Kushiel’s Dart

Title: Kushiel’s Dart

Author: Jacqueline Carey

Genre: Epic Historical Fantasy

Length: 912 pages, 315,000 words!

Read: June, 2011

Summary: Long, overdone, but intriguing

ANY CHARACTER HERE

This book itself as Fantasy, but it’s certainly not your typical one. Really it’s a sort of reinterpreted epic (and I mean long) historical romance — without much of the modern sense of romance (almost none). But it does have plenty of the traditional, more atmospheric form.

This is a flowery first person narrative about a slave girl brought up as a sort of high end courtesan who gets involved — very involved — in politics. I’m going to try and break down and discuss various elements of the work.

It’s worth noting the tremendous length. The book is 900+ pages and feels it. I enjoyed it, but it’s like four novels glued together. This lends it a decidedly Gone with the Wind effect. Just when you think it should be over (except for the fact that you have 650 pages to go!) everything switches up and it moves on to a new stage. This happens several times.

First the setting. With the exception of a bit of prophecy and one large scale pseudo divinity (the Master of Straights) at about the 85% mark this novel really has no magic. And in fact, is actually a sort of disguised work of Historical Fiction. The Fantasy is more the invented nature of the tale than any actual magic. As best as I can tell the whole thing is more or less set in a reinvented thirteenth or fourteenth century France. It felt late medeval or early Renaissance. At times I wondered if it even had overtones of Carolingian (ninth century France). The names of the places and faiths are all changed, but in a recognizable way for those of us who know our European history. Rome is “Tiberium,” Spain “Aragonia,” the Germanic tribes the “Skaldi.” Carey does a good job of this, and her grasp for the flavor and cultures of Europe between the fall of Rome and the modern era extremely solid. The central nation of the novel feels both troubadour French and even a little Late Venetian Republic at times. There are plenty of deviations from real history. First an foremost the loosey goosey religious situation (as opposed to the dogmatic Catholic church). The religions have been reinterpreted and the nation founded by what appears to be an interesting mating of Jesus and Dionysus. An intriguing (and Romantic) mythical entity who was also followed around by a bunch of demi-god disciples who seeded various schools or bloodlines. Overall, the setting was probably my favorite part of the novel.

The voice. At first I loved the voice. Yeah it’s flowery. Girly. Really girly. And full of words that the Kindle dictionary informed me were “archaic” or just chosen for plain weighty flavor. Words like “limned” or “ague.” The sentences have an unusual and formal structure. There is a LOT of reppetition. This began to wear on me. Carey reminds you like 50 times who everyone and everything is, which considering the vast cast of characters and the incredibly complex political situation might be necessary for those that don’t have a semi-photographic memory or an obsessive knowledge of European history. The narrative is first person, and told from some unspecified far future point in Phedre’s (the protagonist) life. It’s the antithesis in many ways of my own voice, as it’s really really really heavy on the TELL and fairly light on the SHOW. Carey loves to insinuate before the action (when it occasionally occurs, separated by many many pages, but often enough given the titanic length of the book) that things won’t turn out as planned, or that something bad is about to happen. Lots and lots of stuff is done with narrative summary. I myself try to set everything in scene and tell it as it happens in a more hard boiled style, more like the Maltese Falcon or the Big Sleep, even if the subject matter is very different. Carey chooses a more sentimental approach. But at the same time I found the voice very distancing. A lot of this is the feeling that it is written looking back on events, which removes a lot of the tension inherent in the action. The rest is probably the TELL factor.

I liked the whole sex-slave-girl-bondage-courtesan angle. But Phedre is a little too good at just about everything other than pure agressive bravery, and she has her constant companion the warrior-monk for that. While bad things do happen to her, she pretty much flawlessly reads every situation and is titanically lucky / unnaturally talented. I still kinda liked her. And the fact that she has a lot of edgy sex is good. The book alternates between graphic and evasive in this realm, which ends up being more teasing than satisfying. Still, I guess normal people might find it dark.

Now the overall affect of this novel is pretty good. It starts off great. But it sometimes bogs under volumes of political talk I found excessive – and I read multivolume political histories for pleasure! Some of the sub-adventures (like Phedre’s time as a Skaldi slave) are really good and there are lots of varied settings, cultures, and characters. I also really enjoyed the depth of world building and the alternate but very “realistic” religious mythos. But…

There is absolutely no psychological realism to any of the characters, our protagonist included. The central condition of Phedre’s nature is supposed to be that she finds pain and suffering intrinsically hot. Even this isn’t really handled totally consistently. The rest of the people — while interesting and possessed of different traits — merely serve the story or the need to roster out a bunch of interesting types. The don’t feel exactly cardboardy, as they are detailed, but unlike the completely brilliant Game of Thrones, there is no fundamental relationship between the different nature of different personalities, their situations, and the decisions they make and the consequences those decisions bring.

In the end, I found the way in which things just sort of grandly worked out for Phedre tedious. The big war at the end is complex, but summarized, and the wrap up phase of the story nearly 100 pages. Carey also just loves to throw in grand and sumptuousness just for it’s own sake, which at the beginning felt lush, but by the time Phedre has dressed in 62 elegant gowns a bit much.

Still, I kind of liked the book, if only for its world and its very creative reinterpretation of medeval/renaissance fantasy. At times it reminded me of Guy Gavriel Kay, but his works felt somehow a bit more connected to place and certainly more emotional.

For more book reviews, click here.

Movie Review: Thor

Title: Thor

Director/Stars: Chris Hemsworth (Actor), Natalie Portman (Actor), Kenneth Branagh (Director)

Genre: Comic-book Action

Read: May 9, 2011

Summary: Weird.

ANY CHARACTER HERE

Other than Marvel’s apparent desire to pull a kind of cinematic equivalent of the 1980s “Secret Wars” there really aren’t a lot of reasons why this movie needed making. It’s actually kind of bizarre, and I can’t really imagine that the Thor (as in comic) audience is immense. Although maybe I’m wrong. But I’m going to comment on it both a writer/viewer and as a historian of the mythological. Despite being a big Marvel fan in the 80s, I never read Thor itself.

It’s competently cast. Everyone plays their roles as they should, and it’s actually a kinda fun movie to watch, particularly the parts with Thor in the “real world.” This is reminiscent of the scenes in Superman 2 where General Zod kicks ass in that town after arriving on earth.

But notice I say “the parts in the real world.” Because a good percentage, at least half, of Thor takes place off in the strange CGI worlds of Asgard and Jotunheim. After a two-second intro with Natalie Portman (hot but wasted) on Earth we are instantly transported into a giant backstory tour of these bizarre places, complete with voiceover by Anthony Hopkins as “all-father Odin.” There is no attempt to fit this information naturally into the narrative, just a ginormous CGI info-dump. The whole mythology has my head spinning, and I love mythologies. It certainly borrows liberally from cookie-cutter components of Norse myth, but its more like Stan Lee learned what he needed to know from Deities and Demigods (a favorite book of mine circa 1982!). I’m still coming to terms with the weirdness of fusing Norse myth and some kind of alien outer space cosmology. I’m not even really sure which it was supposed to be. Are they aliens that mankind interpreted as gods (most probably) or actually just gods?

There is a lot of cool looking stuff, but there is certainly no attempt to capture the nature of ancient polytheistic deity where gods ARE/EMBODY/SUBSUME multiple aspects of natural and physiological phenomenons. Not that I expected this. Still, one can always hope. There are occasionally masterpieces like Pan’s Labyrinth.

Well in any case, while the imagery is kinda like Valhalla meets Star Wars episode 3 cityscape, the whole Asgardian world just doesn’t make any sense. These like super immortal aliens lounge around with their dark age Viking stylings. And they love hand to hand combat. At least they mostly have beards (HISS directed at films about clean-shaven Ancient Greek men). The action in Asgard/Jotunheim also suffers from the way too much CGI factor, particularly the parts on Jotunheim where the five heroic actors are the only non computer elements. The giant legion of frost giants and the bigass ice-troll creature had that weightless feel. Not as bad as in a repulsive pile of excrement like Van Helsing (the film), but bad.

Still, along with the competent casting we do have competent – albiet uninspired — writing. The film, despite the INCREDIBLY weird mythology, is watchable and makes complete sense when taken at a scene by scene level. This is far far more than I can say of a turd like the aforementioned Van Helsing or various Michael Bey type movies. Maybe it stems from the odd choice of Kenneth Branagh as director (he must have needed to refresh his bank account). In Thor, the characters and their relationships are perfunctory, but they do have a kind of (cinematic) clarity. This basically made it fairly enjoyable. And to tell the truth, if they had built the whole film out of Thor on Earth, focusing on his relationship with the underused Ms. Portman, it could have been a good film.

Instead it was interesting, in a weird crazy mythological way.

If you’re curious about some real myth, check out Satyr plays!

Game of Thrones – Episode 4

Title: Game of Thrones

Genre: Historical Fantasy

Watched: Episode 4 – May 8, 2011

Status: First Season now airing on HBO

Summary: Amazing!

ANY CHARACTER HERE

With Episode 4,  “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things,” the enormous narrative of Game of Thrones begins to pick up speed. Still, it’s amazing how much time this show needs to spend on characterization, which is a tribute to the enormous depth of such in the source material. Even streamlined, there’s just such a ridiculous number of interesting characters, each with their own pathetic stories.

The episode introduces Sam (fan fave from the books), Gendry, the Mountain that Rides, the annoying Bard, Bronn, Janos Slynt, Hodor, and even briefly shows Ghost (where’s he been hiding?). But it’s also packed with bits enhancing existing characters, big and small. One of my favorites is Littlefinger’s grim tale of the Mountain and the Hound’s “boyish games.” Good stuff, although by moving it the story from the Hound himself to Littlefinger, I wonder if the former’s complex character won’t be diluted — not to mention his peculiar but important relationship with Sansa.

The four main threads of the story continue to advance: Jon at the Wall, Dany with the horselords, Tyrion making his way home, and the central focus of Ned and the girls at King’s Landing. The first and the last are dominant here, getting 80-90% of the time. Perhaps because of it’s more contained scope, Jon’s story is the most complete, setting up camaraderie and threat in the Realms bleakest and most northern castle.

In Ned’s world, the plotting and complexities are starting to heat up even further in, and Arya — as usual — steals her one major scene.

For other fans of N and V (something I this show has plenty of), we have a great scene with sexy slave girl in the bathtub and a bit of jousting lance to the jugular.

And after last weeks less dramatic, but atmospheric ending, Episode 4 is back to a serious pivot. Cat’s little speech in the Inn was something I loved in the books, and it’s well done here too. I can’t wait to see the Eerie, which I suspect will be episode 6.

Reviews of previous episodes: [ Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3 ]

or here for Episode 5.

Click here for some trailers for and about the series.

Or find out about my own fantasy novel, The Darkening Dream.

The Sopranos – Season 1

Title: The Sopranos- season 1

Genre: Comedy / Drama

Stars: James Gandolfini (Actor), Lorraine Bracco (Actor), Alan Taylor (Director), Allen Coulter (Director)

Watched: First season: April 20-28, 2011

Status: Six seasons, series finished

Summary: The HBO missing link

ANY CHARACTER HERE

For whatever reason The Sopranos remained the only real HBO drama that I hadn’t seen. I’ve been a huge  HBO original programming fan as far back as Dream On, but I just never got around to Tony and crew.

Until now.

It’s interesting to see it after the fact, after having watched Rome, Deadwood, Six Feet Under, Carnivale, True Blood, The Wire, Big Love, Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, etc. This is an intermediate stage in the development of today’s long form visual medium. The Sopranos, like all HBO dramas, is very well written. Where it shines is in character building. Not development per se, but in the creation of unique and interesting personalities. The casting is spot on and nearly every member shines as distinctive and amusing individuals. But inherently, this is a recipe HBO has really mastered, blending casting, writing, and acting to make seamless characters.

It isn’t (in this first season) as well plotted as some of its sucessor shows. Less happens, and the events are a bit less dramatic. This isn’t to say that nothing’s going on, but we don’t have the momentous and shocking events every fifteen minutes that are the hallmark of the mid 2000s shows. I suspect later seasons may grow into this. The net net of this was that I wasn’t quite as riveted by the events, and certain subplots dragged, but the characters certainly kept me watching.

There is something to note here, which is the odd dichotomy of the like-ability of most of the cast and their “trade” as cold and murderous mobsters. The show strikes a slightly comic and not entirely realistic tone with regard to this, making it easier to disregard the violence and keep on liking them. And like them I certainly did, particularly Tony. James Gandolfini shines in this role, nailing his particular brand of goomba charisma. His mother is perfect too (although fun to hate) as the manipulative bitch that she is.

I was also a bit ambivalent about the central premise of the mafia boss in psychotherapy. Although I did like the shrink, and I liked the amusing way in which Tony would sometimes describe a happening in mild mannered terms while the visuals showed it “the way it really was.” I often enjoy this this sort of humor. At times the overall conceit felt a little forced, but it basically works.

So I’ll start in on season 2, particularly as I’ve heard the series only gets better.

For my review of season 2, see here.

Check out my review of Game of Thrones.

Shameless

Title: Shameless

Genre: Comedy / Drama

Stars: William H. Macy (Actor), Emmy Rossum (Actor)

Watched: April 8-12, 2011

Status: First Season

Summary: A guilty pleasure

 

Shameless is Showtime’s latest entry in the “edgy comedy” category, a slot they’re fond of (Weeds, Dexter). In any case, Shameless is an American remake of a British show, and centers around a working class Chicago family with an extraordinarily bad and alcoholic father named Frank (William H. Macy) and a bevy of often delinquent children and associated hangers on.

While Macy is great, nicely straddling the line between likable and incorrigible, the show is anchored by oldest daughter and effective mom Fiona (Emmy Rossum). I never noticed her before (she had minor roles in a couple movies I’ve seen), but she’s fantastic in this role. She brings to the table a wining hand of tough, sexy, vulnerable, and sheer chutzpah.

Tone wise, this show is much like Weeds in that it mixes (attempted) social satire with the ridiculously scandalous and the sketchy. This blending of comedy with the truly unwholesome seems to be more and more popular, but it first knocked itself on my consciousness in the mid 90s with Reese Witherspoon‘s Freeway. I mean in Shameless we’re talking baby-napping, highly inappropriate sex, “borrowing” the elderly, all sorts of fraud, at least 4 or 5 different portrayals of male backdoor action, blow jobs under the kitchen table, some really really bad parenting, and I’m just getting started. But the show tries to wash down this heavy stuff with a big tongue in cheek and a medium dose of Guy Ritchie-style cinematography.

It’s a pretty titillating show too — like watching a sexy train-wreck with lots of nudity.

And overall I think it succeeds, and succeeds well, not so much because it’s funny — it is — but because it manages to make us care about the characters. This is a complex tonal balance, and the season finale isn’t perfect, but despite all the unrealism, and the unbelievable (and unacceptable) stuff spun with a comic touch, there remains a realistic feel to the people. I found myself glued, pounding through the season in 3-4 episode-at-a-time video-on-demand bindges. While the players’ actions may at times be comic, their emotional response is not.

Back to the Future Part II

Title: Back to the Future Part 2

Director/Stars: Michael J. Fox (Actor), Christopher Lloyd (Actor), Robert Zemeckis (Director)

Genre: Time Travel Comedy

Year: 1989

Watched: March 30, 2011

Summary: Lots of time travel, and fun!

 

Following up on such a gem of a movie as 1985′s Back to the Future (my review here) must have been a daunting task. And it occasioned part II and part III being filmed together, and released only 6 months apart. As far as I know this was the first time this kind of joint production was ever done.

In any case, I always liked part II, particularly since it has the most time travel of the three, and certainly the most complex examination of the basic principle of time manipulation. It starts with a literal repeat of the last 3 minutes of BTTF (although they must have reshot some of it because they inexplicably replace Claudia Wells with Elisabeth Shue as the girlfriend — not that this lame duck role matters. They then pop into 2015, where Hilldale Ca is both the same and very different. The technological inovations proposed are pretty amusing, and most of them still haven’t happened in 2011. Again, where’s my hoverboard? But they missed a few things — like the cel phone, or the death of the fax machine.

Anyway, while avoiding paradox, and just having run with the same cast of actors playing different ages, characters, (and genders), Biff manages to steal the time machine, bring it back to 1955, and give himself a sports almanac. Then he inexplicably brings the DeLorean back to the good guys. Go figure! When they travel back to 1985 they find Biff’s nefarious influence has trashed the entire town and made a blade runner-esque hell of the place. There are some good moments here again paralleling the now standard running jokes with each character. Marty waking up to versions of his mother. The principal as bad ass with an axe to grind, etc.

Once they figure out how all this mess got rolling, back to 1955 they go to sort it out. This involves a parallel track recreation of the first movie’s main events without disturbing these. This is great fun, revisiting the “Enchantment Under the Sea” dance from a different perspective. As far as I know, this is the benchmark scene for a two-pass time travel-type scenario. The car chase at the end however, is a bit tedious. And why, may we ask, is it possible for Marty to call doc on a walkie-talkie from the back of Biff’s convertible, while Biff is about 2 feet away in the front seat? I don’t know about you, but when I’m alone in a car and someone has a conversation in the back seat, I generally notice.

The film ends with an awesome setup for the third part. I love the Western Union bit. But watching all three back to back as I did, I could have lived without ALL THREE movies replaying the footage of the Doc at the clock-tower.

These problems aside the movie is great fun. Other reviewers seem to find the time travel antics byzantine in this outing, but this is exactly what I loved about this film. At least it dares to create an alternate present, and then undo it. True there are a few moments where the cast has to answer audience questions in near straight exposition. For example, when Marty and Doc head from messed-up 1985 to 1955, but leave Jennifer (the useless Elisabeth Shue) behind, Marty has to ask why, and Doc launches into a whole explanation about how the time continuum will fix itself around them.

Again the technical transfer on the new blu-ray versions is awesome. This was always a slick film, with the future scenes in particular filled with fun effects. It holds up perfectly well. There is the occasional shot where the rotoscoping is obvious (compositing has gotten a lot better in the 22 years, Cliffhanger being, I think, the first film to use the new digital compositing). But these minor issues don’t date the film at all. Now if only they wrote a better part III.

Check out the Back to the Future Part I review here.

Or, coming soon, a review of part III.

For more 80s films, About Last NightBetter Off Dead, or The Sure Thing.

Back to the Future

Title: Back to the Future

Director/Stars: Michael J. Fox (Actor), Adrian Paul (Actor), Christopher Lloyd (Actor), Robert Zemeckis (Director)

Genre: Time Travel Comedy

Year: 1985

Watched: March 29, 2011

Summary: Still a jewel box of a script.

 

Because my second novel is about time travel, I’ve been trying to read and watch (or re-watch) as many time travel books and films as I can (not that I haven’t previously mined the genre). Although I’ve probably seen BTTF 15 times, it’s been a  few years, more than 10 for sure.

I bought the new blu-ray Anniversary Trilogy too. This is a NICE restoration. The film looks as good as it did when I saw it right after getting back from summer camp in 1985, maybe better. And this was a slick slick film at the time. Really, other than a bit of noticeable rotoscoping, it could be a 2011 film.

Except it’s a lot better. The script and the editing make sense!

Because this is a few years before Top Gun would precipitate the precipitous marketing-driven decline of filmmaking, BTTF is simultaneously incredibly commercial and incredibly good. This script, by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, is tight tight tight. I can only imagine how many passes it underwent because there is not one line out of place. You all know the story, but if you watch it again pay attention to how in the first 5 minutes everything you need to know is setup. Marty’s parents met in 1955 when Grandpa hit George McFly was his car (“We never did understand what he was doing on that road anyway.” Lorraine says). They go to the “Enchantment under the Sea Dance.” That same year Doc Brown got the idea for the time machine. Libyans have stolen some plutonium, it’s under Doc’s bed. In the next 5 minutes Doc teaches us everything we need to know about the time machine. Bang bang, all the ducks are lined up.

Then all this setup pays off over the next hour and a half. Every line. When we see that George McFly is in the road because he was a peeping tom and falls out of the tree, it’s oh so much funnier knowing that this is how he met his wife. And knowing that, when Marty screws up that meeting… changes are set in motion. Changes he has to fix. The parallelism between the present (1985) and past (1955) are contrived and slapstick but a joy to watch. We here about Uncle Joey in jail in the present, we get the “get used to that view” wisecrack about baby Joey behind the crib bars. We’re used to it now, we’ve seen it a lot of times, but this is a clever clever script.

And the casting couldn’t be better. For this kind of lovable goofball, Michael J. Fox is deservedly beloved. Christopher Lloyd steals the show with his over the top Doc (“Thank God I’ve still got my hair!”). Lea Thompson is a babe as Marty’s mom. Great writing great acting, what more could we want? And we have top notch production, music, and effects too. None of it looks dated on blu-ray.

Very interesting now, 25 years later, realizing that the 1985 of the story is almost as far back in time now as the 1955 was then. And 1955, that’s 56 years ago! Wow. So in a way, that adds an extra time travel jump to the whole thing. Which gets even more amusing when we pick up again with Back to the Future II and it’s 2015 setting!

LOL Where are the hoverboards?

For my review of part II, click here.

For more 80s reviews of mine, check out About Last Night, Better Off Dead, or The Sure Thing.

About Last Night

Title: About Last Night

Director/Stars: Rob Lowe (Actor), Demi Moore (Actor), Edward Zwick (Director)

Genre: Romantic Comedy (R!)

Year: 1986

Watched: March 27, 2011

Summary: Holds up brilliantly.

 

I’ve always loved this movie. Perhaps I’m a romantic at heart. Perhaps it’s the David Mamet dialogue, or maybe Demi’s just hot. I’ve probably seen it 5-6 times, but not in the last 20 years. Although I still have the laserdisk somewhere. In any case, it’s out on blu-ray now, so being on my 80s kick I figured I’d see how it held up.

Perfectly.

The crisp blu-ray transfer helped, taking out the sometimes distracting poor color and funny old film grain legacy of old videotape transfers. But I got to remember what I liked so much about the film. And not just Demi’s nipples. First of all, there is the fact that this is an R-rated romantic comedy. How many others even exist? It’s sexy, the dialogue is raunchy and funny. Brilliant in fact. Particularly as delivered by James Belushi‘s over the top performance as the sexist best friend, or Elizabeth Perkins going toe to toe in bitchy counterpoint (made all the more amusing by having seen her in Weeds).

The most important thing about this film is the pitch perfect ebb and flow of the relationship between the two leads. It’s not the relationship everyone might have had, but it’s an accurate one. They feel like solidly real people. So in some ways, fairly unique among Romantic Comedies, there is truth here. Not every truth, but a specific one nonetheless. The film also has the audacity to cover nearly a year, and do it well, giving the rise and fall and then maybe rise again of this couple some actual weight and believability. You feel like they’ve changed and there’s been passage of time. Far too many films in the genre feel like about three dates, where the writers, not the characters, are building the relationship.

I loved the 80s outfits too. The Reboks, the sweaters and baggy shirts tied with belts, the high hip jeans. Sure they look silly, but… It’s also interesting to note the subtle culture changes that 25 years have wrought. The guy characters are allowed to be guys (and sexist) in ways that would be avoided today. I don’t really think men have changed, but Hollywood has.

Tithe – A Modern Faerie Tale

Title: Tithe – A Modern Faerie Tale

Author: Holly Black

Genre: Paranormal YA

Length: 66,000 words, 310 pages

Read: March 13, 2011

Summary: Well written and evocative.

 

This is the second Holly Black book I’ve read. I enjoyed White Cat (REVIEW HERE) a lot and so I went back to read her debut novel. And liked it even more.

The similarities are striking. Both are short YA books, with nice prose and likable main characters thrown into ‘weird’ paranormal situations. Both have the action so condensed as to occasionally be confusing. Both wrap themselves up in the last quarter in a way that compromises the believability of the secondary characters. Both have unhappy but not completely tragic endings. While White Cat’s premise is perhaps a tad more original, I found Tithe‘s creepy fairy flavor more to my taste. Not that I didn’t like the first, but I really liked certain things about the second.

Tithe is written in third person past, with the protagonist Kaye dominating the POV. Mysteriously, approximately 5-10% is from the point of view of her friend Corny, and about 2% from the romantic interest. These outside POVs felt wrong, and at least in the Kindle version, no scene or chapter breaks announced the transitions. Every time one happened I was confused for a paragraph or two and knocked out of the story. Still, said story was more than good enough to overcome this minor technical glitch.

Kaye is an unhappy 16 year-old with a loser mom. When they move back to New Jersey she is rapidly involved with the Fey, discovers she’s a green skinned pixie, and gets drawn into a conflict between the Seelie and Unseelie (rival fairy) courts. It’s a fun read, and the prose is fast and evocative of the fey mood. Ms Black seemed to have done at least some research and the feel is quite good. The loose descriptive style sketches some rather fantastic creatures and scenarios, and that works. There is some darkness (which I like), and wham bam death of secondary characters without the proper emotional digestion. There is sexuality, but no sex (boo hiss!).

But I really like the way she handled the fairies. There isn’t a lot of description, but what there was left me filling in my own detailed, sordid, and mysterious collage of imagery.

I was loving the first two third of the book, and then it pivoted a bit and lost me a little. Don’t get me wrong, I still liked it, but the last third felt sketchier. The author had a bunch of double takes and betrayals on her outline, and it felt to me that it didn’t really matter if the secondary characters got to be true to themselves — they just followed the script. The protagonists best friend dies in like two seconds, and there is barely any reaction. Everyone also seemed to roll way too easily with the rather gigantic punches (as in Fairies are real). And to be darn good at picking up new powers in no time at all. This is a typical issue, and very hard to address perfectly, but it always bugs me when magic seems too easy. White Cat had the same final act issues.

It’s still a fun book — way above average — with nice prose and breakneck pace. But the potential for great gave way to merely very good.

Game of Thrones – The Houses

With the premier of Game of Thrones, the HBO series based on what is perhaps my all time favorite Fantasy series, fast approaching, the network has been releasing all sorts of goodies. Now I’ve posted about this before, but these books, and it looks like the show, are so darkly delicious that I fell I must share.

Power (above) is new trailer.

Fear and Blood (above) is another new trailer for the show in general.

Then we have a whole series of videos on some of the most important Great Houses. Like Dune before it, Game of Thrones is a story about the interplay of politics and loyalty among a number of great factions. This was frequently true during the late middle ages, and to some extent the series is based a bit on the War of the Roses.

The Starks (above) are the moral center of the story.

House Baratheon holds the throne… for now.

The Lannister’s you love to hate — except for Tyrion who rules.

House Targaryen knows all about dragons.

Above is a more detailed video on Jaime Lannister.

and above Robb Stark.

Above is Littlefinger.

and above about the world in general.

For a review of episode 1, click here.