Red-Stained Wings: Review

Received an eARC via NetGalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge.


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“Red-Stained Wings” by Elizabeth Bear.

Over other previous reads, where stories were filled with action and adventure, “Red-Stained Wings” featured almost no epic clashes between warring factions. Sure, there’s a few cannon balls here and there, and a few sorceries pulled up from Wizards’ sleeves every now and then. But it’s a definitely a big change of pace and I’m not complaining about it.

It’s the most character-driven book I’ve read in a while, where we explore each of the main cast as they navigate in their own hopeless and complex situations. “Red-Stained Wings” is proof you don’t need a tome with a thousand pages to give you intricate character-driven narratives. Everything is packed in there, self-discovery, purpose and empowerment, ambitions in every angle. Of course you’ll know who to root for, and at the same time, you kind of develop sympathy over supposed antagonists. Reader’s Stockholm syndrome?

All the characters are rich, fleshed out, and well-developed. There were characters I cared for, those I never wanted to leave their POVs, and a character I love to hate so much, which makes the book all the more better.

In such a tight book, the worldbuilding is amazing. It’s vast and weird. The Cauled Sun provides dim light and heat in the night, and the stars brighten the day. There are strange entities in the world and divine schemes gradually unfold.

Perhaps my favorite parts involved the Gage, traversing through dangerous land. The worldbuilding here explodes, a blast of epic proximity, making it known that there are much bigger things happening than the family drama. Or rather, the true reason behind it all. The intrigue here extends farther and makes insidious twists along the way.

Red-Stained Wings” by Elizabeth Bear comes out on May 28, 2019.

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God of Broken Things: Review

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I got an ARC through Angry Robots via NetGalley.


 

Cameron Johnston has done something exciting: Take one ability that is often associated with a villain, and give it to the main protagonist.

This is why I enjoyed the first book, “The Traitor God,” which kicked off as a sort of “fantasy-noir” where our hero, Edrin Walker, investigates the savage murder of his friend. He’s what the world calls a, tyrant, because of his ability to tamper with the mind — including, but not limited to, taking away your free will and altering memories. That book was a blast and I thought I had Book 2: “God of Broken Things” all figured out.

The book wasn’t a slowburn. It kicks you straight in the balls, launching a series of action-filled scenes. The pace flows smoothly with a balanced set of character engagements, worldbuilding, and epic fight scenes.

“God of Broken Things” still feature Edrin Walker as the main protagonist, sorting out his problems one at a time. I never got a good grasp on how strong he really is. Yes, he can control people, bend them to his will, alter memories, and basically anything involving the mind. I thought I understood it. But I didn’t. This book explores why people like Edrin are called tyrants and why others fear them.

It’s a test of patience and morality, no matter how stretched thin. And, normally I don’t need to relate myself to the main hero to enjoy a story, but I’ve actually built this connection with Edrin. Cause I swear, if I had mind controlling powers, there’d be an apocalypse by the end of 2021.

A writing tip from a different author said, the simpler the plot the more developed characters need to be.

Along with this book is the introduction of a large bizarre new cast that Edrin decides should tag along in his newest adventure. Some of these characters are hard to like, some are funny and weird. We don’t get to explore their origins, but each one gets a spotlight, a time when they shone, and enough background to get to know them. They grow on you as you go farther into the book. None of them are too complicated, but are filled with life, you’d wish you’d had enough time to just hang out and grab a few drinks with. (If you don’t mind the risk of getting stabbed in your sleep, that is.)

In “God of Broken Things” we get to go beyond the city of Setharis, where the first book took place. We enter province territory, where things aren’t as advanced in the city, where the folks rely on old traditions than modern studies. It’s also something I happen to relate to, I get to hang out with all sorts of people who believes in every possible superstition. It’s just something embedded culturally that people on these lands continue to hold on to and fight for things they find sacred.

By the end of the book my jaw was hanging really low. It was an incredible journey, something I really enjoyed. So, when Johnston confirmed that Edrin Walker’s story is actually a duology, I felt a little crushed. And yet, that ending felt so perfect that it made sense. I would have loved more books centering on Edrin Walker. But I get it. You liked “The Traitor God”? Pre-order “God of Broken Things.” Had mixed feelings about “The Traitor God”? To hell with that, this book is infinitely better.

“God of Broken Things” comes out on June 11, 2019.

The Long Night: Battle of Winterfell

The night is dark and full of spoilers.

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After waiting for two years and then another two hours in two weeks, we have reached the culmination of 20-something years of anticipation. And you thought “Avengers: Endgame” was the biggest thing happening.

For “Game of Throne” fans, and most especially, fans of the “A Song of Ice and Fire” books, this is the very thing we’ve been waiting for since the prologues of both the book and the show. I realize I’m repeating myself. That’s fine. Let’s try a no-filter, no-edit post.

In any case, it was a difficult watch for me, being stuck in work, fearing the boss will call out my name and I’d have to pause and scoot from my cramped space. The people from downstairs have TVs on and watched it together, but, joining them didn’t feel right. Not because I’m an anti-social turd (I am) but because I felt it needed some sort of cinematic experience.

And the Lord of Light be praised. The boss had left the premises. Bought some snacks, and switched off the lights.

First thought was, damn, Ghost is back. Dragons and horse riders have been stomping that we forget all about direwolves. He later disappears again. He is called “Ghost” after all. Though I wonder what role he’ll have in the actual book. As I recall, he never really left Jon’s side. Last time that happened, Jon was turned into a pin cushion for knives.

Bran wanders off to do his thing. And this bit I enjoyed because it gives us a hint that in book format, this entire battle sequence might also take place in Bran’s perspective as “The Three-Eyed Raven.” It would be amazing and epic in so many ways. Normally, all these big battles in books are told in a limited POV or were dictated as glorious stories to POV characters who weren’t present in the battle itself. But when Bran wargs into the ravens, for the first time in the books, we will have almost all POV characters in a single chapter.

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As many of you are surprised, the death toll was significantly lower. Well, as far as main POV characters are concerned. I think the real bloodbath will happen later, during the battle with Cersei and Euron Greyjoy. The opening sequence foreshadows that giant-ass crossbow, and I keep wondering who’d be the receiving end of it.

The death of Dolorous Edd was full of disks. Not only is it such a cliché but it’s so boring. Edd deserved a more epic last stand than that. Defending his friendship Samwell Tarley is a good cause, I guess. But it could had been handled better. Like, facing a swarm of wights and getting overrun like a river, would had been awesome and sad to watch.

Lyanna Mormont is dead. Squashed, literally, by the hand of an undead giant. But “Game of Thrones” loves putting little girls in harm’s way and let them do something badass. Lyanna takes him down. Nothing like an obsidian knife plunged straight to the eye. Since making her appearance in the show, she’s been nothing but a badass. She will be missed.

Now that she’s gone though, I suppose, when all of this is over, Jorah Mormont would find his place back in… oh wait. Yeah. Never mind. I’m going to need a minute to let that part sink in. I don’t drink beer. Do you guys drink beer? I might as well have one.

As my friend put it: “At least Sam gets his sword back.”

Low blow “Mark,” low blow.

That tiny bit between Jaime and Brienne fighting hordes of undead side-by-side was too epic. As someone from Twitter pointed out, they are each using Valyrian-steel swords forged from Ned Stark’s own “Ice.” In a way, you can put it that past Warden of the North is still protecting Winterfell in some form. In that regard, we actually get little from them, save for a few shouting, desperate screaming, and fighting a hopeless battle. Since HBO is doing a more straightforward narrative, I figured these two are safe at least until the next big battle – possibly at King’s Landing.

Between Jaime and Brienne scenes, we see glimpses of Podrick and Gendry here and there. I’ve nothing to fear about them dying. HBO’s narrative dictates those two will serve a few more important purposes. Specifically, Podrick has watched Tyrion’s back once in a while, like the Battle of the Blackwater, and Ser Bronn—a good ole favorite—is out on a mission to take out the Lannister brothers. It’s an interesting thing to look forward to.

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Everyone in the show was expecting the crypts to be the safest place to be. Everyone watching the show, knows that those hiding might as well be on the frontlines of war. Arya passing an obsidian dagger to Sansa is the biggest giveaway. But things went smoothly. A few people are dead and we didn’t really spend too much time there. All things worked out, for better or for worse. I was expecting some dead Starks to rise up and somehow be Winterfell’s much needed backup, “The North remembers” after all. But still, it’s a moment between Tyrion and Sansa, and it was beautiful to watch. “You were the best of them all,” Sansa said, about Tyrion being the best of her three husbands.

Ser Davos Seaworth is alive and kicking. We don’t see much of him doing any killing. As stated again and again, he’s survived two big battles with zero combat experience. Let’s see if that luck holds out until the end of the series.

Theon’s redemption arc ended with his last stand against the Night King. I was wondering if it were possible that he survived and at least, do some sort of damage, even a minor one just to distract the Night King from whoever defeats him. Turns out nah. The Night King is the embodiment of death, after all, and he’s killed a dragon with a giant Popsicle, so of course this guy knows how to OHK.

Of course we all wanted more of an epic showdown. We wanted for Jon Snow to fight the Night King. We wanted him to lose a little, just enough time probably for other Valyrian-steel sword wielders come as backup.

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No, none of that happened. Instead, Arya soars into the air and manages to OHK the Night King, in a single fell swoop. Was it anticlimactic? Yes. Was it disappointing? Not really, not much.

I love how Tor.com puts it that, “no one” can defeat the Night King, and “Well, a girl is no one, after all.” Well put guys.

I was satisfied for the most part. Even when the episode itself was dark, I felt it was really meant to be that way. For starters, it gives sense to the term “The night is dark and full of terrors.” The enemy is in the dark and we are unprepared for it. Can’t comprehend what’s happening? That’s war. It’s vicious and it’s random. Also, it’s dark so they could mask the not-too-awesome graphics. Don’t get me wrong, the visuals are a treat, but coming off from “Avengers: Endgame” people will notice visual differences. I’ve got some people comparing the Battle of Winterfell with The Battle of Helms Deep, which doesn’t compute. Clearly the bloodbath in Winterfell was better.

I suppose I’m just a little weary from hive-mind bosses. Where, defeat the leader and everything goes to normal. I’ve felt it was something cheesy and a cheap way for the protagonists to get out of trouble. We’ve seen such things multiple times, like the first “Avengers” film.

Still, the next three episodes are looking really good and exciting. Can’t wait for next week.

Avengers: Endgame review (spoiler-free!)

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“Avengers: Endgame” is all about nostalgia, a throwback to how far the Marvel Cinematic Universe had gone, what they have achieved, and points to where to next. It feels like an homage to the decades that Marvel had contributed to the entertainment industry, plus one big payout from taking a risk.

“Fortune favors the bold,” something I heard from a different movie, “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

It’s a movie I found with heart. It’s special in every way. We’ve been tagging along with these characters for the past ten years and “Endgame” felt like sharing a beer with all of them, looking at all the good and the bad times they’ve all had. And yes, as we go deeper into the movie, it does feel like giving a good friend one last hug before they go away for a long time.

“Endgame” is most character-driven Marvel movie we have yet. There are characters, who now have nothing to lose. Characters whose stakes have been raised. And characters that are just happy to be around. We see them grieve, struggle, and contemplate on moral dilemmas, – everything by Stan Lee’s design to create flawed characters, we witness their moments of weaknesses and cheer when they rise up to the challenge. The characters are given depth.

The pace soars. There’s a lot going on, much more than “Infinity War” ever had. But it never felt clunky. Everyone just, snapped, together, each scene exactly where it belongs. Of course, there’s the signature “humor” in these Marvel movies. Directors, Joe and Anthony Russo, are no stranger to inciting a few laughs here and there, after all, they did work on projects like “Arrested Development” and “Community.” There were, some moments where I felt the humor was forced, or a particular scene dragged, but to truly confirm that I’d need a second screening, or a third, or a fourth. Make seven.

The action is glorious. It’s epic in a scale that only the MCU could deliver. There’s definitely a lot of shouting, punching, and getting thrown into something. There are some things in the action that gets predictable, but that will not stop anyone from howling in orgasmic delight.

Am I ever fatigued over MCU movies? Hell no. They’re more than just superhero movies — they’re fantasy and science fiction and those are stuff I can never get enough of. Kevin Feige mentioned that things will take on a different route in the future after “Endgame” and I believe him. I think we won’t be seeing the title “Avengers” anytime soon. And that’s cool. We’re getting “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” “Black Panther 2,” “Doctor Strange 2,” “Captain Marvel 2,” among other things, including probably, the introduction of Nova – another cosmic-level superhero.

I’m ready for the next big one.

Captain Marvel

I got to see it.

It was awesome. I love it. Wherever Captain Marvel goes, she walks with a stride of confidence.

Some I’ve spoken with, said Carol Danvers was cocky, especially in how she grins whenever doing something badass. I disagree, this is a woman who has overcome bullshit.

While people are calling it an origins movie – I see it more as an pseudo-origins. Carol Danvers takes flight in full gear. Unlike in, basically every origin where the heroes start off with basically nothing and build up from there. No, don’t point Thor, he loses his powers and spends a portion of the movie without powers as he builds himself up again.

Captain Marvel doesn’t have that. She’s powerful and confident from the get-go, and the only thing she was lacking is control over her powers.

“Control”? Ha. Control can burn in fire.

 


 

The Poppy War

I’ve read a lot of dark stuff. But this one takes the cake. Not Lawrence, not Abercrombie had been reeling away from the book and leaving me stunned.

The Poppy War by RF Kuang is more real than anything I’ve read. It’s visceral and it doesn’t shy away from every sort of violence. But it’s not violence for violence sake. Kuang explained it on her blog. I can’t do it justice.

The writing itself is fast paced and doesn’t waste details. It punches you forward, chapter after chapter. There is always something important or significant happening.

The first part of the book puts you in a military school. Cause, the schools-genre in fantasy is always fun. There are friendships made and rivals to punch in the face. But we all leave that behind rather quickly as the students are dropped into the realities of the world.

It’s a dark, dark book. But something worth investing.

Here’s Smash Mouth to lighten the mood.

https://youtu.be/L_jWHffIx5E

A hero’s journey from a mad man’s perspective – an Avengers: Infinity War review

So, last night I got to watch “Avengers: Infinity War” and thought of just writing this. Don’t worry, it’s going to be spoiler-free.


My wife said that missionaries travel from one place to another, spreading what they believe to be right, introducing new cultures, new practices, new education, to the point that it abolishes the old ways. She meant way back when. These days seem different.

In any case: Thanos is the missionary. He is on his own sacred pilgrimage to enforce what he believes in. His ideals are indeed mad. But it’s what he believes in and he has the iron will to carry it out.

This is Thanos’ movie. And everyone else you know in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe are just the supporting roles. Just the familiar faces we’ve been seeing for the past 10 years. 

In its own way, “Avengers: Infinity War” is a hero’s journey from the perspective of a mad man, where Thanos leaves behind nothing but dust and flames. 

The movie opens up to a display of power that we’ve never seen in the entire MCU yet. Thanos has had his patience. He drives forward and takes down everything. 

“Infinity War” is about sacrifices to accomplish what you believe is right. It shows the rewards of those sacrifices, and the consequences for not being strong enough to make the necessary sacrifices. The cost is dear. For all parties.

The Black Order, known in the movie as the Children of Thanos, appear to be colder and far menacing than Thanos himself. While the Mad Titan is the description of death, he has a strong character arc. Marvel wants you to sympathize him. Which is kind of hard to do, knowing he wants to remove from existence half of the universe’s population – remove from existence, not kill – but there is something admirable in his journey to accomplish and the whirlwind of emotions he goes through.

The movie runs at a breakneck pace. The action scenes are plenty and visually exciting. The moments of peace are times for characters to get to know each other, throw a one-liner or two, before setting out on the next big sequence. 

By the end of the movie, the audience I was in, remained shocked until that last bit of the credits finished rolling in. Despite what other people might say, I felt the movie was complete. It had a beginning, middle, and end. 

The only question remains: What now? It’s a similar feeling to next year’s ninth episode of Star Wars. Due to certain events, it’s quite obvious how things will eventually turn up. How we get there should be ride. How Avengers 4 is going to turn up, it’s sure going to be the biggest movie event in the decade.