The Iron Druid series

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IronDruid

Here be spoilers.  I am reviewing the first 3 books of the series simultaneously, so there will be spoilers for them.  You are safe for later books though.

This series revolves around Atticus, a magic-weilding Druid.  He’s the last Druid, he’s able to stand toe-to-toe with gods and survive, he looks young but is thousands of years old, he’s… a male Mary-Sue (aka Gary-Stu). Seriously. It was easy to ignore at first, but the further I got into the series, the more it bugged me.

First, the age thing.  He’s thousands of years old, but somehow knows how to talk, dress, and act to fit in.  In real life, most older people are not up-to-date with modern technology and trends, and yet Atticus, who is many times their age, seems to have no such problem.  He even teases Lief the vampire about seeming antiquated, and Lief is like half of Atticus’ age.

Then the power thing.  A couple of times the book tries to describe the boundaries of Atticus’ power, and try to make him sound limited, but he killed a god.  He also managed to create a magical necklace that other gods hadn’t even thought to make.  At the point where I finally stopped reading, there was nothing Atticus had encountered that seemed like a real threat.  Not even the Bacchants; by the time they showed up, it felt like they were just an excuse to have Atticus make a promise that would lead to the next book.

The female representation isn’t the best.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s sexist, but a lot of it is shallow and/or stereotypical.  There were no female characters that I identified with or liked.  Almost all of the women were beautiful or sexy, except for a funny one, a couple of older ones, and maybe some evil ones.  Granted, this is true to some extent for the male characters too, but the main character is male, so it doesn’t feel as glaring.

Were the books all bad?  No. There were some good points.  Atticus is able to communicate with his dog, and his dog is funny.  In the first book the dog is obsessed with poodles, but overall his thoughts are amusing.  The idea of all the various gods being alive isn’t original to this book, but it is entertaining (most of the time).  There’s witty banter and quips that are funny when in the right dosage, though sometimes the author drags it out.

Overall the first one was pretty decent – maybe a 6.5 or 7 out of 10 – but the second one wasn’t as good, and obviously I didn’t finish the third one.  The books may not be very original, but they still have some fun ideas to play with.  If you like supernatural stories and don’t mind Gary-Stus, you’ll probably get further in the series than I did.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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I’ll start with a short, vague review, then dive into spoilers after the warning.

There are a number of very familiar elements in this movie.  They can bring waves of nostalgia, or they might feel a tad lazy or maybe even desperate, like the movie is saying “Love me, love me!”  Different people will have different reactions, and my reactions to them were mixed.

There’s a fair amount of humor in this movie, definitely more so than any other other Star Wars movies.  Some of it was pretty good too, and made the whole theater chuckle.  Other parts, while still funny, felt unnecessary or like they didn’t quite fit.

Also mixed were the characters.  The leads’ roles were solid, and most of the side characters were decent, but at least one prominently advertised supporting role was unexpectedly disappointing.

The jist?  It was good, but flawed.  Interesting, but not amazing; a plain, solid good.  If you go in expecting a nerdy religious experience, you may be disappointed.  Keep your expectations at a normal level and you should enjoy yourself.

Rating: 7/10

SpoilerAlert

First, I must discuss a role that really disappointed me: Captain Phasma.  I was really looking forward to Captain Phasma!  I was envisioning a kick-ass (albiet potentially evil) female in a not-skimpy, not-ridiculour outfit.  In fact, by just looking at Captain Phasma, you’d never even know she’s a woman.  So what went wrong?  What you see of her in the trailers is basically the entirety of her screen time in the movie.  I’m serious.  She had may 3-4 lines, and was in the movie no more than 5 minutes.  Plus instead of being kickass, she seemed almost pathetic thanks to the scene where she deactivated the shields without a fight at the prompting of our somewhat bumbling heroes.  It ended up feeling like they stuffed the character in just so they could sell Captain Phasma merchandise.

With that out of the way, let’s look at the meat of the story.  The enemy is building a giant, planet-destroying piece of tech.  Someone gets their hands on info that can help defeat the baddies, and the info is put into a droid.  The droid wanders around a desert and runs into an unsuspecting character, dragging them into the mess.  Said character discovers they have Force abilities, sees their mentor-figure killed, and confronts a Dark Side user.  Oh, and after the shields are dropped, rebellion pilots attack the giant death ball, trying to hit a specific point.

Sounds familiar, you say?  That’d be because it is.  Don’t get me wrong, some familiarity is good, and I enjoy some nostalgia, but I just basically summarized the whole movie, and without character names, it just reads like a mashup of the original “Star Wars.”  At what point does nostalgia and honoring the source material become laziness?

Now for one of the major twists.  Han Solo’s death was something some people didn’t expect going into the movie.  It did have emotional consequences, but I’m not sure if it’s the ones the writers were aiming for.  You could see it coming as soon as Solo stepped onto that catwalk, so the obviousness of the setup and the length of the scene diminished the impact; there was no gasp-worthy moment for me.  I was disappointed in loss of a fun screen presence though, because I enjoyed Harrison Ford’s acting.  The bigger impact for me was my attitude towards Kylo Ren: it condemned him.  I’m not interested in his struggle anymore, he just needs to go die in a fire.  If it was supposed to cement him in our minds as a villain, then the scene worked, but that means they better not expect us to continue to sympathize with him.

A character you can sympathize with?  Finn.  Poor guy basically spent his whole life in Stormtrooper-land, but still had enough heart to realize some of the things the First Order was doing was not cool, and he had enough of a spine to run away.  Sure, he’s no dashing knight or cool Jedi – Rey’s the Jedi, but I’ll get to that next – but once you consider his background, you realize he is brave.  Unfortunately the movie ended with him having sustained what I think was a serious back/spine injury, so we have to wait until the next move to see just how advanced their medical technology is.

Rey is the baby Jedi!  Yes, the female lead is the Force-user, contrary to what the trailers would have you believe.  This mostly makes up for the Captain Phasma mess.  She is not a damsel in distress waiting for rescue, and in fact gets herself out of at least two scrapes without assistance.  Once she realizes she can use the Force, she picks it up very quickly, which is one of my few complaints: she figures it out too quickly.  In the space of what I think is literally one day, she goes from thinking she’s an ordinary person to using Jedi mind tricks and Force-pulling stuff.  At that rate, what do they need Luke for?  Give her a week to practice and she’d be Master level.

Other characters: Poe was cool, BB8 was freaking adorable.  A pink R2 unit was supposed to make a brief appearance, but I didn’t see it; did you?  As far as writing/acting is concerned, Kylo Ren didn’t suck like I feared he would.  Overall the actors did a good job, though there were a couple I feel need a bit more experience to really polish their skills.

The ending is basically a cliffhanger, so maybe the sequels will smooth ver some of the bumps in this movie?  We shall see.

Secret Wars: A-Force (Complete series)

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When I started reading the “A-Force” series, the only other comics I had read were “Serenity: Leaves on the Wind” and a handful of Free Comic Book Day comics.  Based on that, “A-Force” really impressed me.  But then I started reading “Bloodthirsty: One Nation Under Water” and “1602: Witch Hunter Angela,” and my opinion of “A-Force” dropped somewhat.  And when the series finally ended and I had time to reflect on it as a whole, my final opinion wasn’t what I originally expected it would be.

After I read the first volume, I was very hopeful for the series.  It had a lot of female characters that I was excited to see kicking butt together in one comic.  There was some team tension, and a new character; all potentially great stuff.  Then I got through the series and was left thinking, ” What happened?  Where’s the rest of it?”  And not because of some cliffhanger.  See, the comic had all this potential, but didn’t actually achieve most of it.  The villain and villain’s motives were predictable; I guessed them in the first volume.  I didn’t really connect with any of the characters.  Emotional depths and quandaries were not explored like they could’ve been.

By the end I felt that “A-Force” was an excuse to stuff as many female heroes as possible into one short series, and then hope that readers would be too busy gushing over the appearance of their favorite character(s) to care about the plot.  And yes, I did my share of gushing, but if I’m going to dish out $4 per volume, I need some more meat to the story.

Ultimately “A-Force” was mindless fun, and certainly not what I’d call bad, but it’s not something I’d be recommending either.

Overall: 6/10

SpoilerAlert

Really, was anyone surprised that Lady Loki ended up being the villain?  Anyone?  As soon as I saw her in the first volume I thought, ” Here comes trouble.”

Schedule Announcement

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I’m not sure I have enough followers to really merit this, but figured I’d do it just in case.

Last month was the start of Fall college classes, and thus my return to school.  I have started pursuing a new degree that I hope will be more applicable in the job market than my B.A. in English.  Unfortunately this means I will have less time for leisure reading, and even less time to write reviews.  As of right now, I’m guessing I’ll be lucky to do one review per month, with maybe some “bonus” reviews over the winter break.

If you’re reading this, thank you for following me thus far.  See you all at the next review!

Royal Street

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RoyalStreet

As a Louisiana native, I have a special interest in books set in Louisiana.  So here’s a book that’s set in Louisiana, AND revolves around Hurricane Katrina, AND has magic and supernatural creatures.  This should be a smorgasbord of awesome, right?  Well, no.

The book starts off a couple of days before Hurricane Katrina makes landfall in New Orleans.  We meet DJ and Gerald, two wizards that basically police the supernatural community in Louisiana.  It’s decided that one of them should evacuate as a safety precaution, and Gerald, as the senior of the pair, decides DJ will be the one to evacuate.  She does so reluctantly, and then is stuck outside the city when Katrina hits and floods the city.  The wizard council of Elders contacts her, informs her that Gerald has gone missing, and that she has to return to New Orleans and take up the role as head wizard – aka sentinel – in the area.

Back in New Orleans, DJ encounters many problems.  The most obvious are the hurricane aftermath: security checkpoints, flooding, no electricity, etc.  But there is also supernatural trouble brewing.  The low pressure from the storm punched holes through the barrier between our world and the supernatural, and supernatural beings have started crossing into New Orleans.

The ghostly/undead pirate Jean Lafitte has a grudge against DJ.  The new partner assigned to her, Alex, seems to blow hot and cold and has an obsession with weapons.  DJ is trying to figure out what happened to Gerald, while both Alex and the Elders think he’s turned turncoat.  And DJ is an idiot.  No, seriously.  Her stupidity was one of my biggest gripes with the book.  I’ll go into detail in the Spoiler section.

Alex, Jean Lafitte, and Jake – Alex’s cousin – are all presented as interests to DJ.  She finds them all attractive, even the undead/ghost Jean Lafitte.  Even though Lafitte is old, a murderer, and doesn’t belong in our world according to the Elders. She’s defensive and mentally tags men as sexist, but she herself ogles and stereotypes guys herself.  Ultimately, she comes across as a stupid, hormone-driven teenage girl instead of an adult wizard in an import, respectable position.

It’s unfortunate that DJ is such an idiot lemming, because the rest of the book has so much potential that you can see the possible greatness, and almost forgive the author for making the hero someone you want to strangle; almost, but not quite.  The idea of supernatural and regular people living in two parallel realms, separated by a barrier that’s policed by wizards is a neat idea.  I like the idea of historical figures being powered by memory, and I like the the different factions of wizard magic/society.  Hurricane Katrina was handled respectfully, but even there potential was missed.

For me, the saving grace of the book was really the Louisiana setting and Hurricane Katrina.  I like that the setting mattered and was utilized, instead of being a story that could’ve been anywhere but just happened to be in New Orleans.  As I said, Hurricane Katrina was respectfully handled, and as I read those parts, I liked to think that they’d help non-locals reading the book to better understand what happened and how we felt.

In short, if you like stuff set in Louisiana and/or can tolerate nonsensical romantic elements, you may enjoy this book.  If you do not like stuff set in Louisiana and hate nonsensical romance, you may want to steer clear.

Rating: 5.5/10

SpoilerAlert

Jean Lafitte shows up at DJ’s house and attacks her.  He actually fires his gun at some point.  Later, DJ tries to insist that Lafitte wouldn’t have actually killed her, that she was more useful to him alive, or some such nonsense; to be honest, I didn’t pay much attention.  The reasoning given was dumb, and felt like an excuse by the author to make DJ’s ogling of someone that attacked her seem OK.  But it’s not.  It’s really not.  Then, if that wasn’t bad enough, after Lafitte attacks her and Alex makes it clear that she’s not very good at keeping herself alive, she sends Alex off on a wild goose chase so she can go confront Lafitte.  On his turf.  Surrounded by his men.  WTF?  At this point I was hoping someone would stab her with a sword, because she deserved it.

And Jake.  What the hell?  They don’t want to explain the whole magic/supernatural thing to him because they don’t “want to involve him,” but they sent the ghost of Louis Armstrong to live with him!  And naturally he charged into a dangerous situation, ignorant to the full danger thanks to DJ and Alex, and gotten bitten by a werewolf.  Bravo.  I hope DJ and Alex feel like asses.

Locke & Key: Volumes 1 and 2

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This series has good reviews, so I decided to give it a shot.  Considering the cover art and the fact that the first volume is called “Welcome to Lovecraft,” I should’ve known that this was a horror series, but for some reason I went in expecting something different.  I am not a horror fan, so the books were already at a disadvantage when it came to impressing me.

One of the main things that stuck with me about the books is the tone of them.  They almost feel like Tim Burton, but turning down the “pure weird” factor slightly and turning up the “violence” factor.  In some ways I feel these books were more violent than a lot of movies, because a movie keeps moving, so you don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on the moment of decapitation, for example.  In these books, if a character is shot or stabbed or whatever, you’re seeing it out the corner of your eye the whole time you’re reading the panels on the open pages.

I felt the story got off to a slow start.  I just assumed the plot would be “move to old house, play with magic keys”; I didn’t realize there’d be more to it until at least half-way through the first volume, or maybe once I started the second volume.  There is a plot/mystery, and of course it’s creepy.

Do I like it?  Meh.  It’s kinda like, I dunno, peeling the dead skin off a sunburn; gross, but oddly fascinating.  I can’t say I like the books, but the story is picking up in the second volume and I’m still reading them, so I guess that’s something.

idkfeel

Rating: 6/10

Utopia

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Utopia

I like amusement parks.  I don’t necessarily like a lot of the rides -roller coasters and other popular “thrill” rides don’t interest me – but I like some of the shows and tamer rides.  At Universal Studios, I particularly liked the new Harry Potter Diagon Alley section, in part because of how immersive it felt.  So how about a book set in Utopia, an imaginary theme-park made famous for its immersive visitor experience?

Utopia is a park with four themed sections: Boardwalk, Camelot, Victorian Gaslight, and Callisto/space station.  All visible crew members dress in theme-accurate costumes based on whatever section they’re in.  In fact, theme/historical accuracy is so important, that the park creators hired historians and specialists of all sorts; even the plants/landscaping is theme-accurate.  If Utopia was real, I would go on a pilgrimage to get there.

CatBeg

plz make it a thing

I liked and cared more about Utopia than I did about any of the characters.  So naturally, Lincoln Child used Utopia not just as a setting, but as a hostage.  The bad guys and good guys duke it out behind the scenes, the bad guys killing people by tampering with/blowing up rides and the good guys quietly trying to stop them.  All the while, the park guests are blissfully ignorant.  So now I can’t fully enjoy imagining a park like Utopia, because I remember that Lincoln Child is having tourists die there.  And the next time a theme park ride breaks while I’m on it – which has happened (Men In Black at Universal) – I can pass the time wondering if it’ll blow up.

y would u do dis to me?

y would u do dis to me?

The book was fine for what it was.  I can’t say there was anything particularly good or bad about the plot, characters, or story-telling.  The only part that really stuck out in my mind was the park itself, but that was marred by the whole burning-and-killing-tourists thing.  Is my reaction to the book logical?  Probably notunless Lincoln Child intended for readers to consider the Utopia park a character in and or itself.  But that’s ok; reactions and opinions don’t have to be logical.  I read it, it was fine, and it’s time to move on.

Rating: 6.5/10