Friday, October 12, 2018

FANTASY FRIDAY: The Pathfinder Universe

I've realized Friday isn't the best day for me to do these because I'm always busy all day, but I love alliteration more than I love being logical, I guess! I'll continue these installments even if I write them a bit irregularly.

On this week's Fantasy Friday, I'm discussing the Pathfinder universe. It's a fantasy role-playing game, much like Dungeons and Dragons, but I don't actually play it! I'd love to rectify that in the future. Right now, though, I don't have much free time to delve into it. And because I didn't play it, I always stayed away from that part of the sci-fi/fantasy section in the bookstore.

I was missing out! Before one of my besties moved to England, she and I would spend lots of time browsing the local B&N. The last time we went together, I stumped one of the booksellers. My friend wanted sci-fi about AI, and his first suggestion was successful. Then I asked for epic or high fantasy with prominent female characters, and he had to try four different suggestions and leave and come back in order to get me to Pathfinder. Out of the series shelf, he pulled out a few titles and explained what they were about. I walked out with three Pathfinder books that day.

The first I read was Gears of Faith by Gabrielle Harbowy. It followa Keren, a knight of Iomedae, and her girlfriend, Zae, a gnome cleric of the clockwork god. When they move to the city of Absalom, they both face challenges in adapting to their new lives while searching for a stolen bloodstone. Even though I'd never read anything in the Pathfinder universe, I never felt lost. Harbowy explained enough to keep me knowledgeable but not so much that I lost interest.

I read it in a few days because it turned out to be exactly what I wanted to read. I loved that there were two female protagonists who were very different but relied on each other for strength and comfort. It was great to see fantasy with LGBT+ representation--and in more than one way. Most of all, in this age of gritty, grimdark sprawling series, I enjoyed the chance to read a standalone fantasy that had nice, moral characters at its heart. I'm so, so tired of fantasy books that focus on characters betraying each other in the name of ambition.

So, yeah, the recommendation of Gears of Faith was a resounding success. I've started reading another book in the series, Hellknight by Liane Merciel. This one is taking me longer not because I don't like it but because I'm a slow reader who reads too many books at once. It's about Jheraal, a Hellknight, one of a brutal organization of warriors dedicated to maintaining law and order at any cost. She teams up with a knight named Ederras to stop a serial killer who targets children. Although I'm only 1/4 of the way in, I'm looking forward to reading more this weekend and, once I've finished, diving into other Pathfinder adventures.



Thursday, September 20, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Proxima Five, Missouri Vaun

★★★

I requested this book on NetGalley because I really like sci-fi and, honestly, it reminded me a bit of the premise for The 100 (which I think has wasted a lot of its potential). This was my first Vaun book, and I'd probably read more in the future.

The premise is that Leah crash-lands on a planet called Proxima B after decades in cryogenic suspension. Her ship was one of ten, and it's the planet they were aiming for. Unfortunately, none of the rest of her crew survived and Proxima B isn't quite as uninhabited as she'd expected. Keegan, a military commander, finds Leah out in the desert and rescues her by taking her back to Hadyn City, where they get caught up in political struggles as well as their growing feelings for one another.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Gnarled Hollow, Charlotte Greene

 ★★ 1/2

English professor Dr. Emily Murray recently lost her position due to university cutbacks. Depressed, she accepts a timely job offer to live in New England for the summer at a house called Gnarled Hollow, which was the home of the reclusive writer Margot Lewis, one of Emily's subjects of research. She shares the house with Jim, another English professor; Mark, an architect; June, an art historian; and Chris, a landscape historian (or something like that). But they soon realize not all is as it seems.

Unfortunately, I thought I would like this a lot more than I actually did. I'd seen good buzz and was excited for a creepy ghost story. I think my underwhelmed reaction comes down to not really connecting with the writing style and not getting a good sense of the characters. I found the writing to be relatively simple and unexciting.

Friday, September 7, 2018

FANTASY FRIDAY: Monstress by Marjorie Liu, art by Sana Takeda

In honor of volume three coming out next week (eep! I'm excited!), today's Fantasy Friday is about Monstress, a comic-book series written by Marjorie Liu and illustrated by Sana Takeda. Here's the official synopsis:
Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900's Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steam punk, MONSTRESS tells the story of a teenage girl who is struggling to survive the trauma of war, and who shares a mysterious psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, a connection that will transform them both and make them the target of both human and otherworldly powers. 
Sounds awesome, right? Because it is! Maika is one of those protagonists I can't help but love--a little bit damaged, a lot of secrets and mysteries in her past, and a hell of an attitude. She accidentally picks up two sidekicks--Kippa, a fox arcanic girl, and Master Ren, a smart-ass cat nekomancer with two tails. I tend to love misfit characters who find unexpected companionship anyway, but their dynamics as a group are delightful. Not to mention there are a ton of female characters, good and bad and everywhere in between. In fantasy, that's especially refreshing, and it's a big reason I always love revisiting this world.

Beyond the story, one of the major draws of this series is Takeda's art. It's insanely detailed and gorgeous. I can't say that enough. I lack the proper vocabulary to talk about visual art in more depth, but I think my Goodreads review of volume two sums it up well: "I want to drown in the art. Or paper my bedroom with it."

However, the series is apparently an acquired taste. Everyone I try to recommend it to comes back to me with the complaint that it's confusing. And it is. I've read the first volume multiple times, and I still have to stop and ask myself, "Wait. Who are these people? What is that again?" You've got humans and arcanics (half-human and half-ancient, a powerful race blessed by the lunar goddess) and all the different factions and viewpoints they represent. Sometimes it's difficult to keep everything straight, especially since Liu drops you into a new world without much of a guidebook.

This has been my favorite comic series for a while now, and I'm very excited to read the third volume. I have the issues and have read the first two or three in the volume, but I prefer reading it in one big chunk. If you're looking to jump into it, volume one is only $6.15 on kindle right now. It's a steal!

What other fantasy comics would you recommend?

Sunday, August 26, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart

★★★★

One of the things I love about YA fantasy is that it's easy to find female protagonists. One of the things I dislike about it is a lot of it feels repetitive (to me, not necessarily to the main YA audience). So, while I was intrigued by the synopsis for Grace and Fury, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. Turns out going in without many expectations means I was pleasantly surprised!

The story follows Nomi and Serina, a pair of sisters who live in Viridia, an Italian-inspired fantasy world where women are oppressed. Serina trains to be a Grace, a woman who could potentially be chosen by the Superior (the leader of the country) or his son, the heir, as a "companion." Nomi, on the other hand, is more of a rebel. Too bad the heir picks Nomi instead of Serina, leaving Nomi in a role she never wanted and Serina to get sent off to an island called Mount Ruin, a women's prison where they fight to the death for the "privilege" of food. (That's not a spoiler because it's right in the synopsis.)


Friday, August 24, 2018

FANTASY FRIDAY: The Outpost

Welcome to a new semi-regular series, which is basically an excuse to talk about my favorite fantasy things and hopefully invite my friends to do so, too! I feel like I've been griping and grousing a lot about being disappointed in pop culture, so I want to be positive and draw attention to a genre I love.

 First up is a new TV show airing on the CW this summer called The Outpost. I've been excited about this for a little while because it's produced by Arrowstorm Entertainment, independent filmmakers who focus on science fiction and fantasy stories. I've been a fan for a few years now, ever since I randomly picked up a movie called Mythica: A Quest for Heroes on a whim one day. And since there aren't a ton of high fantasy films being made, I keep up with what they produce.

The Outpost follows Talon (Jessica Green), who's the last remaining blackblood after her village is slaughtered when she's a child. A decade or so later, her search for the men who killed her family takes her to the outpost, where she becomes a barmaid, though the job is second priority to her quest for revenge. Along the way, aside from the baddies she's after, she meets potential friends Janzo (Anand Desai-Barochia), Captain Garrett Spears (Jake Stormoen), and Gwynn (Imogen Waterhouse).

Things get complicated when Talon meets a man she knows only as the Smith, who tries to convince her she has a special power to summon demons. Elsewhere in the outpost, a tavern mistress battles for control of a drug trade, a disease finds its way into the walls, and rebellion against the Prime Order foments. And, like in all good dramas, everyone's got secrets.

Gwynn, Janzo, and Garrett

Talon's firmly in the category of "strong female character." She's gruff and violent, and it takes a while to warm up to her. While she could be a bit nicer, a bit more endearing, it's interesting to watch where her journey takes her. I actually find Gwynn, the privileged daughter of a general, more intriguing, and I like that her relationship with Talon is complex. Janzo, who's both intelligent and kind, is my favorite character so far.

While I do think there's a lot of potential in moving away from European-medieval-inspired (and falsely white-centric) fantasy--or expanding the sandbox--I'm always down for some good sword-swinging and dark magic and lush scores. I'm reserving full judgment until the rest of the season airs because I want to see which direction the story goes in, but so far, I'm having a lot of fun and look forward to each episode. Overall, I recommend it to fantasy fans and welcome discussion about it!



Thursday, July 5, 2018

Where Are All the Mothers in Action-Adventure Stories?

I pretty much love the new Tomb Raider movie. Nowadays, my biggest criterion for whether I like a movie or not is if it entertains me, and this very much does. But it also reminded me a lot of Rogue One, and in that respect, it got me noticing a coincidence--possibly a pattern that highlights a glaring issue--in women's stories.

In Tomb Raider, one of the main focuses is Lara’s relationship with her father. Her adventures start when her long-lost father leaves her a puzzle box in his will and she decides to literally follow in his footsteps in the hopes of finding him. In Rogue One, the story’s similar. Jyn hasn’t seen her father since she was a little girl (and hasn’t seen her surrogate father-figure since she was a teenager). Part of her motivation in joining the Rebellion is to find him, and the reason she’s able to complete her mission is because of him.

In so many stories where the main character is a woman, her primary relationship, one that drives the story, is with a man--in this case, her father or father-figure. There’s nothing wrong with telling stories about a woman’s relationship with her father, of course, and I think it's good to depict good father-daughter relationships, which both of these movies do.

It just has me wondering where all the mothers are. I'd love to see Lyra being the driving mind behind the Death Star and then planting a flaw only her daughter will find. I'd love to see a woman in her fifties who's been lost on an island for seven years patching up her daughter's wounds, running through a jungle, and helping her save the world.

In conclusion, I'd love to see more stories centered on mother/daughter relationships. And by all means, please recommend some!