Graphic Novel Review: Dragon Age: Those Who Speak by David Gaider

Dragon Age: Those Who Speak by David Gaider
The Silent Grove re-opened a few issues raised in Dragon Age: Origins and the prequel book, The Stolen Throne, and added a few new ingredients. I was worried that Those Who Speak would fail to deliver an appropriate conclusion to all of that in a mere three issues – and I was right. Fortunately, Those Who Speak is not a conclusion, but rather an interlude where King Alistair and his companions, the pirate queen, Isabela, and the dwarven businessman, Varric Tethras, gain a new old ally and, more importantly, we get a further peek inside Isabela.

From book two onward, this is clearly Isabela’s story. Alistair’s hunt for his daddy and his dragon blood issues can wait. This is about the Pirate Queen that some players of Dragon Age II may have dismissed because of her penchant for sex, violence, sex, sex and abandonment. But in truth, despite being paid to accompany Alistair, she is fiercely loyal to those who earn her trust, even at cost to herself. Her devotion to her crew above all is admirable, as is her seemingly unbreakable spirit.

As much as I like the visuals, I wish David Gaider had taken the time to make this another Dragon Age novel, instead of a series of comics. In his novels, he has more room to expand on these characters and is skilled enough in his descriptions of the places, actions and events that he could have brought far more to the story and characters than we see here.

73660-new3stars

Advertisements

The Stolen Throne (Dragon Age, #1)The Stolen Throne by David Gaider

I’ve recently finished two playthroughs of Dragon Age: Origins and in both, my Warden permitted the same fate for Loghain Mac Tir. It was the fate deserving of his crime against king and country, but I never could appreciate the reasoning given for his betrayal as there seemed to be so much more to Loghain. Hence my need to read the books that precede the game.

Gaider’s writing encompasses a lot of emotion, even in a character that seems limited to only a few. Barely 50 pages in, I already respected Loghain and even liked him, despite his harsh demeanor. Appreciation for King Maric was to be expected once it was established that he was much like his son, Alistair, in personality. But it was Loghain that I was interested in and the book did not let me down — though it also means I am heartbroken over Loghain’s ultimate fate.

Not that Maric’s story as the king seeking to reclaim his stolen throne was over shadowed by Logain’s story of the man whom he befriended, or the women whom they loved. Gaider put together an intricate tale of a kingdom torn, complete with well-written battles and action sequences. The characters are all well-fleshed out and their relationships go beyond the predictable romantic geometry. I can’t say more without getting into spoilers, but I was really surprised by the route Gaider took with the romances in particular. They were integral to the story and the shaping of the characters and I was surprised and impressed that Gaider did not aim for a typical happy ending for the king and kingdom.

b1dbb-new4stars

Book Review: Dragon Age: The Calling by David Gaider

The Calling (Dragon Age, #2)

The Calling by David Gaider

Story-wise, this wasn’t as good as its predecessor, The Stolen Throne, with a somewhat shaky plot pushed a long by the questionable motivations of the characters. Fortunately, it was the characters that made me want to read these books in the first place in order to learn more about them, and Gaider again delivered, with the focus, this time, on Maric and Duncan. He adds a load of depth to both characters, making me love them all the more and feel for them and those that come after.

Maric was already a charming character by the end of The Stolen Throne but events from the end of that book and since served to break him. He is a man depressed and ready to die, with nothing to save him from his darkness. Meanwhile, the stoic Duncan we know from the game used to be a swarthy, cocky and sneaky young thief with a reasonably noble heart and a healthy fear of his Warden Commander, Genevieve, who is leading the mission into the deadly Deep Roads to hunt for her brother. The Calling also relates to Dragon Age: Awakenings, introducing the sentient darkspawn known as The Architect, as well as a few of his companions.

As I said, the plot and motivations of the characters are rather weak. It was frustrating watching characters make decisions that really made no sense, serving no purpose other than to push them to the ultimate goal of finding Genevieve’s brother. That done, we end up with the plot twist which, while unsurprising, was also questionable. I concluded that the actual plot really was not the important thing to Gaider. He was more interesting in adding character backstory to alter canon created within the games, most notably with the parentage of Maric’s bastard son, Alistair.

Otherwise, I really like Gaider’s grasp of battle writing. It probably helps that I’ve played the game these books spawn from, but I think anyone else would appreciate and be able to visualize the battles and how each character moves and flows within them. Playing the game means you can actually visualize the commands used by the PCs and NPCs in game. And, in spite of the weak story surrounding them, I adore the characters. Gaider writes them all well, making them all very interesting – redeeming the apparently irredeemable, questioning the noble and letting us see their darkness. I love the relationships he develops between them and love the bittersweet and the heartbreaks that he seems to enjoy writing.

7496c-new2-5stars

Book Review: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

I read this book because of the trailer, like many others. The trailer – despite the presence of Tom Hanks AND Halle Berry – fascinated me, though I could not fathom what was going on in what promised to be an excitingly visual journey through the times and lives of oddly connected people.

The first chapter was a difficult start, mainly due to the language. An older, more formal English, the dialogue was filled with words and nuances I didn’t understand, but rather than break the mood to look everything up, I just sank in and let Adam Ewing’s meanings come to me.

In the second chapter, featuring Robert Forbisher, the language changed dramatically. By the third chapter, about Luisa Rey, I had gotten the concept of the connecting threads, no matter how thin, between the people (though I felt the birthmark was a bit too contrived), but more importantly, I had fallen in love with the language and concluded that it was as much a character in this story as the people themselves. It shaped them as it moved and flowed and changed through each chapter…

Reviewing the trailer now that I have finished the book still leaves me wondering, though now I’m wondering just how they are going to tell this story – these stories – and tell them right. It’s not really the “action adventure” that People Magazine describes it as… and the trailer implies that the directors have opted to make the connections much less subtle than the book does… I will have to return to this review once I’ve seen the film for comparison….

b1dbb-new4stars

Book Review: Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler

Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler

Octavia E. Butler’s books are not for the squeamish and most certainly not for people who want happy, Hollywood endings. Things work out in the end – but never in a nice neat package. There is always a lot of loss in all of its most painful forms. Her works are very realistic in that matter. In fact, her works are realistic in all matters. They are a reflection of life and of the human spirit. They don’t allow you to escape into science fiction and fantasy as easily as other books in the genre might. They are harsh truths.

Butler’s books are considered science fiction, but she stresses that science fiction is not just about the fantastical, requiring a big suspension of disbelief. Even when her stories involve aliens, mutants or vampires, there is still the sense that such things could very well happen in our very near future.

The story takes place in and around the 2030s and, considering that that is not that far from now, it contains some rather frightening predictions for our future. There is an election that occurs in the background of the plot that is very much reminiscent of what is happening right now. I would like to believe that certain aspects, such as the religious “Crusaders” and slave collars are an exaggeration, and yet, part of me knows that, even now, the kind of thinking that the book’s Christian Church of America instills is very much prevalent.

Community – and the meaning of family with in the community – is a prominent theme, as it is in all of Butler’s books so far. One way or another, people are brought together and they form their own community that is very different from the outside world, but functions – for the most part – harmoniously, until the outside world inevitably comes violently knocking.

In this, the disruption of the little community of Acorn is at the hands of Christian extremists who considers Acorn a cult of heathens. Earthseed, the religion created by the main character, Lauren Oya Olamina is based on the Parable of the Talents in the Bible; it is based on truth. Though I’m not overly keen on the ultimate Destiny of Earthseed, there is a lot of merit in the religion itself and I took a lot away from this book on those terms. (Side note: How is Scientology such a thing, but Earthseed is not? If I weren’t so lazy, I’d definitely convert to Earthseed…)

“God is Change.
To shape God
With wisdom and forethought
To benefit our world,
Your people,
Your life,
Consider consequences,
Minimize harm
Ask questions,
Seek answer,
Learn,
Teach.”

“It means that Change is the one unavoidable, irresistible,on-going reality of the universe. To us, that makes it the most powerful reality, and just another word for God.”

“But what can you do with a God like that? I mean… it isn’t even a person. It doesn’t love you or protect you. It doesn’t know anything. What’s the point?”

“The point is, it’s the truth. It’s a hard truth. Too hard for some people to take, but that doesn’t make it any less true.”

It’s not a book solely about religion or the religion of Earthseed itself. It doesn’t necessarily preach. In fact, it does exactly what all religions should do: it shows what Earthseed is through the actions of its people. It’s a book about survival and, as my husband points out, religions are born or are at their strongest when we have something to lose. In this case, Earthseed is what the poor and abused have come to cling to in order to survive and not give up hope, while extremist Christianity runs rampant among the rich and those who fear everything else.

For the second time, I’ve ended up reading Butler’s books out of order. Parable of the Sower comes first, as a biography of Olamina, but I didn’t realize this until I read the interview on Talents and Sower at the back of my edition. I already intended to read Sower, but Butler’s descriptions of how Talents came about – during the sickness and eventual death of her own mother – as well as how she struggled with where Olamina was going in her story made it all the more interesting.

Having now finished a handful of Butler’s books, with several more to go, I am once again saddened by her loss. Her writing encompasses so many harsh truths and ignorance and abuses – baring the soul of humanity, warts and all.

5a31b-5stars

Musings: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (The Inheritance Trilogy, #1)I adore this book. I could not sleep after reading it – after staying up ridiculously late to finish reading it – my mind was too busy. I bought the trade paperback of the book and read it again within two months because I love this book so much. It was even better the second time through, knowing what I knew now about the events and characters.

Perhaps one day I’ll write a proper review for this, but for now, I can only tell you that I give this book five stars and I recommend it to everyone.

For now, some of the many thoughts inspired by The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. (SPOILERS)

Read More

Book Review: Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson

Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson

The idea alone of using colour as a source of power made me very curious about this book. The details Sanderson puts into the use of colour and Breath is very intricate, yet surprisingly not overwhelming. The obvious religious comparisons are not overwhelming either. I was concerned for a moment when Austre, the one god, unseen, was introduced, but, despite the comparisons, the book wasn’t preachy, even as it admonished the hypocritical views of some of its characters. The other gods, the Returned, are a cross between a resurrected Jesus and the petty Greek gods – but with far less potency.

I loved that all the main characters started as one thing, but were thrown into situations that forced them to almost wipe their slates clean and grow into another. I’m a big fan of inconclusive endings, and I appreciated this one even more because it actually played off of the changes these characters went through, allowing you to assume the outcome.

The supporting cast of characters was very supportive, and served as distraction from all the plotting going on on all sides. Oh goodness, the plotting. I admit to skimming through some of these parts. I got the point without it needing to go on quite so much with the details.

The end felt a bit rushed and incomplete. Or rather, I accept that it was meant to be inconclusive and love inconclusive endings, but because it seemed to rush to that point in those last few pages, I felt a bit let down.

Overall, loved the book, loved the concepts presented. My favourite character would definitely have to be Denth, the mercenary happily complaining about how mercenaries are so unloved for obvious reasons…

2e211-3-5

Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline

I recall a complaint somewhere or other claiming this book to be just an excuse to spout off ample ’80s trivia. I’m guessing that complaint came from someone who has no appreciation for that incredible decade – no, dare I say … dynasty!

Movies, television and music are already happily tapping into the ’80s and have been for some time, so I don’t see an issue with a book doing so. I am certainly not one to argue, considering I am happily indoctrinating my kids with the things that I loved growing up. It warms my heart to hear them fighting for the honor of Greyskull.

This is also a book that any geek can appreciate because it’s all about us. No, not true, the major focus is on video gaming, but there is more than enough for any comic book, sci fi and fantasy, D&D nerd to appreciate.

The book mainly takes place in and around the OASIS, which is a virtual world of massive proportions that no one would ever leave — particularly because reality has become so desolate. It’s a world where both the social networker and the gamer have a place. (Literally. You can purchase your own planet.)

Ready Player One fortunately does not simply toss out the ’80s nostalgia in random intervals without context. Everything is sewn together coherently, and when it does get carried away with the trivia, it’s usually in the form of the main character, a teenaged boy, doing what teenaged boys do best when surrounded by friends: showing off.

While I’m sure this book was conceived well before #Nymwars, there is a strikingly familiar concept at play within the OASIS, where its creative company, GSS, firmly respects users’ right to privacy and anonymity, while a rival corporation, bent on taking over GSS and turning OASIS into a massive billboard, would ensure that anonymity be a thing of the past. All the better to market to you, my dear.

Anonimity is a prevailing theme, where OASIS users vehemently hold on to theirs, no matter how close they become. I relate to almost everything in this book save for this. I’m sure it is true of some, but I have made and even lost some wonderful friends online and once those friendships have been solidified, of course we’ve taken off the pseudonym veil.

***

 

I wrote the above after a mere 100 pages into the book, with the intent to give it at least four stars. Shortly after writing it, the plot (hunting for the OASIS creator’s easter egg which will grant the ultimate fortune – his billions and ownership of the OASIS) suddenly picks up.

Or so I thought.

After the momentary action, the book takes a complete turn into ‘a few months in a life of an MMOer’ where everything is a looooong draaaawn out quest, complete with a full chapter on an awkward teen online romance that is ended climactically with a fight scene that could have been written by an awkward online teen.

There is also a pause to remove the stereotype of a fat pasty unwashed kid sitting in his [mom’s] basement all day long. Realizing how unhealthy his lifestyle is, Wade, the main character, forces himself into an exercise and healthy eating routine that does everything but get rid of the pastiness (but he does at least get some vitamin D). There is also brief mention of him actually working 10 hours a day, though that inconvenience never seems to come up again. A few moments spent providing the morals of the story which are not getting too lost online, no matter how much reality sucks, and don’t judge people by appearances.

The plot then plods along like a never ending RPG quest, with enough deux ex machinas to make a Gameshark proud. I hear there’s a movie deal already in the works. Not surprising considering the popularity of the book and of Cline’s previous screenplay, Fanboys.

Still, a fun read, but don’t believe the hype. It’s a lovely walk down memory lane and convenient to have it all condensed into a handy book, but, strip out the simplistic plot and it just becomes a grandiose wiki entry about the ’80s.

679d6-new3stars

Book Review: Clay’s Ark by Octavia E. Butler

Clay's Ark (Patternmaster, #3)Clay’s Ark by Octavia E. Butler

This was the most disturbing books by Octavia E. Butler that I have read yet, further inspiring my desire to have a conversation with her to find out just how that brain worked. Her concepts are fascinating, even when as disturbing as this one.

Perhaps it was the violence and rape of young children that has me troubled. The ending, certainly, is not for the faint of heart. However, I did not dislike this book because of this. My dislike comes, perhaps from a bias regarding its place as part of the Seed to Harvest collection.

Clay’s Ark carries the similar theme of a community of humans, mutated both physically and psychologically, who must fight against outward and inward forces to maintain their humanity — a theme that dominates just about every book I’ve read from this author. Beyond that and the name, there is very little that relates it to the Patternists created by Mary in Mind of My Mind or the superhumans created by Doro, beginning in Wild Seed. In fact, Clay Dana’s involvement is not mentioned until more than half way through the book.

I took a quick peek at the first few pages of Patternmaster and I see the results of Clay’s Ark may play a part in that story,  but for now, it is an odd addition to the series that perhaps was not intended to be part of the series at all (considering it was created several years after Patternmaster.)

5966d-new2stars

Book Review: Patternmaster by Octavia E. Butler

Patternmaster (Patternmaster, #4)Patternmaster by Octavia E. Butler

After Clay’s Ark, I had no idea what to expect with The Patternmaster. What I did not expect was that the Clayark evolution would basically turn those people into animals – albeit really smart human-like animals – and that they would have no real purpose to their existence save to
be obstacles for the protagonists. Their humanity was almost completely stripped away, despite them fighting so hard to maintain what they could of it in Clay’s Ark.

This book focused otherwise entirely on the Patternists. Two brothers, in particular. All of the Patternists of the past books are gone, including Mary, who created the Pattern and there is little spoken of them beyond what purpose they served in history. Not even their names are mentioned. I did appreciate the intricacies detailing how the Pattern and the Patternist society worked and the descriptions of the mental processes and battles.

Other than the Patternists and Clayarks, there are still humans about. “Mutes,” to the Patternists, who consider them little more than smart animals that can be easily manipulated to serve any purpose, from domestic, to brutal, to sexual. The evolution of slavery, where those
who have not evolved, can serve no other purpose.

A few interesting themes show up. One being that society has reverted to a sub-technological level. Apparently, the Clay’s Ark spaceship was the pinnacle of human technology, and, also served as the downfall of the species. No real reason is given as to why the Patternists no longer have use for technology. Certainly communications isn’t necessary. But … air conditioning? Cars? Netflix?

The most interesting thing about this book as the conclusion to the Seed to Harvest series, is that it is rather anti-climactic. With all the build up regarding the Clayarks and the Patternists, I assumed there would be more to it, but as I read on, I kept looking at the number of pages left and realized that the book would remain focused on a small pocket of the greater world. These books aren’t to be viewed as an epic series, connected through characters and adventures. Instead, it is four different stages in the human evolution Butler has imagined. Apparently, no matter how far the human race evolves, men will always compete against men and women will always be treated as inferior. I had hoped for greater juxtaposition with the Clayarks regarding this, but ultimately, this story was simply about two men and their battle for succession.

I don’t want to say that the final book, or the series itself, was disappointing. It simply wasn’t what I expected – and that’s not a bad thing. Butler is proving to me that she is a master of telling a story so far outside the box. Science fiction and fantasy so often follow the same tropes, with a few twists here and there, but Butler completely ignores it all and forces you to think on so many different angles, all while forcing you to question the rules and morals that society sets upon us.
a8c10-new2-5stars