Tag Archives: fantasy

Fairest: The Hidden Kingdom

I’m going to start in a couple of weird places. First, a word about Amazon. I understand that it has turned into something of a flea market, like, from an observational perspective. This doesn’t bother me because I can mostly tell what I’m buying and what I’m not. I hear people talk about counterfeits, and I believe it, but I’m either okay at this or lucky, and either way, yay. I bring this up because I just saw something unpleasant while preparing for this review. The link I found for The Hidden Kingdom indicates that it’s not Prime eligible and is being sold by a third party vendor, which is fine as far as it goes, except that it also shows the notification that I bought it from this link in 2013. When it definitely was Prime eligible and being sold directly by Amazon. Is that as messed up as I think it is? It seems deeply troubling. But where else am I going to buy, well, everything except food?

Then, a word about covers. I’m not a stranger to covers of comics collections that I read being only adjacent to work safe, and it’s not especially difficult to work around it. If I happen to have time for a reading break, it’s easy to read with the cover concealed, and when I do not I can just flip it over. So I’m a little annoyed that this book shows a different issue cover on the back side, which has an equivalent amount of Rapunzel nudity, only this time a kitsune is making out with her. Not a big help guys! And then, worse: the issues in this series were both written and penciled/inked by women, but the covers of the issues… you guessed it. Brotown. (The one to-be-fair is that the kitsune makeout scene cover is basically lifted straight out of the issue in question, but that doesn’t really alleviate much of my logistical or sexist concern. I don’t like being put in the position of having to come out against nudity in art, but, damn.)

Okay. That was a lot of words about not the book I’m reading. Cool. Moving on.

And then haha I didn’t move on, I did something else and later forgot I never finished the review, and now a month has passed. Super cool.

So, uh… there’s Rapunzel, right? And she’s on a quest to revisit her past between her early days as the adopted daughter of Frau Totenkinder[1] and her current days as a refugee in Fabletown[2], insofar as a) she wants to find her missing child that has been lost to her since its birth and b) she has been summoned by the past anyway, to Japan where the Japanese-style fables implausibly ended up while fleeing the expansionist emperor guy who used to be the bad guy of the series. Because that’s a lot of where she spent her time between child loss and fleeing the empire thing. Was in the land of Japanese fables. Before they went to Japan.

I am nailing this.

Then there’s also a one-shot wherein a tree lady dates a fox. With unexpectedly ominous hints about the future!

[1] Somehow, it never crossed my mind before to look up what the “toten” part of Totenkinder means in German. That’s awesome.
[2] This is a flashback, set some years before the series opened back in Fables #1.

Fables: Cubs in Toyland

Someday, I will write a review that does not start off discussing how far behind I am and how that’s highly unlikely to change. Today is certainly not that day, in that, at the end of a week of work, I got maybe halfway through my list of tickets once, and I’m positive that a lot of them are waiting on me to do work to proceed. Which is why I never read, which is why I’m actually not very far behind, or wouldn’t be if I hadn’t been on a long drive that included finishing an audiobook. But this is not about that.

As you will no doubt remember, most of my graphic novel reading lately has been Fables, for the purpose of getting caught up to the Unwritten / Fables crossover of 2015[1], in case there are any spoilers. Which there probably won’t be anyway, but why would I voluntarily do that to myself? So now I’ve ready Cubs in Toyland, which gets me to only a year and a half behind where I need to be. Cool?

This is an interlude book for the majority of characters, since the most recent big bad remains thoroughly defeated and the traps he has set remain unsprung, and nor has any new big bad reared a head. But it is a critical book for the offspring of Bigby Wolf and Snow White. One of the seven has recently been named the new North Wind[2], and the others are at loose ends trying to figure out what they are meant to be. Which is all fine and good, until one of them is swept into a far darker version of the Babes in Toyland story than I would have expected.

It’s a good book, though, and I continue to care what happens. 18 volumes in, not counting 10 or more side books / spinoffs, that’s a pretty good record.

[1] I know. I know.
[2] Probably this is tangentially spoilery, so don’t read more if you care about that. (If you did care you’d be reading the books I expect, but.) Bigby is the son of the former North Wind, and he does not want the job, and also it is apparently a genetically inherited position. Thusly. Is the North Wind important? Man, I don’t know, but I will say that the Winds are pretty dang powerful / primal forces, even by Fable standards. So, now you know.

Night of Knives

This is where the Malazan books get logistically weird. Because, see, Erikson had a fellow gamer partner back in the early ’80s or whenever they were building this world, which is ultimately my point, that the world builder behind the Malazan books is a they. And apparently the dividing line they have drawn is that Erikson writes about the Malazan Empire in decline[1], whereas Ian Esslemont writes about the Malazan Empire in ascension. Well, he does eventually. In a trilogy written later than this one.

Night of Knives is ostensibly about the Malazan Empire on the cusp of decline. That is to say, it is about the specific night when the Emperor Kellanved (but don’t say his name, just in case) died, or was deposed, or was assassinated, or if some darker rumor about what happened is the truth. (He said, nobly avoid spoilers from Gardens of the Moon.) But I said ostensibly, because it’s really about new characters reacting to the events of those twenty-four hours on Malaz Island, birthplace of an empire turned sleepy backwater port town that nobody has cared about in decades, that night when strange things were afoot that happens every so often in the island’s mythology, that night when the realm of Shadow is closest, when the Deadhouse stirs, when everything is ripe for a Really Big Event. Such as an emperor’s fall. Or whatever happened.

So. I liked the new characters, and I hope that the five sequels to this book that are as far as I know still set on that cusp I mentioned do something interesting with them. I liked a little bit more plain talk about the history of the empire; while it’s Erikson’s strength that he throws you into the world without a life preserver and trusts you to tread water until you discover the joy of swimming, it’s his weakness that he sometimes forgets to eventually throw you a life preserver anyway, because joy doesn’t cancel tiredness[2]. Or, this was always Esslemont’s story to tell, and Erikson has simply been staying out of the way for something like half of the series. Like I said in the first place, it’s really very strange having another person play in a world-building sandbox, without it being slash turning into a farmed industry a la Star Wars.

[1] Obviously it’s not ultimately anywhere near as simple as that, but it is absolutely the launching point of the series.
[2] To my surprise, I’m still happy with that metaphor upon review.

The Lees of Laughter’s End

Well, this is incredibly annoying.

As you may or may not be aware, I am deep in the guts of a reread / relisten of the Malazan books, wherein I have audiobooks for the ones I already read once (which is four-fifths of the original ten book series) and physical books for the ones I never read before or didn’t yet get to. I am doing this by publication date, partly because researching a series chronology is potentially spoiler-laden, partly because the main series already has no truck with a strictly chronological presentation of its story, and partly because that is what the authors of the world recommend. Fine then.

Except, I just read The Lees of Laughter’s End, the second story in the three story collection of the tales of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach (a probably evil wizard/theoretical necromancer and a completely amoral (in the literal sense) eunuch/practical necromancer), only to realize when I was pulling up Amazon to find a cover picture for the standalone book that it is the third story in publication order, even though it starts off merely days or weeks after the first one, Blood Follows, ended. Which is an understandable way to order a story collection, fine, but I clearly was not paying close enough attention to what was going on when I picked up the book and just started reading on the page after I’d left off. (Notably, this would have been even more likely / harder to deal with if I’d had it in electronic form.)

So much for doing a thing right.

Anyway. I think this may be the first Malazan book I haven’t really cared for. Here are a scattershot list of reasons why.

  1. The biggest one is ironically a strength of the series. It starts off res in the media of a really bad night on a ship bound for… you know, I have no idea where they were going? I suppose I know where they ended up, but that’s in dim and distant future from now. But my point is, things start happening fast and furious, and where a book or in some cases a series can benefit from in media res storytelling because you have time to ponder and cogitate and assemble pieces of the puzzle for yourself, a novella does not afford you that luxury. By the time things started being spelled out for me, the story was nearly over and I’d spent 80% of my readthrough confused. Whereas a couple of hours out of a book, or a lot of hours out of a massive series, that’s not nearly so bad. More time to care what’s going on now that it makes sense.
  2. I also usually like a good comedy of errors, and I think I know why I didn’t like this one. The reason a comedy of errors works, structurally, is because all these horrible, blackly funny things are happening to people you care about. All of the new characters in this one, okay, I did like them a little, but I was too busy being confused (see above) to really latch onto any of them; and as for the three main characters, I like one, appreciate one, and am completely creeped out by one. This is not the recipe for a successful iteration of the genre.
  3. Right in the middle of the story, there is an inadvertent crime against one of the bit characters by one of the main characters. It was not preventable, and nobody was at fault[1]. It was exactly the kind of fluke occurrence that fits right into a comedy of errors. Only, I’m really zero percent comfortable with this particular type of crime, played for laughs probably ever, but triply so when written by a male author and where the victim is female. The more I think about it, the less sure I am that I will continue to read these offshoots. But it’s long enough between now and the previous one that I will be reading next, because sigh, that I’ll probably make another attempt. Still, though.
  4. It’s really the “for laughs” that is crushing to me, because without that tone… What worked about the first book is that it was all from the perspective of the necromancers’ manservant, Emancipoor Reese, who has a very Edd Tollett[2] outlook on life. Everything was either happening to him, or through his lens, and that kind of comedy I can get behind. This was more, look how zany and also legitimately bad but in a zany way things can get, and Reese was involved in maybe 20 percent of the events, and mostly his bits were what was good, but I just cannot with my point 3. I was wrong that the first point was the biggest problem after all.

Yeah. This is a book that is nowhere near good enough to justify how problematic it also is. It has not soured me on the original main series, but on its own merits I strongly disrecommend it, and it may well have soured me on this side series.

[1] Because magic, basically.
[2] A member of the Night Watch in GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire Series. If you get it, you get it.

Midnight Tides revisited

I feel like I have been listening to Midnight Tides for over a year, which is almost certainly not true? (I could check, but meh.) And it’s “only” 35 hours long, while the next one is 42 hours. That, frankly, is terrifying. But on the bright side, the narration is much much better than in the last book. Oh how I hope that trend continues, though early reviews I’ve read indicate not.

Anyway, I have a lot of thoughts about the book on my relisten… all of which were already covered when I first read the book, it turns out. Also, they were probably articulated much more eloquently than I’m capable of lately, which is just sad-making. Like, I think I used to be good at this? Oh well.

So, this foreshortened review will focus primarily on the Tehol and Bugg show. I’m fine with Korbal Broach and Bauchelain, and in fact that is the next book I’m reading in the series, according to publication order. (Actually reading, since I never did before.) But if Erikson were to go back in time and chuck the whole thing and just write a series of farces[1] about Tehol Beddict and his manservant, I would read those all day long.

(But this grand, sweeping tragedy is also worthwhile, I guess.)

[1] Or, ooo. Doubly so if they were all espionage farces. Where are these books??

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

A thing to know about the Fantastic Beasts sequel is, it has no sympathy if you don’t particularly remember (or especially none if you didn’t see) the first movie. This message brought to you by my attempts to penetrate the main focus of the action for about the first half of the movie.

See, there’s this guy that everyone is trying to find (Grindelwald and cronies, American and British aurors, young Dumbledore and our hero Newt) in Paris, and that was fine as far as it went, but it would have been nice to have any idea why he mattered. Eventually, I remembered dim spoilers for the previous movie that brought it into focus, but like I said, the script for The Crimes of Grindelwald did absolutely nothing to help me in that quest.

In the pros column, I enjoyed seeing the wizarding world of France, more beasts = cool, and the picture was beautiful (thanks, new 4K TV!). Also, the movie was significantly better than I expected. In the cons column, to form a real opinion, I need to rewatch it with a better idea of what’s going on the whole time, and probably to rewatch the first one right before that. Which is annoying, but not the worst thing that has ever happened.

Anyway, if you’re still into Harry Potter and especially if you liked the first movie of this… trilogy? Let’s say trilogy. Well, if those things apply to you, you already saw this, since it came out months ago. But, you were correct to do so! (And you’re welcome for the validation.)

Ship of Destiny

Considering how direly the trilogy started, I am surprised to find myself unequivocally liking the Liveship Traders trilogy better than the Farseer [Assassin] trilogy. The downside being, it will be hard to get into why without spoilers for both trilogies. So I’ll do that below the cut.

The quick and dirty here is that Ship of Destiny was a fine conclusion to a rollicking adventure of a trilogy, even if the titular scene was maybe a little contrived. I look forward to reading more books in this world, though maybe not for a year or so? I really do read them distressingly slowly.

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Aquaman

For once, my long delay in seeing a big event movie did not work against me! This is because, as nearly as I can tell, nobody else has actually seen Aquaman yet, so being a month late still gets me first out the gate. Exciting!

And a little sad, because this is probably second best of the, what, six now? DC movies that have come out. If you had asked me to predict that I would consider Aquaman a quality movie, after having considered him lamest of the lame all throughout childhood, well, that is not a prediction I would have made.

I mean, am I claiming it’s a great work of art? I am not. But it’s big, it’s bright, it’s flashy, it has an overstuffed with drama plot full of monologuing villains, lost heirs, fate of the world stakes, an (okay, this is more of a negative) overly-forced romance subplot… in short, it’s everything you want out of a comic book movie. Notably, it is not dark or grim or overwrought or in love with its visual or emotional sense of deep, unfixable misery. Y’know, not unlike the other really good DC movie.

So, yes, I did genuinely enjoy it. But even if I hadn’t, I would have probably rated it the second best DC movie regardless. Because now there’s a much smaller chance that Marvel will make a movie about the goddamned Sub-Mariner[1]. A victory for us all!

[1] Maybe that’s why I found myself actually liking Arthur Curry. Because Namor is a lot closer in tenor and attitude to King Orm than to Aquaman.

Fairest: Wide Awake

There’s another Fables series, apparently, which makes this I think the third spin-off? Fairest looks like it will be an anthology series focused on famous female fables, and I’m perfectly happy with that idea. (My first thought was, why can’t these stories just go in Fables instead, but I get that Willingham probably has some kind of master plan for where the plot is going. It has certainly been a plot-dense series to date! So I guess a spin-off is the only place to tell side stories.) At the same time… man, this is a lot of books.

That griped, Wide Awake tells the latest story of Sleeping Beauty aka Princess Briar Rose. Well, it also tells her origin story in an Arabian Nights inspired flashback sequence, and everything that happens will probably eventually bear on the main series, as will the single issue story about Beauty and the Beast that rounds out the book. ….all of which makes me wonder if a new anthology series was necessary after all, again. Probably it was? Man, I dunno. I’m glad the dude has so many ideas, but I’m still six years behind!

Fables: Werewolves of the Heartland

Werewolves of the Heartland is an untethered to specific continuity[1] side story featuring Bigby Wolf and, well, it says it right there in the title, don’t it?

See, there’s this city in Iowa fully populated by werewolves, and although that isn’t precisely why Bigby is in town, it quickly becomes the main reason. Not least (but not, I think, most either) because they’re tied into his past days murdering Nazis during World War II. Having established all of this in the first two issues, the rest of the book is how he solves the problem.

Good if: a) you really like Bigby as a character, or b) you want to see as many possible variations on werewolf boobs and dongs as you can imagine, although in this case that’s going to be approximately one example each. Tons of nude werewolves / untransformed men and women, but only one type of anatomy per sex. It was honestly distracting.

Bad if: a) you expect anything that happened to have future plot consequences or b) you don’t care for the new artist for this side project. Which I suppose I’ve already alluded to above, but the uniformity of figure drawing from the neck down was not the only thing I took issue with. These are crude representations, as a stylistic choice rather than a lack of talent I’m sure, but man is it not my style. Oh, or c) if you are reading the book in public, say at the DMV while trying to get your vanity plates transferred to your new car. Because, damn that’s a lot of boobs and dongs.

[1] Okay, it falls under the third full plot in the series, which is arguably over now but may just be winding down instead; too soon to tell, but it could be placed anywhere in that multiple book region[2].
[2] Real life timing wise, it is around 2012, which resulted in a funny (to me and maybe three other people) reference to the ABC show Once Upon a Time.