took her away from all of that. I think Rheda knows all too well what it is to be a woman negotiating this hyper masculine world and how vulnerable it would have made Sylvi; however, this does not stop Rheda from tricking Sylvi's daughter into indicting her mother.  I suppose female solidarity only goes so far in the Shieldlands.

In my review last week, I pondered whether or not Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands is attempting to discuss colonization.  This week, we saw that when Brecca taunted Koll, Koll responded by making it clear that he came from a line of priests, who advised the giants, who used to rule the area. Koll is quick to say that his people were important rulers and advisers when the Shieldlanders were living in caves.  Even Sylvi accuses the Shieldlanders of being savages when she is sentenced to death.  Clearly, there's more to the Mudborn than the creatures that we have seen.  They had a society and perhaps even a rule of law.  Calling them savages and depriving them of land is simply the justification of colonization.  I am fascinated by this line and hope that it continues on.

Manners & Mutiny (Finishing School #4) by Gail Carriger

Sophronia continues her education in espionage at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s floating school – all the while fully aware that nefarious plots are afoot. The anti-supernatural Picklemen are still plotting to overthrow the established order and their schemes are well hidden.

As if that weren’t sufficient distraction for Sophronia, there’s also Soap. Now a werewolf, the former Sooty sees much more hope between him and Sophronia than there ever was in the past – but how far from social convention is she willing to deviate?

It all makes it very hard to focus on her lessons. Especially when all her training is finally put to the ultimate test

Sophronia I predictably awesome this book. As ever she is skilled, intelligent, capable, dangerous and fun. But she also has some nice growth and moral questions – including asking just what she has become with her intelligencer training. Has every interaction become just another mission for her? Has she become cold? Has she become completely incapable of trusting? As is asked on numerous occasions, has she become hard and cold?

From that we also have some nice questions about exactly what Sophronia wants when she finishes school and challenging some of the roles that have been clearly expected of her

One thing I really like in this book is not just Sophronia being, predictably, awesome and amazing – but her companions being almost as awesome as well. Agatha, Dimity – both far too often her sidekicks (not weak by any means, but certainly lesser in comparison to the awesomeness of Sophronia) who’s weaknesses are far far more clear than their actual strengths. They are defined more by their frailties than their strengths

And in this book we see their skills excellently portrayed. We see there are many ways to be an intelligencer. This series has always done an excellent job of taking the trappings of traditional Victorian femininity and making them strengths (which I think is sorely needed because so many books with “strong female characters” are strong because they eschew all things feminine. We have scene after scene of women who disdain clothes and make up and anything deemed female which is why they are strong. It’s unusual and powerful to have the feminine be strengths). This book goes a step further to make a lot of different forms of feminine strengths. Whether it’s Dimity’s gossip and social butterfly flitting or, equally, Agatha’s quiet, hidden wallflower nature. Always on the outside – but always seeing everything. (And I really love how, along with Sophronia, Agatha has found a way to forge her own future, free from the expectations and demands of society and her family. Agatha has courageously chosen her own path even as everyone acknowledges the risk she’s taken doing that).

The Returned, Season 2, Episode 3: Morgane

In case we were in any doubt, Milan is a very very very bad man.

A flashback to 35 years ago we find that Lucy and Morgane were hooking up and Milan (with some kind of nebulous connection to Lucy) took exception to this. For her “sins” he threw her in a basement until she died. When Morgane arrived Milan threw him in as well

Milan is officially not a nice man. This also explains why, in the present, Lucy is terrified of Milan (and psychically ware of them) and instantly attracted to Morgane when he returns, though he does seem rather zombie-like.

Not convinced? More evil evidence – Léna decides that after arguing with her dad the best thing to do will be to crash at Serge’s place. Because who do you turn to in your hour of need if not your friendly neighbourhood serial killer? Serge wants rid of her asap because Milan is scary. Milan decides he wants to “save” Léna by murdering her. Serge the serial killer objects and Milan tortures him.

Serge tries to fake it but Milan is more savvy than that and stabs her – demanding Serge finish her off. He shoots Milan instead which would be nice but I rather think he’ll just be back again soon. Serge takes Léna’s injured body to the Departed zone and dumps her on Camille and Claire’s lawn

This whole storyline stinks of redeeming Serge the serial killer who targets women. And it’s a very very bad smell indeed.

Simon is, thankfully, not too jealous about Lucy and Morgane, he’s more focused on Adèle who is despairing and conflicted about her new baby that Chloe has dubbed Nathan. It doesn’t help Adèle that Chloe is talking to Simon and knowing stuff that only Simon could know, turning Adèle even more paranoid though, by the end, she does seem to accept her child

Oh look, Simon’s back to romantically stalking his beloved Adèle. Is there any wonder that she has so many problems when every man in her life who has ever pretended to care for her thinks stalking and controlling her and monitoring her is the way to her affections. She needs some better men in her life. Or no men at all.

It doesn’t help that Lucy believes that Nathan is the key to something (no doubt a bad thing).

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Shadowflame (Shadow World #2) by Dianne Sylvan

Trigger warning for discussions of violent homophobia and rape

Miranda has been Queen of the South for three months now.  As is custom, when she married her husband David Solomon, the Prime of the area, the other Primes pay a visit to show their respect of the new couple.  Although Miranda loves David, she is very new to the shadow world and still feels the call of her human life.  Learning to be Queen for Miranda means accepting that her 350 year old soulmate has had a long life without her and that comes with consequences. In between all of the political intrigue and trying to protect her human friends, Miranda has to come to terms with the new world that she has entered and all the costs that come with it.

Spoilers Ahead

When I read some of the reviews on Goodreads those who chose to give Shadowflame a low rating seemed largely to do so based on David's infidelity.  Obviously, these are people who go into an urban fantasy/ paranormal romance book with the belief that once a couple pair up that they shouldn't deal with real world problems.  I understand that there might be some who find David's infidelity a problem based on this; however, the problems with Shadowflame extend far beyond that.

In this book we learn that David had a past same-sex relationship of 10 years with Deven. There could be a lot of positive to say about having a bisexual co-protagonist - except the book makes it very very very clear that he's totally not bi, honest (there's more than a whiff of no homo about the whole thing)

This just sets the tone for the depiction of the same sex relationships involved. David and Deven split up not because of actual reasons but because of the magical Signet (which now demands David be with Miranda and Deven with Johnathon - screw true love, the Bling has spoken). While we could view this as a tragedy that magic has destroyed a long term, loving relationship, instead what we see is the spiteful, conniving Devon trying to steal Miranda's man (how very dare he!). Her relationship with David is presented as not only superior in her eyes (she decides she has the advantage because she "has a vagina" yes, penis + vagina is the one true relationship!) but also in general depiction - with Deven and Jonathon's relationship being almost chaste and certainly less passionate and powerful than Miranda and David.

To rub some salt into the wounds, we also have David described as "swishy",  by Kat, Miranda's best friend. Miranda and Kat then proceed to fetishise the idea of David and Deven together and, to crown it all, Deven apparently working long term to make sure Miranda and David got together. Yes, this gay man devoted time and energy to bring his true love together with a woman to form a Real and Proper bling-sanctioned relationship.

Honestly, I could go on for pages about the trainwreck here (I haven't even touched on the gratuitous and graphic depiction of homophobia or the implication that Deven is bitter and nasty because of his origins that Miranda happily clubs him with), but the review would end up ridiculously long, especially considering the other many many problems with this book.

I'm starting to think that no Shadow World book is complete without some form of gratuitous rape involved. In this case, Prime Hart comes to pay his respects to the new couple and with him he brings his string of sex slaves.  Prime Hart tortures these women, starves them and rapes them repeatedly. Though Hart keeps a stable of nine women, he chooses only to bring four of them on his state visit. Sylvan includes a very graphic description of Cora's rape. It's gratuitous and made further problematic by Cora's suggestion that women who give up after years of torture, rape and starvation are weak. Everyone in the Shadowworld is aware of how Hart treats women and yet no one intervenes.  This is explained by the misogyny of the Shadowworld which seems to dictate that women are to be silent and stand behind their men.  When Miranda brings this to the attention of David, he is unwilling to risk a war to free these women.  David expressly forbids Miranda to intervene unless one of the women asks for sanctuary.  To be clear, we are supposed to think of David as a complicated man but a good man but good people don't allow four women to be raped under their roof without trying at least to intervene.

I don't even understand why this story line occurs at all.  Cora ends up being paired up with another visiting Prime and disappears from the story.  I can only assume that Cora will come to play a role in the story as it moves forward but it still makes her violent rape irrelevant to the story.  In fact, Hart's misogyny was well established before the revelation of sex slaves and torture, particularly given that his favorite terms for women in include, "girl, whore and slut". None of this was necessary to the story and was a side plot at best.

People of colour really didn't fare much better in this novel.  Of course we have Faith, David's second in command but she seemed to be there to issue orders and to be confused about who to support when David was unfaithful to Miranda.  I don't understand Faith's confusion given that it was revealed at the end of Shadowflame that she has been in love with David for many years.  Faith is someone that David trusted enough to tell about his intimate feelings for Deven and they have years of established friendship between them, yet.

Other than Faith, the people of colour essentially are background characters who either die for the sake of Miranda's guilt as her manager Denise MacNeil did or get a passing mention the way that Tanaka the signet of Japan does.  Then there are those that fall into the servant class. The most obvious being the Mexican maid Esther, leaves herbs on the mantle for healing and safety and seems to exist to simply nurture Miranda and David.  She is a walking avatar of her Mexican identity and has no individuality whatsoever. Esther exists to worry about Miranda's well doing and seems to have no life of her own.

Then there's Lali who has developed her own form of Yoga for vampires.  When we first meet Lali, she is a member of Miranda's protection detail.  In reality, Lali works for Deven and has been assigned to keep an eye on the Prime and his Queen.  We learn nothing about her beyond her practice of yoga and service to Deven. She's not a person but yet another avatar of her race.  If that were not enough, Lali is unceremoniously killed off - fodder in a war of revenge against Miranda.

For all of the characters of colour floating around, none of them are actually developed and quite a few of them simply die.  They are blank without personality and when they do die, it's not about the loss of their lives but about the supposed pain of the white characters.

As I said at the beginning of this review many of the people upset with Shadowflame are upset because of David's infidelity.  It makes sense to me that David couldn't simply walk away from a man that he had been in a romantic relationship with for ten years.  The problem is that David's bisexuality is repeatedly denied and that his relationship with Miranda is set up to be the one true love.  Sylvan makes a point of giving a consequence to any character who says an anti gay slur but that certainly doesn't make this book LGBT positive. It's riddled with homophobia.

As much as the misogyny is awful at least there's a lot of push back against it. Miranda makes it clear that she will not be the little woman standing behind her man but will rule as an equal. She is absolutely a strong character at this point.  Sylvan however does have Miranda developing new talents which does make me wonder if this is a thing which will continue to happen as the series progresses for story reasons rather than common sense.

The base story behind Shadowflame is good and compelling but it's just marred with homophobia, gratuitous rape and cardboard inclusion of people of colour.  It's impossible to give any of it a pass.  Shadowflame reads like an attempt to be inclusive gone horribly horribly wrong. It's not enough to include marginalized characters one must humanise them and not play on bigotry. I don't expect homophobia to cease to exist in any world but how its portrayed is a matter of great importance. It will never be enough to simply disavow slurs, one must actively not engage in homophobia or minimize relationships between people of the same sex.  On this account, Sylvan has absolutely failed despite her bisexual co-protagonist.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Midnight Taxi Tango (Bone Street Rumpa #2) by Daniel José Older

Carlos has been trying to track a series of disasters that have been hitting a park. It looks like ghostly influence that needs dealing with and, as an agent of the Council, that’s definitely his job.

But this job hits very close to home as it involves some of the people close to him – including Kia and Sasha – now mother to his children. He uncovers a terrifying and alien cult that brings several disparate people together to save or avenge their loved ones and put an end to this terrifying force

The whole concept and world setting of this book is fun, interesting and new. The enemy, the nature of it and its beliefs (which I really liked because it pointed to a very well thought out system) were all excellent. The research to get there was really clumsy and slow, but the characters and their individual involvement was excellent. How the plot lines all came together was fun and perfectly brought together every loose end – though until they all come together and all the loose ends are explained it’s kind of frustrating and annoying.

And it had some really excellent twists at the end that I didn’t see coming which was a definite bonus

This whole world setting of this series is really like nothing I’ve ever seen before – originality is precious and a good plot to go with it is like diamonds

Like with the previous book, I’m not a huge fan of the voice in this book – I don’t like it, find it hard to follow but at the same time do think it adds to the setting and characterisation, which is good. In the last book I found the voice a little… dated (which wouldn’t entirely be inaccurate because, after all, who knows when Carlos was actually alive since he can’t remember his past?). This book changes that which in some ways works better as it flows more – but at the same time it makes the language of the previous book even more glaring. It’s like a subtle retcon.

I also found this book jarring. We have a huge number of characters running around now (all of Reza’s team, all of Carlos’s group, Riley’s ghosts, Kia’s friends, the Survivors and some people from… somewhere but I honestly have no freaking clue where) which is damn consuming, especially since they’re not all very distinct. I’ve confused Riga and Rohan more than a few times and sometimes another character has appeared and I’ve no clue who they are where they’re from or what they’re doing.

On top of this, especially in the beginning of the book we have not just several POV switches (I mean, I can get behind Kia and Carlos and Reza POV – but we had to have POV for a completely unrelated ambulance driver with a Jamaican-Russian-accent-because-head-injury as well?) but also several tense switches from Kia as well as she swooped back into her past without a whole lot of notice that we HAD swooped into the past (let alone why) to say nothing of her frequent diving into song lyrics. It is not an easy book to follow

Hemlock Grove, Season 3, Episode 3: The House in the Woods

Roman isn’t dead from the monstrous attack – and not only has Annie saved him by bringing him to Johann, but she also brought the monster that attacked them for some fun autopsy. Yes, Johann has some fun hobbies. He pretty much concludes that the monster that seeks out and attacks Upir is an Upir – only one possessed with a freaky tumor/parasite thing that controls them and makes them hunt and eat their own kind.

While Roman continues to check in with his detective, Annie conveniently runs across his sketch book of Spivak in his scary manta-ray-lizard-thing for and she recognises it. Apparently it’s a Omul Negru, a scary upir bogeyman that Roman would have known about if he hadn’t been so completely ignorant of all things upir

Including the local upir community that roman knew nothing about. Nice, suburban people with pretentious blood tasting and tawdry little love affairs. They have some useful info about the Omul Negru – or Jormungandr as they’re also known as basically big scary rivals to the Upir which are supposed to be extinct, though clearly not quite

The nice civilised upir who so kindly want to take Roman under their wing don’t do well when a whole pack of infected upir show up and begin slaughtering all the nice suburban upir. Roman, being considerably less civilised and a whole lot more brutal is less easily taken down and he and Annie manages to escape the whole gutting and slaughtering thing.

All this slaughter and angst causes Roman to tearfully tell Annie about him raping his half-sister-cousin Lethe and her having a baby: though he blames the whole thing on Olivia and says he was raped as well… that’s not quite how I remember it and it feels a little like a redemption/retcon to be honest. Annie pretty much knows all the secrets now

That detective keeps looking into Spivak and sharing the whole info about him being super-old but no-one really cares any more because being super-old is pretty much mundane by now and everyone has other worries. Even Olivia is far more focused on the missing Shelly – to say nothing about why she can’t feed any more (possibly she’s infected?)

Shelly’s found a homeless commune in one of her dad’s old buildings where she meets Aitor Quantic (he'll always be Sketchy to me) who feeds the homeless, spreads random facts and parables and is generally quite eccentric. He seems genuinely intrigued by Shelly, though she’s not even slightly inclined to accept that she’s beautiful, no matter what he says. I’m going to assume he’s a weremole or something.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Lost Girl, Season 5, Episode 10: Like Father, Light Daughter

Turns out I’m right, not Bo (I’d be smug but it’s not hard) – it was Lauren who sucked Bo’s chi to save herself, not Bo giving her energy. As she experiments (with Vex) she finds she can use Mesmer powers and, presumably, just about any fae’s power. She’s a conduit – she’s probably long lived as well so that’s that goal. She’s also very very worried about side effects because she’s not entirely foolish. So she consults Hades (ok I take it back – c’mon Lauren you’re supposed to be more intelligent than that) and he declares she has a full bill of health and totally isn’t going to melt, cause other fae to melt or any other bad meltiness. Honest, no bad melting, really.

If you believe that you haven’t been paying attention.

Anyway Kenzi is back! Yes she has returned from Spain where she’s been hanging around with Hale’s family and now has a whole lot of money and luxury and is generally her fun self. She and Bo do a lot of catching up (which includes awkward sex jokes in front of poor Trick and some not very subtle mockery of Bo’s eternally complicated sex life)

Anyway she’s brought Hale’s grandfather with her, Heathcliff and they bring news that there’s a painting that contains special knowledge on how to banish an Ancient – Zeus or Hades and they’d quite like to get rid of both of them so they definitely want the art

This includes theft (since the curator of where the painting is being kept is germophobic so won’t let Bo use her mind control sex assault mojo on her). While stealing the painting they run into Persephone, also released from Tartarus when Hades was released. She has lots of her own issues with her messed up family but is all moved and fluffy that Bo doesn’t want to imprison her (apparently since Bo is the new captor of Hades that makes her Persephone’s captor by default).

She brings some more insight about the painting which, apparently, contains a song that Banishes agents. It needs to be sung by a Siren – since Heathcliff is Hale’s granddad that makes him a siren. How convenient.  Using Persephone and her parental issues they lure Zeus into a trap

Alas, this trap has been prepared by Bo & co and it kind of relied on Zeus just standing there while they sing at him. They never ever make good plans. Zeus happily points out she can throw lightning bolts and zaps Heathcliff’s throat. She doesn’t kill him for… reasons. Because the script says so