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Sunday, October 10, 2021

Beasts and Beauty: Dangerous Tales


 I saw Soman Chainani's Beasts and Beauty: Dangerous Tales at the library and was absolutely intrigued by the first lines of several of the stories.  Like "Red Riding Hood's" "On the first day of spring, the wolves eat the prettiest girl."  Or "Sleeping Beauty's" "To the prince, it was clear: demons were drinking his blood."  How can you not want to know more with lines like these???

Beasts and Beauty is a book of fairy tale retellings.  It includes twelve stories, ranging from the regulars like "Sleeping Beauty," "Beauty and the Beast," and "Snow White," to some lesser known ones like "Bluebeard."  Chainani plays with everything in these stories, moving them to different cultures, and playing with characters' sexuality.  The stories are also rather dark, feeling more in line with the originals rather than the more cleaned up modern versions.  All in all, it makes for a very interesting collection of stories.  And it's a fairly easy read - I blew through the entire book in less than a day.

I really like how a lot of the stories center on making your own way, how you can't wait for your prince to come and save you.  They also point out many of the negative (and often damaging) tropes of the originals before charting a new path.  

I think my favourite was the "Peter Pan" retelling.  It reminded me in a lot of ways of Brom's retelling which I read some years ago (although the two stories are very different).  This story was also different from the others in the collection in that it was written as a letter, while the others are written more like classic fairy tales.  

If you enjoy fairy tales and fairy tale retellings, definitely give Beasts and Beauty a try!

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Unreconciled: Family, Truth and Indigenous Resistance

 


For September 30th, the very first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation here in Canada, I wanted to read a book that would further my understanding of Indigenous issues here in Canada in some way.  I wasn't sure exactly what I was looking for (and was open to books on everything from culture to residential schools), but while looking over books online I found Jesse Wente's Unreconciled: Family, Truth, and Indigenous Resistance.  It was brand new and already well rated, so I decided that it would be the book I read this year on this day.

I wasn't familiar with Jesse Wente prior to reading this book, which is both his memoir and manifesto, but he is an Indigenous journalist and film critic who has had a very successful career in Canadian media.  In Unreconciled, he talks very frankly about how the residential school system damaged his family, making him and other members of his family feel like outsiders when they visit their family who still live on-res at Serpent River First Nations.  

He also talks at length at how there are so few people of Indigenous descent working in the media.  How Indigenous stories are so often co-opted by white people, put through a white lens and profited off of.  And how people from minorities are often made to speak for their entire group, and how there is tremendous pressure to succeed if you break through into an area because you do not want the door to close for everyone else should you fail.  Or how people of minorities, himself included, can be reduced to tokenism, standing in for their entire group, or, far uglier, being co-opted by institutions and businesses as a kind of endorsement, even if you don't actually endorse what they're selling.

While at times difficult to read, I thoroughly enjoyed Unreconciled. Wente infuses the book with humour while still showing us how Canada as a country has failed, and encouraging us all to do better.  Unreconciled is definitely a book I recommend to all Canadians, for it speaks the truth, which goes hand in hand with reconciliation.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Dungeon Eternium

 


Well, here we are: the final book in Dakota Krout's Divine Dungeon series, Dungeon Eternium!  

Dungeon Eternium picks up pretty much right where Dungeon Desolation left off.  They've beaten Xenocide's powerful Runes that were drawing the moon to the planet, but unfortunately that damage has already been done.  While they have more time now, the moon is still going to crash into the planet.  Also, Cal's leylines are also destroying the planet because there will no longer be any free-floating essence, devastating the world even if it survives the moon.  The only option is to have as many people as possible hide in a large enough soul space, assuming the one being with a big enough one (ie Cal) agrees.  

I found Dungeon Eternium a bit dry at first.  Most of the Cal parts were just him by himself.  He was doing whatever on his own without Dani or one of the Bobs to throw ideas around with.  Dale was also just kind of doing stuff - he's no longer a noble, so he wasn't really part of the goings on politically anymore.

But I did find the stuff with the Northmen interesting, mainly from Cal's perspective.  He started exploring their city and found a dungeon underneath them.  The two dungeons made an exchange that Cal thought was well worth his while, and it was interesting to encounter another Dungeon that was so cunning. 

Dani's "brother" also turned up at one point.  He was a dungeon core that grew up with Dani, so they started calling each other brother and sister.  That was admittedly a weird little side bit to the story because he didn't really add anything to the plot (and his character wasn't overly interesting either - he was a core stuck in a backpack - he couldn't spread his influence anywhere, and Cal and Dani just kept shoving him in a chest whenever Grace was around to make sure she didn't bond to him).

But then Dungeon Eternium took a few interesting turns.  First, Cal went to the very North of the world as per Dani's request.  There he found the oldest Dungeon around (Dungeon Eternium), who created the Wisps.  While the Dungeon could have destroyed Cal with merely a thought, he asks for Cal's help because the moon is going to directly impact him (which was apparently Xenocide's plan all along?)  Eternium helps Cal with some stuff, and in exchange, Cal helps bring Eternium into his Soul Space.

What was really fun about this exchange was that Eternium didn't understand Cal's language.  Cal had to give it to him, and he immediately understood and used it perfectly because he is such an immense, ancient, and wise being.  It was a neat moment.

But then the fun really began.  Barry returned and took over Mountaindale once again (but this time from the Master, who was sick of the politics anyway and so didn't care).  He took all kinds of tribute, and started trying to control who would enter Cal's soul space (although when his back was turned, the Dark Elves all snuck in).  Once almost everyone was through, he summoned his new master: Xenocide (this scene had some hilarious dialogue between the two)!  Then he made his way through the dungeon, killing everything in his path with his weird and deadly power.  Cal orders everyone to escape, but Barry catches Cal and tries to eat him and all the souls now contained within his Soul Space.  But rather than die, Cal and Dale become rejoined.  But Dale's human body cannot contain the totality of the two of them (especially since Cal is so much more than a human, plus he's in the A ranks where Dale is B).  So they have to make their way back to where Barry is before their body fails to get the perfect replica Dungeon Core that Cal made (he was hoping to use it as a distraction, but Barry knew which one was really him).  

This whole part was so intense - I loved it!  It felt like a real culmination of Dale and Cal's arcs, and a really fun way to bring them together.

So while the beginning of this book was a bit dry, it's totally worth the read.  Everything (even stuff from Dungeon Desolation, my least favourite book in the series) comes together really well.  I really enjoyed both this book and the series as a whole.  :)

And now my friend who recommended this to me wants me to start reading  

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Narrattive Designer: Fabulator Ludus


Narrative Designer: Fabulator Ludus by Stephen E. Dinehart IV is a deceptively small book.  At a little more than 100 pages, it is packed full of very dense ideas on narrative design and storytelling more generally.  I will not say too much about it because I feel like it is the type of book that you need to read a few times to reach a better understanding.

But I do wish the book had a glossary.  It would have been very helpful!

Dungeon Desolation


Rather than sleep, last night I stayed up super late reading Dakota Krout's Dungeon Desolation, the fourth book in the Divine Dungeon series. The Master's armies of undead are rampaging across the world, but Mountaindale, the town on Cal's floating island, remains relatively untouched.  At least until the Guild decrees that all human titles are forfeit and the town and academy are now in their hands to support the war effort.  They send an obnoxious S-level Mage to conscript Cal as well - he kills an entire floor (even Cal's essence within it), and threatens to kill the rest of the dungeon if Cal refuses to cooperate.  They want to use the dungeon to ferry troops to the back of the Master's armies.

Cal of course does not take this well, and immediately starts planning how to get out of this (and specifically how to kill the S-level mage, even though Cal himself is only a B-Level dungeon).

Dale is no longer Baron (although he remains a Duke with the Dark Elves), and so is in major danger of being conscripted into the army.  So he signs himself up at the academy as the protege of the headmaster whom he had just hired.  The clerk takes a disliking to Dale, and conspires to get him booted out of the academy by not issuing Dale receipts for his tithes to said academy (but luckily Dale gets wind of this and is able to remain in the dungeon long enough to more than make up for the shortfall).  Unfortunately, all his training, specifically to strengthen his aura, makes an imbalance within him, and Dale starts becoming uncharacteristically aggressive, both in the Dungeon and without.  It takes the intervention of his teachers to knock some sense into him (quite literally!)  

While I enjoyed reading Dungeon Desolation, I didn't think it was quite on par with the other few books.  For one thing, there was a lot less Dani than in earlier books (she was training their daughter, Grace).  For another, there was a lot less of Cal doing fun and crazy things - it was kind of more of the same from book 3 (he was mostly finishing up his ley lines, and dealing with flying).  He did make a few new monsters and floors, but nothing really fun (I guess other than his battle royale of elementals that he set up and let fight and evolve on their own).

The ending was rather unexpected though: everyone was manipulated by Xenocide, the super-ranked Mage of Madness (I have no idea what his level is, but it appears to be more powerful than anyone else, even the Master) for the last several hundred years so he could get everyone into a particular place at a particular time to power a ritual for him to attract one of the planet's moons to the planet, killing everyone and "freeing them of their madness."  Now everyone has to work together to stop him, if it's even possible.

While not the best in the series, Dungeon Desolation still had some fun moments.  It'll be interesting to see how the series ends in Dungeon Eternium.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Late Eclipses

After finishing An Artificial Night, I decided to jump straight into the next October Daye book, Late Eclipses.  This time around, Toby is summoned to the court of the Queen of the Mists.  After some vague warnings from Tybalt, Toby finds herself given the title of Countess of Wintergreen.  She knows it's a trap though: changlings never get titles.  But at this point there's no indication of just what the Queen is up to.

Toby's immediately pulled away to the Tea Gardens, to find something equally unsettling: Lily is sick.  As an undine and pureblood, Lily should not be able to get sick.  Toby vows to get to the bottom of it.  But before she can do much investigating, she has to make an appearance at the Torquill's Beltane Ball.  Only while there, she is the only witness to Luna fainting, possibly from being poisoned from wine.  Toby got a whiff of Oleander de Merelands' magic - Oleander is one of the ones who were responsible for turning Toby into a fish for fourteen years.  Oleander is also an assassin extraordinaire, whose weapon of choice is poisons.  But there's one problem: every time Toby seems to believe Oleander is around, no one else can see her.  Is Toby's changeling blood finally making her go mad?  Or is there a sinister plot afoot that she's tangled up in?  

I was quite interested in the story up to about this point (and was even thinking of ordering the next two books in the series because I was having so much fun with it).  But then things started to take a rather...dare I say: familiar...turn.  Rayseline, Sylvester's daughter, hates Toby.  When Luna is incapacitated, and Sylvester turns mad with grief, Raysel uses the opportunity to take control of the Knowe, naming herself in charge.  She banishes Toby, and starts spreading rumours that Toby is the one who hurt Lily and Luna.  After Lily dies, Toby returns to the Knowe, but Raysel uses it as a chance to have her arrested.  You see, having been named Countess, Toby is now no longer under Sylvester's protection, but the Queen's.  And the Queen orders her to stand trial, a sham used to convict Toby and sentence her to execution.  She's locked in an iron dungeon for a few days; her friends break her out and bring her back from the brink of death by iron poisoning.  But Toby cannot stand idly by, and insists on returning to Sylvester's Knowe in an attempt to save Luna.

While the plot trappings are different, the second half of the story was, in many ways, a repeat of An Artificial Night, and how Toby kept charging back into Blind Michael's lands.  She was even held prisoner and poisoned (although it was more a mental poisoning rather than the iron poisoning she suffered here).  But even after all that, she had to charge back into danger after barely healing to see it through.  There's nothing necessarily wrong with this plot on its own merits, but reading it right after An Artificial Night got very, very boring.

Now sure, there was some interesting things going on too. Toby got shot with Elfshot, which is deadly to Changlings.  Her mother mysterious showed up and changed her, making her far more fae.  This saved her life, but also means that iron is now a problem when it wasn't before (the change happened just before she was sentenced and thrown into the iron jail).  Her features even changed, becoming more fae.  

Another thing that was interesting (though sad) was Lily's death.  Lily's subjects were able to mourn, but Toby never was (she was just a crazy exhausted mess running from one fire to the next trying to put them all out).  I would have loved if the book slowed down a bit to deal with (and really show) some of this stuff.  But Toby herself even says that there's no time to deal with it now.

I'm also a fan of the relationship she's developing with Tybalt.  Somewhere along the lines she's started trusting him.  And while he's still very aloof, you can tell he cares for her.  That's all going to get complicated in the coming books because Connor, her one-time crush and Rayseline's husband, is freed from the marriage at the end of the book (Raysel did some unforgivable things, and his Selkie clan dissolved their political marriage immediately).

So all in all, this ended up just an okay read.  I do wish I had waited awhile before reading it, rather than starting it immediately after An Artificial Night.  But thanks to all the repetition in the plot, I'm done with the series for now - if I go back to it, it won't be for a long while.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

An Artificial Night


I finally got around to reading An Artificial Night, the third book in Seanan McGuire's October Daye series.  I've been looking forward to it since reading A Local Habitation (and hearing it was much better than that book was)...it just took me a few years to actually get around to reading it.  :/

This time around, Toby starts off by having a really bad day - her Fetch arrives, which means that Toby's death is immanent.  That's followed by frantic calls from one of her best friends, Stacy, because two of Stacy's five children are missing and one is now in an un-wakeable slumber.   Toby goes to investigate, finding clues but nothing definite that points to what happened to the children.  With Stacy's permission, she brings the slumbering Karen to Lily's Tea Gardens in the hope that the undine can wake her.  Along the way, Tybalt finds her and asks for her help, because several of the children from his Court of Cats have gone missing as well.  Though a great healer, Lily is unable to help Karen.  But she sends Toby to "speak to the moon" - which brings her to Luna, Sylvester's wife.  While figuring out that riddle, she finds Quentin at her place - his human girlfriend has gone missing as well.  

Luna is the one who fills in the missing pieces.  The culprit is Blind Michael, one of the Firstborn Fae, and master of the Hunt.  No one would ever willingly join him and his hunt, so every hundred years he takes the unwilling: the children.  He takes faerie children to be his riders, and human children to be their steeds.  He twists them all and binds them to himself.  And he has taken all of the missing children that Toby is looking for.

To find him, Toby needs the help of the Luidaeg, the Firstborn Seawitch.  The Luidaeg can send Toby to Blind Michael's realm on one of the few roads that are open.  First Toby takes the Child's Road, which involves Toby being transformed into a child.  She manages to bargain with Blind Michael for the children - if she's able to get them out undetected, she can take them home.  But Toby takes more children than were bargained for, and so the Hunt pursues her outside of Blind Michael's realm.  Next she takes the Rose Road, care of Luna, to try to stop the Hunt from pursuing her (and to save Karen, whose soul was taken by Blind Michael while she slept).  Blind Michael agrees only if Toby stays in Karen's place.  He begins to bind Toby to him, but before the final binding can finish, Toby's friends manage to save her (along with some of the other children who were taken).  But Blind Michael has already done some major damage to Toby's mind, and she is determined to end things with him.  Which leads her back using the final road, the Blood Road, which demands a tithe be paid in blood, either Toby's or Blind Michael's.

I wish I had read An Artificial Night a bit closer to A Local Habitation.  It's been a few years, and I forgot who many of the characters were (like Quentin).  Yes, the book kind of explained things well enough so I could follow it alright, but it would have been a lot nicer had I actually remembered people!  But I did enjoy An Artificial Night.  It was a really interesting story and I didn't want to put it down (I read almost the entire book yesterday afternoon).  My biggest complaint (other than some weird things that were repetitive and should have been caught in editing, like how the book explained who Lily was both times Toby went to the Tea Gardens in almost exactly the same words) was that it wasn't scary enough.  When a story is dealing with childhood bogeymen and the main character gets turned into a child, that's a story that's ripe for some creepiness and (childhood) horror!  Unfortunately I just never felt that during the book - Toby went on treating everything kind of just like business as usual.  

Other than that though, I really enjoyed An Artificial Night.  I'm looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Late Eclipses (and without letting several years pass before I pick it up!)