Monday, January 22, 2018

Monday Musings: Review Roundup

I've been reading a lot of graphic novels/comic books so far this year; in fact, 7 of the 9 books I've finished this year have been graphic novels. In an effort to put more reviews on the blog, I'm going to give my brief thoughts on each of those books in this post.

Hellboy Volume 1: Seed of Destruction


I'm a fan of the live action Hellboy films, especially the second one, and I've been meaning to read through at least some of the comics that inspired them for some time. The first volume is part of the basis for the first film, and the connections helped me feel more at home in this world of fantasy and horror. I wasn't expecting a certain character's involvement to be so brief, and I hope they'll be back for more later. I wasn't put off to the point of never picking up the series again, but I admit to thinking the story barely gets going in the four issues collected here; it's pretty much over before it begins. I recommend this if you enjoyed either of the Hellboy films (especially the first) or are a fan of modern age superheroes or horror.

The Sandman Vol 10: The Wake

Picking up in the aftermath of the previous volume, The Kindly Ones, The Wake is like an extended epilogue or denouement to Gaiman's epic series. It ties up many (but not nearly all) of the threads left hanging over the previous 60- or 70-something issues, including a touching issue devoted to the resolution of Hob Gadling's story (for now). I found myself wanting more answers, more revelations, and much more of Dream's figuring out how to do its job anew, but for the most part the satisfying climax of The Kindly Ones is carried into resolution here. Obviously, don't read this unless you've gone through the rest of the series, which is at times graphic and shocking (though entertaining and thoughtful nonetheless).

The Dresden Files: Down Town

Set between the ninth and tenth Dresden novels, Down Town sets Harry with a sorcerer to catch in the streets of Chicago (not to mention under them). With pleasing visuals and a firm grasp of the characters, this is a fun side story that includes some of my favorite (and least-favorite-but-in-a-good-way) characters from the Dresden Files. Recommended if you have read through White Night and want something to tide you over till the next book arrives.

The Dresden Files: Ghoul Goblin

Set a few months after Fool Moon (the second Dresden novel), Ghoul Goblin sends Harry to the backwoods of Missouri to solve a case that's been mounting for decades. A family is being murdered supernaturally in birth order, but the local sheriff won't buy the idea that there's more to these deaths than freak accidents (or possibly a mundane serial killer). While the story adds some interesting elements to the Dresdenverse (the naga and the jinn), the art style is far different from that in Down Town, War Cry, and Wild Card, which I read first, and the difference in art style took me a while to adjust to. I still prefer the later art style. The story here is a bit weaker than in some of the Dresden graphic novels, but the bonus material in the back includes Butcher's original premise and summary, offering a slightly different resolution and some insight into how these stories evolve from conception to publication.

The Dresden Files: War Cry

My favorite of the Dresden comics so far, War Cry takes place during the war between the White Council of the wizards and the Red Court of vampires. Harry, along with some younger Wardens (the White Council's police force), is sent to the countryside to extract a group of scholars who've been targeted by the vampires. It features a fan favorite character, Carlos Ramirez, and some connections to the Dresdenverse's larger mythology that are satisfying for dedicated readers who are waiting for Butcher's long game to come to fruition at the end of the series. It ALSO contains a MAJOR SPOILER for book eleven, Turn Coat, in its final panels. Recommended if you enjoy the Dresden series and want to see a story with Harry backed into a corner and fighting his way out with his usual insane luck. (This also has one of my favorite Harry and Thomas moments from the series.)

The Dresden Files: Wild Card

A wilder, but somewhat weaker, entry in the Dresden comics, Wild Card introduces an insane killer to the streets of Chicago, while offering some insight in the Murphy's past. The ending feels a bit weak considering the general strength of Dresden climaxes, but the overall effect of the story is still an enjoyable one. (And the ending does fit thematically.)

The Dresden Files: Welcome to the Jungle

The first Dresden comic to appear, Welcome to the Jungle was apparently inspired by a throwaway line from the ill-fated TV adaptation (wherein Murphy refers to "that mess at the zoo"). It's a peek into Harry's life before Storm Front, and features some typical early Harry moments with damsels in distress and Murphy not quite trusting him 100%. Definitely read if you enjoy Dresden.

That's all for today. What have you been reading lately? Let me know in the comments.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

ThrowBook Thursday: To Green Angel Tower

Well, I finally finished it; the Osten Ard reread is complete. To Green Angel Tower only took me 5 months (which is longer than reading the two paperback volumes took me in high school; but then again, that was high school -- an age when reading time was far more abundant).

(By the way, TGAT -- book 3 of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn -- is actually longer in word count than the entirety of The Lord of the Rings, so don't let's have any of that nonsense about Tolkien being longwinded, yeah?)

And yes, there are SPOILERS ahead because I need to rant and rave about things. You have been warned.

Cover art by Michael Whelan

To Green Angel Tower picks up in the weeks following the climax of Stone of Farewell. Josua's rebel forces are largely sequestered on the stronghold of Sesu'adra. Pryrates' and Elias' plans seem to cement more each day. Miriamele and her companions are still trying to reach Josua, with an addled Sir Camaris in tow. Things are not yet at their bleakest, but the struggle to stop the Storm King's plans for world domination has to take the back seat to defeating Elias' armies which have come to put an end to the rebellion once and for all.


While this is one of the longest books in the English language, there isn't as much "fluff" as you might expect. (There is a bit of a stretch in the middle that feels a little too long for what's accomplished, but that's something I don't remember thinking my first time through more than a decade ago and that feeling could easily have been sparked by the fact I kept having to put this book down for library books, prolonging my time in the middle section; in truth, I tended to want to read as much at a time as I could once I was firmly back in the world of Osten Ard.) Williams tends to be a pretty tight plotter when it comes to Osten Ard (his Otherland books, on the other hand, feel a little too slow and padded for my tastes). One plotline in particular shone on this reread: Simon and Miriamele's romance.

The seeds of this story were planted back in the first book, The Dragonbone Chair, when Simon realizes who Miriamele really is and, in typical Simon fashion, daydreams that he can be devoted to her as a knight and thinks her emotional distance is her way of saying she's too good for him. Miri, on the other hand, can't decide whether she feels anything more than friendship for Simon and has a few other more important things to think about such as how to stop her father from destroying the world and how to be useful to the rebel cause. With the two of them apart for most of Stone of Farewell and the beginning of To Green Angel Tower, their romance is a plot which in less capable hands could be cliche or at least unbelievable. Each of them feels confused not only about the other's feelings, but their own, and Miriamele spends a large portion of the book grappling with her feelings of self-worth after her relationship with the domineering Aspitis in the last book. The scenes in the first half of the book in particular are a prime example of how romance can excel on the page. Their interactions are awkward and clumsy, but only enough to convey realism. It is obvious that they care for one another and don't know how to express those feelings (or don't feel that there can be anything lasting beyond those feelings). While the culmination of this plotline (their professions of love after the victory is won) feels a mite saccharine, it still feels satisfying because of the journey each has been through to reach the point of accepting the other's love.

Subverting Prophecy

One of the main reasons I have savored this series over the years (despite not rereading it until now) is its clever use of an old fantasy staple, prophecy, to twist readers' expectations. Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series does this in a different fashion, by creating prophecies in abundance that may or may not contradict each other and may or may not come to fruition. Williams uses a singular prophecy, a rhyme from a mad monk's lost book, to drive the story forward: the hopes of Josua's rebellion lie in three fabled Swords: Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. The rescue of Thorn forms the final third of The Dragonbone Chair and Sorrow is in the hands of Elias in that book as well. It is not until the mountain-dwelling Hernystiri learn from the beings who made the Swords (a race related to but separate from the elf-like Sithi and their icy cousins the Norns) that the third Sword was renamed Bright-Nail that the heroes realize the third sword was buried in book one with the last king, Prester John, in the shadow of Elias' castle. After Josua's forces defeat the army Elias sent to crush them (resulting in one of many satisfying villain deaths and one of several tear-jerking heroic deaths), Miriamele and Simon set out to retrieve the Sword and stop Elias.

The problem, of course, is that the Swords are not the bane of the Storm King; they are the key which will allow him passage back into life. This realization in the final fourth of the novel was staggering to me the first time I read it. A prophecy that had been used by the enemy to deceive the heroes? What madness was this? And yet it works so well within the story. Even knowing this twist during this reread, I felt Simon, Miriamele, Binabik, and the rest reel beneath the knowledge that they had done precisely what the enemy intended all along.

Death Abounds

It's hardly avoidable in a climactic novel, especially in a series that has held few punches previously. What with Morgenes' death in the first book (and subsequent lack of resurrection a la Gandalf), Jarnauga's and Amerasu's deaths in the second, and various other characters along the way, Williams lets us know his world is one in which death is not held back for everyone just because they're central to the story.

Enter my two most grieved deaths of this series (after Morgenes and Amerasu): Deornoth and GeloĆ«. The latter I remembered because of the fallout (Leleth fades into death because GeloĆ« can't call her back to life, Jeremias is left without his love when Leleth dies [something that I remember strongly from my first reading but which seems very understated this time around], and the heroes are left without any of the old Scroll Bearers in their ranks]). The former death, Sir Deornoth's, I had scrubbed from my memory, probably because I hated it so much. Though I didn't mention it in my review of Stone of Farewell here on the blog, in my comments on Goodreads I mentioned needing a scene of Deornoth reading to Father Strangyeard. They discuss such a happy future happening after Elias' defeat, and while the scene is tender and hopeful, there is something tense in it that suggests such a thing will never come to pass.

And it doesn't.

And I hate it.

Which just demonstrates Williams' ability to make me care for his characters.

Speaking of which, there's one more death to address that has stuck with me all these years.

Let's talk about Cadrach. A disgraced monk (of indeterminate order) and former Scroll Bearer, Cadrach is easily one of the most complex side characters in the series. Tormented by Pryrates into turning traitor on the League of the Scroll, Cadrach spends most of his time in the story either trying to charm money out of his companions or keep them as far away from Pryrates as possible. He's often cowardly and depressed, but he's still one of my favorites. Why? Because of how his story ends (assuming Williams doesn't resurrect him in the sequel). In the final chapters, Cadrach has reached his nadir; he has betrayed his oldest friends and allies and, what's worse, kept back crucial information from the heroes. There is, in his mind, no hope for victory over the Storm King. But because of Miriamele's former kindness toward him, Cadrach continues to follow and help when he is reunited with her in the tunnels beneath her father's castle. They face Pryrates in their attempt to stop the Storm King's plans, and Cadrach cannot stand before the man who broke him years before.

Miriamele leaves Cadrach below as she ascends Green Angel Tower to confront her father. And after the Storm King is defeated and the tower begins to collapse, Cadrach is waiting on the stairs to provide them with passage across the gap of missing stairs. He uses the last of his strength in the Art (what passes for magic in Osten Ard) to provide Miriamele and her companions a way to safety, but he cannot cross the gap himself. Though he had no hope and felt himself the weakest and worst of men, he found a way to be more than Pryrates' pawn in the end. Reading this series with Cadrach's ending in mind made it that much more rewarding because despite his self-loathing and hopelessness, in the end he finds hope and value. And that is something worth celebrating.

Villains, Redeemed and Otherwise

Williams does a fine job writing the endings for his villains in this book. Fengbald, who burned down his own lands and killed those under his protection because they could not pay the taxes he demanded, is sent to an icy grave by the survivors of that rampage. Inch, responsible for Pryrates learning of Morgenes' involvement in Josua's escape in book one, is crushed by his own machinery in the forges beneath the castle. Nessalanta and Benigaris, who betrayed her husband and his father Leobardis, find their ends in suicide and a duel with Camaris, respectively. Pryrates (after a false death at Miriamele's hand -- and how could we fall for that after Rachel's failed attempt in the last book?) is consumed by his own greed when he fails to turn the tables on his master the Storm King during the ceremony that will bring the Storm King back into the living world.

And then there are the villains who find some modicum of redemption. Guthwulf, Elias' right hand, becomes the thrall of the Swords during his blindness following his defense of Rachel from Pryrates in the last book. Rachel, herself in hiding beneath the castle (there are SO MANY TUNNELS beneath this castle), leaves food out for Guthwulf, keeping him (and later Simon, though she doesn't know it) alive while he wanders through the catacombs. Guthwulf later frees Simon from Inch's tortures and unites Simon with the Sword Bright-Nail, dying not long afterward. It's not a huge redemptive arc like Zuko's on Avatar: The Last Airbender, but it is something more than Gollum's usefulness in The Lord of the Rings.

Elias finds his humanity in the end, after losing much of it under Pryrates' care. He remembers Miriamele and his love for her, where Pryrates had twisted that love into hate. Again, it is a small redemption, but it is satisfying to see Elias as something more than a monster.

And then there is Ineluki, the Storm King. He finds not so much redemption as understanding. Simon recognizes the sorrow in the Storm King's face; of course he does, for it mirrors Simon's own sorrow at the many deaths he has witnessed, the friends and family he has lost. In the end, he tells Ineluki, "I'll fear you, but I won't hate you." That lack of hatred, that understanding, saps much of the power in the spell bringing Ineluki to new life, and the Storm King's distraction allows Miriamele to kill the body Ineluki is claiming as his own -- that of her father, Elias.

When I read The Heart of What was Lost, I thought Williams' focus on the Norns as people rather than the scary monsters they appeared to be in Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn was an innovation, but the seeds of it are in these books. The reminders of Jiriki and other Sithi that the Norns are still their family, whatever grievances lie between them, Simon's recognition of Ineluki's sorrow, the myriad cultures that the heroes come from and encounter all feed into the notion of understanding those who are other than oneself, and I expect that's a theme that will carry on through The Last King of Osten Ard.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Monday Musings: Once Upon a Time Season 7 (So Far)

A while back I shared my wish list for Season 7 of Once Upon a Time, and now that we're halfway into the season, I thought I'd take a look at how well the show has fulfilled my wishes.

  • Henry's daughter's name: because calling her "Little Girl" only works for so long. Plus, we all know names are important, so I expect hers to be very telling. I watched the ending again tonight. Her name is Lucy. As in "light"; reinforcing my idea she's the new Savior. 
Still no word on who the Savior is in this new Curse, and given the importance of Lucy's belief, I still think she's a candidate. However, with her in a coma, it's possible that Henry is the Savior, as they've been emphasizing his belief (or lack thereof) as well.
  • Who her mother is: because it certainly isn't Violet, Henry's first girlfriend (last seen meeting him at the school bus before the final time jump in the finale). My personal theory is that it's Tiger Lily because Henry says "take the book to your mother" and the next time we see the girl, she's with Tiger Lily. BUT she calls her "Tiger Lily" so maybe not?
We reveal this in the premiere. Her mom is Cinderella 2.0. Still waiting for Tiger Lily to return in a larger role.
  • Why Henry isn't in Storybrooke (or the realm where he vanished after giving his daughter the Book), why he doesn't remember his own daughter, and how exactly he ended up in Seattle.
They've addressed this. He's Cursed like everyone else. He doesn't even remember his family (Storybrooke family OR New Enchanted Forest family).
  • A season-long arc: because season six proved this is the way to go for Once.
This seems to be the case, since there haven't been any signs of 11-episode blocks. Hooray!
  • The battle for Henry's belief to take more than two episodes: because the last time we fought for anyone's belief for longer was season one with Emma, and since the last scene of season six was clearly an homage to Henry showing up on her doorstep, this had better be a long haul battle for them.
Yep. This is part of the season-long arc so far. I expect they might solve it before the season finale, but maybe not. It'd be nice to not have it be the climax of the season.
  • Whether or not Henry is still the Author: because it seems strange for him to be hiding out like this if he is.
He is, but he's not actively using his powers. And there are supposedly other Authors of other Books we'll be dealing with.
  • A strong season-one vibe, with lots of introductions and ground-laying, without retreading too much. This season can (and in my mind, should) serve as a sequel to the previous six. It's the Girl Meets World to their Boy Meets World. It's the revival/reunion show. The showrunners should make that work in their favor. This is a chance to bring in lots of new viewers while keeping the old ones.
This has been pretty solid so far; some homages to S1 while still continuing the stories of the old characters and keeping the new stories growing properly.
  • Storybrooke: The Next Generation: when we finish season six, there are (at least) five royal babies floating about Storybrooke -- Neal, Robin, Alexandra, Gideon, and Aurora's baby (whose name I've forgotten). These kids should all be at least 12 by the time Henry returns, perfect for interacting with his daughter and maybe even playing a larger role in the story (especially since many of their parents aren't slated to return).
Gideon got a guest spot and I don't expect him back. Robin is in for a recurring role. The others are all out of the picture it seems, but there are other TNG characters like Lucy and Alice/Tilly who are filling out this desire. I'm also wondering if we'll ever see that baby hinted at in episode 2 again.
  • A proper send-off for Emma: since Hook is expected to return and there's a significant time jump, I expect Emma's strongly hinted at guest appearance to be a perfect stage-setter for Henry's journey while still not taking away the happy ending from season six. Maybe they time-travel Hook away. Maybe there's a sleeping curse. Maybe it's just Hook from the Wish Realm. But don't tear up this marriage you just spent six seasons building towards.
Ok. So I was actually not totally off bask with that Wish Realm comment. I forgot about it during the summer break, but yeah. We get Emma and Hook off to their happily ever after (though I still want just a little more in that area) and then bring in WR Hook as our Hook for the season (and it works really well).
  • Speaking of, Gold CANNOT go dark again. Not after everything he just went through. Not after you FINALLY gave him redemption. If this happens, I will quit the show and never EVER look back. (You've done this to me TWICE now, Once. I won't be burned a third time.)
So far, they're treading this road carefully, never quite letting him go completely dark but still letting him be the always-plotting, ever-clever Rumple we know and love. His search for the Guardian is going to make this season completely worthwhile (if they don't bungle it in the last quarter).
  • That said, I'm open to bringing back Wish Realm Rumple because Rumple is so much fun.
We haven't seen him yet, but it's still possible I suppose.
  • A new Savior. Emma is clearly gone from the picture, and Rumple has fulfilled his destiny of defeating the Black Fairy. It's time for a new Savior on the scene. But I'm not sure it should be Henry. Yes, he's the son of a Savior and her True Love, the grandson of the last Dark One (who it's also implied is the original Savior). But I think part of Henry's journey this season needs to be stepping into his roles as father and Author, and part of that will be realizing that he is not the Savior -- but perhaps his daughter is.
There's definitely a Savior in the mix, but there's no real landing on who it is, mostly because the big "WHO?" mystery this season has been "Who is the Guardian?" (the one person who can take up the Dark One's dagger and not be corrupted).
  • I don't want to see more old characters shoe-horned in "because we can"; this has failed multiple times before. Give us characters with story arcs.
So far, we've had very little shoehorning. Zelena is back with some complications. Tiger Lily has cameoed. Most everyone else is new.
  • Please don't realm-hop for the sake of putting it in the show. There are lots of Disney and fairy tale stories you have yet to explore, but make it part of the season's heart and the characters' journeys. Rapunzel was wasted in season three because you shoe-horned her in rather than giving her a real story arc. Don't do that this season.
We have seen a grand total of two non-Earth realms this season: Wonderland (not the same as the spin-off as far as we can tell) and the New Enchanted Forest. We actually got a decent Rapunzel story (a couple of times over), and they're exploring new versions of "Cinderella" and Alice in Wonderland and adding other stories like The Princess and the Frog. So far I'm pleased with how they've handled things, though there are still characters who are being sold short for my money (like Tiana).
  • Lily's father: okay, this one I'm not 100 percent sure I want, because at this point I'd be satisfied with a simple throwaway line about how Lily and Maleficent found the Dragon and they went off to one of the realms to live happily ever after. But address it someway, because you've promised it too many times now.
Yeah. This isn't happening. I'm okay with it. That ship has sailed.

Some things I'm hoping for in the second half:

  • Rumple finds the Guardian and gives up power. 100% happy ending. Fin.
  • Let us actually meet the other Authors and see them interact (this may be something to save for S8, but let it happen).
  • The poisoned hearts need to be cured. I don't think you can feasibly drag those plotlines out for more than 1 season, but let them be cured without waving a wand. (For example, the way Snow and Charming's curse was broken last season was perfect. Give us an ending like that.)
  • The Coven of the Eight needs to be formidable and probably not entirely vanquishable this season. If you're going to bring in big guns for this, make them worth it. (Do NOT make this Queens of Darkness 2.0. You WASTED those characters.)
  • Anastasia to be more than a pawn in everyone's games. I don't want to see her become a villain, but I want her to grow. (Perhaps she winds up being the Savior?)
  • Redemption (or the chance of it) for Ivy/Drizella. You've made a point of drawing parallels between her and Regina, so make good on that.
  • For that matter, redemption for Rapunzel Tremaine. At the very least, let her get closer to that loving mother we saw in the flashback. Let her show remorse for the things she's done.
  • More moments of Tilly with her father and Rumple and those strange friendships they all have. These have been very sweet and moving scenes so far, and I want to see more as these relationships grow.
  • More of Tiana's backstory. I know it's coming, but she feels like a weak link right now and I want to see her story given more strength.

Have you been keeping up with Once this season? What are you hoping for in the next 12 episodes? Who do you think the Guardian will turn out to be? Tell me down below!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Watercolor Wednesday Addendum: Albion Giveaway Artwork

One of the art giveaway winners asked for something in the style of my Inktober 17 drawing (featuring several of the school teachers from Albion Academy), but featuring a mix of characters from the book. This is a rough sketch of some of the characters I might include.

This is the final drawing, with the watercolor pencil added (though not yet activated).

 And this is the finished piece, with the paint activated and the details inked in.

I'm very pleased with the watercolor and the inking. I hope you are too!

Watercolor Wednesday: Christmas and the New Year

I've got a lot to share this month, owing to most of my artistic efforts in November and December going toward Christmas gifts that couldn't be revealed here until they were received. Also, I received a number of supplies for Christmas again this year, and I wanted to include those in this post. I'll start with the watercolor and drawing stuff.

Every year a group of my online friends and I participate in a Secret Santa gift exchange, and this was part of my gift to this year's recipient. It's a painting of Puddleglum from The Silver Chair accompanied by some of his most famous words from the climax of the book.

And here's a closer look at Puddleglum:

This was another Christmas gift for a friend. It's a painting of me as a Hobbit and him as a Ranger a la Tolkien. I was pleased with the faces in this one.

Here's a rough sketch I did to prepare for that picture, though my friend appears as a wizard instead of a Ranger.

If you're friends with me on Facebook, you've seen this one already. After writing the posts about the Rankin/Bass Christmas specials, I couldn't get Jack Frost out of my head, so I sketched him out.

 Then, after Christmas, I went back and painted him using my new watercolor pencils.

And since I was going to be setting out on the 100 Mythical Beings series, I decided to make Jack my first official entry.

And now for the supplies and such. My wife gave me a large wash brush (which should help me do backgrounds better), a new palette to put my tube paints in (unfortunately, I have discovered that my inexpensive tube paints don't appreciate being dried out in a palette and tend to break apart), a spray bottle to activate the paints in the palette, a mixed media sketchbook, and the yarn to make a scarf like Newt Scamander's from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

My Secret Santa bought me a drawing set with graphite and charcoal pencils, erasers, sharpeners, and some charcoal sticks. (Also something it calls a sketch stick that I haven't quite figured out the purpose of.) I've never worked with charcoal before, so this will be a new experience.

My mom bought me some Micron pens, which means my watercolors can have cleaner lines than the Sharpies I was using would allow for. (I used these to ink in Jack Frost's final version and the Albion piece above.)

My mom-in-law bought me this watercolor pencil set, which also included a sharpener, eraser, water brush pen (much easier to work with than I'd been led to believe), and a blending brush. I've used these a couple of times (see blue version Jack Frost and the Albion piece) and it's been great. I'll probably work with these as much as my typical paints in the future (and these are much more portable).

My father-in-law usually gets my wife and me each a journal for Christmas, and this year we got these beautiful hardcover journals. The picture doesn't show it, but the spines are open so you can see the stitching holding the pages together.

I also got a journal with Newt Scamander's monogram on the cover (no, I'm not obsessed).

I also received a 4-year Q&A a day sketch book (you are given a prompt each day to sketch, and you run through the same list for four years, tracking your progress and your memories as you go).

Last but not least, some Moleskine sketchbooks since my current sketchbook is all but full.

One of them is dedicated to the 100 Mythical Beings series I've mentioned recently (the inked Jack Frost is already on the first page). Here's the cover (not my best work, but I may add to it as time goes on):

I also did some knitting in the last few months. These are potholders that went to the same person as the Puddleglum painting. (They're double-knitted for extra insulation.)

And here is the Newt Scamander scarf I mentioned earlier. This picture kind of washes out the golden color of the yellow tweed.

This picture is much closer to the actual coloring.

I'm a Hufflepuff now. Hufflepuffs are cool.
So that's what I've been up to with my art the last few months. Has anyone else been working on projects? Is there something you'd like to see me draw or paint (perhaps a mythical being to add to the book)? Let me know in the comments.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Monday Musings: Faeries and Cleverness: A Review of The Chestnut King

I finished the third book in N.D. Wilson's 100 Cupboards trilogy much faster than the second. Given how much I wound up enjoying Dandelion Fire, that should give you an idea of what I think of The Chestnut King.

Picking up a few months after the end of Dandelion Fire, The Chestnut King begins with Henry once again caught between two worlds, sneaking back to Kansas through the cupboards to spend time with Zeke. Of course, he's not nearly as sneaky as he thinks he is, but his family knows he needs time to figure out where he fits in the worlds. Henry's father, Mordecai, who returned at the end of Fire, has been searching for a way to defeat Nimiane and teaching Henry how to control the magic that sprouts within him. Nimiane's rise to power continues in leaps and bounds, precipitating Mordecai's journey to her home kingdom of Endor. Just before he leaves on this mission, Mordecai tells Henry that the situation is more desperate than anyone realized; Nimiane's blood, which scarred Henry at the end of The 100 Cupboards, is spreading and will eventually sap the life and magic from Henry's body, making him at best another victim of the witch-queen's rampage, and at worst her slave.

No sooner has Mordecai set out than the distant Emperor's soldiers conquer the town of Hylfing and kidnap Henry's family. Only Henry, Henrietta, and grandmother Anastasia escape through Henry's cupboard door into Kansas. From there, they must ally with Zeke and attempt to rescue their family members and find the secret to Nimiane's defeat.

In this exciting conclusion to the 100 Cupboards series, Wilson offers a logical finale that follows up on the themes and ideas of the previous two books. The climax is properly intuitive and intensely satisfying, with the final cleverness on the part of Henry benefiting from some subtle foreshadowing on Wilson's part (something the finale of Dandelion Fire suffers from a lack of). Henrietta and Henry continue to balance one another out, and their antagonistic friendship remains one of the highlights of the series. This time, however, they have both grown from their previous experiences, and Henry is the more active (even if he is reluctant about it) while Henrietta is more cautious after all the trouble she landed herself in during Dandelion Fire. Similarly, Mordecai's character is deepened so that he is a vastly human father doing his best to care for his family and to restore some of what they have lost in the time he was away. His failure to succeed where Henry later wins the day is a necessary moment in the story that feels more natural in Wilson's prose than in many similar stories.

While The Chestnut King hits on some fantasy tropes, it tends to spin them in new ways or add a human element to make them feel fresh and real. (This human characterization is something Wilson excels at, and Uncle Frank is a prime example of his ability to create a character who is both consistent and surprising.) The best trope spinning in the book comes with Henry's handling of the succession of kingship at the end of the book. Wilson sets up the twist perfectly while still leading you to expect the usual resolution to this plot thread.

I only have two (somewhat minor) quibbles with the book. The first is that the FitzFaeren seem to have vanished from the story without a moment's notice. They were on the decline in Dandelion Fire, but there was some hope of their survival, and no one seems to remember them in this book because we're far too concerned with the proper Faeries. The second is that while there are women who are willing and able to fight in this book, they are all given "only a knife" when it comes time to fight, and none of them seem to have the training the men have received. While the lack of women fighting isn't necessarily a bad thing, the repetition of "only a knife" every time there is fighting to be done made the situation more noticeable in a negative way.

Overall, this is a fine conclusion to an entertaining series. If you enjoyed either of the first two books, you should pick this one up.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Top 10 Tuesday: Top 10 Books on My To-Read Pile (AKA Christmas is a Time for Books)

Since I love to read, my Christmas wish lists usually involve at least a few books. This year, I received 6 books for Christmas, with a few extras thrown in due to gift cards and post-Christmas shopping. Most of those are on this list, and a few more are just books on my shelves I want to dive into soon.

Changes by Jim Butcher

I finished Turn Coat and wanted to dive into this book immediately, but held back because I felt I should finish one of the other books I was reading first, and because I didn't want to finish it before I received Ghost Story for Christmas.

Ghost Story by Jim Butcher

Yeah, I basically want to binge read the rest of the current books in the Dresden Files series because I love these books so much. No, I don't think the title bodes well for anyone involved.

Cold Days by Jim Butcher

Without letting myself get spoiled too badly on what comes, there's no way this doesn't involve Mab and the Winter Court.

Skin Game by Jim Butcher

Skinwalkers and the Denarians means I want to get to this book (is it just me or is it the longest so far?) NOW.

The Devil's Only Friend by Dan Wells

I finished Dan Wells' first John Cleaver trilogy last year. I've been wanting to see where he takes the series, but haven't been able to until now. There's a short story (called a novella, but at 33 pages, is it really long enough for that?) called "Next of Kin" that bridges the two trilogies. I received it for Christmas and gulped it down, and it primed me for this new set of books so that I don't know whether to dive into these books or Dresden first.

Over Your Dead Body by Dan Wells

This is quite possibly the most ominous title in the series after I Don't Want to Kill You. I have a very bad feeling I'm going to get emotionally pummeled by this book because the last one is titled . . .

Nothing Left to Lose by Dan Wells

Well, then. John's prospects of surviving his own series aren't looking to great. I may need something light and fluffy after finishing these.

Pendragon's Heir by Suzannah Rowntree

This one was first recommended to me a while back by Meltintalle, and I've been slowly working it up my to-read lists ever since. Who doesn't love a good modern Arthurian tale? Don't answer that. Anyway, I received this one for Christmas as well, so it's in the read-more-immediately stack.

The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams

Because I still haven't finished re-reading To Green Angel Tower. But this just means I'm going to have less time to wait between finishing The Witchwood Crown and the publication of the next Osten Ard book (which I think is supposed to be another short novel, but might be Empire of Grass, Crown's direct sequel).

Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan

This series has been recommended to me a lot in recent months, and since I love torturing myself with epic fantasies that take me months to read before bed, I picked this up for a quarter (yes, $0.25) at a secondhand shop this week.

What books are on your to-read list this year? Let me know in the comments!