January 25, 2022

Review: Where the Drowned Girls Go

Where the Drowned Girls Go Where the Drowned Girls Go by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This seventh book in the Wayward Children series continues the stories of the kids at Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children. These are children who never fit in, with their families or their schools or their friends; and one day they found a door leading to an alternate world. These are worlds such as the Hooflands, where unicorns, centaurs and other magical hooved beings dwell; or Confection, where there are strawberry-soda seas and cookie-leaved trees; or the Moors, where there is a blood moon and vampire kings and the Drowned Gods, Cthulhu-like tentacled creatures that live in the seas.

But eventually these kids are not sure they want to stay, and they're rejected back to our world. Many of them spend the rest of their lives looking for their Doors again. Some of them find their way to Eleanor West's Home, where they are surrounded by people--including Eleanor herself--who know what they are going through.

However, there is another school, the Whitethorn Institute, where children go who want to forget their worlds, and remove the hold their worlds have on them. Whitethorn is a cruel, rigid, rules-bound place, and as our protagonist discovers, she may have chosen to go there....but it's not a place anyone should want to stay.

This continues the story of Cora Miller, taking up her storyline from book #4, Come Tumbling Down, and bringing in Regan Lewis, the protagonist of book #5, Across the Green Grass Fields. The background knowledge of those books adds to the story, but it isn't really necessary. After her visit to the Moors in book #4, Cora is desperate to get the Drowned Gods' hooks out of her. She begs to go to Whitethorn, where she hopes to forget, only to discover Whitethorn has its own secrets, and staying there may be worse than her current demons. We meet a number of new characters and find out just what Whitethorn's secret is. Cora manages to break away, bringing several new friends with her, and in the process she gains the strength of will to refute the Drowned Gods. But the person behind Whitethorn is an interesting new antagonist, and I hope he will play a role in this series' storyline going forward.

This is an exploration of the often heavy burden of expectations and roles society places on children, and the importance of staying true to one's own heart, no matter what others think. The Wolcott twins of the second and fourth books and their fascinating, terrifying world of the Moors are my favorite in the series, but I think Cora is coming in second.

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January 23, 2022

Review: True Dead

True Dead True Dead by Faith Hunter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the fourteenth book in the Jane Yellowrock urban fantasy series, about a Cherokee skinwalker who gets tangled up with vampires, witches, angels, and all kinds of supernatural denizens. A few books back she took on the mantle of Dark Queen and became the ruler of all the Mithrans (the author's name for vampires) in North America. This book is about Jane's coming to terms with her new role, and recognizing just how much her life has changed.

That is actually the more interesting storyline, but by necessity it was buried in a massive amount of fights, gore, and bloodletting. I think this entry in the series is one of the goriest (although the very nature of an urban fantasy world where myths, legends and creatures of the night actually exist is bound to be a bit bloody), especially the climax. It seems the series is setting up for Jane's confrontation with the ultimate Big Bad? If so, I think it's time. I like this series, but at the same time it seems like the character and world has run its course, and I wouldn't like it to hang on past its expiration date.

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January 22, 2022

Streamin' Meemies: The Book of Boba Fett, Season 1 Ep 4, "The Gathering Storm"


Four episodes in, and we're still not done with the damn flashbacks? At least this one is a bit more entertaining, as it shows how Boba found an injured and dying Fennec Shand (as shown in Season 1 of The Mandalorian), took her to a cybermod chop shop to be fixed, and recruited her to his cause. I'm not sure any of it was necessary, mind you, since we already knew Boba had rescued Fennec. However, Ming-Na Wen gets quite a bit more to do, and that is always a good thing. 

Nevertheless, the show is still compounding its sin of the previous episode, the senseless and unnecessary fridging of the Tuskens. (Yes, I'm still mad about that, and no, I will not shut up about it.) In one scene, Fennec asks Boba why he wants to take over Jabba the Hutt's operation, and he says, "I'm tired of working for idiots who are going to get me killed." He then says, "The Tuskens took me in. Made me part of their tribe. I was ready to leave hunting behind." So which is it, my dude? Because so far, your motivation to do anything, much less become a kinda-sorta crime lord, remains a muddled mess. As I said before, this weebly-wobbly characterization is stupid when there's a lovely reason outlined in the show's first two (and particularly the second) episode: to work to get the Tuskens their proper recognition and recompense from the people who are exploiting them.



There are a couple of good things about this episode: the entire sequence when Boba and Fennec sneak into Jabba's palace to steal his ship (hastily renamed the Firespray in Disney's belated acknowledgement that slavery is maybe not a good thing), including a hilarious aside of them tangling with a couple of chef droids. One droid has six arms and the same number of knives, and in a sequence that reminded me of the famous Raiders of the Lost Ark scene where Indy faces off with a guy who whirls his sword through the air in a smug display of menacing dexterity which Indy interrupts by drawing his gun and shooting the schmuck, the six-armed droid advances on Boba, knives whirling so fast you can't follow them, and Fennec pops up behind it and chops its head off. (The head falls into the plate of salad greens it had just been preparing.) Then another tiny droid that looks like a cross between a grasshopper and a bunny rabbit stumbles into the kitchen and Boba has to chase it down. He finally grabs it by the ears and hoists it up, and apparently Temuera Morrison's delivery of the line "I am Boba Fett" is so scary the little droid immediately powers itself down. 

Back in the present timeline, Boba adds to his oddball assortment of employees by recruiting the menacing and ill-tempered Wookiee Black Krrsantan (nice to see him again). Boba and Fennec hold a meeting between them and all of Jabba the Hutt's former captains in an attempt to recruit them to Boba's cause, which is taking out the Pyke Syndicate. The bosses rightfully point out that the Pykes are not their problem, and Boba at least manages to wrangle a promise from everyone not to interfere and/or betray him. (One Trandoshan spouts off about killing Boba and taking his territory, only to be interrupted by an outraged roar from the listening baby rancor, who jams his claws through the holes in the floor. This shuts the fellow up.) As they all leave, Fennec asks Boba if he trusts them. Boba says no, but he does trust them to act in their own self-interest. Then comes the dialogue exchange that seems to be the only salient point in this entire episode:

Fennec: "How much treasure do we have in reserve?"

Boba: "I have plenty of credits. What I'm short on is muscle."

Fennec: "Credits can buy muscle, if you know where to look."

And the background music swells with the distinctive tones of The Mandalorian theme song. 

Well, how about that. Did someone figure the only way to salvage this underwhelming mess is to bring back Din Djarin? (Who needs something to distract him from the loss of Baby Yoda, I'm sure.) Maybe that's too harsh; Ming-Na Wen is clearly doing her best, and while Temuera Morrison isn't the greatest actor in the world, he does give Boba Fett an appropriate gravelly gravitas. I guess I'm more irritated by the confusing, inconsistent characterization of the protagonist, and the absolutely wrong-headed and stupid decision of the writers to fridge the Tuskens. 

Nevertheless, there are only three episodes left in the season. This show needs to get its act together.

January 21, 2022

Review: The Godstone

The Godstone The Godstone by Violette Malan
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Okay, that's it. I made it to page 136 of this plodding bland generic fantasy and realized I don't care about any of these people. (The fact that I started and finished another book while I was supposed to be reading this one should have been a clue.) The worldbuilding and characterization of this book is severely lacking, and my TBR pile awaits. Onward.

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January 14, 2022

Review: The Quicksilver Court

The Quicksilver Court The Quicksilver Court by Melissa Caruso
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second book in the Rooks and Ruin trilogy, and continues the story of Ryxander, the mage with flawed magic who is trying to prevent a demon invasion of her country. The first book stood out to me because of the rigor of its worldbuilding and the steadily increasing tension of the plot, as everything that happens, and all Ryx tries to do, only makes things worse. That trend continues in this volume.

These are thick books, but both in this book and the first the narrative takes place only over the course of a few days (with three weeks separating them). This makes for a jam-packed plot and pacing, which on occasion had me wishing for a few moments to breathe. (The characters wished for that as well.) However, the author seems to balance out the breakneck pacing and slower character moments a little better in this volume. In particular Severin, Ryx's love interest who came perilously close to being a cowardly milksop in the first book, is better treated here. With his character development, I thought he became someone who was worthy of Ryx.

This book also drops a plot twist midway through that changes the whole complexion of the series. I'm glad the author didn't save it for the book's climax, as both the characters and the reader needed time to digest the implications of it. The book ends on a cliffhanger that in retrospect is inevitable given the worldbuilding and setup, but at the same time will leave you cursing and heading straight over to Amazon to see when the third book will be released. This is one of the best fantasies I've read in quite a while, and I can't wait for the final book.

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January 13, 2022

Streamin' Meemies: The Book of Boba Fett Season 1 Ep 3, "The Streets of Mos Espa"


Well, it's about damn time. Episode 3 finally makes the pivot I had been waiting for, focusing more on the present storyline instead of the past one.

Unfortunately, there is one flashback, and it is irritating as heck. Which I will get to. 

The main storyline shows Boba trying to get his crime "family" together. We open with the persnickety droid 8D8 (voiced by What We Do In the Shadows' Matt Berry) briefing Boba and Fennec about the three divisions of Mos Espa that used to make up Jabba the Hutt's territory. They are interrupted by a water merchant, Lortha Peel, complaining about "the streets turning to chaos" and a cyborg street gang stealing his inventory--"half man, half machine, modified bodies with droid parts." He also points out that nobody respects Boba and that respect would be gained (and Boba's tribute increased) if he took this gang out.

So Boba, Fennec and the Gamorrheans walk the streets of Mos Espa that night and come upon the "water thieves." They admit to stealing, but say the prices are too high and there's no work to pay for them. Boba believes them and offers to hire them. This causes Lortha Peel to come storming out of his shop, complaining about the biker gang's debt. Boba pays it off (at less than half of what Peel claimed was owed, but you know the guy inflated the amount anyway), and the gang climbs on their their shiny multi-colored speeders--which remind me of a bunch of bright floating M & M's--and follow Boba and Fennec back to Jabba's palace. 

While Boba is in his tank having his obligatory flashback (said flashback is my biggest bone of contention with this episode, and again, I'll get to that in a bit) he is interrupted and hauled out of the bacta tank by none other than the big black snarling Wookiee we saw with the Hutts in the previous episode, Black Krrsantan. Krrsantan throws Boba, nearly naked and dripping, across the room several times, and is well on his way to breaking Fett's back when the M & M gang comes charging in. Even with the five of them, Boba, and the Gamorrheans, Black Krrsantan is still busting ass. Until Fennec shows up (and where the hell was she before?) and dumps the Wookiee into the rancor pit. 

The Hutt twins show up the next morning, apologizing for sending the Wookiee after Boba and bringing him a gift--a muzzled young rancor. They're doing an about-face and are going to leave Tatooine, because they discovered the Mayor of Mos Espa, Mok Shaiz, lied to them about "this territory already being promised to another syndicate." Boba brings out Black Krrsantan and tries to give him back, but the Hutts refuse, telling Boba to "sell him back to the gladiators." After the Hutts leave, Boba releases Krrsantan, giving him some advice: "Don't work for scugholes. It's not worth it." 

Now: what to do with the rancor? The next scene is the most interesting part of the episode, as far as I was concerned. The creature is put in the rancor pit, and the trainer gives Boba a capsule summary of the species: It's a calf, bred from champions for fighting. They form strong bonds with their owners, and the Witches of Dagomir rode them through forest and fens. Boba, who has become quite entranced with the huge ugly thing, tells the trainer he wants to learn to do that. So the trainer has Boba stand right in front of the rancor and removes the creature's blinders; apparently rancor will imprint on the first human they see. The calf sees and imprints on Boba, who steps forward and starts scratching it in a place right behind its eye that it apparently likes. This improbable moment of bonding is interrupted by 8D8, who tells Boba that the Mayor's office is completely unavailable for the next 20 days. Boba tells the droid to tell Fennec to suit up: "We're not waiting for an appointment." 

Boba, Fennec and the M & M gang go back to see the Mayor. The slimy little sycopant Twilek who works for the Mayor tries to stall them, but after Fennec tells him he had best get them an audience if he wishes to keep breathing, the Twilek says he'll see what he can do. He hurries into the Mayor's office and locks the door behind him. Fennec busts it open and she and Boba charge into the chamber, but both the Mayor and the Twilek are gone. They charge to the front to see the Twilek take off in an unwieldy square box of a speeder that reminds me of an old Cadillac. Fennec yells to the M & M gang: "Get him!" and the chase is on. 

This episode was directed by Robert Rodriguez, but the chase sequence through the narrow angular streets of Mos Espa was not....up to par, shall we say. At least I didn't think so. The best part about it was the various droids and aliens that manage to avoid getting run over and/or smashed along the way, including one droid who sees the Cadillac coming and mashes itself down to a Roomba, which is small and light enough to be knocked out of the way without injury. Finally, the leader of the M & M's glides her speeder up a ramp, across a roof, and jumps down on the Caddy, sending it screaming and whirling through a farmer's market, scattering fruits and veggies everywhere. The engine stalls and the Twilek can't escape, at which point Boba, who has obviously been following the chase from above, whooshes down and demands: "Where is he?"

"He's with the Pykes. The Mayor's gone. He's working with the Pykes." 

The next scene shows a ship coming in, landing on the cliff overlooking the city, and discharging loads of Pykes (the same bunch guarding the smuggling train last episode). They're observed by one of the candy gang, the red one, who transmits the info back to Boba and Fennec. 

"These are just a first wave," Fennec notes. "They're going to war." 

Boba: "Then we will be ready."

Now: back to the ill-advised, dunderheaded flashback. This takes place not long after the events of the previous episode, showing Boba riding a Bantha into Mos Eisley to pick up the Tuskens' protection money. The Pykes refuse to pay because they're already paying the "Nikto sand riders," which is the bunch Boba stole the landspeeders from. They don't want to pay to two different groups. Boba says he'll resolve this and heads back to the tribe, only to discover (and everybody in the world should have seen this coming) that while he was gone the Niktos came and wiped the Tuskens out.

OMG, Jon Favreau (who wrote this episode), YOU DIDN'T JUST FUCKING FRIDGE THESE PEOPLE. 

This is infuriating, and also fucking UNNECESSARY. I hereby propose that there should be a SCREENWRITER'S LAW AGAINST KILLING PEOPLE OFF, ESPECIALLY WOMEN, PEOPLE OF COLOR AND ALIENS WHO ARE STANDING IN FOR THE LATTER, TO MOTIVATE YOUR MAIN CHARACTER. I fully understand that Boba needed to be separated from the Tuskens for the storyline to move forward. I also understand that the Pyke syndicate would be pissed off and want revenge for the Tuskens taking their train, and I'll grant that they would have sent the Niktos to attack those responsible. What I will NOT grant is that the Tuskens all needed to die (especially since they had the weapons they took from the train, which Boba made a point of mentioning). There should have been a battle, yes, and perhaps a few of the Tuskens would be killed. The rest, however, would escape and retreat to a hiding place in the desert, a place Boba would also know about and where he would go to rendezvous with the survivors once he saw what happened. 

THEN we could have had a scene which would not only make more fucking SENSE, but would also give the main character the motivation he needs to come to Mos Espa and take over Jabba the Hutt's operation in the first place: Boba would realize he has put the Tuskens in danger by standing up to the Pykes and he cannot stay with them any longer; BUT he also realizes if he wants to help them going forward, he needs a power base to take on the syndicate. The FIRST step in doing that is reclaiming his lost armor; and the SECOND is taking out Bib Fortuna and setting himself up as the heir to Jabba the Hutt, thus putting himself in a position to help the Tuskens. 

You see how that works out? And if I could think of that, why the hell couldn't Jon Favreau? It also has the bonus of providing Boba Fett with some needed character development, showing the beginnings of his turning away from being a ruthless bounty hunter. As it stands right now, the character's motivation is muddled and we don't know why he came back to Tatooine at all.  

Argh. This is just lazy scriptwriting. Maybe we'll see something like this in the episodes going forward, but I'm not holding my breath. Yes, I did get my wish for more of the present storyline to be shown, but I'm not sure if it was worth it. 

January 8, 2022

Review: Comfort Me with Apples

Comfort Me with Apples Comfort Me with Apples by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Catherynne M. Valente is a writer I like far better at shorter lengths. I couldn't finish her exhausting, over-the-top novel Space Opera, but I really liked her long novella/short novel collection of dead-superhero-girlfriends, The Refrigerator Monologues. The latter turned the unwelcome phenomenon of "fridging" inside out...just as this unsettling novella does to the story of (view spoiler) and patriarchal religion in general.

The creepiness begins with the very first sentence--I was made for him--and goes on from there, as the first several pages are vivid descriptions of Sophia's perfect house, perfect husband, and perfect life. But the cracks in this shining perfection soon start to show, from her discovery of a hairbrush holding coarse black hair completely unlike her own, to a fingerbone hidden in her kitchen knife holder, to her "friends" in Arcadia Gardens trying to gaslight her into disbelieving the evidence of her own eyes, to the question everyone keeps asking her: Are you happy, Sophia?

Of course she is. She is, isn't she? Until she and her husband go see a play in the Arcadia Gardens community theater which is a retelling of the day when they moved in and she realizes her neighbors are trying to tell her something...and her husband snaps at her, which he has never done before, and tells her he has to concentrate on his work (something dealing with animals) and won't be home that night. So she goes home and she tears her perfect house apart, and finds bones and desiccated organs and bottles of blood and locks of hair tied in ribbons--so many locks of hair that aren't hers, of dead women who came before. Then she runs away into the night and meets a stranger she has never before seen in Arcadia Gardens, who tells her what this perfect place and who her perfect husband really is.

I use the spoiler tag above, but I'm going to blow it open here, because Valente lays bare the horror that has always resided in the story of Adam and Eve (and Lilith), and the toxic masculinity most religions generate. It begins with the woman being made for the man instead of herself, and culminates in Adam's extensive loving descriptions of how his Father coddled him and pumped him full of entitlement, and didn't object when he murdered wife after wife, because "I deserve to be happy. I am the only man in the world and Eden was built for me! If I do not deserve happiness, who does?" At least Lilith manages to escape (it was her hair on the brush Sophia discovered) but unfortunately no one saves Sophia. The ending to this book is an utter downer, because the next wife is Eve, who repeats the same refrain: I was made for him.

I'm sure this will be a marmite book: other reviews I've seen have people either really love it or really hate it. I think it's a targeted gut punch, especially for people with religious backgrounds. (The author also creates a list of HOA rules for her chapter headings, but as they go along they devolve into tighter and increasingly absurd restrictions on behavior, which is an obvious analogy to what holy books--of whatever stripe--and higher-ups in religious hierarchies try to do to their followers.) At the end, it's enough to make the reader (or at least this reader) wish Lilith would return to Arcadia Gardens with a tank and a machine gun and lay waste to the place. "I was made for him," indeed. Fuck that.

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January 7, 2022

Streamin' Meemies: The Book of Boba Fett Season 1 Ep 2, "The Tribes of Tatooine"


Maybe, instead of being called The Book of Boba Fett, this show should be called The Book of Boba Flashbacks?

Because we have another one that take up the majority of this episode's runtime. Admittedly, it was a bit more exciting than the first. I also got the impression that these forays into the past might actually be leading somewhere--that is, they might end up having something important to say about Boba Fett the character, since he is more or less a blank slate. After all, his biggest claim to fame is providing the genetic material used during the Clone Wars and falling into a monster's gut. On the other hand, I can't help thinking that the same thing could be accomplished by a simple five-minute conversation with Fennec Shand during the present timeline, with Boba catching her up as to how he got out of the sarlacc pit and what happened afterwards, and then we could get on with the "Boba as crime lord" show. Which would also be a fine way to say something important about our titular character. 

But we are still only two episodes into a seven-episode season, so I certainly hope the flashbacks have a cogent point. Otherwise I've just wasted a whole lot of my time. 

At least the first ten minutes or so of this episode takes place in the present. We open on Jabba's palace, which is a tall, thick stone building like a huge lighthouse, and Fennec Shand dragging the person she captured in the last episode back to face Boba. This guy belongs to the Order of the Night Wind, hired assassins, and refuses to talk at first, until he's dumped into a pit underneath the floor that once held the rancor. Then he babbles like a scared kid. saying the Mayor of Mos Espa sent him. 

Boba and Fennec then visit the Mayor, and Boba, as usual, ignores the little sycophant trying to stop him and bulls his way into the Mayor's chamber. The Mayor is an ugly creature with bulging eyes and a U-shaped head (puppet or CGI, I wonder?) who denies sending the Night Wind after Boba and suggests he go back to the Sanctuary to find out what he needs to know, which he does. It's there he discovers that Jabba the Hutt's cousins, the Twins, are in town, trying to lay claim to Jabba's territory. Boba goes out to meet them and he and the Twins have a bit of a showdown, with each claiming Jabba's territory for their own. Boba tells the Twins if they want Jabba's throne, they'll have to kill him to get it. The sister is eager to do just that, but the brother (who uses a poor little [CGI] mouse to wipe the sweat off his flabby wrinkled face) preaches restraint, saying conflict is "bad for business." The Hutts are borne away on their litter, but both Boba and Fennec know this won't be the end of it. 

Next we zoom in on Boba's bacta tank, and the flashbacks start again, picking up where the story left off last episode. We are getting glimpses of the everyday life and culture of the Tuskens, which is actually pretty interesting. Boba is trying to learn how to wield the gaffi stick and gets dumped on his rear a few times--his instructor is quite accomplished with it (and also a total badass, as we see later in the episode). They are interrupted by the sound of the alarm--a smuggling train is looming in the distance, engine and several long silver cars whipping across the sand, with guards inside the cars shooting at the Tuskens through the windows. (Which doesn't make sense to me--this tribe is doing nothing to them, and indiscriminate killing of any Tuskens they pass by on their route would seem to be a sure-fire recipe for trouble.) Several of the Tuskens and their Banthas are killed (and can't these Banthas be taught to kneel in the sand upon command, as their sheer size makes them juicy targets?). Boba hustles the children behind a dune to protect them, and that night he participates in a mass funeral (the tribe burns their dead). This affects him deeply, as we see after the funeral when he stalkes across the sand and sees the same landspeeder gang from last episode zooming past. This sparks an idea, and he goes to the tribe's leader and tells him that he is going to stop the train; he will take a rifle and a stick and be back by morning. He follows the gang's tracks to a tavern where they've stopped to drink and bully the patrons, and goes inside and takes out the whole bunch. Then he goes out back, lashes the five landspeeders together, and brings them all back to the tribe, where he tells them he will teach them how to ride and "this is how we will stop the train."

Boba spends some time teaching various tribesmembers how to operate the speeders, which involves a rather amusing montage where the Tuskens slam the speeders into reverse, get dumped on their butts and run over more than once. (They must be tough little boogers.) They must train for quite a few days, as they seem to be fairly proficient when the train appears again. Boba is also continuing his lessons with the gaffi stick, and has improved enough to win the respect of his instructor when the alarm sounds again. The group goes to meet the train, and we have a pretty exciting chase/boarding sequence. Boba and the Tuskens use the landspeeders to draw alongside the train cars, then throw grappling hooks onto the roofs to board (or, in the badass instructor's case, he just rams his landspeeder into one of the cars and leaps inside, where he proceeds to mow down nearly all the guards). Boba takes his group from car to car, working his way to the engine while fighting with the guards emerging from roof hatches. He finally reaches the engine compartment. The conductor, a six-legged spider-like droid, having failed in its attempt to manipulate all the levers and weapons at its disposal to keep the invaders out, takes one look at Boba and abandons ship, leaping out the window to scuttle away across the sand. This leaves Boba having to use his gaffi stick on the lever that is apparently the emergency brake. He groans and strains and finally manages to pull it back, and the engine's nose plows down into the sand until the train grinds to a halt. The other tribe members race across the sand to meet it and begin unloading it. 

Outside, Boba faces the surviving guards and talks to their leader. "These sands are no longer free for you to pass. These people lay ancestral claim to the Dune Sea, and if you are to pass, a toll is to be paid to them. Any death dealt from the passing freighters will be returned ten-fold." The leader protests, but there isn't much he can do--he must return to Anchorhead to present Boba's terms to the smuggling syndicate. 

(And the question still nags at me--why is Boba still there? This Anchorhead is a day's walk away, and now Boba knows the secret of the "black melons" and can hydrate himself until he reaches it. Unless I misunderstood the first episode, Anchorhead is where the Slave-1 is docked. After being freed from the Tuskens' captivity, why would he stick around? Either he's more damaged from the Sarlacc than he's letting on--which could very well be the case, as years later he's still having to spend considerable flashbacky time in a bacta tank to keep going--or he's so psychologically shaken up from his semi-digested experience that he doesn't feel capable of resuming his old life. Either way, it's evident that he thinks he's gaining something important by living with the Tuskens.) 

That night, the tribe celebrates. The leader tells Boba (via the sign language he has now picked up) that their tribe has survived by hiding. "You shouldn't have to hide," Boba says. "You are warriors." The leader calls him a "good guide," and gives him a gift--a tiny lizard that jumps out of its basket and wriggles its way up Boba's nose and into his sinus cavity (ewwww). This lizard obviously secretes something hallucogenic, as Boba promptly falls into an LSD-like trip. He ends up staggering across the sand to a tree, while having flashbacks (within flashbacks!) of his childhood, and breaks a branch from the tree and brings it back the next morning (and the lizard wriggles out of his nose again). After this, he's taken inside the leader's tent and dressed in Tusken attire, a long black hooded robe and arm wraps. The next stop is the gaffi maker's tent, where he's shown how to shape the branch he brought back into his gaffi stick, with its carved head and metal-banded length. Once this is finished he joins the other tribesmembers in a dance around the fire (and I'm wondering if some of that isn't derived from Temuera Morrison's Maori dances), showing off his new weapon. 

This episode was a definite step up from the first, thank goodness. Still needs more Fennec (her snark upon dumping the poor assassin into the rancor's pit was priceless), but this episode invested me in Boba as a character a bit more. There still needs to be a reason for the flashbacks, but I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, for now. 

January 6, 2022

Review: The Obsidian Tower

The Obsidian Tower The Obsidian Tower by Melissa Caruso
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This author falls into what I call the "torture your characters" school, because that's what she does all through this book. Not literally, but in the sense of everything that happens making the situation worse and worse, until as a reader you're clenching your teeth and wondering how on earth the characters are going to get out of it. By this time you're fully invested in these characters and really hoping they can extricate themselves from this terrible situation, so you know, that makes the book a success.

I suppose this could be called an epic fantasy, but it doesn't have the headhopping and multiple points of view of most books of its ilk. Our POV character stays firmly with one person, Ryxander the Warden of Gloamingard. Gloamingard is an ancient castle guarding a terrible secret, and Ryx is the granddaughter of the "immortal Witch Lord of Morgrain, the Lady of Owls herself, whose magic coursed so deep through her domain she could feel the step of every rabbit and the fall of every leaf." But despite being born into this family of vivomancers, whose "life magic flowed in our veins," Ryx's magic is flawed, killing rather than nurturing. No one can touch her unless that person is a powerful mage braced against her magical pull, because she will suck the life force right out of a person (or a plant or animal) and kill them. But she has made a place for herself in Gloamingard, carrying out her duties as Warden and concentrating on the politics and diplomacy of her domain and country, Vaskander. As the book opens, we see her in that role, watching the unexpected arrival of an envoy from a neighboring country, the Serene Empire, for diplomatic talks. The other party to these talks, from the domain of Alevar, sends the Exalted Lamiel, the betrothed of the Shrike Lord, the Witch Lord of Alevar. Unfortunately, Lamiel is meddlesome and power-hungry and ends up seeking out the heart of Gloamingard Castle, the Obsidian Tower, and the Door the family has guarded for four thousand years. In her attempt to keep Lamiel away from what is inside, Ryx ends up touching the woman and killing her.

This starts the downward spiral of the plot, with each chapter making the stakes higher and higher. What is inside the Obsidian Tower is a gate to the Nine Hells, the domain of energy demons that spawned an invasion four thousand years ago, known as the Dark Days, that nearly destroyed all of civilization. Ryx needs to destroy it, but to do so she needs to navigate the treacherous political currents of the Serene Empire and Alevar, who are quite likely to invade Morgrain once news of this gets out. She also has to deal with the fact that when she touched the obelisk when she was tussling with Lamiel, she inadvertently let a demon slip through--and this demon has possessed her grandmother, the Witch Lord of Morgrain.

It's a mess. But Ryxander has help, in the form of the Rookery, people who deal with magical disasters such as this. More than helping her, these people slowly become her friends and found family, freeing her from the isolated existence she has endured all her life. In the end, she walls off the gate from her demon-possessed grandmother, which for the moment is all she and the Rookery can do. It's a hard-fought victory, and the ultimate solution to the problem will have to wait till the next book. But I really liked the weaving of plot, character, and politics, and the careful, steady ratcheting up of suspense throughout. The only thing that kept this book from being five stars is the character of Severin, Ryx's love interest and the brother of the Shrike Lord, who also comes to Gloamingard demanding penance for Lamiel's death. He was far too browbeaten, traumatized and cowardly (and he even admitted to being the last), and not really fleshed out as a character. (Although I guess my mental cries of "Will you finally stand up to your brother and do something!" added to the book's nail-biting climax.)

I've already placed a hold on the second book in the series, which I will pick up from the library in the next few days. I can't wait to see what happens next.

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January 3, 2022

Review: Displacement

Displacement Displacement by Kiku Hughes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This graphic novel surprised me. It's a time travel story patterned after Octavia Butler's masterpiece Kindred, in that the method of time travel is not explained and it's very much not the point of the story. The point of the story is the protagonist's being drawn back to when her Japanese grandmother was sent to the "incarceration camps" (the term the author chooses) during World War II, and what Kiku learns there. It's about Kiku's experiencing the dehumanization of being imprisoned and having her rights stripped away for what she might do, without due process and without proof, just because she shared an ethnicity with those who bombed Pearl Harbor. It's about generational trauma, both in the effects of the camps--first Tanforan in California, and then Topaz in Utah--and what Kiku and her family lose due to the shame they feel because of their experience (including the Japanese language, which is not taught to the next generation). Above all, it's a warning to be vigilant, because it's so easy for a group to be demagogued and cast as the role of the "other," and for the whole terrible cycle to start up again.

This book is set in 2016 for an obvious reason: the former president, whom I've seen called "TFG" (which I assume stands for "That Fucking Guy"), and his raging against Muslims. This, together with the eyewitness impression of Kiku's and her mother's visits to the past to see what her grandmother went through, makes them stand up and protest TFG's policies at the book's end. The last page says this:

Our connection to the past is not lost, even if we don't have all the documents. Even if we never learn the details. The memories of community experiences stay with us and continue to affect our lives. The persecution of a marginalized group of people is never just one act of violence--it's a condemnation of generations to come who live with the ongoing consequences. We may suffer from these traumas, but we can also use them to help others and fight for justice in our own time.

Memories are powerful things.

The art style is perfect for this story, and I really liked it. It's clean and crisp and centered on the page, and pulls the reader in. The panels are never rushed or crowded. It's a quiet sort of story in that there's no violent rebellion in the camps, but Kiku learns exactly what her grandmother went through, and why it must never be forgotten.

At the very end we learn that this is a true story--at least as best as the author could reconstruct it--and we see pictures of the actual Ernestina Teranishi and her violin. We also see the author visiting the Topaz Museum. This is an important story of a shameful moment in American history that should never be forgotten, and kudos to books like these for carrying the torch.

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