Book Review: Storm Warning by Mercedes Lackey

I actually read the next book in my reading marathon of the Heralds of Valdemar books by Mercedes Lackey last weekend, which was Storm Warning (fantasy 428 pages), the first book in The Mage Storms trilogy.

storm_warning“Karse and Valdemar have long been enemy kingdoms – their peoples filled with mutual prejudice and mistrust. Only the vile deeds perpetrated on both kingdoms by Ancar of Hardorn, and the subsequent emergence of the armies of the Eastern Empire in the wake of his defeat, have forced these two so-different lands into an uneasy alliance. For the Eastern Empire, which has long been isolated and shrouded in mystery, is ruled by a monarch whose magical tactics may be beyond any sorcery known to the Western kingdoms. Forced to combat this dire foe, not only must traditional enemies unite, but the Companions may, at last, have to reveal secrets which they have kept hidden for centuries … even from their beloved Heralds.”

The story follows Karal, a mere secretary to the envoy from Karse. He is the first character in the Valdemar books who doesn’t really have any inclination towards being at least trained as a fighter. He is dedicated to his job and that is remarkably admirable because being a secretary isn’t one of those glory-filled and sought-after jobs, but it’s still something that has such a huge impact on the rest of the story. He takes notes during meetings and uses those notes to help shape and impact the way the other people involved see the problem. Karal is probably the most relatable of all the characters because he isn’t a skilled fighter, he doesn’t have a hidden magical ability, he isn’t himself the envoy; he’s a secretary. He goes to meetings and take notes.

Having read this entire series before, during this reread, I actually thought about how much talent as an author it takes to drop just enough hints so the reader can learn about the world-building and the details that the characters wouldn’t know but that exist throughout the story. I also thought about how this entire Valdemar series is definitely a wish-fulfillment kind of fantasy, where readers are shown what a world could look like if the leaders were just and fair and if the people of the land cared about each other. One example I have of this are specifically from this book and how the information carefully placed in this book indicate exactly how religions can get warped over time.

Early in the story, Karal is having a discussion with Rubrik, the Herald who came down to escort Karal and Ulrich up to Valdemar. During the discussion on page 98, Karal vaguely remembers that in the older works of his religious texts, that Vkandis, his sun god, had a goddess-consort and somewhere between the oldest records and Karal’s present day, the priests removed all trace of that goddess. There are little tidbits throughout the whole book that Vkandis and the Star-Eyed are a matched pair of beneficial guardians and the hints are dropped so subtly that by the end of the book, the reader has a sense of intuition that Vkandis and the Star-Eyed are not only on the same side, but that they have the same outlook or rules that govern how they interact with humanity. They go to great lengths to ensure true freedom for the intelligent beings in the world. Another hint that supports this shows up on page 180 where Karal is reading through the original journals of one of the earliest Sons of the Sun, the leader of Karal’s religious sect. “When had the order of the Priests of the Goddess Kalanel – the consort of Vkandis – disappeared, for instance?” Which is then later corroborated on page 241 where An’desha uses the Star-Eyed’s name, Kal’enel, when thinking about what it would be like to have the full attention of a deity. It was blatantly obvious to me in all the previous time I’ve read this particular series, but this time, I actually took the time to see where all the clues were so that as I progress as a writer in my own career, I can see what was successful in setting up the ground work for allowing the reader to intuitively understand parts of the world-building without having to suffer through an information dump.

I really like the way religion is handled in this book. The book shows the devotion of a variety of different people to their different faiths and that none of those faiths are wrong. The Valdemar books in general go to great lengths to mention that there is no one, right way and that good done in the name of anyone or anything is still good. I think it’s summed up the best in Karal’s own thoughts on page 380: “We have free will, all of us, and Vkandis interferes very little in our life in this world, Ulrich had said. He does not play with us as a child plays with toy soldiers or dolls, nor does He test us to see what we are made of. He allows us to live our lives and make our own choices, and only after we cross to join Him does He judge us on the basis of what we have and have not done with the life and free will we were granted at birth – and how well we have kept our word in promises made to Him. What we choose to do intersects with what everyone else in our lives chooses to do; sometimes those choices mean joy, sometimes sorrow, often a little of both. That may be why good things sometimes happen to evil people. Most assuredly, with no cause by the Sunlord’s hand, bad things sometimes do happen to good people.

Another example of things that can and easily do relate to our own world from these books is the behavior of the Eastern Empire’s army stuck in Hardorn, and how accurately that portrays universal military concepts. The passage on page 279 talks a bit about things that impact all military people, whether in fantasy, science fiction, or real life: “Disciplined troops couldn’t cope with an enemy that wouldn’t make a stand, who wouldn’t hold a line and fight, who melted away as soon as a counter-attack began. They couldn’t deal with an enemy who attacked out of nowhere, in defiance of convention, and faded away into the countryside without pressing his gains.” Then, in the next paragraph on the same page: “The farmer who sold the Imperial cooks turnips this morning might well be taking information to the resistance about how many turnips were sold, why, and where they were going! And he could just as easily be one of the men with soot-darkened faces who burst upon the encampment the very same night, stealing provisions and weapons, running off mounts, and burning supply wagons.”

Overall, I’d say this is a solid three on my rating scale. I’m quite glad I own it and I am positive I will be reading it again at some point in the future.

Works cited: Lackey, Mercedes. Storm Warning. New York: Daw Book, Inc., 1994.

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Unburied Fables edited by Creative Aces Publishing

unburied_fablesThings have been a little busier than normal in my life and I’ve been thrown off track for the last couple of weeks. To help me get back on track with my reading goals and to give me some happy stories to combat the severely depressing world in which we live, I picked up Unburied Fables edited by Creative Aces Publishing.

“This collection enlisted talent around the world. From students to seasoned professionals, these writers came together to raise awareness and reinvent classic stories. While they showcase a wide variety of origins, styles, and endings, all the tales in this anthology have one classic element in common: a happily ever after.”

I’ve heard that there’s a lot of discourse going on in the queer areas these days. One of the most common tropes is the Bury Your Gays trope, wherein it seems as though queer characters on mostly straight-character dominated shows or movies are at a higher risk of being killed off. As I tend to ignore people who have the inability to be positively contributing members of society, I don’t have much personal experience with the current discourse. While I am aware of the hatred and discrimination happening in the world today, I will not perpetuate, encourage, or otherwise participate in hatred or harmful behavior towards others.

With that said, Unburied Fables is the exact opposite. All these stories are positive and uplifting and some were downright cute. This anthology is exactly what I needed to see in my world, especially since all of the stories were fairly short and I could read a story between other tasks.

Handsome and the Beast (20 pages) by Laure Nepenthes. “This story is based on ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ written more or less as we know it by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and adapted many times since.” One of the really great parts about this story is that Handsome’s family are merchants and they are shown to be very caring and hard-working folks, even though it seems like tragedy after tragedy strikes them. They maintain a positive demure and always keep working to get back on their feet to the luxuries they enjoyed. Even when they find the castle, they are remarkably polite about the entire encounter and I really wish more people were like this in the real world – honest, polite, and hard-working. As for Handsome and the Beast, this was definitely a story with an ending that brought a smile to my face, as their own heart’s desire is pretty much my own favorite daydream, to share my life with someone I love, reading, sharing life, and adventuring.

The Grateful Princess (16 pages) by Rachel Sharp. “This story is based on the Estonian fairy tale ‘The Grateful Prince.’ Though the origin is a subject of some mystery, a version appeared in Andrew Lang’s The Violet Fairy Book, published in 1901.” I wasn’t particularly familiar with the story The Grateful Princess was based on, but it was definitely a very cute story, and also involved a lot of cleverness, which I very much appreciated. I have to say that this is also a story that is very much like a daydream for me, again, to share my life with someone I love and to also be able to make a difference in the world.

Odd (13 pages) by Amy Michelle. “A retelling of ‘Rumpelstiltskin,’ a fairy tale first recorded by the Brothers Grimm but suspected to be much older in origin.” I think one of the interesting patterns I’ve noticed about this book so far is that many of the characters have parents and families who are very supportive of the main characters. In this story, Sofia’s father tells her that she can marry either the prince or the princess, whichever she prefers, and the king also makes the same offer. Handsome’s family in the first story also is offered the hands of whichever gender is preferred, but the interesting part is that, as accepting as these families are, they really just want their children married. This is also very understandable because the fear of ending up alone is one of the biggest fears I, myself, have, especially since I’m asexual. It’s very difficult to find a compatible partner and sometimes you do find that one in 9 billion person and things fall apart because you were self-destructive and unstable. So these stories are hitting really close to home because my family is also very supportive and also worries about me ending up alone. And this story is also a very positive ending that ends with productivity and companionship, which is all I could ever ask for.

Expectations (18 pages) by Bec McKenzie. “In a way, this is many fairy tales, but may be best described as a vignette from ‘The Prince and the Pauper,’ a story by Mark Twain.” This story was not as much to my taste as the previous three have been, but this is the first one that I found humorous with some sense of the ridiculousness of fairy tales and a pun or two. I guess this story shows you that there are different things that make different people happy and that everyone can find their own place in the world without sacrificing who they are. That’s definitely a theme with this anthology, not just with happy endings, but also with acceptance of the different things that make people happy, and also the acceptance of the people in the characters’ lives.

Li Chi and the Dragon (13 pages) by Saffyre Falkenberg. “This story is a retelling of the Chinese fairy tale ‘Li Chi Slays the Serpent’.” This is probably one of my favorite stories in this anthology. The story shows that you really can do anything if you have a plan, even a mildly crazy one, and that things work out with enough courage. I think one of the most interesting parts about this story is that we often don’t take into account the way our actions impact the lives of those we care about the most. Sure, Chi offers to sacrifice herself in order to save the life of Yanmei, but how would that make Yanmei feel, knowing that someone she loves left her alone in the world? In kind of a round-about way, this story made me think about depression, and how certain types of depression make you honestly believe that those you love are better off without you, which is absolutely false and completely opposite of the way most people feel. It’s been my experience that being gone would cause so much hurt to those you care about the most, which is often not part of the rational thought-process when you suffer from depression. When Chi goes off to face the dragon, she does so with the knowledge that at least Yanmei will be safe for another year, but she also faces the dragon with the sense of not wanting to die. And so she fights, not so much to save her own life, but to save the life of someone she loves, and then also of all the other girls in the future. This story definitely gave me a lot to think about and as much as the ending is also on my list of potential daydreams, I think I like the story because of the depth of thought inspired by the story itself.

Satin Skirts and Wooden Shoes (12 pages) by Moira C. O’Dell. “A variation on ‘Cinderella,’ a story recorded by the Brothers Grimm but commonly said to be of French origin. Interestingly, the oldest known version of this tale comes from China.” This was another story similar to Expectations, only in this story, the main character has a home and a shared living environment with someone who acts as a caretaker and a mentor. The ending is something I sometimes wish we could do in the modern world, but finding true acceptance like this seems rather difficult at times. Still, a very heart-warming tale.

Match Sticks (8 pages) by Minerva Cerridwen. “A variation (and, indeed, an evolution) of Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Little Match Girl’.” This is another of my favorite stories in this anthology. I liked how one of the first stories of true love is the happiness of the two women when the Match Sticks confirmed their love, as though the magic showed that love is love, no matter who. This story shows how true love affects all of us and it absolutely ended with yet another of my daydreams.

The Princess of the Kingdom of the Dark Wood (7 pages) by Dominique Cypres. “Based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale ‘The Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces,’ this story has gone by many names. Most will find it familiar.” Something that struck me immediately about this tale is that the tailor in the story is a man. For decades in the western world, we’ve been conditioned that sewing and such is more a womanly task, and yet, here is this male tailor in this story. This anthology does a really great job with a variety of sexualities, romantic orientations, and even genders, and it really is wonderful to see such positive representation.

Damma and the Wolf (9 pages) by Kassi Khaos. “This retelling is based on the European fairy tale commonly known today as ‘Little Red Riding Hood’.” While this story does have a happy ending, it also has a little bit of a dark and unhappy undercurrent. I suppose that’s to be expected with a story from “Little Red Riding Hood”, especially when magic and creatures of the forest are involved.

Beauty’s Beasts (11 paes) by Elspeth Willems. “Another story – this time a vignette – based on ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ The original tale also has roots in much earlier depictions of unexpected compassion, such as that of Cupid and Psyche.” I think one of the strengths of this particular story is the ambiguity of the sexual and romantic orientations of all of the characters. The story is written in such a way that it doesn’t really matter how people are attracted to each other and it doesn’t really matter what other people think of people who don’t prescribe to society’s version of “normal.” This story has a lot of the bigotry associated with people who think that families consist of a husband, a wife, and children, and the villagers represent all that bigotry. This story is a little different from some of the others in this anthology in the sense that the families of the main characters aren’t accepting of the queerness of their children, and the other villagers certainly aren’t accepting, either. So while the story itself does have a happy ending, there are definitely less happy undertones in this story, as well.

Glass Mountains (14 pages) by Will Shughart. “This story is based on ‘The Black Bull of Norroway,’ a fairy tale from Scotland retold in print since 1870.” I think it’s fascinating that this anthology uses such a variety of different areas for the source content. This was also a really sweet story that showed love is worth overcoming all obstacles and that anything worth doing truly takes time. Looking at how long this story took to unfold, not in pages read but in the actual mentions of time in the story, this isn’t a story with an instant happy ending. Boots has to work every day to earn another chance at his heart’s desire, and I find that to be the most true part of this entire story. Any love worth having requires hard work, dedication, a good deal of faith in better things, and time, as well as tenacity and the ability to learn and grow over time.

Brenna (10 pages) by Emmy Clarke. “This story is a version of ‘Ferdinand the Faithful and Ferdinand the Unfaithful,’ another German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm.” This is a neat and adventurous tale which was a lot of fun to read. While I’m not familiar with the original version of this fairy tale, this version is a very happy one and I think any other version than this one might ruin it for me. Though, I’ve lived this long without seeing anything about the original, so I should be safe, I would think.

The Last Lost Boy (19 pages) by George Lester. “A retelling of ‘Peter and Wendy,’ more commonly known as ‘Peter Pan,’ by Scottish novelist and playwright J.M. Barrie.” Oddly, this is probably the one fairy tale in this anthology that I have actually read. I’ve even seen the live play, watched the Disney cartoon, and even the movie Hook. One of my friends from several years ago really liked the entire Peter Pan mythology and I think it was inspired by the lack of wanting to participate in “normal” adult behavior – things like having a job and paying rent and living your life alone. And oddly, this is the one story in this anthology that made me actually tear up a little bit. This is probably the best modern version of a fairy tale that I’ve seen and it was probably more emotional for me because there’s someone out there who I love and care about more than anyone in the entire world, and that person has disappeared from my life. Even with modern technology and the ability to keep in touch over the greatest of distances, people we love and care about can still voluntarily disappear from our lives. But if someone we love and care about choses to go and doesn’t want us there, we have to respect their wishes. We can miss them all day every day, with every breath we take and every drop of blood in our bodies, but we have to let them go and travel their own paths. Maybe that’s the part about this story that moves me the most – the hope for the passing of time to heal the wounds developed by time apart. That time apart, though, is where we grow into who we’re supposed to be, so that when we come back into each other’s lives, we are better prepared to be equal parts of a greater whole. This is the story I would choose to see for all my exposure to Peter Pan in the future. It’s got a happy ending, even after so much time has passed between them.

Dark Matters (9 pages) by Tiffany Rose. “A retelling of ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears,’ this story adds a modern twist, as well as combing two of the best known versions of the tale.” This was another really great use of modern technology with mythology and lore. I also really liked the puns used in this story and I was amused at some of the “gay” humor in the sense of queer folks making jokes about themselves. I found the jokes to be rather amusing. This was also a really great story and one that was oddly moving, in the sense of finding a place that feels like home may not feel like the kind of home you’re used to.

The Suns of Terre (18 pages) by Will J. Fawley. “This spacefaring fairy tale is a version of ‘Prince Darling,’ which made its first known appearance in Andrew Lang’s Blue Fairy Book, published in 1889.” This was the only science fiction story in the anthology and I think it was a fitting ending, as it showed that even in the future, people will tend to find ways to discriminate between or against other people, but that discrimination isn’t appropriate at all. We are, all of us, people together. No matter what our race, gender, ethnicity, sexual or romantic orientation, cultural or societal upbringing, we are all human together, and we are stronger for it.

Overall, this is a very easy collection of stories to read. There truly are different styles and different stories, which really just means that there’s a story for everyone. There are queer stories of every variety and it makes this book a very easy and happy anthology to read. I would probably rate the entire anthology as a low four on my rating scale, as there are several stories that I am definitely going to reread and I’m very happy that I own this book.

Works cited: Creative Aces Publishing. Unburied Fables. Middletown: Creative Aces Publishing, 2016.

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Book Review: Winds of Fury by Mercedes Lackey

The next book I read in my reading marathon of the Heralds of Valdemar books by Mercedes Lackey was Winds of Fury (fantasy 423 pages), the final book in The Mage Winds trilogy.

winds_of_fury“Valdemar is once again in peril, threatened by Ancar of Hardorn, who has long sought to seize control of the kingdom by any means at his command. Yet this time Ancar may well achieve his goal, for by harnessing the power of Mornelithe Falconsbane, the Dark Adept, he has set into motion a magical strike against Valdemar the like of which hasn’t been attempted in more than five hundred years – not since Vanyel, the last Herald-Mage, shielded the kingdom from attack by the deadliest of sorceries. And with Valdemar’s ancient spell-generated protections finally breaking down, Queen Selenay, Herald-Princess Elspeth, and their people could soon be left defenseless against an enemy armed with spells no one in Valdemar has the knowledge to withstand. But as the long dormant magic of Valdemar begins to awaken, Elspeth finds that she too has a mysterious ally – a powerful spirit from the long-forgotten past.”

This is probably my favorite book in this series, and I think that’s mostly because everything happens in this book. Elspeth, Gwena, Skif, and Cymry finally return to Valdemar and they bring such an interesting array of friends and allies with them that all of the interactions in Valdemar had me chuckling. Everything from when the entourage first arrives back in Valdemar and how their hosts aren’t properly prepared for the entourage’s arrival and how the Heralds themselves are amused by how flawed the communication was between the arriving group and the hosts to the magic lesson taught in Valdemar itself was expressly amusing to me.

So many parts of real life are represented in this book that it’s hard to pick out particular portions and point to only those portions as the reason I enjoyed this book so much. The issue of sexism is often discussed in a variety of ways, including Elspeth’s treatment by all of the noble folks of Valdemar and their gossip into her personal affairs and into Nyara’s fears about whether or not Skif would continue to love her if she wasn’t exotic and sexualized. I think Nyara’s sexualization shows how much of a fine line it is between women knowing how men view them as sexual objects and how women can take charge of their own lives and their own bodies to live the lives they choose for themselves instead of the lives chosen for them by the men in their lives. This kind of deeper issue is only present if you take the time to think about and it’s certainly not an overwhelming part of the book, but rather presents something a lot deeper to think about if your mind is open to thinking about the societal roles pushed by the current western culture.

One of the best parts about this book is the clear demonstration of a variety of positive relationships.

Elspeth and Darkwind eventually pair off, but I’m fairly certain that it’s been standard practice in the fantasy publishing world to have some sort of romantic pairing, especially amongst the main characters. While I think this potential genre troupe is changing in our world right now, I think back in the 1990s when this book was published, romantic pairings were officially or unofficially required as part of the storyline. Granted, Elspeth and Darkwind work very well to show what a true, equal partnership should look like. They are both individuals with completely separate personalities and also different strengths and weaknesses, but they work very well together. The sum of their parts is greater than their individual components, but they are both fully capable of living their own lives and making their own decisions. They work together, not with their own separate agendas, but with the full understanding that they each have oaths and a driving purpose to serve something bigger than themselves. They trust each other to take care of things they each need to do and then to stand together when it’s time. If one of them slips or falters, the other will help.

Even Skif and Nyara have a very healthy relationship. Back at the end of Winds of Change, Nyara makes a conscious decision to work towards being her own person so that she can be a true partner for Skif. Need has a lengthy discussion with Nyara to help her realize that Skif is looking for a partner who can hold their own and perhaps even save him once in a while. Nyara has to work towards seeing her own value and not just the value of her physical and exotic beauty and that’s hugely important.

This book also has unpartnered people such as Need. Granted, Need is an old mage-smith whose soul is contained within a magically enchanted sword, but even before she bonded to the sword, she had no interest in mating or life-partnering. Need is as close to a true asexual in any of the earlier fantasy books I’ve read. While these days, it’s common for authors to attempt to include greater diversity in their stories such as increasing diversity by offering characters with a plethora of ethnic, racial, gender, and sexual identities, this is true representation in the fact that it wasn’t written just so the author could play a “diversity card” with their work. This is the first book in the Valdemar series where Need has a lengthy physical description and it all fits her personality perfectly, and in all of the books where Need is a true character, even though she doesn’t have a normal, human body, a sexual partnership just isn’t on her list. She soul-bonds with her users and that is a very tight bond where she functions as a teacher, mentor, experienced warrior, or mage, depending on what her bearer requires, and I would say she deeply loves all those she bonds with and wouldn’t want a sexual partnership even if she had a human body to have one with.

There’s a passage on page 112 that specifically discusses lifebonds and how someone who has a tendency towards deep depression is more likely to develop a lifebond and that lifebond will help that internally burdened person focus on someone other than themselves, which helps them get through things in their lives. Maybe it’s because of my own constant internal turmoil that deepens my feelings for the people I care about in my life and that’s why this entire section struck me as extremely powerful and right on the mark.

Overall, I’d say this book is probably a low four on my rating scale. I’m absolutely happy that I own this book and will definitely read it again in the future. In retrospect, I’m fairly certain the main reason I read the other two books in the Mage Winds trilogy is so that I can read this book with a more in-depth understand of what was going on and why.

Works cited: Lackey, Mercedes. Winds of Fury. New York: Daw Book, Inc., 1993.

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Winds of Change by Mercedes Lackey

The next book I read in my reading marathon of the Heralds of Valdemar books by Mercedes Lackey was Winds of Change (fantasy 472 pages), the second book in The Mage Winds trilogy.

winds_of_change“With Valdemar in dire peril – threatened by the malevolent spellcraft of Ancar of Haldorn – Princess Elspeth, Herald and heir to the throne, has come to the Vale of the Tayledras Clan to seek Mage training among the magical Hawkbrother Adepts. But instead of finding a haven, she is whirled into a maelstrom of war and sorcery as the Vale is attacked by a mysterious Dark Adept from out of the ‘Uncleansed Lands.’ And when the Heartstone, the source of magical power for the Clan, is warped by evil sorceries and turned into a dangerous rogue, disabling the most powerful of the Hawkbrother Adepts, Elspeth – still only a half-trained Mage – and the renegade Hawkbrother-Adept Darkwind must struggle to tame the rogue Heartstone before the next strike of the Dark Adept, risking the perils of the unknown in a desperate bid to save both their peoples.”

As with most trilogies, the second book contains most of the character development and the “middle” stuff, which means it’s not the beginning where everything is new and the characters are in vastly different situations, but it’s also not the end with all the page-turning action.

There are some very interesting passages in this book, as I’ve found in all of the Valdemar books so far. There was a section on page 114 that really stuck out with me because of the way our world is right now. “To be effective, one who would betray others must be likable and plausible – while all the time being something else entirely. He must be a supreme actor, projecting warmth and humanity, while having a cold, uncaring heart. Someone who is a criminal is likely to be all of these.” I’m constantly amazed at how authors who write about fantasy and science fiction are often more capable of teaching us about human nature than our own leaders. I’ve learned so much about how to interact with people better and to see things through other people’s eyes just by reading science fiction and fantasy than by reading or exposure to any of the “literature” so often forcibly taught. The interesting parts about the Valdemar books is that they are a clear separation between good and evil, how evil can’t create anything on its own and wants to possess things instead of make the world a better place; how evil only pretends to care in order to serve its own greedy, selfish desires of gaining more power and wealth. And we see this evil growing more and more powerful every day in the modern world we live in. And yet, Elspeth, Darkwind, Skif, Nyara, Treyvan, Hydona, and all the different people who live in and around the Vale continue to strive against all odds to fight back that evil.

As the book progresses, Elspeth enjoys the luxury of the Vale and thinks about how it would be so easy to become much lazier and spend more time on “frivolous” activities. But life outside the Vale is harsh and she realizes that all of the “luxuries” in the Vale are ways to make a harsh life more bearable, not a way to encourage any sort of shirking of their duties.

There was a line in this book that made me absolutely laugh out loud on page 392: “One did not pick quarrels with edged wit or edged weapons.”

Overall, this book was interesting and the character development was good. I’m more excited to continue reading and getting to the next book where everyone travels back to Valdemar and how interesting it will be to have so many different cultures introduced to each other. I would probably rate this book as a solid or low three on my rating scale. I’m glad I own it and I’m positive I will read it again in the future.

Works cited: Lackey, Mercedes. Winds of Change. New York: Daw Book, Inc., 1993.

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Winds of Fate by Mercedes Lackey

winds_of_fateThe next book I read in my reading marathon of the Heralds of Valdemar books by Mercedes Lackey was Winds of Fate (fantasy 458 pages), the first book in The Mage Winds trilogy.

“High magic had been lost to Valdemar centuries ago when the last Herald-Mage gave his life to save the kingdom from destruction by dark sorceries. Yet now the realm is at risk again. And Elspeth, Herald and heir to the throne, must take up the challenge, abandoning her home to find a mentor who can awaken her untrained mage abilities. But others, too, are being caught up in a war against sorcerous evil. The Tayledras scout Darkwind is the first to stumble across the menace creeping forth from the ‘Uncleansed Lands.’ And as sorcery begins to take its toll, Darkwind may be forced to call upon powers he has sworn never to use again if he and his people are to survive an enemy able to wreak greater devastation with spells of destruction than with swords.”

I don’t think I’ve actually read this series very often, I think maybe twice before now? I remember enjoying the series as a whole a lot more than I enjoyed this particular book, but I think that’s mostly because of how much had to happen before the two main characters met and interacted. There were also a lot of flashbacks, which did help a lot with the backstory and a lot of the complicated histories that a reader would have no knowledge of (even if they’d read all the other Valdemar books). I’m typically a reader who enjoys chronological stories so the flashbacks, while providing good history and knowledge, were a little more extensive than I would normally prefer. And those flashbacks were definitely useful if you haven’t read the other Valdemar books that were written after Arrows of the Queen but chronologically take place before the events of that book.

Winds of Fate has one particular section on pages 173-175 where Quenten is preparing himself to deal with a spoiled Princess with romantic notions of going off on a quest and instead is faced with a situation which eclipses his capabilities. This entire section continues to amuse me greatly regardless how many times I read it. There is a similar section about judging people based on pre-conceived notions which happens on page 386: “If this is a trial of my abilities – the gods have no sense of proportion.” I guess these sections are particularly amusing for me because of everything I’ve gone through and experienced in my own life in the last several years. Though, from the outside, talking about personal experiences when doing a book review might seem off-topic, but books are designed to help us learn about ourselves and the world around us. In 2013, I met someone who changed everything about my entire life and one of those changes was learning to see that jumping into situations without attempting to understand how those situations came to be and why those involved have acted the way they did is extremely inappropriate. Until and unless you have spent any length of time in someone else’s life, you have no idea what they’ve been through or where they’re at in life and you don’t get to say what’s right or wrong for them in their lives unless their actions are causing intentional harm to other people.

This book took a long time to get going, but that’s mostly because entirely new characters and new cultures had to be introduced, which tends to take a bit of time. Reading the series in order, I’m already familiar with Elspeth, Gwena, Skif, Cymry, and Need, but cultural introductions were needed for Darkwind, Starblade, Treyvan, and Hydona all needed introductions, as well the gryphons and the Tale’sedrin in general. Elspeth and Darkwind each had to go through their own adventures before they could meet so the reader would have an accurate grasp of the story from both points of view, which is important when setting up something as complicated as the world-building here.

One of the things that has really stuck out with me about the Valdemar books in general is the incredibly in-depth world-building in all of the Valdemar books. There are different cultures, different countries, different terrain, different ideologies, different styles of governance, and even different styles of creating living and working environments for entire populaces. Some people are farmers, some people are nomadic plainspeople, some people live in cities with all the different commerce and trade, some people live in shielded domes with exotic plants. And yet, when it comes time for those who are good and positive people to face against those who are selfish, greedy, and power-hungry, all the different cultures and the different people bond together and are more successful because of their diversity. Good wins the day because they work together.

Overall, I’d say this book is probably a solid or low three on my rating scale. It takes a long time for the characters to actually start doing something and even longer for those characters to start interacting with each other. But the world-building is fascinating and the characters are different and interesting. I’m glad I own this book, as it’s in one of the series I read regularly and I am likely to reread it again in the future.

Works cited: Lackey, Mercedes. Winds of Fate. New York: Daw Book, Inc., 1991.

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: By the Sword by Mercedes Lackey

by_the_swordI think I’ve decided to do a marathon of the Heralds of Valdemar books by Mercedes Lackey and the next book chronologically for me was By the Sword (fantasy 492 pages).

“Granddaughter of the sorceress Kethry, daughter of a noble house, Kerowyn had been forced to run the family keep since her mother’s untimely death. Yet now at last her brother was preparing to wed, and when his bride became the lady of the keep, Kerowyn could return to her true enjoyments – training horses and hunting. But all Kerowyn’s hopes and plans were shattered when her ancestral home was attacked, her father slain, her brother wounded, and his fiancée kidnapped. Driven by desperation and the knowledge that a sorcerer had led the attack, Kerowyn sought her grandmother Kethry’s aid, a journey which would prove but the first step on the road to the fulfillment of her destiny. For facing her family’s foes would transform Kerowyn into an outsider in her own land, a warrior bound to the spell blade Need, and a mercenary forced to choose between loyalty to her comrades in arms and the Herald Valdemar, whom she had rescued and who in his turn had helped awaken her to the true meaning of love and to her own unique powers of magic.”

I think this is actually only the second time I’ve read this book, though it’s been on my shelf for years, if not decades. Maybe it’s where I was at in my life the first time I read it, or maybe I read it out of sequence or confused it with different parts of the Valdemar series. Whatever the reason, I can’t imagine why I haven’t read this book as many times or more as I’ve read the Queen’s Own trilogy.

Probably one of the only real issues I have with this book, or really any of these that I consider the “core” Valdemar books, and that’s how so many characters in this work have such similar names. In Queen’s Own, there’s Keren. Now, in By the Sword, Kerowyn and Kethry are both introduced. Alternatively, there’s also Talia and Tarma. It just seems like a lot of very closely placed names and I can think of at least once during my reading of By the Sword when I almost got confused about which character was which.

Kerowyn spends her entire life throughout the book as responsible and dedicated as a person could be and I found that to be incredibly magnetic. When the book starts, she’s roughly fourteen years old and she took on the full responsibilities of taking care of the keep and making sure everything that needed to get done, got done. She assumed responsibility for managing the keep and also for preparing everything for her brother’s wedding feast. When she left the keep in shambles to get help for the situation, she did so out of a sense of responsibility. When she chose her profession and made the conscious decision to work to be the best mercenary she could be, she did so out of a sense of responsibility that there were people who were unsuited to a life of violence and that those who could protect them should do so to prevent unnecessary deaths. She took more responsibility because more people stood did get hurt if she didn’t. I really do think that Kerowyn’s sheer ability to feel a responsibility to those around her and to the world at large was the most drawing factor about this book for me.

By the Sword also makes a lot of really great points about sexism and how even though people say they understand sexism, they really don’t have any clue about the sheer depth of those sexist beliefs and behaviors. Most people have a lot of societally-instructed behaviors and even thought-processes which clearly demonstrate an imbalanced world. Kerowyn has to take care of the entire keep by herself with limited resources and assistance and her father and brother don’t seem to be inclined to help her with anything. When Daren starts training with her, he’s pompous and arrogant and assumes that because she’s a lowly girl, she couldn’t possibly be good at things like sword work, tracking, or strategy. As she proves that she’s a natural he balks at the idea that she doesn’t want to just become a simpering fool and marry him. In fact, he’s rather taken back by her distinct lack of interest or desire to marry him. He’s positively shocked that getting married and producing a litter of children isn’t a lifestyle she’s suited for, let alone wants at all. I marked the entire section from page 188-191, where Kerowyn throws in Daren’s face all of his unrealistic expectations and how it would destroy her to pretend to be everything she isn’t.

There’s a lot of action in this book, which makes sense for a book about a mercenary, working to make her way in a rough world. I think what this book does that a lot of fantasy stories don’t is that this book shows the less “glorious” aspects of fighting, war, and battle. There’s food and ration shortages, cold days, fighting for greedy merchants who lack decency, mildewed tents, and a lot of time spent starving with no resources. The “glory” and “bounty” all come from loss, having to add more names of lost friends after every battle, and the horrible things that can happen when someone is in charge of something they aren’t prepared or suited for. It’s sometimes amusing to me how books designed for entertainment purposes can often teach us more about our own worlds than even history lessons.

All in all, I’m glad I own this book and I’m glad that I reread it so close to finishing the Queen’s Own trilogy. I think I caught a lot more of the subtle details sprinkled throughout this book with that trilogy fresh in my mind. I think this book is a very high three on my rating scale. My paperback is very thick with smaller print and a lot of tightly crammed words on quite a few pages, otherwise, it might have rated higher.

Works cited: Lackey, Mercedes. By the Sword. New York: Daw Book, Inc., 1991.

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Video Game Review: Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean

baten_kaitosI can’t recall ever having done a video game review, but I figured that for the amount of time, effort, frustration, and energy I put into Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean, that I should write up a review.

“The world of Baten Kaitos exists in an era where lands float in the sky and the once-vast oceans are mere legend. With your help, Kalas and Xelha must struggle to reveal the mystery of the lost ocean and destroy the corruption that threatens their world. It is a time when the existence of Ocean and Earth has been regarded as a mere fairytale – past down for generations. Kalas is a rebellious youth seeking revenge for the murder of his grandfather and brother. Xelha is a young woman out to save the world from a brewing crisis. Our two main characters cross paths and the story unfolds in a world of massive islands, floating high up in the sky. Rife with emotion, deceit, and faith, a tale of the world’s destruction and rebirth begins.”

The main reason I chose this game to play was because a friend of mine, who is an avid video gamer (who also reviewed the game), showed interest in this game and we decided to play the game together. Now, this game was originally released by Namco on GameCube in 2003 and I only picked up a used copy of this game while I was looking for something else in a used book, video, and game store sometime in 2016. When I purchased the game, I mentioned it to my avid video gamer friend who suggested we could attempt to play the game at the same time. While this is not an online game and it is not a multi-player game, we could (and did) progress through the game at about the same rate, sometimes waiting several days for the other person to catch up if one of us got too far ahead, and sometimes playing the exact same sections at near-close to real time. We maintained an open chat within our chosen social media platform throughout the course of the game, often providing amusement or reactions to information or character arcs as they arose. Had it not been for this style of joint game play, I have reasonable doubts as to whether or not I would have finished the game. We made a determined push to get through the game before the Kingdom Hearts release for the PlayStation 4 later this month and finished it Sunday.

This is by far one of the most creative games I’ve ever played. The world was unique in every way, and even each island was unique in every way. All of the enemies within the game were so different that I sometimes wondered how those specific enemies were designed and created and who thought of them. As the game progressed, the worlds became even more unique and the enemies even more challenging. There’s a floating island that looks a lot like a crystal skull and it has a city made of sugar and an entire city that looks like it came straight out of a picture-book. The game has puzzles and really interesting, movie-like cutscenes, as well as jungles and deserts. The level of detail in all of the playable areas amazed me in a lot of ways. The detail on the towns, cities, jungles, lights, costumes, were all beyond amazing. I think it’s fair to say this is an absolutely gorgeous and creative game with fantastic and in-depth world-building, especially considering it came out in 2003. Would I judge it the same if I based my opinion on modern video game technology and graphics? Perhaps. But this is the first time I’ve ever played this game, it’s currently 2017, and I am still impressed by the level of detail and care involved in creating this game.

baten_kaitos_charactersThe characters in this came are also extremely unique (I’m looking at you, The Great Mizuti). “The journey unfolds quickly around Kalas, Xelha, and you, a Guardian Spirit. Along the way you will run into many obstacles, but also many people who will help you on your journey.”

“Kalas: A young man out for revenge against the killer of his brother and grandfather. born with only one ‘Wing of the Heart,’ Kalas wears a mechanical wings, or ‘Winglet,’ to suffice. Although his careless attitude and recklessness are what set him out on this dangerous adventures, he has the wits and spiritual power to protect him on the way.”

“Xelha: A kindhearted girl out to stop an evil plot. She finds Kalas in Cebalrai Village, and they join forces soon after. Somehow, she seems different from other girls, and you will have to unravel the mysteries behind her true identity.”

“You, the player: You are a Guardian Spirit who has bonded with Kalas. At the beginning of the game, you will have the ability to select your gender and name as a Guardian Spirit. You must provide guidance and moral support to the characters on their journey. How strong your bond of trust is will greatly affect the frequency of Spiritual Attacks during battle and also affect the ending of the game.”

One of the most interesting parts about the characters and the story telling in this game is that the player is often addressed. This game acknowledges and breaks the fourth wall in a very creative manner. The characters will often turn to the “camera” and ask you, the player, what you think of what’s going on or what you think the characters should do about certain situations. At the end of the game, the characters even say thank you and wave goodbye to you. I thought it was a very interesting way of acknowledging that this was a game and yet also giving the player something of an eerie experience with playing the game. Especially since the storyline has some nasty surprises in store for the player. The story on the game has some very tricky moments where the player actually could get very upset with the game, but in case you haven’t played it and don’t want spoilers, I’m not going to tell you anything about it.

So why the comment about frustration and potentially not wanting to finish the game?

In short? The battle style. This was my first experience with turn-based combat and it didn’t go very well for me. I am used to games where my ability to mash buttons in a proper sequence will usually do something instantly gratifying and very impressive. Here, my abilities to impact the battle were based on strategy and how quickly I could find cards matching the numbers I was already using, or how well I could develop long-term patterns quickly. It took me almost to the very end of the game to get comfortable enough with the battle-style to be able to survive major boss battles, let alone excel at defeating the major bosses without losing at least one or more of my characters. It took me a long time to figure out how to properly stack each character’s deck and to remember to pay attention to the cards right before a major battle to ensure that nothing spoiled or changed while I wasn’t paying attention. So many times, most of my cards would be grayed out because they were defensive cards only and it was my turn to attack or my cards were offensive cards only and it was the enemy’s turn to attack. This style of video game combat is not ideal for me, and it certainly wasn’t satisfying for me when I came home from a rough day and wanted nothing more than to mash buttons and kill monsters. I will admit that some of the card combinations were very cool, some of the voice clips amused me greatly, and a lot of the character’s finishing moves were pretty epic to watch.

Overall, I think I would actually rate this video game as a three on my rating scale. It was not my favorite game by any stretch of the imagination but now that I’m more familiar with the combat style and the way the game works, I might actually be inclined to replay it again at some point far, far, far in the future. The story was interesting, engaging, and had several very unexpected turns. The characters were well-developed with solid stories and realistic personalities.

Posted in Video Game Reviews | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Arrow’s Fall by Mercedes Lackey

arrows_fallIt still surprises me that I’ve never written up a review for Arrow’s Fall (Fantasy 319 pages) by Mercedes Lackey, as this is the third book in the Queen’s Own trilogy, a series I read a minimum of every year or two.

“With Elspeth, the heir to the throne of Valdemar, come of marriageable age, Talia, the Queen’s Own Herald returns to court to find Queen and heir beset by diplomatic intrigue as various forces vie for control of Elspeth’s future. But just as Talia is about to uncover the traitor behind all these intrigues, she is sent off on a mission to the neighboring kingdom, chosen by the Queen to investigate the worth of a marriage proposal from Prince Ancar. And, to her horror, Talia soon discovers there is far more going on at Prince Ancar’s court than just preparation for a hoped-for royal wedding. For a different magic than that of the Heralds is loose in Ancar’s realm – an evil and ancient sorcery that may destroy all of Valdemar unless Talia can send warning to her Queen in time!”

I actually finished reading this book several days ago but some personal issues came up and I didn’t feel quite right about typing up a review when my emotional state was likely to impact my review. Oddly, the personal issues are strongly related to the book and my reading of it, so I’m going to include some of those thoughts here.

I bought The Complete Arrows Trilogy and sent it out to one of my friends and fellow writers as the only Christmas present I purchased and sent to someone this year. This series has had a positive and lasting impact on my life for well over a decade, if not closer to two decades. It’s my go-to series when I need to read a story with clear-cut lines of good and evil, where the characters demonstrate that hard work and perseverance are rewarded with success, and where doing what’s morally and ethically correct is also doing what’s legally encouraged. It’s a series I read when I feel as though the evils of the world in which I live are outweighing the good I know people are capable of because in this trilogy, doing the right thing is always the right answer.

So because this trilogy means so much to me, I sent it as the only Christmas present I purchased for anyone this year and we read all three books at the same time, often discussing the novels with each other when we finished them. This was the first time reading this series for the recipient of this trilogy but I don’t even know how many times I’ve read this story by now. When I noticed that a review for GoodReads had been posted, I clicked on the link and scrolled through some of the reviews. There was one in particular that made me stop. Someone in their comments had said that they didn’t think anyone under the age of 15 should ever read this series because it promotes homosexuality and pre-marital sex.

That one comment bothered me a lot more than I think it should have and I’m going to try and articulate my reaction as clearly as possible. I think this series is a great representation of diversity and healthy relationships. In Arrows of the Queen, Talia and Skif attempt to have an intimate, physical relationship, but their schedules and training are subjected to a great deal of bad timing and they eventually swear blood-brotherhood instead, which is a closer relationship in my mind. Talia also learns about how to be responsible with her “moon days” by using a powder to manage her ability to become pregnant as well as the schedule of her “moon days” which means that Talia doesn’t blindly engage in physical, intimate relationships on a whim. She understands the consequences of her actions and makes responsible decisions about her own body. In Arrow’s Flight, Talia learns about sex from Kris, a man with whom she respects and trusts. Kris is respectful of Talia’s pleasure and treats her as an equal partner instead of just doing what would make him happy or give him pleasure. He listens to her and respects her judgment and never forces himself on her, all of which are signs of an extremely healthy and well-balanced relationship. While everyone at the Collegium wants to know all the juicy details about Kris and Talia’s relationship status, neither of them provide any details, nor do they continue their relationship once they return to populated areas. All of this clearly demonstrates Talia is the one in charge of her own body and that she makes responsible decisions concerning her own body. If anything, I think that’s a strong case for ensuring that this trilogy is fully available to anyone of any age who wants to read it because of the themes of women being able to make their own decisions about their own bodies at any age and providing them with the healthy resources for those decisions.

As for this series promoting homosexuality, there are definitely same-sex pairings in this trilogy and I am firmly of the opinion that those relationships are realistic and loving. Keren and Sherill are a life-bonded pair and even when Keren talks about her relationship with Ylsa, she describes in detail how they discussed their relationship, waited until they had both finished their training, and worked to make sure it was something that they both felt and both wanted. There were no rash decisions and all three women conducted themselves as responsible adults, in charge of their own lives and bodies. Keren and Sherill also don’t flaunt their relationship, they are fully respectful of relationships different than their own, and all of their interactions are natural and unforced. Keren and Sherill are also Talia’s true friends and that’s one of the most important aspects of the relationships of all types portrayed in this series. Talia does have a life-bond, but that life-bond doesn’t mean she doesn’t have hobbies and friends outside her life-bond and eventual husband. Talia has real friends who want nothing sexual to do with her, but who are also of different genders, or even those who are attracted to her gender and not physically attracted to her. She has true friends who are supportive of her and her decisions and help her make reasonable choices about her life. She has an entire social network of people who love her and support her just as she is, without wanting anything more from her than friendship.

The one section that I always mark in this book, no matter how many times I read it, is on page 210 where Elspeth is asking Dirk what evil is and this is his response: “It seems to me that evil is a kind of ultimate greed, a greed that is so all-encompassing that it can’t ever see anything lovely, rare, or precious without wanting to possess it. A greed so total that if it can’t possess these things, it will destroy them rather than chance that someone else might have them. And a greed so intense that even having these things never causes it to lessen one iota – the lovely, the rare and the precious never affect it except to make it want them.” This passage has stuck with me as one of the best definitions of evil I’ve seen, either in the real world or in any fictional setting. That’s what makes speculative fiction so important to the real world and society in general – the ability to use interesting stories and imaginative world-building to present readers with a mirror to their souls.

What do I mean by that? One has only to look at the world around us to see that something isn’t right. Greed seems to have taken a strong foothold in the lives of good people and that same greed is being used to strip the good from people. Rights are being removed from marginalized populations and those in power are stealing money, goods, and services from a population without those resources to spare. I am of the opinion that it’s going to take a lot of people believing in good and conducting good lives to start pushing out the evil and greed which has invaded every part of our world.

And that’s why I enjoy this series so much. While evil does gain a lot in this book, in the end, goodness, love, and duty triumph over greed, ambition, and those who derive pleasure from the pain of others.

Overall, Arrow’s Fall is my favorite book in this trilogy. There are true life-or-death stakes with the entire kingdom at risk from an unsuspected enemy. The characters have true character arcs with realistic reactions to horrible situations. This book is easily a five on my rating scale. I own several copies of this book (one set is my travel set I take with me for my extended research trips and one is a nice hardback that lives in my home library) and am absolutely glad that I own it. I reread the entire series probably every year or two and will likely continue this trend of rereading for some time to come.

Works cited: Lackey, Mercedes. Arrow’s Fall. New York: Daw Book, Inc., 1988.

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Book Review: Arrows Flight by Mercedes Lackey

arrows_flightIt still surprises me that I’ve never written up a review for Arrow’s Flight (Fantasy 318 pages) by Mercedes Lackey, as this is the second book in the Queen’s Own trilogy, a series I read a minimum of every year or two.

“Talia could scarcely believe that she had finally earned the rank of full Herald. Yet though this seemed like the fulfillment of all her dreams, it also meant she would face trials far greater than those she had previously survived. For now Talia must ride forth to patrol the kingdom of Valdemar, dispensing Herald’s justice throughout the land. But in this realm beset by dangerous unrest, enforcing her rulings would require all the courage and skill Talia could command – for if she misused her own special powers, both she and Valdemar would pay the price!”

I think there are a lot of reasons why this trilogy in particular continues to appeal to me, even though the original copyright for the first print was way back in 1987 and I have read this trilogy repeatedly for at least a decade, if not longer. I have to admit that there aren’t very many books on my shelves that I reread as voraciously as I do this trilogy. While there are a lot of books out there I enjoy, this is my “go to” trilogy for when I’m having a rough time with things or even if I just want to read something where good, decent people are those who are successful and greed and selfishness are disgusting traits.

In the first book, Talia was introduced as a character who feels like a misfit in her own homeland so that when she’s chosen to train as a herald for Valdemar, she works extra hard to fulfill all her duties and obligations. She spends her  free time working to find additional ways to help people and to make the world a better place and all of her hard work and effort is rewarded in the beginning of the second book when she finally achieves her whites, meaning her training is complete and all she has to do is finish her internship successfully.

Talia’s mentor for her internship, Kris, is often described as a very attractive young man who is used to having women continuously throw themselves at him and yet, all he wants to do is serve his kingdom as the next Dean and Historian of the Collegium. He comes from a very wealthy background where he didn’t fit in because he spent so much time studying, but not exactly what his family wanted him to study. He takes his good looks for granted and automatically assumes that everyone is attracted to him.

One of the parts of this trilogy which really sticks with me is the view on relationships in general. Talia has some really great friends, Sherrill and Keren who are a same-sex, lifebonded pair; Skif is a thief with whom Talia attempted an intimate relationship, but it didn’t work out due to their schedules, and then they became blood-siblings; Elspeth is busy being a student and learning about how to rule a kingdom. Her friends are from all backgrounds and all walks of life and all of them contribute equally to their relationships, which means it’s not one person doing all the work to keep the relationship going. This also shows that there are other relationships in order for a person to be truly healthy. Modern society spends so much time trying to push marriage partners and romantic partners on everyone as the ideal for what everyone should strive to attain in their lives and that’s actually horribly unhealthy. A true healthy lifestyle is one of balance, with close friends from different backgrounds, respected coworkers, and people whose company you enjoy. Just because you are sexually or romantically interested in a specific gender does not mean you can’t have valuable friends of that gender without a sexual or romantic relationship.

There’s a section on page 53 where Kris and Talia are dancing and the discussion revolves around Heralds and their relationships: “Face it, Talia, Heralds seldom form permanent attachments to anyone or anything. We’re friends, always, and sometimes things get more intense than that, but it doesn’t last for long. Maybe it’s because our hearts are given first to our Companions, then to our duty – an I guess there aren’t too many of use with hearts big enough for a third love.” I think the way relationships are handled in this series is also very body and sex-positive. The Heralds themselves all enjoy intimate engagements and don’t judge the casual pairings that happen after the fealty ceremony. So while Kris even talks about how rare full lifebonding is, he understands that it’s not something everyone has, no matter how much some people might want it.

Talia mentions lifebonding and “love-at-one-glance” again on page 228. Talia, having not experienced how powerful a connection can be between two people at first meeting, doesn’t quite believe in instant connections like that, but as the book progresses, she starts thinking that there might be something to that type of connection after all. As someone who has experienced what it’s like to meet someone and feel instantly and powerfully drawn to them, I can tell you that it’s something that can’t ever be mistaken. It’s powerful and a connection that strong doesn’t like being ignored. Though what happened to me was in April of 2013 and I made a lot of mistakes and did a lot of things that are horribly wrong and things eventually fell apart, that time changed everything about my entire life and I miss that person with all my heart, all day every day. I think it’s because of my own experiences with feeling a strong connection to another person that I understand a little bit more of what Talia’s going through when she starts worrying about not hurting Kris. And the reverse is also true – if that connection isn’t there, it’s impossible to force it. There have also been a lot of people I’ve met in my life that I should have been able to connect with and it just wasn’t there, which goes for friendships as well as romantic partners.

One of the things that really makes me feel for Talia is that her gift is such that she has to be constantly shielded from everyone all the time. That kind of contribution of constant energy and time and maintenance would add such an intense level of constant stress that it must really wear on her. Her experiences with her gift are detailed in this book and I think it says a lot about Talia’s character that she keeps working to understand the ethics of her gift to make sure that she’s being the best person she can be, even with the added stress of her abilities and being able to use those abilities.

I think that this book would be a great reference book to keep with you in case you ever get snowed in someplace and have to work without modern conveniences to get yourself out and also activities to pursue to keep yourself busy when snowed in, such as how they set aside time for cleaning the cabin and all their gear, as well as working to make a path out of their situation. This book really showed the difference between taking a proactive approach to overwhelming situations instead of just accepting that your situation sucks and not doing anything to improve it. Kris and Talia could have waited for rescuers to get to them instead of exhausting themselves day after day to dig a path out of their predicament, but that’s not what they did. They worked themselves to exhaustion every day and worked to make their lives better in any way they could.

Obviously, if I reread this series every year or two, I must really enjoy the book. Overall, this book is probably a high four on my rating scale, as it’s not my favorite book in the trilogy, but the rest of the trilogy wouldn’t make any sense without this book. It’s definitely a book that I’m happy to own and reread frequently. I even have travel copies that I take with me on my extended research trips, that’s how much this series means to me.

Works cited: Lackey, Mercedes. Arrow’s Flight. New York: Daw Book, Inc., 1987.

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

TV Show Review: Supergirl Season 1

supergirlI’d seen a few things about the television series Supergirl recently and decided to investigate a little more in-depth so I went out and purchased the first season on DVD.

“Meet Kara Danvers, aka Kara Zor-El, who escaped the doomed planet Krypton at age 12 and was raised by her foster family, the Danverses, on Earth. There, she learned to conceal her superpowers and keep her identity a secret. Years later, Kara lives in National City working for fierce taskmaster Cat Grant alongside her friends, IT technician Winslow “Winn” Schott and photographer James Olsen. But Kara’s days of keeping her talents a secret are over when Hank Henshaw, head of a super-secret agency where Kara’s older sister, Alex, works, enlists her to help them protect the world from sinister threats. Though Kara struggles to balance her extraordinary skills with her human emotions, her heart soars when she takes to the skies as the DC Comics character Supergirl.”

The first season contains 20 episodes: Pilot, Stronger Together, Fight or Flight, How Does She Do It? Livewire, Red Faced, Human For a Day, Hostile Takeover, Blood Bonds, Childish Things, Strange Visitor From Another Planet, Bizarro, For the Girl Who Has Everything, Truth, Justice and the American Way, Solitude, Falling, Manhunter, World’s Finest, Myriad, and Better Angels.

This is going to be an odd way to start a review, but when I was first researching this series, I performed a basic search and was sent to one of the professional sites. I’m not indicating exactly which one because I honestly don’t remember and I don’t want to post information I know for a fact is inaccurate. The very first comment about the show as a whole was from someone who posted about how it was episode after episode of “more feminist crap.” This made me determined to find the series and buy it within a day. Nothing makes me happier than seeing positive representation for overlooked and underappreciated characters and shows, especially if that show has the potential to bring hope into the world.

Since I purchased the first season of Supergirl, I have binge-watched the entire season. Twice. And I even started trying to watch the episodes on cwtv, since I have the inability to watch them live. I think I’ve seen every episode they’ve posted also at least twice.

So what is it about this show that motivates me to continue to watch it, and to do so repeatedly?

First of all, the show does a lot of really neat little nerdy things. Kara Danvers (Supergirl)’s foster mom is played by Helen Slater, who is the same actress who played Supergirl in the original movie from 1984. Jeremiah Danvers, Kara’s foster father and Alex’s actual father, is played by Dean Cain, who is the same actor who portrayed Clark Kent/Superman in the 1990s television series Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Both the original Supergirl movie and Lois and Clark had a lasting impact on me during my youth and I have positive feelings for both, even though it’s been a very long time since I’ve watched any of them. Supergirl also adds in a lot of the comic book mythology and combines new characters with familiar ones, which makes the series a special treat for people with a comic book and a movie background like mine.

I think the strongest aspect of this show is the casting. While from the outside looking in, it would appear as though most of the cast are women, the truth is that this is probably one of the most balanced casts I’ve seen in a show. If you count the main characters on the back of the first season guide, you have exactly three women and three men.

supergirl_castThis is probably the single most aesthetically pleasing James/Jimmy Olsen I’ve ever seen in any rendition of the Superman universes and one of the special features on the last DVD in this season is from the San Diego Comic Con panel in 2015, which was a little awkward because Mehcad Brooks, the actor who plays James Olsen, was encouraged to show off his rather spectacular six-pack of abdominal muscles.

Winslow “Winn” Schott, played by Jeremy Jordan, does a fabulous job of being the over-looked IT guy and he was one of the reasons I enjoyed the pilot episode especially so much. When Kara/Supergirl shows Winn her powers, she does so because she knows that he’s going to be excited for her. He’s so excited for her that he actually is the one who designs her Supergirl costume. Winn is easily a super genius and the fact that he made an amazing costume for his best friend to go out and become a superhero says a lot about the power of this character’s heart and his skills. He is *proud* of the costume and I thought it was one of the best scenes in the pilot episode where they were trying out different outfits and talking about using different materials to be more durable and subtly changing small parts of the costume until they got things just perfect.

Chyler Leigh as Alexandra “Alex” Danvers is easily my favorite character in the series so far. She’s absolutely human and she demonstrates true love, devotion, faith, and general badassery by working extremely hard to be successful. She studies Xenobiology as well as being able to use just about any weapon. Above and beyond everything for me, though, is that she cares. She cares and believes in Kara/Supergirl *so much* that she is willing to sacrifice everything without hesitation. But she’s also badass enough to know exactly what her capabilities and limitations are. She always finds a way.

Cat Grant, played by Calista Flockhart, is as real as people come. She calls out blatant sexism and unapologetically talks about the way the world is balanced. I really appreciated Cat and Kara’s interactions because they constantly worked to make each other stronger and better, but they don’t compete against each other. They are both strong women, working together to make the world a better place and to bring more hope into the world. Cat is often a mentor for Kara/Supergirl by providing knowledge that is designed to help Kara become a more effective assistant and person and to help Supergirl become a better hero. Cat has some really great lines and she is wonderful at demonstrating effective ways to lead a business by being caring and decisive. If only more businesses had leadership like this in the real world.

Melissa Benoist is clearly the perfect choice to play Kara/Supergirl. As Kara, the mostly awkward assistant, she demonstrates that there are more important things to focus on rather than appealing to people’s sense of fashion or how they believe she ought to behave. She’s socially awkward, which is both relatable and adorable at the same time, but she’s also incredibly smart and dedicated to her job, both as an assistant to Cat Grant and as Supergirl. She wants to help people and she wants to learn how to help people better. She brings out the best in the people around her and she inspires hope.

This show as a whole brings out the best in people. Above and beyond all things, I think this show is about hope and about making the world a better place, and I think that’s something the world as a whole desperately needs right now. I don’t think watching shows where everyone dies and the world gets destroyed is doing anything positive for us as a society or as a people. I think that shows like this can inspire us to be better than we are; to be mindful of the world in which we live and the hypocrisies we often unknowingly support. I think this series also shows that there is redemption available to anyone who wants it, but that same redemption takes a lot of work.

I could probably talk about each individual episode, or go into more depth on the plot and other major character development, but I really don’t feel like giving television spoilers for those who haven’t seen this show yet and might be interested in watching it at some point in the future. I will say that I’m glad I bought the entire first season because this is probably the only television show I’ve ever watched where every episode ends on a cliff-hanger. I liked not having to wait to find out what was going on.

Considering how many times I’ve already binge-watched just this season, I think it’s safe to say this is one of my very few solid fives from my rating chain. I obviously own it, I’ve obviously watched it multiple times in a very short period, I very much intend on buying the future seasons, and I am extremely likely to continue rewatching it in the future.

Posted in Movie Reviews | Tagged , , | Leave a comment