Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Book Review: Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Pros: excellent setting, interesting characters, realistic depiction of trauma, great magic system 

Cons: muddled ending with confusing motivations

Maggie Hoskie is of the Living Arrow clan, born for the Walks-Around clan. She is Dine, living inside the walled reservation grounds after the Big Water disaster killed much of the outside world. Her clan affiliations give her blood lust, which made her the perfect apprentice for Neizghani, a monsterslaying hero/god.

Abandoned by her mentor a year ago, she’s uninterested in being a monsterslayer, but when new creatures start attacking villages, the local medicine man suggests it’s the work of a witch. So he partners her with his in-training grandson, a man with clan powers of his own.

This is a cross between urban fantasy (monsters/magic in the present day) and post-apocalyptic fiction. I loved the reservation setting and the descriptions of the houses, food, etc. I also enjoyed the hints of what went on to bring about society’s collapse. There’s a good number of Navajo words, but most of it’s immediately translated, so they added a nice flavour to the text without creating any confusion.

Maggie isn’t a particularly likeable character, though she’s very sympathetic once you learn her back story. She’s very no nonsense and kickass, but is also clearly emotionally stunted and can’t abide being touched. Her standoffishness and antagonism is off-putting, but are clearly coping mechanisms for the traumas she’s suffered.

Kai, the grandson, is really fun. While I wasn’t a fan of his fashion sense I loved how positive and considerate he is. I was surprised it took Maggie so long to figure out his clan powers, as they both seemed pretty obvious early on.

The Goodacre twins were probably my favourite characters despite only showing up towards the end of the book. Clive was awesome.

I thought the clan magic was handled well. I loved that Maggie is very powerful but that she can’t entirely control herself while in the throes of power, and that there was a time frame for how long she could use her magic and immediate consequences for its use.

There were minor romance elements that were handled well. The author subverted my expectations here, and I was very happy about that. I rolled my eyes when Kai was introduced but everyone was so over the top about trying to push them together that I loved Maggie’s responses to the pressure. I liked that the characters didn’t jump into anything and that their relationship developed fairly naturally. I was impressed with the author’s handling of Maggie’s trauma and how it impacted her ability to feel friendship and love.

Maggie and Kai team up to find the witch but there’s little work on the actual mystery. That is, they only actively search out one clue, after that the witch storyline seems to disappear for a while until someone points them to the next thing they need to do.

The ending left me with a lot of questions with regards to character motivations and actions. I’ll speak more about this in the spoiler section below.

Ultimately I wish the ending had been tighter and less muddled as it left me feeling unsatisfied with the book, even though there were a quite a few positive elements.

*** SPOILERS ***

With regards to the romance storyline, I was glad things went slowly as Maggie’s not in a position - even at the end - where she could be in a healthy relationship. She’s got a lot of healing to do and while I think Kai is a decent person and would be able to help her learn how to trust (even with that ending), jumping into a sexual relationship would likely do her more harm than good.

For the ending, as I said, I was surprised that Maggie didn’t clue in on her own that Kai has the ability to manipulate people into liking him. That was clear to me during his first conversation with Longarm. While I can understand her anger at finding out the way she did, it shocked me how poorly she took the revelation when it’s equally clear that he didn’t manipulate HER. Yes, he had ulterior motivations for seeking her friendship, but most adult friendships do (even if they’re just ‘I want to monopolize your time so I don’t feel lonely’). She seemed almost angry that he hadn’t manipulated her feelings of friendship and love towards him, which confused me. If he HAD manipulated her feelings I could understand, unless the idea that she has feelings is what scared her.

Maggie lived with Neizghani for years. Why was she so willing to believe that he would become a witch and create monsters? He’s the monster *slayer* after all. If the idea here was that if she could become a monster, than so could he, it needed to be articulated better. As a god, I assumed his personality would be less changeable than a human’s. So at the end when it was clear that Ma’ii was behind the monsters and her grandmother’s death, I expected her to team up with Neizghani to defeat them. I certainly expected her to refuse to follow Ma’ii’s plan to kill Neizghani.

Finally, I didn’t understand why Neizghani wanted to kill Kai. The book implied it was partly over jealousy (even though Maggie hadn’t really done anything with him yet) and partly because Kai was powerful and COULD become evil one day. Maybe as a god Neizghani assumed a pre-emptive strike was the best way to solve the problem, but it seems to me that someone stylized as a hero should have to wait until the man’s actually evil before killing him. Again, the motivations here could have been clarified.

Friday, 10 August 2018

Star Wars + Trading Cards 1

One of my older sisters collected trading cards when we were kids. While I went on to get X-Men and other comic book based cards, she - several years older than me - collected movie cards. I recently dug up her old cards and am surprised by how many movies there were trading cards for. She had several sets of cards for Star Wars (all 3 films at the time), Raiders of the Lost Arc, E.T., even a few cards for movies you wouldn't expect to get cards, like Moonraker!

For the Star Wars cards, some had puzzle pictures on the back (you had to join 9 cards to make a larger picture) while others were stickers. While most of the cards had story elements on the back that applied to the front photos, some had movie facts.

The cards were also a great way to learn the names of random background characters and statistics about main characters.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Shout-Out: Dreamfall by Amy Plum

A Nightmare on Elm Street meets Inception in this gripping psychological thriller from international bestselling author Amy Plum. Seven teenagers who suffer from debilitating insomnia agree to take part in an experimental new procedure to cure it because they think it can’t get any worse. But they couldn’t be more wrong.

When the lab equipment malfunctions, the patients are plunged into a terrifying dreamworld where their worst nightmares have come to life—and they have no memory of how they got there. Hunted by monsters from their darkest imaginations and tormented by secrets they’d rather keep buried, these seven strangers will be forced to band together to face their biggest fears. And if they can’t find a way to defeat their dreams, they will never wake up.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Video: Why did medieval buildings use jettying?

This is a video by Shadiversity explaining some of the reasons why medieval people used jettying (overhangs) on their buildings. It's a bit slow but does mention several factors involved both with regular houses and with castles.

There are so many things that influenced why people act the way they do. I don't know that I've ever seen a fantasy novel mention jettying or taxes on the ground floor square footage or... But these are fascinating aspects of life, and even if they're not cribbed exactly, it's the kind of stuff that makes a world feel real.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Book Review: A Gift of Griffins by V. M. Escalada

Note: This is the sequel to Halls of Law, so the review below contains spoilers for book one.

Pros: fun characters, interesting magic systems

Cons: ending felt rushed

It’s been roughly six months since the invading Halians conquered the Faraman Polity. Jerek Brightwing, hiding in the Serpents Teeth mountains, has been proclaimed Luqs by the Faro of Bears and her soldiers, and is desperate for aid. He sends Talent Karida Nast and a small group to contact nearby potential allies who can help them fulfill the prophecy and retake the throne. Meanwhile the Halian Princess Imperial travels to Farama the Capital for her arranged marriage with the new mage controlled Luqs, Jarek’s father.

This is the second book in the Faraman Polity duology. This series has a lot of fun characters. Kerida and Tel’s relationship was great. I enjoyed seeing Kerida meet up with her sisters, family reunions complicated by Kerida’s being a Talent and therefore ‘not of the world’.

There are three groups of magic users (four if you count the griffins). The Talents and Feelers are all Gifted, with a single innate ability. Talents can ‘flash’ people and objects to see the truth of them. Feelers are varied, with some being able to speak telepathically across distances, healing, lifting objects, etc. The third human group are the Halian Shekayrin who use red faceted crystals to perform spells. Kerida starts out as a Talent but through a Griffin gains an extra power. I thought the author did an excellent job of showing her slowly learn how to use and then master her new abilities. Her progression felt earned even though she mastered things quickly.

I would have loved to learn more about the griffins, especially their history with the Gifted. Considering the prophecy and the reverence griffins are held in by the Shekayrin it seemed an unfortunate oversight to not give more background about them.

I thought there was another book in the series so I was very surprised when things suddenly wrapped up at the end of this book. While there was a good climactic fight that made for a great novel ending, I was surprised by how little series wrap up there seemed to be. More on this in the spoiler section below.

Ultimately it was a good book though I’d have loved a third volume that went into the difficulties of returning society to what it was and dealt with more of the social aspects the first book introduced.


The more I thought about the ending, the more questions I had about how things would continue after the final page. There’s so much work left to be done and a lot of questions left unanswered. Similarly, it didn’t feel like the prophecy was properly fulfilled. Yes, a small group of Feelers, Talents, and one Shekayrin did come together, but I have trouble believing that other Talents and Shekayrin would follow suit considering their long held belief systems. The majority of people in the Faraman Polity don’t even know Feelers still exist, and given how Feelers have been demonized and mythologized over the years, I suspect there will be a measure of panic once non-gifted people learn Feelers are real. Also ignored are the male soldiers and citizens of the Polity who accepted Halian rule without coercion, something that the first book dealt with really well but was largely ignored in this one.

Friday, 3 August 2018

Book Review: Ancient Inventions by Peter James and Nick Thorpe

Pros: nice overview on a large number of topics 

Cons: only a few photographs, mostly hand drawn illustrations, dated information

The book is comprised of an introduction and chapters on medicine, transportation, high tech, sex life, military technology, personal effects, food, drink, and drugs, urban life, working the land, house and home, communications and sport and leisure. Each chapter is subdivided, so under personal effects there are sections on mirrors, makeup, tattooing, soap, razors, perfume, wigs, clothing and shoes, jewelry, spectacles, and umbrellas. They’re followed by a shortened list of sources, a bibliography and index. The book covers a surprisingly large range of topics, and a large range of locations. While the majority of ancient artifacts are from the Middle East/Mediterranean, the book covers a fair amount of Chinese discoveries as well. South and Central America, Japan, India, and other places are also mentioned to a lesser degree.

Modern society tends to look down on civilizations of the past as being lesser in many ways. This book shows that a lot of habits and tools we think are modern have been around for a long time. Sometimes they’re lost and rediscovered, sometimes they have a long continuous history. The ingenuity of our ancestors is incredible and it’s fascinating to see the variety of things they invented.

Most of the images are hand drawn illustrations, which is fine when showing cross sections but odd when they’re meant as reproductions of historical items. I’m guessing they were unable to secure the rights to photographs and so did the next best thing, but it really would have been better to have photographs. And what photos the book does have are all black and white.

The book came out in 1994, so the information is already dated. That’s not to say it’s all wrong, just that you have to accept that not all of the conclusions mentioned here are still agreed upon. I do think the authors did a fantastic job of both showing how archaeological conclusions shift over time as new finds are discovered/researched, and also explaining that some mysteries may have different solutions to the ones proposed in this volume.

While the book has some limitations, it’s a fantastic volume if you want a nice overview of the breadth of human achievement throughout ancient history.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Shout-Out: SuperMoon by H. A. Swain

Sol is the month between June and July on the thirteen-month Moon calendar. It's the only time teenagers have to themselves between rigorous scientific training and their ultimate lab assignments in their colony on the Moon. Their families emigrated from Earth to build better lives; but life on the Moon is far from perfect, as Uma learns on the eve of Sol.
Uma meets an Earthen girl who becomes a fast friend, and much more. What Uma doesn't know is that the girl is assigned to infect Uma with a plague that a rogue faction of Earthen scientists hope will wipe out Moon soldiers. Will Uma be the cause of a pandemic? Whom can she trust, and moreover, whom does she love?