Monday, October 30, 2006

Review: Warrior and Witch

The follow-up to Doppelganger, Marie Brennan's Warrior and Witch details what happens after her main protagonist, Mirei, effectively refutes one of the fundamental beliefs of her society.

Having proven that killing the witch's doppelganger robs the Witch of the fifth element, the Void, Mirei is offered little time to rest. Witch society at Starfell fractures and nothing short of a civil war ensues. The other surviving doppelgangers are immediately placed in danger, and Mirei leaves Starfell to gather the four doppelganger children who reside at Hunter schools.

One of the things I loved about this book is that Ms. Brennan has made Satomi, the Void Prime, a viewpoint character. Satomi's was my favorite character arc in the first book, and it was wonderful to see her character used to her full potential in Warrior and Witch.

Part One mainly deals with Mirei's quest to retrieve the doppelganger children. (My favorite of the four is Amas.) I enjoyed the quest; it's well-paced and believable.

Part Two deals with the dissident witches, who have aligned themselves with a territory whose religion agrees with their viewpoint—that the Void is unnatural, and so is Mirei. This is the part where Brennan's writing skills truly shine. She crafts both believable physical fight scenes and some very impressive magical duels.

Plus, part two has exceptional plot twists. One of the twists, involving the identity of the witch who has been spying on Starfell for the dissidents... well, I don't want to ruin it for you. I'll just say, nice slight of hand, Ms. Brennan.

As for two of the other surprises waiting, well, they both managed to elicit audible gasps. In fact, after the second one, I actually had to pause reading for a moment to take in what had happened.

Very few books lately have offered an impacting twist as believable. It was natural, so entirely appropriate for the character, but it still wasn't what I expected.

I noted in Doppelganger that the dialogue wasn't quite up to the standards of the narration. Well, it's improved in Warrior and Witch. There's a greater sense of individual tone for the characters, and a fantastic scene in part one where Mirei's dialogue style and tone changes because she's putting on an act.

A lot happens in the novel that we hear through other characters, which is done well. However, two of the characters introduced as playing relevant parts disappear for the middle of the book. I understand that in order to include more scenes of them, the novel would have increased in length, but I still found myself wondering what Eclipse and Eikyo were doing.

I was particularly interested in the Eikyo plotline, and I would enjoyed seeing it featured more with her as a viewpoint character. (So we were shown what happened instead of being told of it by Nae and Rin later.)

The ending of the book is lovely, but not quite as satisfying as the ending to Doppelganger. Mainly because I found myself wondering what became of Indera. (I'd like to think that she joins a troupe of temple dancers, and over time, the emptiness in her heart fades and she's able to lead a happy life, using her talents to honor the Goddess.)

Regardless, I'm pleased to say Marie Brennan has earned a place on my shelf of favorite authors.

Rating: B+

Friday, October 27, 2006

M.A.C. Chinese Dress Party

Last night, thanks to my friend Ophelia, I had an invitation + one to the M.A.C. Cosmetics Chinese Dress event on Robertson. Yes, many other much more fabulous LA people—they were the ones dressed in all black—had invites as well, but it was very cool to savor the concept of being able to say "my name's on the list."

Chinese Dress, for those of you who don't know, is the latest M.A.C. body painting show that's circulating. The concept is the sensuality and beauty of the Qi Pao, or traditional Chinese dress. The models are wearing thongs and pasties. Everything else you see (except the headdresses) has been painted on using MAC cosmetics.

It's amazing and gorgous and very, very sexy. Accompanied by dark lighting, pounding bass, and attractive shirtless men serving finger foods. (The red raspberry fortune cookies were my favorite.)

Anyway, clandestine photos taken with my phone. They're not blurry, I swear. They're Spy Chic.

Frozen forever in time, this maiden from 1923 smiles out into the future. (And let me tell you, not only was she the prettiest model, she was the only one who looked like she was having a good time. Dude, this girl was working it.)

The year is 2714, and China has entered its third golden empire. Its forces have subdued the rebellious West, and its top general celebrates in a bar. This golden cyborg beauty dances for him.

The Peony twins are renown throughout the Orient for their skills as assassins. The Chinese mafia killed their parents when they four, and they have sworn revenge. Tonight, they stalk the leader of Los Angeles' branch of that mafia. Their triumphant smiles a sign that they've spotted him across the room.

The little Chinese mermaid. Should she fail to capture the heart of her prince by the end of the show, she'll be reduced to foam upon the ocean. If you listen you can hear the roar of the waves....

Madame Wu, mistress of the night, beckons to lonely strangers in crowded bars. They disappear into the shadows and she returns, her hunger sated. But what of the missing men? Count the crystals that line her gown, over 1200 souls that have drown in her fathomless eyes.

Much better photos available on the official website, but their stories aren't nearly as fun.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Disneyland Halloween Fest

Yesterday, we went to Disneyland, as the park has been decked out for Halloween. I had never seen the Haunted Mansion's Holiday Fantasy—where the ride is redecorated in its Nightmare Before Christmas holiday theme. Very, very cool. The audio track is changed as well to match up with the story of Sandy Claws. I also wanted to see the newly redone Pirates of the Carribean, which features 3 Cap'n Jack Sparrows and a Barbosa, as well as Davy Jones from the second movie. All they have to do is replaced that banjo picker at the start with the Voodoo Priestess.

Cap'n Jack at the end of the ride.

Most of photos inside the rides didn't turn out, but I've included lots of outdoor decor shots.

In fact, the only ride that the photos did really turn out was It's a Small World (Of TERROR!), and most of those are of various bizarre/racist puppets that plan to kill me in my sleep.

We've also got several photos of us wearing funny hats and/or using the various outdoor decor for funny photos, but I'm not sure how many of you want to see Dumbo trying to stick his trunk up someone's butt....

Onwards, to the Halloween-y time!

It's gourd-tastic!

Usually you can't even see the street of the Main Street area because of all the people. Yesterday was not a busy day. See that dark poster? It's advertising Donald Duck & Steve Martin doing a show together. Oh, Steve Martin, how far you've fallen... you're teamed with a comedy partner who doesn't wear pants.

Giant winking Mickey pumpkin... eating my hand. Don't look into the eye! Don't look into the—wait, hang on, that was the Indiana Jones ride... never mind.

All the residents have been turned into pumpkins!

And if we don't win this hand, we'll join them....

Ooh, someone's redecorated.

This one features not only Jack as my Pumpkin Hat, but the cool costumes the ride operators and greeters get to wear. Check it out—he's got the same bowtie as Jack.

This is the inside display as you get on the black sleighs. There's a lot of lead up in the mansion, complete with the "growing" room and the gallery of shifting paintings.

Ideally we would have gotten the Jack Skellington from inside the Mansion. To be honest, we did, but Disney has this little rule about no flash photography—seriously they announced over the audio track while we were on the ride because someone a few "black sleighs" ahead of us was using their flash. I think I have a video of when we went by Sandy Claws and he asked if I'd been good this year, but I haven't managed to get it off my camera yet.

Monday, October 16, 2006

A new CP was very impressed with The Rainy Season, as was Rae, so I guess it's time to stop sitting on my hands and start preparing that for submission to Tesseracts 11.

Oh, speaking of Edge, I heard back finally from Brian, who told me I have a great personality and "loads of potential" as an author. Which is always a nice confidence boost to receive, especially from someone in the industry. (Which reminds me I'm supposed to email him about the photos from WorldCon.)

Friday, October 13, 2006

Why I hate Japanese Horror Movies

So it's Friday the 13th— click the link to learn all about the holiday.

Marking agencies have been working very hard to make the most of this day of misfortune. How far in advance do you think they planned the release of the final book in Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events? Isn't that a stroke of marketing genuis? Release the thirteenth book of a series famous for its misfortunate on the "unluckiest day of the year."

Another big, big push is the release of The Grudge 2. The sequel to The Grudge, which was the English version of the Japanese horror movie, Ju-On.

I hated that movie. Hated it. Well, ok, when I watched it, I was pretty impressed, but you try to sleep when you're worried that whatever her name is going to crawl up under your covers and steal you away to... uh, wherever dead grudge people go. (I think it's the time lost between the four vignettes of the original Japanese movie.) Over a year later, I'm still terrified of that echoing clicking noise that the dead woman made—which, by the way, was because her throat was crushed and that was the only scream for help she could emit.

Why did that particular movie scare me so? Simple, you can't win in a Japanese horror film like Ju-On. Nor can you really win in one like Ringu. Why? Because evil in Japan is really, really... evil. It's not stupid, it's not forced to obey a set of rules. It's Evil. It's Spooky, Spooky Death Evil.

That's what is terrifying about Ju-On. Not the story, not the visuals—the idea itself. Is there any marking to distinguish the house of death from any other house on the street? Not unless someone's just been killed in it and you can count police tap, but all of those people are already screwed so it doesn't matter. You see, Ju-On functions on a very simple principle: if you go into the house you will die.

No exceptions. Enter house, earn Spooky Spooky Death.

Think about it, killed for no reason other than your real estate agent showed you a house. You didn't anger the house, you didn't offend the spirit. You went inside. That's it.

Western mythology tends to function along the lines of "if you don't do A, B, and C, then you will survive" or "this creature can be defeated by X." Supernatural is a great example of this difference. Each episode the Winchesters defeat evil (ok, almost every episode, that season finale and opener are questionable "victories,") because there are rules that the creatures have to obey. Or look at our horror movies, which have rules so entrenched they've been mocked in Scream and mocked again in Scary Movie.

As writers who work with supernatural elements, we learn the rules. Vampires have to drink blood. Werewolves transform during the nights of the full moon. Vampires are killed by wood, usually a stake to the heart, or by decapitation and occasionally by silver. Even when the mythologies are reinvented like in Blade and Buffy, there are still rules.

There's never a villain who can't be defeated. (Someone correct me if I'm overlooking one.) Or in the case of Ringu, a villian that can only be defeated by exchanging your fate for someone else's.

functions on the principle that you have seven days to live after seeing a video, and the reason that the protagonist survives isn't because she solves the mystery of the video—it's because she makes a copy of the video and forces someone else to watch it. (Which has something to do with the effort to have as many people as possible watch the video because it spreads like a virus, and since I haven't managed to find paperback translations of Spiral and Loop, I don't know what the whole purpose of the infection was. I suspect it allowed more beings like Sadako to enter the world.)

So you can win, but at what cost? Do you really win if you survive by assisting the dark forces?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Review: Doppelganer

Marie Brennan's Doppelganger is a fantasy novel that uses the ideas of witches and magic to examine nature versus nuture, the concept of a soul, and the effect of tradition upon a society.

When a witch is born, a spell is cast that creates a channel for magic to flow into the witch, but that channel is blocked until she is twenty-five and mature enough to handle the power. However, the side-effect of this spell is to separate the baby into two entities: witch baby and her doppelganger. The doppelganger must be killed before the witch can control her magic.

A key element in this concept is the belief that a baby does not have a soul until it's exposed to starlight, and this is done in a ceremony five days after the baby's birth.

There is a review on amazon that expressed a reader's inability to finish the book because the concept of killing a baby was too horrifying to her. Whether we, as readers, respond that strongly, the importance of Brennan's novel is that the majority of her witch characters are not horrified by this concept. That is a strong message about the hold that religious doctrine and tradition has on a society.

In the novel, Brennan explores what happens when one of these doppelgangers is not killed and survives to adulthood. Miryo is a young witch, who passes her final test, but learns she will not be able to control her magic until she finds and kills her doppelganger. Only that doppelganger has grown into a woman with an identity of her own—the Hunter named Mirage.

Brennan has crafted a wonderful world. Her descriptions may be sparse, in places, but that is far better than sucumbing to the traditional fantasy genre fallacy of too much detail bogging down the narration. Instead, Brennan's world-building is skillful, subtle and strongly displayed in her ability to craft believable and suitable linguistic details regarding the Starfell witches.

Each catagory of witch, depending on her rank and affiliation, has its own suffix. If it sounds a bit confusing, don't fret, a handy glossary has been included. It allows the reader to reference characters and terms that may confuse them.

Her main protagonists are two strong, well-developed female characters. Their strengths may be in different areas, but they compliment each other. Mirage is a trained Hunter, who works as a spy, bounty hunter, assassin, etc. Miryo is a witch, who has been trained in healing arts and magic lore. The two are well-balanced—it's not a matter of a brains and brawn separation.

Also, Brennan does not have a romantic subplot, and this was a refreshing change from the standard urban fantasy fare I've been reading. That is not to say that character relationships aren't a driving factor of the plot, but just that romance isn't a part of those relationships.

Occasionally, the witch names caused me to pause. They appear to be constructed from Japanese. Certain names are common female names, other have a more masculine look to them—despite being given to females. Still others do not appear to be names at all but compounds of phoenetics. I imagine they could be composed of terms I'm unfamiliar with, and it would be interesting to learn if they were constructed to have specific meanings. (One of my favorite of these syallable names is "Arinei." Ah-ree-neh. It just rolls off the tongue.)

My only concern with the novel was the dialogue. It's not "bad," persay, it's just not up to the quality of the narration. This could be because everyone in the novel spoke venacular English. It's not a problem to use common language in dialogue, but it can become one if every character sounds the same. I was a little disappointed, as the characters seemed to lack individual voices.

Regardless of the dialogue, I enjoyed this book and felt it had a statisfying conclusion. If this was caused by Doppelganger being primarily written as a stand-alone, then I think more authors should write that way. However, since Brennan answered her publisher's request for a sequel, I must admit that I'm excited to read it.

Rating: B+

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

I don't care what anyone in Edmonton says. It's damn bloody cold here. :D

Today, well technically tomorrow, is Canadian Thanksgiving. Which is a celebration of the harvest and not pilgrims, because very few people are harvesting in November.

Enough of my silly complaints, though, because I really did miss fall. All the leaves, the amazing Alberta skies—seriously, you might think you've seen the sky, but nothing can compare to the color of Canadian sky blue. It's vivid, luminous—alive.

Speaking of colors, you guys should see the leaves here. Gold, red, orange. They're gorgeous! I won't be cliche and say that the trees and hills look like they're on fire. They don't. They look like they're made of light.

Anyway, gotta go, but I hope you're all having a wonderful thanksgiving and/or Columbus day weekend.

And thank you all for your support and friendship over the past year. :)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Review: Dead Man Rising

Dead Man Rising, the second book in Lilith Saintcrow's Dante Valentine series, is very low on the demon count, and I was happy that it didn't have the same twist regarding the villain as book one. It would have disappointed me if the series turned formulatic. However, one of the big draws to the first book for me was Japhrimel, because I'm not entirely convinced I like Danny Valentine. No Japh means Ms. Saintcrow had to work twice as hard to keep my attention.

Most of what I didn't care for in book two revolved around Danny pining for Japhrimel and being torn between her love for him and her inability to decide if she loved Jace.

The reason this bothered me was because Danny strikes me as strong, firm character. Her wishy-wash "I love Japh, I love Jace, I love Japh, I don't love you Jace I'm really sorry, I love Japh, wait maybe I do love Jace" seemed to detract from an otherwise iron-clad and very well-written mystery.

The reason that Danny has to suffer more emotional and psychological threats is because of her increased strength and healing abilities. I understand that, and it's done well. But I'm concerned it was a little too much emotional trauma. The psychological threat of the Rigger Hall memories would have been enough for me, without the added Danny misses Japh and is confused by her feelings for Jace plot. Unfortunately, to not address the Japh and Jace emotional issues would have lessened Danny's ability to appear as a sympathetic character. It's a bit of catch 22, so I put up with her moaning because it's what she ought to be doing.

And the death in this book did get a "no way" from me. Unfortunately, that's all it got. I didn't feel saddened by the death, because I didn't care for that character, but I was surprised that it happened. I understand—from a writer's perspective—why it had to happen, but I'm unconvinced that it wasn't a ploy to play off reader's emotions.

The psychological angle of the threat in Dead Man Rising is really well done. Despite how annoyed I may have been with Danny over the course of the book, I would say this is better written than Working for the Devil. The mystery that fuels the second book is fueled by a concept that I found terrifying. Psychic vampires, though, are not a new thing. The concept of a Feeder has circulated through fiction before and it will again. However, Ms. Saintcrow does it well and makes it terrifying.

Working for the Devil had the twist in the last twenty pages that seemed thrown at the reader—where Danny reveals all the things she found out later, and it was the one moment in the book where I hesitated and didn't immediately believe the way the information was delivered. Dead Man Rising doesn't have that problem. The resolution isn't thrown at you, almost like an after thought, it's delievered at a reasonable place and pace.

While the first book developed the demon world and a little bit of their culture, the second is all about the psions. Their culture and world is expanded and developed. Ms. Saintcrow has the advantage of book behind that started building her world, now she just has to concern herself with expanding and reaffirming it.

The second book comes with four extras: a glossary, a lecture transcript, a term paper and a preview of the third book. I love the glossary, despite that it's incomplete because there are terms used multiple times in the book that don't appear in the glossary. It's a nice reference, though, and I did flip back to it a few times while reading.

As for the "lecture" and "term paper" extras, they seemed unnecessary—yes, that would be why they were extras—because they weren't really long enough to devulge a great deal of information.

Book Three, The Devil's Right Hand, is set to come out in July 2007. Given the title and what happens in book two, I'm guessing that book three will be back to the demon side of things and may finally give us some answers about Japhrimel's history. (Or Vincent Valentine will show up and bitchslap Danny around for thinking she could even try to steal his title of Emo Badass Valentine)

Overall, it's well-written and a good read. But it's just not as much fun as the first one. It's a bit like comparing chocolate cake and chocolate ice cream. They're both tasty, but they're two different kinds of treats.

Rating: B+