Monday, August 22, 2016

Random Rants: Of Pokemon, dragons, magic and muggles

If my social media feeds are any indication, it seems that a large portion of the world population these days is filled with rage, sanctimonious indignation or pure nastiness. I guess some of that is to be expected in an election year, but this one seems worse than others in so many ways. This isn’t a political blog, and I have no desire to make it one, so that’s as far as I’ll take that line.

I bring it up, though, to point out how refreshing it is, from time to time, to be able to escape into some other world or perhaps pass a few minutes in some completely frivolous pursuit. Except even that has become cause for ridicule in some circles.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Review: "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne

I knew going in that “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” ($29.99, Arthur A. Levine) was not really going to be the eighth tale of everyone’s favorite boy wizard, but I still had high hopes for a return trip to J.K. Rowling’s world.

But while “Cursed Child” might work well on the stage and maybe even in the film that’s almost sure to follow, on the printed page, it doesn’t.

The story focuses on Harry’s younger son, Albus Severus Potter, a boy saddled with a couple of names that give him a lot to live up to. He and Harry are somewhat estranged as Al begins his time at Hogwarts and become even moreso as the story goes on, leading to a disastrous conversation in which Harry says some things he deeply regrets.

The confrontation sets Albus on the path of attempting to undo what he sees as one of his father’s greatest failings – the death of Cedric Diggory. His attempt, though, could open the door for Voldemort’s return.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Review: "The Ballad of Black Tom" by Victor LaValle

Much has been made in recent years about H.P. Lovecraft’s racism and how it bled into his work, but none of that conversation has been nearly as poignant or entertaining as Victor LaValle’s response “The Ballad of Black Tom” ($12.99, Tor).

I’ll dispense with the elephant first. On the subject of Lovecraft’s racism, I certainly think it’s unfortunate, but I also don’t think you can hold anything from nearly 100 years ago to modern standards. Our heroes in any space are not often what we would like them to be, but does Lovecraft's racism destroy the legacy of his work? I don’t think so, and though he makes his misgivings plain in the dedication, I don’t believe LaValle does either.

"The Ballad of Black Tom” gives us a quite different take on Lovecraft’s “The Horror at Red Hook,” which has been singled out as one of his worst offenders when it comes to race. LaValle puts us in the shoes of Charles Thomas Tester, a hustler from Harlem who gets pulled into a strange and dangerous world after he acquires a book of the Supreme Alphabet for a mysterious woman in Queens named Ma Att.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Review: "The Wheel of Osheim" by Mark Lawrence

And so ends another tale of Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire. Much like the conclusion of his first trilogy, “Emperor of Thorns,” “The Wheel of Osheim” ($27, Ace) brings us a wild finale to the Red Queen’s War.

The book opens with our reluctant hero Prince Jalan Kendeth popping out of Hell through a portal into the middle of the desert with what may be one of the most literary monologues I’ve ever read, and it just gets better from there.

After his unwanted adventure, Jalan thinks he’s punched his ticket back to a comfortable palace life, but he returns home to find anything but. His grandmother, the Red Queen, is prepared to march against her long-time enemy, and she unexpectedly leaves Jalan in a position of power just as the Dead King turns his eyes toward Red March.

It doesn’t take Jalan long to realize how much his travels have changed him, and it’s a good thing because he may be the only person who can prevent the end of the world.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Review: "The Skull Throne" by Peter V. Brett

The would-be Deliverers are missing, and chaos descends on Peter V. Brett’s world of Thesa in “The Skull Throne” ($7.99, Del Rey).
Following their battle at the end of “The Daylight War,” Arlen Bales and Ahmann Jardir have withdrawn from the world, leaving power struggles in their wake.

In Krasia, the Skull Throne is vacant, and Jardir’s wife, the Damajah Inevera, tries to hold things together. But the Deliverer’s two eldest sons both make moves to try to stake their claim to the throne in his absence.

Meanwhile in the north, Leesha Paper and Rojer Inn have been summoned to Angiers with Count Thamos. The kingdom is in the midst of an attempt to form an alliance with Miln to defend against the Krasians, but the proceedings are strained at best.

Events get more heated when Rojer arrives with his Krasian brides and renews an old rivalry with fellow jongleur Jasin Goldentone, favored at the Angierian court. Thamos, unable to abide Duke Rhinebeck’s attitude, also sparks a new rivalry between the brothers that could lead to a disastrous escalation of Sharak Sun, the Daylight War.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Review: "The Daylight War," by Peter V. Brett

There’s still more history to learn, but business really starts to pick up in Peter V. Brett’s “The Daylight War” ($8.99, Del Rey), the third volume of the Demon Cycle.

Ahmann Jardir, the self-proclaimed Deliverer, continues his war of conquest in preparation for Sharak Ka, but the demons of the night, too, are ramping up their efforts, having for the first time in many years met resistance from their human foes. The Waning is coming, the time of the new moon, when the more powerful alagai princes are able to walk the world. These princes can unite the demon drones for strategic attacks the likes of which humans have not seen.

Arlen Bales, who has begun to unlock the secrets of the alagai and grown greatly in power, returns to Cutter’s Hollow to find it a changed place. A count, Thamos, has moved in with his army and taken control, and Arlen discovers that his friends Leesha Paper and Rojer Halfgrip have gone to treat with the enemy, Jardir, who wants Leesha to become his northern Jiwah Ka (first wife). Arlen must prepare the Hollow folk and himself for the biggest battle so far.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Review: "The Shepherd's Crown" by Terry Pratchett

With only a handful of books by the late Terry Pratchett that I haven’t read and only one of those in the Discworld, I’ve put off “The Shepherd’s Crown” ($18.99, HarperCollins) for months. Once I finished it, I knew that, on some level, this world that I’ve enjoyed exploring for the past quarter of a century or so has come to an end.

Eventually, though, you have to accept that reality, and so it was with mixed feelings that I finally cracked the cover on Tiffany Aching’s last adventure and Terry Pratchett’s final Discworld novel.

“The Shepherd’s Crown” begins with a major shift in the power on the Disc. The formidable Esme Weatherwax is preparing to meet Death for the final time. Part of that preparation, of course, is choosing her successor as the leader of the witches, though, of course, no one would suggest to the witches that they have a such thing as a leader.

To the surprise of all, Granny Weatherwax taps Tiffany Aching, the young witch from the Chalk, who has shown much promise.

But more challenges await Tiffany than just proving herself worthy to the other witches. The elves, long held at bay by Granny Weatherwax’s power, see her death as an opportunity to once again wreak havoc in the world. Tiffany will need the help of all of the witches, her fierce friends the Nac Mac Feegle and a strange new apprentice to stop them.