Wednesday, August 20, 2014

On The Crimson Campaign (The Powder Mage Trilogy #2) by Brian McClellan - REVIEW

Synopsis for The Crimson Campaign can be found here

This is book two of the Powder Mage trilogy. Review for book one (Promise of Blood) can be found here.

When we were kids, our parents would have these ideas. They would have these ideas that they know what is good for us. They would talk to us, maybe we would listen contently, maybe we have a complete and utter melt down of catastrophic proportions. I was a member of the latter response group. I knew what I wanted. I knew what was good for me. I knew me. I wasn't about to listen to what anyone else had to said. Anything they wanted to give me would be unknown and the unknown is scary. And my response to scary was PANIC!

So, one day my parents took me out. We were walking down the lane, watching the passerby's, watching the lights and hearing the sounds. We treaded familiar ground, and I was the happy little kid smiling, running (not too far), jumping about. But, then it happened. Someone had gotten the idea that they knew what I would like. They knew me better than I knew me. And they pointed me in that direction, and the tantrum commenced - stomping, screaming, flailing. I knew what I liked, and if I didn't know it, well, I didn't like it. So, I screamed my tiny little head off. I was not about to go on the Runaway Mine Train at Six Flags Great Adventure.

Now, the runaway train is a roller coaster much like the water from my kitchen sink is a waterfall. I kicked and screamed and put up a fuss, and in the end, it was fun. I learned something about myself... I liked roller coasters (as long as they didn't go upside down). Several years later, and I became one of the older kids still too "scared" to get on a looping coaster (Psh, I'm not scared, I just know I don't like it). This time there wasn't so much kicking and screaming involved, however there were some false starts and delay of games (mixing metaphors a bit, oh well), but after some psyching myself up, I got myself on... I honestly don't remember which coaster it was. But forcing myself into something new caused me to learn a little something about myself. I love roller coasters. I was so set in my "change bad. unknown bad." ways that I might not have learned something new to like.

With Promise of Blood, I was getting myself on the runaway train; something new I hadn't tried - flintlock fantasy with a strong military setting. And I discovered that I like that. With The Crimson Campaign, I have ridden Batman or The Incredible Hulk (pictured - did they rebrand that now that Disney owns Marvel?), and I now love me some flintlock fantasy. McClellan weaves an intricate story of war, religion, and magic. The magic system - gunpowder magic - is interesting and fun as the powder mages deal with common soldiers and more traditional magic users. There is some ambiguity on who is right and wrong, good and bad. There are gods amongst men (I was afraid this wouldn't work - it works here). The pacing is incredibly fast and keeps you sucked in.

I am a little late to the game with McClellan's works. But on the bright side, book three comes out in February - so not too long a wait for me. I wasn't sure I'd be into flintlock / military fantasy. But now I know.

And knowing is half the battle.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

On Half a King (Shattered Sea #1) by Joe Abercrombie - REVIEW

Synopsis can be found here.

I had this friend going up. A best friend. And being another male, we tended to get competitive about things. Thankfully, I suppose, we were both pretty sporty. Though during one tense game of beach volleyball, the taunts going back and forth, I think the two of us had enough. We fought. I didn't mention that he might have been twice my weight. Well, he was. And needless to say I was left with a bloody nose and he was left laughing. Laughing! I was angry. I was frustrated. I needed to do something, but what could I do? Nothing. And so it stewed. And days, weeks, months, years passed. Hockey became the sport du jour. And during an early afternoon roller hockey pick up game, the score never teetering overly far in one direction or the other, sweat dripping, swears and insults flying, I brought the ball up the middle, faked a direction, he bit, I pulled the other way, but he was too far. He reached. And reached. And split his pants down the middle, rear end exposed to the world. Embarrassment. Ah, sweet revenge.

Who doesn't love a good revenge story?

That's not really a good sell of this novel.

Half a King is a revenge story. And I love a good revenge story (I must have said that four or five times already on this blog). But it's more than my petty little revenge of embarrassment for embarrassment (but come on, his pants split! That's comedy gold right there). It is a coming of age story. It is the story about the broken and damaged individuals no one gives a second glance to or expects anything from. It is a story of political intrigue and family drama. It is a story of survival against a known foe, an unknown foe, the elements. It has twists that are both expected and unexpected. It's a fun read and is rather short in terms of fantasy (it's technically YA... I think. Not that there's anything wrong with that). So really, why not give it a try?

The characters in the story are interesting.

You know...  I think I'm just going to stop.

There's little I can say to sell this more than the publisher already put out there. Abercrombie has been blurbed for this novel by George RR Martin, Patrick Rothfuss, Brent Weeks, Robin Hobb, etc. etc. etc. (the fantasy elite). I mean, this is the Justice League of fantasy fiction, in which Abercrombie himself has a seat at the table (Martian Manhunter, maybe?). They say you should read this book. And I don't disagree.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

On Promise of Blood (The Powder Mage Trilogy #1) by Brian McClellan - REVIEW

Synopsis can be found here.

I was hungry one afternoon, as I am almost always hungry, and decided to go out for lunch. After considering the many options, I went with my local Panera. It was crowded, which is not uncommon, and I stared blankly at the menu determining which of the two or three things I eat at Panera I should get that day. When it was my turn, I ordered the 1/2 a Smokehouse Turkey Panini with a 1/2 of a Baked Potato Soup (more or less my usual order). The woman behind the counter took my order and asked "would you like a free cookie with that?" I had to pause and think about this, not because I wasn't sure if I'd want the free cookie, but to consider why she would even need to ask? Am I really going to say "no, I don't want a free cookie. And I also don't like kittens, rainbows and Christopher Walken." I got my free cookie.

With Promise of Blood, Brian McClellan wrote a swords and sorcery Fantasy novel, but gave us a free cookie - gun magic. Yes, I want some free gun magic with my usual.

This is a really strong start to a trilogy that has nonstop action - none of this characters stopping to wax poetic for 50 pages - as the world deals with the overthrow of a king, creepy prophecy, and imminent war. It only took a few pages of Promise of Blood for me to add books two and three to my to read list.

I give it...  "not my gumdrop buttons!"

Friday, July 18, 2014

On The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison - REVIEW

Synopsis (per Goodreads) found here.

I was a big fan of Law & Order. This is the original version, mind you.  Not that Special Victims Unit stuff that still airs, which is something along the lines of 90% Olivia backstory, 9% other new detective backstory, 0.5% district attorney backstory and 0.5% actual detectives doing case solving / district attorneys doing prosecuting.  But gripes against SVU aside, I was fond of Law & Order.  All that law... and order. Something bad happened. The detectives figured that shtuff out and the district attorneys get those jerks jailed.  I loved the intricacies of case management, the complexity of the law. 

The Goblin Emperor is a murder mystery wrapped in politics with a dash of bildungsroman in the background.  Imagine, if you will, the small council in the Game of Thrones universe.  Now, imagine the entirety of the Game of Thrones story being told from within Point of View within that small council.  The Goblin Emperor is mostly the Order of the Law & Order.  The detective work is more ancillary to the workings of the court and the fallout of the murder and coronation of a goblin emperor (the empire he is emperoring is mostly elves). 

What really drew me to The Goblin Emperor were the blurbs - specifically:
"Challenging, intriguing, and unique. If court intrigue is your wine of choice, The Goblin Emperor is the headiest vintage I've come across in years." - Scott Lynch
"This is a beautifully told story, and has cost me much needed sleep these past few nights. (And I'm not just saying that because, as we all know, goblins are awesome!) The Goblin Emperor made me remember why I fell in love with the fantasy genre." - Jim C. Hines

And it wasn't so much what they said, as much as it was who said it. 

I've lost touch with my allegory.  Have a bit of a cold.  Thinking is hard.

I think Scott Lynch said it well. If court intrigue is your thing, then this would definitely be for you. The diction is beautiful, the characters relatable, and the story intriguing. Personally... I like Order...  I just like a little more Law with it.  I give it... Lincoln (without the vampire hunting).

Sunday, July 6, 2014

On Cibola Burn (Expanse #4) by James SA Corey - REVIEW

Synopisis (per Goodreads) found here.  

This is #4 of the Expanse novels by James SA Corey (my review for #3 here - blog didn't exist for me to review #'s 1 and 2).  You can read Cibola Burn without having read the predecessors, but I wouldn't recommend it (the series is good stuff - read it). 

Everyone has their own "the mall." Generally it's a localized event and when one person says to another "I'm going to the mall," the other person knows they mean Menlo Park, not Freehold or Woodbridge. We hung out there as kids, shop there as adults, use it as a distraction as parents.  It's comfortable.  Sure maybe the Disney store relocates, but all we need is a sign that says "moved to the upper level near Nordstroms" and we know what it means - no map necessary.  And maybe we stop for an Auntie Ann pretzel on the way.

Now, I am generally not a science fiction guy (for the most part - my Goodreads library shows generally 4:1 in favor of Fantasy). Sure, I'll read the odd Star Wars novel (more based on the author than anything else), and I'll watch the Star Wars and (new) Star Trek movies (was never a Trekkie - nor have I watched Firefly - I probably shouldn't admit to that). But, the Expanse novels have become "the mall" for me; my go-to sci-fi read.  Science Fiction I'm comfortable with. And though each of Corey's novels have some changes - some new characters and a new cross-genre - Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are comfortable now (must be how Trekkies started to get attached to Piccard or who have you - I'm not starting that better Captain debate).

I mentioned "new cross-genre" in terms of a relocation of store (or perhaps what would be more apropos would be connection to a new store. Something within a familiar landscape, but in itself is new and exciting). You see, within each of the Expanse novels, Corey sets the story against some non-traditional sci-fi genre archetypes. Leviathan Wakes touched on horror. Caliban's War was heavy into politics. Abaddon's Gate was more traditional science fiction. Cibola Burn - well, here's our science fiction Western.

Like the other Expanse novels, Cibola Burn is at a break-neck pace, and I maintain that this series is the most movie-ready series out there (though it has been picked up by SyFy to be a television series - perhaps we'll get a blockbuster movie or so out of it anyway).

I'm realizing there is very little "review" in this review. If you're a fan of big-budget action/adventure movies - read these books (even if sci-fi isn't necessarily your thing).

I give it...  Han shot first.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

On Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch #1) by Ann Leckie - REVIEW

Synopsis (per Goodreads) (I know I said I wasn't posting these anymore, but I need to here):

On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest.

Breq is both more than she seems and less than she was.  Years ago, she was the Justice of Toren -- a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of corpse soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy.

An act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with only one fragile human body.  And only one purpose -- to revenge herself on Anaander Mianaai, many-bodied, nearly immortal Lord of the Radch.  

Who really enjoyed getting their hair cut?  I don't mean back when you're small enough to ride the haircut Batmobile.  When you outgrow that, but your you're still young enough that parents decide you need a haircut.  Ain't nobody got time for that!  There's games that need playing and tv that needs watching and food that needs eating.  No, no one wants to get their hair cut.  However, my barber (and likely many barbers) did have something kids like.  CANDY.  Namely, DumDum Pops.  Everyone must have had these at some point in their lives.  Small, sweet, delicious lollipops.  And the bag comes with a variety of flavors.

One of these flavors...  The Mystery Flavor.

You must have seen this before, no?  They come with the purple question mark wrapper (pictured to the left).  The candy itself is white so as to not give away what the mystery flavor could possibly be (by the way, the "mystery flavor" is really just a combination of two flavors that is created when the manufacture cycle of one flavor being made ends and a new flavor cycle begins - per Mental Floss).  The Mystery Flavor was tasty, but did you take it?  Did it matter to you that you couldn't put your finger on what it could be? Did you just stick with what you knew?

The protagonist of Ancillary Justice (both the Justice of Toren and Breq) is/was a massive starship.  As Breq, the ship's AI is confined in one final body, however, "years ago" (and it means YEARS ago) when it was a starship it had thousands of bodies.  What does this have to do with DumDums?  Breq (let's just stick with Breq for now) has some SERIOUS gender identification issues.  To the point where more-or-less every character is referred to in the feminine.  Sometimes it is countered when another character corrects Breq, and sometimes Breq does and sometimes Breq doesn't continue referring to the character as "she." So, as you try to picture the characters, every character is a mystery flavor.  Is it a female?  Is it a male?  Does it matter?  If you enjoyed the Mystery Flavor, maybe it works for you.  I, personally, like having a solid mental image of the characters in the story, and the constant back and forth of gender is a little confusing/aggravating for me.  I tend to pick Butterscotch.

However, Ancillary Justice has won the following awards (per Wikipedia...  yes, that's a real source):
Kitschies Golden Tentacle (best debut novel of 2013)
Arthur C. Clarke Award (best science fiction novel of the year)
British Science Fiction Association Award (best novel of the year)
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Award (best novel of the year)
It was also nominated for the following:
Write-In for Best Book of 2013 for the Goodreads Choice Awards
Shortlisted for the Phillip K. Dick Award (distinguished original science fiction)
Tiptree Award Honor List (science fiction / fantasy that expands / explores understanding of gender)
Finalist of Compton Crook Award (best science fiction/fantasy/horror)
Nominee for Hugo Award (best novel)
(Love this from Jim C. Hines' review of the book: "I'm pretty sure it was also a Nebula finalist, tied for an Oscar, and won this year's Super Bowl.")

How do you ignore that?  I put aside my gripe, pictured (mostly) everyone as female (probably not the right response), and decided to embrace the mystery.

And what did I discover?  I have the wrong lollipop.  This isn't a DumDum at all.  It's a Tootsie Pop.  A book that takes... the world may never know how many licks...  to get to the juicy, delicious tootsie roll center.  It's a slow burn from the beginning between the development of both Bresq and Justice of Toren, setting the stage for the inevitable betrayal, introduction of Seivarden, and getting the characters the equipment and to the location they need for the final showdown.  I was ready to rate this a Goodreads 3 stars - an I liked it, but it wasn't anything great - and then the last 50+ pages showed me the tootsie roll center (I gave it a Goodreads 4 stars).  I had licked my way to the payoff, and it was good.  The reveal/climax was clever and well-paced.  The perfect little treat hidden within the depths of the slower sugary coating.

Enough with the lollipop metaphors...

From what I've read, this is the first in a trilogy of books.  As such, it will likely have the most world-building of the series that needs to be done.  And this is a big, dense, well-developed world(s) (we are in space after all).  There is a conclusion here, but it leaves just enough outstanding that you have to wonder what will happen next.  And I'm ready to see what sweet candy Ann Leckie gives us next.

I give it...  Howard Beale.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

On Prince of Fools (The Red Queen's War #1) by Mark Lawrence - REVIEW

For the synopsis (per Goodreads) go here (decided I'm not typing those out anymore). 

Everything made perfect sense when we were children.  Your sister wanted to take your toy (or maybe she was just standing where you didn't want her to), so you gave her a little shove, and when she went crying to mom you did what any four year old knows is the only option.  You run.  You hide.  (I know my tenses are messed up, but that sounds better than "you ran, you hid" and I'm not making money off this stuff so grammar be damned). Mom would NEVER notice the bulging curtains with feet sticking out, or the fact that the throw blanket on the couch was now on the floor in a giant, giggling pile.  It just made sense.  As trouble was coming, you forgot about the honor that is admitting your faults and accepting your punishment, and you got out of its way.

Some of us never outgrow this.  Case in point, Jalan Kendeth, our next Point of View through the Broken Empire.  Those of you that have read Lawrence's other works - The Broken Empire trilogy following the murderous rampage of Jorg Ancrath (reviews here, here and here), will find something new here in a familiar setting (along with some cameos by some familiar characters).  Those of you who haven't read The Broken Empire trilogy...  what have you been doing with yourselves besides missing out on good reads?  Incase you are wondering, yes, you can read Prince of Fools without having read The Broken Empire, but having read those books adds to the experience.  And though this is written EVERYWHERE anyone talks of this book - Jalan is not Jorg.  Though this book has some dark undercurrents, it is much more lighthearted (not entirely sure that's the right word, but you get the idea) than the gut-wrenching journey Jorg led us through.

Prince of Fools follows Prince Jalan of the Red March as he and an unlikely companion, the viking Snorri ver Snagason (fantasy needed a good dose of viking...  thanks, Mark), deal with magics they don't fully understand in a quest for escape/revenge (depending on your point of view).  It is a tale of a budding friendship, a tale of a revenge, and a tale of growing up (or not).  It is both dark and humorous, both sentimental and hard-hearted, both new and familiar.

I'm not feeling incredibly verbose today, so I'll end with "read it" (4/5 on Goodreads) and give it: Kiss-My-Anthia

Sunday, June 1, 2014

On The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance (The Stormlight Archive 1 & 2) by Brandon Sanderson - REVIEWS

Synopsis (per Goodreads) (synopsis is for Book 1):
Roshar is a world of stone and storms. Uncanny tempests of incredible power sweep across the rocky terrain so frequently that they have shaped ecology and civilization alike. Animals hide in shells, trees pull in branches, and grass retracts into the soiless ground. Cities are built only where the topography offers shelter.

It has been centuries since the fall of the ten consecrated orders known as the Knights Radiant, but their Shardblades and Shardplate remain: mystical swords and suits of armor that transform ordinary men into near-invincible warriors. Men trade kingdoms for Shardblades. Wars were fought for them, and won by them.

One such war rages on a ruined landscape called the Shattered Plains. There, Kaladin, who traded his medical apprenticeship for a spear to protect his little brother, has been reduced to slavery. In a war that makes no sense, where ten armies fight separately against a single foe, he struggles to save his men and to fathom the leaders who consider them expendable.

I love cheeseburgers. Going out back and barbecuing some meat to a nice medium well, throw on some cheese, maybe grilled onions, some ketchup. Pop it all on a warmed bun. Delicious.  I'm rather fond of making these myself, but will also run over to the local White Rose System (local burgerish dinerish sorta place) and grab a lunch special over there (with cheese) (and they put the onions in the burger).  I just love a good cheeseburger.  

Now, there are cheeseburgers, and there are CHEESEBURGERS.  Good example of the latter...  Bobby's Burger Palace.  You can get a cheeseburger there, and some typical variations of the cheeseburger (cheddar? Sure. Barbecue sauce? Why not?), but to borrow some culinary terminology from a competitor celebrity chef, the burgers are kicked up a notch with some fancy shmancy combinations (Brunch Burger with a fried egg, smoked bacon and American cheese? And crunchify it with potato chips? Yes, please!).  They also run a Burger of the Month (this month is a Napa Valley Burger with goat cheese, Meyer lemon honey mustard and watercress).  These are burgers taken to a whole new level, and my are they delicious.

The Stormlight Archive books are the "kicked up" burgers of the fantasy world.  In the beginning, with The Way of Kings, it does take some time to read through several points of view through several time periods.  But not far in it all just clicks.  Brandon Sanderson has built a remarkable world where everything is new and different - the environment, the wildlife, the interaction between humans and nature, between humans and non-humans.  The books touch on societal hierarchy, slavery, war.  They are emotional, humorous, and mystical.  I honestly, don't even want to type much on it, because I want you to stop reading this post and go out and buy these books.  Goodreads 5/5. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

On Honor Among Thieves by James S.A. Corey - REVIEW

Synopsis (per Goodreads):
When the Empire threatens the galaxy's new hope, will Han, Luke, and Leia become its last chance?

When the mission is to extract a high-level rebel spy from the very heart of the Empire, Leia Organa knows the best man for the job is Han Solo - something the Princess and the smuggler can finally agree on.  After all, for a guy who broke into an Imperial cell block and helped destroy the Death Star, the assignment sounds simple enough.

But when Han locates the brash rebel agent, Scarlet Hark, she's determined to stay behind enemy lines.  A pirate plans to steal a cache of stolen secrets that the Empire would destroy entire worlds to protect - including the planet where Leia is currently meeting with rebel sympathizers.  Scarlet wants to track down the thief and steal the bounty herself, and Han has no choice but to go along if he's to keep everyone involved from getting themselves killed.  From teeming city streets to a lethal jungle to a trap-filled alien temple, Han, Chewbacca, Leia, and their daring new comrade confront one ambush, double-cross, and firestorm after another as they try to keep crucial intel out of Imperial hands.  

But even with the crack support of Luke Skywalker's X-Wing squadron, the Alliance heroes may be hopelessly outgunned in their final battle for the highest stakes: the power to liberate the galaxy from the tyranny or ensure the Empire's reign of darkness forever.  

November 23, 2004.  The date that World of Warcraft was unleashed upon the public.  I purchased my copy that day and immediately created my Nightelf something-or-other (it doesn't really matter, that toon didn't last too long).  The game was new and exciting; a well-polished, well-populated Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game.  Then Blizzcon 2005, Blizzard announces the first expansion - The Burning Crusade.  Excitement and fear flood as the expansion looks to add a ton of new content, new races, blah blah blah.

Expansion.  There's something about expansion that's on one hand, thrilling, exciting, oh-my-god-when-is-this-going-to-be-released-already-I-need-it-now-ing.  But on the other hand can fill a person with dread, anxiety, nerve-wracking-oh-my-god-what-if-they-f-up-my-game-ing.  Maybe the expansion takes what was great about the game and betters it.  Or maybe the expansion adds pandas.

I was never one to delve into the Expanded Universe (EU).  Sure, I picked up the Timothy Zahn series' that take place after Return of the Jedi (I had read enough reviews and gotten recommendations to get me past the fear of expansion ruining my game).  But, when EU novels take place, say, between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back...  What can the stakes be?  The best part about reading, say, GRRM is that no one is safe.  But if I'm reading a novel staged between two existing bodies of work, what's really the threat for Han, Chewie, and the rest?  Aside from the knowledge that your main cast is safe from death by stormtrooper, when a weapon appears that can destroy the Empire and/or will allow the Empire to crush the rebellion, well, that can't happen, right?  A) the Empire and Rebellion both exist in Empire Strikes Back, and B) said weapon is never mentioned again in the series.  So, EUs were never for me.

However; a Star Wars book by an author I've already read and thoroughly enjoyed? (I'm just sticking with calling James SA Corey an author, it's way too annoying to keep attempting to refer to him as them - James SA Corey is actually two authors if you didn't know - and they write The Expanse series of sci-fi novels (review here)).  Well, that intrigued me enough to jump back into the Star Wars EU.

James SA Corey writes popcorn novels.  Novels that can EASILY be translated into big budget action movies.  Everything is fast paced and action packed and all those other cliché movie phrases; awesome.  Honor Among Thieves is no different, and on top of that, its focus is everyone's favorite cynical smuggler, Han (did you really need me to write "Han" there?).  Corey NAILS the relationship between Han and Chewie, and the dialogue is perfect.  On top of that, he gives Han more depth than we get from him on screen.  We get some reflection on himself, on the rebellion.  And while it's nothing that is in character for him from what we see during the movies, it still makes sense for him.  It flows.  It fits.  It's a perfect expansion.

I give it...  Auri (a character from Patrick Rothfuss' Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicles) books - who, per Pat, was not in his first draft of the novel, but, per me, the novels wouldn't be the same without her - perfect expansion).  That was a convoluted sentence.  Hopefully it made sense.

Monday, March 17, 2014

On a Spin-off Blogathon

Oh blogathons, you give me a reason to write when I'm stalled out on entertainment to discuss.  Sati over at Cinematic Corner has created the latest blogathon I am writing to join in - this one titled a Spin-off Blogathon.  Here are the (abbreviated) rules (you can follow the link over to Cinematic Corner for the official rules):  

1) Choose a character you love and would like to see as a leading character in a movie.  
2) Don't choose leading characters or supporting characters with lots of screen time.  
3) You can use TV characters.
4) Include the logo and link back to Sati's post.  

My choice:

I don't think I ever typed a review up for this movie.  I had a hard time putting into words my feelings on it.  And even now I'd struggle with it (though later I'll tell you it's primarily disappointment I felt).  Thankfully this post is irrelevant to my feelings on the film itself.  So, my choice for the blogathon is a character that isn't even given a name in the movie.  IMDB credits him as "Foreman." It's amusing because the character was placed on a poster to promote the movie.  Though he had only mere moments of screen time, through the power of a blogathon I can give him a movie.  So, without further ado, I give you Foreman.

Rick Genest, the actor portraying our Foreman, was tragically underutilized in 47 Ronin.  47 Ronin had its issues - mainly it was super slow and super long (and part of my feeling that way is due to the crazy promotion of this movie as an action flick...  it wasn't).  As such, to go into Foreman's story, we need a spin-off (because good additions or no, we really don't want to add more running time to 47 Ronin).  And what makes a Rick Genest character an interesting character?  Well, look at him.  The tattoos are real.  The man is covered, head to toe, in anatomical tattoos (picture below is an advertisement he did for some sort of cover-up product).  

My story for him, within the world of 47 Ronin, would be an origin story and would entail the gaining of the tattoos (which of coarse isn't simply sitting in a tattooing chair for lord knows how many hours).  He starts off as a young man, and through tragedy is forced to become a hardened criminal seeking revenge (I'm a sucker for a good revenge flick).  Only through an ancient curse (because they're always ancient) it turns out that any death he is responsible for gets painfully represented on his skin - forcing him to carry around his sins for all to see.  His revenge is sweet, but leaves his body permanently "disfigured" (I know, that's not the right word.  The man did this to himself as an expression, an art form, and is not a disfigurement.  But this is a movie we're talking about).  We end with where he begins in 47 Ronin.  

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.  

I went into 47 Ronin expecting an action flick, expecting Genest to hunt down Keanu and company after his escape from the docks.  We got little action and Genest's role must be sitting on the editing room floor somewhere.  At least now he has some backstory in my head and on this page (vague as I typed it).  

Since I never did review 47 Ronin, I think you get a sense of the let-down I felt based on what I've said so far.  It wasn't awful - once you move beyond the hope of action and accept you are watching a drawn-out (not nearly as effective) love story a la Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (which was excellent).  If you haven't seen it, chances are there are better things you could be watching.  If you feel you NEED to see it, just expect a slow burn of a movie and maybe you'll be less disappointed.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

On Emperor of Thorns (The Broken Empire #3) by Mark Lawrence - REVIEW

Synopsis (per Goodreads):
The path to the throne is broken - only the broken may walk it.
To reach the throne requires that a man journey.  Even a path paved with good intentions can lead to hell, and my intentions were never good.

The Hundred converge for Congression to politic upon the corpse of Empire, and while they talk the Dead King makes his move, and I make mine.  The world is cracked, time has run through, leaving us clutching at the end of days, the future so bright that those who see it are the first to burn.  These are the days that have waited for us all our lives.  These are my days.  I will stand before the Hundred and they will listen.  I will take the throne whoever seeks to thwart me, living or dead, and if I must be the last emperor then I will make of it such an ending.  

This is where the wise man turns away.  This is where the holy kneel and call on God.  These are the last miles, my brothers.  Don't look to me to save you.  Don't think I will not spend you.  Run if you have the wit.  Pray if you have the soul.  Stand your ground if courage is yours.  But don't follow me.  

Follow me, and I will break your heart.  

This is book three in The Broken Empire series.  Here are my reviews for Prince of Thorns and King of Thorns.  Potential spoilers to books one and two in the primary body of the review.  Spoilers to book three after the break (you also may want to avoid the comments section if you are looking to avoid spoilers).  

The conclusion of The Broken Empire trilogy (ignoring the fact that Mark's next book - Prince of Fools (The Red Queen's War #1) takes place within The Broken Empire world).  This is the dramatic end to Jorg's quest to be emperor at all costs.  In short, it was a thrilling journey of murder, mayhem, betrayal, self-deprecation, self-exhaltation, denial, acceptance, etc. etc. etc.  Before I go into a few of the minor things that bugged me (may as well share those too) I just want to say that this is an excellent series well worth your attention (Goodreads rating 4 out of 5).  I greatly look forward to seeing what else The Broken Empire has to offer in Prince of Fools.

I can't even begin to guess what age I was, sitting in the back seat of my parents' car, driving home after a long evening out and about, staring out the window at the full moon in the sky.  The moon is something special to children.  Particularly a full, bright moon.  It's mysterious, with its face staring down at you from the black of the night sky.  We are driving down the rode, and come upon a turn, and young me watches the moon follow - because as children we know the moon is following us.  We may ask our parents why, and maybe they're the kind who laugh a little to themselves at your naiveté or egocentrism (whatever you want to call it), but maybe they play along.  But sooner or later the curtain drops and you learn.  You learn about the rotation of the earth, the gravitational pull holding the moon in orbit.  And in that, the mysticism...  the magic...  of the moon vanishes.  The world is never the same.  

This isn't going to be a fair judgment on my part (frankly, take most of this review with a grain of salt.  The books are great).  You learn in the previous novels of the setting of the Broken Empire.  A world so far post-apocalyptic that it has recycled to medieval; a medieval with the undercurrents of our ("Builder") technology that is (mostly) lost to the world's inhabitants.  I LOVE the concept.  HOWEVER, as the story goes on we learn more and more of the Builders and the technology left behind plays a larger and larger role in the outcome of the story.  As much as I love the idea, it irked me a bit how much the setting played into the story.  But, like I said, that's not really fair.  It worked, so it really was a minor issue for me.  It's the moon - something that was mystical and different that feels less magical when explained.  And maybe that's part of the point.

Then there was the continued fear of the taming of Jorg.  On one hand, Prince Jorg made such an impression in book one.  He was violent and without remorse.  Book two saw Jorg older and being wed (though his wife is also a force of her own).  Now in book three and we have A LOT of reflection and some insecurity.  What had initially ingrained Jorg as the anti-hero to cheer on was how he was so far broken that he was beyond humanity.  He gave no pause to the impulses that society tells us we need to suppress.  Again, an unfair judgment as you can't assume a character will not grow.  And in book three we have growth in Jorg.  Maybe you can call it "taming" though he certainly remains no saint.  He lies, cheats, fucks, kills.  Yet somehow it seems less.  And again that's maybe part of the point.

I told you they were minor things.  Don't let them stand in the way of you purchasing these books.  There is one other thing (and I still stand on the fence of whether or not I like this - I lean more towards it works), but let's hold that until after the spoiler cut.  

Minor squabbles aside, repeating what I said up top(ish) - this is an excellent series well worth your attention.  Buy this series and wait impatiently for Prince of Fools with me.  

I give it...  skeletal Jack Sparrow.

We can't stop here, this is SPOILER country.
(seriously...  major spoilers will be "discussed" below)

The Dead King.  

Redhead over at The Little Red Reviewer (she's a great reviewer...  check her out) posted a review of Emperor of Thorns just as I was in the very early goings of the novel (less than 25%).  I made sure to read quickly so potential spoilers may not seep into my brain.  But something she said stood out.  Hopefully Red doesn't get mad at me quoting her (I complimented her and pointed some people her way, so she can't be too mad, right?  RIGHT?!). 

"...but from what I knew about this character, their transformation into the Dead King made no sense to me.  Unless of course the only reason for that person to have become the Dead King was so that the very last scene could occur.  Was the Dead King then, nothing more than a clunky plot device?"

I read this and immediately needed to try to figure out who the Dead King could be.  I had been reading along not making the Dead King a connection to anyone - just another baddie trying to get in Jorg's way.  So maybe the comment was slightly spoiler-y in that it let me know it was SOMEONE.  And not just someone, but someone maybe disappointing.  So, who could the Dead King be that would disappoint me as an ending.  Well.  First person to come to mind was William - Jorg's brother, whose death set off Jorg on his spree of murder and mayhem back in book one (and that's who it was).  It always irks me when the villain's secret origin ends up being family to the protagonist.  It's nothing we haven't seen before.  

HOWEVER (and maybe my opinion is a little skewed from expecting the worst - so perhaps I owe a thank you to Red); I think it ended up working.  Could it have worked better?  Absolutely (what can't be?).  I know younger Jorg was so ashamed and angry at what happened to his brother that all thoughts of him were skewed to the good.  It isn't until book three that you learn that William was a bit of a hell raiser.  Perhaps it would have felt a tad less clunky having had some of that peppered in earlier.  But overall, the Dragonball Z-esque battle of wills worked for me.  

It's hard to end a series with a loved character (amazing how such a despicable character can be called "loved") on a note that will make everyone happy.  Sometimes the ending isn't happy.  And Jorg's sacrifice happened the only way it could have without feeling forced, to protect the brother he couldn't before.  Perhaps there was some weakness here, but I would still HIGHLY recommend this series.  

And on a side note, I appreciate Mark Lawrence's Afterword explaining the story needed an ending rather than milking the cash cow and allowing Jorg to continue down the path of Dexter Morgan (that ran, what?  4 seasons too long?  and the books are still going?).  

Monday, February 24, 2014

On a Mt. Rushmore of Movies - Lesser Known (or Underrated) Super Hero / Comic Book Movies

m. brown over at Two Dollar Cinema is hosting a blog-a-thon.  In honor of President's Day, we have the Mt. Rushmore of Movies blog-a-thon.  The premise is pretty simple (I like simple!) - pick a top four of anything movie-related (if you want more details or want to participate, click here.  Otherwise, just roll with it).  Now to come up with a theme, which involves the old thinking cap as this blog has been a little book-heavy lately (not that there's anything wrong with that).  But now it's time to go back to the movies.

I sit here, trying to come up with a theme that calls out to me, but also something that would be slightly out of the ordinary.  Yes, I love comic-book movies.  But that seems too easy.  Batman, Iron Man, Spiderman, yeah-yeah-yeah.  We all know those and there's oddly quite a bit of agreement within the community on what has been good or not in the genre.  So, let's try to avoid those mainstream Marvel/DC flicks.  My theme...

Top Four Lesser Known (or Underrated) Super Hero / Comic Book Movies
(not in any particular order)

Defendor (2009) - Mt. Rushmore head goes to Woody Harrelson
Synopsis (per IMDB): 
A comedy centered around three characters: an everyday guy who comes to believe he's a super hero, his psychiatrist and, the teenager he befriends.  

I believe this would fall into the "lesser known" category.  That, by the way, is a rather terrible synopsis.  On the first hand, it should really use the word "comedy" lightly.  It has a few moments (yes, that is a jar of bees Defendor is using as a weapon in the picture), but the movie has a lot of pretty serious undertones to it.  It is not the fast-paced action/adventure a la the current comic book movie onslaught being released by Marvel and DC.  This is slow, thoughtful, and utilizes Harrelson's ability to play crazy.  

Unbreakable (2000) - Mt. Rushmore head goes to Samuel L. Jackson
Synopsis (per IMDB): 
A suspense thriller with supernatural overtones that revolves around a man who learns something extraordinary about himself after a devastating accident.

Underrated.  Before he was the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. and before he was a jedi knight, Samuel L. Jackson was Elijah Price in M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable.  Like Defendor, Unbreakable is a movie that plays off of comic book mythology in the real world.  It's another slower paced character study with an M. Night Shyamalan twist.  

The Crow (1994) - Mt. Rushmore head goes to Brandon Lee
Synopsis (per IMDB):
A man brutally murdered comes back to life as an undead avenger of his and his fiancee's murder.

This probably needs the least introduction of any I've mentioned so far.  However, with all the flashiness of modern comic-book movies, The Crow from 1994 still holds its ground as an exciting tale of supernatural revenge (I'm a sucker for revenge stories).  Just ignore the sequels and pray to the god of gothic stuff that the reboot is good.

Chronicle (2012) - Mt. Rushmore head goes to Dane DeHaan
Synopsis (per IMDB):
Whilst attending a party, three high school friends gain super powers after making an incredible discovery underground.  Soon, though, they find their lives spinning out of control and their bond tested as they embrace their darker side.

This is a movie that took me by surprise.  It was not what I was expecting at all.  The trailers had always shown it as a bunch of kids goofing off with newfound telekinesis powers.  It starts off rather slowly and seems to play into that goofy high school kids pulling pranks.  But this movie gets DARK.  It gets incredibly tense.  It's worth a watch (keep some Xanax handy).

Not everyone can win, and there are just so many movies I want to put up on that mountain.  Some runner-ups:  The Rocketeer, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, Sin City...  

I'm sure there are plenty I'm missing.  What would be on your mountain?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

On The King of Thorns (The Broken Empire #2) by Mark Lawrence - REVIEW

This is book #2 in Mark Lawrence's The Broken Empire series.  If you haven't read book #1 (and you should), you will probably want to skip this review (and go buy book #1...  now).  My review for Prince of Thorns (The Broken Empire #1) can be found here.

Synopsis (per Goodreads):
The land burns with the fires of a hundred battles as lords and petty kings fight for the Broken Empire.  The long road to avenge the slaughter of his mother and brother has shown Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath the hidden hands behind this endless war.  He saw the game and vowed to sweep the board.  First though he must gather his own pieces, learn the rules of play, and discover how to break them.  

A six nation army, twenty thousand strong, marches towards Jorg's gates, led by a champion beloved of the people.  Every decent man prays this shining hero will unite the empire and heal its wounds.  Every omen says he will.  Every good king knows to bend the knee in the face of overwhelming odds, if only to save their people and their lands.  But King Jorg is not a good king.  

Faced by an enemy many times his strength Jorg knows that he cannot win a fair fight.  But playing fair was never part of Jorg's game plan.  

Having to type "six nation army" only served to put the bass-line of Seven Nation Army in my head.

It feels good to root for the "bad guy." Or maybe it makes more sense to say it feels good to root for the guy who knows what he is.   A hero is full of doubt.  A hero concerns himself with the greater good.  An anti-hero; well, he could care less for the greater good, unless of course that greater good is in line with his own goals.  It's a different feeling than rooting for the guy that is "supposed" to win.  Who, just for a little bit, wouldn't want to see Vader take the Empire?  Mark Lawrence graces us with a homicidal @$$hole that you want to win.  Well played.

Once again, my review for Prince of Thorns can be found here (I'll be sort of referencing it).  I had some fears coming into the second book of the trilogy.  Book one set up an anti-hero you could get behind, but it also set up some explanation.  Explanations scare me.  It was the need for explanation that gave us Darth Frankenstein.  I was afraid they could give us a Jorg who is not the anti-hero we love, but rather some pawn of greater power that is an anti-hero because of design.  They could give us his recognition of that and the possibility of zero badness level (or at least an abated level).  It does and it doesn't.

A fantasy series is like breaking new ground on a construction site.  The first book is the basement.  It is the foundation that will hold up the rest of the series.  The flashiness and aesthetics are minimal here as a foundation is built to support the structure.  It is here you learn of character, you learn of setting.  But as the construction continues, as the building grows, and sequels release, more and more is added to the world.  Locations develop, magic is added in new ways and in greater volume.  King of Thorns is no different.  We learn more of the Broken Empire.  We see more magic (necromancy and others) and more of what the Builders left behind.  But that is all window dressing.  It's signage and lattice-work and trellises.  It is eye-catching, but not what holds everything together.  The bricks and mortar here is Jorg.  It's Makin and Gog and this band of miscreants.  It's emotion.  And for Jorg, it's knowing who you are and taking what you want - world be damned.

I understand I am years late in writing this.  Book three is long since released (and if not next will shortly end up on my "currently reading" spot), and a new series set in the Broken Empire will be released June of this year.  But maybe you haven't read any of this series.  Maybe you are tired of Frodo carrying the ring to Mordor and saving the realm.  Maybe you are looking for something different.  Something dark.  Something with teeth.  If that is what you want.  Mark Lawrence has a trilogy for you.  Recommended.

I give it...  Shrek.
"No, you dense, irritating, miniature beast of burden.  Ogres are like onions.  End of story."