Archive for July, 2012


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.

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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.