Monday, August 29, 2016

Theft of Swords: A Brief Review

Two books in one! After reading Age of Myth, Michael J. Sullivan's most recent book, I went to the library to see what else he had written.

Theft of Swords (2011) is the first book in Sullivan's Riyria Revelations series, originally self-published as e-books The Crown Conspiracy (2007) and Avempartha (2009). I have yet to be disappointed in Sullivan's work.

Fencing and Fighting

Royce and Hadrian's escapades are full of witty comments, sword fights, and an unbreakable friendship. I was heavily reminded of Sebastien de Castell's Traitor's Blade, which I read earlier this year. While I'm entertaining the comparison, Theft of Swords is, in my opinion, a better adventure.

The Crown Conspiracy

Royce and Hadrian accept a simple job to steal a sword from a nobleman, but it turns out to be a trap and soon they are facing disembowelment for the murder of the king. The princess helps them escape on the condition that they kidnap the crown prince to keep him safe from the real killer and the political games behind the murder.

Great Character Development

It didn't take long to get caught up in the personalities of Royce and Hadrian. By dropping the reader into the middle of the thieves' career, Sullivan creates the impression that their lives continue before and after the story--a tactic I greatly appreciated in Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, and one that Sullivan carried off well.

Avempartha

The second book is about a monster terrorizing a village, and it was fun seeing the characters tackle a different kind of problem.

Sullivan is definitely an author to continue watching.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Why Adults Enjoy Anime

Wall paper available at wallpapercave.com
Referred to as adult children, Anime fans are the only nerds still treated with true disdain. Republican strategist Rick Wilson claimed that Trump's supporters were Anime fans and described them as, "not people who matter in the overall course of humanity."

However, I would like to defend the adult enjoyment of this story medium. I touched briefly on the strengths of Anime when I discussed Legend of Korra, but I'd like to expand them here.

Themes of friendship and loyalty, as well as thought-provoking
questions are typical of Anime like Sword Art Online
Themes of Friendship and Loyalty

Most Anime, from fantasy to School Anime, feature themes of friendship and loyalty.

Unlike other television dramas, Anime promotes positive group dynamics. When something occurs to threaten group unity, it is portrayed as negative and the plot tends to revolve around re-establishing harmony.

The take-away is positive. The shows emphasize the individual's importance to the group and the importance of the group to the individual. The theme's message is that relationships are important and worth fighting for (often literally). 

As a result, viewers feel better about their own relationships and more willing to work at them.

Big Picture Questions

Psycho-Pass is a dark Anime that deals with difficult questions. 
But Anime isn't always friendship and schooldays. Some shows consider darker themes about life, death, and morality. 

Once again, Anime approaches these themes differently than other mediums do. 

Whereas modern television becomes preachy when a complex theme is introduced, the emphasis in the Anime shows is proposing questions for the viewer to think critically about.

The characters struggle with the issues, occasionally coming to conclusions that contradict the viewer's own, prompting more discussion.

Characters

Anime character archetypes, courtesy of Mahou Tofo
Anime is full of archetype characters. On the surface level, these seem simple in the extreme, and the female characters often seem stereotyped negatively for fan service. 

However, the presence of archetype characters in the genre allows for the quick introduction of characters to begin the show. Less time is spent of exposition and back story at the beginning.

Instead, the characters are deepened over the course of a show. The viewer knows what to expect from a character initially and learns more about them, growing with them, as the show progresses.

This accomplishes the creation of a deep attachment to characters.

Setting

The Japanese setting of most Anime incorporates mountains, busy cities, rural villages, and the sea. The history of the feudal system provides fodder for interesting commentary on class and politics.

Setting of my favorite dystopian Anime Coppelion 
The sci-fi/fantasy genre is brought to a much more successful realization in Anime art than CGI has yet to accomplish.

Finally, Anime still exhibits a range of colors and color symbolism that has been neglected in other mediums since films were boiled down to blue and orange or made dark to look cool.

Tone

In fact, Anime doesn't care much about "looking cool"  at all. 

The shows in general do not take themselves too seriously, resulting in a range of humor types, art styles, and goofy faces within a single episode.

Conclusion

Anime is entertaining in a way that is more positive than other tv shows available in English. Anime is doing things differently, and young adults especially have been drawn to it as a result. 

Sure, there are more bouncing boobs than in American television, but the messages are more constructive.

Are you an Anime fan? Do this article line up with your own experiences? What Anime shows would you recommend to those interested in trying it out for the first time?


Note: I do not own any of the images here; they are used as examples of my arguments.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The God Killer: A Brief Review of Age of Myth

Age of Myth (2016) by Michael J. Sullivan has a great rhythm. The adventure is well paced and the characters are artfully developed.

I appreciated his disclosed writing style: he finishes the whole series before he publishes the first book. That method may not work well for other writers, but from a reader's standpoint, it is a relief to know that the story's themes are interwoven consistently through its whole.

Summary

In a moment of revenge, Raithe kills one of the Fhrey. The Fhrey are an elevated race of many tribes, considered by the Rhunes to be gods because of their long lifespan and ability to use strange powers. As a result, Raithe is named the "God Killer"--a destiny he would rather avoid--and sets off a time of rebellion.

But the Fhrey are far from gods, although they have begun to believe otherwise. One tribe in particular has set themselves apart as the most powerful, and they must crush the seeds of dissension.

Emotionally Satisfying

One review I read faulted the story for being "emotionally threadbare" since the conclusion was clichéd.

This reviewer did not elaborate, but only said that the good guys win and the bad guys lose. I have always found that satisfying, myself. In fact, as far as the fantasy genre goes, the most successful stories end that way from The Hobbit to Harry Potter. The dichotomy between good and evil is a standard thematic element of the genre.

Is that cliché or a time-proven story pattern?

I found the conclusion satisfying, not only because my expectations were adequately met, but Sullivan set up many story threads that reached for the next book. I was not left thinking that the good guys had won, but that they had begun an important fight for their principles--one that was only going to get more difficult as they continued.

A rewarding read I highly recommend!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

A New Look at Dragons: A Brief Review of the Rain Wild Chronicles

The Rain Wild Chronicles by Robin Hobb are readable and exciting. The characters are flesh and blood, if a bit numerous, and the setting is artfully tangible. However, I only enjoyed the half of the plot that had to do with the dragons as the drama surrounding the characters' relationships is tedious.

Summary

Dragons have been driven to near extinction. A final group of them hatch deformed, and the agreement between them and the human settlements is becoming strained. Their only hope is to make the long trip up the river to an unknown location where their ancestral city of Kelsingra stands.

The city council agrees to send a group of people with them to care for the dragons during the trip. Among them are Alise, a scholar running from her husband, and Thymara, a young girl who is unable to participate in her society because she is heavily "marked by the wilds" (has scales and claws).

A New Look at Dragons

The plot line following the dragons' struggle to Kelsingra is great. Hobbs kicks around some fascinating ideas like ancestral memories for both dragons and humans and possible consequences and effects they might have. For example, the dragons know that they are deformed as no other dragons have ever been and it leaves them frustrated.

The pride they have in the superiority of their race is contrasted by their belief that they are not truly dragons because they are unable to fly or hunt for themselves. Pride and the desire to be a real dragon trap Sintara, the main dragon character, who refuses to spread her wings for a long time or attempt flight out of embarrassment.

Another idea Hobbs introduced was the mutual changes that dragons and humans cause in one another. The concept of dragons changing humans, both mentally and physically is an old one, but the reverse was tantalizing and subtly done.

Conclusion

If you can slog through the various romances with dubious thematic meaning, this series is great! It is a unique depiction of dragons that I found refreshing. You definitely will need the Cast of Characters printed in the beginning of each book, though! There are too many side characters with genderless names.