Tag Archives: fantasy

Tempests and Slaughter

Author: Tamora Pierce

The Numair Chronicles, vol. 1

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Arram Draper is one of the youngest students at the Imperial University of Carthak, sent there by his family to hone his Gift–before he accidentally burns up everything they own! It swiftly becomes clear that his Gift is special, powerful, enough so that he rises quickly through his classes to get special training with advanced teachers, along with his best friends Varice and Prince Ozorne. As if being friends with a prince didn’t come with enough complications on its own. Not to mention the problems Arram gets into once he gains the attention of various gods and other supernatural beings. It’s pretty clear that he will never really fit in, not that he really wants to, but as Arram experiences more of the troubles facing Carthak–the threats to the Imperial succession, the horrific place that slavery and gladiatorial entertainment play in the nation–he finds himself more convinced than ever that he can’t stay in this country, even if it means leaving the people who mean the most to him.

I love Tamora Pierce’s writing, always. And Numair has been a favorite character of mine in her books for quite a while now, so it’s pretty cool getting to go back and get his backstory. Having said that, in the past, I’ve always watched characters grow up into legends in her books, so it’s a bit weird to know the legend first and then go back to that character’s childhood. (He even has a different name as a kid, although we’re already introduced to that fact in some of Pierce’s other Tortall books.) It works though, and I feel like his character is consistent while allowing room for his growth into the adult Numair that we know and love. It’s neat to get a look closer look at Carthak, and at this time period in this world’s history, too, since most of the stories we get are set in Tortall and are a bit later chronologically. As far as the general storytelling, if you like Pierce’s writing, you’ll like this. It’s solid, engaging, character-driven fantasy writing with an easy, gradual pacing, lots of character development, and a unified plot. Lots of room for development in future volumes, too. At its core, Tempests and Slaughter is a school story, so a lot of it revolves around Arram’s classes, teachers, and friendships, as well as a bit throughout about the physical and emotional changes he goes through during this time and the complications of handling that without a real father figure around to talk about it with. So, warnings that there may be some content that’s a bit old for elementary/middle-grade kids . . . okay, considering the exposure Arram has to the gladiator’s ring in later parts, I’d make that a definitely. Recommended for high-school and up, but definitely recommended.

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Supernatural (2005- TV Series)

The CW

Status: Ongoing (13 Seasons)

My rating: 5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience/rated TV-14

Two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, travel the country in the 1967 Impala that is more home to them than any building has ever had the chance to be. They start out searching for their father who has disappeared while hunting the demon that killed their mother years ago. Along the way, Sam and Dean hunt as well–fighting monsters, ghosts, demons, the stuff of nightmares, and saving people from horrors they can’t even imagine. Sometimes their efforts go utterly unnoticed; other times, they meet incredible people who help them on their journey. Regardless, they always have each other, except for those rare, horrible times when they just don’t. And somewhere along the line, hunting simply becomes who they are–it’s no longer just a revenge mission or a search for their father. Sam and Dean are, quite simply, hunters; they save people, they save the world. A lot.

I’ve put off reviewing Supernatural for, like, 2 years now because I love it so very much, and I know I can never do it justice in a review. So know that first, before I delve into details; this show has my heart in a crazy way that almost no other story ever has, and it has continued to consistently for years now. I couldn’t say exactly what makes this show so incredible, largely because it’s a lot of little, subtle things combined. I love the characters, first and foremost. Jensen and Jared do such an amazing job of getting in their characters’ heads and of portraying them deeply and transparently, as do the immense number of wonderful guest cast members. So much so that, although this is at times a monster-of-the-week kind of show (much less so as you get to later seasons), it manages to be highly character driven. The characters grow and experience a lot of internal conflict over the course of the series as well, which is another thing I love–the show evolves as it goes, so that just when you think they’ve done it all (I mean seriously, we hit the biblical apocalypse in season 5) you find yourself seeing things afresh, finding new frontiers. And the writers do such a great job keeping the balance between all the angst (and yes, here there be angst) with family support and outright humor (e.g., recently in the midst of this big series of episodes focusing on busting into an alternate dimension to save family members–lots of angst and tension–we get a random crossover with Scooby Do that, while darker than typical for the cartoon, is brimming with laughs and fun as well). I guess what I’m trying to say is that Supernatural somehow manages to be a lot more than hot guys fighting scary monsters and saving the world, although yes, it’s definitely that. It’s family and understanding and acceptance and so many things that I long to see more of, and I highly recommend this show.

Created by Eric Kripke/Starring Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles, Katie Cassidy, Lauren Cohan, Misha Collins, Mark A. Sheppard, Mark Pellegrino, & Alexander Calvert/Music by Jay Gruska & Christopher Lennertz

 

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Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer (1984 Anime Movie)

Kitty Films & Toho

My rating: 3.5 of 5

The kids at Tomobiki High School are all gearing up for the cultural festival, preparing shops, fitting costumes, and getting into their usual hijinks. They’ve been so busy, they’ve even been staying overnight at the school! But wait . . . how long have they actually been working on this? Once they start paying attention, more and more things don’t add up. Parents don’t answer the phones at home. When a staff member goes home, he finds the place covered in layer upon layer of dust. When the students go out of the school grounds, they find the city oddly deserted . . . and find themselves mysteriously re-routed back to the school. Someone should probably freak out or do something, right? But it’s kind of fun just hanging out together without a lot of responsibilities, isn’t it?

Beautiful Dreamer was just recently re-released in a beautiful collector’s edition, making this classic film once again readily available to the general viewer. Not being particularly familiar with Mamoru Oshii’s directing work, I can’t specifically comment on how this movie compares to his other work; however, I have heard others say that this is an excellent example of his early work, for those of you who are interested in that. The animation and story content do certainly show the age of the movie to a certain extent, while still being pleasant and enjoyable. For those who have watched or read Rumiko Takahashi’s Urusei Yatsura, I think Beautiful Dreamer will definitely strike a chord. While somewhat dated, the art is also undeniably classic Takahashi, giving it a timeless quality that is quite endearing. The story is classic for the series as well, full of hijinks and strange, unexplainable occurrences galore. Also, Ataru chasing girls and Lum shocking him for it. There’s actually a nice focus on a large number of classic cast members, which is fun. But this movie also manages to be more pensive, to delve into Lum’s mindset and Ataru’s relationship with her . . . it’s just generally a bit more thoughtful and philosophical than the rest of the series. Surprisingly, it works well and I found the movie to be enjoyable. Fair warning, those unfamiliar with the series would probably have a difficult time jumping directly into this movie, but for those who have enjoyed Urusei Yatsura in the past, I think Beautiful Dreamer would be a nostalgic and amusing choice.

Written and Directed by Mamoru Oshii/Produced by Hidenori Taga/Based on Urusei Yatsura by Rumiko Takahashi/Music by Masaru Hoshi/Voice Acting by Fumi Hirano, Toshio Furukawa, Akira Kamiya, Kazuko Sugiyama, Saeko Shimazu, Machiko Washio, Mayumi Tanaka, Shigeru Chiba, Akira Murayama, Shinji Nomura, Issei Futamata, Kenichi Ogata, Natsumi Sakuma, Michihiro Ikemizu, Masahiro Anzai, Tomomichi Nishimura, Ichirō Nagai, & Takuya Fujioka

 

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EXPIRED | Double Deal Alert: Super Nebula Author Showcase 2018 Humble Bundle & Humble Store Spring Sale

In honor of the upcoming 2018 Nebula Awards, Humble Bundle is offering a rather brilliant selection of fabulous (including numerous award-winning) titles in speculative fiction, fantasy, and science fiction. We’ve got previous Nebula winners, Hugo Award winners, Philip K. Dick Award winners, and World Fantasy Award winners. There are a few repeats from previous humble bundles, yes, but there are a lot more titles that I haven’t seen featured here before, including a couple of Jane Yolen novels I’ve been planning to get which, personally, make the bundle worth it in their own right. If you’re interested, you can find out more here.

In other news, Humble Store is having their big spring sale, which means lots of great games at deep discounts. Seriously, some of this stuff is up to 90% off right now. I found Hakuouki: Kyoto Winds for $8.99! Plus, there are some free games thrown in if you spend certain amounts. Again, if interested, check out the Humble Store at https://www.humblebundle.com/store.

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EXPIRED | Deal Alert: Classic Sci-Fi/Fantasy Book & Audiobook Humble Bundle

Humble Bundle is currently offering a selection of SF/Fantasy books in both e-book and audiobook formats that looks pretty interesting. Some of them are the same books; others are only offered in either book or audiobook format. Included are authors such as Bruce Coville, Tanith Lee, Tamora Pierce, Kenneth Oppel, Alfred Bester, and Robert Zelazny–as well as a really random-looking Jo Nesbø. Although I’m not much of an audiobook person myself (audio dramas are another thing entirely); however, there are some pretty great looking titles here if you do like audiobooks, including a few Tamora Pierce books and Oppel’s Starclimber. If you’re interested, you can find this bundle here.

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Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (2016-2017 TV Series)

BBC America

Status: Complete (2 Seasons/18 Episodes)

My rating: 4 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience/rated TV-14

“Have you noticed an acceleration of strangeness in your life of late?” It’s an odd question to be coming from the man who just forced his way through the window into your flat then had the audacity to be affronted when you’re upset by his presence. And yet, for Todd Brotzman, it’s an oddly apt one as his life has abruptly gone from one of inane consistency to a flurry of strangeness, ending with himself unemployed, a person of interest in a frankly impossible murder case, and, oh yeah, with an odd man in a yellow jacket climbing through his window. And the fun is just beginning.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is one of those shows that is absolutely brilliant . . . as long as you have the patience to deal with the utter absurdity of it. The WTF-factor is huge here, with weird happenings and an accumulation of strange coincidences that all happen to connect somehow just piling on en masse. But the story has a way of rewarding viewers who stick around for the weirdness, bringing everything together in the end to make an odd sort of sense. The characters are well written, brilliantly cast, and quite interesting. Moreover, they’re relatable, perhaps more than most any characters in a TV show I’ve ever encountered. Seriously, they’re so utterly not pulled together, and it’s actually endearing and affirming to see them going about their lives, trying to make things work, while sometimes not having a clue and being so ridden with doubt and guilt. They’re very human in the midst of something that’s completely strange, paranormal even. Which isn’t to say that all the characters are normal–I would say that Dirk himself, as well as all the other Black Wing subjects, are extremely odd in their mannerisms and their way of interacting with the world, the whole “holistic” leaf-on-the-wind thing. But they make for fabulous characters. I feel like the filming is visually rewarding as well–case in point the very beginning of the first season, where we go from close-ups of Dirk’s face (too close to actually identify him immediately) to an impossibly violent and improbably crime scene to a kitten in rapid progression. Or the beginning of the second season, where we are confronted with a fantasy setting, complete with a pink-haired prince and giant scissors wielded as swords (I was almost convinced this was a preview for another show at first, it was so strange!). Seriously, though, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is one of those shows that definitely isn’t for everyone, but if you’re willing to be patient with the weirdness, it’s oddly rewarding.

Created by Max Landis/Based on Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
by Douglas Adams/Starring Samuel Barnett, Elijah Wood, Hannah Marks, Fiona Dourif, Jade Eshete, Mpho Koaho, Michael Eklund, Dustin Milligan, Osiric Chau/Music by Cristobal Tapia de Veer & The Newton Brothers

 

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Happily

Author: Chauncey Rogers

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Laure hates Éclatant; she can’t wait to get away, just as soon as she can manage to come by (read “steal”) enough money to afford the journey. Seriously, the royalty here are either mad or idiots. Just look at this latest debacle–the prince dances with a girl at a masked party, falls madly in love, the girl disappears, and the prince can’t seem to remember her name or any defining features. But rather than do the reasonable thing and take the girl’s disappearance to mean that she’s just not that into the prince, the king issues a decree: the girl left behind a glass shoe, and whatever girl can be found to fit the shoe will be legally declared to be the girl the prince fell in love with at the party (whether she actually is or not) and will wed the prince. Pure absurdity! But . . . there may be a way Laure can use this to her advantage, if her newly-found concern for her mark-cum-traveling-companion Luc doesn’t get in the way.

What a delightful take on the classic Cinderella story this is! Rather than getting Cinderella’s view at all, we are presented with quite a different, er, well, heroine seems to be stretching it a bit, but she grows into the role rather. Laure is sassy, crabby–and open about it. She’s a girl who once knew a happy home but who lost it long ago, and it shows in the way she’s isolated herself from all close connections, living on her wits and making do as best she can. It’s actually quite vicariously liberating to read from the perspective of such an openly ornery character; she’s rather a delight. Moreover, it’s great to see the way that she grows and changes as a person through her time with Luc and the events that unfold; there’s some huge character development going on there. And the writing itself is just lovely–comfortable to read, humorous, vibrant, and rich. I was very impressed with the story, would certainly recommend it, and am looking forward to trying some of the author’s other books.

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

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