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Review: Night Myst

…I really wanted to start the week with a good one for my birthday, but I’m going in the order of my migraine-reading. (Next week will be a good one though!). And Night Myst should have hit all the right buttons for me. There’s a lot of fantasy elements in it that also factor into my own series, Sun’s Guard, and that I just like seeing played with in new and interesting ways. And in that sense, this series didn’t disappoint. But for the rest… Well, let’s get into the meat of things.

Night Myst by Yasmine Galenorn follows the return of the Indigo Court into a world where vampires, were-creatures, fae, and magic users are in an uneasy truce… a truce the new Court is about to break. Enemies of the vampire’s Crimson Court (and for good reason), they aren’t afraid of ruining the lives of humans or fae to get their revenge. Enter Cicely Waters, a witch with a crappy past who is finally feeling the call to return home. But her childhood/teenage sweetheart, the fae prince Grieve, has changed because of the new Court returning in his woods, and it is going to get Cicely involved in games of politics that will threaten her physical, emotional, and mental well-being.

Okay, let’s get the ugly out of the way. I had severe, and I do mean severe, issues with the Crimson Court’s dealings with Cicely in the book, in particular the ending-up required blood giving. It was rape. Pure and simple. And the way Galenorn handled the aftermath of it was just as atrocious as her writing it to begin with. I expected better, I really did. I’m pretty open minded and have the philosophy that as long as your lifestyle isn’t hurting me or embarrassing the crap out of me, do what you will. And as a writer, I’ve got more curiosity than my moral senses are sometimes comfortable with. But the way this writer portrays the BDSM community is just as bad as Fifty Shades of Grey, only without any stupid attempts at redeeming, it’s just evil. This is further enforced by the rape scene. And having sex with your lover immediately afterward is not an instant band-aided, especially with the screwy relationship Cicely and Grieve have. Nothing like what you expect when the protagonist is of an alternative life style herself.

There. That’s done. To turn this into a more positive note, I did think the way the vampire and the ousted-fae court tried to manipulate Cicely was perfect. So many times, vampires or fae are humanized, even if the book tells us that these races are manipulative bargainers, we don’t see it. This book showed it, over and over and over again. It was impossible for Cicely to stay ahead of them, and she didn’t really bargain well with them, usually getting scared to the point of being dumb. Or being dumb on behalf of Grieve (I’ll get to this). It eventually got overwhelming, and not in a good way. Scene questions, from a writing perspective (have I talked about this, I should check) should end in, “No,” or, “Yes, but,” until the very end of the book. If there had been a couple more, “Yes, but,” endings to scenes, it would have been perfect, with us seeing the manipulative factors to the races, but less dumb reactions on behalf of our protagonist.

Characters time…only, there isn’t much to say. There was a decent sized cast, but so much of the focus was on being afraid, both of outside and inside causes, and Cicely kept running off to be alone or with Grieve, we didn’t see much of our motley crew, outside of the cousin’s boyfriend possibly being a butt-munch, and the cousin herself being messed up via ignoring her powers (which is always bad). Mostly by ways that don’t balance with the impression we’re supposed to have of deceased/missing characters. (Lots of characters are mentioned, then are revealed to be dead, missing, or otherwise not involved, get used to this.) Similarly, the other courts are so cluttered, it’s a constantly rotating image that is difficult to keep up with. In the end, the only two who are really solid…ish…as characters are Cicely and Grieve. This works for romance novels, but if that is where the focus is supposed to be, the side cast needs pruned down.

Cicely and Grieve. Oh lord. Okay, let’s establish this: I am okay with the reincarnated lovers thing. Believe it or not, this is a trope I like. I’m also okay, if it is written well, with immortal men watching a girl grow up and falling in love with her as an adult. But that’s not what happens here. Grieve loves Cicely…even if it is how Cicely will be as an adult..when she’s a child. And really starts the manipulation early. This is a particular kind of child offender, so while other people are cooing over it, I can’t get over that bit of backstory. It’s a delicate balance to write, I know (this is spoken as someone who ships Thor’s daughter with Fandral in MCU, trust me, I KNOW), and this one just strays too far. Grieve as a character is so bipolar and confusing, all it does is feed my image of him as this creepy man who needs cut out of Cicely’s life immediately. Some of this is plot related, but it again, wasn’t handled well.

Cicely herself is very much a power-fantasy, wish-fulfillment character (which makes the rape scene even creepier, actually, in a way). Judging by author pictures, it might even be a case of author insert, though that could also be wrong. Regardless, I don’t have problems with these characters, as my hatred of the term Mary Sue can attest to, and outside of her plot, I like most of Cicely well enough. I have to say most. Her background got hella-complicated with the half-fae, reincarnated vampiric fae, thing she ended up having, which irked me to have dumped all in one book, and her love for Grieve made her dumb to the point of being a complete idiot who I couldn’t like for that reason alone, levels. But if those had been toned down, and the writer didn’t steal any agency her character had with her plot, this was very much a character I could have gotten behind. Seriously, if she had focused on the reincarnated thing for this book and left the half-fae part for the second book and just foreshadowed, I’d be okay (as long as it doesn’t go too far beyond this). Similarly, I know love makes you do crazy things, but Cicely was having all the markers of an abusive relationship, which is not cool. But if she gets slapped out of it later, this could work. So not a bad character overall.

Here’s the really good note: the world building was well done. Cramped, but well done. Seriously, when the only problem I have is everything is too conveniently located in the same town for no real reason, that’s a good sign. This writer has good ideas, has a good knowledge base, and builds accordingly. The antagonists aren’t just evil for no reason. Myst has valid reasons for what she is doing, completely valid, and they are explained well. When it comes to things like being too cramped, usually why things are happening in a particular place can be explained in a future book, if there just isn’t room without making things clunky, so it’s something I’m pretty quick to forgive. Now, did the ice spider things freak me the crap out? Yes, but I’ve got serious arachnophobia. I can’t even handle dead Aragog from Harry Potter. Again, free pass (except okay, I wish we’d seen earlier hints of spiders, but maybe I had blinders on and missed them. It happens).

Will I read more of this series? No. I can’t. The vampires left too big of a sour taste in my mouth, as did Grieve. Unless the very next book involves some character deaths of a very specific nature, this series is unsalvageable for me. I honestly can’t even recommend this series to others to read. But, and this is a big but, I am willing to give this writer another shot…with a different series.


Review: Charming

I always was more of a Prince Adam girl rather than Prince Charming, which ironically is perfect for this book, Charming by Elliot James. It takes the conventional role of Prince Charming (this time referring to just a general prince-hero type in fairy tales, rather than the Disney reference), and tries to throw a spin on them. Is it all that original? Not really, but A for effort.

The novel follows John Charming, who is the black sheep of the family…or should I be punny and say the wolf of the family? But everything has gone to hell, so he’s living under a false identity, tending bar in a small town. Or at least, he is…until a valkyrie and a vampire walk into the bar. John is being dragged back into the world he thought he’d left behind. The question is, will he make it back out again unchanged?

I think I’ll start with world building this time. I actually thought there were some things to it that were really well done…and others that came across misogynistic…and then a couple that could have used some fleshing out. For example, the Knights Templar and the idea of the Pax Arcana I thought worked well. The Knights weren’t made into this blanket of sameness that covered the whole world, the geas made it clear that there were going to be Knights whether they wanted to be or not, and the other elements just flowed together well. There were degrees and layers to it. Similarly, it touched on other orders founded by different cultures where the idea of feudalism hadn’t taken root yet, which helped give dimension.

But for our particular Knight, I find his existence as the only one of his kind to ever exist really illogical. The odds just don’t seem right to me. Rare, sure, but I feel like there should be history there. Similarly, even though a ghost ended up being kind of a big deal for subplots and others for red herrings, they really weren’t touched on beyond Sig’s “I see dead people” shtick and what little she mentions. John should know at least enough about this, and the book has enough info dumps in it, one more really couldn’t have hurt. (More on this later.) Without the explanation, it left the ghost elements feeling like an after-thought to try and make Sig work in the story and be vital to it.

Similarly, I have some issues with how he decided to interpret the Valkyrie myth. Obviously, I’ve done my own dabbling in this, so I’m a little biased. I think I’m capable of keeping my distance and respecting other people’s vision…but this one just irks me. I know someone out there is going, “As long as she doesn’t have a kid, it’s fine, right? You’re over-reacting.” And maybe I am. But for a Valkyrie to lose their immortality, and if I inferred correctly a good chunk of their power, just by having a daughter seems like a really messed up weakness, and a way of removing agency from this particular kind of creature. You don’t see gender or physical sex factoring into other creatures’ weaknesses. I understand how it can seem like I’m splitting hairs–my swan maidens are vulnerable by their swan skins being stolen, which are taken by human men to capture them for wives. But I make it clear that this is an assault in all meanings of the word, no matter how “nice” the man is. This has the overtones of it being a choice and responsibility of the woman, when it isn’t.

Okay, moving on. Plot. It actually wasn’t that bad. It definitely lagged at places and could have used some tightening up. I get that there was some play going on with the full moon, and that’s why he had the number of days leading up to everything, but it was a bit too much, meaning there was a lot of dead space. And when writers have dead space…they info dump. I do it, other writers do it. It’s a fact. And sometimes editors let us get away with it. In this case some of the information was helpful. In others…not so much. I could have done without it, or done with some more information on the parts that were left gaping (see ghosts and such). I did like the fake out before the big confrontation in the white room of pain. Weaknesses was the relative doppelganger (really, really lame), and the romance as a whole.

Which brings me to characters. John on his own was a strong voice. Not a unique voice, but a strong one. His sudden glee over his soul felt like it came out of nowhere. I mean, I get that he was raised to believe that he was a monster, but I guess there just wasn’t enough of this worry conveyed before his revelation. Side characters were about as strong as I expect from side characters. The priest in particular had a wonderful freshness to her that I wish John had, it would have helped him stand out more among the crowd of werewolf (or almost werewolf) male protagonists out there. There was a distinct lack of a villain voice. The antagonist feelings were split between a member of the group and hunting for an enemy vampire…who we didn’t really see until the end. We learned about her, never actually saw her. The plot survived, but it left us lacking a secondary strong voice to combat with John and bring balance to the book.

I think James realized he needed a second strong voice, which is why the romance subplot got introduced and Sig got pushed more to the front. It was a strong-arm attempt, and it was an awkward situation to read. I like Sig, I just don’t know if this was the best way to write her into John’s life. Heck, I’m not sure I even like her and John as a thing. Was there chemistry there? Yes. But even with how drawn out the timeline was, it felt rushed. Surprisingly, I wish she had been pushed back a little bit more until a later book, and let things progress more naturally.

For all my nitpicking, I actually loved this book. Ginny wasn’t sure enough of where it was going for sequels, which I can understand, so I might try the second and see how it goes on my own. But even if you are just reading the first as a stand alone, I recommend it. Yay for starting the New Year off on a good foot! Hopefully the rest of 2016 goes just as well.

Review: The Dresden Files 12-Changes

Weee! Good times this week. I’m finally getting settled in a schedule, including getting back to writing. It’s exciting!

Changes starts off with a bang. Susan is back in Harry’s life, with news that shacks the foundations of his world. He has a daughter. Named for his mother, born from the woman he still loves, raised with no knowledge of who her parents are. Only she’s been kidnapped by the Red Court. Specifically by the Duchess Arianna, the wife of the Duke that Harry killed previously in a wizard’s duel. She might have bigger plans in place, though, as Harry discovers that the Red Court has its fingers in all sorts of pies. Secrets from the past are going to come to light and change the future forever. And for Harry? The most important thing of all is saving the daughter he’s never met. Even if that means making a bad decision or two. (Or several. It IS Harry Dresden, after all.)

Holy wow. Okay, so let’s break this down so I can approach this somewhat sensibly. Let’s go… Plot, characters, and world building/placement in a long series. I think that should work…

So plot. On one hand, it was possible the best and tightest book yet. Harry starts with one set goal, and stays with that one goal. Other bits and pieces might appear, but they all end up interweaving with his goal so you don’t feel scatter-shot like you normally do with a Dresden book. Even the introduction of new characters, or side characters we hadn’t seen much of, felt natural, like actors coming on and off stage at just the right moment. It was almost…elegant. But then he wrecks it completely. The ending got messy as he tried to bring in too many players for the final battle. I definitely get that this was supposed to be some great turning point for Harry, just completely bringing everything from the beginning of the series together. But the end result started to get a little clunky.

And just when I thought it couldn’t get worse… That ending. That wasn’t an ending. That was… That was a cheap marketing ploy to insure the next book would get bought (and I’ll get to that next week). I have never approved of those sorts of endings. I didn’t with Garth Nix and The Seventh Tower series, and that was back before I was even writing myself! It’s just rude to your readers not to give them just a smidge of satisfaction. Which is particular cruel, since Butcher actually was managing the prefect balance of satisfaction for the end of the book and yet wanting to see more. He could have cut off with Harry on the Water Beetle and been FINE. But nooo….

Character-wise, there were good points and there were bad points. Good points, oh my good gosh golly, Harry the overprotective Daddy was amazing. It really made the book for him. I just loved how he was struggling to be calm and collected, to be the detective to figure things out and to keep his powers under control. But at the same time, he was struggling because this was his daughter, his precious blood family, and she was in danger and he wanted to rage against the machine. I also felt like Murphy was particularly well done in this book, especially when she took up the sword of justice. It was a perfect touch.

On the other side…Susan and her little minion, Martin. Ugh. I don’t know if he even started with a real solid idea for Susan or if he’s just changing her with each book as he sees fit, but… No, I know what it is. She was so bland when he started, that it’s impossible to say anything is out of character for her, or at least that’s the idea. It never actually works that way. Instead, I have nothing about her that I like and so many things about her that I hate. And Martin… Martin doesn’t even have that to cling to. Realize, I like the cold characters. I like the serious bad-asses. But he didn’t have anything for me to grab on to until right at the end, and that’s just too late in the game. I also felt like the Red King was completely 180 from what we had picked up from previous books, which makes no sense unless Butcher forgot to make notes or didn’t convey clearly his image in the earlier books so we (or at least me) was led astray in the wrong way.

World building/series placement wise, I could definitely feel all the bits and pieces of his world building being pulled together for this one. And he actually did handle them well, keeping me from feeling completely overwhelmed with the information as it stacked together (until the clunking ending, of course). Plot wise, he was doing the same thing, and in the earlier parts of the book, it worked. All these happenings from earlier books weren’t a necessary part of the plot, but they helped add layers to it. But then he completely lost it in the last third and it started relying on you reading the previous books to know who was who and what did what. I get that in something this long, it’s hard to keep a book stand-alone-strong without linking to your earlier works. Really, just incentive for me to keep breaking up my worlds into smaller series so I can keep my focus. But since he came so close on this one, I wish he had made it to the end with a strong, mid-point book.

Review: The Dresden Files 6-Blood Rites

We have headway! I got my hands on Dead Beat for Thursday and I’m about a third through it already. Now maybe I can keep one ahead of the game. Now on to…

Blood Rites starts off with a puppy rescue and flaming monkey poop. No, I’m not joking. But it doesn’t (quite) stay that humorous, as Thomas of the vampires’ White Court has a favor to ask of Harry. One that smells of family drama in more ways than one. On top of that, the Queen of the Black Court (yep, more vampires) has dropped into town. While Harry attempts to cut her off before she can cause too much damage,he ends up paying in a big way – and I don’t just mean Kincaid’s bill.

Since I mentioned him, I’ll start off by saying that I was so excited to see Kincaid again. Admittedly, I missed Ivy, but it was also really nice to see him outside of his role as her protector too. Plus just imagining this big, touch mercenary relaying her message to Harry was all sorts of entertaining. (Won’t spoil it for you, it is too giggle-worthy.) I like it when side characters get fleshed out a bit in later books, since it makes it feel like remembering who they are was actually a worth-while effort.

Speaking of characters who got some good development (wait for it, there is a bad piece of development ahead too), Thomas was amazing in this book. He got to be all serious and it really brought home that some of that playboy/party-hard image is a facade he wears to protect himself from his feather. It also served to reinforce how human he still is even among the White Court, compared to his older sister Lana or his father for example.

Plot-wise, it wasn’t anywhere near the tangled mess of some of the earlier books. I was able to track it a lot better, and the cast of characters was both condensed and tagged well so that I never lost my grasp. Some long-awaited moments finally happened, such as Bob being a sneaky little devil and Harry doing more than verbally threaten him in response, meeting some of Murphy’s family and learning more about that part of her life, and delving into some much needed history of both Ebeneezer and Harry’s mom. Oh. My. God. Harry’s mom. Not even the big, important thing but… HER NAME! I just got her name with this book. Margaret LeFey. Morgan Lafay. AHHHHHHHH! (*explosion of squeeing*)

… *coughs* Okay,  now that all of that is out of my system… On to my problem with this book. Murphy. On one hand, she was another good point. We actually got to see her aikaido, see her struggle with what it meant to be in the loop of magic’s secret existence. Even if the situation with her sister and mother was slightly outside of believable for me, I was totally going to give it a pass since it looked like Butcher was finally figuring out how to balance “Murphy is a cop” with “Murphy is a girl.”

And then we get to the final battle with Lord Raith. Let me firmly establish this – I do not like rape as a plot point at this time in our culture. It has become all too easy to use it to degrade and/or destroy a powerful female character. And it is only used against female characters. There is no male-only equivilant, and until we as a society learn how to handle rape without blaming the victims (though I’ll join the bus and say survivor is a better word) or doing even more harm to them, we need to keep it out of our plots.

Butcher hints at it but doesn’t go that far, which would ever so slightly appease my rage. Except for how it is telegraphed that the rape would go down. That Murphy would enjoy it, even though she had already CLEARLY said “no.” And then he proceeded to show how that would happen with Raith’s powers. Not Okay. Not in any circumstances, fantasy world setting or otherwise. Why? Because there is this thing called writer responsibility. Even though Raith is the antagonist and a vampire, he’s also given enough humanity in him that he could easily be considered “cool” by someone who will then want to model themselves after him. Even if they don’t, it spreads the idea that women can enjoy being raped to anyone who is excellent at taking things out of context to suit their own needs. (Don’t believe me on that front? Look at every hate group or group of college students trying to get their own way and how they take information out of context to make their point.)

It was almost enough to make me “black list” this whole series. This book was full of some decent highs and one devestating low for me. What did anyone else think?

Review: The Dresden Files 4–Summer Knight

Warning: Rant ahead.

Summer Knight pretty much takes the ending established in Grave Peril and trashes it. Rather than sort-of coping with the help of his friends, Harry is instead drowning in his depression over Susan. It takes one of the Fairy Queens ordering him on a job (there is no options) and the Council’s threats of killing him over the war between them and the vampire Red Court to snap him back into his groove. What follows is a tangle of trying to figure out what is truth (not easy when dealing with fairies) and taking steps to prevent the next great weather shift, be it an Ice Age or the kind of plant growth that is deadly for the human race. Oh, and not being assassinated. That last one is important.

Before the rant begins, let me be at least a little kind. Butcher finally found the right balance to how much information we as the reader needs to stay equal with Harry on the detective/private investigator side of the book but not to get ahead of him. I didn’t feel like Harry was making wild leaps in logic that I couldn’t see every few seconds, but I also wasn’t about to throw the book because Harry was missing something glaringly obvious. This is a huge improvement compared even to two books ago, Fool Moon. The action sequencing was also a lot better. There wasn’t a dependency on Harry finding just a little more strength over and over again (or if there was, it was so minor I didn’t notice it), and it was doing gradual spikes, letting me breath and absorb after a huge rush of action, but still staying strong enough that I didn’t have the urge to put down the book.

As a slight warm-up to the rant, two things. First, the world-building took a step back. Even though the focus was primarily on the fairy, there were so many different aspects of it being thrown at us, I would have been completely lost if I wasn’t used to managing my own spawn of characters. I understand the hugeness of the Nevernever and the fairy that Butcher was going for, but since so few of the previous books had much to do with the fairies aside from a couple very specific people, we as readers got lost. There almost needed to be another book between this great war set up and the last one to help ease us into the fairies better.

And the side characters. Lord, there were a lot more than usual thrown at us, and we had to keep up with a lot of them without many tags to go off of. Billy was an interesting character to bring back, but I wasn’t sure he served as good of a balance to Dresden as Michael did. Maybe because Billy is so gun-ho about being beside Harry instead of advising caution in some cases. It was frustrating, since Dresden tends to jump into things headfirst. And the various members of the White Council–including Dresden’s second teacher–were just…paper dolls that had words to say and otherwise weren’t really as influential as you would think they are since they earned names and vague descriptions.

Mentioning side characters gets us into the rant. I about said, “Screw it,” and announced that this was going to be the last book I reviewed in this series, that’s how frustrated I was about this book. For those who read last week’s post, I was begging for a strong female character to balance out Dresden, even citing that Murphy had potential, if Butcher wanted to go that way. And with a book featuring so many fairy characters, many female, there was a chance for this to happen, maybe even with human characters as the book went on.

It started off bad. The first Winter Queen that Dresden meets is described in nothing but sexual metaphors. Now, whether this is supposed to be comments on her fae nature, I don’t know, but the problem is at first, she is a mortal woman. A potential client. And Dresden is so blase about the fact that he looks at her in a sexual way, despite the fact that he is supposed to be fretting himself to death over his ex-girlfriend.  Then Mab goes all fairy, and that appears to be the end of it. But she is only the beginning. Every single fairy is described the same way, making them into sex objects rather than actual characters.

These are the fairies, and I’ve already said he has problems with them in Grave Peril. That should be the end of it, right? Not too bad? Oh no. Because now we meet the mysterious Elaine from Dresden’s past. We’d gotten enough of an idea of her over the course of the last two books, but much like the ending of the previous book, a lot of that is thrown under the rug with what appears is going to be the Butcher equivalent of the DnD phrase, “A wizard did it.” And again, she is described as a sex object. Which I guess I am supposed to excuse because she and Harry used to have a relationship? Yeah, that doesn’t fly for me. I’ve put up with the stupid version chivalry that Dresden follows (which isn’t the real version, I would know), but this is enough to take the cake.

Oh yeah, speaking of that form of chivalry. Remember Murphy? The potentially powerful female character who I had my hopes pinned on for her being a good balance to Dresden once she got brought completely into the loop? Shot to friggin’ dust bunny HELL in this book. Not literally, but I’m beginning to see signs that Butcher is going to utterly wreck her and there is nothing I can do but whine about it (so I shall). The Murphy we’d met in all the previous books wouldn’t mix drugs and alcohol. And while she might struggle with things that go bump in the night after the previous book, she’s seen too much over the last few months with Harry to completely fall apart like she has in this book. Butcher tries to bring her back during a shoot-out in Wal-Mart, but it doesn’t work for me. She shouldn’t have fallen that hard in the first place, and now that she has, I bet he’s going to just make it worse.

At this point in the series, there is no arguing that you can pick up a book and understand them completely. They are starting to rely too much on the reader reading the previous books to know about the events Dresden has faced recently. Which, with a long-running series, I guess I shouldn’t be too upset about him making it (sort of) to Book 4 before reaching this point. But then I think of several series that I’ve read over the years that manage it for much longer, so… I don’t think I can. Here’s on to the next. Hopefully I can keep these reviews going.

By they way, thank you all for being patient on this post. My wrist needed to be iced down before I could even write the announcement yesterday. And then again before I could go to sleep. Hopefully the new brace I ordered will help it from continuing to be a problem.

Review: The Dresden Files 3–Grave Peril

I’ll honest, I was not seeing the draw of this series. I now stand corrected. While there were some things about it that still bugged me, this third book has changed my mind.

Grave Peril picks up at a break-necking speed with Harry Dresden and a new character, Michael. The supernatural world is all stirred up, and it’s up to Harry and his Knight friend to figure out why. But things get complicated with not one but THREE vampire courts meeting, and Harry’s girlfriend Susan getting herself nose-deep in trouble again. Harry has to gamble with the forces of the Nevernever to return peace to Chicago, but in the end, he has to pay a price.

(Any more info, and I will spoil you, I’m sorry.)

Butcher has finally figured out that focusing on a short handful of magical aspects makes the story so much easier to understand. Ghosts were the newcomers this time, with some old stuff being focused on more heavily (vampires, fairies, and the power of faith). As a result, I was absolutely able to track what was going on where. Even the true-sight aspect was given some nice extra attention. I love the image of Murphy the Avenging Angel. The explanation of the Nevernever was still a little shaky, but since most of the focus was put on the ghosts and the vampires, I was able to chill about that, since it wasn’t the focus. The pacing was smoother, with a few moments of non-action to let the reader’s mind reset. There are some issues with the endings (I’m getting real sick of Harry finding a little more strength, and then a little more, and then a little more), but I’m hoping we’re starting to see the end of that.

For characters, I started to understand Harry a little better in this book. I was able to get under the sarcasm and actually see the character, which is much better. His fairy godmother was also a piece of work, and I liked how she was played. On the other hand, though, I felt like she was a little flat. I think she could use some fleshing out if she’s going to reappear in later books. Susan has always annoyed me, and while she got better in this book, I still don’t think much of her or the way she has been written into this book. She’s built to be rescued, and even now, after all the crap that happened to her in this book, I’m not sure if that is going to change.

Michael was the star of this book. He reminded us of the human side, both to Harry and to the conflicts going on. Harry is so dismissive of Murphy and Susan, it’s hard to keep the humanity of it all in perspective. Michael was a welcome change, and I loved the interactions between him and Harry. Mostly because at times, my own feelings about religion are echoed in the text, and that’s a great personal connection for me. But unlike Harry, who has only a few friendships left, Michael has a family that he has to worry about being in danger. He’s down to Earth, and has no real knowledge of the wizard-side of things, which makes Harry explain more, which I have to appreciate.

Flaws wise, they were minor this time. The pacing, and my disgust with Harry’s seemingly endless sources of energy, have been noted. I am hoping the treatment of women gets better too. Three books in, and all the main female characters we’ve met so far are…not that great. Murphy has potential, but we’ve yet to see it realized. But the rest? They are either sex objects for Harry to romance and rescue (I don’t care that he said he loved her in this book, it doesn’t change what she is), completely helpless, supposedly decent but of course no where NEAR as powerful as Harry and thus they are going to end up dead, or they are a member of the cruel and selfish fairies/insert random evil creature-race here. Just ONE powerful female figure that isn’t sexualized or trivialized by Harry, that’s all I ask…

Unlike the second book, I didn’t feel like this third book relied on the previous two for the reader to understand everything. There were a couple of things that could have used a little more fleshing out for a first time reader (Bob wasn’t as clear as he could have been, as far as his existence and such were concerned). But really, I wish I had picked up this book FIRST. It would have made getting through the other two that much easier. Butcher seems to have figured out what the style for the series is going to be, so I hope the next couple of books smooth out the last couple of major flaws and keep improving the areas of once-weakness.

Just as a head’s up, next week’s post might be slightly late. Not so much because of book availability (I’ve already requested a hold and should have it by Monday), but my right wrist and the wonders of carpel tunnel syndrome have caught up with me. I’m fine most of the time with it, just occasionally it will get sore and hard to use. I’m going to ice it for the next few nights while I’m sleeping and wear my brace during the day, so hopefully it won’t be an issue. I just wanted to give you a warning in case the post happens in the mid-afternoon instead of the morning.

Blood-C Review

Bleh. I’m full of fail on the blogging front. Let me do another dump of posts to get caught up. First, the last in my Blood series reviews.

Blood-C is CLAMP’s (one of the more popular anime/manga group of artists) take on Saya’s story. This time, Saya is a shrine maiden on a small island somewhere in Japan, with an equally small town surrounding the shring. She is charged by her father to use the sacred sword to slay the monsters plaguing the town–referred to as the Elder Bairns once translated–just as her mother once did. But Saya must keep it a secret, even when things take a turn for the worse and what Saya thinks she knows is brought under questioning.

Animation and design-wise…it’s a CLAMP project, that much is obvious. They got into this lanky, awkward way of drawing characters, and it’s worse in moving color than it is in black-and-white manga. Thankfully, it isn’t as utterly bizarre in this show as it was in xxxHolic, but it still lends a weird edge to the animation. The school uniform choice is…well, it’s dumb, and the characters even lampshade the design towards the end, calling it cosplay. I also think the “dog” didn’t really look like a dog, making it stick out way too much instead of being moderately inconspicuous.

This version of Saya is the most bipolar yet. She sings little songs, loves her father like he hung the stars, and is completely oblivious to the feelings of one of her classmates for her. But she is also a fearless fighter, a warrior that the Elder Bairns seem to hate, and, in the end, humanity’s reluctant defender. That’s right, CLAMP’s Saya links back to the first Saya from Blood: the Last Vampire, though it takes the entire series to get there, and a movie besides to really see the link. The movie also hints at Blood +‘s Saya with a flashback to a castle garden, but it was such a mild link, along with Saya’s senseless red eyes (seriously, they serve no purpose other than to look cool), that I’m not certain how much of it was intentional and how much of it was them just taking guessing stabs at key traits from previous work in the franchise.

As for the other cast members, well, they are as deep as a puddle. The father-figure and, at least up until the last couple of episodes, everyone else were as flat as could be. But once everything hit the fan, the side characters became much more real to me and far more interesting. I wish we had gotten more hints of them throughout the rest of the series, or even a couple more episodes to flesh them out a little better. The villain surprised me, and gave me Solomon flashbacks, especially in the manga version (which I’m only not reviewing because all my volumes are a six hour drive and three hours of searching my old room away). The cast with the movie was almost the exact same way, only even more rushed. We just weren’t given enough time or material to get an emotional connection to these characters, so instead of being this awesome, “Oh snap!” moment when things turn, we’re left going, “Eh.” Especially in the movie, since they went and had to introduce an almost brand new cast.

The plot took its sweet time building up, and once it did, it happened too much at once. It was trying to copy the rich plot of Blood +, but it was about a third of the length (not counting the movie). It was also trying to do the mystery aspect with Saya’s history, the love triangle plot trap, the link to the larger CLAMP universe with Watanuki and the wish shop…Though if you really think about that last one, it could explain the strange reason why Saya can’t kill humans. But that’s just my pet theory.

World-building wise, I felt like it took a left turn somewhere and I wasn’t with them. The Elder Bairns were not like anything that we saw in the first Blood movie, and they sure weren’t the Chiroptereans of Blood +. And beyond Saya’s special blood, there weren’t any real vampire hints, at least for most of the series. There was no clear reason why Saya and the Elder Bairns existed and why they were linked, or even how the father-figure came to exist in the first place and how he is either the same or different from Saya.

For the series as a whole, I think there were some interesting updates to the story, and the ties to CLAMP’s overarching world definitely offered some answers, admittedly very specifically for this version of Saya. But it was rushed, trying to do too much at the end, and a lot of practical information wasn’t given to us, or at least it wasn’t given in a way that made sense. I like that some of the flaws were lampshaded, but there were too many for me to let them all go. If they’d used a couple more episodes to explain the ending instead of what seemed like two or three episodes of filler, I think it would have been a lot more solid story. But that’s my aesthetic.

Overall, the Blood series offers very different takes on the same character. I’d gladly invest in another part of the franchise if they came out with another. (Seriously, I want a short series about the twins at the end of Blood +. I honesty thought that’s where Blood-C was going.) Each time it’s a little different, a little more of the mystery of Saya being revealed, and a twist I didn’t see coming (thank you, Watanuki). Sometimes they disappoint me, but I always leave with at least a little big of satisfaction.

Blood + (novel) Review

Sorry this one was late, it took me longer to re-read four books than I thought it would. For a summary, check out the review I did for the anime. It is literally the same story, just retold in a new format.

And I’m sure somebody is wondering: why are you reviewing the book if it’s the same story? The answer is pretty simple. Despite having the same cast of characters, the same world, and the same overall plot structure, the book series is fairly different from the anime, both in how the characters were handled and even where the focus was. Some of that was for the positive, giving us a deeper understanding of some of the other characters. But other times, it definitely felt like I was being cheated of the rich story that I had fallen in love with and the extra details I was hoping for out of the printed version.

The entire series is told in four books, which are also split into various parts and internal “books.” As I said, it follows the same plot as the anime series, but if you go in expecting it to be a read-along to the anime, you are in for some pretty major disappointments. A lot of the arcs have had bits and pieces cut away, with not all of those points reappearing. Saya is literally just thrown into the boarding school in Vietnam. We get some more information about her, like that she speaks French, something that didn’t come up in the anime that I remember. But we don’t get the trip to the museum, and what happened to Haji thirty years ago comes up much later.

If you thought the books were also going to expand on anything in return for taking things away… Yeah, if only. Nope. Instead, the entire thing actually feels rushed in comparison to the anime series. While the anime bounced around between different locations, we spent enough episodes in each change of locale that it gave them weight. It was long enough for me to adjust to the change of the setting, and then to get the arc-goal clearly defined so that I was paying less attention to where the characters are and more about what they were going through, emotionally and physically. The novels didn’t take that time, making it seem like a game of ping pong rather than a game of chess.

I also didn’t like how some of the characters came across in the novel. Some profited from the new medium, such as David and Solomon, who are so locked inside of their heads that it was impossible to get a grasp on them with just dialogue and facial expressions to go by. Saya survived intact, though at times she felt a little flat to me rather than fully developed as she could be. Julia was just bi-polar, rather than coolly logically like I was expecting and like I got from her in the show. Anshel (who also got a new name spelling for some reason) was missing the villain element, at least for him. He had a couple of moments where we sort of got a grasp on him, but I think without the visual effect the character design had on the show, he’s weak and missing something. Most of all… Diva is just strange. Somehow, they took a fairly threatening, moderately insane character…and made her this little fragile doll.

On the plus side, the cloning was given a little more depth, so that plot point finally made sense. I don’t understand why that information wasn’t given in the anime in some way. Yes, it would have been technical dialogue but it was NEEDED technical dialogue. There was also some clarification on the Zoo, as far as how the Goldschmidts and the Goldsmiths were divided, which helped a couple of things make more sense, at least to me. The sleep cycles also got a couple of lines that smoothed out a bump in the plot, and we got told about a couple of people who had been hinted at in the anime but didn’t get any real explanation. We even found out why Solomon got a lot of the dirty look and why Karl was treated as a bit of a pet by Anshel rather than as a fellow Chevalier.

The focus for me really shifted from Saya and her conflict with Diva, which is supposed to be the central conflict, to Kai and then later the Schiff (the spelling even changed, or maybe it was a translation goof, I don’t know). It seems more focused on his internal conflict as far as his relationship with Saya and then the Schiff’s backstory and ongoing struggle to live than it does on any of the end-of-the-world plot. Admittedly, my copy of the third book has little strips of paper tucked in to it all over the place, where I was tracking…something, though I can’t remember what, aside from the Schiff’s new details about their training. It was interesting to see the events from a new angle, but at the same time… I just felt very removed from what felt like a very rushed plot.

When I came into the series, I was wanting more details about the history. More about Saya’s life at the zoo, and her relationship with Diva before she released her from the tower. What was it like the first time Saya went to sleep? We get this brief image of Haji closing a coffin around Saya dressed in what I think is Elizabethan garb, but is that her first sleep? Why did she stay awake for so long and THEN start this cycle of long sleeps? Plus the questions revolving around when Diva made Amshel her Chevalier, why Diva had more powers than Saya (I don’t buy the blood from different sources theory at all). I read the after notes, where the writer admitted part of the challenge of writing the novels was keeping some of Saya’s secrets still secrets, but… I felt like I wasn’t given any at all, and in a new medium, I want to get new information I didn’t get from original. Giving us the names for the twins is cute, but it isn’t the kind of information I want.

Overall, I think the books are worth the read if you are a fan of the series. It offers a different look at the same story we know and love. But for someone who hasn’t seen the anime… Watch that first or be prepared to miss some of the best moments in the series (at least in my opinion). I think if they had tried for eight books instead of four, and taken their time like they did with the anime, it would have been a much better series. They could have given the main plot the same attention it deserved, and even had the room to expound on the stories they hinted at. But then, maybe they didn’t want to tell the same story twice, which I can understand. I just felt like it wasn’t as neat and well-developed as the anime series.

Blood + (anime) Review

Part 2 of my little series here, this time with the anime that got me interested in the franchise to begin with. I think Blood + will always be my favorite anime, so it’s nice to review it and share some of why I love it so much.

Much like Blood: The Last Vampire, the series follows Saya on her hunt for monsters. But there were some definite changes for the anime series. For one, Saya begins the first season as a normal high school girl and part of an adopted family. A monster attacks her school one night, trapping Saya. But a mysterious man known as Haji forces her to drink his blood, hypnotizing Saya. She uses a sword laced with her own blood to crystalize the monster. At first, Saya is horrified by what she’s done, and refuses to fight, despite the near-orders from a man named David on behalf of Red Shield. But when her father is injured and almost turned into one of the monsters, she takes the first steps on her journey. It takes four seasons for the truth to come to light about Saya’s past and her relation to the enemy Red Shield is sworn to fight. In the process, we are given a huge cast of colorful characters, each adding another piece to the past and to the present. The ending of the anime is full of sorrow and grief, but with an edge of hope for the future.

Obviously, I’m leaving details out of that summary, but that’s because a) it would take way too long to summarize four season (fifty episodes) neatly and b) I don’t want to spoil anything. Animation wise, it’s spectacular for its time and it still holds up today, at least in my opinion. Saya’s skirt length in the first half annoys me a little, but it gets better, so I let it go. When it comes to the historical character designs, they did very well with the costumes being authentic. Lewis’s design is a little racist, but I’ve seen much worse in anime, and all things considered, I let it go. It really doesn’t hit you how bad it is until you look at it in hindsight. The only thing that sort of irks me is there is a bit of generic work for the background or arc specific characters. I wish they had been given a little more effort.

The huge cast of characters and the sheer level of back story might be why I love this series so much. To begin with, for once we don’t have this airheaded whiny baby for a protagonist! Oh happy day! (You have no idea how happy this makes me, seriously.) Admittedly, Saya doesn’t want to fight, and often struggles with being expected to, but I found it didn’t really bother me as much, especially as more and more of her back story came to light. Considering her relation to the enemy, without the hatred she rightfully has for them, she wouldn’t want to fight them. Once her memories are back, it makes a lot more sense, as does her final wish that she managed to get Haji to agree to. And when she comes to terms with what she is, after what it costs her, you can see that she is trying so hard to be tough when all she wants to do is fall apart. Even in the end, that tough part falls aside as her kind nature comes through towards her greatest enemy. It takes the combined efforts of both Kai and Haji to get her to change her mind about what she deserves.

Which gets us to our male leads. For the first two seasons, it’s pretty much Haji and Kai, Saya’s older adopted brother. I could never get behind Kai/Saya, just because they were raised as siblings, plus he was just annoying to me. Very much the usual anime protagonist, thankfully this anime proceeded to smack him down and show him exactly how ill-suited he initially was to help his sister. After he was pretty much removed as a romantic interest, I liked him much better. By then, he had matured a good deal, and was taking his sister’s fight a lot more seriously. Haji came into the series with the obvious markers as being the romantic interest. His devotion to Saya can border on the creepy occasionally, but considering their relationship and what has happened to him over the years, I can’t blame him. He had a horrible burden to carry with him over the years, and he did so out of love. The second half introduces a third love interest, Solomon, who is on the enemy’s side. I’ve always felt like Solomon was just in love with Saya because instinct, or what his big brother Amshel convinced him was supposed to be their instinct, told him he was supposed to. And because he was that sort of dreamer type, he went along with it, even if it went much further than Amshel had intended.

The rest of the cast is far too huge for me to go into detail. There’s Red Shield, there’s the historical allies and enemies, there’s the Sif (my favorites), there’s the Cinq Fleches Group… To go into explaining them would not only spoil the series, but take me more words than I want to spend. I will spend a little time on who is described as the primary antagonist, though I really consider her the secondary one: Diva (Amshel is the primary for me, always will be). My god, she is amazing. I think one of her lines in the end of the series describes her best, “Now Saya, that’s not fair. Only you were treated like a human.” She really raises the question if what is wrong with her is nature or nurture, and she inspires pity from the audience rather than straight hatred, a nice change. As for why the Sif are my favorite… They are set up to be this force to be manipulated, and they fight against it, struggling for survival even as they die one by one, just because of how they are created. I can’t help but wish they would get that chance at life.

Plot wise, there is a lot going on in this series. It really can be divided into two halves: before the destruction of the Red Shield’s headquarters, and then a year after (yep, there’s even a time skip). Before, it really focuses on the memories that Saya has forgotten, and trying to find their main enemy, Diva. There is also the Sif’s sideplot, and the actions of the antagonists, who aside from Diva are leading up to something. Then there is what Diva is wanting, which is really ambiguous at that point in the series. The second half is Saya desperately trying to find Diva before she goes to sleep (her big sleep which lasts for thirty years), while the plans of the Cinq Fleches group, the survival of the Sif, and Diva’s wants all come together in a climactic final two episodes. I really didn’t find a lot of plot holes, and what few there were would have slowed the series down too much, so I can understand why there was no follow-through. Even the timeskip made sense to me. The plans we saw being put in place in the first half need time to ferment, and at least two of the protagonists needed time to grow and deal with their grief. I wish the ending had pushed on the hope aspect (as I’m covertly referring to it) a little more, but that’s a personal opinion, and there’s fanfiction for that.

The setting was possibly the most far-reaching I’d seen in a serious anime like this. It doesn’t stay in Japan like a bad cliche. Instead, it goes from Japan to Vietnam to Russia to France to the US… Very much a global-span, which makes a lot of sense with the plot. Some of the world-building is confusing as it is presented to you, but once you lay it all out after seeing the series, it does make sense. Basically, the world-building on vampires requires a bit of Fridge Logic to make it work. Of course, that’s fine by me, I like that element to a show, where it makes me think about it, as long as it makes sense. Don’t get me started on when it doesn’t. At times, it felt like it was pushing it (my fan theory is that the Sif aren’t created, they were initially real humans, but that only has limited backing. The cloning still feels stupid), but I was able to swallow it while I watching it, and it didn’t kill my love for the story, so I guess it got away with it.

Overall, the show is a bit like a very rich desert. Let’s say one of those giant slices of chocolate cake they serve at Cheddar’s (never eat one alone, seriously. It is meant for sharing. With like, four people). There is a big cast, a complicated story, and an equally complex world, and it takes its sweet time telling it to you so you don’t get overwhelmed. Layer upon layer upon layer. It is one of my favorites, and I definitely recommend it. Just, pace yourself.

Blood: The Last Vampire Review

I’m going to do a brief series on what I suppose is called the “Blood Franchise,” just for giggles. This week is the film that started it all, Blood: The Last Vampire. I’m going to do both of the anime series, and the book series based off of the anime, but I won’t be doing the book form of the movie or the manga of the series, mostly because both of those were a little too out there for my case.

Although I derped to do this for Hansel and Gretel and for Dragon’s Keep, I’m going to keep trying to summarize what content-wise I saw. Blood: The Last Vampire follows a girl named Saya as she hunts monsters on an U.S. air base in Japan (Yokota, if I’m remembering the spelling right). She infiltrates the high school to identify the monsters while they are still in their human shape, in the process dragging the school’s timid nurse along for the ride. She has some sort of power, though what it is remains a mystery as she struggles during this hunt, hampered by the nurse, her weapon, and orders forbidding her to hurt humans. In the end, it is revealed that Saya is the only known original vampire left, hinting that these monsters are, in a way, her children, reflected in the way she stands over the last one.

I guess I’ll start with the animation/drawing style of the movie. The background is very pretty and realistic, not just “cartoon” realistic, and I like that we can see all the details on the character’s faces and props at times. The fact it isn’t completely dark colors or completely bright colors also balances well, creating an “adult” feeling to it, suiting to the genre. I’m not saying anime isn’t adult, obviously, but that sometimes it’s jarring to have these serious issues being faced by character with neon pink or blue hair, so this is a nice change. I also liked how there were different body types, and even though Saya is in a typical high school uniform of the sailor variety, she isn’t overly sexualized, or really all that sexualized at all. But some of the drawing style was…weird. The way mouths were drawn just seemed strange to me, and at times the close up of sweat on the faces was unsettling.

Character-wise… Well, the story definitely didn’t rely on explaining or showing characterization off, beyond Saya and the nurse at least. Really, it focused on Saya’s relationships with those around her, which I thought were really interesting. Her and David were close, and that much came through once the danger became real, as did Lewis being a bit of a butt to her. Her relationship with the monsters they were hunting seems complicated, though we aren’t given quite enough for me to really understand her motivation. More than anything, I wish we had been given a little more background on Saya’s hunt. There just wasn’t enough information there for me to sink my teeth into as a stand-alone story.

The plot was really simple and straightforward. Not a bad thing, since it meant it couldn’t have unnecessary plot lines that were left unresolved…but bad, because there just wasn’t enough on the bone for me. I feel like there is so much that I don’t know about these characters or this world, and because of it I felt a real disconnect. Without that story, it was just…excessive gore. I understand the want for mystery throughout the movie, leading up to the big “vampire” reveal at the end. But there just wasn’t enough clues leading up to it for me. I needed more. There are hints of a huge back story, but I just wasn’t given enough of it.

Which at this point, I have to go to the film as a whole, since…that’s all about what’s to this one. Obviously, it was meant to be simple and provoke thought and curiosity about what Saya’s story is, along with supplying enough gore to keep the horror fans happy. In those aspects, at least, it succeeded. But I think it could have been pushed further, and just rested on the mystery…which was really more of a, “We’re not going to tell you anything at all,” than a true mystery to me. The animation was nice to look at, if pushed maybe a little too far on the quirk scale for me, and obviously I loved the character designs. Overall, it isn’t a bad film. I just think it could do better.

And it did…eventually.