Orphan Black (2013 TV Series)

Temple Street Productions, BBC America, and Bell Media’s Space

Status: Complete (5 seasons/50 episodes)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience

Accomplished grifter Sarah Manning walks into the train station and witnesses the suicide of a woman who looks exactly like Sarah herself. Both curious and ready to take advantage of the situation, Sarah assumes the identity of the woman, Beth Childs, with the help of her foster-brother Felix. What follows is a whirlwind of monumental proportions as Sarah discovers that she is but one of many clones. Meeting her newfound “sisters” is just the beginning as they face their own dark past, those in the present who would destroy or manipulate them, a defect built into their own DNA that is slowly killing them, not to mention being completely unsure who to trust. But at the same time, they discover a new family and a strength in each other to help them face the maelstrom with defiance as they choose their own ways to live.

Orphan Black is one of those shows that, as incredible as it sounds at first, delivers so much more than it initially promises. It’s really quite amazing. Well, Tatiana Maslany is amazing, that’s for sure. She manages to pull off multiple clones with distinct styles, mannerisms, personalities, etc. and keep them all unique–sometimes with multiples of them in the same room conversing and even physically interacting with each other. Her grasp of each of the characters is incredible–to the point where you can even tell where one sister is pretending to be another sister by super-tiny but well-realized tells. Maslany’s acting in this series truly blows me away! Not to mention the sheer cinematography required to pull off some of the scenes; it’s seamless and beautiful. The characters are great as well–thoroughly developed with uncertainties and flaws and emotional subtlety and moral ambiguity and all the complexities that make people truly human. You’ve got a ton of diversity, even just among the clones, too. And the other characters are brilliantly cast and played as well. Felix is quite possibly my favorite character in the whole show; he’s the heart and the artist, the home-like softer side of things, which is kind of hilarious since he tries so hard to be defiant and brash. I love him, though. And Siobhan, Sarah and Felix’s foster-mother–all the mystery and protectiveness in her character is fabulous! As for the plot, well, again it’s so much more than we are initially promised at the beginning. I mean, you start out with a girl taking over the life of a cop who looks like her, encountering a couple other girls who claim to be her clones, dealing with trying to be a mom to her daughter–intense stuff for sure, but fairly contained and small-scale. But by the end of it, you’ve got decades-long, multinational plots and huge, interconnected organizations and hundreds of clones and major life-or-death situations. It’s all pretty overwhelming and hard to keep track of, to be honest–the main reason I can’t give this a full 5 of 5 rating, actually. Still, it all ties up better than I expected by the end, and the conclusion was enough to make me cry but also be quite satisfying. This show is definitely not for the faint of heart and is only for a mature, adult audience, but I would still highly recommend Orphan Black for many, many reasons. It’s a great show that I will enjoy re-watching many times over.

Created by Graeme Manson & John Fawcett/Executive Production by Ivan Schneeberg, David Fortier, Graeme Manson, & John Fawcett/Produced by Russ Cochrane, Alex Levine, Claire Welland, Tatiana Maslany, & Aubrey Nealon/Cinematography by Aaron Morton/Music by Trevor Yuile/Starring Tatiana Maslany, Dylan Bruce, Jordan Gavaris, Kevin Hanchard, Michael Mando, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Évelyne Brochu, Ari Millen, Kristian Bruun, & Josh Vokey

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The Most Deadly Alliance (Harry Potter/Merlin Crossover Fanfic)

Author: Emachinescat

FanFiction ID: 6282390

Status: Complete (32 Chapters)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Fed up with the difficulties he’s had disposing of one brat–the young wizard Harry Potter–Voldemort crosses time itself to form a dark alliance with Nimue, High Priestess of the Old Religion, combining forces to also help her with her own personal annoyance, the warlock Merlin. Harry and his friends Ron and Hermione find themselves stepping out of Hogwarts and into the past, meeting the man who is a legend in their time . . . only Merlin isn’t quite what they were expecting. He’s young and clumsy and a servant, while they were expecting someone old and imposing. Oh, and the king he’s supposed to advise and help isn’t even king yet and he has no idea that Merlin even has magic! Still, Harry and his friends come to see the greatness of the man of legend buried beneath the youthful exterior, and they and Merlin soon become fast friends. Which is good, because they’re going to have to work together if they are to survive the dark machinations of Nimue and Voldemort.

Emachinescat is a wonderful author, and I love everything I’ve read of hers. Having said that, I think The Most Deadly Alliance is one of my favorites. The premise and all the interlocking pieces of time travel and legend are just fascinating. But even more than that, the little choices of the timing within each story, the characters to involve, the details that are drawn in–it’s all expertly executed. I loved how well thought out the character interactions were. The people involved behaved in character, even when it made them clash or seem abrasive. And the people who should have hit it off with each other did so. There were even instances where character interactions caused changing points of view. (Arthur’s interactions with Hermione and his changing views because of that, notably, although Harry’s relationship with Morgana is also a great case in point. Actually, the development between Harry and Morgana may have been one of my favorite parts of the story, which kind of surprised me.) All of that was just crafted in a very credible and in-character way that I truly enjoyed greatly. Additionally, the larger-scale story was interesting–the tension and mystery, the complications of time travel, the flaws in Voldemort and Nimue’s alliance, all of it worked well and was fun to read. The writing style itself was also quite excellent, being fluid and natural and easy to read. On a technical side, there were a couple of chapters where chunks of text were transposed into the wrong place (like, into the middle of another paragraph or even into the middle of a sentence), making the reader have to sort through what is supposed to go where. But it’s all there if you’re willing to figure it out, and it’s only in a few places–probably a tech issue in the editing or uploading process. If not for that, I would have given The Most Deadly Alliance a whole 5 of 5 rating, but as-is, it’s still a new favorite of mine that I would highly recommend.

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The Betrayal Knows My Name (manga)

Mangaka: Hotaru Odagiri/Translator: Melissa Tanaka

Status: Ongoing (7 volumes, although the first 5 are 2-volume omnibus editions, so really more like 12 volumes)

My rating: 5 of 5

Growing up in an orphanage, believing his parents didn’t want him, Yuki struggles to find meaning in his existence. Yet even in the midst of his pain, he brings kindness and healing to those around him, perhaps even more so as he begins to develop the ability to see a person’s emotions and past when he comes into physical contact with them . . . although not everyone takes his kind intentions well. But as Yuki’s strange ability grows stronger and other odd things being to happen around him, he encounters a beautiful, silver-eyed man calling himself Zess who seems oddly familiar. Then another beautiful man comes to the orphanage claiming to be Yuki’s long-lost older brother. Not only that, but Yuki actually has a large extended family, all of whom are delighted to meet him, and Zess is somehow connected to them all as well. But all is not well for this family as they find themselves trapped in a centuries long war against dark and evil forces, being endlessly reincarnated to fight over and over again. And Yuki himself is a pivotal figure in this was, the reincarnation of their princess, bringing healing and hope to them all . . . if only he could figure out why he doesn’t remember anything about his previous lives. All he wants to do is bring an end to this war and to the hurt felt by these people he has quickly come to love.

Love this manga soooo much! If you can imagine a mashup of Fruits Basket and Black Butler, you probably have a pretty good idea of what The Betrayal Knows My Name is like. You’ve got the gorgeous art (and people), demon contracts, and mystery/fight aspects that you find in Kuroshitsuji. Then you’ve got the super air-headed and kind MC, the oversized cast, the reincarnation aspect, and the dark family history themes that you find in Furuba. Not necessarily an expected combination, but it works. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking and mysterious–but there’s a nice mix of cutesy slice-of-life segments filled with sweetness and humor as well. The cast is huuuuge, so it is admittedly hard to keep track of everyone at first, but as you get to know the characters, they become not only unmistakable but beloved. It’s rare for me to find a story in which I love so many of the characters so very much, which is one of the primary reasons that I give this a full five-star rating. As for the plot, there’s currently a lot of mystery and unknowns that could go in a lot of directions, so I’m curious to see whether it ends up some huge shounen-style fight or a hug-it-out shoujo conclusion or something else altogether. (I’m hankering for a very sappily sweet shoujo ending myself, but I’ll be thrilled just to see this story finished, whatever the conclusion. It’s been on hiatus for 4 years, and I had given up hope that it would every be continued. Soooo . . . happy dance that the mangaka has picked this series up again!) Fair warning that the mangaka is fairly well known for writing yaoi stories, but also firm clarification that this particular manga is not yaoi at all–it sits on the verge between shoujo and josei with aspects of shounen and a mild shounen ai flavor, but it never goes beyond that. So honestly, The Betrayal Knows My Name is generally appropriate–and highly recommended–for any T+ audience. Love it and looking forward to reading the rest!

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Deal Alert: Haikasoru Humble Bundle

For anyone who’s interested, Humble Bundle currently has a book bundle featuring quite a few volumes from Haikasoru, a division of VIZ media that focuses on Japanese sci-fi/fantasy novels. (Of note, this bundle is focused mostly on the sci-fi aspect, although there are one or two that I would venture to loosely consider fantasy.) I’m familiar with a few of these books personally, including The Book of Heroes by Miyuki Miyabe (which is fabulous and would be worth the cost of the bundle in itself). These books tend to be a bit longer and more novel-like that your typical light novel, which I enjoy because it gives a broader view of Japanese lit than you typically get with the manga/light-novel scene, although I love that, too. Other books include Mardock Scramble and Red Girls (which is by the author of Gosick!), as well as numerous others with which I am not yet familiar. Definitely worth the price, in my opinion.

You can find this bundle at https://www.humblebundle.com/books/haikasoru-books.

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Doctor Who, Series 10 (2017 TV Series)

BBC

Status: Complete (12 episodes)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

The Doctor has made a vow. No more gallivanting off through time and space, no. He’s committed to staying at a  college, teaching a class, all the while guarding the vault hidden beneath the school and the secrets it contains. He could have just managed it, too, if it weren’t for her–Bill Potts, the chip girl from the school cafeteria who’s been attending some of his classes–standing in his office with her eyes full of that rare combination of wonder and wit and compassion and curiosity and  intelligence that The Doctor can never resist. After all, what’s the harm of just one trip, so long as Nardole doesn’t find out and scold him over it.

It’s always interesting (and just a bit scary) coming into a new series of Doctor Who when you’ve got a new Doctor or a new Companion, because there’s a different dynamic that’s not fully developed yet. I quite enjoyed the dynamic that developed between Twelve and Bill over the course of Series 10, however. Bill is unexpected, her reactions sometimes coming from a completely different line of reasoning that what I was expecting. It works, though, and she’s exactly who The Doctor needs at this point, someone who will challenge his way of viewing the world and who will make him feel alive. Adding Nardole into the mix is fabulous as well–I’m soooo glad they kept his character on for this season. His sass and worry-wart attitude serve both to keep The Doctor grounded and to keep the humor in the story, even in the dark points. And yeah, there are some pretty dark episodes here, although there are also some classic running-around-hand-in-hand-saving-people episodes. But I feel like, overall, this season’s a bit darker. It works, though. I feel like Twelve’s personality really shines through well, and he’s forced to wrestle with some stuff he’d rather not confront about himself. Ooh, and we get some more Missy involvement in the latter parts of the series, which is always fun. Also random, but kind of notable, while Doctor Who has always been a haven for diversity, I feel like it’s a more intentional focus in this series, in a good way. I enjoyed Series 10 quite a lot, and am eagerly anticipating the Christmas special–because we got left with quite the cliffhanger ending!

Produced by Steven Moffat & Brian Minchin/Written by Steven Moffat, Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Sarah Dollard, Jamie Mathieson, Peter Harness, Toby Whithouse, Mark Gatiss, Mike Bartlett, and Rona Munro/Starring Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, & Matt Lucas

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Healing Spells (Merlin Fanfic)

Author: BeyondTheStorm

FanFiction ID: 6022745

Status: Complete (27 Chapters)

My rating: 4 of 5

Warning: Rated T for blood, violence, & non-suicidal self-harm. (I would probably rate T+/16+, just to be safe.)

With Gaius away to help a village dealing with a mysterious outbreak of illness, Merlin has a chance to do things that his mentor would usually fuss at him for doing. And after that fiasco of a showdown with a rogue sorcerer in which both he and Prince Arthur got injured (and where Arthur found out all about Merlin’s being a warlock), it seems like it might just be time to finally figure out how to make healing magic work. Turns out, it’s not easy, nor is it something for which Merlin has a natural knack. So, being Merlin, he decides to practice on himself, stretching his abilities thinner and thinner until Arthur, Gwen, and Morgana are all worried about him–because of course it would be far too easy to actually tell them what’s going on, right?! But when Arthur is again endangered, it becomes clear that Merlin’s practicing has had more far-reaching consequences than even he originally thought.

While the idea of a Merlin fic focused primarily on healing magic didn’t initially appeal to me, I have loved some of BeyondTheStorm’s other fanfics and thus decided to give Healing Spells a try. I’m so glad I did, because I really loved the story. For one thing, the writing is just really readable and fun; it has a nice flow and a good balance of description and dialogue and such. But there are so many other interesting choices that the author made that just really increased my personal enjoyment of the story beyond just the quality of the writing. You come into the story with Arthur already knows about and accepts Merlin’s magic–there is a reveal scene, but it doesn’t come until about halfway through, where it’s presented as a flashback. So you’ve got this great dynamic of Arthur realizing everything Merlin’s done for him and who he really is, so there’s a whole new level of trust and closeness between the two that’s really great. You see a softer, more caring, yet still gruff and awkward (because this is Arthur, you know?) side to the prince which is really neat. And surprisingly (yet credibly) there’s a really interesting dynamic of Merlin having a harder time trusting Arthur and still keeping secrets even though he knows Arthur’s already accepted him. I also enjoyed that this was set in season 2, so that 1) a lot of the bad stuff that make it really hard for Merlin to trust Arthur with his secret haven’t happened, and 2) you get some great Morgana friendship (not a major focus of this fic, but it’s there and it’s nice. I miss this Morgana.). Of course, the downside of that is that you don’t get the awesomeness that is the Inner Circle of the Knights, but it works in this story. There are some great Merlin/Gwen friendship scenes; I can’t get enough of that friendship, truly! And a few fabulous fatherly Gaius moments. Plus, there’s a lot of interconnected plot, some big stuff that develops outside of Merlin’s experimentation that ends up influencing the consequences of his choices. So yeah, big plot and some pretty deep ideas are developed as well. All together, Healing Spells was a very interesting and enjoyable story, and I’m looking forward to reading more by this author.

Note: You can find Healing Spells at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/6022745/1/Healing-Spells.

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Homecoming (Merlin Fanfic)

Author: M1ssUnd3rst4nd1ng

FanFiction ID: 12511761

Status: Ongoing (2 Chapters)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Arthur can think of about a million things he’d rather be doing than wandering through some dusty museum looking at boring old paintings. But if it makes his girlfriend Gwen happy and means he gets to spend time with her . . . so be it. Surprisingly, when they arrive at the painting she so wants to show him, Arthur finds himself strangely moved–both because the emotion of the moment bleeds through so vividly and because the couple depicted in this picture could easily be Gwen and Arthur themselves. So, being the spoiled, rich prat that he is, Arthur begins a search for the owner of the painting in the hopes of purchasing it as a gift for his girlfriend, only to have a most unusual encounter with the owner of the Balinor estate, a crotchety old man who seems quite taken aback by Arthur’s unexpected arrival at his doorstep.

I’ve probably said this before, but I have a special place in my affections for Merlin reincarnation stories, which is exactly what Homecoming is. The ending of the series broke me, and I find that reincarnation fics do a lot to fix that brokenness. This particular story is done rather differently from most I’ve read, and I really loved the way the author approached the whole situation. It is, in fact, poignant–a term highlighted in the story, but which applies to the fic itself just as well. It was touching and made me cry happy, moved tears. I really loved the sweet Arwen (Arthur and Gwen) dynamic to the story; the modern-day relationship was credible and fit the characters well. And I loved that all three characters (yes, Merlin too, obviously) are true to themselves. Merlin’s reactions to Arthur are great; that whole reunion was quite amusing. (Of course, old Merlin is just fabulous, wherever he shows up!) And the author’s choice to not have Arthur just remember created an interesting tension and, again, poignancy to the whole situation that I appreciated, even if it didn’t bring the thorough resolution that I may have initially expected. Also interesting was the author’s development of how Merlin spent his time in the interim between Arthur’s death and their reunion; it’s always fascinating to see what different people think about that. I found Homecoming to be a touching, but also funny, reincarnation story, and while I honestly wanted more, I think that where the author chose to leave the story is also valid and appealingly open-ended–which is not to say that I wouldn’t be thrilled if more chapters were to be released at a later date! Definitely recommended to Merlin fans, especially those broken by Camlann (and let’s face it, that’s all of us, right?).

Note: You can find Homecoming at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/12511761/1/Homecoming.

Update 09/19/2017: Upon PMing with the author, I was informed that this story is NOT in fact complete yet, and more chapters are on the way. Yay!

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