Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Wheel of Time reread: "The Path of Daggers" by Robert Jordan

Since I have had few days of vacation this week, I was able to finish "The Path of Daggers" sooner that I planned. Looks like I will be finish with the whole "The Wheel of Time" series just in time for "Memory of Light". That book is coming out at the beginning of January, but it will arrive at my place around month later.

With less than 650 pages, "The Path of Daggers" is the shortest book in series. "The Shadow Rising", "The Fires of Heaven" and "Lord of Chaos" were all around 1000 pages, so this is quite shorter. "A Crown of Swords" is somewhere in between. PoD, as CoS, also takes short time in book-time, around a month. There are four major plot-lines. After killing Sammael and conquering Illian, Rand believes himself on a roll, so when he finds out that Seanchan has again arrived, he decides to personally deal with them, leading the first Asha'man army. Connected to Seanchan: after finally being able to find the Bowl of Winds, Elayne and Nyneve travel from Ebou Dar, accompanied by Atha'an Miere and Kinswomen, with plans to use it and stop Dark One's meddling with the climate. Egwene is still slowly traveling with rebel Aes Sedai toward Tar Valon. But her biggest problem is not Elaid or myriad other difficulties lurking in world, but the fact that no one considers her the real Amyrlin Seat. Lastly, we have Perrin and his large retinue (including both Faile and Berelain) are slowly traveling Gheldan, trying to reach Queen Alliandre, and to the Prophet of Dragon Masema before he is able to do even more harm. Crisscrossing the book are several other, shorter POVs: Elaida, other Aes Sedai, Forsaken, even Seanchan.

As you can see, there is not Mat in this book. I guess this is fair, since Perrin was missing from "The Fires of Heaven" and Rand (almost) from "The Dragon Reborn". But that doesn't mean that I am happy for it. But there is nothing to do except to read until the middle of next book, "Winter's Hearts".

This is the darkest Rand's section, at least until "The Gathering Storm". This is why I said that Light is slowly losing from Dark after SR, FoH and LoC - whatever their successes are, Rand is getting madder and darker. This book has most quiet ending till now, and also the saddest, at least Rand's part. I always liked Moridin's POVs, especially the one in PoD's prologue.

Here ends one large Nyneve's and Elayne' part. Elayne will get another long plot-line (Andor's Succession), but Nyneve will not have a definite plot-line (even though she will have important parts). I must say that humor when they are escaping Ebou Dar feels a bit forced, especially with Alise and Nyneve.

Egwene has a great part; she really outmaneuvers them all. It is a good section to read, whether you know the outcome or not. Her part in next few books will be the same.

Also, this is a real start of Perrin's POV. There are fans who don't like this part, the Shaido. It is not my favorite either, but I don't really dislike it. Especially this time, at least until now.

I've said it already, but Aes Sedai are really sure that they know everything - so I enjoy when they are turned over their heads. But most of their POVs are very interesting.

Well, a short review for short book. "The Path of Daggers" is a darker book than its predecessors (maybe its successor also), but I enjoyed reading it. If only Mat was in it...

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Wheel of Time reread: "A Crown of Swords" by Robert Jordan

I finished "A Crown of Swords" only few days ago, so I hope this post will be fresher than previous, "Lord of Chaos". I still can't believe that I have lost a finished (and good) post so abruptly. But, I should focus more on the book.

"A Crown of Swords" is the first book in series that takes the same time as another book ("Lord of Chaos" in this case). It is also much shorter book that its prequels (less than 750 pages) - but neither of its sequels is longer by much, if not shorter. Another interesting fact, this book takes very short time in plot-time: some nine or ten days, I think. Which doesn't mean that there isn't lot of going on here, only that it is thicker. There are several plots. Rand is trying to deal with problems that arose from his capturing in "Lord of Chaos", and with his trauma from it. After several books of waiting, he finally enters a romantic relationship with Min. Perrin has a lot of coverage, in the first part of the book, but more as a narrator than as active characters - I almost forgot that he even was in this book. Egwene also has few chapters, but they are clustered so that I thought it was only one or two. Both Perrin's and Egwene's plots really take place in further books. There are also some chapters from isolated characters (Elaid, Alvarian, Forsaken...), but almost a central plot-line of this book is in Ebou Dar, including both Mat and Elayne and Nyneve.

This book has one of longer prologues, but not ridiculously long as they will be in some other books (e.g. "Winter's Heart"). Here we are introduced to Alvarian as major bad player - one of few POVs from the evil side. Also, Alvarian is one of only three successful and capable bad characters (other two are Moridin and Shaidar Haran, maybe Padan Fain). On the other hand, we have Elaida's POV- for a supposedly good characters, she does more evil that all other Forsaken together. This series is full of people with lots of misunderstanding of the world about themselves, but Elaida is somewhere at the top of them.

We have a very complex and interesting beginning: Asha'man vs. Wise Ones vs. Aes Sedai. We follow Perrin for some time as the beginning, but as I said, more as narrator. He provides few funny moments; well, him and Faile and Loial.

Egwene's part is starting to get interesting with all that maneuvering and politicking - but it is very short in this book, only few chapters. This will be rectified in future books, so we can look at this like just a treat before the main course.

We get first POV from Aviendha (I think), but more important, we are introduced to Cadsuane. Even in her first appearance, she is absolutely irritating. I don't think I felt sympathy to her once in whole series. Another who makes first appearance here is Moridin - long time no see.

Of course, the best part of the book is Ebou Dar, and mostly because of Mat. Mat's and Elayne's/Nyneve's mutual misunderstandings are hilarious. Elayne's and Nyneve's chapter when they finally overcome their problems is also very good. When you look about it, nobody is really fair to Mat (Nyneve, Elayne, Tylin,...).

Another great chapter is the one with Rand, Padan Fain and rebels, even though it contains Cadsuane.

In conclusion, even though "A Crown is Swords" is a different book from previous three (shorter, several unfinished plot-lines), I really enjoyed rereading it, especially the Mat's parts.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Movie review: "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"

This weekend I went to watch "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" with my girlfriend. I must say that I missed all the hype about this movie. I was almost unaware of it until it was out, and even then didn't paid more attention to it. On the other hand, in some ways I considered it as given that I will go to watch it. But in this way I was very pleasantly surprised.

For those few who don't know anything about the movie, "The Hobbit" trilogy ("The Unexpected Journey", "The Desolation of Smaug", and "There and Back Again") tells a story before "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Bilbo Baggins is a young hobbit, living a peaceful and prosperous life. So prosperous that he becomes stale and priggish for his years (60, the middle years for a hobbit). Suddenly his everyday life gets abruptly interrupted by wizard Gandalf and 13 uncouth dwarves. The dwarves are set on journey to free their homeland (the Lonely Mountain) from dragon Smaug, who took it over from them some long years ago. They are in a need of a professional burglar, and Gandalf has chosen Bilbo, who is far away from being burglar as is possible to be. After some convincing and some songs, Bilbo is convinced and their start their journey, where they are awaited by many adventures...

This last sentence sums this movie pretty well. Contrary to LotR trilogy, which was a big epic fantasy, "The Hobbit" is an obvious light adventure fantasy. There is a big goal in future (killing a dragon), but we don't even see the dragon in this movie. Instead, our heroes go on a journey, find some clues and build up for larger adventures. It is really a classical fantasy, which I don't mean in any diminutive way, because I really enjoyed the movie. There is also some history in it (of the Tolkien's imaginary world Middle-earth) and some explanations that help to put this movie in context of LotR. At the same time, they give it hidden epic proportions, if you are familiar to LotR.

For the hard-core fans of the books, "The Hobbit" will be a thrill. I haven't read the book in some time (ten years or more), but I have read it a lot of times before, and I think that it follows the book surprisingly truthfully. I can list only two real changes from the books: Azog and Radagast. And even these are based on the book and fit in the spirit of the movie. All other changes are minor, like the meeting of the White Council (which happened off-screen in the book), or history tales (that are actually part of the LotR appendix). But considering all, "The Hobbit" follows its literary counterpart more truthfully than it was the case with the LotR. At least for this first movie; we will see when next two come out...

There is one thing that will maybe bother some viewers, especially the stiff ones: Radagast the Brown. And his rabbits. It is obviously put here for the kids. But I found it quite funny actually, and I think that it was fitting for this kind of movie. If someone tried to put something like this in LotR trilogy, it wouldn't fit so well (even though that LotR books have Tom Bombadil), but here it felt almost natural.

I haven't watched many 3D movies (I tend to avoid them), but "The Hobbit" was the first movie to impress me. Few times I actually flinched. I was also impressed how they made stone-giants and goblins, even better that I imagined them. Production of the movie was really on high level.

In the end, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" was a great movie, both for fans and non-fans. It is thrilling, funny and interesting through all two and a half hour of movie. I can't wait for the next two movies ("The Desolation of Smaug" and "There and Back Again") to come out.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Wheel of Time reread: "Lord of Chaos" by Robert Jordan

Wow, I just realized that I completely forgot about this post. I was already preparing the one for the next book, "A Crown of Swords", and accidentally saw this unfinished post. I read "Lord of Chaos" more than two weeks ago (I am currently reading "The Path of Daggers"), but I had very busy two weeks and trip to Budapest for the weekend in between (pleasure, not business; and the trip was great).

In "The Fires of Heaven", we have seen Rand take hold of both Cairhien and Camelyn, and in "Lord of Chaos", he will try to solidify his take. We are introduced to two very important, but non-POV characters: Marshal-General Davram Bashere, from Saldea, and Mazrim Taim, an ex-false-Dragon, also from Saldea. These are probably the first two willing followers of Rand, but while Bashere's loyalty is pretty much undoubtable, Taim will become one of most mysterious characters in the series. We will also see Rand's official first interactions with Aes Sedai, both official White Tower and rebel Salidar Aes Sedai - and it won't end well. Egwene, who has become almost Aiel while apprenticing to the Wise Ones, will be in big shock after she is commanded by Salidar Aes Sedai to join them immediately. Elayne and Nyneve are still in Salidar, but not feeling relieved for it: they possess too much secrets, including the one about Moghadien. Perrin will again become a part of series, and Mat will assert himself more, both as farmers-become-leaders.

I always liked the beginning of this book: Rand's sword-training, Bashere's humor, first meeting with Taim... As I said, Taim becomes a very mysterious figure - only in "The Towers of Midnight" we will see some clear clues about what is going on with him in Black Tower. Rand is feeling much on the rise in this book, even though he is in for some smaller shock, and one big. Love the chapter when Alanna bonds Rand and the Two Rivers' girls are scarred of him, even though it is hard on him. Even more so can be said about the final chapters about Rand - they are great, but are really traumatic for him. Nevertheless, these are some of the most powerful chapters in series. They will make problems for him and more in next five books. We also get the first mention of cleaning of saidin.

Nyneve and Elayne few chapters here, but they are not really really important, more like a preparation for next stages. Except when Nyneve does the impossible. Egwene on the other hand has a transformation as big as Rand's. I was very surprised the first time when I read it. She benefits much from her time among Aiel. I wasn't much thrilled with her parts with Gawyn, though.

Mat in this book is great again, pure and simple. This is where he becomes my favorite character in series. Not that really much happens with him, but Jordan wrote some great jokes with him. Especially the part when he arrives to Salidar. As I said, Perrin appears again in series, but his part start really at the end.

There are some good jokes about humor and jokes, especially about differences between normal and Aiel humor.

While writing this post, I realized that I have written it once already! And I wrote it better last time, while it was fresh. It looks like Blogger reverted my post to earlier draft version - either that or I had best déjà vu ever! So I am sorry if I don't sound coherent in places - this lost post has mixed up much, especially since it has passed two-three weeks from it. So don't let my bad post spoil "Lord of Chaos" for you, because it is one great book.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Wheel of Time reread: "The Fires of Heaven" by Robert Jordan

Another book in my WoT reread done: "The Fires of Heaven". As I said, I find "The Shadow Rising", "The Fires of Heaven" and "Lord of Chaos" quite similar: the size, split plots and characters, chunkines... Also, despite the ominous titles, things are going seemingly well for our heroes in these books.

Since there is no Perrin's POV in this book, we have two main clusters of characters. Rand is leading our Aiel from Aiel Waste for the first (real) time, and he is followed by Moirane, Lan, Mat and Egwene, and of course Aviendha. On the other side of the world, we have Nyneve and Elayne, followed by Thom and Juilin, where they unexpectedly meet Galad and some other familiar characters. And there is also trio of Min, Siuan, Leane, accompanied by Logain, as they search for the rebel Aes Sedai, but their part is smaller, and it later combines with Nyneve's and Elayne's.

This time I noticed how cleverly Jordan introduced Lews Therin Telamon inside Rand, and how he made Rand gradually accept him. First we have ideas that are indistinguishable from Rand's, then we have few shy thought, and in the end we have him trying to take over Rand's body. And it is presented so normally that we don't even see what dangers will this put Rand into in future.

Egwene's parts are OK, but nothing I found impressive. It is good for her to find her own strengths (even though the way of this found was a bit unfair toward Nyneve), but here is also the source of the problems between Rand and Egwene. I like her part in later books and what she does, but when I look at her relationship toward Rand, I can't help myself but to feel angry. I am talking about her (Aes Sedai) perception that she knows what is better for him that Rand himself. Oh, she is right in many things, but she also thinks that he MUST be guided for his own good. In some ways, she is worse than Cadsuane. And I hope that the forthcoming "Memory of Light" will solve the mess with Seals.

Mat's part is great and full of fun. It is nice to see his new skills come to fore. Battle scenes in Cairhen (both from his and Rand's perspective) are pretty well written.

If you haven't read the series, don't read this paragraph, because it contains one big spoiler for next few books (even though much of this will be forshadowed, and has been already, in books themselves). I am following Leigh Butler's much more detailed reread on And it happened that I read this part with Moiraine's death in this book at the same time I was reading about her rescue mission. It was a bit strange....

I didn't like much Nyneve's and Elayne's part in previous book, during their stay in Tanchico. But here they are much, much better. I especially liked Nyneve - she is hilarious in this book. But she is also awesome - and you can drive parallels between her now and Mat later, how they both think little of themselves. When we are talking about them, while I was reading the end of the book, I somehow thought that Egwene joins them immediately in Salidar at the beginning of next book, "Lord of Chaos". But as I started reading LoC, it looks like I was mistaken.

Another thing to note is the triple action pack at the end of this book: Moghadien, Lanfear and Rahvin - it was very impressive.

There is not much more to say except that "The Fires of Heaven" is another great book in the "Wheel of Time" series.

Curiously, it was pretty tiring to do a reread of "A Song of Ice and Fire" this spring, and it had only four books (plus one new one). I am currently on sixth book of WoT, and don't feel any lack of interest.

Another thing: while browsing on WoT and tFoH, I found these two drawings (source) of Lews Therin Telamon with young Forsaken, and Rand with now older Forsaken. I even managed to guess most of the Forsaken (not sure which one is Rahvin, Asmodean and Bel'al). Anyway, they look pretty good.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Movie review: "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2"

Yesterday I went with my girlfriend to cinema to watch the last part of "The Twilight Saga", "Breaking Dawn - Part 2". Few review I saw before prepared to for a very bad movie - so I was pretty surprised to actually enjoy the movie.

"Breaking Dawn - Part 2" takes immediately after the first part. After surviving the transition to a vampire and successful birthing of Renesmee, Bella is adapting to her new circumstances. Sometime later, Renesmee is discovered by another vampire, who reports it to the Volturi (some kind of vampire nobility) who decide to destroy her as a possible threat to their species. Cullens, of course, are not ready to accept this and they start the search for allies for the final battle...

If you hate "The Twilight Saga", this movie will not change your opinion, and you will go to watch it only to spoil it to those who like it. If you love it, they you won't care what anybody think about it. Sure, you can easily find a lot of objections, fails and obvious mistakes/blunders in this movie (and previous ones). Of course, a lot (bad) could be said about the series itself. But if you can accept few inconsistencies and sleazy parts, movie is quite fun to watch.

First, it is partly a freak show - but in good way, like superhero movies (especially like "X-Men"). There are lots of different vampires with different sets of skills. Second, this is a classical fight between David and Goliath, a fight against unfair government that unites seemingly incompatible characters. Thirdly, there is a very unexpected trick in this movie (and it would be a big spoiler to reveal it). Some will probably feel cheated, but I was delighted by it. And last, there are some good jokes here.

My biggest objection to the movie was the decapitations - you will know it when you see it. That looked completely stupid.

Anyway, I had quite fun watching "Breaking Dawn - Part 2" and think it is probably the best movie in the series. But as I was never a fan, I won't feel sorry that it is done.

Oh yes - yesterday I saw trailers for three similar teen movies, one actually based on book by Stephenie Meyer...

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

New TV-show: "666 Park Avenue"

In last two weeks, my girlfriend and I started watching a new TV-show "666 Park Avenue" and became pretty hooked up on it. I watched first 10 minutes accidentally at my friend's place and we watched the first episode last week. And then at Saturday we watched next 5 episodes in one marathon watch till late in the night. Yesterday we watched 7th episode, which is the last one aired. And series is great.

It is a supernatural mystery, with a touch of horror. A young and perspective couple, Jane and Henry, arrive in New York city and talk themselves in getting an apartment in elite and old hotel called the Drake (on address 999 Park Avenue) - due to Jane's being an architect and skilled in restoration. The hotel is owned and run by Gavin (Terry Q'Quinn/Locke from "Lost") and his wife Olivia. In first episode, Gavin is implied as something of a Devil, giving people what they want in exchange for... something. We got Gavin, we got an old and maybe cursed building, we got a young girl-prophet, and we got main female character deeply connected to all this.

As for now, we still don't know what really is going around, or what exactly Gavin is, but it looks like in next few episodes we will find out. Anyway, the series is great, mysterious and well played. And even better, judging by ending of this last episode, the mystery behind everything is maybe not even magical, but steampunkish (judging by the dragon-mosaic) - which is not usually the case.

Now, the downside: ABC decided to cancel the series, so there will not be a second season! Boooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!! IMDB shows 9 episodes planned, but Wikipedia says there will be thirteen - I am rooting for the second option.

Nevertheless, I strongly recommend "666 Park Avenue" to everybody.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Wheel of Time reread: "The Shadow Rising" by Robert Jordan

Huh, I am again late with me reviews, but better now than never.

So, the story goes onward in "The Shadow Rising". After successful taking of Stone of Tear, Rand is now unquestionably the Dragon Reborn. While in previous books it was he who was unable to adapt to this, now it's almost everybody else - but mostly nobles, for whom this means degradation in power. To thwart them (and all future opponents), Rand must do two things: become smarter and stronger, and to find people for himself who are not with only from fear and ambition. Thus he embarks on journey to Aiel Waste... Our heroes get separated: Perrin, Faile and Loial go back to Two Rivers, on a trail of rumors about Whitecloacks making problems there; Nyneve and Elayne, followed by Thom and Juilin, travel to Tanchico, trying to find more of escaped Black Ajah sisters; while Mat, Egwene travel with Rand, Moiraine and Lan, everybody for his or her specific reasons...

Well, I think that this book, and next two ("The Fires of Heaven" and "Lord of Chaos"), will be the hardest to review. All three are big books (close to 1000 pages), with multiple plots, and split characters. And even more problematic, this is where the "Wheel of Time" series makes a transition from collection of more-or-less standalone books to books that contain chunks of bigger story. Sure, there are some definite endings (Rhuidean, Tanchico, Two Rivers), but they are not definitive as e.g. defeating of Ba'alzamon. And later books will all have those "small" motives to remember them (e.g. the Bowl of Winds, cleaning of Saidin, rescuing Faile...). Also, this is the last time we will see our main characters all together until "Memory of Light" (I presume, at least).

I really enjoyed this book - especially the first part in Tear: Rand and Elayne chapters; Mat is hillarious; Thom and Moiraine. And I always like seeing manipulators manipulated - the High Lords or Tear. This book gives us first POVs from Moiraine and Elayne. Elayne we will become used to, but Moiraine's was pretty special. Mat's visit to the Foxes is also among my best chapters.

Elayne's and Nyneve's part was the least favorite part of the book for me - not that it is bad, but not as good as events in Aiel Waste. But on the other hand, there are things introduced there that will be important in future books: the Return, confronting Forsaken...

In this book Egwene is becoming a particular character. In last three books she was important, but she was always a part of group - now she is becoming a strong woman in her own right.

I always liked Jordan's time-shifted scenes - those flies and family dinner in the village in Shienar (was it still Shienar?), and especial the travel using Portal Stones, both in "The Great Hunt". But here we have one equally good and definitely more important - in Rhuidean.

"The Shadow Rising" presents a change in the "Wheel of Time" series - but not a change to worse. This and forward books are definitely different from first, but they definitely have the WoT flavor and are as good as any other.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Movie reviews: "Taken 2" and "The Dark Knight Rises"

Two more movie I watched in last week, but I haven't had time to review them.

"Taken 2" I watched last weekend in cinema with my girlfriend. For some reason, girls like this film. My girlfriend loved the first part and insisted on watching the second one; her female friends at work all liked it; and the projection was full of women (I was the only guy in my seat-row) - which is strange because similar action movies usually don't attract many women.

Anyway, "Taken 2" is an average action thriller, differentiated from the first part only in details of setting and plot. Bryan Mills (played again by Liam Neeson), a retired CIA agent, finally succeeds in getting on good terms with his ex-wife, and invites her and their daughter Kim to visit him in Turkey after he finishes his part-time job as bodyguard. They accept and start what they expect to be a nice vacation. But they don't know that after Bryan's rampaging in Paris (topic of the first part), Albanian mafia-boss decided to revenge people he killed. Albanians succeed in taking Bryan and his ex-wife, but they miss Kim, who's only option is to free her father...

There is not much to say about this movie - a peaceful re-introduction of Mills' family, preparation for the plot, and then action, action, action. I've never had a notion of Liam Neeson as action-movies star, but he actually fits it. In my opinion, he's a bit too good in these two movies - which is one of the reasons I don't like these movies. There is some humor, mostly based on Bryan not being used to normal family interactions.

The worst part of the movie was the car chase toward the end - I usually don't like them, but I hate them when they are performed by a teen without her license... Also, I understand when foreigners speak English in public, but why they use it between themselves in private (especially after they have been shown speaking in their own language).

But all in all, "Taken 2" is not a bad movie, except if you totally hate action movies. Not something that I would really recommend, but neither a movie to avoid at all costs.

For "The Dark Knight Rises" I had some great expectations, after watching "The Dark Knight" two weeks ago.

Eight years after events in the previous movie, both Batman and Bruce Wayne have retired from public. Gotham is celebrating Harvey Dent as a hero, and police (given larger authorities after Dent's death) managed to clean the city of criminals. But they don't know what is preparing for them: a corrupted businessman Daggett has hired a strange masked mercenary Bane and they plan to take over Gotham using Wayne Industries' own resources. All this will force Batman once again to come out of hiding, even though he is not welcome in his city anymore...

"The Dark Knight Rises" has some great ideas: retired Batman broken and without hope; superior mercenary Bane with his army of fanatical followers; Gotham under siege that makes Joker's look like a child game; mysterious origins of Bane... But the movie fails in developing these concepts as they deserve.

This is not a short movie (two and a half hours), but it feels very, very rushed. I don't understand why haven't they added another hour or split it in two episodes. For example, there is a 6-month long siege of a whole city, but they only show first and last few days. They should have used it more to show the desperation of citizens, except being only a plot tool to show Batman as ultimate action hero. And Bane - they failed to use him miserably. We don't know almost anything about him (and I don't count those two info-dumps): how does he attract his followers and why are they ready to die for him so willingly? They made him look very impressive; such big guy giving all those philosophical (almost prophetic) speeches (Tom Hardy's voice was brilliant), but they should revealed more details. Neither did the other elements feel right: Batman's/Wayne's relationships with Selina, Blake and Miranda all felt forced and fake.

Another objection I have is that all felt too neat. There is even a definition for such plots where everything is placed in such place that it guarantees hero's victory (Batman Gambit), but they pushed it over the board. Especially with the Pit, and that doctor...

Action felt very subdued in the movie, and I can't really pinpoint any scene as very impressive. Batman's gadget also didn't get much attention - although I liked that trick with rotating wheels on Batcycle.

Unfortunately, I have to conclude that "The Dark Knight Rises" was a big disappointment in my eyes, after such great previous movie. I don't feel sorry for watching it, but I do feel sorry for the wasted potential.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Wheel of Time reread: "The Dragon Reborn" by Robert Jordan

I finished reading "The Dragon Reborn" by Robert Jordan more than a week ago, but this was such a busy week for me that I haven't managed to find time to write about it.

In last book, "The Great Hunt", Rand al'Thor again "defeated the" Dark One, but also accepted the fact that he can channel. But he still cannot cope with the fact that he is the Dragon Reborn. Pressured by this responsibility, bullied by manipulative Moraine, and again troubled with dreams, he escapes alone to avoid hurting anybody as he searches for his destiny. Moraine, Lan, Perrin and Loial don't have any other option except to follow and try to catch him. One the other side of the world, in Tar Valon, Egwene, Nyneve and Elayne bring Mat back for Healing. Being abducted by the Black Ajah in last book, they expect a triumphant return - instead they will be berated, punished and sent to find more member of Black Ajah in secrecy. While Mat, he is only for some gamble and fun...

When I first read "The Dragon Reborn" few years ago, this was a strange book. I am now used to it, after several rereads, but it is still an uncommon that the main character of book and series is absent from the book, except a bit at start and in ending. Most that you see of Rand is indirectly, by following his tracks and rumors, or by other characters dreaming about him. One funny fact you maybe didn't know: in paperback edition Rand proclaims himself as the Dragon at page 666 - you can find some funny theories about Rand being the Antichrist because of this. Also, with less than 700 pages, this is the shortest book in series.

For some reason, even at first reading, I never enjoyed the first part of the book - until the Rand start his journey. Also, I expected that Perrin's parts will be poorer that rest of the book. I am not one of haters of Perrin's plot in later books, but it is not one of my favorite parts of series either. But enjoy Perrin's POV here very much. I was even more surprised to find his and Faile's interaction cute and funny.

One of the biggest perks of "The Dragon Reborn" is Mat's introduction as POV characters and as one of three main male protagonists in the series. If I had to pick one and only character as my favorite, it would be Mat - and I am sure that a big portion of fans would do the same. The chapter where he fights Gawyn and Galad is probably my favorite chapter in the book.

This time I found it curious how much attention Jordan put on describing the cities: colors, architecture, people, even smells. And we get to see four big cities in this book: Ilian, Tear, Tar Valon and Camelyn (even though we already saw the latter two in previous books).

In conclusion, I want to say that I had very much fun with this book. A bit shorter than the rest, "The Dragon Reborn" is one of best and most important books in "The Wheel of Time" series.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Movie reviews: "The Dark Knight" and "Fracture"

This weekend I watched two movies, both a bit older.

At my friend's place, we watched "The Dark Knight". This is an older hit and my friend actually watched it, but I haven't and I wanted to be familiar with it before watched its sequel, "The Dark Knight Rises".

"The Dark Knight" is a part of the of the Batman series, that started with "Batman Begins" in 2005 (it looks I should have watched this one again). This "episode" involves Joker as main villain, but also features Harvey "Two-Face" Dent - both of them were villains in previous movies before reboot.

Main difference between the older moviev and this one is that the latter is a dark and gritty movie, as is appropriate regarding contemporary trends. I really liked it - Joker in the original "Batman" was crazy, but here he is really psychotic and scary (played marvelously be Heath Ledger). Batman (played by Christian Bale) is on the other hand angsty (but not too much to be irritating) and gritty. Two-Face (Aaron Eckhart) is also a great character - his journey from idealistic crime-fighter to a manipulated villain is interesting to watch. Other characters are also great, and played by big starst: Michael Cain, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, and Eric Roberts.

But there is one flaw of this movie. Basically, this movie is one bit "Xanatos Speed Chess" game between Batman and Joker. I am a fan of this trope and enjoy it, but you have to know when to stop it. And here, it was played a bit over-board. Not much to be really bad, but plans-inside-plans and constant turnovers were a bit tiring after two and half hours.

But all in all, "The Dark Knight" is a great addition to the Batman franchise, and I think that I will enjoy the sequel as much.

The other movie that I watched was "Fracture" from 2007. It is a classical cat-and-mouse game between a young and successful public attorney Willy Beachum (played well by Ryan Gosling) and genius engineer Ted Crawford (play even better by Anthony Hopkins). Ted kills his wife for having an affair, but he prepares it so that he can't be convicted. Willy, on the other hand, is transferring to big private law firm and is not really enthusiastic about this case, until he realizes how easy Ted manipulates him and others.

Movie is really interesting, but it had one big, big flaw. The key move is shown at the beginning - I don't know was this my lucky guess, directory sloppiness and actual intention (like in the "Columbo" movies). But I kept waiting for some other thing arises, and when it didn't, I was disappointed.

But all in all, "Fracture" is a pretty good movie, one to watch in a lazy Sunday afternoon.

The Wheel of Time reread: "The Great Hunt" by Robert Jordan

Well, I am progressing fine with my WoT reread, even somewhat better than expected. I finished "The Great Hunt" somewhere around last Wednesday, but I didn't have the time to write my post about it, so here it is.

"The Great Hunt" is where the real thing starts. In "The Eye of the World", Jordan was still playing safe, between an encompassed single book and start of a big new series, but here he kicks it off with a bang. After finding the Eye of the World in last book and Rand's "defeat" of the Dark One (and his discovery that he can channel and that he is possibly the Dragon Reborn), here we learn that things are not so much done, as only started. Stealing of the Horn of Valere, the ascension of Padan Fain as a major player, introduction of Senchan, Aiel and Ogier, elaboration of Aes Sedai, Darkfriends, there is really much going on. A major portion is of the book is dedicated exactly to this: introduction and elaboration. Here the WoT becomes a really detailed and complex series as we know it.

This book contains a lot of my favorite chapters: Aes Sedai discussion of the dark prophecy in Shienar, Rand's introduction to the Amrylin Seat, politicking and the Great Game in Cairhen, travel via Portal Stones and the parallel worlds (a major favorite, this one!)... I usually adored the chapter at the end when Rand fights Turak - I was surprised with my lack of excitement. Well, this was at least partially due the fact that I read this chapter very late in the night after a busy day.

As with the notions and concepts of setting, a list of characters also gets a main expansion: Verin, "Selene", Siuan Sanche, Hurin... The list is a big one. But we also get to know "old" characters better, especially Rand and Egwene. A big part of the book is about Rand's struggle to accept what he is - a struggle that really ended only recently in "The Gathering Storm", the 12th book in series! It is also curious how Mat is still not a POV character yet - we have POVs from Rand and Egwene, of course, but also from Perrin and Nyneve. Of course, this will change in next book, "The Dragon Reborn": a happy moment for most fans, I think.

There is not much else to say about "The Great Hunt", except again that this is one great book, one that really started the success of "The Wheel of Time" series.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Wheel of Time reread: "The Eye of the World" by Robert Jordan

So, two weeks ago I started a reread of complete "The Wheel of Time" series by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. I read these books several times, especially first five books. "The Eye of the World" I must have read at least five times, probably even more, but this was all three or more years ago. I was pretty happy to read this book again - it felt all right.

Rand al'Thor is a young man, a shepherd like his father, living in quite peaceful and unimportant village called Emond's Field, in region called Two Rivers. His life is abruptly changed after his farm and village get attacked by Trollocs, monstrous creatures of Dark One that haven't been seen in these parts for hundreds of years. Surviving the attack, he is told by mysterious Moiraine that he and his two friends, Mat Cauthon and Perrin Aybara, were the target of the attack. She is revealed as Aes Sedai, a member of female order of magic-wielding Channelers, dedicated to fight against the Dark One, but feared by most people. She also tells them that their only option is to follow her out of Two Rivers to save their village of further attacks, which will at the same time give them opportunity to find out why is the Dark One after them. So they embark on the journey, led by Moirane and her Warder Lan, and accompanied by Egwene, willful girl from their village and Thom Merillin, traveling entertainer with much more in his past. At the same time, the three of them start having the same dream, in which they encounter a man in black that calls himself Ba'alzamon,...

I must say I had trouble with writing a brief synopsis of the book, and that I am not really satisfied with it - it doesn't captures enough details and meanings. This is one of the things that had drawn me into this book the first time I have read it - complex and detailed setting. Even though this is the first book of long series (and authors are usually quite self-restrained with first books in case it doesn't get popular) it has one the the best defined and detailed setting. "Malazan Book of the Fallen" is more complex (it is one a whole different level), but Wheel of Time manages to be complex without being difficult. Well, all this becomes more evident in further books, but "The Eye of the World" still sets the basic rules and notions - the history, geography, One Power, Aes Sedai, Shadowspans. From my current perspective, I can see some minor flaws that I haven't noticed back then, but nothing that would spoil my reading. And of course, some of these notions will end abandoned in future books, but Jordan was able to make it look as he planned it from the start.

Of course, "The Wheel of Time" follows classical approach of epic fantasy, which it is full of familiar tropes: good guys are white/bright/nice looking, bad guys are black/shadowy/ugly; there is lots of strict honor-codes, shy romance, people don't going to toilets... But familiar doesn't mean bad. Although this sounds trashy, Jordan was really able to put spirit and novelty to same old stuff. So yes, Rand, Mat and Perrin are typical young country folks in process of becoming princes, Moiraine is a wise counselor, Lan is honorable warrior, etc. But nevertheless, I enjoy reading about them.

It is curious how many times I remembered "The Dragon Reborn" and how many important events happened there, but this will have to wait until I read through to that book.

I always think as "Malazan Book of the Fallen" as the best series I ever read and of "The Wheel of Time" as my favorite series. And "The Eye of the World" is the perfect start and representation of the series: a classical epic fantasy tale full of honor, struggle, romance, magic and epic. If you are into this things, there is no better series to read (well, except "The Lord of the Rings", but you can't live only on one article).

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Just started a reread of "The Wheel of Time" by Robert Jordan

Today I have started a reread of complete "The Wheel of Time" series by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. This is one of my favorite series (next to "The Malazan Book of Fallen" and "A Song of Ice and Fire") and since the last part, "A Memory of Light" is coming at the beginning of January, I want to be prepared.

My plan is to read one book a week, and with 13 books already published, I should be finished just in time to continue with the last one when is published. If I am faster than I think I will be, I will add some anime series in between books. In case I am slower... Well, that's all right with me.

Looking forward to reading all these books again.

Anime review: "Nazo no Kanojo X"

I regularly (once a month or so) browse AniDB calendar to see prospective candidates for watching and add them to my wishlist. So when I need to pick some anime, I go to my wishlist, filter it to show only finished series and then choose one that looks the best. AniDB allows choosing a priority for watching, red, yellow and green, so I usually first add them as yellow and later upgrade or downgrade them depending on rates and reviews. Such was the case with "Nazo no Kanojo X" (or "Mysterious Girlfriend X"). I first added it, and them my interest started dropping when I saw the ugly front-cover picture and bad rates. But somehow reading the short reviews on its AniDB page persuaded me to give it a chance, since there wasn't any other series I was really interested in.

"Nazo no Kanojo X" starts... Well, both usually and strange. Main character is Tsubaki Akira, a normal second-year high-school boy. He is quite ordinary, without girlfriend, although he would like to have one. At the beginning of the second year, a new transfer student is introduced, Urabe Mikoto, and is placed on seat next to Tsubaki. He initially tries to be friendly to the new girl, but she turns out to be a strange and quiet loner, ignoring Tsubaki and literally everybody else in class, spending all free time sleeping at her seat. After the first shock, Tsubaki gets used to this and she just melts to the background of class. Until one day! Returning suddenly one day to the classroom, Tsubaki finds her sleeping later, and after waking her up, she notices a pool of drool left on her table. Tsubaki, being a horny teenage boy, disturbed by noticing how pretty actually Urabe is, decides to lick her drool. He feels shocked and ashamed by his behavior, but forgets about it soon. Next day he has a strange dream about her, and few days later he gets a fever and has to stay at home. He is surprised when Urabe visits him after school, uncovers his licking of her drool, and tells him that from now on he is addicted to her drool and that they now share a bond....

Well, this is not the strangest premise of romance anime I have ever heard. Just going through my list on AniDB ("Bakuman", "Itazura na Kiss", "Kareshi Kanojo no Jijou", "NHK ni Youkoso!"... And I will not even start with those based on dating-sims) reveals Japanese fondness of bizarre reasons for coupling two persons, but "Nazo no Kanojo X" definitely has one of the more nauseating - drool. But if you are not very squeamish, don't be thwarted by this seemingly disgusting premise, because "Nazo no Kanojo X" is one of better anime I have watched this year and is definitely underrated. Although this sounds like a recipe for ecchi anime, it is not: this is a seinen romantic comedy. There is some fan-service (panties shots, boing-boing), but nothing over the top; girls are sometimes shown naked, but their bodies are without features, only silhouettes. I just realized that this anime is very similar to "Nisemonogatari": even though there is a lot (and in "Nisemonogatari", a really lot) of sexual innuendo, this is not a primary point of this anime. If you are watching either of this anime for fan-service or arousal, you are completely missing their points. There is also a noticeable supernatural streak in here, although it is taken for granted. Any yes, the show justifies its name ("Mysterious Girlfriend"), because there is a lot to reveal yet about Urabe.

"Nazo no Kanojo" is definitely a seinen anime. Although there is a lot of blushing, nosebleeds, and drooling, as you could expect from anime romance comedy, it is the characters that make this a real seinen anime. By this I mean that they are not one-dimensional and perfect: they are bizarre, but they are also realistic. I know that this sounds like two opposites, but if you are a fan of anime, you know what I mean. For example, Harima from "School Rumble" if unrealistic idiot (I don't mean this derisive, he is one of my favorite character ever); Tsubaki on the other hand is quite realistic idiot. He is a naive/innocent/goffy like a teenage boy that he actually is. Urabe, who is on one side completely bizarre character, on the other hand is reasonable and multifaceted character, which is able to recognize the flaws in others and her, but she is also able to accept them as part of people. Tsubaki is the main character and we see the story mostly from his POV and hear his thoughts, but there is lots of Urabe POV's and inner observations. Both of them are strangely shy. Except them, there is only few other characters in series and they are the usual one-dimensional (but funny) anime characters.

Jokes in the anime are good, and they are not of laugh-out-loud type and more focus is put one romance than comedy. And of course, all is all mixed with this strange topic of sharing drool (and not by kissing).

At the beginning, I was almost put off be "old-school" design of characters, something that I connect with older anime like "Akira" or "Golden Boy", but I soon get used to it. "Nazo no Kanojo X" actually has a pretty good animation, design of characters and vivid colors, which is especially seen in Tsubaki's dreams, which are very imaginative and impressive. The show has pretty good sounds and background music. Two other things I appreciate: people wear different clothes and even though at first it looks like Tsubaki lives alone with his sister, it is later shown that this is not true. There are 13 episodes in series and there is an additional OVA, which is actually a regular episode. Manga is still on-going and I hope that there will be a second season some time in future.

In conclusion, "Nazo no Kanojo X" is definitely an underrated anime, but I can understand this because it belongs to not the most popular category and has an off-putting element. But if you are into more serious romance comedy (like "Lovely Complex" or "Bakemonogatari") and are not particularly nauseous, I would recommend not to skip this anime.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Book review: "The God Engines" by John Scalzi

I've been hearing lots of good things about John Scalzi for some time now, but I haven't read anything by him yet. I know his is famous for over Internet for his opinions and blog, and that he wrote mostly SF. So when I decided to occasionally buy SF, I added one of his books, "The God Engines", on my Amazon wish list. I have some plans for my reading this fall and winter, which I will announce in one of my next posts, so I decided to read something stand-alone last week and I picked this.

I've been surprised how "The God Engines" is similar to "The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms" (which I read not so long ago) in premise. In both books we have gods who are chained by one other god and forced to serve humans as tools and weapons. Here, gods are literally chained, in hulls of space-ships, and used are their primary source of power. As long as the crew maintains its faith, they have nothing to fear and the god can be punished into submission. But when Captain Tephe and his crew is sent on a secret mission, they will find their faith in question, and who can then say what will happen next...

My second surprise was the shortness of this book: with 136 pages this is only a novella. But it is my own fault for not reading more about what I was buying. I am more attracted to longer books, and I was able to finish this book in two days, reading only few hours each.

But the book is pretty good and I can see why Scalzi is famous. It is a type of novellas that I used to read in collection that were published few years ago in Croatia, gathering a lot of older SF hits (Clarke, Haldeman, Hamilton...). The setting is very imaginative, and although we don't see much of it, looks pretty solid. It has a curios mix of high technology and religious dominance (something like in later books of "Hyperion Cantos" by Dan Simmons). The story is also very good, but I was delighted by the ending: I really didn't see it coming.

On the other hand, I am wishing it had a bit more meat, because the last part feels a bit rushed.

"The God Engines" is a very good novella and I would recommend it to everyone, SF fan or not. But I wouldn't recommend buying it: borrow it or buy it in some larger collection.

Anime review: "Moyashimon"

As I already said, I think this is a poor anime year. I am not really sure how I found this anime, since it is from 2007 and it doesn't have some great rating, but as I didn't have anything else to watch, I decided to give it a try.

"Moyashimon" is based on interesting idea, and when you read its short description on AniDB, you can get a completely wrong idea about it. Nominally, the story is about a boy named Sawaki who can actually see microbes: not as they look when you look at them with microscope, but as a kind cute little "monsters" who communicate with him. He is just entering Agricultural college with his childhood Kei, and both of them are conscripted by famous (but little wacky) professor Itsuki and his attractive assistant Hasegawa, to help them in their research.

Well, although all this has its place in this anime, at the same time this is a slapstick comedy about college life, sake and growing up, including a lot of sexual innuendo and fan-service moments. There is even few episodes where microbe don't even appear (The Spring Festival). Every episode starts with the recap of the previous one, there is normal OP and ED, and at the end there is a short educational movie about bacteria, so the real action last even less than in normal anime. You are right to ask how all this stuff fits in 11 short episodes. The answer is that it doesn't! The anime doesn't really have an ending and all this feels more like an introduction than a real season. Considering that there is a second season of anime and that manga is still ongoing, this is maybe even true. Another problem is the non-existing over-all plot; there is few threads started, but they are strangely left unfinished and unexplained.

On the other hand, anime is full of good jokes and interesting characters. Well, humor is actually pretty individual thing: if you find "being picked as the lucky student to perform cow's ovaries examination" funny, you could like this anime. As I said, there is lot of sexual jokes, but nothing really crass. Characters are one-dimensional and unreal, but they work well together. "Moyashimon" has a strong educational streak about microbes, which you either like or hate.

One of the weaker points of this anime is the design of characters. Few of them are designed purely slapstick, but even those who are drawn "real" are very unimaginative and... Ugly is a bit too strong word, but non-pretty. Colors are also pretty bland, which is a big negative point for me. On the other hand, a big positive point is that people change clothes regularly. I really can't say anything, being positive or negative, about the sound and music.

All in all, "Moyashimon" is good anime, with some interesting setting and good jokes, definitely is not a hit series, owing to its lack of proper story or direction. Even if you find this interesting, I would recommend looking for a review of second season before starting with the first one.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Book review: "The Sea Watch" by Adrian Tchaikovsky

I've been reading "Shadows of the Apt" series by Adrian Tchaikovsky for quite some time; I now finished 6th book. The series started very good, with a curious mix of fantasy and steam-punk, taking place in interesting setting. And what's even better, the series kept improving with each book. It wasn't the best or favorite series for me, lacking empathy and emotional impact arising from characters, but I was looking forward to reading "The Sea Watch". I have to admit that I was surprised how good this book was!

Tchaikovsky has chosen a curious pattern for his books. One would be set locally, giving feeling of a single mission/quest, and then the next one would encompass things of different scale, explaining the effects of previous book on global level and expanding on it. Series started bounded in one place (Lowlands), but later expanded the world quite much. What I found interesting was the way it showed the impact of events in Lowlands slowly spreading around and affecting nations back and forth. Also, it is interesting to follow development of Collegium politics and changes in the society through longer period. Even though events took place in maybe three years, it feels much longer.

So, following tradition of even books, "The Sea Watch" is another "global" book. Last book, "The Scarab Path", followed Che on what was supposed to be a diplomatic and research mission to far-away Khanaphes, from which she never came back to Collegium. Here we follow mainly Stenwold Maker, her uncle. Stenwold did got his parts of action, especially in "Salute the Dark", but I never seen him as one of main characters - more as a driving force behind them, gathering and directing them. But this book is about him and told mostly from his perspective. After the war with the Wasp Empire, Stenwold included himself more in the political live of Collegium and leaving his more active role as "spymaster" to become a diplomat. His current affairs include establishing diplomatic relationship with the Vekken (one of their enemies), backing his political ally Jodry Drillen in elections and calming various minor problems in the city. After he gets news of his niece leaving Khanaphes in strange circumstances in company of his greatest enemy, he feels devastated and responsible. But he will have to put his personal affair to side after same force starts attacking and robbing Collegium's ships. It will turn out that Wasps aren't the only people poised on Collegium...

The book has a very nice start and Tchaikovsky really developed Collegium society and politics in details - it looks I am fan of even books. I'll be blunt and just say out that this book introduces a new race, the sea-kinden. This is not a spoiler because they have been sideways-introduced before (in "Blood of the Mantis"), there are mentioned at first few pages, and of course, they are shown on the front-cover, coming out of the water quite looking quite sinister. So, a reader will know that they will show sea-kinden, but particular details of it will be quite surprising. Not giving out too much information, but there will be a big surprise and turn in book when they finally do show. I really enjoyed the political maneuvering, sleight-of-hand and cloak-and-dagger stuff - this book is read like some kind of an thriller set in fantasy setting.

Although I am not a fan of maritime settings and especially not of pirates, this book was good in this part. Fly-kinden pirates are done pretty well - criminals with sense of honor. When sea-kinded come forth, we get to see some new part of the setting and I must say I was impressed. Tchaikovsky was really able to convey the sense of strangeness to readers. The Pelagists were the most memorable thing for me, especially Lyess.

As I said, this book is pretty much about Stenwold, but there are others. We get to see much new characters, but we will also see some of the old-ones leave us. Stenwold is shown as a really capable guy, which wasn't show in previous books, not even in "Salute the Dark". It is funny how all other Beatles think that Stenwold is some action hero with blood on his hands (which he actually is, when you think about it), while he sees himself as old and week, a burden to the rest. But several times in the book you see him from some third character for what he really is: a hard statesman and leader, ready to make and do the difficult decisions - but also unaware of that about himself. Other characters are all good, but I must mention Teornis. We have known him for four books now, but this is the first time we have been in his head. And as with sea-kinden, with Teornis Tchaikovsky was really successful in capturing the strangeness of his races. Particularly, I mean about Spider's duality - to really like and admire your enemy.

The books in series vary much in length - this one is around 700 pages. I can't pinpoint any flaws in the book, but we still lack real connection to characters. But Tchaikovsky is getting better at this and I hope next book will stay good as this one. One thing just came to my mind - I don't think that Tchaikovsy ever discussed religion of the races in his books, except in "The Scarab Path", and that was only locally.

So, to conclude, "The Sea Watch" was the best book in series so far and I believe all fans would agree with me. As for the series itself, "Shadows of the Apt" is growing to be one really good series, best suitable for those who like a good setting and have a patience to wait for the action to really take place.

Movie review: "The Prestige"

I've been skipping on reviewing movies for some time now, partially because I don't have much time but also because I haven't seen any great movie. I watched "In Bruges" again (very good, although it was better the first time), "The Bourne Legacy" (good, but not inspired), "Prometheus" (great start, but not so good ending), "Ted" (not so good teenage comedy) and a lot more, but not one of them was really great.

Yesterday evening I watched a 2006 movie called "The Prestige". Curiously, I tried to watch this movie with my girlfriend few years ago, but we never finished it (I think there was some problem with the video). I watched maybe first half an hour and I didn't have any fond memories of it. But this friend of mine watched is few days ago and has been constantly talking how good it was. So yesterday I hanged out at his place and he offered to watch it again with me. I am very grateful to him because this was one of the best movies I watched in last several years!

I won't say much about the plot because I don't want to reveal any spoilers. "The Prestige" is not a movie that will lose its impact second time you watch it (my friend just watched it second time in few days), but there are some big surprises in there and you deserve to see them unprepared. I will just say that the movie has a quite slow build-up and that things start to become interesting somewhere after first hour. After that, I just couldn't stop trying to guess what will happen next... Let's just say that this is a movie about the personal and professional rivalry between to magicians, with several unexpected turns.

The movie some great characters and actors that play them succeed in giving them credit. We have Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson and David Bowie, to name the most famous. Effects are not flashy, but the atmosphere of the movie is superb. This is a dark and violent movie, and surprisingly, without happy end or a moral lecture.

So, to keep things short, just treat yourself with "The Prestige"!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Epic fantasy series list: What is out there - part 2

This weekend I decided to find some time to continue my list. Last time I describe LoTR and three of my favorite series, and now I am continuing with few other large series that I have read.

Let's start with "The Stormlight Archive" by Brandon Sanderson, which will probably be a short paragraph, since this series has only one book published, "The Way of Kings", of planned ten. I already mentioned Sanderson in previous post, as a second writer of "The Wheel of Time", after passing of Robert Jordan. Sanderson has previously written only some stand-alone books and one short trilogy, "Mistborn", so this is his first published big fantasy series. But at the time, this is Sanderson's first (if I remember correctly, maybe one of first) work, which he started writing over ten years ago. The books take place in very original and detailed setting, which is intrinsic to Sanderson (he is known as "the magic-system guy"). We don't learn much of the background of the setting, so we can expect revelations in further books. For now, the most distinctive features are gigantic and constant storms, magical but passive form of life (or spirits) called spren, and magical swords and armors called Shardblades and Shardplates that give its wielder superhuman abilities. There are three main POVs. Kaladin is probably the hero of the story, but he is not a typical messiah hiding as shepherd: he is a grown-man, with poor background but educated, experienced as soldier and very capable. At the beginning of the story, he is betrayed by his commander and turned to slave. Shallan is minor noble, who begins a plot which result is restoration of her family's wealth by association with famous magician (a Soulcaster), who is at the same time sister of King Elhokar. Dalinar is uncle of Elhokar, a famous commander, but somewhat notorious because of his temper, and currently not in King's favor. I was very impressed with this book, as was the general audience - although there were some complaints on length and slowness of the book. "The Way of Kings" is a start of large epic fantasy series, one that I have big expectations of. Nevertheless, I would recommend waiting for few more books to come out before giving a more precise assessment of this series - so wait a few years if you are not an exclusively epic fantasy fan.

"The Sword of Truth" series by Terry Goodkind is a series that I started reading after I finished published book of "Wheel of Time" at that time (it was somewhere in 2006). This series was compared to "Wheel of Time" much, it was on the list and was quite popular. And I was pretty satisfied at first. But after I started broadening my horizons by reading more and more different series, I was less and less satisfied, until I ultimately stopped reading after sixth book (this was the first time in my life that I haven't finished series I have started; not connected to this, I think that I finished every book I have started, ever). The main character of the series is Richard Cypher, who somewhere at the beginning of the first book discovers that he is a Seeker of Truth and is given the Sword of Truth - a magical blade that can cut through anything as long as its wielder believe it is his enemy. Richard has lived his life in Westland, a land isolate from others by a barrier and devoid of magic, in contrast to the rest of the world, where magic is part of it. Richard, supported by Confessor Kahlan Amnell (Confessors are female judges with a gift of magic helping them finding truth and banishing crime) and the First Wizzard Zeddicus Zu'l (called Zedd, Richard adoptive grandfather), travels to the Midlands where his purpose if defeat Darken Rahl, leader of invading Kingdom D'Hara, before he unleashes the Magic of Orden and either destroy the world or complete conquer it. Later books introduce new elements and important characters, but these three remain the most important. This sound like a standard epic fantasy, and it is - it is not even so bad if you are occasional reader who likes fantasy and don't expect some serious material. But if you are a hard-core fan, there are several reasons to skip this series. First that comes in my mind that Goodkind likes to invent things as he goes. After finishing first book, that is pretty much standalone, second books suddenly introduces a new continent (that everybody knew about it, but didn't find it necessary to mention), new enemies, new races, new magic, new history... Later books start to look like something that is part of a larger arc, but there is no plan in his books. Second thing is the main character, Richard - he is just too good. In every book he discovers he is capable in some new way - a cook, a warrior, a leader of men, a sculptor, an economist and anti-communist... Did I mention that he is tall and good-looking, very friendly and is never wrong? He becomes irritating very fast, except if you think you are perfect and then this is like reading about yourself having invented adventures. Goodkind is also fond of "borrowing" concepts from other series (like Sisters of the Light). Plots of the books are usually simple, and always ending with Richard proving that evil is not worth it. It's been a long time I have read these books, so my memory is maybe faulty, but "The Sword of the Truth" is not a series I would recommend. Maybe it is not as bad as I remember, but there are definitely better series out there.

Before I start reviewing "The Belgariad" and "The Malloreon" series by David Eddings, there is a confession I have to make. When I was younger, I was a member of library and this was my only source of books. Now, I buy all books I read. But there was one summer when I was in college, when I had too much free time and too few books to fill it, so I downloaded few series: "The Belgariad", "The Malloreon" and one more (which I will review later). This is not important for this review except in one aspect - I have read ten books only once and that was more than five years ago, so my memories of these books are not exactly fresh. B&M were written in the eighties and are considered as fantasy classics, next to LoTR, "Shannara" or "Earthsea". As such, I contains several classical tropes and many readers will find it familiar - but not in derisive manner. The main character of "The Belgariad" is a boy named Garion. He lives at a peaceful farm, in a medieval world full of kingdoms and and magic. This changes when Garion is taken from the farm by a mysterious man called Mr. Wolf and his aunt Pol - who are later identified as Belgarath the Sorcerer and Polgara the Sorceress and Garion learns that that he is a descendant of ancient King Cherek, who responsibility is guarding the Orb of Aldur. The Orb is a supreme artifact created by god Aldur and later stolen by evil god Torak - later retrieved by Belgarath and Cherek. In five books we follow Garion as he travels the world, meeting kings, witches and gods, growing up to a real King, until his ultimate confrontation with Torak. I don't really remember much of the details (this synopsis I wrote with help of Wikipedia as much as from my memories), but I remember that I enjoyed these books very much. They are written in best style of Tolkien (although a bit lighter and funnier) and a rightly considered classics. They are books that I would recommend giving kids after they finish LoTR, but I also wouldn't mind rereading them. But on the other hand, I wouldn't reread "The Malloreon". This series continues books that needed no continuation - several years after the final resolution of "The Belgariad", it is discovered that nothing is actually settled and they need to fight a new "Child of Dark". All this wouldn't be so bad if five books of "The Malloreon" weren't so similar to "The Belgariad" - we have the same character that visit the same places, almost in same order. The style remains the same, and the books are good, but they never reach quality of the original pentalogy. So, from my side, a big recommendation for "The Belgariad" to everybody, but skip "The Malloreon" even if you are tempted the contrary.

Now, we are making a jump toward something more modern: "The Second Apocalypse" by R. Scott Bakker. While both "The Belgariad/The Malloreon" and "The Sword of the Truth", even "The Stormlight Archive" are written in that classical style where heroes are noble, bright and pretty, while villains are deformed and dark, Bakker is a member of contemporary writer where such distinction in less obvious - and sometimes there even isn't one. I have read the first book in this series "The Darkness that Comes Before" quite some time ago, but only last and this year did I continued until reaching fifth publish booked (of nine planned). The setting is very detailed and original, with a long-lasting history and it is more Dark-age than medieval. There is common magic, several large and small kingdoms, and two warring monotheistic religions. People forgot the events that happened two thousand years ago - a war between humanity and the No-God. Right at the beginning of the series, a Crusade has been pronounced by Holy Shriah of the Inrithi Faith again the infidel Fanim. But not everybody is so religious and there are factions that plan to use the Holy War for their own interest. Drusas Achamian, a sorcerer of Mandate School (a sect that remembers the first Apocalypse and considers their duty to stand ready for the Consult, servants of defeated No-God) is sent by his superiors to follow and spy on the Crusaders. But there he will find something unexpected: a Messiah. Anasürimbor Kellhus, a secret member of sect called Dûnyains that excel in intelligence and psychology, whose mission was to find his exiled father, decides to use this superiority, to use Drusas and to use even the Holy War to finish his mission. But what nobody counts on is that the Consult have their own plans. This is just a part of the plot and there are more characters: a whore, a prince, a fanatic... Everybody is described in great depth and nobody is what you expect of them. As with Martin and Erikson, Bakker is a master of grey morality: is it an evil when somebody sacrifices thousands to save millions, and is someone wrong to refuse his Messiah if it means sacrificing his love? Bakker uses the same style that Guy Gavriel Guys uses: mixing normal third-person POV with occasional encyclopedic narrations, often about history and far-away events, and this works pretty well. At the beginning I mentioned that Bakker is a contemporary writer; by that I mean that he doesn't pretend that good guys and women don't take shit and he doesn't skirts from sex and explicit violence. He is not a grittiest writer ever, but he neither easy. I also mentioned that the setting is very detailed - you won't realize how much until you reach the end of third book: a fifth of the book is dedicated to an Encyclopedic Glossary similar to the one in LoTR, explaining some ancient history and the main players of that time. What the series is missing to become one of the best things out there is empathy for the characters. Sure, the characters are memorable and impressing, but Bakker fails in making readers establishing a connection with them. Another objection is second and third books: they are good, but they become a little tedious. But things really improve with fourth book, "The Judging Eye", which is really exciting and in parts was remind me to LoTR's trip to Moria, although more darker and violent. Also, both "The Judging Eye" and "The White-Luck Warrior" have really unforgettable endings. All in all, "The Second Apocalypse" is definitely a thing to be read by fans of epic fantasy, except by those with really weak stomachs.

This is it for now - in next post we will continue with few books that I haven't read completely.