Tag Archives: fantasy

Squire

Author: Tamora Pierce

Protector of the Small, vol. 3

My rating: 4 of 5

Kel has surpassed numerous challenges–including lots of people not accepting a girl in the role of knight-in-training–and has finally become a squire. Or at least, she will be if any knight will take The Girl on as his squire. To her surprise and delight, Lord Raoul sees her potential and breaks his usual habits, taking her on to train. His unconventionality, gruffness, and practicality promise to make her four years as his squire both interesting and challenging. . . . Who knows, they may even be fun at times. Not that there won’t be plenty of challenges for her to face before achieving her knighthood–an ornery baby griffin, any number of stuffy individuals who challenge her capability, a huge royal progress across the country complete with parties and social expectations, boys. But of course, Kel will face them all with the clear-headed determination that has stood her in good stead so far.

I adore Tamora Pierce’s books, and Squire is an excellent example of her writing. The characters are fabulous. Kel continues to grow as a person in this book, and I love the way her character builds with every small choice she faces. I have to applaud Pierce for writing someone so vastly different from most of her other Tortallan heroines as well; Kel’s really distinct from, say, Alanna or Daine. Which actually makes it really interesting to get to see them in the same story, interacting with each other. There are plenty of other excellent character here as well, the most developed and fun to read probably being Raoul (whom I already like from Alanna’s story, but we get a different perspective on him here, which is fun). And the animal characters are just soooo good! The writing style, as always, is very comfortable and easy to read, although I am again impressed by how unconventional Pierce’s writing seems at times in the way it homes in on small jewels of events then pans out for broad, sweeping passages of time. It’s different, but it works–brilliantly, even. I do feel the need to highlight that, while the earlier books in this quartet could easily be considered children’s fiction (First Test, in particular), Squire sits solidly in the YA genre, with Kel facing some pretty big, adult stuff like death and sex–not so much kids’ stuff. So fair warning that, while still quite clean and fairly discreet, this is probably not the ideal book to give to your ten-year-old. Still, for a YA and older audience, Squire is an incredible story, especially for those who love a good fantasy.

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A Game of You (Graphic Novel)

Author: Neil Gaiman

The Sandman, vol. 5

My rating: 4.5 of 5

WARNING: Mature Audience

Barbie used to be married to Ken, and now she lives in a New York apartment building next to her best friend Wanda who used to be a guy. Barbie is a princess traveling with her animal friends on a quest to save her kingdom from the evil Cuckoo. Both worlds are real . . . or maybe neither is? But as her two realities bleed into each other, Barbie finds herself locked in a fight for survival and depending on her friends in both her worlds.

A Game of You is definitely a trippy ride, perhaps the most trippy of any of the Sandman books I’ve read so far. Which isn’t to say that it’s not good; it most certainly is. It’s just that describing or defining it presents a share of challenges. For one thing, this whole volume deals with a lot of symbolic significance that I am wholly unqualified for (and uninterested in) discussing, so on that topic I’ll just say to read the preface by Samuel R. Delaney in the 2011 edition. It’s brilliant and really helpful in understanding a lot of the symbolism. But even if you don’t feel like delving into all that, A Game of You is just a great story, taken simply at face value. You’ve got interesting characters, an almost Alice in Wonderland sort of feel to parts, plots, magic, worlds ending, ancient promises being honored–with Morpheus watching over it from a godlike position. I can’t explain it properly, but this volume really feels like a Gaiman story in the best sense; the writing, the characters, all of it has the flavor and depth that I really love in his writing. As for the art, it still holds to a more traditional comic book art style, so I don’t exactly love that. Not that there’s anything wrong with that style; it’s just never been my preference. Having said that, the art is certainly well done, and the style works well with the storytelling, plus there’s some great use of coloring and lettering styles to emphasize the meanings in numerous places. Overall, A Game of You is an excellent addition to the Sandman stories, and I continue to look forward to reading the rest of the series.

Covers & Design by Dave McKean/Illustrated by Shawn McManus, Colleen Doran, Bryan Talbot, George Pratt, Stan Woch, & Dick Giordano/Colored by Danny Vozzo/Lettered by Todd Klein/Introduced by Samuel R. Delany

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Gods of the Mountain

Author: Christopher Keene

A Cycle of Blades, vol. 1

My rating: 4 of 5

Summary from Goodreads:

““If that’s true, he’s returned from the grave, and you better believe he’s got something in store for this city.”

Accused of murder, Faulk is on the run after his chance at redemption went horribly wrong. He finds himself allied with the mysterious Yuweh, a woman sent by her gods to capture an assassin who is spreading forbidden magic.

Journeying across a land where all magic, cultures, and wars are dictated by its cycles in nature, they uncover a plot that threatens to destroy everything they hold dear. Faulk and Yuweh must reconcile their clashing cultures to prevent the chaos from repeating…

…as another attempts to use it for his benefit.”

Having greatly enjoyed the first two volumes of Keene’s Dream State Saga, it was with great anticipation that I approached his newest work, Gods of the Mountain–and I was not disappointed. While the Dream State books are of the LitRPG genre, having more almost of a light novel flavor, this new book is more of a high fantasy/dark fantasy, so it’s definitely a different style, and I think the author does a great job of expressing that and adapting to the genre styles while staying true to his own personal storytelling voice. One of the ways in which this is most true–and one the things I most loved about this book–is the magic system and the way the reader is introduced to it. I feel like the magic in this story is quite unique and well imagined; it’s different enough that I wasn’t just like “oh, there’s the magic, let’s get on with the story,” but was rather actually interested in the mechanics of the system. And we get a good explanation of it through the eyes of a character who is first introduced to the magic himself, getting to learn about how it works alongside him. The worldbuilding and the complexities of the political situation are also quite well done; in fact, I’m reminded of V. E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic books in that regard. Keene does a great job of displaying an overthrown country, with conquering overlords but also with rebellious former soldiers still around and unsettled at the situation. Moreover, throwing in the complications of an isolated mountain theocracy dominated by tradition and taboo adds an extra layer of complication, especially when these worlds collide forcibly. There’s some interesting commentary on religion there for those who fancy venturing into those waters. The plot was intense, with lots of twists and surprises, and the pacing worked well–not particularly fast or slow, but steady, which honestly works best for a book of this length. As for the characters, they were probably what I liked least; not that they were uninteresting or poorly written–quite the opposite–but simply because I didn’t find any of them particularly likeable. Surprisingly, that didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of the story, though. I would still certainly consider Gods of the Mountain to be a solid read, one that I enjoyed and that I would recommend.

NOTE: I received a free review copy of Gods of the Mountain from the author in exchange for an unbiased review, which in no way affects the contents of this post.

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EXPIRED | Deal Alert: A Galaxy of Stars Humble Bundle

For anyone who’s interested, Humble Bundle currently has a collection of sci-fi and fantasy novels available in one of their bundles. Probably the most enticing part of this set for myself is all five of Patricia Wrede’s Lyra books, none of which I’ve had a chance to read before. Other highlights include Ursula Le Guin’s Changing Planes and Octavia Butler’s Seed to Harvest series, although there are several other stories that, while I am unfamiliar or only marginally familiar with the authors, look quite fascinating.

If you’re interested, you can find this bundle at https://www.humblebundle.com/books/galaxy-of-stars-books.

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Rise of the Guardians (2012 Movie)

DreamWorks Animation

My rating: 4 of 5

The first memory Jack Frost has is of the Man in the Moon telling him his name . . . and nothing else. Left with no direction, and quickly finding that no one can see or hear him, he becomes something of a drifter. Not that that stops him from enjoying himself. Hundreds of years later, Jack is still getting up to mischief and bringing snow for kids to enjoy, even if they can’t appreciate that it’s he who is causing it. So, being neither the responsible nor the recognized sort, Jack’s calling by the Man in the Moon to be a guardian–a protector of the hopes and happiness of children everywhere–is a huge surprise to everyone including the current guardians. And Jack certainly does give Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and the Sandman quite a time with his antics . . . but maybe that’s exactly what they and the children need, especially in a time when darkness so threatens in the form of the Bogeyman.

So, I’ve had Rise of the Guardians recommended to me a surprising number of times from some unexpected sources . . . so I thought I’d finally give it a try. And I have to say that I’m fairly impressed. Compared to other CG kids movies from this era and in this sort of vein, it stands out as being quite well done and enjoyable. It’s not that it has the greatest animation; frankly, it’s kind of dated in that regard. But the use of color in telling the story is excellent, and the character designs are much better than I’m used to seeing. Well, the characters in general are quite well done. Never thought I’d actually be interested in Santa Claus, say, or the Easter Bunny as characters in a story, but the creators do a great job of fleshing them out, giving them interesting personalities–like making the bunny a huge, tattooed rabbit with an Aussie accent and boomerangs! Jack is, without a doubt, the best of this movie, though. His personality is such a great mix of the brash confidence of Captain Kirk mixed with the uncertainty and the sense of fun of Merlin–all of which comes through so brilliantly in his voice, facial expressions, body language, everything. Casting Chris Pine for his character was a stroke of genius, and I feel like Jack’s expressions frequently mimic those I’ve seen on Pine’s face in his role as Kirk, which is both amusing and fabulous. The plot is not the most original in the world, but it’s done in an engaging way, letting the characters’ personalities do a lot to direct the flow of the story. And they do manage to both make it a kid-appropriate (though definitely PG) story and one that can hold interest for adults as well–without all the crude jokes that so ridiculously and obnoxiously permeate the majority of kids’ movies today. I enjoyed Rise of the Guardians more than I expected to and would recommend it to others.

Directed by Peter Ramsey/Produced by Christina Steinberg & Nancy Bernstein/Screenplay by David Lindsay-Abaire/Based on The Guardians of Childhood by William Joyce/Music by Alexandre Desplat/Starring Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman, Isla Fisher, & Jude Law

 

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Men of Legend: The Butterfly Effect (Merlin/Supernatural Crossover Fanfic)

Author: hells_half_acre

AO3 ID: 7506826

Men of Legend, vol. 2

Status: Complete (3 Chapters)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

When Sam and Dean Winchester were in Camelot–summoned there by Merlin himself to help handle a supernatural threat dragged over from their world into his–they gave Merlin some advice. Sound advice, probably, but advice he’s having an awfully hard time following through with, nevertheless. Because the brothers told Merlin to take fate into his own hands (yay, Team Free Will!), trust Arthur, and tell the king his secret–that Merlin has magic. Only, telling Arthur goes against everything Merlin’s been raised to do since he was a child, against everything the Great Dragon has told him to do. Not an easy decision to make. . . . So when Merlin does decide to go to Arthur about his magic, he is understandably nervous about the whole thing.

loved this short fanfic exceedingly, as I did the previous volume in this collection, Men of Legend. Unlike the first volume, The Butterfly Effect is really just a Merlin story, with the SPN part limited to references to Sam and Dean’s time in Camelot–although those references are important since they influence not only Merlin’s decision but also Arthur’s and Gwaine’s reactions. I love the way we get a chapter each from Gwaine’s, Merlin’s, and Arthur’s POV, with each bleeding into the next a bit and giving a different perspective on the events as they unfold. And I love (and this is something I love about this author’s work in general, not just in this story) the insights into the characters that we get–the motivations behind Merlin’s fear, the loyalty and insight hidden behind Gwaine’s usual goofiness, the wisdom and understanding of Gwen, the uncertainty of Arthur and the tiny things that shape his decisions. It’s those insights that transform this from just another fanfic to something powerful and lasting. Another thing I loved about this story is the fact that Merlin actually tells Arthur about his magic. Like, that never happens. In almost every magic reveal I’ve ever read, as well as in canon, Merlin is forced to reveal his magic, shows Arthur by accident, something along those lines. He almost never willingly trusts his friend with his deepest, scariest secret, even though that is the way that it should happen. So it’s nice to see these friends getting it right. Fabulous story, and I’m hoping for a sequel!

You can find Men of Legend: The Butterfly Effect on AO3 at https://archiveofourown.org/works/7506826/chapters/17064571.

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Broxo (Graphic Novel)

Author/Illustrator: Zack Giallongo

My rating: 3 of 5

Warrior princess Zora has left her home without her family’s knowledge, traveling to the distant land of the Perytons, hoping to win an alliance for their peoples. But she arrives to find a land deserted and desolate . . . or, well, deserted except for the monsters and zombies that keep trying to eat her. Then this boy shows up, all full of attitude, saves her life then just walks away with his huge monster/pet. Obviously, Zora’s going to follow him in an attempt to get some answers. But the boy, Broxo, who boldly calls himself king of the land, either has no answers or is unwilling to offer any. Clearly, something strange is going on here, and despite being warned to leave, Zora’s not about to go without getting to the root of what’s happened here.

For first impressions, Broxo wasn’t a bad graphic novel, but it didn’t really grip me or win my affections either. It’s got a fairly contemporary graphic novel style, as opposed to a classic comic book or a manga style. The visuals work, for the most part, although I must confess that it took me a moment to realize that Zora was actually a girl. In general, the style is just kind of more “boyish” if you will, rougher lines, strong movement, that sort of thing. If this were a manga, it would be distinctly shounen. The colorization supports that same feeling, although this is definitely intentional, with dark, neutral colors being dominant in this desolate place. The characters, again, weren’t bad but didn’t particularly win me over either. Partially, this is because the reader is dumped into the story at a point where everything is happening to the characters, but you’ve got no backstory, no reason to relate to the characters, nothing. So I didn’t really feel for their situation like I should have, at least not until much later in the story. Zora and Broxo’s relations with each other were weird, too–at one point awkwardly distant, at another fighting or working alongside each other as if they’d known each other for years. I guess part of that may be intentional, since they do seem to be at that awkward age where emotions and social skills are just all over the place anyhow, but it still made their relationship kind of hard to understand. And the whole mystery thing was weird, although some of the adventure parts of the story were interesting in a shounen sort of way. So yeah, Broxo definitely isn’t my favorite graphic novel ever, but it wasn’t especially bad either. . . .

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