Thursday, June 28, 2012

Brave: The New Kid on the Pixar Block

When I first saw the teaser art and trailer for Brave I was excited.  1) It wasn’t a sequel 2) It looked beautiful and 3) It featured a female protagonist.  At our house we are all Pixar fans and we each have our favorite.  Mine is The Incredibles.  My husband, Ratatouille.  My daughter... all of them.  Pixar has set the bar high when it comes to great storytelling and beautiful, detailed animation and I think Brave fits in nicely.  I tried not to give too many details about Brave, but just in case, I will say there could be some minor spoilers here.

Brave is the story of Merida, a Scottish princess who wants to change her fate.  To keep peace amongst the four ruling clans, the eldest son from each must compete for her hand in marriage.  But Merida rebels against this notion and it creates tension amongst the clans.  Headstrong Merida does not realize what her actions could lead to and runs off, only to return with a spell that backfires on her and now she must fix this horrible mistake before the clans declare war.

When I started reading the reviews I read some comments that it's good but not as great as the rest.  I then began to think, “Isn’t that what they said about the others like, WALL-E and Up?”  I mean, there was a lot of people going ga-ga over the first few minutes of both WALL-E and Up but look at the rest of those minutes.  Who really talks much about the rest of WALL-E and Up?  It’s usually the nearly dialogue free beginning of WALL-E and Carl’s life story in Up that gets talked about.  We can all admit that those are great but we should also admit that the rest of those movies do fall a bit short in the middle and end.  But we still enjoy them and they are very unique in their own way.  So maybe Brave is not as great as the rest, but can we really say the others are the greatest of the greatest amongst the Pixar movies?  I don’t think so.  It doesn’t seem fair.  They are all still very good; each one telling a different kind of story and they each affect and speak to us differently.  So we can have our favorites but I just don’t like trying to rank them, or comparing them and I think Brave fits in nicely with the rest.  It could also just be a case of Brave is the new kid on the block and we need time to get to know this new Pixar movie, which makes sense.

Some of the other criticism I read was that this was a lot like a Disney movie which just made me think, “Oh, no!  How could it be like any of the movies we practically grew up watching and loving and still talk about?!  What a nightmare!”  But there was a bright spot I noticed: that this was a mother/daughter movie.  I read this in a couple of reviews and after that everything else just faded into the background.  A mother/daughter movie?!  When was the last time we had one of those?  So what is the first thing this movie shows us?  A mother playing hide and seek with her little girl.  I nearly lost it.  It was so sweet and hit so close to home.  I was seeing myself and my daughter up there.  And more importantly there was not a single DEAD MOTHER OR EVIL STEP MOTHER TO BE SEEN.   And the movie just grew into something more wonderful for me.

As the years go by our jobs as mothers, parents really, is to prepare our children to be responsible adults.  And sometimes our children don’t want to.  And that’s what I saw on screen.  Merida wanted to run free, to do whatever she wanted.  Her mother, Elinor, wanted her to be cautious, as all mothers do.  She also wanted her daughter to take her other lessons seriously.  But Merida's mother never said outright she couldn’t shoot a bow and arrow, or ride her horse anywhere.  She never said Merida could not have fun.  In fact, we see Merida and her mother having fun together and bonding in two flashbacks.  But Merida is a rebellious teenager and when the lines of communication break down and nobody is listening, there is trouble and that’s what happens here.  Merida wants to change her fate and she does this by getting a spell to change her mother’s mind.  And what happens?  The spell goes horribly wrong and Merida blames everyone but herself.  A typical teenager/young adult, right?  But she knows she has to fix it.  Fixing it includes listening, bonding together to work through this and ultimately admitting you made a horrible mistake.  And we get a mother and daughter meeting in the middle.  Elinor realizes that Merida needs more time and Merida knows that it’s time to take on more adult responsibility.  

I can see some of the Disney-ness when it came to a bear attack that was reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast.  We do have Merida making a deal with a witch, like The Little Mermaid.  But Ursula had a hidden agenda to get to King Tritan through Ariel.  The witch in Brave does not.  And at the end of The Little Mermaid, Ariel gets the guy, her dreams come true.  Ariel caused a lot of trouble and there were zero consequences for her.  She was rewarded.  What kind of lesson is that?  This did not happen in Brave.  We have resolution but in the end Merida doesn't exactly get what she wanted in the beginning.  She will get more time to mature but she realizes she has to grow up still.  She will have to be an adult whether she likes it or not but she can still be herself and make her own choices.

I can go on about how beautiful the animation is, the voice acting is wonderful, there are fun, colorful characters and great comedy.  But I think we’re at a point where that is what we expect from Pixar and they do not fall short there so I really don’t need to say much more.  I will say please check out this movie.  If you enjoyed movies with talking fish or talking toys, two robots falling in love or an older, retired gentleman flying off for adventure in a house lifted by thousands of balloons, you will enjoy Brave too.  It definitely makes a nice addition to the Pixar family.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Legend of Korra: Season Finale

This is it, the Season 1 finale of The Legend of Korra.  Over the weekend Venessa I watched all ten episodes leading up to the one hour finale that consisted of Skeletons in the Closet and Endgame.  This has been a fantastic series.  Re-watching all the previous episodes has show what a carefully crafted piece of storytelling the Legend of Korra is and it has been a joy to experience.  In Episode 11, Skeletons in the Closet, we learn the truth that Amon has so carefully hidden and we get our Endgame in Episode 12.  Spoilers from here on out...

Republic City is now under the control of Amon and the Equalists.  Korra is hiding underground with Asami, Bolin and Mako.  Korra and Mako have been scouting the city disguised as chi blockers and getting a bit cozy.

Amon is using Air Temple Island as his headquarters where he’s been systematically stripping the Republic City police force and the White Lotus guards of their bending.  The United Forces soon arrive under General Iroh’s command but they are not met with any resistance.  That is until they are hit by underwater mines and are then attacked from the skies!

The United Forces have never faced a threat like this before and it doesn’t take long for the Equalists to destroy the battleships.  Korra does what she can but the Equalist’s air power is too much to withstand.  General Iroh is knocked into the water by a torpedo blast.  Fortunately Korra is there to pull him back up and takes him back to the underground tunnels New Team Avatar have been hiding out in.

The fleet is lost but General Iroh informs them that a second wave of reinforcements are on the way.  With Gommu’s help a message is sent to Commander Bumi (Tenzin’s brother) about this new air threat and to wait for Iroh’s signal before approaching the city.  They plan to take out the Equalist's air fleet but Korra decides to stay in the city.  She’s tired of hiding and plans to face Amon.  Mako volunteers to stay with her.  General Iroh doesn’t like the idea but gives in, saying his grandfather would respect the Avatar’s instinct and so will he.  Sending Naga along to watch out for Bolin, Asami and General Iroh, Korra and Mako then make their way back to Air Temple Island.  Their plan is to ambush Amon, so Korra leads Mako through a secret way into the temple.  Inside an attic they are shocked to find an imprisoned Tarrlock.  And it is Tarrlock’s story that gives us this episodes title, Skeletons in the Closet.  Tarrlock reveals he is Amon’s brother!  And that’s not all.  Not only are Tarrlock and Amon brothers, but Amon is a waterbender and a bloodbender!  Doh, there goes your revolution Amon!  So it was already revealed that Yakone, the gangster from Korra’s flashbacks who gets his bending taken away by Avatar Aang, is Tarrlock’s father, making him Amon’s as well.  Yakone fled Republic City afterwards with a new face and identity and settled down in the Northern Water Tribe, got married and had two sons: Noatak (who we know as Amon) and Tarrlock.  They led a happy life until Noatak and Tarrlock discovered they were waterbenders and Yakone’s true nature began to show through once again as he began training his sons.

One day Yakone revealed who he really was and how his bending had been taken away by the Avatar.  He wanted his sons to avenge him, to take back Republic City and destroy the Avatar.  Once the boys mastered waterbending, they began to learn how to bloodbend, first starting out on animals, then forced to bloodbend each other.  The event created a rift in the family with Noatak running away, not to be seen again until recently when brothers once again faced each other.  After Tarrlock finishes his story, Korra realizes that Amon uses his bloodbending to take a bender's power away.  Knowing this she can’t think how he can be beat without him bloodbending them.  But she does come up with a plan.  With the information they now have on Amon being a bender, they will undermine his revolution by revealing the truth... 

We continue with Asami, Bolin and Iroh on their way to the secret air field.  There they plan to tear up the runways to prevent the planes from taking off.  As they approach, Asami wonders why there are fence posts with no fence but they soon discover why.

Meanwhile, back in Republic City, Korra and Mako are disguised as chi blockers once again to infiltrate Amon’s rally.  Korra reveals her presence as well as the truth about Amon in front of the thousands who have gathered.  But Amon continues with his charade, even revealing his face, “scar” and all.

Since Korra’s plan didn’t work the way she had planned, she and Mako prepare to leave.  But Amon reveals another card up his sleeve...

Back at the hidden air field, Asami, Bolin and Iroh wake up, tied up and behind bars.  Hiroshi Sato, Asami’s father, approaches them and tries to convince Asami to see things his way.  She refuses and Hiroshi doesn’t like that at all.  He then reveals he intercepted Iroh’s message to Commander Bumi and knows where they are in order to annihilate the reinforcements.  But with a little help from Naga (and Pabu) they are able to escape.

Asami takes a seat inside a mecca tank and Iroh goes after the planes.

Back in Republic City, Amon threatens to rid the world of airbending.  Korra tells him to let the airbenders go.  Amon says come and get them and they do.

They clear the stage of Equalists and release Tenzin and the kids.  Backstage they separate, Tenzin and the kids go to get Pema and the baby, while Korra and Mako try to distract Amon.  But Korra and Mako are not able to hide from Amon for long.  He captures them with bloodbending and as Mako watches unable to do anything, Amon then takes away Korra’s bending!

Meanwhile, Iroh is hot on the trail of the air fleet.  He’s able to bring down all the planes before they can even leave Republic City.  Back at the air field, Bolin tears up the runways while mecca tanks try to stop him until Naga comes in to stop them.  Asami destroys the planes that are left in a hanger and is confronted by her father who is also in a mecca tank.  They fight and Asami is down but Bolin comes in on Naga to back her up.  The distraction is enough for Asami to get back up and teach her father a lesson.  In Republic City, Korra is weakened and Mako is still under Amon’s bloodbending control when Amon’s lieutenant (Mustache Guy) faces him after witnessing Amon bloodbending.  Amon attacks his lieutenant then goes for Mako, intent on taking his bending away.  But Mako is able to fight through the bloodbending and hits Amon with lightning.

Mako picks up Korra and tries to escape but he’s not able to get far.  Amon stops him with another bloodbending attack.  Amon tosses Mako around like a rag doll then comes in again to take away his bending.  Korra gets up to try and stop him and manages to airbend!

Amon tries to stop her with bloodbending but she fights through it and blows him out of a window into the bay.  Seeing Amon tossed out the window and apparently drowning, his supporters turn against Korra, until Amon waterbends himself back up, scar-less, in front of everyone who now see that Korra was telling the truth about him earlier.

His true identity revealed, Amon has no choice but to run and manages to get away.  He then goes back for his brother Tarrlock.  Everything is lost but they still have each other.  Awwww…

Everyone is reunited on Air Temple Island and we get a quick glimpse of Bumi as he sails in with his fleet and Tenzin does not seem all that pleased that he will have to deal with his brother now.  Amon, or rather, Noatak and Tarrlock are speeding away on a boat where Noatak entertains delusions of reconnecting with his brother as Tarrlock looks on not entirely convinced by Noatak’s plans.  Tarrlock then takes one of the Equalist’s gloves and holds it over the gas tank and…

We return to the Avatar training facility where Katara has tried to restore Korra’s bending but has not been able to.  Korra, feeling lost without the rest of her bending leaves so she can be by herself.  But Mako follows and confesses his true feelings for Korra, that he loves her.  But Korra does not want to deal with it and runs off.  On her own looking out at the ocean, Korra starts to cry when she is approached by who she thinks is Tenzin but turns out to be Aang!

Aang reveals to Korra that she has connected with her spiritual self, that it was after hitting her lowest point that she is open to the greatest change.  And then we get to see what we have all been waiting for… Korra in the Avatar State!

And Korra goes on to bend all the elements, in front of an astonished Mako.  She jumps into his arms and tells him she loves him too.

But let’s move on to something more important than Korra’s love life; Korra restoring Lin’s bending!

And they all live happily ever after… until Season 2!

So many revelations and twists and turns I hardly know where to begin.  We definitely got our resolution: We found out who Amon is and what turned him into this Equalist tyrant.  We got Korra learning to airbend.  Mako finally make up his mind.  Lin’s bending has been restored.  And of course, Korra connecting with her spiritual side and achieving the Avatar State.

I’m happy, what about you?  Pretty much everything I guessed was wrong but that’s fine.  Amon was using his bloodbending to block bender’s powers, not a chi block.  I did guess that Amon and Tarrlock might be related but I didn't want to commit to how and Tarrlock had no idea who Amon was until after his bending was taken away so it doesn't count, considering they each had their own agendas.  I had hoped Korra would reach the Avatar State before Amon had taken her bending but I’m really liking the way this happened.  It gives Korra her own journey, it’s not a repeat of Aang’s.  They are two very different Avatars caught up in very different circumstances and I enjoyed watching their stories and the way they each handled these trials.  I also love learning about these new layers involved with the Avatar State.

Korra is great.  She's strong and smart.  She relies a lot on her muscle and bending but she's shown she is clever too.  She's made mistakes but she's learned from them.  She can lead and stand up for herself and her decisions but she will also listen to what others have to say.  She will be a great Avatar and she's a character I don't mind my daughter looking up to.

I'm glad Asami didn't turn on her friends and there was a mature resolution between her and Mako that was handled well.  I'm not fully on board the Mako and Korra train but we'll see what happens with these two in Season 2.  At least Mako wasn't as annoying and had some great moments in this finale.

Now for our villains: Amon and Tarrlock.  Two sides of the same coin, twisted and tormented by their father, Yakone to try and take back Republic City in very different, yet very wrong, ways.  Of course, the Big Bad was Amon but I liked Tarrlock for that extra element of suspense and drama he added to the mix.  I also like him as the man who had nothing left to lose and decided to help Korra and in the end rid the world of a very dangerous bloodbender.  That had to be a tough decision, to kill yourself and the brother you thought lost.

I really liked Amon as the villain.  He had crazy ideas but he seemed so cool, calm and collected, always one step ahead of our heroes, yet completely mentally unstable.  I love that the only way to defeat him was not just with physical power but mental, to turn his followers against him; his own power of words turned against him.  He would have struck again if Tarrlock hadn't done anything.

Let’s talk about Korra’s bending being taken away but she’s able to airbend.  Was is simply that it unlocked her airbending or rather it was there all the time but she was too reliant on her other bending that once those were out of the way she could airbend?  Then it could be asked, but why wasn’t that blocked like the others?  I have a feeling Amon wouldn’t be able too.  He’s never encountered airbenders before.  There are plenty of fire, water and earth benders to practice on so he may not have been able to remove Tenzin and his children’s bending. 

The whole sequence of the air attack on the United Forces felt so much like the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  This was so scary to watch!  Then again with Iroh taking out all those planes before they could attack Bumi’s fleet.  Those were definitely pulse pounding moments.  Someone watched a lot of war movies.  And I have the sudden urge to watch Wings now (no, not the TV show but the very first Academy Award winning movie).

Bumi looks like a wild one!  I hope we get to see a lot more of him (and General Iroh) in Season 2.

Memorable Moments:

Korra redirecting the torpedo

This shot as General Iroh goes after the planes on his own

The past Avatars

Lin earthbending!

Growing up I didn't watch shows like this.  The closest I can think of was The Secret of NIMH; something dark and intense.  I am very glad smart, mature animated shows are being created for both kids and adults to enjoy without feeling like we're being talked down to but still giving us a good laugh.  I am going to miss having a regular show to watch with Venessa as we wait for Season 2.  We looked forward to each new episode and had a great time flipping out together.  I am so very impressed with this show and look forward to new adventures with Korra.  

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Once Upon A Time There Was A Reading Challenge...

Spring is over and summer has officially begun and that means it’s the end of the Once Upon A Time Reading Challenge.  I had a wonderful time with the books I read and I enjoyed seeing what others were reading.  I discovered some new books that have been added to my TBR pile and I was able to talk about the books I love.  I want to thank Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings for hosting such a great event.  I’m already looking forward to next year.  And even though the Once Upon A Time Challenge is over, I still have the Summer In Discworld going strong, so all is not lost.  Below is a list of books, an animated series and the one movie I enjoyed during this challenge:

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

The Thief of Bagdad starring Douglas Fairbanks 

The Gammage Cup by Carol Kendall

The Whisper of Glocken by Carol Kendall

The Firelings by Carol Kendall

Avatar The Last Airbender - The Promise Part 1 Graphic Novel

Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (Group Read)

Guards! Guards! By Terry Pratchett

The Legend of Korra Animated Series (Spoilers if you have not been keeping up)

I didn’t embark much into fairly tales, mythology or folklore so maybe next year.  I committed to Quest the First, which was to read 5 books in each of the categories.  I think I met my goal and then some.

Overall I had a great time and a big thank you to everyone who stopped by for a visit and a chat.  I also found some new blogs to visit and I look forward to seeing what they are reading so we can chat some more.  I recommend taking a look at the review site here.  If you’re looking for a good book to read, I’m sure you’ll find it there.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Legend of Korra Episode 10: Turning The Tides

With each episode I always make sure I sit and watch with Venessa to experience each one for the first time.  It also provides an arm for me to grab and let me tell you, it’s happened quite a bit.  There’s also a lot of couch jumping.  By Venessa, obviously, not me, duh.  So it’s been like this for the last 3-4 episodes or so: a lot of arm grabbing, shoulder shaking, jumping up and down, laughing and squealing in fright.  Yesterday, there were some tears to add to the mix.  You know that whole scene in Spinal Tap, about the amp going to 11?  This episode was an 11 and then some; upping the ante and the intensity factor at least 100 times more than the whole series so far in my opinion.  I fear for the finale, I don’t think my heart can take it.  And I feared writing the recap that follows because I didn’t know if I wanted to relive what happened all over again.  But, I will...


The episode begins with Korra getting some much needed rest.  Then after a good home cooked meal, Korra tells everyone what happened to her, Tarrlock’s true identity and about Amon showing up to take away Tarrlock’s bending.  A council member attacked my Amon worries Tenzin and Asami confronts Mako about the kiss between him and Korra.  Before Tenzin heads to Republic City, he asks Lin to look after her family.  Pema is only too happy to take advantage of Lin’s generosity.

When Tenzin arrives in Republic City, he is too late.  The Equalists have attacked the other council members and Tenzin manages to escape when they come for him.  That’s when all hell breaks loose as strategic blasts go off throughout the city.  Republic City is under attack and the New Team Avatar rush to help.  We find out Korra can’t drive and Mako has been banished to the backseat.  Tenzin arrives at police headquarters but it’s not long before it comes under attack.  As Tenzin tries to lead those that are left to safety they find themselves surrounded.

New Team Avatar arrive just in time to save Tenzin, who for the second time, was almost captured by Equalists.  But their work is not done yet when they look out across the bay and see Equalist airships heading for Air Temple Island.  Of course, unborn children always choose the worst time to be born so Pema goes into labor as the airships are coming for them.  Lin stands her ground to protect Pema and the children, but is soon overwhelmed.  When it looks like this is it for Lin, who should come to her rescue but Jinora, Ikki and Meelo!  They are able to hold off the first attack in time for Tenzin and New Team Avatar to arrive.  Tenzin and the children meet their new brother but there’s no time to enjoy the happy moment.  More airships are on the way.  They decide to split up, to regroup and return to fight another time.  The members of the White Lotus hold off the Equalists while Lin, Tenzin and his family leave on Oogi.  Korra, Asami, Bolin and Mako leave on Naga.  But the airships are hot on the trail of Oogi.

Lin turns to Tenzin and his family, tells them “Whatever happens to me, don’t turn back”, then makes the jump to the closest airship.

Lin manages to take out one of the ships.  As she starts on the second, she is captured.  The second airship breaks off its pursuit of Tenzin’s family but Lin is brought before Amon and her bending is taken away!

Republic City has fallen, the police force has been captured by Equalists, but General Iroh and the United Forces are on the way.  But is it too late?

Let’s start with the hard part first, like ripping off a band aid quickly; Lin Beifong losing her bending.  This was so heartbreaking.  I don’t know which was worse: hearing her tell the others not to look back for her, leaving us to think we wouldn’t see her alive again, or her bravely facing Amon as he took her bending.  Not even a tear from her.  But not a dry eye amongst most of us fans I’m sure.  She has nerves of steel and was not about to let the last airbenders fall into Amon's hands or betray Korra.  Toph would be so proud.  Meelo said it for all of us: That lady is my hero.  Ugh, I’m about to cry writing this.

Okay, next up: General Iroh.  It’s obvious this young man is related to Zuko from the original series (voice actor is the same too).  I’ve only heard through the internet grape vine that Zuko has a daughter.  Since Zuko was the oldest out of the Gaang, I’m going to say this is likely his grandson and Zuko would be old enough to have a grandson as young-ish as General Iroh seems to be.

And grr, I knew Tenzin would get himself into trouble heading back to Republic City.  Thank goodness Asami’s father had her take those self defense classes.  She single handedly took down five Equalists to save him.  And once again Mako is annoying but it was about time we finally see someone redirect the electric charges that has been used against the benders.  I’ll just move on and complain that there wasn’t enough for Bolin to do and I’m not counting him worrying about parking tickets then pointing out mustache guy.  This episode was also a bit Korra-lite too but she did a lot in the last one so I’ll let it pass.  But at least we got to see the airbender kids show off!

I've already said it, that Amon is using a really good chi block to take away someone's bending, or rather, to give the impression it's been taken away.  I think Tenzin made it very clear a few episodes ago, that only an Avatar can take away someone's bending permanently and that's that.  So what's Amon plan?  To attempt to "take away" Korra's bending in order to trigger the Avatar State, then he'll go in for the kill because it's only when you kill an Avatar in the Avatar State that you can stop the cycle, otherwise a new Avatar will be born.  It's never been discussed what happens if the Avatar ceases, other than there will never be another.  What if that also rids the world of bending as well?  Which is ultimately Amon's plan.  So anyways, that's what I think...

Memorable Moments:

The set up to the Equalists attack on the council members with them posing as "innocent" exterminators and window washers

Seeing Republic City under attack from Air Temple Island

You can feel Tenzin’s helplessness as he looks on unable to stop these events on his own

Preparing to attack Air Temple Island

Jinora, Ikki and Meelo coming in to help Lin

Naga gets a hero moment

The hope that help is on the way

I really don’t know what else to say.  I love this series.  This episode was just packed with action, there was no room to breathe... it was fantastic!  It looks like we’re possibly heading into an Empire Strikes Back ending and yes, this one was pretty close but this was just Han Solo being encased in carbonite.  We haven’t even gotten to the Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father revelation yet!  (Side note: Oh my god, Google Docs actually had Vader in its dictionary!)  I’m just happy I can enjoy such a wonderful, well thought out show and to be able to share the experience with my daughter.  RIP Lin’s bending (for now, because darn it I won't believe it's permanent!) and whether I’m prepared for it or not, on to the finale!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

Captain Sam Vimes of the Night Watch is a drunk.  There is a dragon loose in his city.  Why is there a dragon?  They’ve been extinct for ages.  But some overly ambitious Elucidated Brethren have summoned it and it’s wrecking havoc on poor Ankh-Morpork and Sam will not have it!  So that means Sam is going to have to sober up, his men will have to find their courage to stop it.  And with luck - quite a bit of luck, actually - perhaps they can manage to not get killed along the way.

Back when I read Snuff I became a fan of Sam Vimes.  I met him at a point in his life where he’d already achieved so much, he is a husband, a father and Commander of the City Watch, having gained a few more titles along the way.  I’d always wanted to see what he was like before that and I got my opportunity to do so in Guards! Guards!  This Sam is so very different yet he is the Sam I met in Snuff.  In Guards! Guards! we meet Sam for the first time, drunk and mumbling to himself in the gutters.  He is just a captain of the Night Watch, with only two men under his command.  Not much is expected of them and they actually prefer it that way.  But Sam will not stand by to let a dragon destroy his city.  When he came to his senses and knew he would have to do something about it I couldn't help but feel proud of him; that was the Sam I got to know in Snuff.

I also got to meet Lady Sybil Ramkin, Sam’s future wife (I am not considering this a spoiler since I already wrote about her in my Snuff review), an eccentric heiress who is an expert on swamp dragons, the very small brethren of the very large dragon causing chaos.  She also plays a big part helping Sam and the Night Watch towards a future or being more than just mall security.  It’s also nice to see the beginnings of their romance.  They’re so cute!

The Patrician is back too and this book just made me like that guy even more.  I also got to meet some new people: Colon, Nobby, Carrot, the Librarian and Errol, the swamp dragon.  I’m not sure if Errol makes much of an appearance in other books but I had to talk about him because he plays an important part in the fight against the dragon menace.  We learn from Lady Sybil that swamp dragons will often re-work their plumbing, sometimes with messy results, but Errol manages a way to re-work his plumbing that made me do a double take before realizing that what I read was what I read.  It’s so delightfully hilarious and silly (and gross).  Colon and Nobby are the grizzled veterans; grizzled veterans in the way that they know where all the good watering holes are at.  The Night Watch takes on Carrot, a human raised by Dwarves (visions of Elf can not be helped with this scenario).  Carrot is very naive and the conversations he has with Colon and Nobby are great when they try to explain how the non-Dwarf world really works.  And there’s the Librarian, a wizard-turned-orangutan after a spell gone awry, who does not concern himself much with the goings on of humans but when someone dares steals a book from his library he is dead set to find it, even if he must communicate by charades.

A great cast of quirky, unique characters... check!  Excellent and witty dialogue... check!  A laugh out loud storyline... and check!  I’m sensing a pattern with these books and I’m liking it.  So far, the 3 out of 3 I’ve read have been fantastic.  I have not been disappointed and once again I’m looking forward to more!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Railsea by China Miéville

I’ve been blogging for almost a year now.  As a blogger, I visit a lot of other blogs and I’ve been seeing China Miéville’s name mentioned here and there on the ones I visit but I’d never read anything that he’d written yet.  I knew I would have to at some point.  Then I happened upon Railsea, his latest, on Netgalley and thought why not jump in with his new young adult novel.  I’m so very glad I did!

Railsea is the story of the blood stained boy, Shamus Yes ap Soorap.  Sham witnesses his first moldywarpe hunt.  It’s thrilling, exciting and exhausting.  The captain of the moldywarpe train, the Medes, however, is after a much bigger prize than the moldywarpes they usually hunt.  It’s her philosophy; the giant, tan colored moldywarpe that took her arm long ago.  As Sham spends more time on the railsea, he believes there has to be more than just being a doctor’s assistant and hunting moldywarpes.  A chance encounter with a wrecked train and a discovery of mysterious images pointing to a way out of the railsea, Sham finds his own philosophy.  But as he investigates further he soon finds himself hunted by pirates, scavengers and the local navy.  They all want to know what Sham does about these mysteries images.  It could lead to treasure, riches or it could change the world that they know.

The first part sets up life on the railsea, what it’s like for Sham on his first moldywarpe hunt.  You get a real sense of what life is like on the rails; the sights, the smells and the danger.  It’s such an unusual dystopian, fantasy adventure.  Sham lives in a world ruled by the rails.  It’s just endless railroad tracks that zig zag everywhere, where the ground underneath the rails are filled with mutated rodents of unusual size.  Then we get to the discovery of the mysterious images which his captain tells him to ignore but he doesn’t.  This leads to Sham poking his nose where it doesn’t belong and which eventually sets off a series of events that turn the end into a full blown action adventure.  And there’s the secret revelation which has an ending that reminded me of The Planet of the Apes movie.  Not as epic, but it’s surprising and very interesting.

I really liked the style of the storytelling.  It reminded me of when I read Snow Crash. We’re in this new world and we’re not given a checklist of how this world works.  Details are revealed a little at a time, whether in the course of travelling the railsea or small teasers that occur between chapters.  It feels like if I were to ask for a timeline of events that led to this railsea future, China Miéville would provide me with one that was very detailed with names and dates; that’s how real the world building felt to me.  This is something I didn’t get with the other dystopian fictions I’ve read; that feeling that this could really be our future.

Sham is a very believable character.  He is not perfect and he makes realistic mistakes.  He's a typical teenager who ignores good advice, who wants to explore, who wants something bigger and better but when he gets it, it’s not what he thought it would be.  I found it very easy to connect with him and understood his curiosity and admire him for being so determined.

I really enjoyed Railsea and recommend it highly.  It’s one of those books I’d love to have on my shelf because I know I’ll be visiting Sham and the railsea again.