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?).