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Dragon Avenger

It took a year, but I finally found my way back to the Age of Fire series by E. E. Knight. Dragon Avenger follows Dragon Champion, a book that I thought was fantastic and refreshing, despite a few cringe worthy moments near the end that I could have done without. While it’s a sequel, it takes place during the same timeline as the previous book, this time focusing on Auron’s sister, Wistala. The first few chapters follow the exact same story, although from Wistala’s point of view, and I enjoyed seeing how he approached it from her eyes. Once the two are forcefully split up, the adventure becomes officially hers.

I’m still reading the trade paperback editions. They have a great look and feel to them.

Something looks off about her wings.

Something looks off about her wings.

Where Auron’s story rarely gave the reader a chance to breathe, Wistala’s feels more like a meditation. She spends most of her time in the village of Mossbell running errands for the elf, Rainfall, who rescues her after the loss of her father. Wistala begins dead set on avenging him and her family (hence the title) but as she grows up in Mossbell, it feels like the desire dwindles. Perhaps it was because of her focus on other tasks, but it felt like the middle section of the book weakened the tension and drama that the beginning set up. I began to wonder if any avenging would even happen. It finally did and was mostly satisfying, in particular how she took the high road in one case, though overall it felt tacked on more than a necessity after what came prior.The first book suffered from a less than satisfying victory as well. After an enormous set up and wanting nothing but the worst for a certain character, I remember being underwhelmed at what happened.

I would like to be able to say that the slower pace of the novel lends to more character development, but ironically I felt like I knew Auron better at the end of his story. Wistala’s growth often happens off screen, so a page or paragraph later she’s learned something new, often something major, and that’s now how she is. It can be hard to really grasp her character. I would have liked to have seen her pick up the elves’ language more gradually in the narrative, along with “parl,” the universal language used by all of the humanoid races. This particular aspect made me wonder again how I was going to handle a similar situation in my current work, where characters are immersed exclusively in a language and culture that’s foreign to them. The challenge comes from a believable period of learning without plodding down the story.

I’m still confused at the notion that this series is good for younger readers. There is some horrifically cruel and graphic material at times. And while it was far less here compared to the first book, it’s still there. Wistala’s barely harmed, but the worst happens to others, and the world seems filled sociopaths. The worst that happens to Wistala comes in a satisfying moment when she’s needing her wings freed and has someone assist her in cutting them out early. Dragons in this series aren’t born with their wings. They come in like antlers on a deer as they age. But as far as others hurting her, there’s nothing to mention. Her brother seemed to get abused on every page, including losing his tail more than once (it grew back.) That was the tamest of it.

Wistala seems more human than her brother. I credit this to circumstance, since he was on his own in the wild, giving into his true nature, whereas Wistala grew up with elves and took on the demeanor and habits of those around her. She even learns to pull back her lips to simulate a human smile. The way she speaks and her thought process feel more human as well and there were times I could have easily just imagined her as a human (or elf) girl with no real change to how the character felt. This would have been less jarring without memories of Auron’s adventure. Eventually Auron did find a library and began reading and learning and calming a bit, but most of his growth was savage.

There are few dragons this time around. She does find one stray one later, whose mental and physical attributes are described as unappealing as possible and makes one wonder if dragons in this world are even worth saving. She also runs into a small group of them isolated from the rest of the world and with no desire to leave their sanctuary. They try to get her to stay and breed but she soon abandons them, returning to Mossbell. I had fears this location was the same as the final destination of Auron’s tale, a place that disgusted me. Something about it felt familiar, but if it was, Wistala wasn’t there long enough to find out.

E.E. Knight’s writing and world development are still top notch. He immerses the reader, and while I didn’t feel quite “in” the world as much in this book, he’s still far better than most authors I’ve read. He stimulates all of the senses that words on a page (or screen) can. I like the mythologies from the different races, both dragons and hominids. I like the different cultures. And I like how not all of one race is the same. All of this makes his world realistic and organic.

So while Dragon Avenger did feel much different than the previous book, it was still a good read. I look forward to the rest of the series at some point. For now, it’s time for the sequel to one of my favorite books from the past few years. Finally got it.

The White Dragon

I’ve been hoping to blog Anne McCaffrey’s sequel to her sequel of Dragonflight for a while now. I finished it over the summer, and then it seemed as though one thing happened after another, including a lengthy move, that did a fine job of sidetracking any writing efforts. I picked up The White Dragon when I bought The Black Gryphon a year ago at a now out of business used book store, one that I happened to be in town to visit on their very last day. Sad. I’m not sure which edition I have of the book, but it cost $7.99 so it must be recent. It’s a paperback with a tough cover.

Tough, but bland.

McCaffrey has such a generous output of stories in her Pernverse that at the time I was unaware of the close relation to Dragonflight. The blurb on the back did little to reveal the truth. The characters mentioned had yet to be born in the first book, so it seemed an isolated story. Thread is also mentioned on the back, but that could be true of most any book in Pern, so to make a long story even longer, I thought I was buying something that I could read on its own. Actually, it did work that way without having read Dragonquest (book 2,) but I did find myself feeling left out in places. It was nothing that made the book hard to understand, but having known right away how Jaxom and his dragon, Ruth, came to be, and having had a proper introduction to some of the other new characters would have made it more enjoyable.

 
Turns out Jaxom is the son of an antagonist from Dragonflight who had been offed early. I do like Jaxom, though his sometimes one track mind for sleeping with women is irritating. Being 18, I can’t fully blame him, but most of the time his exploits feel more like a distraction than anything serving the story. In contrast, Ruth has no interest in mating at all. This causes headaches for everyone, but Ruth fails to see why it’s an issue. The reasons for his problem do get answered eventually, adding some satisfaction to having to put up with Jaxom’s libido.

 
What begins as a “boy and his dog” type story eventually turns into a tale of exploration. Once Jaxom teleports his way to the southern continent, most of his lovely screen time with Ruth is pushed aside. I found this disappointing since it had been so enjoyable to see their bond. One of my complaints about Dragonflight had been that I never saw any genuine love between the human characters and their dragons. Anything that was there felt forced, but Jaxom and Ruth really do click. I began to see why people love McCaffrey’s work so much. It’s just a shame that this aspect of the story went ignored.

 

While I did enjoy this book much more than Dragonflight (her writing isn’t perfect, but it flows so much better,) there are still a few aspects that I don’t care for. I was never a fan of telepathy, but of course that’s how her dragons communicate. I do like how they can transmit pictures and feelings, but when they speak it sounds so emotionless, almost like a computer talking. Ruth is better about this at least, having a shred of personality. The others though lack soul. They come off cold and alien at times, but perhaps that’s what McCaffrey wants considering this is more sci-fi than fantasy. Also, the dragons committing suicide when their parters die has never set well with me. I certainly understand their heartache, but come on, hang in there. Tough it out. There are others around that care for you. I find it hard to believe this would be evolved behavior since the dragons have only been with humans a short while. What did they do before then? Bond with alien squirrels? It’s baffling and upsetting. I don’t care for the apostrophe names either. I wish McCaffrey would at least explain it. I thought it was something done when one partners with a dragon, but I recall at least one rider who had a normal name. Oh, and Lessa is still unlikable.

 
On the plus side, I loved the fire lizards. They’re mini dragons with the excitability of a box of jack russells. They continue to apparate in Ruth’s personal space, bombarding him with pictures and memories that help set off the plot. They’re an enjoyable addition to the series that I hope will stick around.

 
There’s a lull around the middle of the book where Jaxom gets sick from teleporting and has to stay in one place for a while. It’s only near the end that the momentum picks up again. It’s one of those cases where plenty is said without anything happening, and I found that section hard to get through, especially since I was hoping for more Ruth moments. That hope is what kept me reading, but thankfully the lull dies before the end. I found it to be a satisfying ending, and overall an enjoyable story, though it could have been easy to put down at points if I had been less determined to finish something I started. If McCaffrey had cut about 75-100 pages, it would have been a tremendous help to the pacing. I’ll likely read another Pern book sometime, but I have much more I’d like to get to first.

Bazil Broketail

Bazil Broketail was another case of having seen the book and its series regularly, and then when I actually planned to buy it, it was no where to be found. To make a short story short, I ordered a used copy. Now, judging from the cover, I was quite certain this was going to be a “boy and his dog” type story, though with a large wingless dragon who can wield swords. Great concept! However, throughout most of it, I was ready to accuse the author of false advertising. Yes, Bazil is often there in the scene, as is the boy, Relkin, but outside the beginning and end, the focus tends to be on other characters. Characters who are less interesting.

A lack of focus on these guys was a let down.

The plot loosely centers around a princess kidnapping, a character with all the personality of a sponge, and then a journey to rescue her before she’s handed over to “The Doom,” a disembodied entity. It’s kind of like proto-Voldemort, just without his charisma and sad backstory, or if there is one, we never really hear it. The Doom’s senses all come from caged, physically manipulated men. He hears, sees, and talks through. I did find a subtle creepiness to it, but it ended up being too little, too late to finish the book with fondness.

No one ever told Christopher Rowley about showing, instead of telling. He comes out and tells you everything, with nothing to really let us see or feel. No imagination. No guessing. Nothing. It makes the writing feel amateur, and for quite some time I thought he was just a teenager when this was written (his regular comments about sex further led me to wonder) so I was ready to cut him some slack. Heck, the stuff I wrote in my early 20s was terrible. I’m going to be easier on younger writers, but after looking up the author, he was around 40 when this was published, and it seems he’s written many books before this as well, so the writing quality is disappointing. The book feels like it was written quickly, full of weak sentences, dialogue, and scenes that do nothing to add to the story.

One in particular had me saying aloud, “Are you kidding me?” more than once. Bazil is separated from the group and he runs into another dragon who hates him.  She has good reason to, and then after a thorough explanation as to why, the caveman (lizard?) part of his brain decides to get rough with another dragon whom she at least likes, if not is friends with, and seriously hurts him. Then all of a sudden she wants to go sleep with him. Really? She just gives herself to him? There were other moments where it felt like Rowley wanted to make something happen and bypassed any logic so he could. And yes, I see that wounded dragon had a role in the end, but Bazil never even had to run into him for it to happen. In fact, that could have been dropped all together because the scene would have been fine without him. The wounded dragon isn’t even mentioned after that quick scene. After giving so much help, and changing his opinion about Bazil, you would think it would be something to at least touch on before the last page.

The middle of the book had a section where it seemed to be one long winded battle after another, always against faceless imps and trolls, and with the action often described in such a manner: “And they were doing this, and then this was happening, and these others guys were doing something, and then. . .”

All of these battles without much to set them apart felt kind of like level grinding in an RPG, just less instant gratification. I half expected experience points to pop up over the characters’ heads and someone to level up at some point. Characters die in these battles, but they are never developed enough to cause any reaction other than, “Oh? Well, that sucks. Next page.” Now there was one death near the end that bugged me, both because it was one of the few interesting characters with an actual personality, and because it was so sudden and needless. The only reason I can see for it was to give Bazil some motivation to defeat his enemy, but if he needed anymore, then that’s a real shame. The guy was in a fight or die situation, a situation against those he hates to begin with, so I find it hard to believe that he needed an extra boost. We were robbed of a character that had some actual chemistry with Bazil. Not a love interest, but they got along well, and their dialogue together was enjoyable compared to the rest.

Rowley uses abrupt, jarring point of view shifts. He talks about how one character feels, what they’re seeing, and so on, and then all of a sudden we’re with another. A page break would have been kind at least, but there are often many characters in one scene, and with how often he jumps, it’s disorienting. He never gets close enough to anyone to really get to know them either. It feels like watching a movie, but since there is no visual, and since he never shows us anything, the reader is as good as blind.

I did like Bazil, and the boy Relkin. It’s a shame that the focus drifted from them so often. The book would have flowed better and been more concise staying with the two leads. I wanted to know about their friendship, about their wants and desires. I wanted to see them grow. Instead, it feels like Rowley is trying to tell too many stories at once. The focus did tighten near the end, and gain some much needed tension and drama, but this is about 420 pages into a 470 page book. It takes too long to get there and I struggled to get through most of the story. I really wanted to like it, but it’s too unfocused and sloppily written.

Maybe the book improve. Bazil’s adventures are an extensive series, and judging from the reviews online, people really like them, but if the rest are like the first, I can’t see it being worth the time or money to continue. I hope the rest are like the last 50 pages of book 1. Maybe I’ll find out sometime. There is so much potential for an enjoyable read, but sadly it was never realized on the first outing.

Dragonspell

I had heard about Dragonspell on various lists of recommended dragon stories, and I’ve seen the series around at book stores but for some reason never got around to buying it. I finally did, but it took two tries. On the first, the back cover had major scratches and looked like someone had cut a piece out. I had to look elsewhere because they didn’t have any more copies. At Barnes and Noble No. 2, I finally picked it up, along with another book I’m planning to read for October by the author of Coraline. Dragonspell is a quick read, and honestly I could have done it in about three days (reminder: I read slow) but it ended up taking three weeks due to some personal distractions where I got involved finishing my own book after nearly two years. That blog’s coming soon.

No actual egg thieving from sleeping dragons happens.

There’s the book. It’s in the trade paperback format that I love, and as usual is well put together. I’m no font expert, but it does use one I don’t recognize. It also has the narrowest margins I’ve ever seen.

So, no one told me that Donita K. Paul’s work was Christian Fantasy. I’m not opposed to religious themes in books at all, but she does a fine job in hitting you over the head with them, and often characters have questionable actions based around their faith. One of the worst to me was early on. Kale, our protagonist, rescues this dragon who’s been captured and tortured on a daily basis, and when the dragon recovers and kills those who abused her, another of the characters tells Kale the dragon can’t come with them because by killing, it means she’s bad. And bad people don’t belong on their team. Wulder, the God figure, wouldn’t approve. Had this been written in a satirical fashion it would have been easier to swallow, but I honestly feel the actions were genuine. It left a sour taste in my mouth. Kale is also constantly told to trust in Him, and even defeats the antagonist by chanting over and over that she stands with Wulder. Really. Everytime she’s in danger, she simply says that, and she’s spared for a moment. In the climax of the story she has to take no personal responsibility. I’m not sure what moral this is trying to show the target audience of around 4th to 8th graders. The cover says adults can enjoy it too.

 
Now, I do like Kale. She grew up as a slave, and is strangely okay with this. I guess slavery isn’t too bad in Paul’s world. Once she gets her freedom and discovers a talent she has for finding dragon eggs, she meets others who tell her this is a gift from God and His plan is for her to rescue other eggs from evil clutches. I find irony that she begins as a slave and ends up a servant. She’s naive, but generally good natured and has empathy for others, while also confused and frustrated by everything she’s learning over the course of the story. Everyone acts like she should just know things, when she doesn’t. Some of them, like Leetu Bends, come off rather condescending about it to me. I was actually happy when she got captured early on, and didn’t feel Kale’s need to rescue her, other than just being a nice person. Other characters lack development, so outside of Kale, it’s pretty flat in that department. Many seem no more than figures to preach about trusting in and serving God.

The little dragons were adorable though, for what screen time they got. Gymn in particular made me “aww” aplenty. It’s a shame that for most of the story they’re no more than ornaments. We don’t even get words from them until near the end. Maybe they couldn’t talk yet? But either way, it’s done through a device I’ve mentioned time and time again that I could do without: telepathy. Or “mind speech” as tends to be the current euphemism for it. Apparently there’s a higher form of dragon that can actually speak out loud, but we don’t experience that in this novel. We’ll see them in future ones I assume.

The kimens were cute too, who are two foot tall people who can radiate colorful light. They’re one of seven other mostly humanoid races created by Wulder. There are also seven evil versions created by our “Satan” figure.  Another of the good races, the doneel, look like little fuzzy near-terrier creatures. One of them, Dar, tags along with Kale for most of the journey, and boy do I loathe him. He’s the one who had an attitude about the above dragon situation. His only redeeming quality is that he can play music.

We also have Paladin, who’s our Jesus figure, and who can make evil dragons run away by saying he works for God. That’s all it takes. Kale thinks he’s good looking and eventually serves him after she’s heard enough that that’s what she’s supposed to do. My question now, does Paladin get a great self sacrifice later on, like Aslan in the Narnia books? Speaking of those, they handled Christian themes much better I think because the story and characters came first, with the religious elements being along for the ride. Here, the reader feels a bit beaten over the head by them. There were times when I felt like Paul was using the story as an excuse to talk about her beliefs while sacrificing plot.

There is a plot. Kale’s off to find that dragon egg before an evil wizard gets it. Half the time though, things seem skimmed over, especially action scenes. Kale spends much of her time running or being talked down to, and there are sections where it feels like more needed to be there but it got cut. Is that on the editor? Who knows.

I do believe the author is a good person and has good intentions, but the intense preachiness of the story draws away from the positives and left me wanting to read something else. She certainly has imagination with all that she has created, and thankfully there’s a glossary in the back for all of the types of races, creatures, foods, and other things in the world that are new to us.

I think now it’s time to read a sequel to one of the books I enjoyed over the past year.

Covenants

Lorna Freeman’s first Borderlands novel, Covenants, was aggressively recommended to me by a friend. Once again I was unable to find it at any bookstore, though I did see part 3 once, an improvement on past efforts. After receiving it in the mail along with Fanuilh and a few others, I finally decided to get to it. This was back in April. I began reading it on a business trip to South Carolina, but since my driving partner was quite the talker, I didn’t get much reading done. Thirty pages the whole trip. Maybe. I found myself reading it off and on over the next few months, often reading a chapter early in the morning, then setting the book down. For the most part the chapters are short, so I was able to get one in while getting ready to head to my job that I’ve now left.

I learned while reading that I do not like paperbacks over about 350 pages. This one’s around 550, and my thumbs hurt from holding it open. I’m one of those people who would prefer to keep the spine smooth, so doing so with such a thick book is a challenge. For the most part I managed to keep the book in good shape. There are a couple creases, but you’ll never see them unless you look closely. Can’t feel them either. The cover art on the American release is beautiful with sun warmed clouds and detail in every inch, even deep into the background.

The only thing it’s missing is butterflies. Really.

Our hero, Rabbit, who is not the cat up there, is drawn along for the ride most of the story. The reader is too, wondering what the heck is going on. Whatever it is, there’s plenty of it, both on screen and in the background. This is one of those books you could read multiple times and get more out of it each time. One reading can be a bit overwhelming, and it doesn’t help that Freeman even leaves words for you to figure out, when it wasn’t always necessary. New words work best when they’re for something we don’t have in our world, but when used for every day things (including linking verbs) it can be confusing until you see it enough to figure out from context. I’m pretty sure “sro” was “sir” and “e” was “and,” etc., but even if it adds a bit of flavor to the world, it works better to keep them as what we know. My opinion anyway. The former gets particularly convoluted with how nearly everyone seems determined to refer to people by long titles, here full of book exclusive words.

The story is told from Rabbit’s POV, a rare experience in first person for a fantasy novel. The only other one I can think of off hand is Song in the Silence (and it’s sequels,) but unlike there, this one is all Rabbit, all the time, so we stay as lost as he does for a while. He isn’t going to stop to tell you what’s what, especially if he doesn’t know. We’re pulled into the world as though we understand it.

And he certainly knows a lot, but for a while it has nothing to do with what’s happening. His background becomes more important to the story as it moves along, and we see just how deeply tied he is to many important individuals.

Early on the remains of a sprite and dragon are found (turned into a staff, and shield and tunic respectfully. . .or, disrespectfully?) and this especially doesn’t sit well with Rabbit since he was close friends with them. At that point the story gets rolling and for the most part it doesn’t slow down until the end. When he makes it back to the land where he grew up, and we meet many new characters, the story bogs down a little because there’s so much more to digest, right when everything prior was beginning to take form, including why butterflies keep swirling around him.

There’s plenty of magic, weirdness, and great characters you grow up with over the course of the novel, and I’m quite interested to read the next two to see what happens. Still, there’s an incredible amount of detail in the world, and it’s best to have a few goes at it to fully understand everything. I actually had to do this post with the guidance of a friend who’s more or less an expert on the series. I’ll certainly come back to see what happens to Rabbit in the future.

For now, something a little simpler . . .

Brave

I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I went to see Pixar’s new film. They always do a great job of showing little of the actual movie in the trailers, but what they did show made it look like they borrowed the CG sets from How to Train Your Dragon, then threw in a little bit of Robin Hood with some bears. That turned out to be a different story.

I’ve been soured on Pixar as of late. While they turn out quality films, I personally don’t feel they’re as perfect as many do, especially with the dull merchandising vehicle that is the Cars franchise. I was also disappointed two years ago that Toy Story 3 won best animated film. It was well done, and I did get a tad choked up once, and the growing older story resonated with me, but I connected with and enjoyed How to Train Your Dragon much more. For some reason, TS3 felt a bit sterile when it was finished, like the filmmakers were tired and just wanted to get through it. That seems to be the case with many Pixar films to me though. I’m not sure precisely what it is either. I see greatness, but then I don’t leave the theater with that excited energy I may get from others.

I saw Brave on a cloudy Saturday afternoon (it was cheaper) and had to pop my contacts in for the day to better use the 3D glasses. I’ve tried to put them over regular glasses, I really have, but it kills the affect. I noticed this with Kung Fu Panda last year. It weakens the depth and immersion without the lens as close to your eye as possible, at least with me anyway. Before the movie started, I knew it was going to be a good afternoon since we were treated to a new trailer for The Hobbit. Can’t wait. It reminded me of years ago when I went to see Wing Commander just for a Star Wars trailer. What a horrible movie that turned out to be (settle down SW fans, I meant Wing Commander.) After a few more trailers and commercials, the obligatory Pixar short played. It was an odd one involving the moon, a kid, his father, and his grandfather. I’ll just say it made me sleepy in a good way.

What Brave turned out to be was a “follow your dreams” story, although handled in such a way as to be refreshing and surprising. I’m not going to spoil how it ends up, but it’s a more realistic outcome than what we always see. Brave stars Merida, a girl with unmanageable long hair (really, it spends most of the movie being an absolute mess) who’s grown up with the conflict of her mother wanting her to be the proper princess she’s supposed to be, and her father who encourages her to learn how to use weapons, in particular the bow and arrow where she has great skill. As she grows older, the conflict with her mother rises until Merida turns to magical means to get her mother to get over it. What follows is a scene that has a major Snow White vibe, along with a crow that needed more screen time.

One frame later, she throws her pokeball.

Watching Merida and her mother bond as a result of her mistake is wonderful and the real heart of the film. They both learn something from each other. The other characters are great too, including her father, whose glory days seem behind him. I really liked Merida’s three suitors who are a strange mix of pathetic and likable. I actually wanted her to end up with one of them. I didn’t care too much for Merida’s triplet brothers, but thankfully they aren’t too important in the movie. They do get a great scene near the end though, something foreshadowed earlier that has a satisfying payoff.

There’s also one hell of a fight near the end involving a bear . . .or two. You can really feel the power and weight of them in the theater, and gave me some great ideas for writing a such a conflict in my own work.

While there were a few things I’d have liked to have seen more of (the crow for one,) I really enjoyed Brave and would definitely see it again. It’s a strong story with some great voice acting, and of course the whole film is gorgeous, especially in 3D. Check it out.

Fanuilh

I found Daniel Hood’s series about a dragon familiar while searching for dragon art.

Remove the text and I’d put that on my wall.

It’s one of those books I’d have checked out simply because of the cover, had I seen it, but sadly it seems to be out of print. In fact, everything of Daniel Hood’s is, or at least none of our local stores carry his work anymore. I had to order it used. My copy’s rather worn, but still functional. At least it’s intact and devoid of coffee stains and the like. The book’s only about 260 pages, but my edition has enough words per page to resemble a shrunken hardback copy. It’s a tad longer than it seems.

I began reading the book right before we left for a short vacation to Disney, and on the way there the car broke down. I must have read nearly half of it waiting in the lobby at Tuffy’s auto repair, all the while trying to tune out a TV playing a looping infomercial about replacing your wipers, and other repairs. I find it difficult to read if anything else, music included, is going on, and I kept “accidentally” turning off the TV. Once I knew I couldn’t get away with it, I went outside to sit in the hot sun for a few hours. The rest of my memories of it were done in our resort down at Disney or out by the pool, so I have a mix of frustrated and relaxing feelings attached to the book without even getting into the content.

I spent nearly a hundred pages changing my mind on how to pronounce Fanuilh, including seeing about halfway through that I had been swapping the L and U. By the time I settled on just saying Fa-Nyool, I realized he wasn’t the main character. The story is a murder mystery from the sole point of view of Liam Rhenford, a recent transplant to the town of Southwark where the entire book takes place. He stops by to see a wizard friend of his one evening, only to find him murdered. The wizard’s familiar bites him, thus stealing part of his soul so that he can live. There Fanuilh says he’ll help him out if he helps him find the murderer.

Liam isn’t too thrilled at giving up part of his soul, including the side effect of Fanuilh “hearing” everything he thinks, so he gets to work, even though he’s hardly a detective. Liam has a complex past that’s only hinted at, so we never fully know what he’s done and where he’s been, but we do get the impression that he’s had a more interesting life than wasting away in bed all day. He doesn’t care much for Fanuilh either, and even forgets to go feed him more than once. There were a few moments where it seemed they were bonding, but Liam went back to ignoring him and wishing he would go away, though he only sees him when he returns to the wizard’s house. Usually he’s out and about in town trying to figure out whodunnit.

He meets a handfull of characters who actually feel like individuals, and not simply filler to give Liam something to do. I sensed there was far more to all of them than what we learned. I particularly liked, and kind of felt sorry for, the overly religious Viyescu who seemed to be using his faith to compensate for something. I also really would have liked to have seen Fanuilh more, and though he does get one heck of a scene near the end, it was a shame that even then Liam chose to ignore him for a while.

While I didn’t get much of what I came for, the dragon, I did enjoy the book quite a bit and look forward to the sequels. This felt like a set up to much more. Daniel Hood writes well, and it’s refreshing to see a more modest fantasy story, one wrapped up in a mystery.

Metroid

While I began my lifelong friendship with video games on the old Atari 400, it wasn’t until the late 80s when Santa brought my first Nintendo that it really took off. One of the first games I was ever addicted to was the original Metroid. It began by watching my sister’s boyfriend at the time play it;  the music creeped me out (especially Kraid’s hideout,) but I was also intrigued by the strange world and freedom to go wherever you wanted. It wasn’t like in most games at the time where you either had to go left to right, or bottom to top. It even broke that convention right away by placing the first required item directly to the left of the start.

I remember saving up my money from yard sales to finally get the 40 bucks to buy my own copy. I was the happiest kid in the word, even though I had rented the game for months and knew where everything was. It did take me a while to really learn the game, but soon I could find the ice beam and everything else with my eyes closed. This was back before the internet. Many locations in the game look similar. There is no in game map, and you had to make your own or you were screwed. Well, make your own or have the right issue of Nintendo Power.

The game could be brutal at times. Not Ninja Gaiden hard, but still a heck of a challenge. Enemies can hit you leaving a room or entering one before you can even move, and they hit hard. Everytime you die, you start with hardly any health. Your beams hardly do any damage, and you don’t even start with a full shot. It vanishes a few body lengths away. You can’t duck and shoot or aim down or at angles like in future Metroid games. There was even a room in Norfair where if you fell into a certain spot, your only option was to stand there and wait for Samus to get burned to death. No way out.

The music’s one aspect that stuck with me over the years, from the adventurous Brinstar theme, to the creepy parts, such as in Kraid’s lair where it sounds like a demented circus. Then there was the item room music, eerily atonal with what almost sounds like some creature shuddering its breath beneath.

The environments were varied in their strangeness. While it’s dated by today’s standards, as a kid all of the  platforms and blocks that looked like faces stuck with me. Why does this elevator have a rock that looks like a monster coming down at me? Why does this room have what appear to be floating gum drops? Are those walls even organic?

And then there were the metroids the game was named after. Nothing was scarier than those things coming at you and trying to shoot them before they got on your head. Did I mention the game gives you no help?  You’d have no way of knowing to freeze them and then fire missiles without some guide or trial and error, and if you error, you’re not getting another chance to try right away. The best beam in the game doesn’t even work on them.

Metroid was one of the first games that made me want to create my own game. I’d make huge maps of worlds I created on graph paper, based off of the areas in the game. I designed my own creatures, weapons, all kinds of stuff. Kind of wish I still had them. And while the original Metroid hasn’t aged well, it’s still a fun game, especially for the nostalgia trip.

Now, have a picture of Samus and Ridley, one of my all time favorite characters.

When it was revealed that Samus was a girl, all fears of that hot pink suit were relieved.

The Dragon and the George

I first heard of Gordon R. Dickson’s, The Dragon and the George, in middle school after watching The Flight of Dragons, an animated classic based on the novel, though with Peter Dickenson’s ideas on dragons incorporated into the story. The novel’s far less sciencey, but our hero, Jim, shares his counterpart’s scholarly nature. Due to a friend reminding me of the book recently, I finally decided to pick it up. So, off I went to my favorite book stores only to find that no one had it. Odd, I thought, as I could have sworn I had seen it every time I wasn’t looking for it. Eventually I had to order it used. I have an old hardback copy from the 70s with a delightful painting by Boris Vallejo, who’s done every fantasy piece you’ve ever seen.

note: Actual knight cannot summon castles from his lance.

It begins in the modern world and for a while feels like a fantasy version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Dickson and Adams seem to share a similar sense of humor. Eventually Jim’s better half, Angie, is victim to an experiment that sends her away to a fantasy world. Jim follows, but when he arrives, he finds out he’s ended up in the body of a dragon. And so begins a quest to learn just how the heck to be a dragon, and somewhere in there rescue Angie from the forces of evil.

Along the way, Jim meets others who tag along on his quest, including a dragon slaying knight and a giant talking wolf who does his best impression of a honey badger. While everyone has their moment, the latter was my favorite due in part to his no nonsense nature. The others tended to ramble at times, especially Jim. We spend a lot of time in his head and he doesn’t always take the quickest path to his point. It’s this wandering nature that bogs the story down. There was even a side plot involving the nemesis of Sir Brian, our knight friend, that took away from the adventure. I didn’t feel invested enough in him at the time to care much about it. It suffers from excess descriptions too. Dickson tries too hard at times.

I did want to like the novel more. It’s a unique set up with a man stuck not only in a different world, but in the body of a dragon, but I never felt gripped by it. It was enjoyable to see the basis for one of my favorite fantasy films, including so many of the characters who were lifted directly from it, and at least from that I’m glad I read it, I just wish it had a little more to it. I’ll have to give the nod to the movie as my favorite.

This is a book I’d have definitely loved as a teenager, and likely finished the series, but for now I don’t feel compelled to do it. Yet.

After being bogged down the past few months, it’s time to start catching up. Feels great to be back at this again.

The Adamantine Palace

The back cover to Stephen Deas’s, The Adamantine Palace, promises dragons that kick ass, and while I was dying to follow up with “indeed they do,” there are perhaps too few moments of ass kickery to say that with a smile on my face. For the most part the dragons are docile, doing what they’re commanded to, but when one is stolen and lives too long without the potions that are keeping the dragons so tame, she snaps. She’s certainly good at roasting everything in sight and crushing any unfortunate men in the way, and boy does she delight in it.  There’s no loyalty. No empathy. Her thoughts and emotions spread and affect all those around her. It feels alien, strange, and quite refreshing.

That’s not her.

When I picked up this book a while back I’d actually been looking for the sequel to Dragon Keeper instead. I’m not even sure how it caught my eye since nothing on the spine would have led me to pick it up. But I did, and when I read the back I was intrigued by some similarities between it and my own work. We have dragons intentionally being kept weak for control and safety purposes, and most people don’t even know about it. The dragons certainly don’t. I wanted to see how Deas handled the matter. The similarities differ outside of that, but I’ve never heard of that theme before. Near the end I was a bit unsettled to discover the source of their potions is a plant that leaves a purple residue, the same color as the flowers in novel used for the same purposes. Of all the colors and sources he could have chosen. . .

Most of The Adamantine Palace keeps the dragons in the background. We do get a few chapters of the captured dragon’s POV, Snow, but mostly it focuses on a long list of human characters, all of which seem out to get each other. In particular, Prince Jehal, who for some reason I kept rooting for despite what a vile piece of work he is. I kept asking myself why the whole book. Charisma? I don’t know, but he is oddly likable. It’s one of those cases where you want to see just how far someone can go before they’re inevitably caught. These characters are flawed and you never know who to root for, though it’s fun to watch and see who’ll come out on top. I found myself sympathizing with someone one chapter, and being disgusted with them then next.

It’s a quick read too. The novel’s less than 370 pages and has 71 chapters if you count the prologue and epilogue. Do the math. I always like short chapters because it gives comfortable stopping points, but this is taking it to an extreme. There’s constantly something new to focus on, so there’s no weariness from drawn out chapters. Ironically, I keep trying to push myself in my own writing to get near twenty-five pages in a chapter, unless there’s a perfect stopping point before that.

It’s not a deep work, but I found The Adamantine Palace refreshing, unique, and engaging. Sadly, it seems that just as we begin to get an idea for how the dragons work, the book’s over. I have a feeling we’ll get more in the future. I’ll have to see, won’t I?