Thursday, 17 April 2014

Stranger Than Fiction: The Germanic Tribes

A column dedicated to pointing out interesting tidbits of history, some of which would be cool to see in a fantasy novel or two.

The Germanic Tribes
Written by Alexander Hogh and Judith Voelker, Directed by Alexander Hogh, 2008

The four-part documentary brought out a lot of great information, showing how using a mixture of written records and archaeological evidence allows modern historians to extrapolate how the Germanic peoples lived two thousand years ago.  Each episode they created a fake person, someone who ‘might have lived’, to follow, as a narrative thread.  But I personally found the fake quotes that mingled with the historical ones distracting, as it was easy to forget that these characters weren’t based on actual recorded lives. 

The documentary goes over the Roman conquest, the Germanic push back, a time of co-operation and the introduction of Christianity.  

I know very little about this period of history, so this miniseries was full of interesting tidbits like:

- the Romans called the barbarian tribes and location, Germania, from which we get the name Germany
- just how far the West the Romans conquered
- Romans considered German tribesmen formidable warriors and good for bodyguards (as they didn’t care about Roman politics)
- people in Germania played lyres and followed some Roman religious beliefs
- Hadrian built a wall of wood and dirt through Germany to mark the end of Roman territory a few years before he built the stone wall in Northern England
- the Germanic tribes raided other tribes for slaves
- the Germanic tribes used Runic writing & worshiped the same gods as the Scandinavians
- gladiatorial fights were hosted in conquered regions of modern day Germany
- the origin of the Fleur de Lis symbol of France came from Medieval representations of Clovis (frogs on his garment, depicting his ‘evil pagan beliefs’ [the frog/toad is a symbol of lying] turn into lilies upon his baptism)

- Allemagne [the French word for Germany] comes from the Germanic tribe/confederation, the Alemanni (also spelled Alamanni and Alamani), who were conquered by the Frankish king Clovis. [According to wikipedia, the word ‘Alemanni’ meant ‘all men’, though only their enemies used it.  Those particular tribesmen called themselves Suebi.  On reading about the various modern names for Germany and where they come from, the German name for Germany (Deutschland) comes from the Old High German word diutisc, which meant ‘of the people’ or ‘folk’]

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Shout-Out: Moth and Spark by Anne Leonard

A prince with a quest. A commoner with mysterious powers. And dragons that demand to be freed —at any cost.
Prince Corin has been chosen to free the dragons from their bondage to the Empire, but dragons aren't big on directions. They have given him some of their power, but none of their knowledge. No one, not the dragons nor their riders, is even sure what keeps the dragons in the Empire's control.
Tam, sensible daughter of a well-respected doctor, had no idea before she arrived in the capital that she is a Seer, gifted with visions. When the two run into each other (quite literally) in the library, sparks fly and Corin impulsively asks Tam to dinner. But it's not all happily ever after. Never mind that the prince isn't allowed to marry a commoner: war is coming to Caithen. Torn between Corin's quest to free the dragons and his duty to his country, the lovers must both figure out how to master their powers in order to save Caithen. With a little help from a village of secret wizards and a rogue dragonrider, they just might pull it off.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Book Review: Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes

Pros: political intrigue, some empathetic characters

Cons: Auranos royalty was irritating, very fake siege and war

For Parents: some violence, off page sex 

The lands of Mytica are slowly dying, their magic draining away.  Magnus, prince of Valoria, forced to cut himself off from his emotions in order to deal with his abusive father and distant mother, is very protective of the younger sister, Lucia, he loves too much.  But Lucia is more than he or she knows, heiress of a vast power she’s about to come into.

Cleo is the spoiled younger princess of Auranos.  On an excursion to the dying land of Palsia, known for their fine wine and nothing else, her friend, the arrogant Lord Aron Lagaris, kills a vintner’s son.  The victim’s brother, Jonas, swears vengeance.

War is coming to the 3 lands of Mytica.  And the actions of these teens is the spark that ignites it.

I wanted to like this book, I mean, I really did.  The cover is gorgeous and the plot sounds so interesting.  

The good: The author had some great politics going on.  There’s a lot of intrigue among the three countries, and part of Palsia’s troubles are due to trade agreements made in the past that are only now causing major problems (deals very similar to ones made by African nations in the real world).

I loved Magnus.  His attempts to keep his emotions hidden even as he falls in love with his sister - the only person who shows him any kindness and consideration - is heartbreaking.  The author’s attempts to make him evil just made me pity him more.  I loved his entire storyline, and that of Lucia.

I found Jonas an interesting character.  Not quite as sympathetic as Magnus, despite the tragedy he experiences, his actions at least follow through from that action.  And while I’m not sure I believe what he does at the end of the book, again, his decision stems from what’s gone before.

The bad: I hated Cleo.  She’s got a few redeeming features, like she’s sorry the vintner’s son dies, but she’s selfish in her sorrow.  She does nothing to redress what happened, sends no funds to help the family afterwards or the land she knows is dying, even as hers flourishes.  She makes some truly, truly horrible decisions.  Decisions that someone her age, in her position, should never make.  Her older sister is dying for the dumbest reason, which ends up causing added problems for their kingdom.  I’ll explain more about these in the spoilers section.

Cleo never seemed to learn from her mistakes.  I could understand how certain things happened - life gets out of control sometimes, especially when you’re 16.  But things keep happening and she never seems to make better decisions.  At one point she believes that having a hissy fit will save her from one of her father’s decisions.  If that’s not entitlement, I don’t know what is.

My final point - the one that made me almost throw the book across the room in frustrated anger, deals with the ending, so it’s in the spoiler section below.

I wanted to like this book but didn’t.  I forced myself to finish and I’m not sure why.  It had a lot of promise, but too many of the characters rubbed me the wrong way and too many actions made no sense for me to continue with the series.


Jonas - at the end of the book he decides he’d rather help Cleo than see his country annexed by Limeros.  I can understand he doesn’t want the annexation to stand, but while Cleo explains earlier that she’s sorry his brother is dead she was still in a position to have saved him and didn’t.  And she does nothing to rectify the mistake.  So I can’t see him following her.

Cleo - her decision to search Palsia for magic seeds to save her sister is ridiculous.  She knows the country is experiencing unrest due to her actions and yet she goes there anyway, chasing a story that - if true - would have saved Palsia.  I also didn’t understand why the witch, when encountered, gave Cleo the seeds.  In her note the witch praises Cleo’s honesty - when Cleo told her nothing but lies.  Yes, Cleo did say the seeds were to save her sister, but that’s the only truth that came from her mouth beyond her name.  Seems to me the which could have been helping her own people rather than saving another spoiled princess.

And make no mistake, Emilia was a spoiled princess, despite her otherwise desire to subsume her needs for that of her kingdom.  She wasn’t, after all, sick.  She was dying of a broken heart.  She literally chose to die because the man she loved (who was at least 35 years older than her - he had a 20 year old son) accidentally died.

My last complaint deals with the siege / war at the end of the book.

OK, if you’re attacking a fortified castle complex you need more than 5000 men.  Especially if you’re not bringing any siege engines of any kind, ladders, sappers or anything else that might help you get past the walls.  Most sieges worked because they starved out the inhabitants.  In this book the ‘siege’ lasts - I kid you not - 3 days.  Yup, 3 days.  And the attacking army is running out of food, having no supply train set up to feed the peasant troops (the wealthier, armoured troops we’re told do have food).  For some reason the defending army decides to leave their fortifications and fight on the field.  Not sure why when they’ve got this wall behind which to throw things at the enemy.  The attacking fighters manage to breach the walls - without any siege weapons mentioned at all - after 12 hours of straight fighting, no breaks.  Not sure how that worked, as most battles lasted a few hours and than broke apart so people could rest and tend their wounded (or surrender/run away).  Not to mention, with only 5000 men, I’d have expected the fighting to end much earlier.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Shout-Out: Cypher by S. E. Bennett

Cipher Omega is sixteen years old and a failed experiment.
She is an identical clone of the brilliant, damaged woman whose genome the scientists of the Basement were trying to copy and improve. Without the modifications they wanted, she isn't just worthless: she's a liability, a ticking time bomb of instincts and human weakness.
All her life she has dreamt of the freedom of life outside the laboratory, on the surface world, but when her home is destroyed and she's left the only survivor of a hundred-year human cloning project, she is forced to face the reality of the military-ruled nation that created her.

Aided by the only other surviving child of the Basement, an enigmatic solider named Tor, and two rebel journalists named Bowen and Oona Rivers, Cipher finds herself searching for answers in the wreckage of a once-great city.
When the time comes, will she be able to chose between freedom and love?

Friday, 11 April 2014

Fantasy Cafe's Women in SF&F Month

Kristen over at Fantasy Cafe is in the middle of her 3rd Women in SF&F month.  It's got some great articles by authors, including ones by: Anne Lyle, Alex HughesBeth Bernobich, and M. L. Brennan.  She's also teamed up with Renay from Lady Business to create - over the past few years - a giant list of women who write SF&F.  She's got some giveaways too, so be sure to check out her site.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Movie Review: Dark Star

Directed by: John Carpenter, 1974

Pros: existential bomb, humorous diary entries

Cons: cheesy special effects, pointless story, boring

Things start to go disastrously wrong for the crew of a space ship, 20 years into its mission of locating and destroying planets with deteriorating orbits around potentially colonizable star systems.

I was wondering, as I turned on this film, what makes some movies classics and others forgettable.  Why have I seen Alien numerous times, but never heard of Dark Star until fairly recently?

Then I watched the film.  Ah, that’s why I’ve never heard of it.  It’s not very good.  Passing over the special effects, which would have been decent for their time, if cheesy for modern viewers, the movie itself is pretty bad.  The plot is thin, the dialogue insipid and boring, and the action often nonsensical.  

According to IMDb it’s a comedy sci-fi film.  It might have helped had I known that going in.  I can see how a lot of the things that didn’t make sense might have been that way for comedic relief, but I wouldn’t say anything in the film struck me as particularly funny, aside from the smart bombs and Sargent Pinback’s diary entries.  There’s an alien that’s made up of a painted beach-ball with rubber hands.  To get to the airlock you have to crawl over a wooden plank across the elevator shaft (which became the location of 20 minutes of footage).  No one on the crew really talked to each other, which causes one of the major conflicts at the end of the film.  And the whole ship is covered in junk I doubt a real space mission crew would have brought on board.  

I’m not sure if my impression of the film would have benefited knowing it wasn’t meant to be a serious film before hand, but it couldn’t have hurt.  I like a lot of John Carpenter’s other films and was expecting something more serious/horror.  If you decide to see this, go in with low expectations.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Shout-Out: Traitor's Blade by Sebastien De Castell

The King is dead, the Greatcoats have been disbanded, and Falcio Val Mond and his fellow magistrates Kest and Brasti have been reduced to working as bodyguards. Things could be worse. Their employer could be lying dead on the floor while the killer plants evidence framing them for the murder. Oh wait, that's exactly what's happening…

Now a royal conspiracy is about to unfold in the most corrupt city in the world. A carefully orchestrated series of murders that began with the overthrow of an idealistic young king will end with the death of an orphaned girl and the ruin of everything that Falcio, Kest, and Brasti have fought for. But if the trio want to foil the conspiracy, save the girl, and reunite the Greatcoats, they'll have to do it with nothing but the tattered coats on their backs and the swords in their hands, because these days every noble is a tyrant, every knight is a thug, and the only thing you can really trust is a traitor's blade.