Tuesday, 13 July 2021

Video: Sleep Sound (D&D)

R. A. Salvatore has written a nursery rhyme introducing his famous Drow warrior Drizzt Do'Urden, narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch with some stunning visuals. While it's called an 'introduction', if you're unfamiliar with the Forgotten Realms (now just called Dungeons & Dragons apparently), then you won't understand what's going on or who any of the characters are. Also, don't watch this if you don't like (not cute) animated spiders.

Tuesday, 6 July 2021

Book Review: We Have Always Been Here by Lena Nguyen

Pros: interesting protagonist, tense action, compelling mystery

Cons: somewhat frustrating opening

Grace Park is the Orbiter on the spaceship Deucalion, a psychologist sent to monitor the crew on their mission to scout out a newly discovered planet and prepare it for colonization. Her role, her standoffishness and the fact that she not a conscripted member of ISF makes her something of an outsider among the crew, fitting in more with the androids on board. Things immediately start going wrong when they arrive at the planet. Facing mistrust and paranoia, Park has to figure out what’s going on before it’s too late.

The opening’s a bit slow as you’re introduced to a lot of characters, settings, and history. It’s also frustrating as you’ve only got the information that Park is privy to (with the exception of some emails at the start of some chapters), so it takes quite a while before you both begin to understand what’s going on. That slow opening pays off at the half way point when the tension ramps up and it becomes very hard to put the book down.

The book begins with a mystery but parts in the middle felt very much like a horror novel. The action is fast and explanations limited (though eventually you do learn enough to understand what’s really going on).

Park is a challenging protagonist as she has a limited range of emotions. It’s easy to understand why she’s ostracized by her peers, but seeing her actions from the inside helps the reader empathize with her. I did find it a little strange that a 13 member human crew could make a 3 floor ship feel crowded and full of ‘cliques’, but those early complaints faded as the action ramped up. I enjoyed seeing Park’s friendship with various androids as the book progressed.

It’s an interesting book. Definitely worth pushing past the opening to see where the book goes. The ending felt right, though it left unanswered questions.

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

Book Review: Snowspelled by Stephanie Burgis

Pros: interesting politics and worldbuilding, fun romance

Cons:

Cassandra’s first social event after losing her ability to work magic and breaking up with her fiance starts off poorly. A carriage of ladies has been stopped by trolls and forced to walk in the snow, getting lost. While helping look for them, Cassandra’s ex shows up just as she wakes another troll and makes an unfortunate promise. Now she has a week to find out who’s cast an impossible weather spell or be imprisoned by an angry elf lord.

This is a fun novella with romance and fantasy elements. The setting is an England where Queen Boudicca ran off the Romans and her descendants made a peace pact after warring with the elves. Politics is a woman’s game, and the pact demands rituals be performed perfectly.

Cassandra was the first female magic practitioner, but after a mysterious event, she can no longer use magic. She’s a headstrong character that you can’t help but sympathize with, who learns a few lessons about her own privilege even as her life hasn’t turned out as she planned.

The romance is fun and engaging.

Magic is sparingly used, but interesting when it comes up.

This is the start of a series but can be read as a standalone.

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

History Book Review: Bread, Wine and Money: the Windows of the Trades at Chartres Cathedral by Jane Welch Williams

Pros: very detailed analysis, excellent overview of the history required to understand the author’s thesis, lots of images

Cons: some images are of poor quality, some ideas/terms could have used a bit more explanation

It’s become conventional knowledge that the trade windows at Chartres and other cathedrals were donated by members of the trade guilds that are depicted. Williams has done a thorough job in this book, published in 1993, of refuting that claim.

The book is separated into 5 chapters, with an additional introduction and epilogue. There are 4 colour plates and 151 black and white plates. There are extensive notes and a bibliography. Chapter 1 briefly examines the literature that’s been written about Chartres cathedral with regards to its stained glass (dating and program), specifically focusing on interpretations regarding the trade windows. Chapter 2 goes over the historical circumstances in Chartres around the time the cathedral was built. It details the tensions between the chapter, the bishop, the count and the townspeople (including a riot in 1210). Chapters 3-5 are analyses of windows dealing with bread, wine, and money changers in that order. They each go over what other historians have said about the windows, the historical context of those trades (bakers, tavern keepers, and money-changers) then analyzes each window that shows those trades comparing them to others within the cathedral, to those from other cathedrals, and ancient Roman works.

Williams points out very quickly that there are few if any contemporary records supporting the idea the trade windows were guild gifts. Her very thorough examination of the interrelationships of power, and how bread, wine & money (that is the cash economy as well as monetary gifts to the cathedral) were incorporated into liturgical practice within the cathedral as well as the liturgical year (in terms of taxes and ‘gifts’). The book also examined how practices changed over time (for example, how the Eucharist was given less often to regular people and eulogy bread was passed out instead).

There were a lot of black and white images, including several useful maps and floor plans of the cathedral showing where the various windows were located in the building. Some of the window photos were of poor quality so it was hard to see what the author was describing (though this is probably due as much to the state of the windows at the time the book was made).

I did find that a few terms and ideas could have used a bit more explanation. For example, the author seems to assume that the reader knows that bishops were appointed from outside the Chartres chapter rather than voted on by the canons, which likely added to the antagonism between him and the canons.

I learned a lot about church practices and how various groups in society related to each other. It’s a great reminder that people have always been complex and relationships never easy, especially where power and money are involved.

If you’re interested in the middle ages, medieval art, cathedrals or liturgical practices, this is an interesting book and, I think, proves the point the author is making. It’s given me a lot to think about with regards to how I read church windows.

Thursday, 10 June 2021

Shout-Out: The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

A ruthless princess and a powerful priestess come together to rewrite the fate of an empire in this “fiercely and unapologetically feminist tale of endurance and revolution set against a gorgeous, unique magical world” (S. A. Chakraborty).

Exiled by her despotic brother, princess Malini spends her days dreaming of vengeance while imprisoned in the Hirana: an ancient cliffside temple that was once the revered source of the magical deathless waters but is now little more than a decaying ruin.

The secrets of the Hirana call to Priya. But in order to keep the truth of her past safely hidden, she works as a servant in the loathed regent’s household, biting her tongue and cleaning Malini’s chambers.

But when Malini witnesses Priya’s true nature, their destines become irrevocably tangled. One is a ruthless princess seeking to steal a throne. The other a powerful priestess seeking to save her family. Together, they will set an empire ablaze.

Wednesday, 9 June 2021

Movie Review: Project Power

Directed by Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman, 2020
Netflix original
IMDB listing

Pros: excellent special effects, tight storytelling, several interesting twists, compelling characters

Cons: doesn’t delve into to the personal costs of taking the drug beyond the obvious

There’s a new drug in New Orleans called ‘power’ that grants the taker 5 minutes of an unknown animal based ‘super power’. A cop wants the drug to level the playing field. A vigilante wants to find the source of the drug. Both turn to a teenaged dealer just trying to make a better life for herself and her mom.

The characters were interesting and I found their stories compelling. There were a few scenes I thought were just for character building but turned out to contain plot elements, which was great. The script was tight and entertaining with a couple of good twists along the way.

Jaime Foxx’s humour in the 90s turned me off, but I’m finding he’s a fantastic action hero and does an amazing job as the vigilante, Art. Joseph Godon-Levitt’s cop was kind of unorthodox but fun. His scene with Robin’s mother was pretty funny despite the tension. I really liked Dominique Fishback as Robin. She hit the right mark of needing adult help while maintaining the teen core of ‘I can take care of myself’.

There are some excellent fight scenes. One started out kind of unique but they kept up the ‘shoot from behind glass’ too long making the end of the fight very hard to follow.

The powers are determined by what’s found in nature, which still leaves an impressive range. They were used enough to demonstrate what’s possible, but not enough to ruin the novelty. The special effects were very high quality and looked amazing.

My only complaint with the film is that it doesn’t really address the personal consequences of taking the drug. It points out that not everyone gets a super power, some simply blow up, but doesn’t really point out that even in cases where people do get super powers, the powers themselves can - apparently - seriously mess the taker up too. For example, the guy with fire power apparently gets seriously burned by them. Is it the power that burns him or the aftereffects (the fire around him once the 5 minutes are up)?

On the whole it was a great film and it’s surprising I hadn’t heard about this film before turning it on.

(If you watch the trailer, be aware that past the half way point they reveal several spoilers.)
 

Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Books Received in April & May 2021

Many thanks as always to the publishers who sent me books recently.

The Curie Society written by Janet Harvey, illustrated by Sonia Liao - The first in a series, this is a fun graphic novel with great artwork encouraging women to join STEM fields.

A covert team of young women--members of the Curie society, an elite organization dedicated to women in STEM--undertake high-stakes missions to save the world.


An action-adventure original graphic novel, The Curie Society follows a team of young women recruited by an elite secret society--originally founded by Marie Curie--with the mission of supporting the most brilliant female scientists in the world. The heroines of the Curie Society use their smarts, gumption, and cutting-edge technology to protect the world from rogue scientists with nefarious plans. Readers can follow recruits Simone, Taj, and Maya as they decipher secret codes, clone extinct animals, develop autonomous robots, and go on high-stakes missions.


We Have Always Been Here by Lena Nguyen - This debut sounds amazing. Can't wait to read it.

This psychological sci-fi thriller from a debut author follows one doctor who must discover the source of her crew's madness... or risk succumbing to it herself.


Misanthropic psychologist Dr. Grace Park is placed on the Deucalion, a survey ship headed to an icy planet in an unexplored galaxy. Her purpose is to observe the thirteen human crew members aboard the ship—all specialists in their own fields—as they assess the colonization potential of the planet, Eos. But frictions develop as Park befriends the androids of the ship, preferring their company over the baffling complexity of humans, while the rest of the crew treats them with suspicion and even outright hostility.

Shortly after landing, the crew finds themselves trapped on the ship by a radiation storm, with no means of communication or escape until it passes—and that’s when things begin to fall apart. Park’s patients are falling prey to waking nightmares of helpless, tongueless insanity. The androids are behaving strangely. There are no windows aboard the ship. Paranoia is closing in, and soon Park is forced to confront the fact that nothing—neither her crew, nor their mission, nor the mysterious Eos itself—is as it seems.

The Godstone by Violette Malan - I love Malan's writing and can't wait to see what her new series is all about.

This new epic fantasy series begins a tale of magic and danger, as a healer finds herself pulled deeper into a web of secrets and hazardous magic that could bring about the end of the world as she knows it.


Fenra Lowens has been a working Practitioner, using the magic of healing ever since she graduated from the White Court and left the City to live in the Outer Modes. When one of her patients, Arlyn Albainil, is summoned to the City to execute the final testament of a distant cousin, she agrees to help him. Arlyn suspects the White Court wants to access his cousin's Practitioner's vault. Arlyn can't ignore the summons: he knows the vault holds an artifact so dangerous he can't allow it to be freed.

Fenra quickly figures out that there is no cousin, that Arlyn himself is the missing Practitioner, the legendary Xandra Albainil, rumored to have made a Godstone with which he once almost destroyed the world. Sealing away the Godstone left Arlyn powerless and ill, and he needs Fenra to help him deal with the possibly sentient artifact before someone else finds and uses it.

Along the way they encounter Elvanyn Karamisk, an old friend whom Arlyn once betrayed. Convinced that Arlyn has not changed, and intends to use Fenra to recover the Godstone and with it all his power, Elvanyn joins them to keep Fenra safe and help her destroy the artifact.