Sunday, May 23, 2010

Poison


Poison

By Sara Poole


This book is a little bit out of my norm, though not entirely as history is an interest of mine, and Poison is historical fiction. In context, I thoroughly enjoyed "Water for Elephants" which transported readers to the era of the Great Depression in the United States and life aboard a travelling circus of that era, and read The Book Thief, which took us to World War II Germany. Poison takes us a little bit further back in history for the story that it wishes to tell. So while Poison doesn't fit into the category of science fiction or fantasy as this website usually focuses on, I am taking the liberty of including my thoughts on this book here.


The setting for the story is Rome, 1492. The main character, Francesca Giordano, works for Rodrigo Borgia, one of the most important people in Christendom as his poisoner. It is a job that she had to murder a person to get, a job that she felt it was her right to have based on the fact that her father had previously held the position. Her father had been murdered, and she demands to see justice--or is it vengeance--whereas it seems that no one seems to care about what happened to her father, and she sees fit to take it upon herself to find them. Thus enters her foray into the political and religious intrigue of 15th century Rome, and soon earns the attention of the same force that murdered her father.


This book is eloquently written from the start, with almost a Victorian flare of description and flow of the story. The prelude to the story drew me into wanting to continue reading this book and caused me to drop the other books I was currently reading to focus more on this particular book. Unfortunately, the prose that the book is written in slowed the story down in its early going, and the first 20 pages were less than exciting as I struggled to understand fully what was going on. After that, however, the story really took off on a nonstop adventure through the streets of Rome and the underbelly of the Vatican as Francesca struggled to make sure that her master became elected pope, not only for her sake and his, but the very survival of the Jewish population in Rome, which depended on Borgia's election as well.


Once it starts, the action doesn't stop through the book at all, continuing right up to the very end, making it hard to put the book down. However, the conclusion of the book does seem a bit rushed. Most of the story unfolds over the course of a couple of days, and then the four days of the sealed conclave to elect the pope was given a scant few pages at the end.

Overall, I think this is one of the better books I have read in a while and would read other books by Sara Poole, especially if they pick up the story of Francesca in her quest for vengeance.

The book will be available on August 3, 2010.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Creature: Cockatrice


A cockatrice is a legendary creature which is closely related (but not identical or interchangeable, as some sources would have you believe) to a basilisk. A cockatrice has the body, wings, and tail of a dragon but with a head and feet of a rooster. It is sometimes described as having dark red or pitch black eyes. It was thought to be the result of an chicken egg that was incubated by either a toad or a snake.

Having such a large creature around would undoubtedly be dangerous, especially given its size and ability to fly like a dragon. In addition to those, there are two other dangers. One, it is said that its breath is poisonous (or by some accounts, the poison is contained in its saliva). Another magical ability of the cockatrice is that it can turn people to stone by its gaze and through touching them. Even after death, the power of petrification was still effective.

Killing the cockatrice was no easy task, either, especially if you tried killing it in a normal fashion. According to medieval bestiaries, the weasel is the only animal that is thought to be immune to the glance of a cockatrice. According to some legends, the hearing of a roster's crow would instantly kill a cockatrice, or getting it to view it's own image in a mirror would also kill it.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

King Arthur's Court


As someone who has an interest in things such as dragons, knights, renaissance festivals, and the like, it stands to reason that I would also have an interest in the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Surprisingly, while I have a passing familiarity of the legend, and from time to time have considered picking up a book about King Arthur and his knights--looking at the actual legends instead of the more contemporary stories of such, I never really knew the full story.

That changed thanks to my purchasing of the nook. I downloaded a copy of Sir Thomas Malory's "Le Morte D'Arthur." Sadly, I found that I could not make it through this delightful story--what is considered to be the definitive and authorative source of King Arthur legends. Given that it was written in the 15th century, and the style and prose is not changed much from what Malory actually wrote, including a lack of quotation marks and the like, that may have a lot to do with why I couldn't make it through. Perhaps I need the "No Fear" version of King Arthur instead. I made it through the death of Balin and Balan when I needed to give this a rest, though at least I did learn a bit more about the legend of King Arthur than I had before I had picked up the book, so while I could not complete this book, all was not lost. In fact, it gave me a greater appreciation of the legend, and I may one day return to this book.


But that was not the end of my current interest in the Arthurian legend. Next, I picked up an electronic copy of Mark Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court." I remember reading at least a portion of this story when I was younger, and thanks in no small part to what I managed to learn from the very beginnings of Le Morte d'Arthur, I am sure my enjoyment of this book is greatly enhanced. Unfortunately, my copy of this book is a book scanned in by Google Books, which means that there are a lot of mistakes and wrong letters and symbols where some of the words should be, slowing down the reading of that book as well.

Of course, the legend of King Arthur is not confined to the bindings of a book, nor in 2-hour long movies. I am, of course, speaking of the the BBC's "Merlin" TV series, which came to the US via NBC and the SyFy Channel. It, however, is a drastic re-imagining of the legend. King Uther Pendragon is the reining monarch, and Camelot already exists--not Tintagel Castle, and Arthur is not raised by Sir Ector and doesn't have a (half) brother by the name of Sir Kay. Morgana is the ward of King Uther and not a daughter and half-sister to Arthur. Guinevere is a servant of Morgana's and not of royal blood. As for Merlin, while he knows magic, he is the manservant to Arthur, and the bonds of friendship cement between the two of them. Uther is blinded by his hatred of magic, which he has outlawed in Camelot, setting up the stage on a weekly basis it seems for a magical threat to Camelot to surface. And Geoffrey of Monmouth, who in reality was born centuries after the legend of King Arthur is believed to have occured and is responsible for the enduring life of the legend, plays the role of royal librarian. Rarely has a series caught my interest the way that Merlin has (not since the series "Primeval" which also happened to be brought to us from England, and Canada's "Corner Gas"). So despite the creative license this series has taken with the legend of King Arthur, it is one that I keep going back to with more interest than reading the stories ever could.


And there is another King Arthur series that is currently in development that I hope to be able to see soon. "Camelot" being produced by Starz, and being based on Sir Thomas Malory's version of the legend. It will be written by Chris Chibnall, of the supernatural British shows “Life on Mars” and “Torchwood,” and produced by a team that includes Graham King (“The Departed,” “Gangs of New York”) and Morgan O’Sullivan and Michael Hirst (both of the Showtime period drama “The Tudors”). The 10-episode series is expected to begin production next month with episodes expected to be shown in early 2011. The series will be shot in Ireland with postproduction work to be completed in Canada. It may be enough to make me subscribe to Starz at least for the duration of this series.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Creature: Afanc


The Afanc is a lake monster from Welsh mythology. Throughout different myths and stories, it has different shapes and descriptions, ranging from a giant beaver, a crocodile, a dwarf-like creature, or even a giant frog with claws on all of its limbs. In some legends, the creature is said to be a demon. In some legends, it is a specific monster, or it could be a generic lake monster. The lake in which it dwells also varies; it is variously said to live in Llyn Llion, Llyn Barfog, near Brynberian Bridge or in Llyn yr Afanc, a lake near Betws-y-Coed that was named after the creature.

The afanc was a monstrous creature that was said to prey upon any foolish enough to fall into or swim in its lake. In some legends, it is said that the creature has magical powers and can speak Welsh.

As for defeating this creature, one tale relates that it was rendered helpless by a maiden who let it sleep upon her lap. While it slept, the villagers bound the creature in chains and dragged away to the next lake. Some later legends ascribe the creature's death to King Arthur. Close to Llyn Barfog in Snowdonia is a hoof-print petrosomatoglyph etched deep into the rock "Carn March Arthur", or the "Stone of Arthur's Horse", which was supposedly made by King Arthur's mount, Llamrai, when it was hauling the afanc from the lake.

The creature came to my attention thanks to the episode of the TV series, "Merlin," where it was magically conjured out of water and clay, and the water where it was living in within Camelot was making the villagers sick and dying from this plague. Prince Arthur, with Merlin's help, is able to kill the creature with fire, thus saving the village.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Comic Book: The Guild #2


The Guild #2
by Felecia Day
The prequel introduction to the web series The Guild continues in the second of this three-part series from Dark Horse comics, written by The Guild creator and star, Felecia Day.
The story that is being told in the comics is who the Knights of Good got to know each other and formed their guild before the first season--hence the whole prequel idea. In this issue, things continue to not be good for Cyd. She is trying to cope with the events in her life, particularly the fact that her boyfriend is taking all of her ideas for the band and presenting them as his ideas without giving her credit for them, all the while not letting her join the band. When she asks to join the band at one point, she is told that they are trying to keep the band small, and then the band goes out and finds another band member to fill in the position that Cyd had offered to do. So she turns once more to her new roleplaying game, where she runs into all the members of the still unformed guild, though Vork is already making references to the Knights of Good, and Cyd--in the guise of Codex for the game--is already suffering from the effects of retreating from real life into the online gaming world and that particular addiction. The last scene from issue 2 is a real shocker that I wouldn't have seen coming from a mile away if I hadn't thumbed through the issue quickly before actually sitting down to read it.
Overall, this is a good introduction to the webseries, which will see Season 4 coming to Xbox, Zune, and PCs this summer.
If you haven't seen this series, I would definitely recommend it. You can head over to http://www.watchtheguild.com/ where you can buy the first three seasons and other cool products to go along with it.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Hero Wanted


Hero Wanted
by Dan McGirt
Trove Books
204 pages
December 2009
A rollicking fantasy romp across the Eleven Kingdoms with reluctant hero Jason Cosmo and cynical wizard Mercury Boltblaster. Forced to flee his home in Lower Hicksnittle and pursued by bounty hunters, demons, and the sinister Dark Magic Society, Jason goes from the bright realm of The Gods to the depths of the Incredibly Dark Forest to learn the awful truth behind the price on his head.
I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this free book from Barnes & Noble, and it's relatively short at 204 pages.
With that small amount of pages, the characters, the plot, and the story is not overly involved. The plot so thin that the suspension of disbelief is even more of an issue with this story than it would be with most. However, that is the extent of the negativity that I can have with this book.
This was a fun, quick read that spoofs modern culture as well as fantasy adventure stories, and it is difficult to go even one page without laughing out loud at the absurdities that it presents. I have not had such a good time reading a story since.....well, never. I would list this book's comedic value in the ranks of Tom Holt, Robert Asprin, and Douglas Adams (probably Adams more so than the former two). This book has it all--the damsels in distress that then latch onto the hero longer than they need to who have their turn at miraculously saving the day to green luminous talking spiders.
If you like spoofs of popular culture and movies like Naked Gun, Airplane, Date Movie, Scary Movie, and the like, then you will probably like this book. If you want more substance and a story you can lose yourself in, this probably isn't a book you're going to like. I, however, look forward to reading more of the adventures of Jason Cosmo
However, I am giving this my top award for the simple fact that it kept my interest on every page and made me laugh more than I've laughed from any other book. Five out of five stars.




Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Mermaid's Madness


The Mermaid's Madness
by Jim C. Hines

352 pages

DAW Books

October 6, 2009

What would happen if a star writer went back to the darker themes of the original fairy tales for plots, and then crossed the Disney princesses with Charlie's Angels? What he'd end up with is The Mermaid's Madness-a whole new take on The Little Mermaid. And with Jim C. Hines, of Jig the Goblin fame, penning the tale, you can bet it won't be "They lived happily ever after."

Jim Hines is one of my favorite authors--he has been since I picked up his Goblin Quest book a year ago. His style of writing is reminescent to me of the likes of Robert Asprin or Tom Holt, telling a good story while still maintaining a sense of humor.

Whereas Mr. Hines Jig Trilogy felt like a Dungeons & Dragons sort of feel, his new series, of which The Mermaid's Madness is the second book, he takes on a Charlie's Angel's feel. His slant, though, is what if the fairy tales got it wrong? Remember Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty? Those are his three main characters, and they go on quests, working with Queen Beatrice who is starring in the role of Charlie. Book one saw the trio rescue Cinderella's Prince Armand from Fairytown, and The Mermaid's Madness continues about a year after they came back from that adventure. While comedic writing can still be found in The Mermaid's Madness, and parts of it made me laugh out loud, he has moved into a slightly more mature and darker theme than his Goblin series.

Enter into the mix a couple of more characters--Lannadae, a mermaid who has had to go into hiding from her sister Linea (remember the story of the Little Mermaid?) who has gone mad, and a tree dryad who happens to be the captain of Queen Beatrice's ship.

So, in a group of four women characters, you add three more women characters. The men in the story--the king, Prince Armand, and various assorted sailors, are delegated to supporting roles and barely present. That alone makes the Princess series seem much like an adolescent's fantasy, though the same could be said of Charlie's Angels. But The Mermaid's Madness seems to take that one step further, as Mr. Hines doesn't waste any opportunities to mention the fact that the mermaids are less than fully clothed, and dryads are a sensual, sexual character as well. It's obvious who Mr. Hines targetted audience is--teenaged boys--however, as with any of his books, you may enjoy his version of these fairy tale characters even if you don't fit into his targetted audience. I know I do.

Overall, while maintaining a somewhat darker tone than other books by Hines, the story is still a fun retelling of the Little Mermaid lore, making you want to keep turning the pages to see what little twist will be coming next, as well as to continue to see how the story and the characters continue to unfold. There are some unexpected twists and turns along the way that I must admit I did not see coming, despite being aware of Mr. Hines' other stories. The characters are great--though his little princess universe is vastly changed at the end of the book from what it was at the beginning, and it will be interesting to see what direction his universe and our three princesses as well as Queen Bea take in the next book, which is due out later this year.

Not quite a perfect 5/5 story, but pretty close.