Tag Archives: British

Shadow Magic

Author: Joshua Khan

Shadow Magic, vol. 1

My rating: 3 of 5

Thorn just wanted to find his dad and bring him home, but somehow he’s been kidnapped by slavers, bought and made squire by the executioner Tyburn, and dragged off to the shadowy kingdom of Gehenna where the dead are rumored to walk. Meanwhile, Lilith Shadow (Lily to the friends she mostly doesn’t have anymore) has been forced to take up the mantle of leadership over Gehenna following the tragic death of the rest of her family. Political tensions, forbidden magic, loveless engagements, betrayals, and murder run rife as these two teenagers try to find a way through the chaos.

I should point out right from the start that most people seem to like Shadow Magic more than I did–my dad loved it enough to pass it on to me, and the average rating on Goodreads is a 4.14 at the moment. And I did enjoy the story for the most part in the moment, although I also have a number of issues with it. It’s a fast-paced read that never takes a breath–seriously, you’re thrown from one perilous situation to the next the entire time, which does increase the story’s stickiness and engagement factor but isn’t really the best way to go about doing so. And honestly, overall, the story just feels kind of tropey . . . although, maybe that’s not even quite right. It’s perfect, but in a way that feels like the author tried too hard, like it was run through an algorithm of “what should be in a story” and all the major plot points were spit out from there. Which, again, really isn’t fair because I know the author worked hard to be creative and original, but that’s just the feeling I come away with. There were certainly things I liked–the concept of an ancient giant bat, the spitfire princess  who breaks the rules, the boy who dares to defy those above him in station and befriend the princess. (But let’s be real, even those are kind of tropey . . . well, except the bat. That’s just plain cool.) Other things like the division of the kingdoms based on traditional elemental classes or the naming of everything in Gehenna based on dark, mythological things that are meaningful to some readers but have no contextual basis in the story world . . . I just don’t love those aspects of the story. As for the big whodunit mystery, it seems pretty obvious, and the red herring thrown into the mix just feels unnecessary. I guess I should remember that this book is written for a middle grade audience and is supposed to be exciting, fast-paced dark fantasy, but I would have still liked to see more real character development, some actual humor, a few moments to just pause and breathe. Not on my top recommendations, although it was an ok read and I think most people would likely enjoy it more than I did.

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Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows

Author: James Lovegrove

The Cthulhu Casebooks, vol. 1

My rating: 4 of 5

The general public is well familiar with the stories of the great detective Sherlock Holmes as written by his friend and partner in crime-fighting, Dr. John Watson. What they don’t know is that those stories are just a cover, an embellishment of certain insignificant events in order to hide something of far greater import–something the public should never know about. Because, while in these stories, Holmes is presented as an extremely logical and brilliant man who always a scientific reason for events, the truth is that he and Watson have encountered things that defy science. Horrible, ancient things that could spell  the end of mankind if left unchecked. And together, they have pledged their logic and skill to defending mankind from behind the scenes. This is the true story of their initial meeting and subsequent first encounter with the occult, as told by Dr. Watson himself.

Retellings and spinoffs of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories seem ubiquitous, and I’ve personally had mixed experiences with them. Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows belongs to a niche segment of these stories, ones that–like Gaiman’s “A Study in Emerald”–cross over with the Lovecraftian mythos. It’s an intriguing mixture, and I found it to be quite well executed in this book. It is couched as being a confession of sorts, written by Watson late in life and never meant to be published. As such, it evokes a tone quite similar to that of the original Doyle stories–I actually found this aspect of it to be fairly convincing. The author makes a lot of comparisons between what was written in said stories and “what actually happened,” which is intriguing to say the least. I found my vocabulary challenged repeatedly, which was refreshing. Unfortunately (although perhaps necessary to evoke the correct feel), the writing expresses period-typical ways of looking at certain people groups, as well as some terminology for such, that could be offensive. Regrettable, that. The actual story and the way the mythology is interwoven into the story is quite well done, a credible way for Holmes to get dragged into this mess. All in all, I found Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows to be a solid, enjoyable story that I would recommend.

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The Color of Magic

Author: Terry Pratchett

Discworld, vol. 1; Rincewind, vol. 1

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Welcome to the Discworld–a world quite unlike our own, in fact, a great flat disc spinning on the back of a giant space turtle. A world where the gods occasionally intervene (for their own amusement), where eight is a dangerous number, and where magic has its own color (octarine, in case you were wondering). Observe, if you will, Rincewind–a failed wizard who really would like to come out of this whole situation alive–and his companion, Twoflower, a the very first tourist in the Discworld–and a daft one to boot. Oh, and of course, the walking luggage that’s tailing Twoflower around, ready to eat anyone who isn’t nice to him. Somehow, these individuals manage to embark on a rollicking adventure (that Rincewind could have done very well without, thank-you-very-much) across the Discworld, inches from death (or, in Rincewind’s case, Death himself) at nearly every turn.

I’ve generally found Terry Pratchett’s writing to be quite enjoyable–very smart and funny or intense and insightful. In this particular case, it tends more to the absurd and clever. This is my first time dabbling in the (admittedly intimidating) Discworld universe. It actually took me a few tries to get into this story, and even at that, it wasn’t one that I could sit down and consume quickly. But I’m glad that I made myself keep reading; definitely worth it in the end, and I look forward to trying more of the series. Right off, you can tell that there’s some impressive worldbuilding going on here–granted, an absurd and logically impossible world, but that’s kind of the point. There’s a lot of cleverness that goes into the world, the word-building, the ridiculous situations that occur. I admit, sometimes it does feel like the author’s so caught up in his own cleverness that the reader gets a bit lost in the shuffle, which is probably part of why I had a hard time getting into the book at the start. The Color of Magic is definitely more world-building and adventure focused than it is character focused, but I did find Rincewind’s character to be interesting; he was definitely growing on me by the end, enough that I would like to read the rest of his sub-series at the very least. Recommended, especially for those who enjoy a touch of absurd humor and sardonic wittiness.

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Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja (2012-2015 Cartoon)

Titmouse, Inc. & Boulder Media Limited with Disney XD

Status: Complete (50 episodes)

My rating: 4 of 5

For 800 years, an evil sorcerer has been imprisoned beneath the town of Norrisville, prevented from escaping and destroying the world by the equally ancient ninja . . . or so the town’s citizens believe. In actuality, a new ninja is chosen every four years from among the students attending the high school that is now built over the site of the sorcerer’s imprisonment. Randy Cunningham–high-school freshman and ultimate Ninja fanboy–finds this out to his surprise when he is chosen to become the new ninja. Now, with the help (okay, mostly sarcasm from the sidelines) of his best friend Howard Weinerman, Randy must protect his school and town from not only evil monsters created by the sorcerer (because, really, that would be too easy), but also from rampaging robots created by his new archnemesis Hannibal McFist (or, well, his assistant Viceroy) who has allied himself with the sorcerer because he was promised–wait for it–a superpower of his own if they win. So yeah, Randy’s got his hands a bit full, but he’s determined to make the most of his high-school days regardless . . . even if it means maybe misusing his ninja powers just a bit.

Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja is one of those shows that I’ve seen recommended for people who like shows like Danny Phantom, Miraculous Ladybug, and American Dragon: Jake Long–you know, teen superheroes, secret identities, that sort of thing. I put off even trying it for a good while. I mean, you can tell just from the episode titles that it’s more of a shounen story on the grosser side of things–bad puns, fart jokes, and general derpiness seem to be the norm. And I’m not going to like, that’s totally a major part of this cartoon, but in spite of that I’m so glad I actually gave it a try. It took me a few episodes to get into it, but this series definitely grew on me. Mostly, I love it for the great characters. Randy and Howard have a ton of personality (even if it’s a nerdy, derpy personality), and they tend to defy expectations, which is fun to watch. Howard honestly kind of annoys me, and a lot of times I feel like he’s not a good friend for Randy. But then, he goes and proves just how wrong I am. Like, these two have some serious bromance going on. And Randy starts off seeming like just some nerdy goofball who’s barely going to wing it through to graduation, much less actually be a hero. Actually, he stays that way a lot of times, misusing his powers and influence or completely misreading the (admittedly cryptic) advice of the “Ninjanomicon,” a book of ancient ninja wisdom passed down with the ninja abilities. But then, Randy will figure out that he’s made a mistake and will be surprisingly intense about making things right. My point is, these two are actually interesting characters that really make the series so much more fun than it seems like it would be at first glance. Also, tying into the good characters, the voice acting for this series is phenomenal–so much better than I’m used to seeing with a lot of cartoons. Ben Schwartz’s work with Randy’s voice in particular is quite subtle, but in general, all the voice acting is well done. The art style is kind of weirdly angular and stylized, but it suits. Likewise, the episodes generally fall into a pattern of monster/robot/other problem showing up, Ninjanomicon giving cryptic advise, Randy ignoring said advice, big epic fight, things going generally to pieces, Randy finally figuring out advice and taking it, dorky ending; it’s weird but it suits the series and is surprisingly enjoyable, and there’s enough variety within the predictable pattern that it doesn’t get boring. Also, the series doesn’t drag on forever and lose interest, which was smart I think. Overall, although it doesn’t seem at the surface like a series I would particularly like,  I found Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja to be a lot of fun, and I would recommend it.

Created by Jed Elinoff & Scott Thomas/Directed by Mike Milo, Shaun Cashman, Joshua Taback, & Chuckles Austen/Starring Ben Schwartz, Andrew Caldwell, Tim Curry, Ben Cross, John DiMaggio, & Kevin Michael Richardson

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Doctor Who, Series 11 (2018 TV Series)

BBC

Status: Complete (10 episodes)

My rating: 3.5 of 5

The Doctor’s back–but now he’s a she. And she’s as ready to take on the universe as ever, whether it’s talking down a frightened ships crew, cobbling together advanced tech from what pieces she has on hand, or solving a mystery before everything falls apart. What’s more, she’s got a whole gang of three coming along this time; more fun that way, right?

I’ve heard a lot of mixed reviews of this season of Doctor Who–everything from praising it as true Who to saying it’s completely fallen away from what Who is meant to be. And to be honest, I have somewhat mixed feelings about the series, although my general experience was mostly positive (remember, a 3.5 for me is somewhere between liked it and really liked it, okay?). First off, I think Jodie did a phenomenal job in a challenging role. She managed to find that balance of being the Doctor but also having a new, regenerated personality. I enjoyed the mix of super-quirky, inventive, and smart woman that she brings to the table. The supporting cast was kind of so-so; they were interesting and I enjoyed their stories, but I didn’t feel particularly invested in them for the most part. I enjoyed the diversity, although it did seem a little forced at times–ditto with the appealing to the common man thing they had going. As for the actual episodes, I found a pretty broad mix; some were excellent (Rosa made me cry) and others (like Arachnids in the UK) just had no appeal. Again, there seemed to be a very intentional focus on diversity and everyday people . . . which is a great thing for stories to have and I love that, it just seemed like the writers were trying a bit too hard here. Same thing with the show being Who if you follow me–the things you expect in Doctor Who were definitely present, but it was almost like they were trying too hard to incorporate them at times. Like, I get that with a new basically everything, they’ve got a lot to prove to maintain their viewership, but still. . . . One last note: this series is really short, like, surprisingly so. On the whole, I enjoyed series 11 of Doctor Who, but for fellow Whovians out there, I can’t say for sure whether you’d enjoy this or not. Fifty-fifty shot, I’d say.

Executive produced by Chris Chibnall/Written by  Malorie Blackman, Ed Hime, Pete McTighe, Vinay Patel, Joy Wilkinson, & Chris Chibnall/Directed by Jamie Childs, Mark Tonderai, Sallie Aprahamian, & Jennifer Perrott/Starring Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, & Mandip Gill/Music by Segun Akinola

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The Atrocity Archives

Author:Charles  Stross

Laundry Files, vol. 1

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience, mostly for language

At first glance, Bob Howard seems like a pretty typical IT guy–smart, sardonic, harried by the incompetence of the computer-illiterate in his organization and the demands of his managers. That is, until you consider the fact that he works for a secret government organization whose sole purpose is to protect the world from eldritch entities invading from alternate realities. And Bob’s life is about to take a turn for the weirder as he, bored with desk duty, volunteers to be put on active service. There’s no telling what horrors he’ll run into next.

So, I’ve heard some really mixed reviews about this book, and honestly the author in general. I have to say, for myself, I enjoyed The Atrocity Archives a great deal and plan to read at least more of this series–probably some of Stross’s other series as well. It’s this delightful cross of eldritch horror, office politics, techno-thriller, and spy story, all told with this delightfully sardonic sense of humor. Personally, I enjoyed Bob’s outlook and found him an interesting character to read. And just the ideas behind this story are fascinating . . . higher maths being summoning rituals and opening doorways into other realities, programmers accidentally stumbling on said summonings, secret organizations specifically designed to deal with these. Plus just the whole office drama of the organization and Stross’s presentation of it. I have heard some folks complain about the “technobabble” used in this story, and yes absolutely this book makes me wish I actually understood more higher math and programming . . . but on the other hand, I’m not sure how much more sense it would make even if I did have more context for all the terms. It seems kind of like magic spells used in fantasy novels; like, if you understand Latin, you’ll get a bit of a heads up on what the spell does, but it’s mostly flavor text, and even if you don’t understand, the effects will become pretty clear pretty quickly. I never felt lost because I didn’t understand a term, put it that way. In any case, I found The Atrocity Archives to be a truly engaging and enjoyable book–recommended for those who enjoy something a bit more off the beaten path.

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Overtime (Novelette)

Author: Charles Stross

The Laundry Files, vol. 3.5

My rating: 4 of 5

Lucky for him (ha), Bob has pulled the distinct privilege of working the night watch at the office over the Christmas holiday–by virtue of being out sick while everyone else was putting in their vacation requests. Go figure. Oh well, theoretically, it should be a boring job sitting around babysitting a phone that never rings . . . unless the unthinkable happens. But then, considering Bob works for a secret government organization whose sole purpose is protecting the world from the things that go bump in the night and considering his stellar run of luck so far, why shouldn’t the unthinkable happen, right?

When I picked up Overtime, I was definitely expecting the fabulous combination of eldritch horror and office mundanity that it offered. What I wasn’t expecting was the Christmas theme. And yet, it works marvelously, providing a delightful comedy-horror plot that ties this little novelette together brilliantly as Bob deals with temporal anomalies, an eldritch interpretation of Santa Claus, and the challenges of fighting back the apocalypse using only office supplies, used Christmas decorations, and leftover treats from the office Christmas party . . . theoretically the last Christmas party the Laundry will see if the predictions offered by a Mr. Kringle (that only Bob can even remember now) are to be believed. The writing offers the same engrossing, droll style found in the earlier Laundry books (and yes, I would recommend reading at least The Atrocity Archives first for some context),  but with a slightly more story-based focus and with less techno-babble . . . probably due largely to the short length of the story. Recommended for those who enjoy a sardonic tone and a solid urban fantasy and/or comedy horror story.

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Abigail and the Snowman (Graphic Novel)

Author: Roger Langridge

Colorist: Fred Stresing

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Nine-year-old Abigail is having a rough time adapting, what with moving to a new home, adjusting to a new school (in the middle of the school year!), and having her dad being so busy with trying to find a job. He can’t even keep their tradition of going to the zoo for her birthday this year! But things begin to look up when Abigail runs into Claude one day at the playground and promptly decides he’s going to be her new best friend. He’s in need of a friend himself, what with being a yeti, escaped from a government research lab and on the run. Good thing adults can’t see him (although kids can, which quickly makes Abigail popular with the other kids at school); only, the people from the government have special equipment that can find him, and they’re closing in fast.

Abigail and the Snowman is quite the unusual graphic novel. For one thing, although it is most definitely a graphic novel in the way it’s set up, I’m also inclined to compare it to a comic strip (because of the art style) and to a picture book (because of the intended demographic and the sort of story it tells). It’s really cute–definitely a feel-good, happy ending kind of story. I feel like it expresses the challenges of a single-parent family going through a difficult move very well–both from the kid’s perspective and from the parent’s–while still giving us a loving, functional family relationship. It also shows a good development of real friendship and loyalty, especially as both parties are brought to the point of making choices that are sacrificial for themselves for the safety and wellbeing of their friend. I would generally say that the intended audience is elementary grade (depending on their tolerance for a certain amount of violence/scariness; parental discretion advised as there are bad guys with guns involved in the story), although middle-graders would probably also enjoy the story. It’s heartwarming enough to be fun in a different way for grownups as well.

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How to Talk to Girls at Parties (Graphic Novel)

Story by Neil Gaiman

Adaptation, Art, & Lettering by Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Fifteen-year-old Enn doesn’t really get girls. He’s at that awkward age where they seem to have flown ahead, all mysterious and unknowable. His best friend Vic keeps telling him to just talk to them, but . . . what exactly are you to say to someone you don’t understand at all? Enn’s troubles come to a head when Vic drags him to a party, waxing eloquent on the girls they will encounter there, only to find halfway through the evening that they’ve crashed the wrong party–and the girls here are an even more bizarre variety of mysterious and strange than any Enn has encountered before.

I’ve enjoyed Gaiman’s short story “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” ever since I first read it in M is for Magic many years ago. It’s classic Neil Gaiman–the magical clash of the mundane and the extraordinary, couched in such a way that it hints at all sorts of wonders unseen without ever stooping to spell everything out, to take away the mystery of it. It’s breathtaking. Moon and Bá’s graphic adaptation is far better than I expected, managing to preserve much of the ethereal strangeness, the predatory otherness, that makes this story so gripping. Likewise, they do well making Enn awkward and ordinary, making the culture clash here painfully, magically apparent. I think that there are a few parts where more is shown than I would like; this is the sort of story where more left to the imagination is better. But then, that’s the challenge of telling this sort of story as a graphic novel at all, and I think the adapters did well in not overdoing the showing on the whole. The art style is lovely, capturing the alien and the ordinary both in an ethereal collision. Highly recommended.

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Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

Author: Douglas Adams

My rating: 3.5 of 5

A computer programmer out to describe the rhythms of the universe in computer-generated music. A sofa stuck in a physically impossible angle on the stairs outside his apartment. A ghost stuck between life and death. An impossible magic trick. An electric monk from an alien world, created to save the people of that world the trouble of believing things for themselves. A visit to an old college professor. The works of a dead poet. Seemingly disconnected pieces, and yet they come together surprisingly in the hands of one Dirk Gently–who firmly professes to not be psychic. He’s a holistic detective, that’s all.

I’ve enjoyed Douglas Adams’s writing in the past, and I found Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency to be an enjoyable read, but definitely a more challenging piece. Not that it’s a difficult read exactly. But it’s very fragmented, especially towards the beginning, and there are a lot of moving pieces to keep track of if you want the ending to make any sense at all. The author certainly doesn’t dumb it down enough to give the reader the full breakdown, although everything is pretty thoroughly explained by the end if you pay attention. But yeah, fragmented and kind of pretentious would be my best way to describe this book. It’s well written, though, and has some quite interesting turns of phrase. I would almost say that’s one of the biggest selling points of this book, honestly. Of note, the titular character doesn’t actually appear until, like, halfway through the book. It’s really more about the programmer Richard, honestly, than it is about Dirk. Dirk’s just the guy strange and open-minded (or something) enough to connect all the weird, impossible dots. In any case, recommended for those who enjoy some slightly older speculative fiction (the bits about 1980’s computers were cool) and who has the patience to piece together all the randomness this story offers.

Of note, since I recently reviewed the BBC rendition of this story: they aren’t even the same story. Like, at all. They can’t even be considered AUs of each other, since that would require at least some level of semblance. The only things they have in common are the name Dirk Gently–the character is completely different, despite the name–and the concept of everything being connected–the “holistic” thing. Other than that, characters, plots, everything is different, to the point that it’s possible to enjoy each completely without comparing them to each other . . . as long as you don’t go and try to make them fit, because they just won’t.

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